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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA People's Man - Chapter 17
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A People's Man - Chapter 17 Post by :lcpl10 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3455

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A People's Man - Chapter 17

CHAPTER XVII

In the roar of applause which followed Maraton's brilliant but wholly unprepared peroration, a roar which broke and swelled like the waves of the sea, different people upon the platform heard different things. Peter Dale and his little band of coadjutors were men enough to know that a new force had come amongst them. It is possible, even, that they, hardened as they were by time and circumstances, felt some thrill of that erstwhile enthusiasm which in their younger days had brought them out from the ranks of their fellows. To Aaron, listening with quivering attention to every sentence, it seemed like the consummation of all his dreams. Julia alone was conscious of a certain restraint, knew that behind all the deep feeling and splendid hopefulness of Maraton's words, there was a sense of something kept back. It wasn't what he had meant to say. Something had come between Maraton and his passionate dreams of freedom. He, too, had become a particularist. He, too, was content to preach salvation piecemeal. He had spoken to them at first simply, as one worker to another. Then he had drifted out into the larger sea, and for those few moments he had been, at any rate, vigorously in earnest as he had attacked with scorpion-like bitterness the hideous disproportions which existed between the capitalized corporation and the labour which supported it. Yet afterwards he had gone back within himself. Almost she had expected to see him with his hands upraised, bidding them tear down these barriers for themselves. Instead he showed them the legalized way, not to free humanity, but to ensure for themselves a more comfortable place in life. It was all very magnificent. The strike was assured now, almost the success of it.

It was long before they let him leave the platform. In the droning impotence of the men who followed him, the vast audience seemed to realise once more the splendid perfection of his wholly natural and inspiring oratory. They rose and shouted for him, and once again, as he said a few words, the spell of silence lay upon them. Julia sat telling herself passionately that all was well, that nothing more than this was to have been hoped for, that indeed the liberator had come. More than once she felt Aaron's hands gripping her arm, as Maraton's words seemed to cleave a way towards the splendid truth. Ross, on her other side, was like a man carried into another s world.

"It is the Messiah," he muttered, "the Messiah of suffering men and women! No longer will they cry aloud for bread and be given stones."

Everything that happened afterwards seemed, in a way, commonplace. When at last they succeeded in leaving the platform, they had to wait for a long time in an anteroom while some portion of the immense crowd dispersed. Peter Dale, as soon as he had lit his pipe, came up to Maraton and patted him on the shoulder.

"There's no doubt about thy gift, lad," he said condescendingly. "A man who can talk as you do has no need to look elsewhere for a living."

"Gave it to 'em straight," Mr. Weavel assented, "and what I propose is a meeting at Sheffield--say this day month--and an appeal to the ironfounders. It's all very well, Borden," he went on, a little angrily, "but my people are looking for something from me, in return for their cash. What with these strikes here and strikes there, and a bit out of it for everybody, why, it's time Sheffield spoke."

"There's a question I should like to ask," Graveling intervened, plunging into the discussion, "and that is, why are you so cocksure, Mr. Maraton, of Government support in favour of the men? You said in your speech to-night, so far as I remember, that if the masters wouldn't give in without, Government must force them to see the rights of the matter. And not only that, but Government should compel them to recognise the Union and to deal with it. Now you've only been in this country a few days, and it seemed to me you were talking on a pretty tall order."

"Not at all," Maraton replied. "I have a scheme of my own, scarcely developed as yet, a scheme which I wasn't sure, when I came here, that I should ever make use of, which justified me in saying what I did."

They looked at him jealously.

"Is it an arrangement with Mr. Foley that you're speaking of?" Peter Dale enquired.

"Perhaps so," Maraton assented.

There was a dead silence. Maraton was leaning slightly against a table. Julia was talking to the wife of one of the delegates, a little way off. The others were all spread around, smoking and helping themselves to drinks which had just been brought in. Graveling's face was dark and angry.

"Are we to gather," he demanded, "that there's some sort of an understanding between you and Mr. Foley?"

"If there is," Maraton asked easily, "to whom am I responsible?"

There was a silence, brief but intense. Julia had turned her head; the others, too, were listening. Peter Dale was blowing tobacco smoke from his mouth, Borden was breathing heavily. Graveling's small eyes were bright with anger and distrust. They were all of them realising the presence of a new force which had come amongst them, and already, with the immeasurable selfishness of their class, they were speculating as to its personal effect upon themselves. Peter Dale, with his hands in his trousers pockets, and his pipe between his teeth, elbowed his way to Maraton's side.

"Young man," he began solemnly, "we'd best have an understanding. Ask any of these others and they'll tell you I'm the leader of the Labour Party. Are you one of us or aren't you?"

"One of you, in a sense, I hope, Mr. Dale," Maraton answered simply. "Only you must put me down as an Independent. I don't understand conditions over here yet. Where my own way seems best, I am used to following it."

Peter Dale removed his pipe from his mouth and spoke with added distinctness.

"Politics over here," he said, "are a simpler game than in the States, but there's one class of person we've got to do without, and that's the Independent Member. You can't do anything over here except by sticking together. If you'll come under the standard, you're welcome. I'll say nothing about Parliament for a time, but we'll find you all the talking you want and see that you're well paid for it."

Looking past the speaker's hard, earnest face, Maraton was conscious of the scorn flashing in Julia's I eyes. Intuitively he felt her appreciation of the coarse selfishness of these men, terrified at his gifts, resisting stubbornly the unwelcome conviction of a new mastership. Her lips even moved, as though she were signalling to him. At that moment, indeed, he would have been glad of her guidance. He needed the machinery which these men controlled, distasteful though their ideals and methods might be to him.

"Mr. Dale," he declared, "I am a people's man. I cannot enroll myself in your party because I fancy that in many ways we should think differently. But with so many objects in common, it is surely possible for us to be friends?"

Ross leaned suddenly forward in his chair, his grey face passion-stirred, the sweat upon his forehead.

"Aye!" he cried, "it's the greatest friend or the bitterest enemy of the people you'll be. You'll do more with that tongue of yours than a library of books or a century of Parliament, and may it wither in your mouth if they buy you--those others! God meant you for a people's man. It'll be hell for you and for us if they buy you away."

Maraton changed his position a little. He was facing them all now.

"My friends," he said, "that is one thing of which you need have no fear. Our methods may be different, we may work in different ways, but we shall work towards the same goal. Remember this, and remember always that whether we fight under the same banner or not, I have told it to you solemnly and from the bottom of my heart. I am a people's man!"

He turned towards the door and laid his hand upon Aaron's shoulder. Julia, too, rose and followed him.

"I think," he added, "that the people will have cleared off by now. I am going to try and get back to the hotel. I have messages to send away, and an early train to catch in the morning."

They were passing out of the room almost in silence, but Henneford struck the table with his fist.

"Come," he exclaimed, "we seem in a queer humour to-night! Don't let Mr. Maraton think too hardly of us. Wherever his place may be in the future, he's done us a grand service to-night, and don't let's forget it. He's waked these people up as none other of us could have done. He's started this strike in such a fashion as none other of us could. Don't let's forget to be grateful. The education and the oratory isn't all on the other side now. If we don't see you again to-night, Mr. Maraton, or before you leave for London, here's my thanks, for one, for to-night's work, and I'll lay odds that the others are with me."

They crowded around him after that, and though Graveling stood on one side and Peter Dale still maintained his attitude of doubt, they all parted cordially enough. They reached the back door of the hall and found the shelter of a four-wheeled cab. Before they could start, however, they were discovered. People came running from all directions. Looking through the window, they could see nothing but a sea of white faces. The crazy vehicle rocked from side to side. The driver was lifted from his seat, the horse unharnessed. Slowly, and surrounded by a cheering multitude, they dragged the cab through the streets. Julia, sitting by Maraton's side, felt herself impelled to hold on to his arm. Her body, her every sense was thrilled with the hoarse, dramatic roll of their voices, the forest of upraised caps, the strange calm of the man, who glanced sometimes almost sadly from side to side. She clutched at him once passionately.

"Isn't it wonderful!" she murmured. "All the time they call to you--their liberator!"

He smiled, and there was a shadow still of sadness in his eyes.

"It is a moment's frenzy," he said. "They have seen a gleam of the truth. When the light goes out, the old burden will seem all the heavier. It is so little that man can do for them."

They had flung open the top of the cab, and Maraton's eyes were fixed far ahead at the dull glow which hung over the city, the haze of smoke and heat, stretching like a sulphurous pall southwards. The roar of voices was always in his ears, but for a moment his thoughts seemed to have passed away, his eyes seemed to be seeking for some message beyond the clouds. He alone knew the full meaning of the hour which had passed.


They were sitting alone in the library, the French windows wide open, the languorous night air heavy with the perfume of roses and the sweetness of the cedars, drawn out by the long day's sunshine. Mr. Foley was sitting with folded arms, silent and pensive--a man waiting. And by his side was Elisabeth, standing for a moment with her fingers upon his shoulder.

"Is that eleven o'clock?" she asked.

"A quarter past," he answered. "We shall hear in a few minutes now."

She moved restlessly away. There was something spectral about her in her light muslin frock, as she vanished through the windows and reappeared almost immediately, threading her way amongst the flower beds. Suddenly the telephone bell at Mr. Foley's elbow rang. He raised the receiver. She came swiftly to his side.

"Manchester?" she heard him say. . . . "Yes, this is Lyndwood Park. It is Mr. Foley speaking. Go on."

There was silence then. Elisabeth stood with parted lips and luminous eyes, her hand upon his shoulder. She watched him,--watched the slow movement of his head, the relaxing of his hard, thin lips, the flash in his eyes. She knew--from the first she knew!

"Thank you very much, and good night," Mr. Foley said, as he replaced the receiver.

Then he turned quickly to Elisabeth and caught her hand. "They say that Maraton's speech was wonderful," he announced. "He declared war, but a man's war. Cotton first, and cotton alone."

She gave a little sobbing breath. Her hands were locked together.

"England will never know," Mr. Foley added, in a voice still trembling with emotion, "what she has escaped!"

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