LADY BELVERTON’s SECRET.
By Guy Boothby.
“Auspicium melioris aevi.” (Motto of the Order of St Michael and St. George.)
“MY dear,” said pretty Mrs. Belverton, the third cleverest woman in Australia, as she lowered the window-blind of her brougham on the way home from the Bishop’s Court garden party, “I’ve been thinking.”
“And how does the result affect me?” asked her husband, who understood his wife’s ways. “Do we give the Olway-Belton couple silver entrée dishes and our best wishes, or apostle spoons and serviette rings?”
“Don’t be silly! I’ve been thinking that a man of your ability is utterly wasted in a little pettifogging colony like this.”
“My dear, isn’t that a trifle severe? You have evidently forgotten our Premier, our Parliament, our policy, and our public debt.”
“The engines of the Great Eastern in a sardine box, my love. Only listen to me and you shall have something better than all four.”
“I am all attention, Mrs. Belverton. What do you propose?”
“I propose,” said she, ticking off the items with her card-case on the handle of her parasol, “four things. Three passages in the Austral for London, a house and etceteras, say, Prince’s Gate or thereabouts; Eton for Charlie when he’s old enough, and a really good club for a man who is silly enough not to appreciate the value of his wife’s society.”
“Very pretty and nice, given one thing.”
“And pray what is that?”
“The one essential to all the rest—money.”
“I have included that in my calculations. I propose adding £3000 a year to your present income. On £4000 we might do anything.”
“Admirable woman! And what am I to do to bring about this desirable result?”
“Obey me in everything; do nothing until I tell you, and then work with your whole heart and soul. Above all, learn to speak well on the spur of the moment, and at other times to hold your tongue.”
“Is that all?”
“At present; if I think of anything further I will tell you. Is it to be a bargain?”
“Most decidedly, I am both your husband and your humble servant.”
“Then, my dear, as we are going straight home you may seal it with a kiss, but don’t crumple my bonnet.”
Mrs. Belverton was in no sense a woman’s woman, otherwise she was almost equal to that adorable creature Mrs. Thomas Wyndham Guilfoy, for she possessed all the other’s wonderful knack of summing up character and nearly all her talent of understanding and making the most of her opportunities; but she lacked tact with her own sex and through that she came once very near making a serious mistake. That, however, does not concern us.
Official life in Australia, you must understand, presents boundless chances of advancement if only one is capable of appropriating them. As there flows under the dry sand of Queensland river beds a continuous stream of crystal water only waiting to be tapped, so under the surface of our officialdom runs an unending supply of choicest pickings of men gifted with the power of seizing them.
Mrs. Belverton came of a family famous for its clear-headedness, and diplomacy any kind was as the breath of her nostrils. She married William Belverton because she could see beneath his surface a decide though undirected ambition which by careful manipulation might be made to take active shape. She it was who first suggested his entering the House of Assembly, where he had proved himself a useful member.
Faithful to his promise he waited for his wife’s instructions before attempting anything on his own account.
She was lying low for a fitting opportunity that came even sooner than she expected.
Driving home from a dinner party one night she laid her hand on her husband’s arm and said solemnly—
“Will, the time has come; to-morrow you must set to work.”
“Very well, my dear,” he answered; “but what am I to work at?”
It would take too long to give her exact reply, but summed up it was to this effect—
She began by pointing out the terrible financial condition of the colony at that time, both regarding its credit abroad and the effect at home. She spoke of the gambling mania that was overwhelming it. She portrayed in vivid colours the miseries of a thousand families through ill-judged speculation, and finally she wound up with a sketch of the horrors that would inevitably come with the bursting of the land bubble, to be met by a bankrupt treasury-and a disorganised community.
Apart from all other considerations it was a clever little piece of rhetoric and it affected William Belverton very much, as she in tended it should.
Next morning she kept him discussing the situation with herself instead of mixing with his fellow men and at lunch time his enthusiasm was barely controllable.
Point was given to her remarks by an announcement in the Morning Press of the failure of another large mercantile house, the third within the week. He went down to the House with his speech thoroughly prepared and his wife accompanied him.
The question before Parliament was some tiddly-winking little measure involving the expenditure of between five and six thousand pounds. Small as it was, however, it was sufficient to give him his chance.
He began with the subject at issue. He questioned the wisdom of the Government in expending money on unnecessary public works during such a time of serious depression. He had a real knack of commanding attention, and the still greater advantage of carrying personal weight with the House.
Branching off to the real matter, he recapitulated in brief the events of the past two years, caustically commenting on the example afforded to the colony by the Government’s prodigal waste of money. As he progressed he roused himself to still greater efforts, and his voice took a fuller note.
With an air of prophecy he pointed out what must inevitably follow, nay, what was even now upon them. He showed the results of false legislation in all their naked truth, he pictured in lurid colours the over throw of the Government with its bankrupt Treasury, the total destruction of their good name as a people, and the lasting derision of their neighbours and the world in general.
Working up to a final appeal, he called upon them to rise as men and meet the wave of ruin, and by unitedly opposing, end it ere the harm was done.
When he sat down it was amid prolonged cheering from the House.
After the adjournment he hastened into the vestibule where he found his wife awaiting him. Approaching her he said rather anxiously—
“Did I act as you wished—what do you think?”
“I think,” she answered with a smile, “I think that if you go on as you've begun I shall be Lady Belverton within six months.”
As prophesied, the bubble burst, the crash came, and its effects will not be forgotten while an Australian city stands to tell the tale.
The terror of the time overpowered everyone, and to add to the general consternation the Ministry resigned.
Then the Governor called upon The-Man-of-the-Great-Idea to form another, and he set about his work instantly. It was a dangerous task, but he was one who knew not the word fear.
In a week he had filled every portfolio save that of Treasurer, and there he was completely blocked.
Now you must know that The-Man-of-the-Great-Idea was perhaps the most devoted of all Mrs. Belverton’s devoted admirers. He was shrewd enough to appreciate her talents, and he made a point of consulting her whenever he was in a more than usually unpleasant fix.
On this occasion she said quietly—
“It is very simple—take my husband. He should make an admirable Treasurer.”
“But my dear madam,” the astonished Premier cried, “he has no knowledge of finance.”
“And is the possession of that knowledge so necessary to a Treasurer?” asked Mrs. Belverton with a little smile.
“Surely you would not tempt me to betray my own colleagues, madam,” the man replied with a twinkle in his eye. “But perhaps he has other qualifications?”
“He is my husband,” said Mrs. Belverton.
“That is the strongest argument you have advanced yet. Well I think I may safely say that we will try him.”
Two days later William Belverton was gazetted Colonial Treasurer.
A few months later Mrs. Belverton met the Premier at the “Lotos Club” ball. She gave him the eighth dance, and they sat it out together in a corner near the card room.
“So you really do think my husband has proved a success?” she said.
“What does your Bible say?—And these twain shall be one flesh. Could he help being successful?”
“Thanks. Then what is my reward to be?”
“I will leave you to name it. I trust we shall not be ungrateful.”
“In that case let us hope your gratitude will prove ‘a pledge of better times.’”
“Ah! I see the allusion. You may depend on my influence.”
“You are more than good.”
“Yes, I am grateful. May I take you into supper?”
The birthday list contained the name of the Hon. William Belverton as receiving the honour of knighthood.
One morning when Lady Belverton had perused her English mail she sat buried in deepest thought. At length she turned from the fire.
“William, sometimes I feel tempted to believe that it is possible for a woman to control fate.”
“I don’t doubt it for a moment,” said her husband. “Am I to assist you in any way?”
“I think so; I am not quite sure. What are your opinions regarding the representative of this colony in London?”
“I think we are represented by a thoroughly capable and hard-working man.”
“Then I order you to change your views instantly, and henceforth insinuate every fault you can against him in the House.”
That afternoon Belverton did as directed, and by some strange chance a leading article in next morning’s paper backed him up in all he said.
When Parliament was thoroughly agog about the right and wrong of the matter Lady Belverton made her husband quietly withdraw from the discussion.
Her London correspondent had told her that the Agent-General’s health was failing, and she knew this further news would not improve it.
A month later a cablegram was handed her.
“He has resigned,” she said. “Now I have done all I can for you. Rise up and demand the vacant post from Parliament as a public recognition of your arduous services.”
He demanded, and even his warmest friends gasped at his colossal impudence. But he was early in the field, and he used just the right sort of bounce to gain his ends.
When he had booked three passages in the Austral, and cabled about the London house, Lady Belverton spoke—
“William, what have you to say now?”
“I can only say,” he answered, “that I am supremely fortunate in being my Lady Belverton’s husband.”