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MR. KINGSTON BROOKS, POLITICAL AGENT
Already the sweepers were busy in the deserted hall, and the lights burned low. Of the great audience who had filled the place only half-an-hour ago not one remained. The echoes of their tumultuous cheering seemed still to linger amongst the rafters, the dust which their feet had raised hung about in a little cloud. But the long rows of benches were empty, the sweepers moved ghostlike amongst the shadows, and an old woman was throwing tealeaves here and there about the platform. In the committee-room behind a little group of men were busy with their leave-takings. The candidate, a tall, somewhat burly man, with hard, shrewd face and loosely knit figure, was shaking hands with every one. His tone and manner savoured still of the rostrum.
"Good-night, sir! Good-night, Mr. Bullsom! A most excellent introduction, yours, sir! You made my task positively easy. Good-night, Mr. Brooks. A capital meeting, and everything very well arranged. Personally I feel very much obliged to you, sir. If you carry everything through as smoothly as this affair to-night, I can see that we shall lose nothing by poor Morrison's breakdown. Good-night, gentlemen, to all of you. We will meet at the club at eleven o'clock to-morrow morning. Eleven o'clock precisely, if you please."
The candidate went out to his carriage, and the others followed in twos and threes. A young man, pale, with nervous mouth, strongly-marked features and clear dark eyes, looked up from a sheaf of letters which he was busy sorting.
"Don't wait for me, Mr. Bullsom," he said. "Reynolds will let me out, and I had better run through these letters before I leave."
Mr. Bullsom was emphatic to the verge of gruffness.
"You'll do nothing of the sort," he declared. "I tell you what it is, Brooks. We're not going to let you knock yourself up. You're tackling this job in rare style. I can tell you that Henslow is delighted."
"I'm much obliged to you for saying so, Mr. Bullsom," the young man answered. "Of course the work is strange to me, but it is very interesting, and I don't mean to make a mess of it."
"There is only one chance of your doing that," Mr. Bullsom rejoined, "and that is if you overwork yourself. You need a bit of looking after. You've got a rare head on your shoulders, and I'm proud to think that I was the one to bring your name before the committee. But I'm jolly well certain of one thing. You've done all the work a man ought to do in one day. Now listen to me. Here's my carriage waiting, and you're going straight home with me to have a bite and a glass of wine. We can't afford to lose our second agent, and I can see what's the matter with you. You're as pale as a ghost, and no wonder. You've been at it all day and never a break."
The young man called Brooks had not the energy to frame a refusal, which he knew would be resented. He took down his overcoat, and stuffed the letters into his pocket.
"You're very good," he said. "I'll come up for an hour with pleasure."
They passed out together into the street, and Mr. Bullsom opened the door of his carriage.
"In with you, young man," he exclaimed. "Home, George!"
Kingston Brooks leaned back amongst the cushions with a little sigh of relief.
"This is very restful," he remarked. "We have certainly had a very busy day. The inside of electioneering may be disenchanting, but it's jolly hard work."
Mr. Bullsom sat with clasped hands in front of him resting upon that slight protuberance which denoted the advent of a stomach. He had thrown away the cigar which he had lit in the committee-room. Mrs. Bullsom did not approve of smoking in the covered wagonette, which she frequently honoured with her presence.
"There's nothing in the world worth having that hasn't to be worked for, my boy," he declared, good-humoredly.
"By other people!" Brooks remarked, smiling.
"That's as it may be," Mr. Bullsom admitted. "To my mind that's where the art of the thing comes in. Any fool can work, but it takes a shrewd man to keep a lot of others working hard for him while he pockets the oof himself."
"I suppose," the younger man remarked, thoughtfully, "that you would consider Mr. Henslow a shrewd man?"
"Shrewd! Oh, Henslow's shrewd enough. There's no question about that!"
Mr. Bullsom hesitated. He drew his hand down his stubbly grey beard.
"Honest! Oh, yes, he's honest! You've no fault to find with him, eh?"
"None whatever," Brooks hastened to say. "You see," he continued more slowly, "I have never been really behind the scenes in this sort of thing before, and Henslow has such a very earnest manner in speaking. He talked to the working men last night as though his one desire in life was to further the different radical schemes which we have on the programme. Why, the tears were actually in his eyes when he spoke of the Old Age Pension Bill. He told them over and over again that the passing of that Bill was the one object of his political career. Then, you know, there was the luncheon to-day--and I fancied that he was a little flippant about the labour vote. It was perhaps only his way of speaking."
Mr. Bullsom smiled and rubbed the carriage window with the cuff of his coat. He was very hungry.
"Oh, well, a politician has to trim a little, you know," he remarked. "Votes he must have, and Henslow has a very good idea how to get them. Here we are, thank goodness." The carriage had turned up a short drive, and deposited them before the door of a highly ornate villa. Mr. Bullsom led the way indoors, and himself took charge of his guest's coat and hat. Then he opened the door of the drawing-room.
"Mrs. Bullsom and the girls," he remarked, urbanely, "will be delighted to see you. Come in!"
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