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CHAPTER XVI. LOOKING ABOUT HIM.

During the rest of that broken term Dick did little work at history: he had lost heart for Oxford, and was occupied mainly in looking out for employment, scholastic or otherwise. Employment, however, wasn't so easy to get. It never is nowadays. And Dick's case was peculiar. A certain vague suspicion always attaches to a man who has left the University, or proposes to leave it, without taking his degree. Dick found this disqualification told heavily against him. Everybody at Durham, to be sure, quite understood that Plantagenet was only going down from stress of private circumstances, the father having left his family wholly unprovided for; but elsewhere people looked askance at an applicant for work who could but give his possession of a college Scholarship as his sole credential. The Dons, of course, were more anxious that Plantagenet should stop up, to do credit to the college—he was a safe First in History, and hot favourite for the Lothian—than that he should go away and get paying work elsewhere; and in the end poor Dick began almost to despair of finding any other employment to bring in prompt cash than the hateful one at Chidding-wick, which Maud had so determinedly set her face against.

Nor was it Maud only with whom he had now to contend in that matter of the Assembly Rooms. Mary, too, was against him. As soon as Maud returned to Chiddingwick, she had made it a duty to go straight to Mary and tell her how she felt about Dick's horrid proposal. Now, Mary, at the first blush of it, had been so full of admiration for Dick's heroic resolve—'for it was heroic, you know, Maud,' she said simply, calling her future sister-in-law for the first time by her Christian name—that she forgot at the moment the bare possibility of trying to advise Dick otherwise. But now that Maud suggested the opposite point of view to her, she saw quite clearly that Maud was right; while she herself, less accustomed to facing the facts of life, had been carried away at first sight by a specious piece of unnecessary self-sacrifice. She admired Dick all the same for it, but she recognised none the less that the heroic course was not necessarily the wisest one.

So she wrote to Dick, urging him strongly—not only for his own sake, but for hers and his family's—to keep away from Chiddingwick, save in the last extremity. She was quite ready, she declared, if he did come, to stand by every word she had said on the point when he first came to see her; but, still, Maud had convinced her that it was neither to his own interest nor his mother's and sisters' that he should turn back again now upon the upward step he had taken in going up to Oxford. She showed the letter to Maud before sending it off; and as soon as Maud had read it, the two girls, united in their love and devotion for Dick, fell on one another's necks, and kissed and cried and sobbed with all their hearts till they were perfectly happy.

All this, however, though very wise in its way, didn't make poor Dick's path any the smoother to travel. He was at his wits' end what to do. No door seemed to open for him. But fortunately Maud had commended her cause to Archie Gillespie at parting. Now, Gillespie was a practical man, with more knowledge of the world than Dick or his sweetheart, being, indeed, the son of a well-to-do Glasgow lawyer, whose business he was to join on leaving Oxford. He had discovered, therefore, the importance in this world of the eternal backstairs, as contrasted with the difficulty of effecting an entrance anywhere by the big front door or other recognised channels. So, when Sir Bernard Gillingham, that mighty man at the Foreign Office, came up on his promised visit to his son at Durham, Gillespie took good care to make the best of the occasion by getting an introduction to him from the Born Poet; and being a person of pleasant manners and graceful address, he soon succeeded in producing a most favourable impression on the mind of the diplomatist. Diplomatists are always immensely struck by a man who can speak the truth and yet be courteous. The last they exact as a sine qua non in life, but the first is a novelty to them. After awhile Gillespie mentioned to his new friend the painful case of an undergraduate of his college, Plan-tagenet by name, whose father had lately died under peculiar circumstances, leaving a large family totally unprovided for, and who was consequently obliged to go down without a degree and take what paying work he could find elsewhere immediately.

'Plantagenet! Let me see—that's the fellow that beat Trev for the History Scholarship, isn't it?' Sir Bernard said, musing. 'Can't be one of the Sheffield Plantagenets? No—no; for they left a round sum of money, which has never been claimed, and is still in Chancery. Extinct, I believe—extinct. Yet the name's uncommon.'

'This Plantagenet of ours claims to be something much more exalted than that,' the Born Poet answered, trying to seem unconcerned: for ever since that little affair of the recitation from Barry Neville's Collected Works, his conscience or its substitute had sorely smitten him. 'I believe he wouldn't take the other Plantagenets' money if it came to him by right: he's so firmly convinced he's a son and heir of the genuine blood royal. He never says so, of course; he's much too cute for such folly. But he lets it be seen through a veil of profound reserve he's the real Simon Pure of Plantagenets, for all that; and I fancy he considers the Queen herself a mere new-fangled Stuart, whom he probably regards as Queen of Scots only.'

'Plantagenet!' Sir Bernard went on, still in the same musing voice, hardly heeding his son. 'And a specialist in history! One would say the man was cut out for the Pipe-roll or the Record Office.'

'He knows more about the history of the Plantagenet period than any man I ever met,' Gillespie put in, striking while the iron was hot. 'If you should happen to hear of any chance at the Record Office, now, or any department like that, a recommendation from you——'

Sir Bernard snapped his fingers. 'Too late by fifty years!' he cried, with a pout of discontent—'too late by fifty years, at the very least, Mr. Gillespie! The competitive examination system has been the ruin of the country! Why, look at the sort of young men that scrape in somehow nowadays, even into the diplomatic service-some of them, I assure you, with acquired h's, which to my mind are almost worse than no Ws at all, they're so painfully obtrusive. I mean Trev for the diplomatic service; and in the good old days, before this nonsense cropped up, I should have said to the fellow at the head of the F. O. for the time being: “Look here, I say, Smith or Jones, can't you find my eldest boy a good thing off the reel in our line somewhere?” And, by Jove! sir, before the week was out, as safe as houses, I'd have seen that boy gazetted outright to a paid attachéship at Rio or Copenhagen. But what's the case nowadays? Why, ever since this wretched examination fad has come up to spoil all, my boy'll have to go in and try his luck, helter-skelter, against all the tinkers and tailors, and soldiers and sailors, and butchers and bakers, and candlestick-makers in the United Kingdom. That's what examinations have done for us. It's simply atrocious!'

Gillespie, with native tact, poured oil on the troubled waters.

'There are departments of the public service,' he said with polite vagueness, 'where birth and position no doubt enable a man to serve the State better than most of us others can serve it; and diplomacy is one of them. But, even judged by that standard, the name of Plantagenet is surely one which has done solid work in its time for the country; for the monarch, as Joseph the Second so profoundly said, is the chief of the Civil Service. As to examinations'—and he looked at Sir Bernard with a quiet smile—'men of the world like yourself know perfectly well there are still many posts of a reserved character which the head of a department holds, and must hold, in his own gift personally.'

Sir Bernard gazed hard at him and smiled a mollified smile.

'Oh, you've found that out already, have you?' he murmured dryly. 'Well, you're a very intelligent and well-informed young man: I wouldn't object to you at all for a Secretary of Legation. A secretary, as a rule, is another name for a born fool; they're put there by the F. O. on purpose to annoy one.'

And he smiled a bland smile, and nodded sagely at Gillespie. But no more was said for the moment about a post for Dick Plantagenet.

As father and son sat together at lunch, however, that morning in Edward Street, the Born Poet recurred somewhat tentatively to the intermitted subject.

'I wish, pater,' he said with assumed carelessness, 'you could manage to do something or other for that fellow Plantagenet. He's not a bad sort, though he's eccentric; and he's a real dab at history. He's been a protégé of mine in a way since he came to Durham; and though he gives himself mysterious airs on the strength of his name, and is a bit of a smug at times, still there are really points about him. He's simply wonderful on Henry the Second.'

Sir Bernard hummed and hawed, and helped himself reflectively to another devilled anchovy.

'This cook does savouries remarkably well,' he replied, with oblique regard. 'I never tasted anything better than these and his stuffed Greek olives.—Such places exist, of course, but they're precious hard to get. Special aptitude for the work, and very close relationship to a Cabinet Minister, are indispensable qualifications. However, I'll bear it in mind—I'll bear it in mind for you, Trevor. I shall be dining with Sir Everard on Tuesday week, and I'll mention the matter to him.'

Whether Sir Bernard mentioned the matter to the famous Minister or not, history fails to record for us. That sort of history always goes unwritten. But it happened, at any rate, that by the end of the next week the Dean called up Gillespie after lecture one morning, and informed him privately that a letter had arrived that day from a distinguished person, inquiring particularly after Mr. Richard Plantagenet's qualifications for the post of Assistant-Decipherer to the Pipe-roll and Tally Office, with special reference to his acquaintance with legal Norman-French and medi?val Latin.

'And I was able,' the Dean added, 'to enclose in my reply a most satisfactory testimonial to your friend's knowledge of both from our two chief history lecturers.'

Gillespie thanked him warmly, but said nothing to Dick about it.

Three days later a big official envelope, inscribed in large print 'On Her Majesty's Service,' arrived at the door of Third Pair left, Back Quad, addressed to Richard Plantagenet, Esq.,.Durham College, Oxford. Dick opened it with great trepidation; this was surely a bad moment to come down upon his poor purse with a demand for income tax. But he read the contents with breathless astonishment. It was to the effect that the Right Honourable the Director of Pipe-rolls, having heard of Mr. Plantagenet as possessing a unique acquaintance with Norman-French documents, and an efficient knowledge of medi?val Latin, desired to offer him the post of Assistant Registrar and Chief Clerk in his office, an appointment directly in the Bight Honourable's own gift, and carrying with it a salary commencing at two hundred and fifty pounds a year, and rising by annual increments of ten pounds at a time to a maximum of four hundred.

To the family at Chiddingwick such an income as that was unimagined wealth beyond the dreams of avarice. Dick rushed off with the letter in hot haste to Gillespie, who received him with the quiet smile of a consummate confederate.

'The only thing about it that makes me hesitate,' Dick cried, with a strange moisture in his clear blue eyes, 'is just this, Gillespie—oughtn't the post by rights to have been put up to public competition? Mayn't I perhaps be keeping some better man out of it?'

Gillespie smiled again; he had been fully prepared beforehand for that qualm of the sensitive Plantagenet conscience.

'My dear fellow,' he said, pressing Dick's arm, 'that's not a question for you, don't you see, at all, but for the Government and the Legislature. If they choose to decide that this particular post is best filled up by private nomination, I don't think it's for the nominee to raise the first objection—especially when he's a man who must feel himself capable of doing the particular work in question at least as well as any other fellow in England is likely to do it. I'm no great believer myself in the immaculate wisdom of kings or governments, which seem to me to consist, like any other committee, of human beings; but there are some posts, I really think and believe, that can best be filled up by careful individual choice, and not by competition; and this post you're now offered seems to me just one of them. If governments always blundered on as good a man to do the work that then and there wants doing—why, I, for one, would be a deal better satisfied with them.'

So that very afternoon Dick went down to Chiddingwick to bear news to Maud and his mother of this piece of good fortune that had dropped as it seemed from the clouds upon them. For he never knew, either then or afterwards, what part that wily diplomate, Sir Bernard Gillingham, had borne in procuring the offer of the post for him. If he had known, it is probable he would have declined to accept any favour at all from the father of the man who, as he firmly believed, had helped to kill his father. Maud's triumph and delight, however, were unclouded and unbounded; this event served to show the wisdom of her pet policy; but she seemed hardly so much astonished at the news, Dick thought, as he himself had expected. This was the less to be wondered at, because, in point of fact, it was not quite so novel to her as it had been to Dick; for at that very moment Maud carried in her bosom a small square note, beginning, 'Dear Miss Plantagenet,' and signed, 'Ever yours most sincerely, Archibald Gillespie,' in which the probability of just such an offer being made before long was not obscurely hinted at. However, Maud kept that letter entirely to herself; it was not the first—or the last—she received from the same quarter.

This change of front affected all their movements. As soon as term was ended, Dick went up to London to take up the duties and emoluments of his office. But that was not all. By Gillespie's advice—Gillespie seemed to take an almost fraternal interest now in the affairs of the family—Mrs. Plantagenet and the children moved to London, too, to be with Dick in his lodgings. Gillespie thought Miss Plantagenet's musical taste so remarkable, he said, that she ought to be intown, where sound instruction could be got in singing; and he was so full of this point that Maud consented to give up her own work at Chiddingwick and take a place as daily governess in London instead, going out in the afternoon to a famous vocalist. Gillespie believed they ought all to be removed as far as possible from the blighting memory of their father's degradation; and he attached so much importance to this matter that he came down once or twice to Chiddingwick himself during the Christmas vacation, in order to see them all safely removed to Pimlico.

It was wonderful, Dick thought, what a brotherly interest that good fellow always took in all that concerned them; yet when he said so to Maud, that unconscionable young woman only blushed and looked down with a self-conscious air that was very unusual to her. But there! girls are so queer: though Gillespie had been so kind, Maud never once said a word, as one might naturally have expected, about how nice he had been to them. For his part, Dick thought her almost positively ungrateful.


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