There was a certain scornful ring in the question.

‘Robert Bludward? An out-an’-out rotter, that’s what he is. Ought to be ashamed to look any decent man in the face. Send him to Parliament to represent us—not much! He’d rob a poor man of his last shilling, he would.’

‘Ah, that he would. Tells a pack of lies to get our votes, that’s all that he’s after, damn him. Did you see the way the Argus showed him up this week? Properly exposed him, hip and thigh, I tell you.’

And so on they ran, in their withering indictment. There could be no doubt that it was Alethia’s cousin and prospective host to whom they were referring; the allusion to a Parliamentary candidature settled that. What could Robert Bludward have done, what manner of man could he be, that people should speak of him with such obvious reprobation?

‘He was hissed down at Shoalford yesterday,’ said one of the speakers.

Hissed! Had it come to that? There was something dramatically biblical in the idea of Robert Bludward’s neighbours and acquaintances hissing him for very scorn. Lord Hereward Stranglath had been hissed, now Alethia came to think of it, in the eighth chapter of Matterbty Towers, while in the act of opening a Wesleyan bazaar, because he was suspected (unjustly as it turned out afterwards) of having beaten the German governess to death. And in Tainted Guineas Roper Squenderby had been deservedly hissed, on the steps of the Jockey Club, for having handed a rival owner a forged telegram, containing false news of his mother’s death, just before the start for an important race, thereby ensuring the withdrawal of his rival’s horse. In placid Saxon-blooded England people did not demonstrate their feelings lightly and without some strong compelling cause. What manner of evildoer was Robert Bludward?

The train stopped at another small station, and the two men got out. One of them left behind him a copy of the Argus, the local paper to which he had made reference. Alethia pounced on it, in the expectation of finding a cultured literary endorsement of the censure which these rough farming men had expressed in their homely, honest way. She had not far to look; ‘Mr Robert Bludward, Swanker,’ was the title of one of the principal articles in the paper. She did not exactly know what a swanker was, probably it referred to some unspeakable form of cruelty, but she read enough in the first few sentences of the article to discover that her cousin Robert, the man at whose house she was about to stay, was an unscrupulous, unprincipled character, of a low order of intelligence, yet cunning withal, and that he and his associates were responsible for most of the misery, disease, poverty, and ignorance with which the country was afflicted; never, except in one or two of the denunciatory Psalms, which she had always supposed to have been written in a spirit of exaggerated Oriental imagery, had she read such an indictment of a human being. And this monster was going to meet her at Derrelton Station in a few short minutes. She would know him at once; he would have the dark beetling brows, the quick, furtive glance, the sneering, unsavoury smile that always characterised the Sir Jaspers of this world. It was too late to escape; she must force herself to meet him with outward calm.

It was a considerable shock to her to find that Robert was fair, with a snub nose, merry eye, and rather a schoolboy manner. ‘A serpent in duckling’s plumage,’ was her private comment; merciful chance had revealed him to her in his true colours.

As they drove away from the station a dissipated-looking man of the labouring class waved his hat in friendly salute. ‘Good luck to you, Mr Bludward,’ he shouted; ‘you’ll come out on top! We’ll break old Chobham’s neck for him.’

‘Who was that man?’ asked Alethia quickly.

‘Oh, one of my supporters,’ laughed Robert; ‘a bit of a poacher and a bit of a pub-loafer, but he’s on the right side.’

  By PanEris using Melati.

Previous page Back Home Email this Search Discuss Bookmark Next page
Copyright: All texts on Bibliomania are © Ltd, and may not be reproduced in any form without our written permission. See our FAQ for more details.