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No sooner had Mr. Liversedge become aware of his brother-in-law's promise to appear on the platform, than he despatched a note to Mr. Wykes, recommending exceptional industry in spreading the announcement. These addresses were not commonly of a kind to excite much interest, nor had the name of Mr. Denzil Quarrier any prestige in Polterham; it occasioned surprise when messengers ran about the town distributing handbills, which gave a general invitation (independent of membership) to that evening's lecture at the Institute. At the doors of the building itself was a large placard, attracting the eye by its bold inscription: "Woman: Her Place in Modern Life"--so had the title been ultimately shaped. Politicians guessed at once that something was in the wind, and before the afternoon there was a distinct rumour that this young man from London would be brought forward as Liberal candidate (Radical, said the Tories) in the place of Mr. Liversedge, who had withdrawn his name. The reading-room was beset. This chanced to be the day on which the Polterham Liberal newspaper was published, and at the head of its "general" column appeared a long paragraph on the subject under discussion. "At the moment of going to press, we learn that unforeseen circumstances have necessitated a change in this evening's programme at the Literary Institute. The indefatigable Secretary, Mr. Wykes, has been fortunate enough to fill the threatened vacancy, and that in a way which gives promise of a rare intellectual treat." Then followed a description of the lecturer (consisting of laudatory generalities), and a few sounding phrases on the subject he had chosen. Mr. Chown, who came and went twenty times in the course of the day, talked to all and sundry with his familiar vehemence.
"If it is true," he thundered, "that Tobias Liversedge has already surrendered his place to this young man, I want to know why these things have been done in a corner? If you ask my opinion, it looks uncommonly like a conspiracy. The Radical electors of Polterham are not going to be made the slaves of a secret caucus t The choice may be a very suitable one. I don't say"----
"Then wait till we know something definite," growled Mr. Vawdrey. "All I can say is that if this Mr. Quarrier is going in for extreme views about women, I'll have nothing to do with him."
"What do you mean by 'extreme views'?" screeched a thin man in dirty clothing.
Thereupon began a furious controversy, lasting half an hour. (It may be noted that a card hung in several parts of the room, requesting members not to converse in audible tones.)
Mr. Liversedge had gone to work like a man of decision. Between six and eight on the previous evening he had seen the members of that "secret caucus" whose existence outraged Mr. Chown--in other words, the half-dozen capable citizens who practically managed the affairs of Liberal Polterham--and had arrived at an understanding with them which made it all but a settled thing that Denzil Quarrier should be their prospective candidate. Tobias was eager to back out of the engagement into which he had unadvisedly entered. Denzil's arrival at this juncture seemed to him providential--impossible to find a better man for their purpose. At eight o'clock an informal meeting was held at the office of the Polterham Examiner, with the result that Mr. Hammond, the editor, subsequently penned that significant paragraph which next morning attracted all eyes.
On returning to supper, Mr. Liversedge found his wife and Denzil in conversation with Eustace Glazzard. With the latter he had a bare acquaintance; from Denzil's report, he was disposed to think of him as a rather effeminate old-young man of metropolitan type.
"Well," he exclaimed, when greetings were over, "I don't think you will want for an audience to-morrow, Denzil. We are summoning Polterham indiscriminately."
Glazzard had of course heard of the coming lecture. He wore a smile, but was taciturn.
"Pray heaven I don't make an exhibition of myself!" cried Denzil, with an air of sufficient confidence.
"Shall I send coffee to your bedroom, to-night?" asked his sister, with merry eyes.
"Too late for writing it out. It must be inspiration I know what I want to say, and I don't think the sea of Polterham faces will disturb me."
He turned sharply to his brother-in-law.
"Are you still in the same mind on that matter we spoke of this afternoon?"
"Glazzard, what should you say if I came forward as Radical candidate for Polterham?"
There was silence. Glazzard fixed his eyes on the opposite wall; his smile was unchanged.
"I see no objection," he at length replied. The tones were rather thick, and ended in a slight cough. Feeling that all eyes were fixed upon him, Glazzard made an uneasy movement, and rose from his chair.
"It doesn't astonish you?" said Quarrier, with a broad grin.
"Then let us regard the thing as settled. Mr. Liversedge has no stomach for the fight, and makes room for me. In a week's time I shall be a man of distinction."
In the midst of his self-banter he found Glazzard's gaze turned upon him with steady concentration. Their eyes met, and Denzil's expression became graver.
"You will take up your abode here?" Glazzard asked.
"Shortly," was the reply, given with more emphasis than seemed necessary, and accompanied with an earnest look.
Again there was silence, and before the conversation could be renewed there came a summons to supper.
A vivacious political dialogue between Mr. Liversedge and his relative allowed Glazzard to keep silence, save when he exchanged a few words with his hostess or Miss Pope. He had a look of extreme weariness; his eyes were heavy and without expression, the lines of face slack, sullen; he seemed to maintain with difficulty his upright position at the table, and his eating was only pretence. At the close of the meal he bent towards Mrs. Liversedge, declared that he was suffering from an intolerable headache, and begged her to permit his immediate departure.
Denzil went with him out into the road.
"I could see you were not well," he said, kindly. "I want to have a long and very serious talk with you; it must wait till after to-morrow. You know, of course, what I have on my mind. Come and hear my balderdash if you are all right again."
All the next day Denzil was in extravagant spirits. In the morning he made a show of shutting himself up to meditate the theme of his discourse, but his sister presently saw him straying about the garden, and as soon as her household duties left her at leisure she was called upon to gossip and laugh with him. The Polterham Examiner furnished material for endless jesting. In the midst of a flow of grotesque fancies, he broke off to say:
"By-the-bye, I shall have to run over to Paris for a few weeks."
"What to do there?"
"A private affair. You shall hear about it afterwards."
And he went on with his mirthful fantasia. This mood had been frequent with him in earlier years, and his sister was delighted to see that he preserved so much of youth. After all, it might be that he had found his vocation ere it was too late. Certainly he had the gift of speech, and his personality was not a common one. He might strike out a special line for himself in Parliament. They must make his election a sure thing.
The lecture was at eight. About seven, Mr. Liversedge and his relative walked off to the Institute, and entered the committee-room. Two or three gentlemen had already arrived; they were no strangers to Denzil, and a lively conversation at once sprang up. In a few minutes the door again opened to admit Mr. William Glazzard. The chairman of the evening came forward with lounging steps. Regardless of the others present, he fixed his eye upon Quarrier, and examined him from head to foot. In this case, also, introduction was unnecessary.
"You have lost no time," he remarked, holding out his hand, and glancing from the young man to Mr. Liversedge.
"Your brother has given you a hint?" said the latter.
"Oh yes! How am I to phrase my introductory remarks?"
"Quite without reference to the political topic."
The others murmured an approval.
"Eustace well again?" asked Quarrier. "He went home with a bad headache last night."
"He'll be here," answered Mr. Glazzard, laconically. "Liversedge, a word with you."
The two stepped apart and conversed under cover of the chat that went on in front of the fire. Mr. Glazzard merely wished for a few hints to direct him when he introduced the lecturer; he was silent about his brother's frustrated project.
Fresh members of the committee kept appearing. The room resounded with talk and laughter. Denzil had a higher colour than usual, but he seemed perfectly self-possessed; his appearance and colloquial abilities made a very favourable impression. "Distinct improvement on friend Toby," whispered one committee-man to another; and this was the general opinion. Yet there was some anxiety regarding the address they were about to hear. Denzil did not look like a man who would mince his words and go half-way in his opinions. The Woman question was rather a dangerous one in Polterham just now; that period of Revivalism, and the subsequent campaign of Mrs. Hitchin, had left a sore feeling in not a few of the townsfolk. An old gentleman (he had known Denzil as a boy) ventured to speak of this to the lecturer.
"Don't be afraid, Mr. Toft," was the laughing reply. "You will stand amazed at my moderation; I am dead against Female Suffrage."
"That is safe, I think. You'll find Mrs. Wade down upon you--but that doesn't matter."
"Will she attack me in the hall?"
"No, no; we don't have public discussion; but prepare for an assault to-morrow."
"I shall enjoy it!"
The hall was rapidly filling. Already twice as many people as attended an ordinary lecture had taken seats, and among them were numerous faces altogether strange at the Institute, though familiar enough in the streets of Polterham. Among early arrivals was Mr. Samuel Quarrier, Denzil's uncle, a white-headed but stalwart figure. He abominated Radicalism, and was one of the very few "new" men who supported the old political dynasty of the town. But his countenance manifested no sour displeasure; he exchanged cheery greetings on all hands, and marched steadily to the front chairs, his two daughters following. The Mayor, accompanied by his wife, Miss Mumbray, and young Mr. Raglan Mumbray, was seen moving forward; he acknowledged salutations with a heavy bow and a wave of the hand. Decidedly it was a field-day. From the street below sounded a constant roll of carriages and clatter of hoofs coming to a standstill before the Institute. Never, perhaps, had so many people in evening costume gathered under this roof. Even Mr. Chown, the draper, though scornful of such fopperies, had thought it due to his position as a town-councillor to don the invidious garb; he was not disposed to herd among the undistinguished at the back of the room. Ladies were in great force, though many of them sought places with an abashed movement, not quite sure whether what they were about to hear would be strictly "proper." One there was who betrayed no such tremors; the position she assumed was about the middle of the hall, and from time to time curious looks were cast in that direction.
The clock pointed to eight. Punctually to the moment a side door was thrown open, and a procession of gentlemen ascended the platform. Members of the committee seated themselves in a row of arm-chairs; Mr. William Glazzard took his place not far from the reading-desk, and behind it subsided the lecturer.
In these instants Denzil Quarrier was the prey of sudden panic. He had imagined that his fortitude was proof against stage-fright, but between the door and his seat on the platform he suffered horribly. His throat was parched and constricted; his eyes dazzled, so that he could see nothing; his limbs were mere automatic mechanism; he felt as though some one had set his ears on fire. He strove wildly to recollect his opening sentences; but they were gone. How was he to fill up a mortal hour with coherent talk when he had not command of one phrase? He had often reproved himself for temerity, and now the weakness had brought its punishment. What possessed him to run into such a----?
The chairman had risen and was speaking. "Pleasure----introduce ----Mr. Denzil Quarrier,----not unknown to many of you---- almost at a moment's notice----much indebted----"
An outbreak of applause, and then dead silence. The ticking of the clock became audible. Some external force took hold upon him, lifted him from the chair, and impelled him a few steps forward. Some voice, decidedly not his own, though it appeared to issue from his throat, uttered the words "Mr. Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen." And before the sound had ceased, there flashed into his thoughts a story concerning an enlightened young lady of Stockholm, who gave a lecture to advance the theory that woman's intellect suffered from the habit of allowing her hair to grow so long. It was years since this trifle had recurred to his mind; it came he knew not how, and he clutched at it like the drowning man at a straw. Before he really understood what he was about, he had begun to narrate the anecdote, and suddenly, to his astonishment, he was rewarded with universal peals of laughter. The noise dispelled his anguish of nervousness; he drew a deep breath, grasped the table before him, and was able to speak as freely as if he had been on his own hearth-rug in Clement's Inn.
Make a popular audience laugh, and you have a hold upon its attention. Able now to distinguish the faces that were gazing at him, Denzil perceived that he had begun with a lucky stroke; the people were in expectation of more merriment, and sat beaming with good-humour. He saw the Mayor spread himself and stroke his beard, and the Mayoress simper as she caught a friend's eye. Now he might venture to change his tone and become serious.
Decidedly, his views were moderate. From the beginning he allowed it to be understood that, whatever might be the effect of long hair, he for one considered it becoming, and was by no means in favour of reducing it to the male type. The young lady of Stockholm might or might not have been indebted for her wider mental scope to the practice of curtailing her locks, yet he had known many Swedish ladies (and ladies of England, too) who, in spite of lovely hair, managed to preserve an exquisite sense of the distinctions of womanhood, and this (advanced opinion notwithstanding) he maintained was the principal thing. But, the fact that so many women were nowadays lifting up their voices in a demand for various degrees of emancipation seemed to show that the long tresses and the flowing garb had really, by process of civilization, come to symbolize certain traditions of inferiority which weighed upon the general female consciousness. "Let us, then, ask what these traditions are, and what is to be said for or against them from the standpoint of a liberal age."
Denzil no longer looked with horror at the face of the clock; his only fear was lest the hands should move too rapidly, and forbid him to utter in spacious periods all he had on his mind. By half-past eight he was in the midst of a vehement plea for an enlargement of female education, in the course of which he uttered several things rather disturbing to the nerves of Mrs. Mumbray, and other ladies present.--Woman, it was true, lived an imperfect life if she did not become wife and mother; but this truism had been insisted on to the exclusion of another verity quite as important: that wifehood and motherhood, among civilized people, implied qualifications beyond the physical. The ordinary girl was sent forth into life with a mind scarcely more developed than that of a child. Hence those monstrous errors she constantly committed when called upon to accept a husband. Not one marriage in fifty thousand was an alliance on terms fair to the woman. In the vast majority of cases, she wedded a sort of man in the moon. Of him and of his world she knew nothing; whereas the bridegroom had almost always a very sufficient acquaintance with the circumstances, habits, antecedents, characteristics, of the girl he espoused. Her parents, her guardians, should assure themselves--pooh! even if these people were conscientious and capable, the task was in most cases beyond their power.
"I have no scheme for rendering marriages universally happy. On the contrary, I believe that marriages in general will always serve as a test of human patience." (Outbreak of masculine laughter.) "But assuredly it is possible, by judicious training of young girls, to guard them against some of the worst perils which now threaten their going forth into the world. It is possible to put them on something like an equality in knowledge of life with the young men of corresponding social station." ("Oh, shameful!" murmured Mrs. Mumbray. "Shocking!") "They must be treated, not like ornaments under glass-eases, but like human beings who, physiologists assure us, are born with mental apparatus, even as men are. I repeat that I don't want to see them trained for politics" (many faces turned towards the middle of the hall) "and that I lament the necessity imposed on so many of them of struggling with men in the labour-market. What I demand is an education in the true sense of the word, and that as much at the hands of their mothers as of the school-teacher. When that custom has been established, be sure that it will affect enormously the habits and views of the male population. The mass of men at present regard women as creatures hoodwinked for them by nature--or at all events by society. When they can no longer act on that assumption, interest and, let us hope, an expanding sense of honour will lead them to see the marriage contract, and all connected with it, in altogether a different light."
He drank off a glass of water, listening the while to resonant applause. There was still twenty minutes, and he decided to use the time in offering solace to the army of women who, by force of mere statistics, are fated to the frustration of their raison d'etre. On this subject he had nothing very remarkable to say, and, indeed, the maiden ladies who heard him must have felt that it all amounted to a pitying shrug of the shoulders. But he could not speak otherwise than vigorously, and at times his words were eloquent.
"We know not how things may improve in the future," (thus he perorated), "but let celibate ladies of the present bear in mind that the chances are enormously against their making a marriage worthy of the name." ("Oh!" from some man at the back.) "Let them remember, too, if they are disposed to altruism, that though most men manage to find a wife, very few indeed, as things are, do not ultimately wish that they had remained single." (A roar of laughter, and many protests.) "This being so, let women who have no family of their own devote themselves, whenever possible, to the generous and high task of training the new female generation, so that they may help to mitigate one of the greatest ills of civilized existence, and prepare for women of the future the possibility of a life truly emancipated."
Denzil sat down with a glow of exulting triumph. His lecture was a success, not a doubt of it. He saw the chairman rise, and heard slow, languid phrases which contrasted strangely with his own fire and rush. A vote of thanks was being proposed. When silence carne, he was aware of some fluster in the body of the hall; people were whispering, tittering, turning round to look. Two persons had stood up with the intention of seconding the vote of gratitude; one was Mr. Chown, the other that lady who had a place in the middle of the assemblage, and who seemed to be so well known. The Radical draper did not immediately give way, but his neighbours reminded him of propriety. Quarrier had just scrutinized the person of the lady about to speak. when her voice fell upon his ears with a pleasant distinctness.
"As it is certainly right," she began, "that a woman should be one of those who return thanks to our lecturer, and as I fear that no other woman present will be inclined to undertake this duty, I will make no apology for trying to perform it. And that in very few words. Speaking for myself, I cannot pretend to agree with the whole of Mr. Quarrier's address; I think his views were frequently timid" --laughter and hushing--"frequently timid, and occasionally quite too masculine. I heard once of a lady who proposed to give a series of lectures on 'Astronomy from a Female Point of View'" (a laugh from two or three people only), "and I should prefer to entitle Mr. Quarrier's lecture, 'Woman from a Male Point of View.' However, it was certainly well-meaning, undoubtedly eloquent, and on the whole, in this time of small mercies, something for which a member of the struggling sex may reasonably be grateful. I wish, therefore, to add my voice to the proposal that a vote of thanks be offered to our lecturer, with all sincerity and all heartiness."
"A devilish good little speech!" Denzil murmured to himself, as the applause and merriment broke forth.
The show of hands seemed to be universal. Denzil was enjoying an enormous happiness. He had proved to himself that he could speak, and henceforth the platform was his own. Now let the dissolution of Parliament come with all convenient speed; he longed to begin the political conflict.
Committee-men crowded about him, offering hands, and brimming with facetious eulogy.
"You were on very thin ice now and then," said Mr. Liversedge. "You made me shake in my shoes. But the skating was admirable."
"I never knew Mrs. Wade so complimentary," remarked old Mr. Toft. "I expected half an hour's diatribe, 'the rapt oration flowing free,' as Tennyson says. You have taught her good manners."
Down in the hall was proceeding an animated conversazione. In one group stood the Mayor and his wife, Miss Mumbray, and Ivy Glazzard. Serena was turning aside to throw a shawl over her shoulders, when Eustace Glazzard stepped up.
"Pray let me assist you, Miss Mumbray." He placed the wrap. "I hope you have been amused?"
"I have, really," answered the girl, with a glance towards Ivy, who had heard her uncle's voice.
"You, Ivy," he continued, "are rather on Mrs. Wade's side, I think?"
"Oh, uncle--how can you!"
Mr. Mumbray was looking on, trying to determine who the gentleman might be. Glazzard, desirous of presentation to the Mayor, gave Ivy a glance, and she, with much nervousness, uncertain whether she might do such a thing, said to her friend's father:
"I think, Mr. Mumbray, you don't know my uncle, Mr. Eustace Glazzard?"
"Ha! very glad to meet you, Mr. Glazzard. My love," he turned to the Mayoress, "let me present to you Mr. Eustace Glazzard--Mr. William's brother."
The Mayoress laid her fan on her bosom, and inclined graciously. She was a portly and high-coloured woman, with hanging nether lip. Glazzard conversed with her and her husband in a tone of amiable liveliness.
"Remarkable," he said, smiling to the Mayoress, "how patiently women in general support this ancient yoke of tyranny!"
Mrs. Mumbray looked at him with condescending eyes, in doubt as to his real meaning. Her husband, ponderously literal, answered in his head-voice:
"I fail to recognize the grievance.--How do you do, Mr. Lovett?-- I am conscious of no tyranny."
"But that is just what Mr. Glazzard meant, papa, put in Serena, with scarcely disguised contempt.
"Ha! oh! To be sure--to be sure! Quite so, Mr. Glazzard.--A very amoosing lecture, all the same. Not of course to be taken seriously. --Good evening, Mr. Glazzard--good evening!"
The Mayoress again inclined. Serena gave her acquaintance an enigmatic look, murmured a leave-taking, and, with an affectionate nod to Ivy, passed on. Glazzard drew near to his niece.
"Your friend is not a disciple of Mrs. Wade?"
"Oh dear no, uncle!"
"Not just a little bit?" he smiled, encouragingly.
"Perhaps she would agree with what Mr. Quarrier said about girls having a right to better instruction."
"I see. Don't wait with me if there's any one you would like to speak to."
Ivy shook her head. She had a troubled expression, as if the experience of the evening had agitated her.
Close at hand, a circle of men had formed about Mr. Chown, who was haranguing on the Woman question. What he wanted was to emancipate the female mind from the yoke of superstition and of priestcraft. Time enough to talk about giving women votes when they were no longer the slaves of an obstructive religion. There were good things in the lecture, but, on the whole, it was flabby--flabby. A man who would discourse on this topic must be courageous; he must dare to shock and give offence. Now, if he had been lecturing----
Glazzard beckoned to his niece, and led her out of ear-shot of these utterances. In a minute or two they were joined by the chairman, who had already equipped himself for departure.
"Bah! I have a splitting headache," said William. "Let us get home."
Quarrier was still on the platform, but at this moment he caught Glazzard's eye, and came hastening down. His friend stepped forward to meet him.
"Well, how did it go?" Denzil asked, gaily.
"You have great aptitude for that kind of thing."
"So it strikes me.--Will you engage yourself to dine with me the day after to-morrow?"
"I have an idea. You remember the Coach and Horses--over at Rickstead?"
It was a fine old country inn, associated in their memories of boyhood with hare-and-hounds and other sportive excursions. Glazzard nodded.
"Let us have a quiet dinner there; six-thirty can drive us back."
Glazzard rejoined his relatives. Denzil, turning came face to face with Mr. Samuel Quarrier.
"So you took the trouble to come and hear me?"
"To be sure," replied the old man, in a gruff but good-natured voice. "Is it true what they are saying? Is it to be you instead of Toby?"
"I believe so."
"I shall do my best to get you a licking. All in good part, you know."
"Perfectly natural, But I shall win!"
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