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On the following morning, Maraton saw Elisabeth for the first time since his return from Manchester. As he rang the bell of Mr. Foley's residence in Downing Street, at a few minutes before the hour at which he had been bidden to luncheon, he found himself wondering with a leaven of resentment in his feelings why he had so persistently avoided the house during the last three weeks. All his consultations with Mr. Foley, and they had been many, had taken place at the House of Commons. He had refused endless invitations of a social character, and even when Mr. Foley had told him in plain words that his niece was anxious to see him, Maraton had postponed his call. This luncheon party, however, was inevitable. He was to meet a great lawyer who had a place in the Government, and two other Cabinet Ministers. No excuse would have served his purpose.
The man who took his hat and coat had evidently received special instructions.
"Mr. Foley is engaged with his secretary, sir," he said. "A messenger has just arrived from abroad. Will you come this way?"
He was taken to Elisabeth's little room. She was there waiting for him. Directly she rose, he knew why he had kept away.
"Are you not a little ashamed of yourself, Mr. Maraton?" she asked, as the door was closed behind the departing servant.
"On the contrary," he replied, "I am proud."
She laughed at him, naturally at first, but with a note of self-consciousness following swiftly, as she realised the significance of his words.
"How foolish! Really, I know it is only a subterfuge to avoid being scolded. Sit down, won't you? You will have to wait at least ten minutes for luncheon."
They looked at one another. He took up a volume of poems from the small table by his side and put it down again.
"Well?" she asked.
"You have conquered," he declared. "You see, I came down to earth."
"It isn't possible for me," she said simply, "to tell you how glad I am. Don't you yourself feel that you have done the right thing?"
"Since that night at Manchester," he told her, "I have scarcely stopped to think. Do you know that your strongest allies were Mr. Peter Dale and his men?"
She shrugged her shoulders.
"I disclaim my allies. If we arrived at the same conclusion, we did so by differing lines of thought. Let me tell you," she went on, "there were two things for which I have prayed. One was that you might start your fight exactly as you have done. The other that you might find no official place amongst the Labour Members. Of course, I can't pretend to the practical experience of a real politician, but my uncle talks to me a great deal, and to me the truth seemed so clear. It is the advanced Unionists who need you. They are really the party from whom progress must come, because it is the middle class which has to be attacked, and it is amongst the middle classes that Liberalism has its stronghold. If you once took your place among the Labour Members, you would be a Labour Member and nothing else. People wouldn't take what you said seriously."
"I am coming into the House, if at all, as an Independent Member," he announced.
"Mr. Foley is quite satisfied with that--in fact he thinks it's best. Do you know, he seems to have gained a new lease of life during the last few weeks. What do you think of his commission on your Manchester strike?"
"He kept his word," Maraton admitted. "I expected no less."
"I can tell you this," she went on, "because I know that he will tell you himself after luncheon. The masters met here this morning. They are simply furious with my uncle, but they have had to give in. The bill you drafted would have been rushed through Parliament without a moment's delay, if they had not. Mr. Foley showed them your draft. They have given in on every point."
"I am afraid I'm going to keep your uncle rather busy," Maraton remarked. "Very soon after this is settled, I have promised to speak at Sheffield."
"In a way it is terrible," she said, with a sigh, "and yet it is so much better than the things we feared. Tell me about yourself a little, won't you? How have you been spending your time? You have a large, gloomy house here, they tell me, shrouded with mystery. Have you any amusements or have you been working all the time?"
"Half my days have been spent with your uncle," he reminded her. "The other half at home, working. So many of my facts were rusty. As to my house, is it really mysterious, I wonder? It is large and gloomy, at the extreme corner of an unfashionable square. It suits me because I love space and quietness, and yet I like to be near the heart of things."
"But do you do nothing but work?" she asked. "Have you no hobbies?"
He shook his head.
"I seem to have had no time for games. I like walking, walking in the country or even walking in the cities and watching the people. Only the London streets are so sad. Then I am fond of reading. I'm afraid I should be rather a strange figure if I were to be suddenly projected into your world, Lady Elisabeth."
"But I like to feel that you are in my world," she said gently. "Believe me, it isn't altogether made up of people who play games."
"I read the daily papers," he remarked. "Didn't I see something yesterday about Lady Elisabeth Landon having won the scratch prize at Ranelagh at a ladies' golf meeting?"
She laughed pleasantly.
"Oh! well," she protested, "you must make allowance for my bringing up. We begin to play games in this country as soon as we can crawl about the nursery. It all depends upon the value you set upon these things."
A servant knocked at the door and announced the service of luncheon. Elisabeth rose reluctantly to her feet.
"Now, I suppose, I must hand you over to the serious business of life," she sighed. "If you do have a minute to spare when you have finished with my uncle," she added in a lower tone, as they passed down the wide staircase side by side, "come up and see me before you go. I shall be in till four o'clock."
The familiarity of her words, half whispered in his ear, the delightful suggestion of some confidential understanding between them, were alike fascinating to him. In her plain white serge coat and skirt, and smart hat--she had just come in from walking in the park--she seemed to him to represent so perfectly the very best and most delightful type of womanhood. Her complexion was perfect, her skin fresh as a child's. She carried herself with the spring and grace of one who walks through life self-confidently, fortified always with the knowledge that she was a favourite with women as well as with men. He sat by her side at luncheon and he could not help admiring the delicate tact with which she prevented the conversation from ever remaining more than a few seconds in channels which might have made him feel something of an alien. There was another nephew of Mr. Foley's there, a famous polo player and sportsman; Lord Carton, whose eyes seldom left Elisabeth's face; Sir William Blend, the great lawyer; Mr. Horrill and Lord Armley. These, with Elisabeth's mother and herself, made up the party.
"I think I am going to bar politics," Lady Grenside said, as she took her place.
"Impossible!" Mr. Foley retorted, in high good humour. "This is a political luncheon. We have great and weighty matters to discuss. You women are permitted to be present, but we allot to you the hardest task of all--silence."
"A sheer impossibility, so far as mother is concerned," Elisabeth observed. "As for me, I call myself a practical politician. I intend to take part in the discussion."
Mr. Foley looked across the round table with twinkling eyes.
"We are going to talk about Universal Manhood Suffrage," he announced.
"Scandalous," Elisabeth declared, "before we have our votes!"
"Perhaps," Maraton suggested, "it was Universal Suffrage that Mr. Foley meant."
"Including children and aliens," Lady Grenside remarked. "I am sure the children at the school I went over yesterday could have ruled the nation admirably. They seemed to know positively everything."
"Mother, you are too frivolous," Elisabeth insisted. "If this tone of levity is not dropped, I shall start another subject of conversation. Mr. Maraton, you, of course, are in favour of Universal Manhood Suffrage?"
"I am not at all sure about it," he replied. "It gives the vote to a lot of people I'd sooner see deported."
"But you--you to talk like that!" she exclaimed.
"Votes should belong to those who have a stake in the country, not to the flotsam and jetsam," he continued solemnly.
"But you're a Tory!" she cried.
"Not a bit," he answered. "If I had my way, you would very soon see that one man wouldn't have so much more stake in the country than another. Then Universal Suffrage follows automatically--in fact that's the way I'd arrive at it."
"Don't ever let Mr. Maraton be Prime Minister!" Elisabeth begged. "He's too iconoclastic."
"And just now I was a Tory," Maraton protested.
"It isn't my fault that you are a study in contraries," she laughed. "But then politicians are rather like that, aren't they? I think really that they should be like surgeons, specialise all the time."
"Come down to Ranelagh and play golf after luncheon," Lord Carton suggested abruptly from across the table. "I've got my little racing car outside and I'll take you down there like a rocket."
"Thanks," she answered, "I want particularly to stay in till four o'clock this afternoon. Besides, you can't play golf, you know."
"I don't think Elisabeth has improved," he remarked to her mother, turning deliberately away.
"And I am sure Jack's left his heart in Central America," Elisabeth declared. "He was always fond of dark-complexioned ladies. Mr. Maraton, have you been a great traveller?"
He shook his head.
"I have been in South America," he replied, "and I know most of the country between San Francisco and New York pretty well."
"And Europe?" she asked.
"I walked from Vienna to Paris when I was a boy," he told her. "It's years, though, since I was on the Continent."
Her cousin began to talk of his hunting experiences, and every one listened. As soon as the service of luncheon was concluded, Lady Grenside rose.
"I dare say we shall all meet again before you go," she said. "Coffee is being served to you in the library, Stephen. We won't say good-bye to anybody. Jack, don't forget that you are dining here to-night. You shall take in the blackest young lady I can pick out for you."
Elisabeth followed her mother. At the last moment, Maraton caught a little whisper which only just floated from her lips.
"Till four o'clock!"
The two younger men took their departure almost immediately. The others moved into the library. Mr. Foley plunged at once into the subject which was uppermost in their minds.
"Mr. Maraton," he began, "we want to talk about these strikes. Horrill here, and Blend, have an idea that you are working towards some definite result--that you have more in your mind than I have told them. It is only this morning," he went on in a lower tone, and glancing towards the closed door, "that I explained to them your Manchester speech. They know now that England has you to thank for the fact that we are not at this moment preparing for war."
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