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Round The Red Lamp - A Question of Diplomacy

1. Behind the Times

2. His First Operation

3. A Straggler of '15

4. The Third Generation

5. A False Start

6. The Curse of Eve

7. Sweethearts

8. A Physiologist's Wife

9. The Case of Lady Sannox

10. A Question of Diplomacy

11. A Medical Document

12. Lot No. 249

13. The Los Amigos Fiasco

14. The Doctors of Hoyland

15. The Surgeon Talks

The Foreign Minister was down with the gout. For
a week he had been confined to the house, and he had
missed two Cabinet Councils at a time when the
pressure upon his department was severe. It is true
that he had an excellent undersecretary and an
admirable staff, but the Minister was a man of such
ripe experience and of such proven sagacity that
things halted in his absence. When his firm hand was
at the wheel the great ship of State rode easily and
smoothly upon her way; when it was removed she yawed
and staggered until twelve British editors rose up in
their omniscience and traced out twelve several
courses, each of which was the sole and only path to
safety. Then it was that the Opposition said vain
things, and that the harassed Prime Minister prayed
for his absent colleague.

The Foreign Minister sat in his dressing-room in
the great house in Cavendish Square. It was May, and
the square garden shot up like a veil of green in
front of his window, but, in spite of the
sunshine, a fire crackled and sputtered in the grate
of the sick-room. In a deep-red plush armchair sat
the great statesman, his head leaning back upon a
silken pillow, one foot stretched forward and
supported upon a padded rest. His deeply-lined,
finely-chiselled face and slow-moving, heavily-
pouched eyes were turned upwards towards the carved
and painted ceiling, with that inscrutable expression
which had been the despair and the admiration of his
Continental colleagues upon the occasion of the
famous Congress when he had made his first appearance
in the arena of European diplomacy. Yet at the
present moment his capacity for hiding his emotions
had for the instant failed him, for about the lines
of his strong, straight mouth and the puckers of his
broad, overhanging forehead, there were sufficient
indications of the restlessness and impatience which
consumed him.

And indeed there was enough to make a man chafe,
for he had much to think of and yet was bereft of the
power of thought. There was, for example, that
question of the Dobrutscha and the navigation of the
mouths of the Danube which was ripe for settlement.
The Russian Chancellor had sent a masterly statement
upon the subject, and it was the pet ambition of our
Minister to answer it in a worthy fashion. Then
there was the blockade of Crete, and the British
fleet lying off Cape Matapan, waiting for
instructions which might change the course of
European history. And there were those three
unfortunate Macedonian tourists, whose friends were
momentarily expecting to receive their ears or their
fingers in default of the exorbitant ransom which had
been demanded. They must be plucked out of those
mountains, by force or by diplomacy, or an outraged
public would vent its wrath upon Downing Street. All
these questions pressed for a solution, and yet here
was the Foreign Minister of England, planted in an
arm-chair, with his whole thoughts and attention
riveted upon the ball of his right toe! It was
humiliating--horribly humiliating! His reason
revolted at it. He had been a respecter of himself,
a respecter of his own will; but what sort of a
machine was it which could be utterly thrown out of
gear by a little piece of inflamed gristle? He
groaned and writhed among his cushions.

But, after all, was it quite impossible that he
should go down to the House? Perhaps the doctor was
exaggerating the situation. There was a Cabinet
Council that day. He glanced at his watch. It must
be nearly over by now. But at least he might perhaps
venture to drive down as far as Westminster. He
pushed back the little round table with its bristle
of medicine-bottles, and levering himself up with a
hand upon either arm of the chair, he clutched a
thick oak stick and hobbled slowly across the room.
For a moment as he moved, his energy of mind and body
seemed to return to him. The British fleet should
sail from Matapan. Pressure should be brought to
bear upon the Turks. The Greeks should be shown--Ow!
In an instant the Mediterranean was blotted out, and
nothing remained but that huge, undeniable,
intrusive, red-hot toe. He staggered to the window
and rested his left hand upon the ledge, while he
propped himself upon his stick with his right.
Outside lay the bright, cool, square garden, a few
well-dressed passers-by, and a single, neatly-
appointed carriage, which was driving away from his
own door. His quick eye caught the coat-of-arms on
the panel, and his lips set for a moment and his
bushy eyebrows gathered ominously with a deep furrow
between them. He hobbled back to his seat and struck
the gong which stood upon the table.

"Your mistress!" said he as the serving-man

It was clear that it was impossible to think of
going to the House. The shooting up his leg warned
him that his doctor had not overestimated the
situation. But he had a little mental worry now
which had for the moment eclipsed his physical
ailments. He tapped the ground impatiently with his
stick until the door of the dressing-room swung
open, and a tall, elegant lady of rather more than
middle age swept into the chamber. Her hair was
touched with grey, but her calm, sweet face had all
the freshness of youth, and her gown of green shot
plush, with a sparkle of gold passementerie at her
bosom and shoulders, showed off the lines of her fine
figure to their best advantage.

"You sent for me, Charles?"

"Whose carriage was that which drove away just

"Oh, you've been up!" she cried, shaking an
admonitory forefinger. "What an old dear it is! How
can you be so rash? What am I to say to Sir William
when he comes? You know that he gives up his cases
when they are insubordinate."

"In this instance the case may give him up," said
the Minister, peevishly; "but I must beg, Clara, that
you will answer my question."

"Oh! the carriage! It must have been Lord Arthur

"I saw the three chevrons upon the panel,"
muttered the invalid.

His lady had pulled herself a little straighter
and opened her large blue eyes.

"Then why ask?" she said. "One might almost
think, Charles, that you were laying a trap! Did you
expect that I should deceive you? You have not had
your lithia powder."

"For Heaven's sake, leave it alone! I asked
because I was surprised that Lord Arthur should call
here. I should have fancied, Clara, that I had made
myself sufficiently clear on that point. Who
received him?"

"I did. That is, I and Ida."

"I will not have him brought into contact with
Ida. I do not approve of it. The matter has gone
too far already."

Lady Clara seated herself on a velvet-topped
footstool, and bent her stately figure over the
Minister's hand, which she patted softly between her

"Now you have said it, Charles," said she. "It
has gone too far--I give you my word, dear, that I
never suspected it until it was past all mending. I
may be to blame--no doubt I am; but it was all so
sudden. The tail end of the season and a week at
Lord Donnythorne's. That was all. But oh! Charlie,
she loves him so, and she is our only one! How can
we make her miserable?"

"Tut, tut!" cried the Minister impatiently,
slapping on the plush arm of his chair. "This is too
much. I tell you, Clara, I give you my word, that
all my official duties, all the affairs of this great
empire, do not give me the trouble that Ida does."

"But she is our only one, Charles."

"The more reason that she should not make a

"Mesalliance, Charles! Lord Arthur
Sibthorpe, son of the Duke of Tavistock, with a
pedigree from the Heptarchy. Debrett takes them
right back to Morcar, Earl of Northumberland."

The Minister shrugged his shoulders.

"Lord Arthur is the fourth son of the poorest
duke in England," said he. "He has neither prospects
nor profession."

"But, oh! Charlie, you could find him both."

"I do not like him. I do not care for the

"But consider Ida! You know how frail her health
is. Her whole soul is set upon him. You would not
have the heart, Charles, to separate them?"

There was a tap at the door. Lady Clara swept
towards it and threw it open.

"Yes, Thomas?"

"If you please, my lady, the Prime Minister is

"Show him up, Thomas."

"Now, Charlie, you must not excite yourself over
public matters. Be very good and cool and
reasonable, like a darling. I am sure that I may
trust you."

She threw her light shawl round the invalid's
shoulders, and slipped away into the bed-room as
the great man was ushered in at the door of the

"My dear Charles," said he cordially, stepping
into the room with all the boyish briskness for which
he was famous, "I trust that you find yourself a
little better. Almost ready for harness, eh? We
miss you sadly, both in the House and in the Council.
Quite a storm brewing over this Grecian business.
The Times took a nasty line this morning."

"So I saw," said the invalid, smiling up at his
chief. "Well, well, we must let them see that the
country is not entirely ruled from Printing House
Square yet. We must keep our own course without

"Certainly, Charles, most undoubtedly," assented
the Prime Minister, with his hands in his pockets.

"It was so kind of you to call. I am all
impatience to know what was done in the Council."

"Pure formalities, nothing more. By-the-way, the
Macedonian prisoners are all right."

"Thank Goodness for that! "

"We adjourned all other business until we should
have you with us next week. The question of a
dissolution begins to press. The reports from the
provinces are excellent."

The Foreign Minister moved impatiently and

"We must really straighten up our foreign
business a little," said he. "I must get Novikoff's
Note answered. It is clever, but the fallacies are
obvious. I wish, too, we could clear up the Afghan
frontier. This illness is most exasperating. There
is so much to be done, but my brain is clouded.
Sometimes I think it is the gout, and sometimes I put
it down to the colchicum."

"What will our medical autocrat say?" laughed the
Prime Minister. "You are so irreverent, Charles.
With a bishop one may feel at one's ease. They are
not beyond the reach of argument. But a doctor with
his stethoscope and thermometer is a thing apart.
Your reading does not impinge upon him. He is
serenely above you. And then, of course, he takes
you at a disadvantage. With health and strength one
might cope with him. Have you read Hahnemann? What
are your views upon Hahnemann?"

The invalid knew his illustrious colleague too
well to follow him down any of those by-paths of
knowledge in which he delighted to wander. To his
intensely shrewd and practical mind there was
something repellent in the waste of energy involved
in a discussion upon the Early Church or the twenty-
seven principles of Mesmer. It was his custom to
slip past such conversational openings with a quick
step and an averted face.

"I have hardly glanced at his writings," said he.
"By-the-way, I suppose that there was no special
departmental news?"

"Ah! I had almost forgotten. Yes, it was one of
the things which I had called to tell you. Sir
Algernon Jones has resigned at Tangier. There is a
vacancy there."

"It had better be filled at once. The longer
delay the more applicants."

"Ah, patronage, patronage!" sighed the Prime
Minister. "Every vacancy makes one doubtful friend
and a dozen very positive enemies. Who so bitter as
the disappointed place-seeker? But you are right,
Charles. Better fill it at once, especially as there
is some little trouble in Morocco. I understand that
the Duke of Tavistock would like the place for his
fourth son, Lord Arthur Sibthorpe. We are under some
obligation to the Duke."

The Foreign Minister sat up eagerly.

"My dear friend," he said, "it is the very
appointment which I should have suggested. Lord
Arthur would be very much better in Tangier at
present than in--in----"

"Cavendish Square?" hazarded his chief, with a
little arch query of his eyebrows.

"Well, let us say London. He has manner and
tact. He was at Constantinople in Norton's time."

"Then he talks Arabic?"

"A smattering. But his French is good."

"Speaking of Arabic, Charles, have you dipped
into Averroes?"

"No, I have not. But the appointment would be an
excellent one in every way. Would you have the great
goodness to arrange the matter in my absence?"

"Certainly, Charles, certainly. Is there
anything else that I can do?"

"No. I hope to be in the House by Monday."

"I trust so. We miss you at every turn. The
Times will try to make mischief over that Grecian
business. A leader-writer is a terribly
irresponsible thing, Charles. There is no method by
which he may be confuted, however preposterous his
assertions. Good-bye! Read Porson! Goodbye!"

He shook the invalid's hand, gave a jaunty wave
of his broad-brimmed hat, and darted out of the room
with the same elasticity and energy with which he had
entered it.

The footman had already opened the great folding
door to usher the illustrious visitor to his
carriage, when a lady stepped from the drawing-room
and touched him on the sleeve. From behind the half-
closed portiere of stamped velvet a little pale face
peeped out, half-curious, half-frightened.

"May I have one word?"

"Surely, Lady Clara."

"I hope it is not intrusive. I would not for the
world overstep the limits----"

"My dear Lady Clara!" interrupted the Prime
Minister, with a youthful bow and wave.

"Pray do not answer me if I go too far. But I
know that Lord Arthur Sibthorpe has applied for
Tangier. Would it be a liberty if I asked you what
chance he has?"

"The post is filled up."


In the foreground and background there was a
disappointed face.

"And Lord Arthur has it."

The Prime Minister chuckled over his little piece
of roguery.

"We have just decided it," he continued.

"Lord Arthur must go in a week. I am delighted
to perceive, Lady Clara, that the appointment has
your approval. Tangier is a place of extraordinary
interest. Catherine of Braganza and Colonel Kirke
will occur to your memory. Burton has written well
upon Northern Africa. I dine at Windsor, so I am
sure that you will excuse my leaving you. I trust
that Lord Charles will be better. He can hardly fail
to be so with such a nurse."

He bowed, waved, and was off down the steps
to his brougham. As he drove away, Lady Clara
could see that he was already deeply absorbed in a
paper-covered novel.

She pushed back the velvet curtains, and returned
into the drawing-room. Her daughter stood in the
sunlight by the window, tall, fragile, and exquisite,
her features and outline not unlike her mother's, but
frailer, softer, more delicate. The golden light
struck one half of her high-bred, sensitive face, and
glimmered upon her thickly-coiled flaxen hair,
striking a pinkish tint from her closely-cut costume
of fawn-coloured cloth with its dainty cinnamon
ruchings. One little soft frill of chiffon nestled
round her throat, from which the white, graceful neck
and well-poised head shot up like a lily amid moss.
Her thin white hands were pressed together, and her
blue eyes turned beseechingly upon her mother.

"Silly girl! Silly girl!" said the matron,
answering that imploring look. She put her hands
upon her daughter's sloping shoulders and drew her
towards her. "It is a very nice place for a short
time. It will be a stepping stone."

"But oh! mamma, in a week! Poor Arthur!"

"He will be happy."

"What! happy to part?"

"He need not part. You shall go with him."

"Oh! mamma!"

"Yes, I say it."

"Oh! mamma, in a week?"

"Yes indeed. A great deal may be done in a week.
I shall order your trousseau to-day."

"Oh! you dear, sweet angel! But I am so
frightened! And papa? Oh! dear, I am so

"Your papa is a diplomatist, dear."

"Yes, ma."

"But, between ourselves, he married a diplomatist
too. If he can manage the British Empire, I think
that I can manage him, Ida. How long have you been
engaged, child?"

"Ten weeks, mamma."

"Then it is quite time it came to a head. Lord
Arthur cannot leave England without you. You must go
to Tangier as the Minister's wife. Now, you will sit
there on the settee, dear, and let me manage
entirely. There is Sir William's carriage! I do
think that I know how to manage Sir William. James,
just ask the doctor to step in this way!"

A heavy, two-horsed carriage had drawn up at the
door, and there came a single stately thud upon the
knocker. An instant afterwards the drawing-room door
flew open and the footman ushered in the famous
physician. He was a small man, clean-shaven, with
the old-fashioned black dress and white cravat with
high-standing collar. He swung his golden pince-
nez in his right hand as he walked, and bent
forward with a peering, blinking expression, which
was somehow suggestive of the dark and complex cases
through which he had seen.

"Ah" said he, as he entered. "My young patient!
I am glad of the opportunity."

"Yes, I wish to speak to you about her, Sir
William. Pray take this arm-chair."

"Thank you, I will sit beside her," said he,
taking his place upon the settee. "She is looking
better, less anaemic unquestionably, and a fuller
pulse. Quite a little tinge of colour, and yet not

"I feel stronger, Sir William."

"But she still has the pain in the side."

"Ah, that pain!" He tapped lightly under the
collar-bones, and then bent forward with his biaural
stethoscope in either ear. "Still a trace of
dulness--still a slight crepitation," he murmured.

"You spoke of a change, doctor."

"Yes, certainly a judicious change might be

"You said a dry climate. I wish to do to the
letter what you recommend."

"You have always been model patients."

"We wish to be. You said a dry climate."

"Did I? I rather forget the particulars of our
conversation. But a dry climate is certainly

"Which one?"

"Well, I think really that a patient should be
allowed some latitude. I must not exact too rigid
discipline. There is room for individual choice--the
Engadine, Central Europe, Egypt, Algiers, which you

"I hear that Tangier is also recommended."

"Oh, yes, certainly; it is very dry."

"You hear, Ida? Sir William says that you are to
go to Tangier."

"Or any----"

"No, no, Sir William! We feel safest when we are
most obedient. You have said Tangier, and we shall
certainly try Tangier."

"Really, Lady Clara, your implicit faith is most
flattering. It is not everyone who would sacrifice
their own plans and inclinations so readily."

"We know your skill and your experience, Sir
William. Ida shall try Tangier. I am convinced that
she will be benefited."

"I have no doubt of it."

"But you know Lord Charles. He is just a little
inclined to decide medical matters as he would an
affair of State. I hope that you will be firm with

"As long as Lord Charles honours me so far as to
ask my advice I am sure that he would not place me in
the false position of having that advice

The medical baronet whirled round the cord of his
pince-nez and pushed out a protesting hand.

"No, no, but you must be firm on the point of

"Having deliberately formed the opinion that
Tangier is the best place for our young patient, I do
not think that I shall readily change my conviction."

"Of course not."

"I shall speak to Lord Charles upon the subject
now when I go upstairs."

"Pray do."

"And meanwhile she will continue her present
course of treatment. I trust that the warm African
air may send her back in a few months with all her
energy restored."

He bowed in the courteous, sweeping, old-world
fashion which had done so much to build up his ten
thousand a year, and, with the stealthy gait of a man
whose life is spent in sick-rooms, he followed the
footman upstairs.

As the red velvet curtains swept back into
position, the Lady Ida threw her arms round her
mother's neck and sank her face on to her bosom.

"Oh! mamma, you ARE a diplomatist!" she

But her mother's expression was rather that
of the general who looked upon the first smoke
of the guns than of one who had won the victory.

"All will be right, dear," said she, glancing
down at the fluffy yellow curls and tiny ear. "There
is still much to be done, but I think we may venture
to order the trousseau."

"Oh I how brave you are!"

"Of course, it will in any case be a very quiet
affair. Arthur must get the license. I do not
approve of hole-and-corner marriages, but where the
gentleman has to take up an official position some
allowance must be made. We can have Lady Hilda
Edgecombe, and the Trevors, and the Grevilles, and I
am sure that the Prime Minister would run down if he

"And papa?"

"Oh, yes; he will come too, if he is well enough.
We must wait until Sir William goes, and, meanwhile,
I shall write to Lord Arthur."

Half an hour had passed, and quite a number of
notes had been dashed off in the fine, bold, park-
paling handwriting of the Lady Clara, when the door
clashed, and the wheels of the doctor's carriage were
heard grating outside against the kerb. The Lady
Clara laid down her pen, kissed her daughter, and
started off for the sick-room. The Foreign Minister
was lying back in his chair, with a red silk
handkerchief over his forehead, and his bulbous,
cotton-wadded foot still protruding upon its rest.

"I think it is almost liniment time," said Lady
Clara, shaking a blue crinkled bottle. "Shall I put
on a little?"

"Oh! this pestilent toe!" groaned the sufferer.
"Sir William won't hear of my moving yet. I do
think he is the most completely obstinate and pig-
headed man that I have ever met. I tell him that he
has mistaken his profession, and that I could find
him a post at Constantinople. We need a mule out

"Poor Sir William!" laughed Lady Clara. But how
has he roused your wrath?"

"He is so persistent-so dogmatic."

"Upon what point? "

"Well, he has been laying down the law about Ida.
He has decreed, it seems, that she is to go to

"He said something to that effect before he went
up to you."

"Oh, he did, did he?"

The slow-moving, inscrutable eye came sliding
round to her.

Lady Clara's face had assumed an expression of
transparent obvious innocence, an intrusive candour
which is never seen in nature save when a woman is
bent upon deception.

"He examined her lungs, Charles. He did not
say much, but his expression was very grave."

"Not to say owlish," interrupted the Minister.

"No, no, Charles; it is no laughing matter. He
said that she must have a change. I am sure that he
thought more than he said. He spoke of dulness and
crepitation. and the effects of the African air.
Then the talk turned upon dry, bracing health
resorts, and he agreed that Tangier was the place.
He said that even a few months there would work a

"And that was all?"

"Yes, that was all."

Lord Charles shrugged his shoulders with the air
of a man who is but half convinced.

"But of course," said Lady Clara, serenely, if
you think it better that Ida should not go she shall
not. The only thing is that if she should get worse
we might feel a little uncomfortable afterwards. In
a weakness of that sort a very short time may make a
difference. Sir William evidently thought the matter
critical. Still, there is no reason why he should
influence you. It is a little responsibility,
however. If you take it all upon yourself and free
me from any of it, so that afterwards----"

"My dear Clara, how you do croak!"

"Oh! I don't wish to do that, Charles. But
you remember what happened to Lord Bellamy's
child. She was just Ida's age. That was another
case in which Sir William's advice was disregarded."

Lord Charles groaned impatiently.

"I have not disregarded it," said he.

"No, no, of course not. I know your strong
sense, and your good heart too well, dear. You were
very wisely looking at both sides of the question.
That is what we poor women cannot do. It is emotion
against reason, as I have often heard you say. We
are swayed this way and that, but you men are
persistent, and so you gain your way with us. But I
am so pleased that you have decided for Tangier."

"Have I?"

"Well, dear, you said that you would not
disregard Sir William."

"Well, Clara, admitting that Ida is to go to
Tangier, you will allow that it is impossible for me
to escort her?


"And for you?

"While you are ill my place is by your side."

"There is your sister?"

"She is going to Florida."

"Lady Dumbarton, then?"

"She is nursing her father. It is out of the

"Well, then, whom can we possibly ask?
Especially just as the season is commencing. You
see, Clara, the fates fight against Sir William."

His wife rested her elbows against the back of
the great red chair, and passed her fingers through
the statesman's grizzled curls, stooping down as she
did so until her lips were close to his ear.

"There is Lord Arthur Sibthorpe," said she

Lord Charles bounded in his chair, and muttered a
word or two such as were more frequently heard from
Cabinet Ministers in Lord Melbourne's time than now.

"Are you mad, Clara!" he cried. "What can have
put such a thought into your head?"

"The Prime Minister."

"Who? The Prime Minister?"

"Yes, dear. Now do, do be good! Or perhaps I
had better not speak to you about it any more."

"Well, I really think that you have gone rather
too far to retreat."

"It was the Prime Minister, then, who told me
that Lord Arthur was going to Tangier."

"It is a fact, though it had escaped my memory
for the instant."

"And then came Sir William with his advice
about Ida. Oh! Charlie, it is surely more than
a coincidence!"

"I am convinced," said Lord Charles, with his
shrewd, questioning gaze, "that it is very much more
than a coincidence, Lady Clara. You are a very
clever woman, my dear. A born manager and

Lady Clara brushed past the compliment.

"Think of our own young days, Charlie," she
whispered, with her fingers still toying with his
hair. "What were you then? A poor man, not even
Ambassador at Tangier. But I loved you, and believed
in you, and have I ever regretted it? Ida loves and
believes in Lord Arthur, and why should she ever
regret it either?"

Lord Charles was silent. His eyes were fixed
upon the green branches which waved outside the
window; but his mind had flashed back to a Devonshire
country-house of thirty years ago, and to the one
fateful evening when, between old yew hedges, he
paced along beside a slender girl, and poured out to
her his hopes, his fears, and his ambitious. He took
the white, thin hand and pressed it to his lips.

"You, have been a good wife to me, Clara," said

She said nothing. She did not attempt to improve
upon her advantage. A less consummate general might
have tried to do so, and ruined all. She stood
silent and submissive, noting the quick play of
thought which peeped from his eyes and lip. There
was a sparkle in the one and a twitch of amusement in
the other, as he at last glanced up at her.

"Clara," said he, "deny it if you can! You have
ordered the trousseau."

She gave his ear a little pinch.

"Subject to your approval," said she.

"You have written to the Archbishop."

"It is not posted yet."

"You have sent a note to Lord Arthur."

"How could you tell that?"

"He is downstairs now."

"No; but I think that is his brougham."

Lord Charles sank back with a look of half-
comical despair.

"Who is to fight against such a woman?" he cried.
"Oh! if I could send you to Novikoff! He is too much
for any of my men. But, Clara, I cannot have them up

"Not for your blessing?"

"No, no!"

"It would make them so happy."

"I cannot stand scenes."

"Then I shall convey it to them."

"And pray say no more about it--to-day, at any
rate. I have been weak over the matter."

"Oh! Charlie, you who are so strong!"

"You have outflanked me, Clara. It was very well
done. I must congratulate you."

"Well," she murmured, as she kissed him, "you
know I have been studying a very clever diplomatist
for thirty years."

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