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In the end there was perhaps no absolutely necessary connection between the two parts of the scheme--that which concerned the lady, and that which depended on the Minister. Yet the first would make the second so much more easy!
Mr Disney had given no sign yet. There was a crisis somewhere abroad, and a colleague understood to be self-opinionated; there was a crisis in the Church, and a bishopric vacant. Lady Evenswood was of opinion that the least attempt to hurry Robert would be fatal. There were, after all, limits to the importance of Harry Tristram's case, and Robert was likely, if worried, to state the fact with his own merciless vigor, and with that to say good-by to the whole affair. The only person seriously angry at the Prime Minister's "dawdling," was Mina Zabriska; and she had enjoyed no chance of telling him so. To make such an opportunity for her was too hazardous an experiment; it might have turned out well--one could never tell with Robert--but on the whole it was not to be risked.
What Lady Evenswood would not venture, fortune dared. Mina had been seeing sights--it was August now, a suitable month for the task--and one evening, about half-past six, she landed her weary bones on a seat in St James's Park for a few moments' rest before she faced the Underground.
The place was very empty, the few people there lay for the most part asleep--workmen with the day's labor done. Presently she saw two men walking slowly toward her from the direction of Westminster. One was tall and slight, handsome and distinguished in appearance; in the other she recognized the rugged awkward man whom she had met at Lady Evenswood's. He was talking hard, hitting his fist into the palm of his other hand sometimes. The handsome man listened with deference, but frowned and seemed troubled. Suddenly the pair stopped.
"I must get back to the House," she heard the handsome man say.
"Well, think it over. Try to see it in that light," said Disney, holding out his hand. The other took it, and then turned away. The episode would have been worth a good paragraph and a dozen conjectures to a reporter; the handsome man was the self-opinionated colleague, and the words Mina had heard, were they not clear proof of dissensions in the Cabinet?
Disney stood stock-still on the path, not looking after his recalcitrant colleague, but down on the ground; his thoughts made him unconscious of things external. Mina glowed with excitement. He was not an awkward man to her; he was a great and surprising fact, a wonderful inst.i.tution, the more wonderful because (to look at him) he might have been a superior mechanic who had dropped sixpence and was scanning the ground for it.
She was really appalled, but her old instinct and habit of interference, of not letting things go by her without laying at least a finger on them, worked in her too. How long would he stand there motionless? As if the ground could tell him anything! Yet she was not impatient of his stillness. It was good to sit and watch him.
An artisan swung by, his tools over his back. Mina saw the suddenly awakened attention with which his head turned to Disney. He slackened pace a moment, and then, after an apparent hesitation, lifted his cap.
There was no sign that Disney saw him, save that he touched his hat in almost unconscious acknowledgment. The artisan went by, but stopped, turned to look again, and exchanged an amused smile with Mina. He glanced round twice again before he was out of sight. Mina sighed in enjoyment.
With a quick jerk of his head Disney began to walk on slowly. For an instant Mina did not know what she would do; the fear and the attraction struggled. Then she jumped up and walked toward him. Her manner tried to a.s.sert that she had not noticed him. She was almost by him. She gave a cough. He looked up. Would he know her? Would he remember asking--no, directing--my lord his secretary to write to her, and had he read what she wrote? He was looking at her. She dared a hurried little bow. He came to a stand-still again.
"Yes, yes?" he said questioningly.
"Madame Zabriska, Mr Disney."
"Oh, yes." His voice sounded a little disappointed. "I met you at----?"
"At Lady Evenswood's, Mr Disney." Taking courage she added, "I sent what you wanted?"
"What I wanted?"
"Yes. What you wanted me to write, about--about the Tristrams."
"Yes." The voice sounded now as if he had placed her. He smiled a little. "I remember it all now. I read it the other morning." He nodded at her, as if that finished the matter. But Mina did not move. "I'm busy just now," he added, "but--Well, how's your side of the affair going on, Madame Zabriska? I've heard nothing from my cousin about that."
"It's just wonderful to see you like this!" the Imp blurted out.
That amused him; she saw the twinkle in his eye.
"Never mind me. Tell me about the Tristram cousins."
"Oh, you are thinking of it then?"
"I never tell what I'm thinking about. That's the only reason people think me clever. The cousins?"
"Oh, that's all dreadful. At least I believe they are--they would be--in love; but--but--Mr Tristram's so difficult, so obstinate, so proud. I don't suppose you understand----"
"You're the second person who's told me I can't understand, in the last half-hour." He was smiling now, as he coupled Mina and the handsome recalcitrant colleague in his protest. "I'm not sure of it."
"And she's been silly, and he's been horrid, and just now--well, it's all as bad as can be, Mr Disney."
"Is it? You must get it better than that, you know, before I can do anything. Good-night."
"Oh, stop, do stop! Do say what you mean!"
"I shan't do anything of the kind. You may tell Lady Evenswood what I've said and she'll tell you what I mean."
"Oh, but please----"
"If you stop me any longer, I shall send you to the Tower. Tell Lady Evenswood and Southend. If I didn't do my business better than you do yours----!" He shrugged his shoulders with a good-natured rudeness.
"Good-night," he said again, and this time Mina dared not stop him.
Twenty yards further on he halted once more of his own accord and fell into thought. Mina watched him till he moved on again, slowly making his way across the Mall and toward St James's Street. A great thing had happened to her--she felt that; and she had news too that she was to tell to Southend and Lady Evenswood. There was considerable unsettlement in the Imp's mind that night.
The next day found her at Lady Evenswood's. The old lady and Southend (who had been summoned on Mina's command--certainly Mina was getting up in the world) understood perfectly. They nodded wise heads.
"I was always inclined to think that Robert would take that view."
"He fears that the Bearsdale case won't carry him all the way. Depend upon it, that's what he feels."
"Well, there was the doubt there, you see."
Mina was rather tired of the doubt in the Bearsdale case. It was always cropping up and being mentioned as though it were something exceedingly meritorious.
"And in poor Addie's case of course there--well, there wasn't,"
proceeded Lady Evenswood with a sigh. "So Robert feels that it might be thought----"
"The people with consciences would be at him, I suppose," said Southend scornfully.
"But if the marriage came off----"
"Oh, I see!" cried the Imp.
"Then he would feel able to act. It would look merely like putting things back as they were, you see, Mina."
"Do you think he means the viscounty?" asked Southend.
"It would be so much more convenient. And they could have had an earldom once before if they'd liked."
"Oh, twice," corrected Southend confidently.
"I know it's said, but I don't believe it. You mean in 1816?"
"Yes. Everybody knows that they could have had it from Mr Pitt."
"Well, George, I don't believe about 1816. At least my father heard Lord Liverpool say----"
"Oh, dear me!" murmured the Imp. This historical inquiry was neither comprehensible nor interesting. But they discussed it eagerly for some minutes before agreeing that, wherever the truth lay, a viscounty could not be considered out of the way for the Tristrams--legitimate and proper Tristrams, be it understood.
"And that's where the match would be of decisive value," Lady Evenswood concluded.
"Disney said as much evidently. So you understood, Madame Zabriska?"