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The Statesman
by [?]

On a certain night in the middle of the season all London was gathered in Lady Marchpane’s drawing-room; all London, that is, which was worth knowing–a qualification which accounted for the absence of several million people who had never heard of Lady Marchpane. In one corner of the room an Ambassador, with a few ribbons across his chest, could have been seen chatting to the latest American Duchess; in another corner one of our largest Advertisers was exchanging epigrams with a titled Newspaper Proprietor. Famous Generals rubbed shoulders with Post-Impressionist Artists; Financiers whispered sweet nothings to Breeders of prize Poms; even an Actor-Manager might have been seen accepting an apology from a Royalty who had jostled him.

“Hallo,” said Algy Lascelles, catching sight of the dignified figure of Rupert Meryton in the crowd; “how’s William?”

A rare smile lit up Rupert’s distinguished features. He was Under Secretary for Invasion Affairs, and “William” was Algy’s pleasant way of referring to the Bill which he was now piloting through the House of Commons. It was a measure for doing something or other by means of a what-d’you-call-it–I cannot be more precise without precipitating a European Conflict.

“I think we shall get it through,” said Rupert calmly.

“Lady Marchpane was talking about it just now. She’s rather interested, you know.”

Rupert’s lips closed about his mouth in a firm line. He looked over Algy’s head into the crowd. “Oh!” he said coldly.

It was barely ten years ago that young Meryton, just down from Oxford, had startled the political world by capturing the important seat of Cricklewood (E.) for the Tariffadicals–as, to avoid plunging the country into Civil War, I must call them. This was at a by-election, and the Liberatives had immediately dissolved, only to come into power after the General Election with an increased majority. Through the years that followed, Rupert Meryton, by his pertinacity in asking the Invasion Secretary questions which had been answered by him on the previous day, and by his regard for the dignity of the House, as shown in his invariable comment, “Come, come–not quite the gentleman,” upon any display of bad manners opposite, established a clear right to a post in the subsequent Tariffadical Government. He had now been Under Secretary for two years, and in this Bill his first real chance had come.

“Oh, there you are, Mr. Meryton,” said a voice. “Come and talk to me a moment.” With a nod to a couple of Archbishops Lady Marchpane led the way to a little gallery whither the crowd had not penetrated. Priceless Correggios, Tintorettos, and G. K. Chestertons hung upon the walls, but it was not to show him these that she had come. Dropping into a wonderful old Chippendale chair, she motioned him to a Blundell-Maple opposite her, and looked at him with a curious smile.

“Well,” she said, “about the Bill?”

Rupert’s lips closed about his mouth in a firm line. (He was rather good at this.) Folding his arms, he gazed steadily into Lady Marchpane’s still beautiful eyes.

“It will go through,” he said. “Through all its stages,” he added professionally.

“It must not go through,” said Lady Marchpane gently.

Rupert could not repress a start, but he was master of himself again in a moment.

“I cannot add anything to my previous statement,” he said.

“If it goes through,” began Lady Marchpane—-

“I must refer you,” said Rupert, “to my answer of yesterday.”

“Come, come, Mr. Meryton, what is the good of fencing with me? You know the position. Or shall I state it for you again?”

“I cannot believe you are serious.”

“I am perfectly serious. There are reasons, financial reasons–and others–why I do not want this Bill to pass. In return for my silence upon a certain matter, you are going to prevent it passing. You know to what I refer. On the 4th of May last—-“

“Stop!” cried Rupert hoarsely.

“On the 4th of May last,” Lady Marchpane went on relentlessly, “you and I–in the absence of my husband abroad–had tea together at an A.B.C.” (Rupert covered his face with his hands.) “I am no fonder of scandal than you are, but if you do not meet my wishes I shall certainly confess the truth to Marchpane.”