Borrowdean called a hansom. The two men drove off together.
THE MANNERING MYSTERY
Borrowdean was curter than usual, even abrupt. The calm geniality of his manner had departed. He spoke in short, terse sentences, and he had the air of a man struggling to subdue a fit of perfectly reasonable and justifiable anger. It was a carefully cultivated pose. He even refrained from his customary cigarette.
“Look here, Mannering,” he said, “there are times when a few plain words are worth an hour’s conversation. Will you have them from me?”
“This thing was started six months ago, soon after those two bye-elections in Yorkshire. Even the most despondent of us then saw that the Government could scarcely last its time. We had a meeting and we attempted to form on paper a trial cabinet. You know our weakness. We have to try to form a National party out of a number of men who, although they call themselves broadly Liberals, are as far apart as the very poles of thought. It was as much as they could do to sit in the same room together. From the opening of the meeting until its close, there was but one subject upon which every one was unanimous. That was the absolute necessity of getting you to come back to our aid.”
“You flatter me,” Mannering said, with fine irony.
“You yourself,” Borrowdean continued, without heeding the interruption, “encouraged us. From the first pronouncement of this wonderful new policy you sprang into the arena. We were none of us ready. You were! It is true that your weapon was the pen, but you reached a great public. The country to-day considers you the champion of Free Trade.”
“Pass on,” Mannering interrupted, brusquely. “All this is wasted time!”
“A smaller meeting,” Borrowdean continued, “was held with a view of discussing the means whereby you could be persuaded to rejoin us. At that meeting the Duchess of Lenchester was present.”
Mannering, who had been pacing the room, stopped short. He grasped the back of a chair, and turning round faced Borrowdean.
“You know what place the Duchess has held in the councils of our party since the Duke’s death,” Borrowdean continued. “She has the political instinct. If she were a man she would be a leader. All the great ladies are on the other side, but the Duchess is more than equal to them all. She entertains magnificently, and with tact. She never makes a mistake. She is part and parcel of the Liberal Party. It was she who volunteered to make the first effort to bring you back.”
Mannering turned his head. Apparently he was looking out of the window.
“Her methods,” Borrowdean continued, “did not commend themselves to us, but beggars must not be choosers. Besides, the Duchess was in love with her own scheme. Such objections as we made were at once overruled.”