But he had to face her at the tea-table, where she blocked his view of the tables beyond and plied him with strawberries and smiles under the sullen glances of the Hon. Tolshunt Darcy and the timid cough of her chaperon.
“I wonder you waste your time on the silly elections,” she said. “We don’t take much stock in Senators in America.”
“It’s just because M.P.’s are at such a discount that I want to get in. In the realm of the blind the one-eyed is a king.”
“They must be blind not to let you in,” she answered with equal frankness.
“No, they see too well, if you mean the voters. They’ve got their eye on the price of their vote.”
“What!” she cried. “You can’t buy votes in England!”
“Oh, can’t you—”
“But I’m sure I read about it in the English histories—it was all abolished.”
“A good many things were abolished by the Decalogue even earlier,” he replied grimly. “Half an hour before the poll closed I could have bought a thousand votes at a shilling each.”
“Well, that seems reasonable enough,” said Lady Chelmer.
“It was beyond my pocket.”
“What! Fifty pounds?” cried Amber, incredulously.
The blush that followed was hers, not his. “But what became of the thousand votes?” she asked hurriedly.
He laughed. “Half an hour before the poll closed they had gone down to sixpence apiece—like fish that wouldn’t keep.”
“My! And were they all wasted?”
“No. My rival bought them up. Vide the newspapers—’the polling was unusually heavy towards the close.’”
“Really!” intervened Lady Chelmer. “Then at that rate you can unseat him for bribery.”
“At that rate—or higher,” he replied drily. “To unseat another is even more expensive than to seat oneself.”
“Why, it seems all a question of money,” said Miss Amber Roan, naively.
Lady Chelmer was glad when the season came to an end and the dancing mice had no longer to spin dizzyingly in their gilded cage. “The Prisoner of Pleasure” was Walter Bassett’s phrase for her. Even now she was a convict on circuit. Some of the dungeons were in ancient castles, from which Bassett was barred, but all of which opened to Amber’s golden keys, though only because Lady Chelmer knew how to turn them. He, however, penetrated the ducal doors through the letter-box.
The Hon. Tolshunt and Lord Woodham, in their apprehension of the common foe, began to find each other endurable. If it was politics that attracted her, Tolshunt felt he too could stoop to a career. As for the Marquis, he began to meditate resuming office. Both had freely hinted to her Ladyship that to give a millionaire bride to a man who hadn’t a penny savoured of Socialism.
Galled by such terrible insinuations, Lady Chelmer had dared to sound the girl.