Chapter XV




The next morning--Tuesday, March 9th--there was a rush for the London papers. Every copy that reached the Polterham vendors was snapped up within a few minutes of it arrival. People who had no right of membership ran ravening to the Literary Institute and the Constitutional Literary Society, and peered over the shoulders of legitimate readers, on such a day as this unrebuked. Mr. Chown's drapery establishment presented a strange spectacle. For several hours it was thronged with sturdy Radicals eager to hear their eminent friend hold forth on the situation. At eleven o'clock Mr. Chown fairly mounted a chair behind his counter, and delivered a formal harangue--thus, as he boasted, opening the political campaign. He read aloud (for the seventh time) Lord Beaconsfield's public letter to the Duke of Marlborough, in which the country was warned, to begin with, against the perils of Home Rule. "It is to be hoped that all men of light and leading will resist this destructive doctrine. . . . Rarely in this century has there been an occasion more critical. The power of England and the peace of Europe will largely depend on the verdict of the country. . . . Peace rests on the presence, not to say the ascendancy, of England in the Councils of Europe."

"Here you have it," cried the orator, as he dashed the newspaper to his feet, "pure, unadulterated Jingoism! 'Ascendancy in the Councils of Europe!' How are the European powers likely to hear that, do you think? I venture to tell my Lord Beaconsfield--I venture to tell him on behalf of this constituency--aye, and on behalf of this country--that it is he who holds 'destructive doctrine'! I venture to tell my Lord Beaconsfield that England is not prepared to endorse any such insolent folly! We shall very soon have an opportunity of hearing how far such doctrine recommends itself to our man 'of light and leading'--to our Radical candidate--to our future member, Mr. Denzil Quarrier!"

A burst of cheering echoed from the drapery-laden shelves. Two servant-girls who had come to the door intent on purchase of hair-pins ran frightened away, and spread a report that Mr. Chown's shop was on fire.

At dinner-time the politician was faced by his angry wife.

"I know what the end of this'll be!" cried Mrs. Chown. "You're ruining your business, that's what you're doing! Who do you think'll come to the shop if they find it full of shouting ragamuffins? They'll all go to Huxtable's, that's what they'll do! I've no patience"----

"There's no need to declare that!" replied Mr. Chown, rolling his great eyes at her with an expression of the loftiest scorn. "I have known it for thirteen years. You will be so good as to attend to your own affairs, and leave me to see to mine! What does a woman care for the interests of the country? Grovelling sex! Perhaps when I am called upon to shoulder a rifle and go forth to die on the field of battle, your dense understanding will begin to perceive what was at stake.--Not another syllable! I forbid it! Sit down and serve the potatoes!"

At the same hour Denzil Quarrier, at luncheon with Lilian, was giving utterance to his feelings on the great topic of the day.

"Now is the time for women to show whether their judgment is worthy of the least confidence. This letter of Beaconsfield's makes frank appeal to the spirit of Jingoism; he hopes to get at the fighting side of Englishmen, and go back to power on a wave of 'Rule, Britannia' bluster. If it is true that women are to be trusted in politics, their influence will be overwhelming against such irresponsible ambition. I have my serious doubts"----

He shook his head and laughed.

"I will do my utmost!" exclaimed Lilian, her face glowing with sympathetic enthusiasm. "I will go and talk to all the people we know"----

"Really! You feel equal to that?"

"I will begin this very afternoon! I think I understand the questions sufficiently. Suppose I begin with Mrs. Powell? She said her husband had always voted Conservative, but that she couldn't be quite sure what he would do this time. Perhaps I can persuade her to take our side."

"Have a try! But you astonish me, Lily--you are transformed!"

"Oh, I have felt that I might find courage when the time came." She put her head aside, and laughed with charming naivete. "I can't sit idle at home whilst you are working with such zeal. And I really feel what you say: women have a clear duty. How excited Mrs. Wade must be!"

"Have you written all the dinner-cards?"

"They were all sent before twelve."

"Good! Hammond will be here in half an hour to talk over the address with me. Dinner at seven prompt; I am due at Toby's at eight. Well, it's worth going in for, after all, isn't it? I am only just beginning to live."

"And I, too!"

The meal was over. Denzil walked round the table and bent to lay his cheek against Lilian's.

"I admire you more than ever," he whispered, half laughing. "What a reserve of energy in this timid little girl! Wait and see; who knows what sort of table you will preside at some day? I have found my vocation, and there's no saying how far it will lead me. Heavens! what a speech I'll give them at the Public Hall! It's bubbling over in me. I could stand up and thunder for three or four hours!"

They gossiped a little longer, then Lilian went to prepare for her call upon Mrs. Powell, and Quarrier retired to the library. Here he was presently waited upon by Mr. Hammond, editor of the Polterham Examiner. Denzil felt no need of assistance in drawing up the manifesto which would shortly be addressed to Liberal Polterham; but Hammond was a pleasant fellow of the go-ahead species, and his editorial pen would be none the less zealous for confidences such as this. The colloquy lasted an hour or so. Immediately upon the editor's departure, a servant appeared at the study door.

"Mrs. Wade wishes to see you, sir, if you are at leisure."

"Certainly!"

The widow entered. Her costume--perhaps in anticipation of the sunny season--was more elaborate and striking than formerly. She looked a younger woman, and walked with lighter step.

"I came to see Mrs. Quarrier, but she is out. You, I'm afraid, are frightfully busy?"

"No, no. This is the breathing time of the day with me. I've just got rid of our journalist. Sit down, pray."

"Oh, I won't stop. But tell Lilian I am eager to see her."

"She is off canvassing--really and truly! Gone to assail Mrs. Powell. Astonishing enthusiasm!"

"I'm delighted to hear it!"

The exclamation lingered a little, and there was involuntary surprise on Mrs. Wade's features. She cast a glance round the room.

"Do sit down," urged Denzil, placing a chair. "What do you think of Dizzy's letter? Did you ever read such bunkum? And his 'men of light and leading'--ha, ha, ha!"

"He has stolen the phrase," remarked Mrs. Wade. "Where from, I can't say; but I'm perfectly sure I have come across it."

"Ha! I wish we could authenticate that! Search your memory--do-- and get a letter in the Examiner on Saturday."

"Some one will be out with it before then. Besides, I'm sure you don't wish for me to draw attention to myself just now."

"Why not? I shall be disappointed if you don't give me a great deal of help."

"I am hardly proper, you know."

She looked steadily at him, with an inscrutable smile, then let her eyes again stray round the room.

"Bosh! As I was saying to Lily at lunch, women ought to have a particular interest in this election. If they are worth anything at all, they will declare that England sha'n't go in for the chance of war just to please that Jew phrase-monger. I'm ready enough for a fight, on sound occasion, but I won't fight in obedience to Dizzy and the music-halls! By jingo, no!"

He laughed uproariously.

"You won't get many Polterham women to see it in that light," observed the widow. "This talk about the ascendency of England is just the thing to please them. They adore Dizzy, because he is a fop who has succeeded brilliantly; they despise Gladstone, because he is conscientious and an idealist. Surely I don't need to tell you this?"

She leaned forward, smiling into his face.

"Well," he exclaimed, with a laugh, "of course I can admit, if you like, that most women are not worth anything politically. But why should I be uncivil?"

Mrs. Wade answered in a low voice, strangely gentle.

"Don't I know their silliness and worthlessness? What woman has more reason to be ashamed of her sex?"

"Let us--hope!"

"For the millennium--yes." Her eyes gleamed, and she went on in a more accustomed tone. "Women are the great reactionary force. In political and social matters their native baseness shows itself on a large scale. They worship the vulgar, the pretentious, the false. Here they will most of them pester their husbands to vote for Welwyn-Baker just because they hate change with the hatred of weak fear. Those of them who know anything at all about the Irish question are dead set against Ireland--simply because they are unimaginative and ungenerous; they can't sympathize with what seems a hopeless cause, and Ireland to them only suggests the dirty Irish of Polterham back streets. As for European war, the idiots are fond of drums and fifes and military swagger; they haven't brains enough to picture a battle-field."

"You are severe, Mrs. Wade. I should never have ventured"----

"You are still afraid of telling me the truth!"

"Well, let us rejoice in the exceptions. Yourself, Lilian, my sister Mary, for instance."

The widow let her eyes fall and kept silence.

"We hope you will dine with us on Friday of next week," said Denzil. "Lilian posted you an invitation this morning. There will be a good many people."

"Seriously then, I am to work for you, openly and vigorously?"

"What a contemptible fellow I should be if I wished you to hold aloof!" He spoke sincerely, having overcome his misgivings of a short time ago. "The fight will be fought on large questions, you know. I want to win, but I have made up my mind to win honestly; it's a fortunate thing that I probably sha'n't be called upon to declare my views on a thousand side-issues."

"Don't be so sure of that. Polterham is paltry, even amid national excitement."

"Confound it! then I will say what I think, and k it. If they want a man who will fight sincerely for the interests of the people, here he is! I'm on the side of the poor devils; I wish to see them better off; I wish to promote honest government, and chuck the selfish lubbers overboard. Forgive the briny phrase; you know why it comes natural to me."

Mrs. Wade gave him her kindest smile.

"You will win, no doubt of it; and not this battle only."

She rose, and half turned away.

"By-the-bye, shall you be able to finish your book?"

"It is finished. I wrote the last page yesterday morning. Wonderful, wasn't it?"

"A good omen. My love to Lilian."

As they shook hands, Mrs. Wade just raised her eyes for an instant, timorously. The look was quite unlike anything Denzil had yet seen on her face. It caused him to stand for a few moments musing.

From half-past four to half-past six he took a long walk; such exercise was a necessity with him, and the dwellers round about Polterham had become familiar with the sight of his robust figure striding at a great pace about roads and fields. Generally he made for some wayside inn, where he could refresh himself with a tankard of beer, after which he lit his pipe, and walked with it between his teeth. Toby Liversedge, becoming aware of this habit, was inclined to doubt its prudence. "Beware of the teetotalers, Denzil; they are a power among us." Whereto Quarrier replied that teetotalers might be eternally condemned; he would stick by his ale as tenaciously as the old farmer of Thornaby Waste.

"It's the first duty of a Radical to set his face against humbug. If I see no harm in a thing, I shall do it openly, and let people"----

At this point he checked himself, almost as if he had a sudden stitch in the side. Tobias asked for an explanation, but did not receive one.

On getting home again, he found Lilian in the drawing-room. (As an ordinary thing he did not "dress" for dinner, since his evenings were often spent in the company of people who would have disliked the conspicuousness of his appearance.) She rose to meet him with shining countenance, looking happier, indeed, and more rarely beautiful than he had ever seen her.

"What cheer? A triumph already?"

"I think so, Denzil; I really think so. Mrs. Powell has promised me to do her very best with her husband. Oh, if you could have heard our conversation! I hadn't thought it possible for any one to be so ignorant of the simplest political facts. One thing that she said-- I was talking about war, and suddenly she asked me: 'Do you think it likely, Mrs. Quarrier, that there would be an inscription?' For a moment I couldn't see what she meant. 'An inscription?' 'Yes; if there's any danger of that, and--my four boys growing up!' Then, of course, I understood. Fortunately, she was so very much in earnest that I had no temptation to smile."

"And did you encourage her alarm?"

"I felt I had no right to do that. To avoid repeating the word, I said that I didn't think that system would ever find favour in England. At the same time, it was quite certain that our army would have to be greatly strengthened if this war-fever went on. Oh, we had an endless talk--and she was certainly impressed with my arguments."

"Bravo! Why, this is something like!"

"You can't think what courage it has given me! To-morrow I shall go to Mrs. Clifford--yes, I shall. She is far more formidable; but I want to try my strength."

"Ho, ho! What a pugnacious Lily--a sword-Lily! You ought to have had an heroic name--Deborah, or Joan, or Portia! Your eyes gleam like beacons."

"I feel more contented with myself.--Oh, I am told that Mrs. Wade called this afternoon?"

"Yes; anxious to see you. Burning with wrath against female Toryism. She was astonished when I told her of your expedition."

Lilian laughed merrily. Thereupon dinner was announced, and they left the room hand in hand.

That evening it was rumoured throughout the town that Mr. Welwyn-Baker had telegraphed a resolve not to offer himself for re-election. In a committee-room at the Constitutional Literary Society was held an informal meeting of Conservatives, but no one of them had definite intelligence to communicate. Somebody had told somebody else that Hugh Welwyn-Baker held that important telegram from his father; that was all. Mr. Mumbray's hopes rose high. On the morrow, at another meeting rather differently constituted (miserable lack of organization still evident among the Tories), it was made known on incontestable authority that the sitting Member would offer himself for re-election. Mr. Mumbray and his supporters held high language. "It would be party suicide," they went about repeating. With such a man as Denzil Quarrier on the Radical side, they must have a new and a strong candidate! But all was confusion; no one could take the responsibility of acting.

Already the affairs of the Liberals were in perfect crier, and it took but a day or two to decide even the minutiae of the campaign. To Quarrier's candidature no one within the party offered the least opposition. Mr. Chown, who had for some time reserved his judgment, declared to all and sundry that "all things considered, a better man could scarcely have been chosen." Before thus committing himself he had twice called upon Quarrier, and been closeted with him for a longtime. Now, in these days of arming, he received a card inviting him (and his wife) to dine at the candidate's house on a certain evening a fortnight ahead; it was the second dinner that Denzil had planned, but Mr. Chown was not aware of this, nor that the candidate had remarked of him to Lilian: "We must have that demagogue among his kind, of course." Denzil's agent (Hummerstone by name) instantly secured rooms in admirable situations, and the Public Hall was at the disposal of the party for their first great meeting a few days hence.

In facing that assembly (Toby Liversedge was chairman) Denzil had a very slight and very brief recurrence of his platform nervousness. Determined to risk nothing, he wrote out his speech with great care and committed it to memory. The oration occupied about two hours, with not a moment of faltering. It was true that he had discovered his vocation; he spoke like a man of long Parliamentary experience, to the astonished delight of his friends, and with enthusiastic applause from the mass of his hearers. Such eloquence had never been heard in Polterham. If anything, he allowed himself too much scope in vituperation, but it was a fault on the right side. The only circumstance that troubled him was when his eye fell upon Lilian, and he saw her crying with excitement; a fear passed through his mind that she might be overwrought and fall into hysterics, or faint. The occasion proved indeed too much for her; that night she did not close her eyes, and the next day saw her prostrate in nervous exhaustion. But she seemed to pick up her strength again very quickly, and was soon hard at work canvassing among the electors' wives.

"Don't overdo it," Denzil cautioned her. "Remember, if you are ill, I shall mope by your bedside."

"I can't stop now that I have begun," was her reply. "If I try to sit idle, I shall be ill."

She could read nothing but newspapers; her piano was silent; she talked politics, and politics only. Never was seen such a change in woman, declared her intimates; yet, in spite of probabilities, they thought her more charming than ever. No word of animosity ever fell from her lips; what inspired her was simple ardour for Denzil's cause, and, as she considered it, that of the oppressed multitude. In her way, said Toby Liversedge, she was as eloquent as Quarrier himself, and sundry other people were of the same opinion.



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