by John Buchan
To adopt the opening words of a more famous tale, "The truth of
this strange matter is what the world has long been looking for." The
events which I propose to chronicle were known to perhaps a hundred
people in London whose fate brings them into contact with politics.
The consequences were apparent to all the world, and for one hectic
fortnight tinged the soberest newspapers with saffron, drove more than
one worthy election agent to an asylum, and sent whole batches of
legislators to Continental cures. "But no reasonable explanation of
the mystery has been forthcoming until now, when a series of chances
gave the key into my hands.
Lady Caerlaverock is my aunt, and I was present at the two
remarkable dinner-parties which form the main events in this tale. I
was also taken into her confidence during the terrible fortnight which
intervened between them. Like everybody else, I was hopelessly in the
dark, and could only accept what happened as a divine interposition.
My first clue came when James, the Caerlaverocks' second footman,
entered my service as valet, and being a cheerful youth chose to
gossip while he shaved me. I checked him, but he babbled on, and I
could not choose but learn something about the disposition of the
Caerlaverock household below stairs. I learned--what I knew
before--that his lordship had an inordinate love for curries, a taste
acquired during some troubled years as Indian Viceroy. I had often
eaten that admirable dish at his table, and had heard him boast of the
skill of the Indian cook who prepared it. James, it appeared, did not
hold with the Orient in the kitchen. He described the said Indian
gentleman as a "nigger," and expressed profound distrust of his ways.
He referred darkly to the events of the year before, which in some
distorted way had reached the servants' ears. "We always thought as
'ow it was them niggers as done it," he declared; and when I
questioned him on his use of the plural, admitted that at the time in
question "there 'ad been more nor one nigger 'anging about the
Pondering on these sayings, I asked myself if it were not possible
that the behaviour of certain eminent statesmen was due to some
strange devilry of the East, and I made a vow to abstain in future
from the Caerlaverock curries. But last month my brother returned
from India, and I got the whole truth. He was staying with me in
Scotland, and in the smoking-room the talk turned on occultism in the
East. I declared myself a sceptic, and George was stirred. He asked
me rudely what I knew about it, and proceeded to make a startling
confession of faith. He was cross-examined by the others, and
retorted with some of his experiences. Finding an incredulous
audience, his tales became more defiant, until he capped them all with
one monstrous yarn. He maintained that in a Hindu family of his
acquaintance there had been transmitted the secret of a drug, capable
of altering a man's whole temperament until the antidote was
administered. It would turn a coward into a bravo, a miser into a
spendthrift, a rake into a fakir. Then, having delivered his
manifesto he got up abruptly and went to bed.
I followed him to his room, for something in the story had revived
a memory. By dint of much persuasion I dragged from the somnolent
George various details. The family in question were Beharis, large
landholders dwelling near the Nepal border. He had known old Ram
Singh for years, and had seen him twice since his return from England.
He got the story from him under no promise of secrecy, for the family
drug was as well known in the neighbourhood as the nine incarnations
of Krishna. He had no doubt about the truth of it, for he had
positive proof. "And others besides me," said George. "Do you
remember when Vennard had a lucid interval a couple of years ago and
talked sense for once? That was old Ram Singh's doing, for he told me
Three years ago it seems the Government of India saw fit to
appoint a commission to inquire into land tenure on the Nepal border.
Some of the feudal Rajahs had been "birsing yont," like the
Breadalbanes, and the smaller zemindars were gravely disquieted. The
result of the commission was that Ram Singh had his boundaries
rectified, and lost a mile or two of country which his hard-fisted
fathers had won.
I know nothing of the rights of the matter, but there can be no
doubt about Ram Singh's dissatisfaction. He appealed to the law
courts, but failed to upset the commission's finding, and the Privy
Council upheld the Indian judgment. Thereupon in a flowery and
eloquent document he laid his case before the Viceroy, and was told
that the matter was closed. Now Ram Singh came of a fighting stock,
so he straightway took ship to England to petition the Crown. He
petitioned Parliament, but his petition went into the bag behind the
Speaker's chair, from which there is no return. He petitioned the
King, but was courteously informed that he must approach the
Department concerned. He tried the Secretary of State for India, and
had an interview with Abinger Vennard, who was very rude to him, and
succeeded in mortally insulting the feudal aristocrat. He appealed to
the Prime Minister, and was warned off by a harassed private
secretary. The handful of members of Parliament who make Indian
grievances their stock-in-trade fought shy of him, for indeed Ram
Singh's case had no sort of platform appeal in it, and his arguments
were flagrantly undemocratic. But they sent him to Lord Caerlaverock,
for the ex-viceroy loved to be treated as a kind of consul-general
for India. But this Protector of the Poor proved a broken reed. He
told Ram Singh flatly that he was a belated feudalist, which was true;
and implied that he was a land-grabber, which was not true, Ram Singh
having only enjoyed the fruits of his fore-bears' enterprise. Deeply
incensed, the appellant shook the dust of Caerlaverock House from his
feet, and sat down to plan a revenge upon the Government which had
wronged him. And in his wrath he thought of the heirloom of his
house, the drug which could change men's souls.
It happened that Lord Caerlaverock cook's came from the same
neighbourhood as Ram Singh. This cook, Lal Muhammad by name, was one
of a large poor family, hangers-on of Ram Singh's house. The
aggrieved landowner summoned him, and demanded as of right his humble
services. Lal Muhammad, who found his berth to his liking, hesitated,
quibbled, but was finally overborne. He suggested a fee for his
services, but hastily withdrew when Ram Singh sketched a few of the
steps he proposed to take on his return by way of punishing Lal
Muhammad's insolence on Lal Muhammad's household. Then he got to
business. There was a great dinner next week--so he had learned from
Jephson, the butler--and more than one member of the Government would
honour Caerlaverock House by his presence. With deference he
suggested this as a fitting occasion for the experiment, and Ram Singh
was pleased to assent.
I can picture these two holding their meetings in the South
Kensington lodgings where Ram Singh dwelt. We know from James, the
second footman, that they met also at Caerlaverock House, no doubt
that Ram Singh might make certain that his orders were duly obeyed. I
can see the little packet of clear grains--I picture them like small
granulated sugar--added to the condiments, and soon dissolved out of
sight. The deed was done; the cook returned to Bloomsbury and Ram
Singh to Gloucester Road, to await with the patient certainty of the
East the consummation of a great vengeance.
My wife was at Kissengen, and I was dining with the Caerlaverocks
en garcon. When I have not to wait upon the adornment of the female
person I am a man of punctual habits, and I reached the house as the
hall clock chimed the quarter-past. My poor friend, Tommy Deloraine,
arrived along with me, and we ascended the staircase together. I call
him "my poor friend," for at the moment Tommy was under the weather.
He had the misfortune to be a marquis, and a very rich one, and at
the same time to be in love with Claudia Barriton. Neither
circumstance was in itself an evil, but the combination made for
tragedy. For Tommy's twenty-five years of healthy manhood, his
cleanly-made up-standing figure, his fresh countenance and cheerful
laugh, were of no avail in the lady's eyes when set against the fact
that he was an idle peer. Miss Claudia was a charming girl, with a
notable bee in her bonnet. She was burdened with the cares of the
State, and had no patience with any one who took them lightly. To her
mind the social fabric was rotten beyond repair, and her purpose was
frankly destructive. I remember some of her phrases: "A bold and
generous policy of social amelioration"; "The development of a civic
conscience"; "A strong hand to lop off decaying branches from the
trunk of the State." I have no fault to find with her creed, but I
objected to its practical working when it took the shape of an inhuman
hostility to that devout lover, Tommy Deloraine. She had refused him,
I believe, three times, with every circumstance of scorn. The first
time she had analysed his character, and described him as a bundle of
attractive weaknesses. "The only forces I recognise are those of
intellect and conscience," she had said, "and you have neither." The
second time--it was after he had been to Canada on the staff--she
spoke of the irreconcilability of their political ideals. "You are an
Imperialist," she said, "and believe in an empire of conquest for the
benefit of the few. I want a little island with a rich life for all."
Tommy declared that he would become a Doukhobor to please her, but
she said something about the inability of Ethiopians to change their
skin. The third time she hinted vaguely that there was "another."
The star of Abinger Vennard was now blazing in the firmament, and she
had conceived a platonic admiration for him. The truth is that Miss
Claudia, with all her cleverness, was very young and--dare I say it?
Caerlaverock was stroking his beard, his legs astraddle on the
hearthrug, with something appallingly viceregal in his air, when Mr.
and Mrs. Alexander Cargill were announced. The Home Secretary was a
joy to behold. He had the face of an elderly and pious bookmaker, and
a voice in which lurked the indescribable Scotch quality of "unction."
When he was talking you had only to shut your eyes to imagine
yourself in some lowland kirk on a hot Sabbath morning. He had been a
distinguished advocate before he left the law for politics, and had
swayed juries of his countrymen at his will. The man was
extraordinarily efficient on a platform. There were unplumbed depths
of emotion in his eye, a juicy sentiment in his voice, an overpowering
tenderness in his manner, which gave to politics the glamour of a
revival meeting. He wallowed in obvious pathos, and his hearers, often
unwillingly, wallowed with him. I have never listened to any orator
at once so offensive and so horribly effective. There was no appeal
too base for him, and none too august: by some subtle alchemy he
blended the arts of the prophet and the fishwife. He had discovered a
new kind of language. Instead of "the hungry millions," or "the
toilers," or any of the numerous synonyms for our masters, he invented
the phrase, "Goad's people." "I shall never rest," so ran his great
declaration, "till Goad's green fields and Goad's clear waters are
free to Goad's people." I remember how on this occasion he pressed my
hand with his famous cordiality, looked gravely and earnestly into my
face, and then gazed sternly into vacancy. It was a fine picture of
genius descending for a moment from its hill-top to show how close it
was to poor humanity.
Then came Lord Mulross, a respectable troglodytic peer, who
represented the one sluggish element in a swiftly progressing
Government. He was an oldish man with bushy whiskers and a reputed
mastery of the French tongue. A Whig, who had never changed his creed
one iota, he was highly valued by the country as a sober element in
the nation's councils, and endured by the Cabinet as necessary
ballast. He did not conceal his dislike for certain of his
colleagues, notably Mr. Vennard and Mr. Cargill.
When Miss Barriton arrived with her stepmother the party was
almost complete. She entered with an air of apologising for her
prettiness. Her manner with old men was delightful, and I watched
with interest the unbending of Caerlaverock and the simplifying of Mr.
Cargill in her presence. Deloraine, who was talking feverishly to
Mrs. Cargill, started as if to go and greet her, thought better of it,
and continued his conversation. The lady swept the room with her eye,
but did not acknowledge his presence. She floated off with Mr.
Cargill to a window-corner, and metaphorically sat at his feet. I saw
Deloraine saying things behind his moustache, while he listened to
Mrs. Cargill's new cure for dyspepsia.
Last of all, twenty minutes late, came Abinger Vennard. He made a
fine stage entrance, walking swiftly with a lowering brow to his
hostess, and then glaring fiercely round the room as if to challenge
criticism. I have heard Deloraine, in a moment of irritation,
describe him as a "Pre-Raphaelite attorney," but there could be no
denying his good looks. He had a bad, loose figure, and a quantity of
studiously neglected hair, but his face was the face of a young Greek.
A certain kind of political success gives a man the manners of an
actor, and both Vennard and Cargill bristled with self-consciousness.
You could see it in the way they patted their hair, squared their
shoulders, and shifted their feet to positions loved by sculptors.
"Well, Vennard, what's the news from the House?" Caerlaverock
"Simpson is talking," said Vennard wearily. "He attacks me, of
course. He says he has lived forty years in India--as if that
mattered! When will people recognise that the truths of democratic
policy are independent of time and space? Liberalism is a category,
an eternal mode of thought, which cannot be overthrown by any trivial
happenings. I am sick of the word 'facts.' I long for truths."
Miss Barriton's eyes brightened, and Cargill said, "Excellent."
Lord Mulross, who was a little deaf, and in any case did not
understand the language, said loudly to my aunt that he wished there
was a close time for legislation.
"The open season for grouse should be the close season for
And then we went down to dinner.
Miss Barriton sat on my left hand, between Deloraine and me, and
it was clear she was discontented with her position. Her eyes
wandered down the table to Vennard, who had taken in an American
duchess, and seemed to be amused at her prattle. She looked with
disfavour at Deloraine, and turned to me as the lesser of two evils.
I was tactless enough to say that I thought there was a good deal
in Lord Mulross's view. "Oh, how can you?" she cried. "Is there a
close season for the wants of the people? It sounds to me perfectly
horrible the way you talk of government, as if it were a game for idle
men of the upper classes. I want professional politicians, men who
give their whole heart and soul to the service of the State. I know
the kind of member you and Lord Deloraine like--a rich young man who
eats and drinks too much, and thinks the real business of life is
killing little birds. He travels abroad and shoots some big game, and
then comes home and vapours about the Empire. He knows nothing about
realities, and will go down before the men who take the world
I am afraid I laughed, but Deloraine, who had been listening, was
in no mood to be amused.
"I don't think you are quite fair to us, Miss Claudia," he said
slowly. "We take things seriously enough, the things we know about.
We can't be expected to know about everything, and the misfortune is
that the things I care about don't interest you. But they are
important enough for all that."
"Hush," said the lady rudely. "I want to hear what Mr. Vennard is
Mr. Vennard was addressing the dinner-table as if it were a large
public meeting. It was a habit he had, for he had no mind to confine
the pearls of his wisdom to his immediate neighbours. His words were
directed to Caerlaverock at the far end.
"In my opinion this craze for the scientific stand-point is not
merely overdone--it is radically vicious. Human destinies cannot be
treated as if they were inert objects under the microscope. The
cold-blooded logical way of treating a problem is in almost every case
the wrong way. Heart and imagination to me are more vital than
intellect. I have the courage to be illogical, to defy facts for the
sake of an ideal, in the certainty that in time facts will fall into
conformity. My Creed may be put in the words of Newman's favourite
quotation: Non in dialectica complacuit Deo salvum facere populum
suum--Not in cold logic is it God's will that His people should find
"It is profoundly true," sighed Mr. Cargill, and Miss Claudia's
beaming eyes proved her assent. The moment of destiny, though I did
not know it, had arrived. The entree course had begun, and of the two
entrees one was the famous Caerlaverock curry. Now on a hot July
evening in London there are more attractive foods than curry seven
times heated, MORE INDICO. I doubt if any guest would have touched
it, had not our host in his viceregal voice called the attention of
the three ministers to its merits, while explaining that under
doctor's orders he was compelled to refrain for a season. The result
was that Mulross, Cargill, and Vennard alone of the men partook of it.
Miss Claudia, alone of the women, followed suit in the fervour of her
hero-worship. She ate a mouthful, and then drank rapidly two glasses
My narrative of the events which followed is based rather on what
I should have seen than on what I saw. I had not the key, and missed
much which otherwise would have been plain to me. For example, if I
had known the secret, I must have seen Miss Claudia's gaze cease to
rest upon Vennard and the adoration die out of her eyes. I must have
noticed her face soften to the unhappy Deloraine. As it was, I did
not remark her behaviour, till I heard her say to her neighbour--
"Can't you get hold of Mr. Vennard and forcibly cut his hair?"
Deloraine looked round with a start. Miss Barriton's tone was
intimate and her face friendly.
"Some people think it picturesque," he said in serious
"Oh, yes, picturesque--like a hair-dresser's young man!" she
shrugged her shoulders. He looks as if he had never been out of
doors in his life."
Now, whatever the faults of Tommy's appearance, he had a wholesome
sunburnt face, and he knew it. This speech of Miss Barriton's cheered
him enormously, for he argued that if she had fallen out of love with
Vennard's looks she might fall in love with his own. Being a
philosopher in his way, he was content to take what the gods gave, and
ask for no explanations.
I do not know how their conversation prospered, for my attention
was distracted by the extraordinary behaviour of the Home Secretary.
Mr. Cargill had made himself notorious by his treatment of
"political" prisoners. It was sufficient in his eyes for a criminal
to confess to political convictions to secure the most lenient
treatment and a speedy release. The Irish patriot who cracked skulls
in the Scotland Division of Liverpool, the Suffragist who broke
windows and the noses of the police, the Social Democrat whose
antipathy to the Tsar revealed itself in assaults upon the Russian
Embassy, the "hunger-marchers" who had designs on the British
Museum,--all were sure of respectful and tender handling. He had
announced more than once, amid tumultuous cheering, that he would
never be the means of branding earnestness, however mistaken, with the
badge of the felon.
He was talking I recall, to Lady Lavinia Dobson, renowned in two
hemispheres for her advocacy of women's rights. And this was what I
heard him say. His face had grown suddenly flushed and his eye
bright, so that he looked liker than ever to a bookmaker who had had a
good meeting. "No, no, my dear lady, I have been a lawyer, and it is
my duty in office to see that the law, the palladium of British
liberties is kept sacrosanct. The law is no respecter of persons, and
I intend that it shall be no respecter of creeds. If men or women
break the laws, to jail they shall go, though their intentions were
those of the Apostle Paul. We don't punish them for being Socialists
or Suffragists, but for breaking the peace. Why, goodness me, if we
didn't, we should have every malefactor in Britain claiming
preferential treatment because he was a Christian Scientist or a
"Mr. Cargill, do you realise what you are saying?" said Lady
Lavinia with a scared face.
"Of course I do. I am a lawyer, and may be presumed to know the
law. If any other doctrine were admitted, the Empire would burst up
in a fortnight."
"That I should live to hear you name that accursed name!" cried
the outraged lady. "You are denying your gods, Mr. Cargill. You are
forgetting the principles of a lifetime."
Mr. Cargill was becoming excited, and exchanging his ordinary
Edinburgh-English for a broader and more effective dialect.
"Tut, tut, my good wumman, I may be allowed to know my own
principles best. I tell ye I've always maintained these views from
the day when I first walked the floor of the Parliament House.
Besides, even if I hadn't, I'm surely at liberty to change if I get
more light. Whoever makes a fetish of consistency is a trumpery body
and little use to God or man. What ails ye at the Empire, too? Is it
not better to have a big country than a kailyard, or a house in
Grosvenor Square than a but-and-ben in Balham?"
Lady Lavinia folded her hands. "We slaughter our black
fellow-citizens, we fill South Africa with yellow slaves, we crowd
the Indian prisons with the noblest and most enlightened of the Indian
race, and we call it Empire building!"
"No, we don't," said Mr. Cargill stoutly, "we call it
common-sense. That is the penal and repressive side of any great
activity. D'ye mean to tell me that you never give your maid a good
hearing? But would you like it to be said that you spent the whole of
your days swearing at the wumman?"
"I never swore in my life," said Lady Lavinia.
"I spoke metaphorically," said Mr. Cargill. "If ye cannot
understand a simple metaphor, ye cannot understand the rudiments of
Picture to yourself a prophet who suddenly discovers that his God
is laughing at him, a devotee whose saint winks and tells him that
the devotion of years has been a farce, and you will get some idea of
Lady Lavinia's frame of mind. Her sallow face flushed, her lip
trembled, and she slewed round as far as her chair would permit her.
Meanwhile Mr. Cargill, redder than before, went on contentedly with
I was glad when my aunt gave the signal to rise. The atmosphere
was electric, and all were conscious of it save the three Ministers,
Deloraine, and Miss Claudia. Vennard seemed to be behaving very
badly. He was arguing with Caerlaverock down the table, and the
ex-Viceroy's face was slowly getting purple. When the ladies had
gone, we remained oblivious to wine and cigarettes, listening to this
heated controversy which threatened any minute to end in a quarrel.
The subject was India, and Vennard was discussing on the follies
of all Viceroys.
"Take this idiot we've got now," he declared. "He expects me to
be a sort of wet-nurse to the Government of India and do all their
dirty work for them. They know local conditions, and they have ample
powers if they would only use them, but they won't take an atom of
responsibility. How the deuce am I to decide for them, when in the
nature of things I can't be half as well informed about the facts!"
"Do you maintain," said Caerlaverock, stuttering in his wrath,
"that the British Government should divest itself of responsibility
for the governement of our great Indian Dependency?"
"Not a bit," said Vennard impatiently; "of course we are
responsible, but that is all the more reason why the fellows who know
the business at first hand should do their duty. If I am the head of
a bank I am responsible for its policy, but that doesn't mean that
every local bank-manager should consult me about the solvency of
clients I never heard of. Faversham keeps bleating to me that the
state of India is dangerous. Well, for God's sake let him suppress
every native paper, shut up the schools, and send every agitator to
the Andamans. I'll back him up all right. But don't let him ask me
what to do, for I don't know."
"You think such a course would be popular?" asked a large, grave
man, a newspaper editor.
"Of course it would," said Vennard cheerily. "The British public
hates the idea of letting India get out of hand. But they want a
lead. They can't be expected to start the show any more than I can."
Lord Caerlaverock rose to join the ladies with an air of outraged
dignity. Vennard pulled out his watch and announced that he must go
back to the House.
"Do you know what I am going to do?" he asked. "I am going down
to tell Simpson what I think of him. He gets up and prates of having
been forty years in India. Well, I am going to tell him that it is to
him and his forty-year lot that all this muddle is due. Oh, I assure
you, there's going to be a row," said Vennard, as he struggled into
Mulross had been sitting next me, and I asked him if he was
leaving town. "I wish I could," he said, "but I fear I must stick on
over the Twelth. I don't like the way that fellow Von Kladow has been
talking. He's up to no good, and he's going to get a flea in his ear
before he is very much older."
Cheerfully, almost hilariously the three Ministers departed,
Vennard and Cargill in a hansom and Mulross on foot. I can only
describe the condition of those left behind as nervous prostration.
We looked furtively at each other, each afraid to hint his
suspicions, but all convinced that a surprising judgment had befallen
at least two members of his Majesty's Government. For myself I put the
number at three, for I did not like to hear a respected Whig Foreign
Secretary talk about giving the Chancellor of a friendly but jealous
Power a flea in his ear.
The only unperplexed face was Deloraine's. He whispered to me
that Miss Barriton was going on to the Alvanleys' ball, and had
warned him to be there. "She hasn't been to a dance for months, you
know," he said. "I really think things are beginning to go a little
better, old man."
When I opened my paper next morning I read two startling pieces of
news. Lord Mulross had been knocked down by a taxi-cab on his way
home the night before, and was now in bed suffering from a bad shock
and a bruised ankle. There was no cause for anxiety, said the report,
but his lordship must keep his room for a week or two.
The second item, which filled leading articles and overflowed into
"Political Notes," was Mr. Vennard's speech. The Secretary for India
had gone down about eleven o'clock to the House, where an Indian
debate was dragging out its slow length. He sat himself on the
Treasury Bench and took notes, and the House soon filled in
anticipation of his reply. His "tail"--progressive young men like
himself--were there in full strength, ready to cheer every syllable
which fell from their idol. Somewhere about half-past twelve he rose
to wind up the debate, and the House was treated to an unparalleled
sensation. He began with his critics, notably the unfortunate
Simpson, and, pretty much in Westbury's language to the herald, called
them silly old men who did not understand their silly old business.
But it was the reasons he gave for this abuse which left his
followers aghast. He attacked his critics not for being satraps and
reactionaries, but because they had dared to talk second-rate Western
politics in connection with India.
"Have you lived for forty years with your eyes shut," he cried,
"that you cannot see the difference between a Bengali, married at
fifteen and worshipping a pantheon of savage gods, and the
university-extension Young Radical at home? There is a thousand
years between them, and you dream of annihilating the centuries with
a little dubious popular science!" Then he turned to the other
critics of Indian administration--his quondam supporters. He analysed
the character of these " members for India" with a vigour and acumen
which deprived them of speech. The East, he said, had had its revenge
upon the West by making certain Englishmen babus. His honourable
friends had the same slipshod minds, and they talked the same
pigeon-English, as the patriots of Bengal. Then his mood changed, and
he delivered a solemn warning against what he called "the treason
begotten of restless vanity and proved incompetence." He sat down,
leaving a House deeply impressed and horribly mystified.
The Times did not know what to make of it at all. In a weighty
leader it welcomed Mr. Vennard's conversion, but hinted that with a
convert's zeal he had slightly overstated his case. The Daily
Chronicle talked of "nervous breakdown," and suggested "kindly
forgetfulness" as the best treatment. The Daily News, in a spirited
article called "The Great Betrayal," washed its hands of Mr. Vennard
unless he donned the white sheet of the penitent. Later in the day I
got The Westminster Gazette, and found an ingenious leader which
proved that the speech in no way conflicted with Liberal principles,
and was capable of a quite ordinary explanation. Then I went to see
I found my aunt almost in tears.
"What has happened?" she cried. "What have we done that we should
be punished in this awful way? And to think that the blow fell in
this house? Caerlaverock--we all--thought Mr. Vennard so strange last
night, and Lady Lavinia told me that Mr. Cargill was perfectly
horrible. I suppose it must be the heat and the strain of the
session. And that poor Lord Mulross, who was always so wise, should
be stricken down at this crisis!"
I did not say that I thought Mulross's accident a merciful
dispensation. I was far more afraid of him than of all the others,
for if with his reputation for sanity he chose to run amok, he would
be taken seriously. He was better in bed than affixing a flea to Von
"Caerlaverock was with the Prime Minister this morning," my aunt
went on. "He is going to make a statement in the Lords tomorrow to
try to cover Mr. Vennard's folly. They are very anxious about what
Mr. Cargill will do today. He is addressing the National Convention
of Young Liberals at Oldham this afternoon, and though they have sent
him a dozen telegrams they can get no answer. Caerlaverock went to
Downing Street an hour ago to get news."
There was the sound of an electric brougham stopping in the square
below, and we both listened with a premonition of disaster. A minute
later Caerlaverock entered the room, and with him the Prime Minister.
The cheerful, eupeptic countenance of the latter was clouded with
care. He shook hands dismally with my aunt, nodded to me, and flung
himself down on a sofa.
"The worst has happened," Caerlaverock boomed solemnly. "Cargill
has been incredibly and infamously silly." He tossed me an evening
One glance convinced me that the Convention of Young Liberals had
had a waking-up. Cargill had addressed them on what he called the
true view of citizenship. He had dismissed manhood suffrage as an
obsolete folly. The franchise, he maintained, should be narrowed and
given only to citizens, and his definition of citizenship was military
training combined with a fairly high standard of rates and taxes. I
do not know how the Young Liberals received his creed, but it had no
sort of success with the Prime Minister.
"We must disavow him," said Caerlaverock.
"He is too valuable a man to lose," said the Prime Minister. "We
must hope that it is only a temporary aberration. I simply cannot
spare him in the House."
"But this is flat treason."
"I know, I know. It is all too horrible, and utterly unexpected.
But the situation wants delicate handling, my dear Caerlaverock. I
see nothing for it but to give out that he was ill."
"Or drunk?" I suggested.
The Prime Minister shook his head sadly. "I fear it will be the
same thing. What we call illness the ordinary man will interpret as
intoxication. It is a most regrettable necessity, but we must face
The harassed leader rose, seized the evening paper, and departed
as swiftly as he had come. "Remember, illness," were his parting
words. "An old heart trouble, which is apt to affect his brain. His
friends have always known about it."
I walked home, and looked in at the Club on my way. There I found
Deloraine devouring a hearty tea and looking the picture of virtuous
"Well, this is tremendous news," I said, as I sat down beside
"What news?" he asked with a start.
"This row about Vennard and Cargill."
"Oh, that! I haven't seen the papers to-day. What's it all
about?" His tone was devoid of interest.
Then I knew that something of great private moment had happened to
"I hope I may congratulate you," I said.
Deloraine beamed on me affectionately. "Thanks very much, old
man. Things came all right, quite suddenly, you know. We spent most
of the time at the Alvanleys together, and this morning in the Park
she accepted me. It will be in the papers next week, but we mean to
keep it quiet for a day or two. However, it was your right to be
told--and, besides,you guessed."
I remember wondering, as I finished my walk home, whether there
could not be some connection between the stroke of Providence which
had driven three Cabinet Ministers demented and that gentler touch
which had restored Miss Claudia Barriton to good sense and a
The next week was an epoch in my life. I seemed to live in the
centre of a Mad Tea-party, where every one was convinced of the
madness, and yet resolutely protested that nothing had happened. The
public events of those days were simple enough. While Lord Mulross's
ankle approached convalescence, the hives of politics were humming
with rumours. Vennard's speech had dissolved his party into its
parent elements, and the Opposition, as nonplussed as the Government,
did not dare as yet to claim the recruit. Consequently he was left
alone till he should see fit to take a further step. He refused to be
interviewed, using blasphemous language about our free Press; and
mercifully he showed no desire to make speeches. He went down to golf
at Littlestone, and rarely showed himself in the House. The earnest
young reformer seemed to have adopted not only the creed but the
habits of his enemies.
Mr. Cargill's was a hard case. He returned from Oldham, delighted
with himself and full of fight, to find awaiting him an urgent message
from the Prime Minister. His chief was sympathetic and kindly. He
had long noticed that the Home Secretary looked fagged and ill. There
was no Home Office Bill very pressing, and his assistance in general
debate could be dispensed with for a little. Let him take a
fortnight's holiday--fish, golf, yacht--the Prime Minister was airily
suggestive. In vain Mr. Cargill declared he was perfectly well. His
chief gently but firmly overbore him, and insisted on sending him his
own doctor. That eminent specialist, having been well coached, was
vaguely alarming, and insisted on a change. Then Mr. Cargill began to
suspect, and asked the Prime Minister point-blank if he objected to
his Oldham speech. He was told that there was no objection--a little
strong meat, perhaps, for Young Liberals, a little daring, but full of
Mr. Cargill's old intellectual power. Mollified and reassured, the
Home Secretary agreed to a week's absence, and departed for a little
salmon- fishing in Scotiand. His wife had meantime been taken into
the affair, and privately assured by the Prime Minister that she
would greatly ease the mind of the Cabinet if she could induce her
husband to take a longer holiday--say three weeks. She promised to do
her best and to keep her instructions secret, and the Cargills duly
departed for the North. "In a fortnight," said the Prime Minister to
my aunt, "he will have forgotten all this nonsense; but of course we
shall have to watch him very carefully in the future."
The Press was given its cue, and announced that Mr. Cargill had
spoken at Oldham while suffering from severe nervous breakdown, and
that the remarkable doctrines of that speech need not be taken
seriously. As I had expected, the public put its own interpretation
upon this tale. Men took each other aside in clubs, women gossiped in
drawing-rooms, and in a week the Cargill scandal had assumed amazing
proportions. The popular version was that the Home Secretary had got
very drunk at Caerlaverock House, and still under the influence of
liquor had addressed the Young Liberals at Oldham. He was now in an
Inebriates' Home, and would not return to the House that session. I
confess I trembled when I heard this story, for it was altogether too
libellous to pass unnoticed. I believed that soon it would reach the
ear of Cargill, fishing quietly at Tomandhoul, and that then there
would be the deuce to pay.
Nor was I wrong. A few days later I went to see my aunt to find
out how the land lay. She was very bitter, I remember, about Claudia
Barriton. "I expected sympathy and help from her, and she never comes
near me. I can understand her being absorbed in her engagement, but I
cannot understand the frivolous way she spoke when I saw her
yesterday. She had the audacity to say that both Mr. Vennard and Mr.
Cargill had gone up in her estimation. Young people can be so
I would have defended Miss Barriton, but at this moment an
astonishing figure was announced. It was Mrs. Cargill in travelling
dress, with a purple bonnet and a green motor-veil. Her face was
scarlet, whether from excitement or the winds of Tomandhoul, and she
charged down on us like a young bull.
"We have come back," she said, "to meet our accusers. "
"Accusers!" cried my aunt.
"Yes, accusers!" said the lady. "The abominable rumour about
Alexander has reached our ears. At this moment he is with the Prime
Minister, demanding an official denial. I have come to you, because
it was here, at your table, that Alexander is said to have fallen."
"I really don't know what you mean, Mrs. Cargill."
"I mean that Alexander is said to have become drunk while dining
here, to have been drunk when he spoke at Oldham, and to be now in a
Drunkard's Home." The poor lady broke down, "Alexander," she cried,
"who has been a teetotaller from his youth, and for thirty years an
elder in the U.P. Church! No form of intoxicant has ever been
permitted at our table. Even in illness the thing has never passed
My aunt by this time had pulled herself together. "If this
outrageous story is current, Mrs. Cargill, there was nothing for it
but to come back. Your friends know that it is a gross libel. The
only denial necessary is for Mr. Cargill to resume his work. I trust
his health is better."
"He is well, but heartbroken. His is a sensitive nature, Lady
Caerlaverock, and he feels a stain like a wound."
"There is no stain," said my aunt briskly. "Every public man is a
target for scandals, but no one but a fool believes them. They will
die a natural death when he returns to work. An official denial would
make everybody look ridiculous, and encourage the ordinary person to
think that there may have been something in them. Believe me, dear
Mrs. Cargill, there is nothing to be anxious about now that you are
back in London again."
On the contrary, I thought, there was more cause for anxiety than
ever. Cargill was back in the House and the illness game could not
be played a second time. I went home that night acutely sympathetic
towards the worries of the Prime Minister. Mulross would be abroad in
a day or two, and Vennard and Cargill were volcanoes in eruption. The
Government was in a parlous state, with three demented Ministers on
The same night I first heard the story of The Bill. Vennard had
done more than play golf at Littlestone. His active mind--for his
bitterest enemies never denied his intellectual energy--had been busy
on a great scheme. At that time, it will be remembered, a serious
shrinkage of unskilled labour existed not only in the Transvaal, but
in the new copper fields of East Africa. Simultaneously a famine was
scourging Behar, and Vennard, to do him justice, had made manful
efforts to cope with it. He had gone fully into the question, and had
been slowly coming to the conclusion that Behar was hopelessly
overcrowded. In his new frame of mind--unswervingly logical, utterly
unemotional, and wholly unbound by tradition--he had come to connect
the African and Indian troubles, and to see in one the relief of the
other. The first fruit of his meditations was a letter to The Times.
In it he laid down a new theory of emigration. The peoples of the
Empire, he said, must be mobile, shifting about to suit economic
conditions. But if this was true of the white man, it was equally
true for the dark races under our tutelage. He referred to the famine
and argued that the recurrence of such disasters was inevitable,
unless we assisted the poverty-stricken ryot to emigrate and sell his
labour to advantage. He proposed indentures and terminable contracts,
for he declared he had no wish to transplant for good. All that was
needed was a short season of wage-earning abroad, that the labourer
might return home with savings which would set him for the future on a
higher economic plane. The letter was temperate and academic in
phrasing, the speculation of a publicist rather than the declaration
of a Minister. But in Liberals, who remembered the pandemonium raised
over the Chinese in South Africa, it stirred up the gloomiest
Then, whispered from mouth to mouth, came the news of the Great
Bill. Vennard, it was said, intended to bring in a measure at the
earliest possible date to authorise a scheme of enforced and
State-aided emigration to the African mines. It would apply at first
only to the famine districts, but power would be given to extend its
working by proclamation to other areas. Such was the rumour, and I
need not say it was soon magnified. Questions were asked in the House
which the Speaker ruled out of order. Furious articles, inviting
denial, appeared in the Liberal Press; but Vennard took not the
slightest notice. He spent his time between his office in Whitehall
and the links at Littlestone, dropping into the House once or twice
for half an hour's slumber while a colleague was speaking. His Under
Secretary in the Lords--a young gentleman who had joined the party for
a bet, and to his immense disgust had been immediately rewarded with
office--lost his temper under cross-examination and swore audibly at
the Opposition. In a day or two the story universally believed was
that the Secretary for India was about to transfer the bulk of the
Indian people to work as indentured labourers for South African Jews.
It was this popular version, I fancy, which reached the ears of
Ram Singh, and the news came on him like a thunderclap. He thought
that what Vennard proposed Vennard could do. He saw his native
province stripped of its people, his fields left unploughed, and his
cattle untended; nay, it was possible, his own worthy and honourable
self sent to a far country to dig in a hole. It was a grievous and
intolerable prospect. He walked home to Gloucester Road in heavy
preoccupation, and the first thing he did was to get out the
mysterious brass box in which he kept his valuables. From a
pocket-book he took a small silk packet, opened it, and spilled a few
clear grains on his hand. It was the antidote.
He waited two days, while on all sides the rumour of the Bill grew
stronger and its provisions more stringent. Then he hesitated no
longer, but sent for Lord Caerlaverock's cook.
I conceive that the drug did not create new opinions, but elicited
those which had hitherto lain dormant. Every man has a creed, but in
his soul he knows that that creed has another side, possibly not less
logical, which it does not suit him to produce. Our most honest
convictions are not the children of pure reason, but of temperament,
environment, necessity, and interest. Most of us take sides in life
and forget the one we reject. But our conscience tells us it is
there, and we can on occasion state it with a fairness and fulness
which proves that it is not wholly repellent to our reason. During
the crisis I write of, the attitude of Cargill and Vennard was not
that of roysterers out for irresponsible mischief. They were
eminently reasonable and wonderfully logical, and in private
conversation they gave their opponents a very bad time. Cargill, who
had hitherto been the hope of the extreme Free-traders, wrote an
article for the Quarterly on Tariff Reform. It was set up, but long
before it could be used it was cancelled and the type scattered. I
have seen a proof of it, however, and I confess I have never read a
more brilliant defence of a doctrine which the author had hitherto
described as a childish heresy. Which proves my contention--that
Cargill all along knew that there was a case against Free Trade, but
naturally did not choose to admit it, his allegiance being vowed
elsewhere. The drug altered temperament, and with it the creed which
is based mainly on temperament. It scattered current convictions,
roused dormant speculations, and without damaging the reason switched
it on to a new track.
I can see all this now, but at the time I saw only stark madness
and the horrible ingenuity of the lunatic. While Vennard was
ruminating on his Bill, Cargill was going about London arguing like a
Scotch undergraduate. The Prime Minister had seen from the start that
the Home Secretary was the worse danger. Vennard might talk of his
preposterous Bill, but the Cabinet would have something to say to it
before its introduction, and he was mercifully disinclined to go near
St. Stephen's. But Cargill was assiduous in his attendance at the
House, and at any moment might blow the Government sky-high. His
colleagues were detailed in relays to watch him. One would hale him
to luncheon, and keep him till question time was over. Another would
insist on taking him for a motor ride, which would end in a break-down
about Brentford. Invitations to dinner were showered upon him, and
Cargill, who had been unknown in society, found the whole social
machinery of his party set at work to make him a lion. The result
was that he was prevented from speaking in public, but given far too
much encouragement to talk in private. He talked incessantly, before,
at, and after dinner, and he did enormous harm. He was horribly
clever, too, and usually got the best of an argument, so that various
eminent private Liberals had their tempers ruined by his dialectic.
In his rich and unabashed accent--he had long discarded his
Edinburgh-English--he dissected their arguments and ridiculed their
character. He had once been famous for his soapy manners: now he was
as rough as a Highland stot.
Things could not go on in this fashion: the risk was too great.
It was just a fortnight, I think, after the Caerlaverock
dinner-party, when the Prime Minister resolved to bring matters to a
head. He could not afford to wait for ever on a return of sanity. He
consulted Caerlaverock, and it was agreed that Vennard and Cargill
should be asked, or rather commanded to dine on the following evening
at Caerlaverock House. Mulross, whose sanity was not suspected, and
whose ankle was now well again, was also invited, as were three other
members of the Cabinet and myself as amicus curiae. It was understood
that after dinner there would be a settling-up with the two rebels.
Either they should recant and come to heel, or they should depart
from the fold to swell the wolf-pack of the Opposition. The Prime
Minister did not conceal the loss which his party would suffer, but
he argued very sensibly that anything was better than a brace of
vipers in its bosom.
I have never attended a more lugubrious function. When I arrived
I found Caerlaverock, the Prime Minister, and the three other members
of the Cabinet standing round a small fire in attitudes of nervous
dejection. I remember it was a raw wet evening, but the gloom out of
doors was sunshine compared to the gloom within. Caerlaverock's
viceregal air had sadly altered. The Prime Minister, once famous for
his genial manners, was pallid and preoccupied. We exchanged remarks
about the weather and the duration of the session. Then we fell
silent till Mulross arrived.
He did not look as if he had come from a sickbed. He came in as
jaunty as a boy, limping just a little from his accident. He was
greeted by his colleagues with tender solicitude,--solicitude, I
fear, completely wasted on him.
"Devilish silly thing to do to get run over," he said. "I was in
a brown study when a cab came round a corner. But I don't regret it,
you know. During the last fortnight I have had leisure to go into
this Bosnian Succession business, and I see now that Von Kladow has
been playing one big game of bluff. Very well; it has got to stop. I
am going to prick the bubble before I am many days older."
The Prime Minister looked anxious. "Our policy towards Bosnia has
been one of non-interference. It is not for us, I should have
thought, to read Germany a lesson."
"Oh, come now," Mulross said, slapping--yes, actually slapping--
his leader on the back; "we may drop that nonsense when we are alone.
You know very well that there are limits to our game of
non-interference. If we don't read Germany a lesson, she will read
us one--and a damned long unpleasant one too. The sooner we give up
all this milk-blooded, blue-spectacled, pacificist talk the better.
However, you will see what I have got to say to-morrow in the House."
The Prime Minister's face lengthened. Mulross was not the pillar
he had thought him, but a splintering reed. I saw that he agreed
with me that this was the most dangerous of the lot.
Then Cargill and Vennard came in together. Both looking
uncommonly fit, younger, trimmer, cleaner. Vennard, instead of his
sloppy clothes and shaggy hair, was groomed like a Guardsman; had a
large pearl-and-diamond solitaire in his shirt, and a white waistcoat
with jewelled buttons. He had lost all his self-consciousness,
grinned cheerfully at the others, warmed his hands at the fire, and
cursed the weather. Cargill, too, had lost his sanctimonious look.
There was a bloom of rustic health on his cheek, and a sparkle in his
eye, so that he had the appearance of some rosy Scotch laird of
Raeburn's painting. Both men wore an air of purpose and contentment .
Vennard turned at once on the Prime Minister. "Did you get my
letter?" he asked. "No? Well, you'll find it waiting when you get
home. We're all friends here, so I can tell you its contents. We
must get rid of this ridiculous Radical 'tail.' They think they have
the whip-hand of us; well, we have got to prove that we can do very
well without them. They are a collection of confounded, treacherous,
complacent prigs, but they have no grit in them, and will come to heel
if we tackle them firmly. I respect an honest fanatic, but I do not
respect those sentiment-mongers. They have the impudence to say that
the country is with them. I tell you it is rank nonsense. If you
take a strong hand with them, you'll double your popularity, and
we'll come back next year with an increased majority. Cargill
agrees with me."
The Prime Minister looked grave. "I am not prepared to discuss
any policy of ostracism. What you call our 'tail' is a vital section
of our party. Their creed may be one-sided, but it is none the less
part of our mandate from the people."
"I want a leader who governs as well as reigns," said Vennard. "I
believe in discipline, and you know as well as I do that the Rump is
infernally out of hand."
"They are not the only members who fail in discipline."
Vennard grinned. "I suppose you mean Cargill and myself. But we
are following the central lines of British policy. We are on your
side, and we want to make your task easier."
Cargill suddenly began to laugh. "I don't want any ostracism.
Leave them alone, and Vennard and I will undertake to give them such
a time in the House that they will wish they had never been born.
We'll make them resign in batches."
Dinner was announced, and, laughing uproariously, the two rebels
went arm-in-arm into the dining-room.
Cargill was in tremendous form. He began to tell Scotch stories,
memories of his old Parliament House days. He told them admirably,
with a raciness of idiom which I had thought beyond him. They were
long tales, and some were as broad as they were long, but Mr. Cargill
disarmed criticism. His audience, rather scandalised at the start,
were soon captured, and political troubles were forgotten in
old-fashioned laughter. Even the Prime Minister's anxious face
This lasted till the entree, the famous Caerlaverock curry.
As I have said, I was not in the secret, and did not detect the
transition. As I partook of the dish I remember feeling a sudden
giddiness and a slight nausea. The antidote, to those who had not
taken the drug, must have been, I suppose, in the nature of a mild
emetic. A mist seemed to obscure the faces of my fellow-guests, and
slowly the tide of conversation ebbed away. First Vennard, then
Cargill, became silent. I was feeling rather sick, and I noticed with
some satisfaction that all our faces were a little green. I wondered
casually if I had been poisoned.
The sensation passed, but the party had changed. More especially I
was soon conscious that something had happened to the three Ministers.
I noticed Mulross particularly, for he was my neighbour. The look of
keenness and vitality had died out of him, and suddenly he seemed a
rather old, rather tired man, very weary about the eyes.
I asked him if he felt seedy.
"No, not specially," he replied, "but that accident gave me a
"You should go off for a change," I said.
"I almost thimk I will," was the answer. "I had not meant to
leave town till just before the Twelth but I think I had better get
away to Marienbad for a fortnight. There is nothing doing in the
House, and work at the Office is at a standstill. Yes, I fancy I'll
go abroad before the end of the week."
I caught the Prime Minister's eye and saw that he had forgotten
the purpose of the dinner, being dimly conscious that that purpose
was now idle. Cargill and Vennard had ceased to talk like rebels.
The Home Secretary had subsided into his old, suave, phrasing self.
The humour had gone out of his eye, and the looseness had returned to
his lips. He was an older and more commonplace man, but harmless,
quite harmless. Vennard, too, wore a new air, or rather had
recaptured his old one. He was saying little, but his voice had lost
its crispness and recovered its half-plaintive unction; his shoulders
had a droop in them; once more he bristled with self-consciousness.
We others were still shaky from that detestable curry, and were so
puzzled as to be acutely uncomfortable. Relief would come later, no
doubt; for the present we were uneasy at this weird transformation. I
saw the Prime Minister examining the two faces intently, and the
result seemed to satisfy him. He sighed and looked at Caerlaverock,
who smiled and nodded.
"What about that Bill of yours, Vennard?" he asked. "There have
been a lot of stupid rumours."
"Bill?" Vennard said. "I know of no Bill. Now that my
departmental work is over, I can give my whole soul to Cargill's
Small Holdings. Do you mean that?"
"Yes, of course. There was some confusion in the popular mind,
but the old arrangement holds. You and Cargill will put it through
They began to talk about those weariful small holdings, and I
ceased to listen. We left the dining-room and drifted to the
lihrary, where a fire tried to dispel the gloom of the weather. There
was a feeling of deadly depression abroad, so that, for all its
awkwardness, I would really have preferred the former Caerlaverock
dinner. The Prime Minister was whispering to his host. I heard him
say something about there being "the devil of a lot of explaining"
Vennard and Cargill came last to the library, arm-in-arm as
"I should count it a greater honour," Vennard was saying, "to
sweeten the lot of one toiler in England than to add a million miles
to our territory. While one English household falls below the minimum
scale of civic wellbeing, all talk of Empire is sin and folly."
"Excellent!" said Mr. Cargill. Then I knew for certain that at last
peace had descended upon the vexed tents of Israel.