Not one word had Priscilla uttered while that artful Mr. Forrester was talking to her husband, and, incidentally, giving her many opportunities for expressing her views either in accordance with or in divergence from those he expounded so fluently. Her silence surprised their visitor. He thought his friend Jack Wingfield an extremely lucky chap to have married a wife who knew when to be silent and was very generous in her time limit on this point.

He was all the more amazed when he found that she was quite capable of expressing herself on such subjects as the future of electricity and the novels of Anatole France, with originality and distinction. A farmer’s daughter, was she? Well, all that he could say was that agriculture, which was laid on mankind as part of a Bible Curse scheme, and which has been the subject of a pretty fair amount of reprobation within recent years, deserved a good word if this young woman had come into the world under its auspices.

But he took a leaf out of her book—one of the blank pages—one that had no word upon it—and went away, without another reference to the subject of his mission to the developing seaside resort.

When he had gone, Jack suggested a stroll along the beach, and she picked up her hat in a moment Among her most artful perfections was her readiness to move at a moment’s notice. She was at all times prepared for everything. She never kept her husband waiting while she went to her room for a hat or coat.

Of course he began to talk immediately of the possibility of Sandycliffe’s becoming developed out of all recognition of its charm. It was jolly rum, he thought, how places like that come and go. One year a place was the solitary right one to go to, and the next it was among the places that should never be so much as visited by anyone who wished to be thought anything; and such people were becoming more numerous every day.

She agreed with him. She wondered if there were any people in the right set who decreed which watering-places on the coast should be visited, and which left alone, just as the best set in Framsby decreed in regard to persons.

This was very interesting, of course, but she knew that he had not asked her to walk with him solely to discuss the vicissitudes of coasts towns. Still, they had gone on for quite half a mile before they had exhausted the topic, and seated themselves on one of the new chairs on the end of the concrete path. Even then he did not speak about Mr. Forrester and his mission for some time. At last he said casually:

“What brought that chap down to me to-day, do you fancy?”

“He came to you because he knows that you are the sort of member that the Nuttingford people want,” she replied with the utmost promptitude.

“Bless my heart and soul! Why should they be such fools? You mustn’t believe all that old F. F. tells you, my girl.”

“All? I don’t think that he could induce me to believe a quarter of what he says,” she replied. “But I’m positive that he believes you would have a better chance of being elected than anyone who is likely to come forward. What I felt from the first moment that he broached the subject was that he and his Party are somehow in a tight place in regard to the Nuttingford division. It occurred to me that someone whom they expected to come forward had thrown them over, and for some reason or other he thought that he might fall back on you. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that he expects you to win, but he expects you to make a good show for the Party on the day of the election; and so you will, Jack, only you’ll be at the head of the poll.” He jumped up from the seat as if he had been stung by a wasp.

“What do you mean?” he cried after a long pause, which he utilized in collecting himself. “Do you mean to think for a moment that I would make such a fool of myself as to go among strange people for the sake of getting a licking at a cost of a thousand pounds or so?”

“My dearest boy, I want you to go in for this business if only for the sake of showing that clever, far-seeing man that you’re not quite such a fool as he fancies.”

“The best way I could do that would be by laughing at him as I did.”

“There’s a better way still: take him at his word—a little better than his word—and amaze him by getting returned. He doesn’t believe that you could get returned for the division, but he thinks, as I said, that you will make a good fight for it. Now you must pull yourself together and fight every ounce there’s in you. Jack, you must do it, out of compliment to me.”

“Look here, my girl, you are making a man of me—I know that. Didn’t I call you my guardian—my good angel—once upon a time? Well, so you are—so you showed yourself to be; but are you not going ahead with me a little too fast?”

She rose from the seat and put her arm within one of his arms.

“Let us stroll on a little farther,” she said.

“I don’t like it,” he said. “Just beyond that iron railing there is the cliff and some horrid rocks below. If we walk on through that railing we shall come a cropper among the rocks. See?”

“I see your very apt allegory. Jack, if you don’t want me to urge you to go in heart and soul for this business, you made a grave error in that last remark of yours. Jack, the man who could turn the topographical condition of a place into a forcible argument and a picturesque one into the bargain, is the man to convince a constituency that they badly want him to represent them in Parliament.”

“You’re hustling me, Priscilla. I repeat that you’re hustling me, and I’m beginning to be mortally afraid of you.”

“You needn’t be afraid of me. I’m not so stupid as to want to hustle you. I’m not such an idiot as to start life with you by trying on a system of nagging. In my eyes you’ll always be the man with the bâton, and I’ll always be ready to play any tune that you beat time to. If I urge you all that I can to do something, and you refuse to do it, don’t fancy for a moment that I’ll dissolve in tears or get a hump or say, ‘You wouldn’t take my advice,’ when you come to grief through having your own way. I promise you that I’ll do none of these things. You’re the man and I’m your helpmeet. Heaven forbid that I should ever try to make my opinions take the place of yours; but heaven forbid also, that, having opinions, I should keep them to myself.”

“Amen to that, say I.”

“All that I can do is to lay them at your feet, Jack, and—no, that’s too humble altogether: I won’t lay them at your feet, I’ll try to make them look their best in front of you, and if you like them you can adopt them as your own. That’s all that I can do. You’ll find that I know my place, dear.”

“I see that you do; you know it a deal better than you know mine, if you fancy that my place is on a leather bench in the House of Commons.”

“Maybe you’re right, Jack; but what an experience to one is an election campaign! I’ve been longing all my life to be so placed that I should be able to go through an election fight—not a hollow thing, mind you, but a splendid tingling close fight. That’s the thing that develops whatever character one may have—whatever strength one may have within one. The only way by which a man can be made a man of is by a fight.”

He looked at her and laughed.

“And you’re determined to make a man of me, are you?” he said; “by a fight—an election fight? Well, that’s all very fine; but supposing I should win, where would we be then?”

“In the House of Commons, ready to carry the fight into the enemy’s country; and that’s where you’ll be as sure as you take off your coat—and you will take off your coat, Jack.”

“And my waistcoat, if necessary. And what am I to fight for? I’ve no definite opinions about anything in politics.”

“You begin by defining your opinions, and you’ll very soon find out how definite they are. But don’t you bother about opinions; the fight’s the thing that matters. Any excuse for a fight is valid.”

“You have a drop of Irish blood in you somewhere, my girl. Upon my word you have almost persuaded me to say ‘Agreed’ to Forrester’s proposal. But mind you, if I get in I’ll blame you. Let there be no mistake about that.”

She took a hasty glance around. She saw the strategical conditions of their surroundings. She thought that when they should get a step or two beyond the little peninsula of sea wall, she could do it.... And she did. She had an arm about his neck in a moment, and he felt delightfully near strangulation. He could not cry out for help, because there were two middle-aged ladies with books and a clergyman with The Guardian on the seat in the hollow of the cliff.

“You are a perfect darling!” she cried. “You are doing this thing just to please me, because you know I have set my heart on it—and I have set my heart on it, Jack, dear. I admit that I am ambitious, Jack, but only for you, dear—only because I know what there is in you, and I want it brought out. I want people to accept you at your true worth. My ambition is bounded by you.”

He did not say anything in response to this confession. But he pressed her arm very close to him, and so they walked on in silence, until he said:

“My girl, my girl, shall I tell you what I feel just now? I feel that I should like to do something to justify your belief in me. Until you began to talk to me I used to be inclined to grin at those old chaps who used to bump about in armour—Lord! the noise they made must have been like a tinker’s horse running away with a cartload of tin kettles—looking out for doughty deeds to do so that they might appear big Indians in the eyes of their ladies fair. They spelt—such of them as could spell, and there weren’t a lot—‘lady’ with an e at the end. I say I used to laugh at them and think them howling bounders; but by the Lord Henrietta! since I came to know you I’ve had just the same feeling. I tell you that I should dearly like to do something big, so that you might be able to say, ‘He did it, and he’s my husband, and it was I taught him how.’”

“And you will do it—I have no fear for you, Jack. You will show people what you can do, and I shall feel—I may boast of it, too—that I have had an influence for good upon you, not for evil.”

“If anybody wants to hear further of what that influence has been to me, send them along, and I’ll tell them. My dear girl, you’ve now set me a job of work to do, and if you stand by me I’ll do it.”

“I’ll stand by you, Jack; I’ve no interest in life except to stand by you. If I wasn’t quite sure that you’ll be a success in the fight to get into Parliament, and a still bigger success when you get in, I shouldn’t say a word to urge you on to this job. But I know enough of you to be sure that there’s no one in the House of Commons who has a greater capacity than you for grasping the practical side of things, and seeing the rights and the wrongs in every question. Of course you may say that I don’t know all the members of the House of Commons and that I don’t know so much about you, if it comes to that.”

“Well, I admit that something like that did occur to me.”

“I daresay it did. But don’t you think that I’m going to retract anything that I said on that account. I’m not. I’ve read the newspapers like a student for the past four years, and I’ve read you like—like a lover for the past two months. These respective times are quite long enough to enable me to pronounce the definite judgment that I did in making my comparison. Oh, Jack, I can see quite well that people won’t have oratory at any price, in these days. What they want is men like you, who will say in common language—colloquial language—what they think. After all, the great thing is the thinking and the doing; the talking is quite a secondary consideration. Goodness! Here have I been making a long speech to prove to you that there’s no use for speech-makers nowadays.”

“You have spoken good sense and to the point, my girl, and that’s more than can be said of the majority of orators. Well, I’ve taken on a big contract, and you’ve promised to see me through with it. All that we’ve got to do now is to search for principles to take the place of politics. Have you any outline in your mind at present?”

“Not even the most shadowy.”

“That’s satisfactory. We don’t start on this campaign with any foolish prejudices in favour of one thing or another. We can be all things to all men in the Nuttingford division of Nethershire.”

“And to all women—don’t forget the women. I look to them to make a strong muster on our side.”

“Whatever our side may be.”

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