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THE DECISION OF THE ORACLE.
"I see from Tomes," observed Eleanor Scaife to the Chief Justice, as he handed her a cup of tea, "that all the elections are on the same day in New Lindsey."
"They are," he answered. "A good thing, don't you think?"
"But if a man wants to vote in two places?"
"Then it's kind to prevent him, because if he does it he's sent to prison."
"Oh! And when do the results appear?"
"Here at Kirton? Oh, any time between nine and midnight, or an hour later. One or two are left over as a rule. They're published at the Town-hall, and it's generally rather a lively scene."
"And how is it going to go?"
The Chief Justice lowered his voice.
"Medland will be beaten. He can't believe it and his friends won't, but he'll be beaten badly all over the country, except here in Kirton. Kirton he'll carry pretty solid, but that won't be enough."
"How many seats are there here?"
"Oh, here and in this district, which is under Kirton influence, about two-and-twenty, and he ought to get eighteen or nineteen of them; but what's that out of eighty members?"
"And what's the reason? Merely his policy or----?"
"Well, his policy a good deal. All the manufacturers and capitalists are straining every nerve to give him such a thrashing as will keep him out for years, and they spare neither time nor money nor hard words. I don't blame 'em. And then, of course, the other thing counts. It hits him where he was strong--among the religious folk. Puttock's their special man, and Puttock never lets it alone."
"What, do they talk about it in public?"
"Well, I should rather think they did. Oh, we fight with the gloves off in New Lindsey."
"After all, if it's a matter that ought to count, it ought to be talked about," remarked Miss Scaife thoughtfully.
"I suppose so," answered Sir John doubtfully; "only it always sounds a little mean, you know."
Eleanor did not attempt to reconcile this seeming contradiction.
"So Sir Robert will be back? Well, Mary will be delighted."
"It doesn't so much matter to her, as you're going."
"No, but she will. For my own part, I like Sir Robert, but his Government rather lacks variety, doesn't it? It's not exactly thrilling."
"That's very high praise."
"I hardly meant it to be," laughed Eleanor. "However, as you say, it doesn't matter much now to us."
"No, nor to me."
"Then it's true you're resigning?"
"Yes, in a few weeks. I'm just holding on to----"
"See this crisis through, I suppose?"
"Oh dear, no. The crisis, as you call it, Miss Scaife, don't matter to me--nor I to it. I'm holding on to complete another year's service and get fifty pound more pension."
"You're very practical, Sir John."
"High praise again!"
"Perhaps hardly meant again!"
"I'm sure Lady Eynesford teaches her household the value of practicality."
"Well, Mary is practical; and I suppose Dick must be called so now--Miss Granger's an excellent match. Oh, I suppose we all pass muster pretty well, except Alicia."
"Miss Derosne is a visionary?"
"A little bit of one, I often tell her."
"It's an added grace in a pretty girl," said Sir John.
"I said I was practical," observed Miss Scaife.
"But you need no added graces," he returned, smiling.
"A palpable evasion!"
Some days had passed since Medland's interview with Alicia. He had left Kirton the morning after, and, as the day of the election drew nearer and nearer, news of him came from all parts of the colony. Wherever the opposition was strongest and hostility most bitter, he flung himself into the fray; at moments it seemed as though he would wrest victory from an adverse fate, but when he went away, the effect of his presence gradually evaporated, and his work was half undone before he had been gone a day. In the Governor's household the accounts of his doings were allowed to pass in silence; they had become a forbidden topic. Alicia might devour them in solitude, and the Governor himself watch them with an almost sympathetic interest; Lady Eynesford ignored them altogether, and seemed not to see Medland's colours and his watchwords that glared at her in the streets of Kirton. Sir Robert was quietly confident, and Kilshaw fiercely exultant; Medland's friends hoped against hope, and, secure of their position in the capital, flooded the country with eager missionaries. Passion ran high, and there had been one or two disturbing incidents. Sir Robert was refused a hearing in the Jubilee Hall; Kilshaw had been forced to escape violence by a hasty flight, when he tried to address a meeting in the North-East ward; and there had been something like a free fight between the factions in Kettle Street. Captain Heseltine stated his opinion that if Sir Robert won, there would be "some fun" in Kirton, and was understood to mean that the Queen's Peace would be broken. Apparently the police authorities were of the same way of thinking, for at their request all preparations were made for calling out the Mounted Volunteers. Lord Eynesford declared that he would stand no nonsense, and a certain number of timid persons made arrangements to be out of Kirton on the all-important day.
At last it came, and wore itself away in a fever of excitement. While the poll was open there was no time to waste in quarrelling or parading, but in the evening, when the ballot-boxes were giving up their secret, the streets were crowded with dense throngs. The political leaders came dropping in from the country round. Medland was away and did not return, but Kilshaw was at the Club, and Puttock, all the local politicians, and most other men of note; for the Club was nearly opposite the Hall, where the crowd was thickest, and where the result would soon be proclaimed. Just below, one Todd, a well-known mob-orator, had mounted on a large packing-case and was exhorting the people to stand by Medland, happen what might; the police had tried to get near him and prevent him causing an obstruction, but his friends formed so dense a ring and offered such resistance that the attempt was prudently abandoned, and the sound of Mr. Todd's sweeping denunciations fell on the ears of the members as they talked within.
"I say, Kilshaw," called Captain Heseltine, who was by the window, "if you want to hear what you are, you'd better come here. Todd's letting you have it."
Kilshaw lounged to the window and put his head out, smiling scornfully.
"A lot of loafers and thieves," he remarked.
The crowd saw him. He was the especial object of their anger, ever since his share in Benyon's career had become public. He was greeted with an angry yell; the orator, seizing the occasion, shook a huge fist at him. Kilshaw laughed in reply, holding his cigar in his hand. There was an ugly rush at the Club door; an answering charge from the police; some oaths and some screams.
"You'd better vanish," suggested the Captain. "Your popularity is momentarily eclipsed."
"Damn the fellows," said Kilshaw. "They may storm the place if they like--I'll not move."
Matters were indeed becoming somewhat critical, when a loud shout was heard from in front of the Hall. The crowd forgot Kilshaw, forgot Mr. Todd, and rushed across the road. The first result was up!
For the next half-hour wild exultation reigned in the streets, and gloom predominated in the Club. The Kirton returns came out first, and, as the Chief Justice had prophesied, Medland swept the capital from end to end. A solid band of twenty members was elected in his interest, and he himself had an immense majority. The crowd was beside itself; all thought of defeat was at an end; they began to laugh, and smoke, and dive into the taverns in friendly groups to drink; they even flung jests up at Kilshaw, and only hooted good-humouredly when he cried,
"Wait a bit, my boys!"
Thus an hour passed without further news. Then the country results began to arrive. Among the first was that from Medland's own constituency: he was beaten by above a hundred votes. Anticipated as this issue was, it was greeted with a loud groan, soon changed to an exultant cheer when it was declared that Coxon had lost his seat; no event, short of the defeat of Kilshaw himself, would have pleased the crowd so much; even in the Club men seemed very resigned; only Coxon's little band mourned the fall of their chief.
"A facer for him," remarked the Captain. Mr. Kilshaw smiled.
"Coxon generally falls on his feet," he remarked.
This victory was almost the last excuse the crowd found for cheering. The figures came in thick and fast now, and the tale they told was of Medland's utter defeat. By twelve o'clock the issue in seventy-five seats was declared; of the other five, four were safe for Sir Robert; and Medland had only twenty-nine supporters. Puttock and Sir Robert were returned, and Kilshaw had a triumphant majority. His was among the last announcements, and it was greeted with an angry roar of such volume that the Club window filled in a moment. The crowd, tired of their disappointing watch, turned away from the Jubilee Hall, and flocked together underneath the window.
"Why don't you return thanks?" asked Captain Heseltine.
Kilshaw was drinking a glass of brandy and soda-water. He jumped up, glass in hand, and, going to the window, bowed to the angry mob and drank a toast to his own success before their eyes. Mr. Todd's gross bulk pushed its way to the front.
"Come down here," he shouted, "and talk to us, if you dare!"
Kilshaw smilingly shook his head.
"Three cheers for Sir Robert!" he cried.
"How's your friend Benham?" shouted one.
"We'll serve you the same," yelled another; "come down;" and a third, whose partisanship outran his moral sense, proposed a cheer for Mr. François Gaspard.
"I think you'll have to sleep here," said the Captain.
"Not I," answered Kilshaw. "They daren't touch me."
"Hum!" said the Captain, doubtfully regarding the crowd. "I don't know that I'd care to insure you, if you go down now."
"We'll take you through," cried half-a-dozen young men, the sons of well-born or rich families, who were heart and soul with him, and asked for nothing better than a "row," with any one indeed, but above all with the mob which they scorned, and which had out-voted them in their own town.
The tramp of horses was heard outside. Two lines of mounted police were making their way slowly down the street. A moment later two voices sounded loud in altercation. The officer in command of the force was remonstrating with Big Todd; Big Todd was asserting that he had as much right as any one else to stand in the middle of Victoria Street and speak to his friends; the officer, strong in the letter of the law, maintained that no one, neither Big Todd nor another, had a right to adopt this course of action, or to do anything else than walk along the street whither his business might lead him.
"And they call this free speech!" cried Big Todd.
"Get on with you," said the officer.
"Now's your time," remarked the Captain. "Slip in between the two lines and you'll get through."
Kilshaw and his volunteer escort accepted the suggestion, and, linking arms, walked down-stairs. The Captain, after a brief inward struggle, followed them. Their appearance at the Club door was the signal for fresh hoots and groans.
"Now then, are you going?" said the officer to Big Todd.
The burly fellow cast a look round on his supporters.
"When I'm tired o' being here," he answered.
Kilshaw's band slipped in between the first and second rank. The officer touched his horse with the spur, and it sprang forward. Big Todd, with an oath, caught the bridle, and another man seized the rider by the leg. He struck out sharply, and the line of police moved forward.
"Stand up to 'em, boys," cried Big Todd, and he aimed a blow with his stick at his antagonist.
The young men round Kilshaw looked at one another and began to press forward. They wanted to join in.
A voice from behind them cried out warningly,
"None of that, gentlemen! You must leave it to us," and at the same instant the first rank seemed to leave them. The order to advance had been given, and the mêlée had begun. The rear rank advancing covered the members of the Club from attack.
"We seem to be spectators," observed Captain Heseltine, in a disappointed tone. He had earnestly hoped that some one would assault him.
Just ahead the fight was hot round Big Todd. The police were determined to arrest him, and had closed round where he stood. The big man was fighting like a lion, and some half-dozen were trying to protect him. On either side of this group the line of police passed on, driving the crowd before them. Their horses were trotting now, and the people ran before them or dodged into side streets and escaped. Big Todd and his little band were sore pressed. Todd was bleeding from the head and his right hand was numbed from a blow. He was down once, but up again in a second. As he rose, he caught sight of Kilshaw's scornful smile, and, swearing savagely, with a sudden rush he burst the ring round him and made for the arch-enemy. Kilshaw raised his arm to shield himself, Captain Heseltine stepped forward and deftly put out his foot. Big Todd, tripped in the manner of the old football, fell heavily to the ground, striking his bullet poll on the hard road.
Hector was slain. The Trojans scoured over the plain. Victoria Street was cleared, and Big Todd was borne on a stretcher to the police-station hard by.
"That fellow would have caught me a crack but for you, Heseltine," said Mr. Kilshaw.
A police-superintendent rode up.
"If you'd go home, gentlemen," he said, "our work would be easier. The trouble's not all over yet, I'm afraid. I'll send some of my men with you, Mr. Kilshaw, if you please, sir."
Kilshaw made a wry face.
"I wish I had my men," he said. "The Mounted Volunteers would teach these fellows a lesson."
"Well, we may see that before we're many days older, sir," answered the officer. "Mr. Medland'll be here to-morrow, and heaven knows what they'll be up to then."
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