The napoleon of notting.., p.4
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       The Napoleon of Notting Hill, p.4

          
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  CHAPTER II--_The Man in Green_

  Very few words are needed to explain why London, a hundred yearshence, will be very like it is now, or rather, since I must slip intoa prophetic past, why London, when my story opens, was very like itwas in those enviable days when I was still alive.

  The reason can be stated in one sentence. The people had absolutelylost faith in revolutions. All revolutions are doctrinal--such as theFrench one, or the one that introduced Christianity. For it stands tocommon sense that you cannot upset all existing things, customs, andcompromises, unless you believe in something outside them, somethingpositive and divine. Now, England, during this century, lost allbelief in this. It believed in a thing called Evolution. And it said,"All theoretic changes have ended in blood and ennui. If we change, wemust change slowly and safely, as the animals do. Nature's revolutionsare the only successful ones. There has been no conservative reactionin favour of tails."

  And some things did change. Things that were not much thought ofdropped out of sight. Things that had not often happened did nothappen at all. Thus, for instance, the actual physical force rulingthe country, the soldiers and police, grew smaller and smaller, and atlast vanished almost to a point. The people combined could have sweptthe few policemen away in ten minutes: they did not, because they didnot believe it would do them the least good. They had lost faith inrevolutions.

  Democracy was dead; for no one minded the governing class governing.England was now practically a despotism, but not an hereditary one.Some one in the official class was made King. No one cared how: no onecared who. He was merely an universal secretary.

  In this manner it happened that everything in London was very quiet.That vague and somewhat depressed reliance upon things happening asthey have always happened, which is with all Londoners a mood, hadbecome an assumed condition. There was really no reason for any mandoing anything but the thing he had done the day before.

  There was therefore no reason whatever why the three young men who hadalways walked up to their Government office together should not walkup to it together on this particular wintry and cloudy morning.Everything in that age had become mechanical, and Government clerksespecially. All those clerks assembled regularly at their posts. Threeof those clerks always walked into town together. All theneighbourhood knew them: two of them were tall and one short. And onthis particular morning the short clerk was only a few seconds late tojoin the other two as they passed his gate: he could have overtakenthem in three strides; he could have called after them easily. But hedid not.

  For some reason that will never be understood until all souls arejudged (if they are ever judged; the idea was at this time classedwith fetish worship) he did not join his two companions, but walkedsteadily behind them. The day was dull, their dress was dull,everything was dull; but in some odd impulse he walked through streetafter street, through district after district, looking at the backs ofthe two men, who would have swung round at the sound of his voice.Now, there is a law written in the darkest of the Books of Life, andit is this: If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times,you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, youare in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time.

  So the short Government official looked at the coat-tails of the tallGovernment officials, and through street after street, and roundcorner after corner, saw only coat-tails, coat-tails, and againcoat-tails--when, he did not in the least know why, something happenedto his eyes.

  Two black dragons were walking backwards in front of him. Two blackdragons were looking at him with evil eyes. The dragons were walkingbackwards it was true, but they kept their eyes fixed on him none theless. The eyes which he saw were, in truth, only the two buttons atthe back of a frock-coat: perhaps some traditional memory of theirmeaningless character gave this half-witted prominence to their gaze.The slit between the tails was the nose-line of the monster: wheneverthe tails flapped in the winter wind the dragons licked their lips. Itwas only a momentary fancy, but the small clerk found it imbedded inhis soul ever afterwards. He never could again think of men infrock-coats except as dragons walking backwards. He explainedafterwards, quite tactfully and nicely, to his two official friends,that (while feeling an inexpressible regard for each of them) he couldnot seriously regard the face of either of them as anything but akind of tail. It was, he admitted, a handsome tail--a tail elevated inthe air. But if, he said, any true friend of theirs wished to seetheir faces, to look into the eyes of their soul, that friend must beallowed to walk reverently round behind them, so as to see them fromthe rear. There he would see the two black dragons with the blindeyes.

  But when first the two black dragons sprang out of the fog upon thesmall clerk, they had merely the effect of all miracles--they changedthe universe. He discovered the fact that all romantics know--thatadventures happen on dull days, and not on sunny ones. When the chordof monotony is stretched most tight, then it breaks with a sound likesong. He had scarcely noticed the weather before, but with the fourdead eyes glaring at him he looked round and realised the strange deadday.

  The morning was wintry and dim, not misty, but darkened with thatshadow of cloud or snow which steeps everything in a green or coppertwilight. The light there is on such a day seems not so much to comefrom the clear heavens as to be a phosphorescence clinging to theshapes themselves. The load of heaven and the clouds is like a load ofwaters, and the men move like fishes, feeling that they are on thefloor of a sea. Everything in a London street completes the fantasy;the carriages and cabs themselves resemble deep-sea creatures witheyes of flame. He had been startled at first to meet two dragons. Nowhe found he was among deep-sea dragons possessing the deep sea.

  The two young men in front were like the small young man himself,well-dressed. The lines of their frock-coats and silk hats had thatluxuriant severity which makes the modern fop, hideous as he is, afavourite exercise of the modern draughtsman; that element which Mr.Max Beerbohm has admirably expressed in speaking of "certaincongruities of dark cloth and the rigid perfection of linen."

  They walked with the gait of an affected snail, and they spoke at thelongest intervals, dropping a sentence at about every sixth lamp-post.

  They crawled on past the lamp-posts; their mien was so immovable thata fanciful description might almost say, that the lamp-posts crawledpast the men, as in a dream. Then the small man suddenly ran afterthem and said--

  "I want to get my hair cut. I say, do you know a little shop anywherewhere they cut your hair properly? I keep on having my hair cut, butit keeps on growing again."

  One of the tall men looked at him with the air of a pained naturalist.

  "Why, here is a little place," cried the small man, with a sort ofimbecile cheerfulness, as the bright bulging window of a fashionabletoilet-saloon glowed abruptly out of the foggy twilight. "Do you know,I often find hair-dressers when I walk about London. I'll lunch withyou at Cicconani's. You know, I'm awfully fond of hair-dressers'shops. They're miles better than those nasty butchers'." And hedisappeared into the doorway.

  The man called James continued to gaze after him, a monocle screwedinto his eye.

  "What the devil do you make of that fellow?" he asked his companion, apale young man with a high nose.

  The pale young man reflected conscientiously for some minutes, andthen said--

  "Had a knock on his head when he was a kid, I should think."

  "No, I don't think it's that," replied the Honourable James Barker."I've sometimes fancied he was a sort of artist, Lambert."

  "Bosh!" cried Mr. Lambert, briefly.

  "I admit I can't make him out," resumed Barker, abstractedly; "henever opens his mouth without saying something so indescribablyhalf-witted that to call him a fool seems the very feeblest attempt atcharacterisation. But there's another thing about him that's ratherfunny. Do you know that he has the one collection of Japanese lacquerin Europe? Have you ever seen his books? All Greek poets and mediaevalFrench and that sort of thing. Have you ever been in his rooms? It'slike being inside an amethyst. And he moves about in all that andtalks like--like a turnip."

  "Well, damn all books. Your blue books as well," said the ingenuousMr. Lambert, with a friendly simplicity. "You ought to understand suchthings. What do you make of him?"

  "He's beyond me," returned Barker. "But if you asked me for myopinion, I should say he was a man with a taste for nonsense, as theycall it--artistic fooling, and all that kind of thing. And I seriouslybelieve that he has talked nonsense so much that he has halfbewildered his own mind and doesn't know the difference between sanityand insanity. He has gone round the mental world, so to speak, andfound the place where the East and the West are one, and extremeidiocy is as good as sense. But I can't explain these psychologicalgames."

  "You can't explain them to me," replied Mr. Wilfrid Lambert, withcandour.

  As they passed up the long streets towards their restaurant the coppertwilight cleared slowly to a pale yellow, and by the time they reachedit they stood discernible in a tolerable winter daylight. TheHonourable James Barker, one of the most powerful officials in theEnglish Government (by this time a rigidly official one), was a leanand elegant young man, with a blank handsome face and bleak blue eyes.He had a great amount of intellectual capacity, of that peculiar kindwhich raises a man from throne to throne and lets him die loaded withhonours without having either amused or enlightened the mind of asingle man. Wilfrid Lambert, the youth with the nose which appeared toimpoverish the rest of his face, had also contributed little to theenlargement of the human spirit, but he had the honourable excuse ofbeing a fool.

  Lambert would have been called a silly man; Barker, with all hiscleverness, might have been called a stupid man. But mere sillinessand stupidity sank into insignificance in the presence of the awfuland mysterious treasures of foolishness apparently stored up in thesmall figure that stood waiting for them outside Cicconani's. Thelittle man, whose name was Auberon Quin, had an appearance compoundedof a baby and an owl. His round head, round eyes, seemed to have beendesigned by nature playfully with a pair of compasses. His flat darkhair and preposterously long frock-coat gave him something of the lookof a child's "Noah." When he entered a room of strangers, they mistookhim for a small boy, and wanted to take him on their knees, until hespoke, when they perceived that a boy would have been moreintelligent.

  "I have been waiting quite a long time," said Quin, mildly. "It'sawfully funny I should see you coming up the street at last."

  "Why?" asked Lambert, staring. "You told us to come here yourself."

  "My mother used to tell people to come to places," said the sage.

  They were about to turn into the restaurant with a resigned air, whentheir eyes were caught by something in the street. The weather, thoughcold and blank, was now quite clear, and across the dull brown of thewood pavement and between the dull grey terraces was moving somethingnot to be seen for miles round--not to be seen perhaps at that time inEngland--a man dressed in bright colours. A small crowd hung on theman's heels.

  He was a tall stately man, clad in a military uniform of brilliantgreen, splashed with great silver facings. From the shoulder swung ashort green furred cloak, somewhat like that of a Hussar, the liningof which gleamed every now and then with a kind of tawny crimson. Hisbreast glittered with medals; round his neck was the red ribbon andstar of some foreign order; and a long straight sword, with a blazinghilt, trailed and clattered along the pavement. At this time thepacific and utilitarian development of Europe had relegated all suchcustoms to the Museums. The only remaining force, the small butwell-organised police, were attired in a sombre and hygienic manner.But even those who remembered the last Life Guards and Lancers whodisappeared in 1912 must have known at a glance that this was not, andnever had been, an English uniform; and this conviction would havebeen heightened by the yellow aquiline face, like Dante carved inbronze, which rose, crowned with white hair, out of the green militarycollar, a keen and distinguished, but not an English face.

  The magnificence with which the green-clad gentleman walked down thecentre of the road would be something difficult to express in humanlanguage. For it was an ingrained simplicity and arrogance, somethingin the mere carriage of the head and body, which made ordinary modernsin the street stare after him; but it had comparatively little to dowith actual conscious gestures or expression. In the matter of thesemerely temporary movements, the man appeared to be rather worried andinquisitive, but he was inquisitive with the inquisitiveness of adespot and worried as with the responsibilities of a god. The men wholounged and wondered behind him followed partly with an astonishmentat his brilliant uniform, that is to say, partly because of thatinstinct which makes us all follow one who looks like a madman, butfar more because of that instinct which makes all men follow (andworship) any one who chooses to behave like a king. He had to sosublime an extent that great quality of royalty--an almost imbecileunconsciousness of everybody, that people went after him as they doafter kings--to see what would be the first thing or person he wouldtake notice of. And all the time, as we have said, in spite of hisquiet splendour, there was an air about him as if he were looking forsomebody; an expression of inquiry.

  Suddenly that expression of inquiry vanished, none could tell why, andwas replaced by an expression of contentment. Amid the rapt attentionof the mob of idlers, the magnificent green gentleman deflectedhimself from his direct course down the centre of the road and walkedto one side of it. He came to a halt opposite to a large poster ofColman's Mustard erected on a wooden hoarding. His spectators almostheld their breath.

  He took from a small pocket in his uniform a little penknife; withthis he made a slash at the stretched paper. Completing the rest ofthe operation with his fingers, he tore off a strip or rag of paper,yellow in colour and wholly irregular in outline. Then for the firsttime the great being addressed his adoring onlookers--

  "Can any one," he said, with a pleasing foreign accent, "lend me apin?"

  Mr. Lambert, who happened to be nearest, and who carried innumerablepins for the purpose of attaching innumerable buttonholes, lent himone, which was received with extravagant but dignified bows, andhyperboles of thanks.

  The gentleman in green, then, with every appearance of beinggratified, and even puffed up, pinned the piece of yellow paper tothe green silk and silver-lace adornments of his breast. Then heturned his eyes round again, searching and unsatisfied.

  "Anything else I can do, sir?" asked Lambert, with the absurdpoliteness of the Englishman when once embarrassed.

  "Red," said the stranger, vaguely, "red."

  "I beg your pardon?"

  "I beg yours also, Senor," said the stranger, bowing. "I was wonderingwhether any of you had any red about you."

  "Any red about us?--well really--no, I don't think I have--I used tocarry a red bandanna once, but--"

  "Barker," asked Auberon Quin, suddenly, "where's your red cockatoo?Where's your red cockatoo?"

  "What do you mean?" asked Barker, desperately. "What cockatoo? You'venever seen me with any cockatoo!"

  "I know," said Auberon, vaguely mollified. "Where's it been all thetime?"

  Barker swung round, not without resentment.

  "I am sorry, sir," he said, shortly but civilly, "none of us seem tohave anything red to lend you. But why, if one may ask--"

  "I thank you, Senor, it is nothing. I can, since there is nothingelse, fulfil my own requirements."

  And standing for a second of thought with the penknife in his hand, hestabbed his left palm. The blood fell with so full a stream that itstruck the stones without dripping. The foreigner pulled out hishandkerchief and tore a piece from it with his teeth. The rag wasimmediately soaked in scarlet.

  "Since you are so generous, Senor," he said, "another pin, perhaps."

  Lambert held one out, with eyes protruding like a frog's.

  The red linen was pinned beside the yellow paper, and the foreignertook off his hat.

  "I have to thank you all, gentlemen," he said; and wrapping theremainder of the handkerchief round his bleeding hand, he resumed hiswalk with an overwhelming stateliness.

  While all the rest paused, in some disorder, little Mr. Auberon Quinran after the stranger and stopped him, with hat in hand. Considerablyto everybody's astonishment, he addressed him in the purest Spanish--

  "Senor," he said in that language, "pardon a hospitality, perhapsindiscreet, towards one who appears to be a distinguished, but asolitary guest in London. Will you do me and my friends, with whomyou have held some conversation, the honour of lunching with us at theadjoining restaurant?"

  The man in the green uniform had turned a fiery colour of pleasure atthe mere sound of his own language, and he accepted the invitationwith that profusion of bows which so often shows, in the case of theSouthern races, the falsehood of the notion that ceremony has nothingto do with feeling.

  "Senor," he said, "your language is my own; but all my love for mypeople shall not lead me to deny to yours the possession of sochivalrous an entertainer. Let me say that the tongue is Spanish butthe heart English." And he passed with the rest into Cicconani's.

  "Now, perhaps," said Barker, over the fish and sherry, intenselypolite, but burning with curiosity, "perhaps it would be rude of me toask why you did that?"

  "Did what, Senor?" asked the guest, who spoke English quite well,though in a manner indefinably American.

  "Well," said the Englishman, in some confusion, "I mean tore a stripoff a hoarding and ... er ... cut yourself ... and...."

  "To tell you that, Senor," answered the other, with a certain sadpride, "involves merely telling you who I am. I am Juan del Fuego,President of Nicaragua."

  The manner with which the President of Nicaragua leant back and drankhis sherry showed that to him this explanation covered all the factsobserved and a great deal more. Barker's brow, however, was still alittle clouded.

  "And the yellow paper," he began, with anxious friendliness, "and thered rag...."

  "The yellow paper and the red rag," said Fuego, with indescribablegrandeur, "are the colours of Nicaragua."

  "But Nicaragua ..." began Barker, with great hesitation, "Nicaragua isno longer a...."

  "Nicaragua has been conquered like Athens. Nicaragua has been annexedlike Jerusalem," cried the old man, with amazing fire. "The Yankee andthe German and the brute powers of modernity have trampled it with thehoofs of oxen. But Nicaragua is not dead. Nicaragua is an idea."

  Auberon Quin suggested timidly, "A brilliant idea."

  "Yes," said the foreigner, snatching at the word. "You are right,generous Englishman. An idea _brillant_, a burning thought. Senor,you asked me why, in my desire to see the colours of my country, Isnatched at paper and blood. Can you not understand the ancientsanctity of colours? The Church has her symbolic colours. And think ofwhat colours mean to us--think of the position of one like myself, whocan see nothing but those two colours, nothing but the red and theyellow. To me all shapes are equal, all common and noble things are ina democracy of combination. Wherever there is a field of marigolds andthe red cloak of an old woman, there is Nicaragua. Wherever there is afield of poppies and a yellow patch of sand, there is Nicaragua.Wherever there is a lemon and a red sunset, there is my country.Wherever I see a red pillar-box and a yellow sunset, there my heartbeats. Blood and a splash of mustard can be my heraldry. If there beyellow mud and red mud in the same ditch, it is better to me thanwhite stars."

  "And if," said Quin, with equal enthusiasm, "there should happen to beyellow wine and red wine at the same lunch, you could not confineyourself to sherry. Let me order some Burgundy, and complete, as itwere, a sort of Nicaraguan heraldry in your inside."

  Barker was fiddling with his knife, and was evidently making up hismind to say something, with the intense nervousness of the amiableEnglishman.

  "I am to understand, then," he said at last, with a cough, "that you,ahem, were the President of Nicaragua when it made its--er--one must,of course, agree--its quite heroic resistance to--er--"

  The ex-President of Nicaragua waved his hand.

  "You need not hesitate in speaking to me," he said. "I'm quite fullyaware that the whole tendency of the world of to-day is againstNicaragua and against me. I shall not consider it any diminution ofyour evident courtesy if you say what you think of the misfortunesthat have laid my republic in ruins."

  Barker looked immeasurably relieved and gratified.

  "You are most generous, President," he said, with some hesitation overthe title, "and I will take advantage of your generosity to expressthe doubts which, I must confess, we moderns have about such thingsas--er--the Nicaraguan independence."

  "So your sympathies are," said Del Fuego, quite calmly, "with the bignation which--"

  "Pardon me, pardon me, President," said Barker, warmly; "my sympathiesare with no nation. You misunderstand, I think, the modern intellect.We do not disapprove of the fire and extravagance of suchcommonwealths as yours only to become more extravagant on a largerscale. We do not condemn Nicaragua because we think Britain ought tobe more Nicaraguan. We do not discourage small nationalities becausewe wish large nationalities to have all their smallness, all theiruniformity of outlook, all their exaggeration of spirit. If I differwith the greatest respect from your Nicaraguan enthusiasm, it is notbecause a nation or ten nations were against you; it is becausecivilisation was against you. We moderns believe in a greatcosmopolitan civilisation, one which shall include all the talents ofall the absorbed peoples--"

  "The Senor will forgive me," said the President. "May I ask the Senorhow, under ordinary circumstances, he catches a wild horse?"

  "I never catch a wild horse," replied Barker, with dignity.

  "Precisely," said the other; "and there ends your absorption of thetalents. That is what I complain of your cosmopolitanism. When yousay you want all peoples to unite, you really mean that you want allpeoples to unite to learn the tricks of your people. If the BedouinArab does not know how to read, some English missionary orschoolmaster must be sent to teach him to read, but no one ever says,'This schoolmaster does not know how to ride on a camel; let us pay aBedouin to teach him.' You say your civilisation will include alltalents. Will it? Do you really mean to say that at the moment whenthe Esquimaux has learnt to vote for a County Council, you will havelearnt to spear a walrus? I recur to the example I gave. In Nicaraguawe had a way of catching wild horses--by lassooing the forefeet--which was supposed to be the best in South America. If you aregoing to include all the talents, go and do it. If not, permit me tosay what I have always said, that something went from the world whenNicaragua was civilised."

  "Something, perhaps," replied Barker, "but that something a merebarbarian dexterity. I do not know that I could chip flints as well asa primeval man, but I know that civilisation can make these kniveswhich are better, and I trust to civilisation."

  "You have good authority," answered the Nicaraguan. "Many clever menlike you have trusted to civilisation. Many clever Babylonians, manyclever Egyptians, many clever men at the end of Rome. Can you tell me,in a world that is flagrant with the failures of civilisation, whatthere is particularly immortal about yours?"

  "I think you do not quite understand, President, what ours is,"answered Barker. "You judge it rather as if England was still a poorand pugnacious island; you have been long out of Europe. Many thingshave happened."

  "And what," asked the other, "would you call the summary of thosethings?"

  "The summary of those things," answered Barker, with great animation,"is that we are rid of the superstitions, and in becoming so we havenot merely become rid of the superstitions which have been mostfrequently and most enthusiastically so described. The superstition ofbig nationalities is bad, but the superstition of small nationalitiesis worse. The superstition of reverencing our own country is bad, butthe superstition of reverencing other people's countries is worse. Itis so everywhere, and in a hundred ways. The superstition of monarchyis bad, and the superstition of aristocracy is bad, but thesuperstition of democracy is the worst of all."

  The old gentleman opened his eyes with some surprise.

  "Are you, then," he said, "no longer a democracy in England?"

  Barker laughed.

  "The situation invites paradox," he said. "We are, in a sense, thepurest democracy. We have become a despotism. Have you not noticed howcontinually in history democracy becomes despotism? People call it thedecay of democracy. It is simply its fulfilment. Why take the troubleto number and register and enfranchise all the innumerable JohnRobinsons, when you can take one John Robinson with the same intellector lack of intellect as all the rest, and have done with it? The oldidealistic republicans used to found democracy on the idea that allmen were equally intelligent. Believe me, the sane and enduringdemocracy is founded on the fact that all men are equally idiotic. Whyshould we not choose out of them one as much as another. All that wewant for Government is a man not criminal and insane, who can rapidlylook over some petitions and sign some proclamations. To think whattime was wasted in arguing about the House of Lords, Tories saying itought to be preserved because it was clever, and Radicals saying itought to be destroyed because it was stupid, and all the time no onesaw that it was right because it was stupid, because that chance mobof ordinary men thrown there by accident of blood, were a greatdemocratic protest against the Lower House, against the eternalinsolence of the aristocracy of talents. We have established now inEngland, the thing towards which all systems have dimly groped, thedull popular despotism without illusions. We want one man at the headof our State, not because he is brilliant or virtuous, but because heis one man and not a chattering crowd. To avoid the possible chance ofhereditary diseases or such things, we have abandoned hereditarymonarchy. The King of England is chosen like a juryman upon anofficial rotation list. Beyond that the whole system is quietlydespotic, and we have not found it raise a murmur."

  "Do you really mean," asked the President, incredulously, "that youchoose any ordinary man that comes to hand and make him despot--thatyou trust to the chance of some alphabetical list...."

  "And why not?" cried Barker. "Did not half the historical nationstrust to the chance of the eldest sons of eldest sons, and did nothalf of them get on tolerably well? To have a perfect system isimpossible; to have a system is indispensable. All hereditarymonarchies were a matter of luck: so are alphabetical monarchies. Canyou find a deep philosophical meaning in the difference between theStuarts and the Hanoverians? Believe me, I will undertake to find adeep philosophical meaning in the contrast between the dark tragedy ofthe A's, and the solid success of the B's."

  "And you risk it?" asked the other. "Though the man may be a tyrant ora cynic or a criminal."

  "We risk it," answered Barker, with a perfect placidity. "Suppose heis a tyrant--he is still a check on a hundred tyrants. Suppose he is acynic, it is to his interest to govern well. Suppose he is acriminal--by removing poverty and substituting power, we put a checkon his criminality. In short, by substituting despotism we have put atotal check on one criminal and a partial check on all the rest."

  The Nicaraguan old gentleman leaned over with a queer expression inhis eyes.

  "My church, sir," he said, "has taught me to respect faith. I do notwish to speak with any disrespect of yours, however fantastic. But doyou really mean that you will trust to the ordinary man, the man whomay happen to come next, as a good despot?"

  "I do," said Barker, simply. "He may not be a good man. But he will bea good despot. For when he comes to a mere business routine ofgovernment he will endeavour to do ordinary justice. Do we not assumethe same thing in a jury?"

  The old President smiled.

  "I don't know," he said, "that I have any particular objection indetail to your excellent scheme of Government. My only objection is aquite personal one. It is, that if I were asked whether I would belongto it, I should ask first of all, if I was not permitted, as analternative, to be a toad in a ditch. That is all. You cannot arguewith the choice of the soul."

  "Of the soul," said Barker, knitting his brows, "I cannot pretend tosay anything, but speaking in the interests of the public--"

  Mr. Auberon Quin rose suddenly to his feet.

  "If you'll excuse me, gentlemen," he said, "I will step out for amoment into the air."

  "I'm so sorry, Auberon," said Lambert, good-naturedly; "do you feelbad?"

  "Not bad exactly," said Auberon, with self-restraint; "rather good, ifanything. Strangely and richly good. The fact is, I want to reflect alittle on those beautiful words that have just been uttered.'Speaking,' yes, that was the phrase, 'speaking in the interests ofthe public.' One cannot get the honey from such things without beingalone for a little."

  "Is he really off his chump, do you think?" asked Lambert.

  The old President looked after him with queerly vigilant eyes.

  "He is a man, I think," he said, "who cares for nothing but a joke. Heis a dangerous man."

  Lambert laughed in the act of lifting some maccaroni to his mouth.

  "Dangerous!" he said. "You don't know little Quin, sir!"

  "Every man is dangerous," said the old man without moving, "who caresonly for one thing. I was once dangerous myself."

  And with a pleasant smile he finished his coffee and rose, bowingprofoundly, passed out into the fog, which had again grown dense andsombre. Three days afterwards they heard that he had died quietly inlodgings in Soho.

  * * * * *

  Drowned somewhere else in the dark sea of fog was a little figureshaking and quaking, with what might at first sight have seemed terroror ague: but which was really that strange malady, a lonely laughter.He was repeating over and over to himself with a rich accent--"Butspeaking in the interests of the public...."

 
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