IN the course of his meteoric career as Secretary of State for the Home Department, the Right Honorable Topham Vinson instituted many reforms and earned the reformer's whack of praise and blame. His methods were not those of the permanent staff; and while his notorious courage endeared him to the young, it was not in so strong a nature to leave friend or foe lukewarm. An assiduous contempt for tradition fanned the flame of either faction, besides leading to several of those personal adventures which were as breath to the Minister's unregenerate nostrils, but which never came out without exposing him to almost universal censure. It is matter for thanksgiving that the majority of his indiscretions were unguessed while he and his held office; for he was never so unconventional as in pursuance of those enlightened tactics on which his reputation rests, or in the company of that kindred spirit who had so much to do with their inception.
It was early in an autumn session that this remarkable pair became acquainted. Mr. Vinson had been tempted by the mildness of the night to walk back from Westminster to Portman Square. He had just reached home when he heard his name cried from some little distance behind him. The voice tempered hoarse excitement with the restraint due to midnight in a quiet square; and as Mr. Vinson turned on his door-step, a young man rushed across the road with a gold chain swinging from his outstretched hand.
"Your watch, sir, your watch!" he gasped, and displayed a bulbous hunter with a monogram on one side and the crest of all the Vinsons on the other.
"Heavens!" cried the Home Secretary, feeling in an empty waistcoat pocket before he could believe his eyes. "Where on earth did you find that? I had it on me when I left the House."
"It wasn't a case of findings," said the young man, as he fanned himself with his opera hat. "I've just taken it from the fellow who took it from you."
"Who? Where?" demanded the Secretary of State, with unstatesmanlike excitement.
"Some poor brute in North Audley Street, I think it was."
"That's it! That was where he stopped me, just at the corner of Grosvenor Square!" exclaimed Vinson. "And I went and gave the old scoundrel half-a-crown!"
"He probably had your watch while you were looking in your purse."
And the young man dabbed a very good forehead, that glistened in the light from the open door, with a white silk handkerchief just extracted from his sleeve.
"But where were you?" asked Topham Vinson, taking in every inch of him.
"I'd just come into the square myself. You had just gone out of it. The pickpocket was looking to see what he'd got, even while he hurled his blessings after you."
"And where is he now? Did he slip through your fingers?