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Authors: James Hilton

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“Then you’ll lose,” put in Mrs. Monsell.

Philip’s face hardened. “That’s cynical, mother, and you don’t mean it.
I
shall fight fairly, any how.”

Stella cried: “Oh, Philip, I shall be able to help you, shan’t I?—I
can post bills and things, and canvass, and drive cars about for you.”

“I shall want all the help I can get,” Philip answered quickly.

That was a few hours after the nominations. About four in the afternoon
the telephone-bell rang and Stella answered it. A man’s voice was speak
ing—a sharp gruff bark of a voice that made the instrument sing in her
ears.

“I’m Ward…I’ve just come back from a holiday…Is it true that Philip is
going to stand in the bye-election?”

She felt herself going uncomfortable from the mere sound of his voice over
the telephone.

“Yes, it’s quite true…”

“Well, I’d like to help him .. I’m no good at speaking, you know, but I
can use what influence I’ve got, which isn’t much…And I can drive a car and
canvass and post bills and do any old thing there is…”

“Yes…” She did not know what to reply. “By the way, what is he?”


What
is he?—What do you mean?”

“What party does he belong to?”

“Oh…” She told him, and then something made her add: “Do you mean you’d
support him whatever he was?”


Rather
. Wouldn’t you?”

She laughed, half with pleasure, half with the same curious embarrassment
magnified now tenfold. “I’m afraid you have an unpolitical mind. That’s what
Philip tells me I have.”

She did not wait for him to reply, but added abruptly: “All right, I’ll
tell him of your offer. I’m sure he’ll be very pleased. Good-bye.”

She hung up the receiver with a strange inward perturbation.

II

Almost immediately Philip was immersed in the storm and
tempest of his first electoral contest. At least it seemed to him to be storm
and tempest enough, though Kemp, his agent, declared that it was “by far the
tamest show he’d ever struck in his life.” The fact was, Philip was not made
for flurry and excitement. His brain functioned best when it functioned
calmly and slowly; and Kemp, whose idea of heaven was a perpetual whirlwind
election campaign, merely worried him into doing and saying things he
afterwards regretted. Above all, Philip detested the high lights of electoral
propaganda, the unrelieved blacks mad whites that Kemp infused into all the
frenzied literature he sent out. “Anybody would think Grainger was the Devil
himself, from the way you expect me to talk about him,” he protested, to
which Kemp replied: “Perhaps it wouldn’t do you any harm if you thought so as
well, Mr. Monsell.”

Kemp was a wiry little man, aged forty-five or thereabouts, with an
incessant bustling activity and a comprehension of the merely combative side
of electioneering that was not touched in any way by genuine political
enthusiasm. To Philip he seemed a fierce, soulless automaton, scheming
victory with out desiring it and without any knowledge of what to do with it
if he got it. Above all, he was un scrupulous. He discovered somehow or other
that Grainger had been divorced, and he wanted to circulate a special leaflet
hinting (but not directly stating) that he was unsound in the matter of the
marriage laws. Philip would not allow it, and the two had a fierce quarrel in
the committee-rooms in Chassingford High Street. “I believe my opponent is an
entirely decent and virtuous man,” declared Philip doggedly, “and I’m not
going to pretend anywhere that I don’t.”—“Then you’ll lose the
election,” snapped Kemp angrily.—“Very well then, I’ll lose it,”
retorted Philip.

Long before polling-day he was heartily miserable about the whole
business. His opponent had had bills pasted all over Chassingford: “Vote for
Grainger and Keep The Home Fires Burning.” Kemp had them all pasted over with
“Vote for Monsell and Make Sure You Have a Fire to Burn.” He seemed to think
it was an extraordinary witty
riposte
. “To my mind it is both
unintelligible and stupid,” said Philip, but as it was no worse than that he
allowed it to be done.

To Stella, on the contrary, the election campaign was a sheer joy, though
the shadow of Philip’s possible disapproval lay over everything she did. She
loved the struggle for its own sake, and she was the only person who could
quell Kemp adequately and succinctly. “One might think you were the candidate
himself, the way you order Mr. Monsell about,” she told him bluntly. To which
Kemp retorted: “Your brother ought to have been a parson, not a parliamentary
candidate. He’s too mild—too—”

“Too honest, eh?”


Honest?
Well, I wouldn’t say that. But still even honesty you can
have too much of. It may be the best policy, but it isn’t always the best
politics.”

III

One thing she learned, without being able to help it, and
that was the extent to which Ward was popular, especially in the
working-class district of Chassingford, and also in the country villages
round about. Here she found an intensely personal enthusiasm for him, an
enthusiasm which, however much she might pretend not to understand it, was
nevertheless quick to evoke an answering chord within her. After empty and
wind-blown political partisanship, it was a relief to find a human and
strictly personal keenness. In many a workman’s and farm-labourer’s cottage
that she canvassed, the name Ward was mentioned inevitably, always with
respect, sometimes with a feeling akin to reverence. “We shall vote for your
brother, miss,” was a quite usual remark, “because Doctor Ward put in a good
word for him the last time he was here.”

She tried to ignore these repeated testimonials to Ward’s influence; she
did not care to think that Philip, if successful, would owe everything to his
friend. But there were certain things which she could not ignore. Ward, she
discovered, had become almost a local hero, a patron saint; he had done deeds
in those tiny houses that their occupants could never forget; the detailed
stories of them came to her continually as she canvassed from door to door;
she did not ask for them; she did not want to hear them, for they wasted her
time and were almost endless in the telling.

When she told Philip of Ward’s energetic and valuable canvassing on his
behalf he seemed partly pleased and partly troubled. “It’s splendid of him,
Stella…But—but I want people to vote for me because they think I’m
worth it, not—not because other people tell them to.”

“I think Kemp is right,” she answered, “and you ought to have been a
parson.”

As the polling-day came nearer Ward’s partisan ship developed on more
active lines. He plunged into the thick of the campaign with all the zest of
the young and irresponsible medical student; he drove a lorry round the town,
packed to the brim with shouting children; he festooned his motor-cycle with
“Vote for Monsell” bills; the whole affair might have been a great and
gorgeous “rag.” Stella could not decide whether she liked him for it or not.
But there was a careless rapture in his adventures that she could not help
but admire; she felt sometimes that he was no more than a huge boy, running
wild with infectious excitement. Once, whilst canvassing in a crowded alley,
she met him as he suddenly swung round the corner on his flamboyantly
decorated motor-cycle. He stopped and smiled at her. His smile, like his
enthusiasm, was infectious. For the first time in her life she did not feel
acutely un comfortable because he was near to her. She was not even
perturbed. On the contrary she laughed in his face and exclaimed: “Well,
enjoying yourself, eh? I believe you’re having the time of your life with all
this business, aren’t you?”

“It’s great fun,” he answered boyishly. “I hope Philip’s enjoying it half
as much as I am.”

“I don’t think he is,” she replied.

“Well, of course”—he shrugged his shoulders—“it’s more serious
to him than to me. Frankly, I don’t care a jot for politics, one side or
another, but I want to see Philip in, that’s all…”

“Don’t you think politics are important?”

“Oh, maybe…But to me my own job’s more important, naturally…After all,
it doesn’t seem to make much difference which side gets in. You still have
this sort of thing, don’t you?” And he swung his arm round to indicate the
dejected slum property that surrounded them. He added musingly: “If I ever
went in for Parliament I think I should stand as an Anti-Tuberculosis
candidate.”

She made no answer, and after a short pause he gave a jerk to his
self-starter and went on: “Ah, well, we’re doing our best, aren’t
we?—I’ve got eleven more votes for you this morning. What’s your
bag?”

“None so far,” she replied, “I’ve only just started. As soon as you’ve
gone I shall—”

“That’s a hint,” he cried, laughing. “I’ll go. Ever such good luck to
you…”

And with a series of terrific explosions he rode off, waving to her at the
corner.

IV

As the campaign drew to a close it became clear that Philip
would win no easy victory. “Times have changed,” as Kemp put it, “since old
Dumbleby used to get a four-figure majority with out opening his mouth.”
Unfortunately, it was by no means certain that Philip had done himself any
good by opening his mouth. It was not exactly that he had said or done
tactless things; it was just that his whole platform manner gave somehow the
appearance of being cold and remote. “You’re too dignified,” Kemp said. “You
ought to let your self go and put a bit of pep into it.” By way of contrast,
Grainger was an excellent speaker, with a pleasant if somewhat meretricious
personal charm.

From eight o’clock on the morning of the polling-day until twelve hours
later, Stella was working indefatigably, driving Philip from village to
village and from committee-room to committee-room, and finding time for no
more than hastily-consumed meals of sandwiches and cups of cocoa. Rather to
her surprise, Ward did not put in an appearance, but she remembered that the
day before he had mentioned a bad case of pneumonia that he was attending in
one of the smaller villages.

At eight in the evening, when the polling-booths closed, she went back
with Philip to the Hall and had a good meal. By half-past nine or
thereabouts, the ballot-boxes would be brought in from the neighbouring
villages, and the count would begin. She was limp and tired after the
exertions of the day; Philip was exactly as he had been outside the
Senate-House at Cambridge years before—nervous and full of
hardly-suppressed excitement. They ate their meal alone, and, for the most
part, in silence. Towards the end, however, Philip said: “If I win, Stella, I
shall t-tell mother about our engagement.”

Stella’s answer, characteristic of her, was: “And if you lose
I
shall tell her.”

He looked at her queerly, almost frightenedly, and then suddenly reached
forward across the table and squeezed her outstretched arm. “I am very f-fond
of you, Stella,” he said softly.

Almost at that moment the sound came of an exceedingly noisy motor-cycle
tearing along the main highway towards the town.

“That’s Ward,” she said vaguely. “I can tell the sound of his machine.”
Then fierceness came into her voice as she went on: “Oh, Philip,
Philip—I’m so glad you’re fond of me. Because I’m fonder of you than of
anybody else on earth…You’re a darling, and won’t it be splendid if you get
in!—We shall know in a couple of hours from now, shan’t we?”

He smiled and nodded.

V

Midnight in the small, excessively-ornate council-chamber of
the Chassingford Town Hall. In the High Street outside it was raining fast,
and a large part of the crowd had already gone home. The rain had, indeed,
begun almost as soon as the polling stopped, and a heavy storm had delayed
the trans port of some of the ballot-boxes. The postponement was dreadfully
unsettling to Philip. He stood by the window, looking out into the street
through the slits in the Venetian blinds, and hardly daring to watch the
actual counting of the votes and the stack ing of them into hundreds. Kemp
stood by the tables, observing everything with keen, ferret-like eyes. Now
and again he made some objection, consulted with the opposing agent, and lit
cigarette after cigarette as the night wore on. Stella, in her official
capacity as scrutineer, moved about in the crowded, smoke-hazy room, always
with one eye on Philip and the other on the trestle-tables with their growing
pile of voting-papers.

The parish clock struck the hour of midnight, and a few seconds later the
clock in the Town Hall belfry followed suit. A few cheers came upwards from
the crowd waiting outside, eager, anxious cheers, for none but the eager and
the anxious were waiting on such a night…Mr. James Grainger, smart and
spruce, was obviously one of those people whom excitement makes even smarter
and sprucer. “Allow me to express the hope that the best man may win,” he
said, touching Philip on the elbow and offering his well-manicured hand.

“I h-hope so too,” answered Philip, shaking hands with him rather
wearily…

The counting went on. At ten minutes past midnight Kemp whispered to
Stella that it was going to be “a damned near thing—damned near.”

Excitement grew amongst the watchers round the tables. Stella, loving
excitement of any kind, had yet had enough of it for one night; like Philip,
she stood some way off, preferring to be told the result when it should be
discovered. Her brain was whirling round and round; it seemed to her that the
electric lights were dancing jigs in front of her eyes; the thick smoke from
the men’s cigarettes was giving her a headache.

All at once she saw Ward standing in front of her, and in his eyes was
such a fierce light of pleasure that she seized his arm convulsively. “Is it
good news?” she cried eagerly. “Tell me—tell me—is he in?”

“Splendid news,” he answered, calmly, and then perceiving her meaning,
added: “Oh, not about the election—they haven’t finished counting
yet.”

BOOK: The Dawn of Reckoning
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ads

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