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The three men--Peter Dale, Abraham Weavel and Graveling filed into the room a little solemnly. Maraton shook hands with the two former, but Graveling, who kept his head turned away from Julia, affected not to notice Maraton's friendly overtures.
"So you managed it all right," Peter Dale remarked. "Pretty close fit, wasn't it?"
"Seven hundred," Maraton replied. "Not so bad, considering. You see, I was a complete stranger and I am not sure that I have learnt the knack yet of that sort of platform speaking."
"However that may be," Abraham Weavel declared, accepting a cigar from the box which Maraton had ordered, and standing with his hands underneath his coat-tails upon the hearthrug, "you've done the trick. You're an M.P., same as we are."
"You've no objection, I hope?" Maraton remarked lightly.
"That's as may be," Mr. Weavel observed sententiously. "We don't, so to speak, know exactly where we are just at this moment. There's all sorts of rumours going about, and we want them cleared up. Go on, Dale, ask him the first question. You're spokesman, you know."
Mr. Peter Dale threw away the match with which he had just lit his pipe, sampled the whiskey and water to which he had helped himself with a most liberal hand, and deliberately selected the most comfortable chair within reach. With his hands in his trousers pockets, the thumbs protruding, his pipe in the left-hand corner of his mouth, his eyebrows drawn close together, he looked steadfastly towards Maraton.
"The first question," he began stolidly, "is this. You owe your seat in Parliament to the Unionists. What have you promised them in return? You haven't attempted to commit us to anything, I hope?"
"Certainly not," Maraton replied. "Such an idea never occurred to me. So far as I know," he went on, after a moment's hesitation, "Mr. Foley is not, at the moment, in need of your support. His majority is sufficient."
Peter Dale frowned ominously.
"That may or may not be," he remarked gruffly. "So long as you haven't taken it upon yourself to pledge us to anything, well, that disposes of question number one. The next is, where are you going to sit in the House?"
Maraton's eyebrows were slightly raised.
"Where am I going to sit?" he repeated. "Remember, if you please, that as a member I have never been inside your House of Commons. I am not acquainted with its procedure. Where, in your opinion, ought I to sit?"
"Your place is with us," Peter Dale declared. "I can't see that there's any doubt about that."
"You're a Labour man, aren't you?" Peter Dale asked. "You call yourself one, anyway.
"If I am a Labour man," Maraton said, "why did you put up a candidate to oppose me at Nottingham?"
Peter Dale smoked steadily for several moments.
"It was nowt to do with me," he announced. "The fellow sprung up all on his own, as it were. Graveling here may have known something of it, but so far as we are concerned he was not an authorised candidate."
Maraton shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"There was nothing," he objected, "to convey that idea to the electors. He made use of the Labour agent and the Labour committee rooms. My telegram to you remained unanswered. Under those circumstances, I really can scarcely see how you find it possible to disown him."
"In any case," Abraham Weavel intervened, with conciliation in his tone, "he didn't do himself a bit a' good nor you a bit of harm. Four hundred and thirty votes he polled out of eight thousand, and those were votes which otherwise would have gone to the Liberal. I should say myself that it did you good, if anything."
"You may be right," Maraton admitted. "At the same time, one thing is very clear. You did not offer me the slightest official support. It is true that I did not ask for it. I prefer, as I have told you all along, my independence. It will be my object to continue without direct association with any party. If I can find a place in the house allotted to Independent Members, I shall sit there. If not, I shall sit with the Unionists."
Peter Dale's face darkened. This was what they had feared.
"You mean that you're breaking away from us?" he exclaimed angrily. "There's no room in our little party for Independent Members, no sort of sense in a mere handful of us all pulling different ways."
"I never joined your party, Mr. Dale," Maraton reminded him. "I have never joined any man's party. I am for the people."
"And what about us?" Graveling demanded. "Aren't we for the people? Isn't that what we're in Parliament for? Isn't that why we are called Labour Members?"
Maraton regarded the last speaker steadily.
"Mr. Graveling," he said, "since you have mooted the question, I will admit that I do not consider you, as a body of men, entirely devoted to the cause of the people. You are each devoted to your own constituency. It is your business to look after the few thousand voters who sent you into Parliament, and in your eagerness to serve and please them, I think that you sometimes forget the greater, the more universal truths. I may be wrong. That is how the matter seems to me."
"Then since you're so frank," Peter Dale declared, with undiminished wrath, "I'll just imitate your candour! I'll tell you how you seem to us. You seem like a man with a gift, whose head has been turned by Mr. Foley and his fine friends. You're full of great phrases, but there's nothing practical about them or you. You're on your way to an easy place for yourself in the world, and a seat in Foley's Cabinet."
"Have you any objection," Maraton asked, "to the people's cause being represented in the Cabinet?"
It was the last straw, this! Peter Dale's voice shook with passion.
"It's been a promise," he shouted, "for this many a year! A sop to the people it was, at the last election. There's one of us ought to be in the Cabinet--one of us, I say, not a carpetbagger!"
"We're the wrong type of man," Graveling broke in sarcastically. "That's what he said. He was heard to say it to the Home Secretary. The wrong type of man he called us."
Maraton suddenly changed his attitude. He was momentarily conscious of Julia listening, from her place in the background, to every word with strained attention. After all, these men had doubtless done good work according to their capacity.
"My friends," he protested, "why do we bandy words like this? Perhaps it is my fault. I have had a long and tiring day, and I must confess that I to some extent resented a Labour man being set up against me, without a word of explanation. You mean well, all of you, I am sure, even if we can't quite see the same way. Don't let's quarrel. I am not used to Parties. I can't serve under any one. My vote's my own, and I don't like the political juggery of selling it here and there for a quid pro quo. We may sit on opposite benches, but I give you my word that there isn't anything in the world which brings me into political life or will keep me there, save the welfare of the people. Now shake hands, all of you. Let us have a drink together and part friends."
Peter Dale shook his head doggedly. He had risen to his feet--a man filled with slow burning but bitter anger.
"No, sir!" he declared. "Me and my mates have stood for the people for this many a year, and we've no fancy for a fine gentleman springing up like a Jack-in-the-box from somewhere else in the House, without any reference to us, and yet calling himself and advertising himself as the champion of our cause. Outside Parliament we can't stop you. The Trades' Union men think more of you, maybe, than they do of us. But inside you can plough your own furrow, and for my part, when you're on your legs, the smoking-room will be plenty good enough for me!"
"And for the rest of us!" Graveling agreed fiercely. "If you're so keen on being independent, you shall see what you can do on your own."
Dale was already on his way to the door, but Maraton checked him.
"Mr. Dale," he said, "you are an older man than I am, a man of much experience. I beg you to reflect. The feelings which prompt you towards this action are unworthy. If you attempt to send me to Coventry, you will simply bring ridicule upon a Party which should be the broadest-minded in the House."
Mr. Dale turned around. He had already crammed his black, wide-awake hat on to his head. Like all men whose outlook upon life is limited, the idea of ridicule was hateful to him.
"You mark my words, young man," he growled. "The one that makes a fool of himself is the one that's going to play the toady to a master who will send him to heel with a kick, every time he opens his mouth to bark! Go your own way. I'm only sorry you ever set foot in this country."
He passed out, followed by Weavel. Graveling only lingered upon the threshold. He was looking towards Julia.
"Miss Thurnbrein," he said, "can I have a word with you?"
"You cannot," she replied steadily.
He remained there, dogged, full of suppressed wrath. The sight of her taking her place before the typewriter seemed to madden him. Already she was the better for the change of work and surroundings, for the improved conditions of her daily life. There was the promise of colour in her cheeks. Her plain black gown was as simple as ever, but her hair was arranged with care, and she carried herself with a new distinction, born of her immense contentment. Her supercilious attitude attracted while it infuriated him.
"It's only a word I want," he persisted. "I have a right to some sort of civility, at any rate."
"You have no rights at all," she retorted. "I thought that we had finished with that the last time we spoke together."
"I want to know," he went on obstinately, "why you haven't been to work lately?"
"Because I have left Weinberg's," she told him curtly. "It is no business of yours, but if it will help to get rid of you--"
"Left Weinberg's," he repeated. "Got another job, eh?"
"I am Mr. Maraton's assistant secretary," she announced.
His face for a moment was almost distorted with anger.
"You're living here--under this roof?" he demanded.
"It is no concern of yours where or how I am living," she answered.
"That's a lie!" Graveling exclaimed furiously. "You're my girl. I've hung around after you for six years. I've known you since you were a child. I'll be d--d if I'll be thrown on one side now and see you become another man's mistress--especially his!"
He came a step further into the room. Maraton, who had been standing with his back to them, arranging some papers on his desk, turned slowly around. Graveling was advancing towards him with the air of a bully.
"Do you hear--you--Maraton?" he cried. "I've had enough of you! You can flout us all at our work, if you like, but you go a bit too far when you think to make a plaything of my girl. Do you hear that?"
"Perfectly," Maraton replied.
"And what have you got to say about it?"
Maraton shrugged his shoulders slightly.
"I don't know that I have anything particular to say about it. If it interests you to be told my opinion of you, you are welcome to hear it."
Graveling advanced a step nearer still. His fists were clenched, an ugly scowl had parted his lips. Julia came swiftly from her seat. Her eyes were filled with fury. She faced Graveling.
"Richard Graveling," she exclaimed, "I am ashamed to think that I ever let you call yourself my friend! If you do not leave the room and the house at once, I swear that I will never speak to you again as long as I live!"
He pushed her aside roughly.
"I'll talk to you presently," he declared. "It's him that my business is with now."
Maraton's eyes flashed a little dangerously.
"Keep your hands off that young lady," he ordered.
"You'd like her to protect you, would you?" Graveling taunted. "Listen here. I'm not the sort of man to have my girl taken away and made another man's plaything. Is she going to stop here? Answer me quickly."
"As long as she chooses," Maraton replied.
"Then take that!" Graveling shouted.
Maraton stepped lightly to one side. Graveling was overbalanced by his fierce blow into the empty air. The next moment he was lying on his back, and the room seemed to be spinning around him. Maraton was standing with his finger upon the bell. Julia was by his side, her eyes blazing. She spoke never a word, but as Graveling struggled back to his senses he could see the scorn upon her face.
Aaron and a man servant entered the room simultaneously. Maraton pointed to the figure upon the floor.
"Aaron," he said, "your friend Mr. Graveling has met with a slight accident. You had better take him outside and put him in a taxicab."
Graveling rose painfully to his feet. He was very pale, and there was blood upon his cheek. He leaned on Aaron's arm and he looked towards Maraton and Julia.
"Better apologise and shake hands," Maraton advised quietly.
Graveling seemed not to have heard him. He looked towards them both, and his fingers gripped Aaron's shoulder so that the young man winced with pain. Then without a single word he turned towards the door.
"Let him go!" Julia cried fiercely. "I am only thankful that you punished him. We do not want his apologies. I hope that I may never see him again!"
Graveling, who had reached the door, leaning heavily upon Aaron, turned around. His face, with the streak of blood upon his cheek, was ghastly. He left the room between Aaron and the servant. They heard his unsteady footsteps in the hall, a whistle, the departure of the cab. "Aaron has gone with him," Maraton remarked quietly. "Perhaps it is as well."
Her face suddenly relaxed and softened. The fury left her eyes; she sank back into the easy chair.
"I am ashamed," she moaned. "Oh, I am ashamed!"
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