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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesA People's Man - Chapter 23
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A People's Man - Chapter 23 Post by :lcpl10 Category :Long Stories Author :E. Phillips Oppenheim Date :May 2012 Read :3299

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A People's Man - Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

The last words had been spoken, the suspense of a few hours was at an end. Maraton was on his way back to London, a duly accredited Member of Parliament for the eastern division of Nottingham. From his place in the railway carriage he fancied that he could hear even now the roar of voices, feel the thrill of emotion with which he had waited for the result. An Independent Member, even when backed as Maraton had been backed, is never in a wholly safe position. On the whole, he had done well. He had increased the majority of four hundred to a majority of seven hundred. And this, too, in the face of unexpected difficulties. At the last minute a surprise had been sprung upon the constituency. A Labour candidate had entered the field. Maraton's telegram to Peter Dale had produced no reply. The man, if not officially recognised, was at least not officially discouraged. His intervention had been useless, however. Maraton had carried the working men with him. In a sense it was an election on the strangest issues which had ever been fought. Many of the most far-seeing journalists of the day predicted in this new alliance the redistribution of Parties which for some time had been inevitable. So far as Maraton was concerned, it was, without doubt, an unexpected phase in his career. He was Maraton, M.P., representative of a manufacturing town; elected, indeed, as an Independent, but with a weighty backing of the Unionist Party behind him. The next time he spoke, probably, if he did speak before his journey to Sheffield, would be in the House of Commons. Would he, like those others, feel the inertia of it, the slow decay of his ambitions, the fatal tendency towards compromise?

Arrived at St. Pancras, Maraton drove straight to his house in Russell Square and, letting himself in with his latch-key, made his way to the study. The lights were still burning there. Julia and Aaron were sitting opposite to one another at the end of the long table, a typewriter between them and a pile of papers by Aaron's side. Julia rose at once to her feet.

"You are in!" she cried. "We have been telephoning all the evening. We heard half an hour ago."

Maraton nodded.

"In by seven hundred. Not bad, I suppose, considering that I must have been rather a hard nut to crack. Has Peter Dale been here?"

Aaron shook his head.

"He hasn't been near the place."

Maraton's face hardened.

"You know that they sprang a Labour candidate upon me at the last moment? He did me no particular harm, but it was an infamous trick. I wired to Dale yesterday and had no reply."

"David Ross has been here," Aaron said. "We heard all about it from him. There is dissension in the camp. Dale was in favour of withdrawing their candidate, but Graveling wouldn't have it."

"He did me no harm, anyway," Maraton remarked. "The Labour vote was mine from the start."

"So it ought to have been," Aaron declared vigorously. "What could they do but vote for you, with Manchester staring them in the face?"

Maraton's expression lightened, a gleam of humour twinkled in his eyes.

"After all," he murmured, "it would have been almost Gilbertian if I had been returned to Parliament with the Labour vote against me! . . . Aaron, go and ring up Peter Dale. I want this matter cleared up. Ask him when we can meet."

Aaron left the room upon his errand. Maraton moved restlessly about the room for a moment or two. He mixed himself a drink at the sideboard, and lit a cigarette. Julia's eyes followed him all the time.

"So you are a Member of Parliament," she said at last.

"I hope you approve?" he queried.

Julia did not answer him at once. He looked across at her from the depth of the easy chair into which he had thrown himself. She was wearing a plain black dress, buttoned to her throat and unrelieved even by a linen collar or any touch of white. She was pale, and her eyes seemed all the more beautiful for the faint violet lines beneath them.

"Parliament has been the grave of so many men's careers," Maraton continued. "I am fully warned. Nothing of the sort is going to happen to me. I wouldn't have gone in now but for Foley. It's only fair. It helps him, and he's sticking to his pledges like a man."

"When do you go to Sheffield?" she asked.

"Next Wednesday. No postponements."

Julia nodded.

"Mr. Elgood has been here this afternoon," she said, "from Sheffield. He is the secretary of the Union, you know. He is coming again to-morrow morning. He wants to talk to you about the boys' age limit."

"Any letters of consequence?"

Julia pointed a little disdainfully to a pile upon the table.

"All invitations," she observed coldly. "Perhaps you had better look them through."

Maraton shook his head.

"They are no use to me," he declared, "unless they're political?"

He rose and stood by Julia's side, glancing idly through the heap of papers by the side of her machine.

"You seem to have found plenty to do, anyway," he remarked.

"There was a great deal," she assured him. "I think I have collected all the possible information you can need on the steel works of Sheffield."

"Haven't been overworking, I hope?"

She laughed at him softly. Her parted lips seemed somehow to lighten her face.

"This doesn't quite compare with nine hours a day over a sewing machine, with a hundred other girls packed into a small room," she reminded him. "No, I haven't been overworking. I almost wished, an hour ago, that I could find something more to do."

"Why didn't you go out?"

"To-morrow night is Guild night," she said. "I go out then to talk to my girls. Miss Stevens is coming from the Lyceum Club to lecture to us on Woman's Suffrage."

"Do you want a vote?" he asked.

"If it comes,"' she replied. "It isn't worth worrying about. I like my girls, though, to be taught to think."

There was a brief silence. Maraton was still examining the letters laid out for his inspection. Julia was standing by his side. As the last one slipped through his fingers, he turned quickly towards her, oppressed by some mysterious significance in her silence. Her eyes were luminous. She seemed to be trembling. She avoided his enquiring glance.

"Julia!" he exclaimed.

She lifted her head slowly, almost unwillingly. Though her lips were parted, she made no attempt at speech. Then the door was suddenly opened. Aaron entered in some excitement.

"Mr. Dale and some of the others are here now, sir," he announced. "I heard they were on their way when I telephoned. They would like to see you at once."

Maraton stood for a moment quite still, without replying. Aaron gazed across the table in some surprise.

"What shall I say to them?" he asked. "They are here now."

Maraton shrugged his shoulders.

"Let them come in," he directed.

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