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My Novel - Book 12 - Chapter 27 Post by :detect2173 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :3509

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My Novel - Book 12 - Chapter 27


The leading members of the Blue Committee were invited to dine at the Park, and the hour for the entertainment was indeed early, as there might be much need yet of active exertion on the eve of a poll in a contest expected to be so close, and in which the inflexible Hundred and Fifty "Waiters upon Providence" still reserved their very valuable votes.

The party was gay and animated, despite the absence of Audley Egerton, who, on the plea of increased indisposition, had shut himself up in his rooms the instant that he had returned from the town-hall, and sent word to Harley that he was too unwell to join the party at dinner.

Randal was really in high spirits, despite the very equivocal success of his speech. What did it signify if a speech failed, provided the election was secure? He was longing for the appointment with Dick Avenel which was to make "all right!" The squire was to bring the money for the purchase of the coveted lands the next morning. Riccabocca had assured him, again and again, of Violante's hand. If ever Randal Leslie could be called a happy man, it was as he sat at that dinner taking wine with Mr. Mayor and Mr. Alderman, and looking, across the gleaming silver plateau, down the long vista into wealth and power.

The dinner was scarcely over, when Lord L'Estrauge, in a brief speech, reminded his guests of the work still before them; and after a toast to the health of the future members for Lansmere, dismissed the Committee to their labours.

Levy made a sign to Randal, who followed the baron to his own room.

"Leslie, your election is in some jeopardy. I find, from the conversation of those near me at dinner, that Egerton has made such way amongst the Blues by his speech, and they are so afraid of losing a man who does them so much credit, that the Committee men not only talk of withholding from you their second votes and of plumping Egerton, but of subscribing privately amongst themselves to win over that coy body of a Hundred and Fifty, upon whom I know that Avenel counts in whatever votes he may be able to transfer to you."

"It would be very unhandsome in the Committee, which pretends to act for both of us, to plump Egerton," said Randal, with consistent anger; "but I don't think they can get those Hundred and Fifty without the most open and exortant bribery,--an expense which Egerton will not pay, and which it would be very discreditable to Lord L'Estrange or his father to countenance."

"I told them flatly," returned Levy, "that, as Mr. Egerton's agent, I would allow no proceedings that might vitiate the election, but that I would undertake the management of these men myself; and I am going into the town in order to do so. I have also persuaded the leading Committee men to reconsider their determination to plump Egerton; they have decided to do as L'Estrange directs, and I know what he will say. You may rely on me," continued the baron, who spoke with a dogged seriousness, unusual to his cynical temper, "to obtain for you the preference over Audley, if it be in my power to do so. Meanwhile, you should really see Avenel this very night."

"I have an appointment with him at ten o'clock; and judging by his speech against Egerton, I cannot doubt on his aid to me, if convinced by his poll-books that he is not able to return both himself and his impertinent nephew. My speech, however sarcastically treated by Mr. Fairfield, must at least have disposed the Yellow party to vote rather for me than for a determined opponent like Egerton."

"I hope so; for your speech and Fairfield's answer have damaged you terribly with the Blues. However, your main hope rests on my power to keep those Hundred and Fifty rascals from splitting their votes on Egerton, and to induce them, by all means short of bringing myself before a Committee of the House of Commons for positive bribery,--which would hurt most seriously my present social position,--to give one vote to you. I shall tell them, as I have told the Committee, that Egerton is safe, and will pay nothing; but that you want the votes, and that I--in short, if they can be bought upon tick, I will buy them. Avenel, however, can serve you best here; for as they are all Yellows at heart, they make no scruple of hinting that they want twice as much for voting Blue as they will take for voting Yellow. And Avenel being a townsman, and knowing their ways, could contrive to gain them, and yet not bribe."

RANDAL (shaking his head incredulously).--"Not bribe!"

LEVY.--"Pooh! Not bribe so as to be found out." There was a knock at the door. A servant entered and presented Mr. Egerton's compliments to Baron Levy, with a request that the baron would immediately come to his rooms for a few minutes.

"Well," said Levy, when the servant had withdrawn, "I must go to Egerton, and the instant I leave him I shall repair to the town. Perhaps I may pass the night there." So saying, he left Randal, and took his way to Audley's apartment.

"Levy," said the statesman, abruptly, upon the entrance of the baron, "have you betrayed my secret--my first marriage--to Lord L'Estrange?"

"No, Egerton; on my honour, I have not betrayed it."

"You heard his speech! Did you not detect a fearful irony under his praises, or is it but--but-my conscience?" added the proud man, through his set teeth.

"Really," said Levy, "Lord L'Estrange seemed to me to select for his praise precisely those points in your character which any other of your friends would select for panegyric."

"Ay, any other of my friends!--What friends?" muttered Egerton, gloomily. Then, rousing himself, he added, in a voice that had none of its accustomed clear firmness of tone, "Your presence here in this house, Levy, surprised me, as I told you at the first; I could not conceive its necessity. Harley urged you to come,--he with whom you are no favourite! You and he both said that your acquaintance with Richard Avenel would enable you to conciliate his opposition. I cannot congratulate you on your success."

"My success remains to be proved. The vehemence of his attack may be but a feint to cover his alliance to-morrow."

Audley went on without notice of the interruption. "There is a change in Harley,--to me and to all; a change, perhaps, not perceptible to others--but I have known him from a boy."

"He is occupied for the first time with the practical business of life. That would account for a much greater change than you remark."

"Do you see him familiarly, converse with him often?"

"No, and only on matters connected with the election. Occasionally, indeed, he consults me as to Randal Leslie, in whom, as your special protege, he takes considerable interest."

"That, too, surprises me. Well, I am weary of perplexing myself. This place is hateful; after to-morrow I shall leave it, and breathe in peace. You have seen the reports of the canvass; I have had no heart to inspect them. Is the election as safe as they say?"

"If Avenel withdraws his nephew, and the votes thus released split off to you, you are secure."

"And you think his nephew will be withdrawn? Poor young man! defeat at his age, and with such talents, is hard to bear." Audley sighed.

"I must leave you now, if you have nothing important to say," said the baron, rising. "I have much to do, as the election is yet to be won, and--to you the loss of it would be--"

"Ruin, I know. Well, Levy, it is, on the whole, to your advantage that I should not lose. There may be more to get from me yet. And, judging by the letters I received this morning, my position is rendered so safe by the absolute necessity of my party to keep me up, that the news of my pecuniary difficulties will not affect me so much as I once feared. Never was my career so free from obstacle, so clear towards the highest summit of ambition; never, in my day of ostentatious magnificence, as it is now, when I am prepared to shrink into a lodging, with a single servant."

"I am glad to hear it; and I am the more anxious to secure your election, upon which this career must depend, because--nay, I hardly like to tell you--"

"Speak on."

"I have been obliged, by a sudden rush on all my resources, to consign some of your bills and promissory notes to another, who, if your person should not be protected from arrest by parliamentary privilege, might be harsh and--"

"Traitor!" interrupted Egerton, fiercely, all the composed contempt with which he usually treated the usurer giving way, "say no more. How could I ever expect otherwise! You have foreseen my defeat, and have planned my destruction. Presume no reply! Sir, begone from my presence!"

"You will find that you have worse friends than myself," said the baron, moving to the door; "and if you are defeated, if your prospects for life are destroyed, I am the last man you will think of blaming. But I forgive your anger, and trust that to-morrow you will receive those explanations of my conduct which you are now in no temper to bear. I go to take care of the election."

Left alone, Audley's sudden passion seemed to forsake him.

He gathered together, in that prompt and logical precision which the habit of transacting public business bestows, all his thoughts, and sounded all his fears; and most vivid of every thought, and most intolerable of every fear, was the belief that the baron had betrayed him to L'Estrange.

"I cannot bear this suspense," he cried aloud and abruptly. "I will see Harley myself. Open as he is, the very sound of his voice will tell me at once if I am a bankrupt even of human friendship. If that friendship be secure, if Harley yet clasp my hand with the same cordial warmth, all other loss shall not wring from my fortitude one complaint."

He rang the bell; his valet, who was waiting in the anteroom, appeared.

"Go and see if Lord L'Estrange is engaged. I would speak with him."

The servant came back in less than two minutes.

"I find that my Lord is now particularly engaged, since he has given strict orders that he is not to be disturbed."

"Engaged! on what, whom with?"

"He is in his own room, sir, with a clergyman, who arrived, and dined here, to-day. I am told that he was formerly curate of Lansmere."

"Lansmere! curate! His name, his name! Not Dale?"

"Yes, sir, that is the name,--the Reverend Mr. Dale."

"Leave me," said Audley, in a faint voice. "Dale! the man who suspected Harley, who called on me in London, spoke of a child,--my child,--and sent me to find but another grave! He closeted with Harley,--he!"

Audley sank back on his chair, and literally gasped for breath. Few men in the world had a more established reputation for the courage that dignifies manhood, whether the physical courage or the moral. But at that moment it was not grief, not remorse, that paralyzed Audley,--it was fear. The brave man saw before him, as a thing visible and menacing, the aspect of his own treachery,--that crime of a coward; and into cowardice he was stricken. What had he to dread? Nothing save the accusing face of an injured friend,--nothing but that. And what more terrible? The only being, amidst all his pomp of partisans, who survived to love him, the only being for whom the cold statesman felt the happy, living, human tenderness of private affection, lost to him forever! He covered his face with both hands, and sat in suspense of something awful, as a child sits in the dark, the drops on his brow, and his frame trembling.

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