Mr. Ayrton entertained his daughter with a description of the scene in the House incidental to the annihilation of Mr. Apthomas. He rather thought himself that his counter-question had been neat. He had been congratulated on it by quite a number of his friends in the tea room, and six messages had been delivered to him by representatives of the press to the effect that if he could provide them with the exact text of his counter-question they would be greatly obliged.

“They mean to report it in full?” said Phyllis. She had an ample experience of the decimation of his questions as well as speeches by the members of the press gallery. They had reduced it to a science.

“I am much mistaken if they don’t comment on it as well,” said her father. “Poor Apthomas! he alone sat glum and mute while everyone around him was convulsed.”

“I hope that Mr. Courtland will not feel hurt at what has occurred,” said Phyllis doubtfully.

“Mr. Courtland? Who is Mr. Courtland? What has Mr. Courtland to say to the matter? What business is it of his, I should like to know.”

“Well, considering that he was the original subject of the questions, though I must confess that he didn’t remain long so, I don’t think it altogether unreasonable to wonder what he will think about the whole episode,” remarked Phyllis.

“Ah, you always do take an original view of such incidents,” said her father indulgently. “It is so like a woman to try and drag poor Courtland into the business. You ought to know better than to fancy that any interest attaches to the original subject of a question in the House. You’ll be suggesting next that some credit should be given to the youths who pass brilliant examinations in things, and that all should not be absorbed by their grinders.”

“I’m not so silly as that, papa,” said she. “No; but Mr. Courtland——Ah, never mind.”

He did not mind.

It so happened, however, that several of the newspapers which commented on the questions and counter-questions the next day introduced the name of Mr. Herbert Courtland and his explorations; though, of course, most attention was directed to what Mr. Ayrton’s party called the brilliant, and the other party the flippant, methods of Mr. Ayrton. His reference to the New Guinea pig some thought a trifle too personal to be in good taste, but if politicians refrained from personalities and were punctilious in matters of taste, what chance would they have of “scoring,” and where would the caricaturists be? The reputation of a politician is steadily built up nowadays, not by consistency, certainly; not by brilliant rhetoric; not even by the unscrupulous exercise of a faculty for organizing impromptu “scenes,” but by the wearing of a necktie, or a boot, or a waistcoat that is susceptible of caricature. A very ordinary young man has before now been lifted into fame by the twists of his mustache, and another of less than mediocre ability has been prevented from sinking in the flood of forgetfulness by the kindly efforts of a caricaturist who supported him by a simple lock on his scalp. Thus it was that Mr. Apthomas found himself famous before a week had passed, through the circumstance of being represented in the leading journal of caricature as a guinea pig, flying, with the spoil of bubble boards of directors under his arm, from the attack of a number of quaint-looking mammals wearing collars inscribed “ACCURACY,” “CORRECT BALANCE SHEETS,” “LEGITIMATE SPECULATIONS,” and other phrases that suggested the need for the old guinea pig to give way to a new breed. Underneath the picture was printed a portion of the counter-question of Mr. Ayrton, and opposite to it were some verses with a jingling refrain that everyone could remember, and which everyone quoted during the next few days.

The firm of publishers who had been fortunate enough to secure the issue of Mr. Courtland’s new book were delighted. If Mr. Ayrton could only have seen his way to introduce their names and their address in his counter-question, their cup of happiness would have been complete, they said. They managed, however, to induce the proprietors of a young lady who was reputed to be the vulgarest and most fascinating of all music-hall artistes, to introduce Mr. Courtland’s name into one of the movable stanzas of her most popular lyric: those stanzas which are changed from week to week, so as to touch upon the topics which are uppermost in the minds—well, not exactly the minds—of the public. It is scarcely necessary to say that this form of advertisement is worth columns of the daily papers; and if Mr. Courtland had only shown himself appreciative of his best interests and had changed the title of his book to “The Land of the New Guinea Pig,” instead of “The Quest of the Meteor-Bird,” they would have gone to press with an extra thousand copies.

But even as it was they knew that between the member of Parliament and the music-hall young lady the sale of the book was a certainty. Their calculations were not at fault. The publishers sent a liberal subscription to the Nonconformist Eastern Mission, whose agents had stimulated public curiosity in Mr. Courtland’s new book by suggesting that he had carried out, single-handed, one of the most atrocious massacres of recent years; and a diamond brooch to the music-hall young lady who had so kindly worked in the reference to the book after dancing one of her most daring hornpipes in the uniform of a midshipman; they doubled the lines of their announcements in the advertising columns of the paper that had issued the cartoon of the New Guinea Pig, and, finally, they sent a presentation copy of “The Quest of the Meteor-Bird,” to Mr. Ayrton.

Then, as everyone was humming the lines of the music-hall young lady:

    “From the land of far New Guinea
     Came a little pig-a-ninny,”

the daily papers were bound to give two-column reviews to the book on the day of its publication; and as the rod which Moses cast down before Pharaoh swallowed up the wriggling rods of the magicians, the interest attaching to Mr. Courtland’s book absorbed that which attached to all the other books of the season, including “Revised Versions,” though the publishers of the latter moved heaven and earth (that is to say, the bishop and the people’s churchwarden) to get the Rev. George Holland prosecuted. If either had been susceptible to reason, and had got up a case against their author, the publishers declared that Mr. Courtland’s book would not have had a chance with “Revised Versions.” To be sure they admitted that the report that Mr. Holland had been thrown over by the lady who had promised to marry him had given a jerk forward to the sales; but when Mr. George Holland had been so idiotically blind to his best interests and (incidentally) the best interests of his publishers, as to contradict this suggestion of incipient martyrdom, and thus an excellent advertisement had been lost, and everyone was, in a week or two, talking about “The Quest of the Meteor-Bird,” while only a few continued shaking their heads over “Revised Versions.”

Meantime, however, Mr. Courtland thought it well to call upon Mr. Ayrton in order to thank him for his kindness in replying in the House of Commons so effectively to the questions put to the various ministers by Mr. Apthomas; and Mr. Ayrton had asked Mr. Courtland to dinner, and Mr. Courtland had accepted the invitation, Miss Ayrton begging Mrs. Linton to be of the party, and Mrs. Linton yielding to her petition without demur.

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