“One of our side must have seen the whole thing, jumped on his bicycle and brought in the account before they went to press. They make no imputation on the lady—simply state the facts. Quite enough,” he added with impersonal grimness; “I think he’s done for himself, sir.”
The man with the refined face added nervously:
“We couldn’t help it, Mr. Courtier; I really don’t know what we can do. I don’t like it a bit.”
“Has your candidate seen this?” Courtier asked.
“Can’t have,” struck in the third Committee-man; “we hadn’t seen it ourselves until an hour ago.”
“I should never have permitted it,” said the man with the refined face; “I blame the editor greatly.”
“Come to that——” said the little-eyed man, “it’s a plain piece of news. If it makes a stir, that’s not our fault. The paper imputes nothing, it states. Position of the lady happens to do the rest. Can’t help it, and moreover, sir, speaking for self, don’t want to. We’ll have no loose morals in public life down here, please God!” There was real feeling in his words; then, catching sight of Courtier’s face, he added: “Do you know this lady?”
“Ever since she was a child. Anyone who speaks evil of her, has to reckon with me.”
The man with the refined face said earnestly:
“Believe me, Mr. Courtier, I entirely sympathize. We had nothing to do with the paragraph. It’s one of those incidents where one benefits against one’s will. Most unfortunate that she came out on to the green with Lord Miltoun; you know what people are.”
“It’s the head-line that does it;” said the third Committee-man; “they’ve put what will attract the public.”
“I don’t know, I don’t know,” said the little-eyed man stubbornly; “if Lord Miltoun will spend his evenings with lonely ladies, he can’t blame anybody but himself.”
Courtier looked from face to face.
“This closes my connection with the campaign,” he said: “What’s the address of this paper?” And without waiting for an answer, he took up the journal and hobbled from the room. He stood a minute outside finding the address, then made his way down the street.
By the side of little Ann, Barbara sat leaning back amongst the cushions of the car. In spite of being already launched into high-caste life which brings with it an early knowledge of the world, she had still some of the eagerness in her face which makes children lovable. Yet she looked negligently enough at the citizens of Bucklandbury, being already a little conscious of the strange mixture of sentiment peculiar to her countrymen in presence of herself—that curious expression on their faces resulting from the continual attempt to look down their noses while slanting their eyes upwards. Yes, she was already alive to that mysterious glance which had built the national house and insured it afterwards—foe to cynicism, pessimism, and anything French or Russian; parent of all the national virtues, and all the national vices; of idealism and muddle-headedness, of independence and servility; fosterer of conduct, murderer of speculation; looking up, and looking down, but never straight at anything; most high, most deep, most queer; and ever bubbling-up from the essential Well of Emulation.