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CHAPTER XXII

Polling was already in brisk progress when Courtier arrived in
Bucklandbury; and partly from a not unnatural interest in the result,
partly from a half-unconscious clinging to the chance of catching
another glimpse of Barbara, he took his bag to the hotel, determined
to stay for the announcement of the poll. Strolling out into the
High Street he began observing the humours of the day. The bloom of
political belief had long been brushed off the wings of one who had
so flown the world's winds. He had seen too much of more vivid
colours to be capable now of venerating greatly the dull and dubious
tints of blue and yellow. They left him feeling extremely
philosophic. Yet it was impossible to get away from them, for the
very world that day seemed blue and yellow, nor did the third colour
of red adopted by both sides afford any clear assurance that either
could see virtue in the other; rather, it seemed to symbolize the
desire of each to have his enemy's blood. But Courtier soon observed
by the looks cast at his own detached, and perhaps sarcastic, face,
that even more hateful to either side than its antagonist, was the
philosophic eye. Unanimous was the longing to heave half a brick at
it whenever it showed itself. With its d---d impartiality, its habit
of looking through the integument of things to see if there might be
anything inside, he felt that they regarded it as the real adversary-
-the eternal foe to all the little fat 'facts,' who, dressed up in
blue and yellow, were swaggering and staggering, calling each other
names, wiping each other's eyes, blooding each other's noses. To
these little solemn delicious creatures, all front and no behind, the
philosophic eye, with its habit of looking round the corner, was
clearly detestable. The very yellow and very blue bodies of these
roistering small warriors with their hands on their tin swords and
their lips on their tin trumpets, started up in every window and on
every wall confronting each citizen in turn, persuading him that they
and they alone were taking him to Westminster. Nor had they
apparently for the most part much trouble with electors, who, finding
uncertainty distasteful, passionately desired to be assured that the
country could at once be saved by little yellow facts or little blue
facts, as the case might be; who had, no doubt, a dozen other good
reasons for being on the one side or the other; as, for instance,
that their father had been so before them; that their bread was
buttered yellow or buttered blue; that they had been on the other
side last time; that they had thought it over and made up their
minds; that they had innocent blue or naive yellow beer within; that
his lordship was the man; or that the words proper to their mouths
were 'Chilcox for Bucklandbury'; and, above all, the one really
creditable reason, that, so far as they could tell with the best of
their intellect and feelings, the truth at the moment was either blue
or yellow.

The narrow high street was thronged with voters. Tall policemen
stationed there had nothing to do. The certainty of all, that they
were going to win, seemed to keep everyone in good humour. There was
as yet no need to break anyone's head, for though the sharpest
lookout was kept for any signs of the philosophic eye, it was only to
be found--outside Courtier--in the perambulators of babies, in one
old man who rode a bicycle waveringly along the street and stopped to
ask a policeman what was the matter in the town, and in two rather
green-faced fellows who trundled barrows full of favours both blue
and yellow.

But though Courtier eyed the 'facts' with such suspicion, the
keenness of everyone about the business struck him as really
splendid. They went at it with a will. Having looked forward to it
for months, they were going to look back on it for months. It was
evidently a religious ceremony, summing up most high feelings; and
this seemed to one who was himself a man of action, natural, perhaps
pathetic, but certainly no matter for scorn.

It was already late in the afternoon when there came debouching into
the high street a long string of sandwichmen, each bearing before and
behind him a poster containing these words beautifully situated in
large dark blue letters against a pale blue ground:

"NEW COMPLICATIONS.
DANGER NOT PAST.
VOTE FOR MILTOUN AND THE GOVERNMENT,
AND SAVE THE EMPIRE."

Courtier stopped to look at them with peculiar indignation. Not only
did this poster tramp in again on his cherished convictions about
Peace, but he saw in it something more than met the unphilosophic
eye. It symbolized for him all that was catch-penny in the national
life-an epitaph on the grave of generosity, unutterably sad. Yet
from a Party point of view what could be more justifiable? Was it
not desperately important that every blue nerve should be strained
that day to turn yellow nerves, if not blue, at all events green,
before night fell? Was it not perfectly true that the Empire could
only be saved by voting blue? Could they help a blue paper printing
the words, 'New complications,' which he had read that morning? No
more than the yellows could help a yellow journal printing the words
'Lord Miltoun's Evening Adventure.' Their only business was to win,
ever fighting fair. The yellows had not fought fair, they never did,
and one of their most unfair tactics was the way they had of always
accusing the blues of unfair fighting, an accusation truly ludicrous!
As for truth! That which helped the world to be blue, was obviously
true; that which didn't, as obviously not. There was no middle
policy! The man who saw things neither was a softy, and no proper
citizen. And as for giving the yellows credit for sincerity--the
yellows never gave them credit! But though Courtier knew all that,
this poster seemed to him particularly damnable, and he could not for
the life of him resist striking one of the sandwich-boards with his
cane. The resounding thwack startled a butcher's pony standing by
the pavement. It reared, and bolted forward, with Courtier, who had
naturally seized the rein, hanging on. A dog dashed past. Courtier
tripped and fell. The pony, passing over, struck him on the head
with a hoof. For a moment he lost consciousness; then coming to
himself, refused assistance, and went to his hotel. He felt very
giddy, and, after bandaging a nasty cut, lay down on his bed.

Miltoun, returning from that necessary exhibition of himself, the
crowning fact, at every polling centre, found time to go and see him.

"That last poster of yours!" Courtier began, at once.

"I'm having it withdrawn."

"It's done the trick--congratulations--you'll get in!"

"I knew nothing of it."

"My dear fellow, I didn't suppose you did."

"When there is a desert, Courtier, between a man and the sacred city,
he doesn't renounce his journey because he has to wash in dirty water
on the way: The mob--how I loathe it!"

There was such pent-up fury in those words as to astonish even one
whose life had been passed in conflict with majorities.

"I hate its mean stupidities, I hate the sound of its voice, and the
look on its face--it's so ugly, it's so little. Courtier, I suffer
purgatory from the thought that I shall scrape in by the votes of the
mob. There is sin in using this creature and I am expiating it."

To this strange outburst, Courtier at first made no reply.

"You've been working too hard," he said at last, "you're off your
balance. After all, the mob's made up of men like you and me."

"No, Courtier, the mob is not made up of men like you and me. If it
were it would not be the mob."

"It looks," Courtier answered gravely, "as if you had no business in
this galley. I've always steered clear of it myself."

"You follow your feelings. I have not that happiness."

So saying, Miltoun turned to the door.

Courtier's voice pursued him earnestly.

"Drop your politics--if you feel like this about them; don't waste
your life following whatever it is you follow; don't waste hers!"

But Miltoun did not answer.

It was a wondrous still night, when, a few minutes before twelve,
with his forehead bandaged under his hat, the champion of lost causes
left the hotel and made his way towards the Grammar School for the
declaration of the poll. A sound as of some monster breathing guided
him, till, from a steep empty street he came in sight of a surging
crowd, spread over the town square, like a dark carpet patterned by
splashes of lamplight. High up above that crowd, on the little
peaked tower of the Grammar School, a brightly lighted clock face
presided; and over the passionate hopes in those thousands of hearts
knit together by suspense the sky had lifted; and showed no cloud
between them and the purple fields of air. To Courtier descending
towards the square, the swaying white faces, turned all one way,
seemed like the heads of giant wild flowers in a dark field, shivered
by wind. The night had charmed away the blue and yellow facts, and
breathed down into that throng the spirit of emotion. And he
realized all at once the beauty and meaning of this scene--expression
of the quivering forces, whose perpetual flux, controlled by the
Spirit of Balance, was the soul of the world. Thousands of hearts
with the thought of self lost in one over-mastering excitement!

An old man with a long grey beard, standing close to his elbow,
murmured:

"'Tis anxious work--I wouldn't ha' missed this for anything in the
world."

"Fine, eh?" answered Courtier.

"Aye," said the old man, "'tis fine. I've not seen the like o' this
since the great year--forty-eight. There they are--the aristocrats!"

Following the direction of that skinny hand Courtier saw on a balcony
Lord and Lady Valleys, side by side, looking steadily down at the
crowd. There too, leaning against a window and talking to someone
behind, was Barbara. The old man went on muttering, and Courtier
could see that his eyes had grown very bright, his whole face
transfigured by intense hostility; he felt drawn to this old
creature, thus moved to the very soul. Then he saw Barbara looking
down at him, with her hand raised to her temple to show that she saw
his bandaged head. He had the presence of mind not to lift his hat.

The old man spoke again.

"You wouldn't remember forty-eight, I suppose. There was a feeling
in the people then--we would ha' died for things in those days. I'm
eighty-four," and he held his shaking hand up to his breast, "but the
spirit's alive here yet! God send the Radical gets in!" There was
wafted from him a scent as of potatoes.

Far behind, at the very edge of the vast dark throng, some voices
began singing: "Way down upon the Swanee ribber." The tune floated
forth, ceased, spurted up once more, and died.

Then, in the very centre of the square a stentorian baritone roared
forth: "Should auld acquaintance be forgot!"

The song swelled, till every kind of voice, from treble to the old
Chartist's quavering bass, was chanting it; here and there the crowd
heaved with the movement of linked arms. Courtier found the soft
fingers of a young woman in his right hand, the old Chartist's dry
trembling paw in his left. He himself sang loudly. The grave and
fearful music sprang straight up into they air, rolled out right and
left, and was lost among the hills. But it had no sooner died away
than the same huge baritone yelled "God save our gracious King!" The
stature of the crowd seemed at once to leap up two feet, and from
under that platform of raised hats rose a stupendous shouting.

"This," thought Courtier, "is religion!"

They were singing even on the balconies; by the lamplight he could
see Lord Valleys mouth not opened quite enough, as though his voice
were just a little ashamed of coming out, and Barbara with her head
flung back against the pillar, pouring out her heart. No mouth in
all the crowd was silent. It was as though the soul of the English
people were escaping from its dungeon of reserve, on the pinions of
that chant.

But suddenly, like a shot bird closing wings, the song fell silent
and dived headlong back to earth. Out from under the clock-face had
moved a thin dark figure. More figures came behind. Courtier could
see Miltoun. A voice far away cried: "Up; Chilcox!" A huge:
"Husill" followed; then such a silence, that the sound of an engine
shunting a mile away could be heard plainly.

The dark figure moved forward, and a tiny square of paper gleamed out
white against the black of his frock-coat.

"Ladies and gentlemen. Result of the Poll:

Miltoun Four thousand eight hundred and ninety-eight. Chilcox Four
thousand eight hundred and two."

The silence seemed to fall to earth, and break into a thousand
pieces. Through the pandemonium of cheers and groaning, Courtier
with all his strength forced himself towards the balcony. He could
see Lord Valleys leaning forward with a broad smile; Lady Valleys
passing her hand across her eyes; Barbara with her hand in
Harbinger's, looking straight into his face. He stopped. The old
Chartist was still beside him, tears rolling down his cheeks into his
beard.

Courtier saw Miltoun come forward, and stand, unsmiling, deathly
pale.




The Patrician by John Galsworthy
Category:
Contemporary

General Fiction
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