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One by one, Maraton got rid at last of the little crowd of journalists who had been waiting for him below. The last on the list was perhaps the most difficult. He pressed very hard for an answer to his direct question.
"War or peace, Mr. Maraton? Which is it to be? Just one word, that's all."
Maraton shook his head.
"In less than an hour, the delegates from London will be here," he announced. "We shall hold a conference and come to our decision then."
"Will their coming make any real difference?" the journalist persisted. "You hadn't much to say to delegates in America."
"The Labour Party over here is better organised, in some respects," Maraton told him. "I have nothing to say until after the conference."
His persistent visitor drew a little nearer to him.
"There's a report about that you've been staying with Foley."
"And how does that affect the matter?" Maraton enquired.
The journalist looked him in the face.
"The men never had a leader yet," he said, "whom Officialdom didn't spoil." All this time Maraton was standing with the door in one hand and his other hand upon the shoulder of the man whom he was endeavouring to get rid of. His grasp suddenly tightened. The door was closed and the reporter was outside. Maraton turned to Aaron, with whom, as yet, he had scarcely exchanged a word. The latter was sitting at a table, sorting letters.
"How long will those fellows be?" he asked.
Aaron glanced at the clock.
"On their way here by now, I should say," he replied. "They are all coming. They tried to leave David Ross behind, but he wouldn't have it."
Maraton nodded grimly.
"Too many," he muttered.
Aaron leaned a little forward in his place. His long, hatchet-shaped face was drawn and white. His eyes were full of a pitiful anxiety.
"They were talking like men beside themselves at the Clarion and up at Dale's house last night," he said. "They were mad about your having gone to Foley's. Graveling--he was the worst--he's telling them all that you're up to some mischief on your own account. They are all grumbling like a lot of sore heads. If they could stop your speaking here to-night, I believe they would. They're a rotten lot. Before they got their places in Parliament, they were perfect firebrands. Blast them!"
"And you, Aaron--"
Maraton suddenly paused. The door was softly opened, and Julia stood there. She was wearing her hat and coat, but her hands were gloveless; she had just returned from the street.
"Come in," Maraton invited. "So you're looking after Aaron, are you?"
"I couldn't keep away," Julia said simply. "I thought I'd better let you both know that the street below is filling up. They've heard that you are here. People were running away from before the Midland as I came round the corner."
Maraton glanced out of the window. There was a hurrying crowd fast approaching the front of the hotel. He drew back.
"I was just on the point of asking Aaron," he remarked, "exactly what it is that is expected from me to-night. Tell me what is in your mind?"
Her face lit up as she looked at him.
"We are like children," she replied, "all of us. We have too much faith. I think that what we are expecting is a miracle."
"Is it wise?" Maraton asked quietly. "Don't you think that it may lead to disappointment?"
She considered the thought for a moment and brushed it away.
"We are not afraid, Aaron and I."
"You are belligerents, both of you."
"And so are you," Julia retorted swiftly. "What was it you said in Chicago about the phrase-makers?--the Socialism that flourished in the study while women and children starved in the streets? Those are the sort of things that we remember, Aaron and I."
"This is a country of slow progress," Maraton reminded them. "One builds stone by stone. Listen to me carefully, you two. Since you have had understanding, your eyes have been fixed upon this one immense problem. I have a question to ask you concerning it. Shall I destroy for the sake of the unborn generations, or shall I use all my cunning and the power of the people to lead them a little further into the light during their living days? What would they say themselves, do you think? Would one in a hundred be content to sacrifice himself for a principle?"
"Who knows that the millennium would be so long delayed?" Julia exclaimed. "A few years might see Society reconstituted, with new laws and a new humanity."
Maraton shook his head.
"Don't make any mistake about that," he said. "If I press the levers upon which to-day my hand seems to rest, this country will be laid waste with famine and riot and conquest. An hour ago a little man was here, a little, black-bearded man with a quiet voice, charged with a great mission. He came to offer me, on behalf of a syndicate of foreign manufacturers, a million pounds towards our universal strike."
They both gasped. The thing was surely incredible!
"An incident like that," Maraton continued, "may show you what this country must lose, for her rivals do not give away a million pounds for nothing."
Julia's eyes were fixed upon his. Her face was full of strained anxiety.
"You talk," she murmured, "as though you had doubts, as though you were hesitating. Forgive me--we have waited so long for to-day--we and all the others."
"Could any one," he demanded, "stand in the position I stand in to-day and not have doubts?"
Her eyes flashed at him.
"Yes," she cried, "a prophet could! A real man could--the man we thought you were, could!"
Aaron leaned forward, aghast. His monosyllable was charged with terrified reproach.
She turned upon him.
"You, too! You weren't at Lyndwood, were you? . . . Doubts!" she went on fiercely, her eyes flashing once more upon Maraton. "How can you fire their blood if there are doubts in your heart? So long these people have waited. No wonder their hearts are sick and their brains are clogged, their will is tired. Prophet after prophet they have followed blindly through the wilderness. Always it has been the prophet who has been caught up into the easier ways, and the people who have sunk back into misery."
She fell suddenly upon her knees. Before he could stop her, she was at his feet, her face straining up to his.
"Forgive me!" she cried. "For the love of the women and the little children, don't fail us now! If you don't say the word to-night, it will never be spoken, never in your day nor mine. It isn't legislation they want any more. It's revolution, the cleansing fires! The land where the sun shines lies on the other side of the terrible way. Lead them across. Don't try the devious paths. They have filled you with the poison of common sense. It isn't common sense that's wanted. It's only an earthquake can bring out the spirit of the people and make them see and hold what belongs to them."
Maraton lifted her up. Her body was quivering. She lay, for a moment, passive in his arms. Then she sprang away. She stood with her back to him, looking out of the window.
"The streets are full of people," she said quietly. "Their eyes are all turned here. Poor people!"
Maraton crossed the room and stood by her side. He spoke very gently. He even took her hand, which lay like a lump of ice in his.
"Julia," he whispered, "you lose hope and trust too soon."
"You have spoken of doubts," she answered, in a low tone. "The prophet has no doubts."
There was a sound of voices outside, of heavy footsteps on the stairs. They heard Graveling's loud, unpleasant voice. The delegates had arrived!
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