The Mazed Election (1768) by Arthur Quiller-Couch

Story type: Literature

A PASSAGE FROM THE ORAL HISTORY OF ARDEVORA.

I.

Woman Suffrage? It’s surprising to me how light some folks will talk– with a Providence, for all they know, waiting round the corner to take them at their word. I put my head in at the Working Man’s Institute last night, and there was the new Coastguard officer talking like a book, arguing about Woman Suffrage in a way that made me nervous. “Look ‘ee here,” he was saying, “a woman must be either married, or unmarried, or otherwise. Keep they three divisions clear in your heads, and then I’ll ask you to follow me–” And all the company sitting round with their mouths open. I came away: I couldn’t stand it. It put me in mind how my poor mother used to warn me against squinting for fun. “One of these days,” she’d say, “the wind’ll take and change sudden while you’re doing it; and there you’ll be fixed and looking fifty ways for Sunday until we meet in the land of marrow and fatness.”

And here in Ardevora, of all places!–where the womenkind be that masterful already, a man must get into his sea-boots before he can call his soul his own. Why, there was a woman here once that never asked for a vote in her life, and yet capsized an Election for Parliament–candidates, voters, and the whole apple-cart–as easy as you might turn over a plate. Did you ever hear tell of Kitty Lebow and her eight tall daughters? No; I daresay not. The world’s old and losing its memory when it begins to talk of Woman Suffrage.

This Kitty, or Christian, or Christiana Lebow was by birth a Bottrell: and a finer family than the Bottrells, by their own account, you wouldn’t find in all England. Not that it matters whether they came over with William the Norman, nor whether they could once on a time ride from sea to sea on their own acres. For Kitty was the last to carry the name, and she left it in Ardevora vestry the day she signed marriage with Paul Lebow (or, as he wrote it, Lebeau–“b-e-a-u,”): and the property had gone generations before. As she said ‘pon her death-bed, “five-foot-six of church-hay will hold the only two achers left to me,” she being a little body and very facetious to the last, and meaning her legs, of course.

Now the reason I can’t tell you: but the mischief with the Bottrells was this: That for generation after generation all the spirit of the family went to the females. The men just dandered away their time and their money, fell into declines, or had fits and went out like the snuff of a candle. But the women couldn’t be held nor bound, lived to any age they pleased, and either kept their sweethearts on the hook or married them and made their lives a burden. Oh, a bean-fed sex, sir, and monstrous handsome! And Kitty, though little, was as handsome as any, and walked Ardevora streets with her eight daughters, all tall as grenadiers and terrible as an army with banners.

Her father, old Piers Bottrell, had been a ship’s captain: a very tidy old fellow in his behaviour, but muddled in mind, especially towards the end; so that when he died (which he did in his bed, quite peaceful) he must needs take and haunt the house. There wasn’t a ha’porth of reason for it, that anyone could discover; and Kitty didn’t mind it one farthing. But some say it frightened her husband into his grave: though I reckon he took worse fright at Kitty presenting him with eight daughters one after the other. With a woman like that, you can’t say where accident ends and love of mischief begins. And for that matter, there was no telling why she’d married the man at all except for mischief: his father and mother being poor French refugees that had come to Ardevora, thirty years before, and been given shelter by the borough charity in the old Ugnes House[1]– the same that old Piers Bottrell afterwards bought and died in: and Lebow himself, though born in the town and a fisherman by calling, never able to get his tongue round good plain English until the day he was drowned on the whiting-grounds and left Kitty a widow-woman.

All this, as you’ll see by-and-by, has to do in one way or another with the Great Election, which took place in the year ’68. (The way I’m so glib with the date is that Kit Lebow was so proud of her doings on that day, she had a silver cup made for a momentum and used to measure out her guineas in it: and her great-great-gran’daughter, Mary Ann Cocking, has the cup to this day in her house in Nanjivvey Street, where I’ve seen it a score of times and spelled out the writing, “C. L.”–for Christian Lebow–“1768”). And concerning this Election you must know that “the Duke’s interest,” as they called it–that’s to say, the Whigs–had ruled the roost in Ardevora for more than fifty years; mainly through the Duke’s agent, old Squire Martin of Tregoose, that collected the rents, held pretty well all the public offices inside his ten fingers, and would save up a grudge for time-out-of-mind against any man that crossed him. Two members we returned in those days, and in grown men’s memories scarce a Tory among them.

There was grumbling, you may be sure: but the old gang held their way, and thought to carry this Election as easy as the others, until word came down that one of the Tory candidates would be Dr. Macann, the famous Bath physician; and this was a facer.

What made this Dr. Macann such a tearing hot candidate was his having been born at Trudgian, a mile out of town here to the west’ard. The Macanns had farmed Trudgian, for maybe a hundred years, having come over from Ireland to start with: a poor, hand-to-mouth lot, respected for nothing but their haveage,[2] which was understood to be something out of the common. But this Samuel, as he was called, turned out a bright boy with his books, and won his way somehow to Cambridge College; and from College, after doing famously, he took his foot in his hand and went up to walk the London hospitals; and so bloomed out into a great doctor, with a gold-headed cane and a wonderful gift with the women–a personable man, too, with a neat leg, a high colour, and a voice like a church-organ. The best of the fellow was he helped his parents and never seemed ashamed of ’em. And for this, and because he’d done credit to the town, the folks couldn’t make too much of him.

Well, as I said, this putting up of Macann was a facer for the Duke’s men, and they met at the George and Dragon Inn to talk over their unpopularity. There was old Squire Martin, as wicked as a buck rat in a sink; and his son Bob that had lately taken over the Duke’s agency; and his brother Ned, the drunken Vicar of Trancells; and his second cousin John Martin, otherwise John a Hall, all wit and no character; and old Parson Polsue, with his curate, old Mr. Grandison, the one almost too shaky to hold a churchwarden pipe while the other lighted it; and Roger Newte, whose monument you see over the hill–a dapper, youngish-looking man, very careful of his finger-nails and smooth in his talk till he got you in a corner. Last but not least was this Roger Newte, who had settled here as Collector of Customs and meant to be Mayor next year; a man to go where the devil can’t, and that’s between the oak and the rind.

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Well, there they were met, drinking punch and smoking their clays and discussing this and that; and Mr. Newte keeping the peace between John a Hall, with his ill-regulated tongue, and the old Parson, who, to say truth, was half the cause of their unpopularity, the church services having sunk to a public scandal; and yet they durstn’t cast him over, by reason that he owned eight ramshackle houses, and his curate a couple besides, and by mock-sale could turn these into as many brand-new voters.

“There’s nothing for it but pluck,” said Mr. Newte. “We must make a new Poor Rate. They’ve been asking a new one for years; and, bejimbers! I hope they’ll like the one they get.”

The old Squire stroked his chin. “That’s a bit too dangerous, Newte.”

“Where’s the danger? Churchwardens and Overseers, we can count on every man.”

“The parish will appeal, as sure as a gun. King’s Bench will send down a mandamus, and the game’s up. I don’t want to go to prison at my time of life.”

“I know something of the law,” said Mr. Newte–and indeed he’d studied it at Lincoln’s Inn, and kept more knowledge under his wig than any man in the borough. “I know something of law, and there’s no question of going to prison. The Tories will appeal to the next Quarter Sessions, and Quarter Sessions will maybe quash the Rate; and that’ll take time. Then the Overseers will sit still for a week or two, or a month or two, until the Tories lose patience and apply to London for a writ. Down comes the writ, we’ll say. Whereupon the Overseers will sit down and make out a new Rate just a shade different from the last, and the Tories will have to begin again–Quarter Sessions, Court o’ King’s Bench, mandamus–“

“King’s Bench will send down, more like, and attach the Overseers for contempt of Court,” suggested young Bob Martin, who was one of them.

“Not a bit of it; but I’ll allow you may find it hard to keep their pluck to the sticking-point. Very well, then here’s another plan: When it comes to the writ, the Overseers can make out a new Rate ‘agreeable to the form and tenor of the same,’ as the words go. But a new Rate’s worthless until you, Squire, and you, Parson, have signed the allowance for it as magistrates: and now comes your turn to give trouble.”

“And how’m I to do that?” asked the old Squire.

“Why, by keeping out of the way, to be sure. Take a holiday: find out some little spa that suits your complaint, and go and drink the waters.”

“Ay, do, Parson,” chimed in John a Hall. “Take Grandison, here, along with you, and we’ll all have a holiday together.”

“At the worst,” chipped in Newte, “they’ll fine you fifty pounds for misbehaviour.”

“Fifty pounds! Fine me fifty pounds?” the Parson quavered, his pipe-stem waggling.

“Bless your heart, sir, we can work it in somehow with the Election expenses. But it may not come to that. Parliament’s more than five years old already, and I’ll warrant the King dissolves it by next spring at latest: which reminds me that keeping an eye on the Voters’ List is all very well, but unless we can find a hot pair of candidates, this Macann may unsaddle us after all.”

II.

Well, this or something like it was the plan agreed on; and for candidates they managed to get the Duke’s own son, Lord William, and a Major Dyngwall, a friend of his, very handsome to look at, but shy in the mouth-speech. With Dr. Macann the Tories put up a Mr. Saule, from Bristol, who took a terrible deal of snuff and looked wise, but had some maggot in his head that strong drink isn’t good for a man. Why or how this should be he might have known but couldn’t tell, being a desperate poor speaker, and, if possible, a worse hand at it than Major Dyngwall.

I won’t take you through all the battle over the Poor Rate. You understand that the right of voting for Parliament belonged to all the inhabitants of the borough paying Scot and Lot; and who these were the Rate-sheet determined. So you may fancy the pillaloo that went up when the Overseers posted their new assessment on the church door and ’twas found they’d ruled out no less than sixty voters known, or suspected to be, in Dr. Macann’s interest. The Tories appealed to Quarter Sessions, of course, and the Rate was quashed. On their side, Roger Newte and Bob Martin kept the Overseers up to the proper mark of stubbornness: so to London the matter went, and from London down came the order for a new assessment. But by this time Parliament’s days were numbered; and, speculating on this, Mr. Newte (who was now Mayor of the Borough) played a stroke in a thousand. He persuaded the Overseers to make a return to the writ certifying they had obeyed it to the best of their skill and conscience, and drawn up a new list: which list they posted a fortnight later, and only seven days–as it turned out–before Parliament dissolved: and will you believe it, but the only difference between it and the old one was that they’d added the name of Christiana Lebow, widow–who, being a woman, hadn’t a vote at all!

But wait a bit! The Overseers, choosing their time, had this new list posted in the church porch at ten o’clock one morning; and having posted it, stepped across the road to the “George and Dragon.” The old inn used to stand slap opposite the church; and there, in the parlour-window, were assembled all the Duke’s men–Squire Martin and his son, Roger Newte, John a Hall, the Parson, and, all the rest of the gang–as well to see how the people would take it as to give the timorous Overseers a backing. This was Newte’s idea–to sit there in full view, put a bold face on it, and have the row–if row there was to be–over at once. And, to top it up, they had both the Whig candidates with them–these having arrived in Ardevora three days before, and begun their canvass, knowing that Parliament must be dissolved and the new writs issued in a few days at farthest.

Well, a crowd gathered at once about the list, and some ran off with the dare-devil news of it, while others hung about and grumbled and let out a few oaths every now and then and looked like men in two minds about stoning the windows opposite, where the Duke’s gang lounged as careless as brass, sipping their punch and covering the poor Overseers, that half expected to be ducked in the harbour sooner or later for their morning’s work.

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For one solid hour they sat there, fairly daunting the crowd: but as the church clock struck eleven, Major Dyngwall, the candidate–that was talking to old Parson Polsue, and carrying it off very fairly–puts his eyeglass up of a sudden, and, says he, “Amazons, begad!” meaning, as I have heard it explained, that here were some out-of-the-common females.

And out of the common they were–Kit Lebow with her eight daughters, all wafting up the street like a bevy of peacocks in their best hoops and bonnets: Kit herself sailing afore, with her long malacca staff tap-tapping the cobbles, and her tall daughters behind like a bodyguard– two and two–Maria, Constantia, Elizabeth Jane, Perilla, Christian the Younger, Marcella, Thomasine, and Lally. Along she comes, marches up to the board–the crowd making way for her–and reads down the list. “H’m,” says she, and wheeling to the rightabout, marches straight across to the open window of the “George.”

“Give you good morning, gentlemen,” says she, dropping a curtsey. “I see you’ve a-put me on the Voters’ List; and, with your leave, I’d like a look at your candidates.”

“With pleasure, madam,” says Lord William, starting up from the table where he was writing at the back of the room, and coming forward with a bow. And Major Dyngwall bowed likewise to her and to the whole company of her daughters spreading out behind her like a fan. “Take your glass down from your eye, young man,” she said, addressing herself to the Major. “One window should be shelter enough for a sojer–and la! you’re none so ill-featured for a pair of Whigs.”

“Ay,” put in John a Hall, “they’ll stand comparisons with your Sammy Macann, mistress.” And he pitched to sing a verse of his invention, that the Whigs of the town afterwards got by heart–

“Doctor Macann
‘s an Irishman,
He’s got no business here;
Mister Saule
He’s nothin’ at all,
He won’t lev us have no beer.

“Well, indeed now,” answered Kitty, pitching her voice back for the crowd to hear, “’tis the Martins should know if the Macanns be Irish, and what business an Irishman has in Ardevora: for, if I recollect, the first Macann and the first Martin were shipwrecked together coming over from Dungarvan in a cattle-boat, and they do say ’twas Macann owned the cattle and Martin drove ’em. And as for Mr. Saule,” she went on, while the crowd grinned to see John a Hall turning red in the gills, “if he stops off the beer in this town, ’tis yourself will be the healthier for it, whoever’s hurt.”

“May I have the pleasure to learn this lady’s name?” asked Lord William very politely, turning to the old Squire.

“She’s just an eccentric body, my Lord,” said he; “and, I’m sorry to say, a violent enemy to your Lordship’s cause.”

“Hoity-me-toity!” says Kitty. “I’m Christian Lebow, that used to be Bottrell: which means that your forefathers and mine, my Lord, came over to England together, like the Macanns and the Martins, though maybe some time before, and not in a cattle-boat. No enemy am I to your Lordship, nor to the Major here, as I’ll prove any day you choose to drink a dish of tea with me or to taste my White Ale; but only to the ill company you keep with these Martins and Newtes, that have robbed sixty honest men of their votes and given one to me that can’t use it. I can’t use it to keep you out of Parliament-house. I would if I could–honest fighting between gentlefolks; but I may use it before the Election’s over to make these rogues laugh on the wrong side of their faces.”

She used to say afterwards that the words came into her mouth like prophesying: but I believe she just spoke out in her temper, as women will. At any rate, Lord William smiled and bowed, and said he, “The Major and I will certainly do ourselves the pleasure of calling and tasting your ale, Mrs. Lebow.”

“The recipe is three hundred years old,” said Kitty, and swept him a curtsey, the like of which for stateliness you don’t see nowadays: it wants practice and sea-room. And all her eight daughters curtsied to the daps behind her in a half-moon, to the delight of Major Dyngwall, that had been studying Lally the youngest (which is short for Eulalia), through his eyeglass. And with that, to the admiration of the multitude, they faced about and went sailing up the street.

III.

Well, I suppose in the heat of the fight–the nomination taking place a few days afterwards, and the struggle being a mighty doubtful one, for all the trick of the Rating List, against which the Tories had sent up an appeal–Lord William forgot all about his promise to call and taste Mrs. Lebow’s White Ale. It came into his mind of a sudden on the day before the Election, being Sunday morning, and he breakfasting with the Major and half a dozen of their supporters up at Tregoose, where old Squire Martin kept open house for the Whigs right through the contest.

“Plague take it!” says he, running his eye down the Voters’ List between his sips of coffee. “I’ve clean neglected that old lady and her brew. I suppose ’tis dreadful stuff?” he goes on, rather anxious-like, lifting an eye towards the old Squire.

“I’ve never had the privilege to taste it,” says the Squire.

“Oh, ’tis none so bad,” puts in the Major carelessly.

“Why, Dyngwall–how the Dickens alive do you know?”

“I dropped in the other day–in fact, I’ve called once or twice. The old lady’s monstrous entertaining,” answered the Major, pretty pink in the face.

“O-ho!” Lord William screwed up one eye. “And so, belike, are the eight handsome daughters? But look ye here, Dyngwall,” says he, “I can’t have you skirmishing on your own account in this fashion. If there’s a baby left to be kissed in this town–or anything older, for that matter–we go shares, my lad.”

“You needn’t be so cussedly offensive, need you?” says the Major, firing up, to the astonishment of all.

Lord William looks at him for a moment. “My dear fellow,” says he, “I beg your pardon.”

And the Major was mollified at once, the two (as I said) being old friends.

“But all the same,” says his Lordship to himself, “I’d best go call on this old lady without losing time.” So he put it to Squire Martin: “I’ve a promise to keep, and tomorrow we shall be busy-all. Couldn’t we start early to-day, and pay Mrs. Lebow a visit on our way to church?”

“You won’t get no comfort out of calling,” said the Squire: “but let it be as you please.”

So off they set: and as Kitty and her daughters were tying their bonnet-strings for churchgoing–blue and gold every one of them (these being the Tory colours), and only Lally thinking to herself that scarlet and orange might, maybe, suit her complexion better–there came a knock at the door, and squinting over her blind Kitty caught sight of Lord William and the Major, with the old Squire behind them, that had never crossed her doorstep in his life.

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She wasn’t going to lower her colours, of course. But down she went in her blue and gold, opened the door, and curtseyed. (Oh! the pink of manners!) “No inconvenience at all,” she said, and if ever a cordial was needed it would be before sitting out one of old Parson Palsy’s forty-year-old sermons. So out came the famous White Ale, with the long-stemmed glasses proper to drink it from, and a dish of ratafias to corroborate the stomach. And behold, all was bowing and compliments and enmity forgot, till Lord William happened to say–

“Strong stuff, Squire–eh? The Major should look to his head with it, after his morning tankard: but for coffee-drinkers like you and me I reckon there’s no danger.”

Kitty gave a little gasp, all to herself. “Do you take coffee with your breakfast, my Lord?” she asked–and declared to her last day it seemed like another person speaking, her voice sounded so faint and unnatural.

“Ha-bitually,” says Lord William, and begins discoursing on the coffee-bean, and how it cleared the brain.

Kitty couldn’t look at him steady, but was forced to glance away and out of window. The tears and the fun were rising together within her like a spring tide. Lord William thought that her mind was running on the clock, and she wished to be rid of them. So the bowing and compliments began again, and inside of ten minutes the visitors had made their congees and were out in the street. The door was scarcely shut upon them when Kitty sank down all of a heap in her armchair and began to rock herself to and fro.

“Oh, oh, oh!” she began; and her daughters truly thought at first ’twas hysterics. “I’ll give it forty minutes,” she said. “Maria, if ’twasn’t so near upon church-time, I’d ask you to loosen my stays. White Ale upon coffee! Oh, oh, oh!” And with that she started up. “Forty minutes! What it’ll do in forty minutes no earthly power can tell. But get ready, girls, and follow close till I’m safe in church.”

So forth she sailed, and her eight daughters behind her, down the street, in by the churchyard gate, and up through the crowd to the porch with her face set like the calm of Doomsday.

IV.

Well, the congregation settled itself, and service began, and not a sign– as why should there be?–of any feelings but holy devotion. The Whigs looked at their books, and the Tories looked at their books; and poor old Curate Grandison lost his place and his spectacles, and poor old Parson Polsue dropped asleep in the First Lesson. He’d neglected two parishes to come and preach the sermon: for Ardevora, you must know, was one of three livings he held besides a canonry, and he kept Grandison to serve the three, that being all he could afford after paying for his carriage-and-pair and postillions to carry him back and forth between us and Penzance, where he lodged for the sake of his asthma and the little card-parties for which Penzance was famous in those days. But not even an Election Sunday could keep him properly awake. So on went the old comedy, as by law established; the congregation, Whig and Tory, not able to hear one word in ten, but taking their cues from Tommy Size, the parish clerk.

The first sign of something amiss came about midway in the hymn before the sermon, with old Squire Martin’s setting down his book and dropping into his seat very sudden. Few noticed it, the pew being a tall one; but the musicianers overlooking it from the gallery saw him crossing his hands over his waistcoat, which caused one or two to play their notes false; and Nance Julian in the pew behind heard him groan: “I can’t sit it out! Not for a hundred pounds can I sit it out!”

By this time Parson Polsue, with his sermon tucked under his arm, was tottering up the pulpit stairs, and Churchwarden Hancock standing underneath, as usual, to watch him arrive safe or to break his fall if he tumbled. And just as he reached the top and caught hold of the desk cushion to stay himself, Lord William dropped out of view in the face of the congregation, and the hymn–music and singing together–ciphered out like an organ with its bellows slit.

The next moment open flew the door of the Tregoose pew, and out poured Lord William and Squire Martin with judgment on their faces, making a bee-line for the fresh air; and after them Major Dyngwall with a look of concern; and after him young Bob Martin, that had only waited to pick up the others’ hats.

Well, you can’t run a spark through a barrel of gunpowder. Like wildfire it flew about the church that the Duke’s party and the Parson had quarrelled, and this was a public protest. Whig and Tory settled that with one scrape of the feet, and Major Dyngwall turned in the porch to find the whole crowd at his heels.

“My good people,” says he, “pray don’t alarm yourselves! I–I don’t quite know what’s the matter: a sudden indisposition–nothing serious. Do, please, go back!”

“Go back? Not a bit of it! You’re quite right, sir–disgrace to a Christian country–high time for a public example–stand to it, sir, and the Bishop will have to interfere. Three cheers for the Red and Orange! Three cheers for Religion and no Abuses! Three cheers for Lord William and Major Dyngwall! Hip-hip-hooray!” Do what the Major might, the crowd swept him and the poor sufferers through the churchyard and across the street, and hung cheering around the “George and Dragon,” while he dosed the pair inside with hot brandy-and-water.

And all this while Kitty stood–as she declared ever after–with the thoughts hissing in her head like eggs in a frying-pan. She heard the crowd cheering outside, and felt the votes slipping away with every cheer. She cast her eyes up to the pulpit, and there, through a haze, saw old Parson Polsue rubbing his spectacles and shaking like an aspen. Her wits only came back to her when the Tory candidates, in the pew before her, reached for their hats and prepared to follow the mob. Dr. Macann was actually fumbling with the button of the door. Quick as thought then she seized a hassock, sprang on it, and, reaching over the partition, pressed a hand down on his chestnut wig.

“Sit still–sit still, man!” she commanded. “Thee’rt throwing helve after hatchet, I tell ‘ee. What’s a stomach-ache, after all?”

“I don’t follow you, Mrs. Lebow,” said the Doctor: and small blame to him.

“Never you mind about understanding,” said Kitty. “But sit you down and keep your eye on the Parson. See the colour on him–that’s anger, my dear! And see his jaw, full of blessed stubbornness! Nine good votes he has, and old Grandison a couple beside: and every one of ’em as good as cast for you, if you’ll sit it out. Sit quiet for two minutes now, and to-morrow you shall sit for Ardevora.”

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“But the crowd?” the Doctor couldn’t help murmuring, though none the less he obeyed.

Kitty’s eye began to twinkle. “Leave the crowd to me,” she was beginning, when her eye lit on John a Hall, that had entered and was making his way towards the pulpit, from which in the fury of his anger old Polsue was climbing down with a nimbleness you wouldn’t believe. And with that she almost laughed out, for a worse peacemaker the Whigs couldn’t have chosen. But Major Dyngwall had sent him, having none to advise, and being near to his wits’ end, poor young man.

“Beg your pardon, Parson,” began John a Hall, stepping up with that grin on his face which he couldn’t help and which the Parson abominated: “but I’m here to bring Lord William’s compliments and apologies, and assure you from him that your sermon had nothing to do with his stomach-ache. Nothing whatever!”

Parson Polsue opened his mouth to answer, but thought better of it. I reckon he remembered the sacred edifice. At any rate he went past John a Hall with a terrific turn of speed, and old Grandison after him: and the next news was the vestry-door slammed-to behind them both, as ’twere with the very wind of wrath.

“And my poor mother used to recommend it for the colic!” said Kitty; which puzzled the Doctor worse than ever.

V.

Before evening ’twas known through Ardevora that the Parson’s votes and interests had been booked by the Tories; which, of course, only made the Church rebels (as you might call them) the more set on standing by their conversion and voting for the Whigs. Nobody could tell their numbers for certain, but nobody put them down under twenty; and both the Doctor and Mr. Saule called on Kitty that evening with faces like fiddles. But Kitty wasn’t to be daunted. “My dears,” she said, “if the worst comes to the worst, and you can’t win these votes back by four o’clock to-morrow, I’ve a stocking full of guineas at your service; and I ha’n’t lived in Ardevora all this while without picking up the knowledge how to spend ’em; and that’s at your service too. But we’ll try a cheaper way first,” says she, smiling to herself very comfortably.

Up at Tregoose they’d put Lord William and the old Squire to bed: and a score of Whig supporters spent the best part of the evening downstairs in the dining-room, with Major Dyngwall in the chair, working out the Voters’ List and making fresh calculations. On the whole they felt cheerful enough, and showed it: but they had to own, first, that the Parson’s votes were almost as bad as lost, whereas the amount of gains couldn’t be reckoned with certainty: and second, that, resting as they did upon a confusion between religious feeling and the stomach-ache, ’twas important that Lord William should recover by next morning, show himself about the town and at the hustings, and clinch the mistake. John a Hall, who had a head on his shoulders when parsons weren’t concerned, shook it at this. He didn’t believe for a moment that Lord William could be brought up to the poll; and as it turned out, he was right. But towards the end of the discussion he put forward a very clever suggestion.

“I don’t know,” says he, “if the Major here’s an early riser?”

“Moderately,” says Major Dyngwall, looking for the moment as if the question took him fairly aback. They didn’t think much of this at the time, but it came back to their minds later on.

“Well, then,” says John a Hall, “you’re all terrible certain about the Parson’s votes being lost; but dang me if I’ve lost hope of ’em yet. Though I can’t do it myself, I believe the old fool could be handled. By five in the morning, say, we shall know about Lord William. If he can’t leave his bed–and I’ll bet he can’t–I suggest that the Major steps down, pays an early call, and tells Parson the simple truth from beginning to end.”

“An excellent suggestion!” put in Mr. Newte. “I was about to make it myself. There’s nothing like telling the truth, after all: and I’ll take care it doesn’t get about the town till the poll’s closed.”

Well, so it was arranged: and early next morning, after dressing himself very carefully and making sure that Lord William couldn’t leave his room (he was as yellow as an egg, poor fellow, with a kind of mild janders), away the Major starts upon his errand, promising to be back by seven, to be driven down to the poll behind a brass band.

On the stroke of eight, when Roger Newte, as Mayor and Returning Officer, declared the poll open, down the street came the blue-and-gold band, with Dr. Macann and Mr. Saule behind it bowing and smiling in a two-horse shay, and a fine pillaloo of supporters. They cheered like mad to find themselves first in the field, though disappointed in their hearts (I believe), having counted on a turn-up with the opposition band, just to start the day sociably. The Tory candidates climbed the hustings, and there the Doctor fired off six speeches and Mr. Saule a couple, while the votes came rolling in like pennies at the door of a menagerie. And still no sign of the Whigs, nor sound of any band from the direction of Tregoose. By half-past eight Roger Newte was looking nervous, and began to send off small boys to hurry his friends up. Towards nine o’clock Dr. Macann made another speech, and set the crowd roaring with “‘Tis the voice of the sluggard,” out of Dr. Watts’s hymn-book. “But I don’t even hear his voice!” said he, very facetious-like: and “Seriously, gentlemen, my Whig friends might be more careful of your feelings. We know that they consider Ardevora their own: but they might at least avoid insulting the British Liberty they have injured,”–telling words, these, I can assure you. “Nor,” he went on, “is it quite fair treatment of our worthy Mayor here, who cannot be expected, single-handed, to defy you as he defied the Court of King’s Bench and treat your votes as he treated your Rate List.” Newte had to stand there and swallow this, though it was poison to him, and he swore next day he’d willingly spend ten years in the pit of the wicked for getting quits with Macann. But what fairly knocked the fight out of him was to see, five minutes later, old Parson Polsue totter up the steps towards him with a jaw stuck out like a mule’s, and Grandison behind, and all their contingent. Though made up of Tories to a man, the crowd couldn’t help hissing; but it affected the old Parson not a doit.

“Macann and Saule,” said he, speaking up sharp and loud: and at the names the hissing became a cheer fit to lift the roofs off their eaves.

Newte fairly forgot himself. “Ha–haven’t you seen Major Dyngwall this morning?” he managed to ask.

And with that the crowd below parted, and John a Hall came roaring through it like a bull.

“Where’s the Major? Major Dyngwall! Who’s seen Major Dyngwall?”

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“Ay, we’re all asking that?” called out some person, sarcastic-like: and all began to laugh and to boo. But John a Hall caught at the rail and swung himself up the steps.

“You thundering fools!” he bellowed. “Is it foul play that tickles you? One of our candidates you’ve contrived to poison, and I’ve left him at Tregoose between life and death. What have you done with the other?” By this time he had the mob fairly hushed and gaping. “What have you done with the other?” he shouted, banging his fist down on the Returning Officer’s table. “Let Parson Polsue speak first, for to my knowledge the Major was bound for his lodgings when last seen.”

“I haven’t set eyes on him,” said Parson Polsue.

“I saw him!” piped up a woman in the crowd. “I saw him about six this morning. He was walking along the foreshore towards Mr. Grandison’s.”

At this everyone turned to the Curate; but he shook his head. “Major Dyngwall has not called on me this morning. Indeed, I have not seen him.”

“Then run you and search–half a dozen of you!” commanded John a Hall. “I’ll get to the bottom of this, I warn you. And as for you, Dr. Macann, and you, Mr. Saule–if you haven’t learnt the difference between honest fighting and poisoning–kidnapping–murder, maybe–“

But he got no further. “That’s enough of big words,” said a voice, very quiet, but so that all had to listen: and behold, there was Kitty Lebow mounting the steps, as cool as cream in a dairy.

She landed on the platform and took a glance about her, and the folk read in her eye that she had come to enjoy herself. “Reckon I have a right here so well as the best of you, since you put me on the Rate List,” says she, with a dry sort of twinkle. And with that she rounded on John a Hall. “I think I heard you talkin’ of poison, Mr. Martin,” says she, “not to mention kidnapping, and worse. And you asked, or my ears deceived me, if we knew the difference between poison and fair play? Well, we do. And likewise we know the difference between sickness and shamming; and likewise, again, the difference between making a demonstration in church and walking out because you’ve three fingers of White Ale inside you and it don’t lie down with your other vittles. I ask ye, folks all,”–and here she swung round to the crowd–“did ever one of you hear that Christiana Lebow’s White Ale was poison? Hasn’t it been known and famous in this town before ever a Martin came to trouble us? And hasn’t it times and again steadied my own inside when it rebelled against their attorney’s– tricks? Well now, I tell you, I gave three fingers of it to Lord William yesterday when he called in the way of politeness on his road to church: and sorry I am for the young man; and wouldn’t ha’ done it if I guessed he’d been taking coffee with his breakfast. For White Ale and coffee be like Bottrells and Martins: they weren’t made to mix. And another three fingers I doled out to the old Squire, and more by token ’twas the first time he’d ever darkened my threshold. That’s my story: ’tis truth from a truth-speaking woman. And now if any silly fellow is going to vote Whig because o’ yesterday, all I can say is–let him drink a breakfast cup of coffee and come to me for a glass of the other stuff; and if in forty minutes’ time he’s got any particular concern about Church matters, you may call me a–a–Martin!”

“That’s all very well, ma’am,” shouted John a Hall, as soon as he could make himself heard for the laughing. “But it don’t account for the Major.”

“‘Twasn’t meant to, my son,” snapped Kitty, by this time in high good humour over her success as a public speaker. “But you started to talk about poison, so I thought I’d correct ‘ee before you made a second goose of yourself over kidnapping.”

But just at this moment a couple of men came running and shouting from the far end of the street.

“We’ve found ‘en! We’ve found ‘en!”

“Where is he to?” and “I told you so!” cried John a Hall and Kitty both in one breath.

“He’s over ‘pon the Island, making love to Mrs. Lebow’s youngest daughter, Lally! The tide’s cut ’em off; but Arch’laus Trebilcock’s put off to fetch ’em home in his new boat!”

I’ve heard tell that Kitty took it steady as a regiment. It must have been a dreadful moment, the laughter turning on a sudden against her. But she stood for a while, and then to the surprise of everyone she lifted her head and smiled with the best. Then she caught old Polsue’s eye, who was watching her as only a parson can, and, like a woman, she fixed on him as the man to answer.

“I reckon I can trust a daughter o’ mine,” says she.

It must have been nervous work for her, though, as they brought the pair along the street: and poor Lally didn’t help her much by looking a picture of shame. But the Major stepped along gaily and up to the platform; and I’ll warrant a tier of guns there couldn’t have tried a man’s courage worse.

“I humbly beg your pardon, madam. The tide cut us off while I was engaged in persuading your daughter to accept my hand. I cannot tell you,”–here he let fly a lover’s glance at Lally–“if the delay helped me. But she has accepted me, ma’am, and with your leave we shall be the happiest couple in England.”

They do say that Mrs. Lebow’s hand went up to box the poor girl’s ears. But the Bottrells had wits as well as breed, one and all; and it ended by her giving the Major two fingers and dropping him one of those curtseys that I’ve described to you already.

Ay, and the cream of the fun was that, what with her public speaking for one party and giving her daughter to the other, the doubtful voters couldn’t for the life of them tell how to please her. “I’ll vote, if you please, for Mrs. Lebow,” said more than one of them, “if you’ll tell me which side she’s for.” And I suppose that gave Newte his chance. At any rate, he returned Lord William and Major Dyngwall as polling 85 and 127 against Dr. Macann 42 and Mr. Saule 36. And so Miss Lally became a Member of Parliament’s wife and rode in her coach.

“Indeed, and I’m sorry for Macann,” said Kitty that night, as she untied her bonnet-strings; “but taking one thing with another, ’tis long since I’ve had such an enjoyable day.”

[1] Probably “Huguenot’s House.”
[2] Lineage.

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