‘Oh, stop that inane rubbish,’ said Belturbet angrily; ‘it’s getting wearisome. Here’s Quinston coming,’ he added, as there approached along the almost deserted path the well-known figure of a young Cabinet Minister, whose personality evoked a curious mixture of public interest and unpopularity.

‘Hurry along, my dear man,’ said the young Duke to the Minister, who had given him a condescending nod; ‘your time is running short,’ he continued in a provocative strain; ‘the whole inept crowd of you will shortly be swept away into the world’s wastepaper basket.’

‘You poor little strawberry-leafed nonentity,’ said the Minister, checking himself for a moment in his stride and rolling out his words spasmodically; ‘who is going to sweep us away, I should like to know? The voting masses are on our side, and all the ability and administrative talent is on our side too. No power of earth or Heaven is going to move us from our place till we choose to quit it. No power of earth or—’

Belturbet saw, with bulging eyes, a sudden void where a moment earlier had been a Cabinet Minister; a void emphasised rather than relieved by the presence of a puffed-out bewildered-looking sparrow, which hopped about for a moment in a dazed fashion and then fell to a violent cheeping and scolding.

‘If we could understand sparrow-language,’ said the Duke serenely, ‘I fancy we should hear something infinitely worse than “strawberry-leafed nonentity.”

‘But good Heavens, Eugene,’ said Belturbet hoarsely, ‘what has become of—Why, there he is! How on earth did he get there?’ And he pointed with a shaking finger towards a semblance of the vanished Minister, which approached once more along the unfrequented path.

The Duke laughed.

‘It is Quinston to all outward appearance,’ he said composedly, ‘but I fancy you will find, on closer investigation, that it is an angel understudy of the real article.’

The Angel-Quinston greeted them with a friendly smile.

‘How beastly happy you two look sitting there!’ he said wistfully.

‘I don’t suppose you’d care to change places with poor little us,’ replied the Duke chaffingly.

‘How about poor little me?’ said the Angel modestly. ‘I’ve got to run about behind the wheels of popularity, like a spotted dog behind a carriage, getting all the dust and trying to look as if I was an important part of the machine. I must seem a perfect fool to you onlookers sometimes.’

‘I think you are a perfect angel,’ said the Duke.

The Angel-that-had-been-Quinston smiled and passed on his way, pursued across the breadth of the Horse Guards Parade by a tiresome little sparrow that cheeped incessantly and furiously at him.

‘That’s only the beginning,’ said the Duke complacently; ‘I’ve made it operative with all of them, irrespective of parties.’

Belturbet made no coherent reply; he was engaged in feeling his pulse. The Duke fixed his attention with some interest on a black swan that was swimming with haughty, stiff-necked aloofness amid the crowd of lesser water-fowl that dotted the ornamental water. For all its pride of bearing, something was evidently ruffling and enraging it; in its way it seemed as angry and amazed as the sparrow had been.

At the same moment a human figure came along the pathway. Belturbet looked up apprehensively.

‘Kedzon,’ he whispered briefly.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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