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At the moment Stanley could with great pleasure have kicked him. He felt in a rage with that man. He might have been, for aught he knew or cared, a virtuous person; but as he returned to his seat with a calm but triumphant smile, having performed what he conceived to be his duty, Stanley looked at him!-in one word, he certainly would have knocked him down, if the forms of the House had allowed it.
It is, perhaps, amazing that the strongest minds are capable of being upset in an instant. A man may have a perfect command over his features; he may have an equally perfect command over his nerves; but he cannot have a perfect command, nor anything like a perfect command, over his mind. He may be able to stand and walk erect; he may be able to maintain the steadiness of his eye and the firmness of his voice; he may be able to suppress every show of emotion, but he cannot suppress the emotion itself. He may have in full bloom what is technically termed 'moral courage,'-for technical the term may be said to be, seeing that physical courage is hard to be defined ;-he may be extremely calm and collected; he may conceal effectually his feelings from others, but from himself they will not be concealed. Within his own breast they are in full operation: their influence may rack him, although the effect be unseen; and precisely thus stood Stanley. He scorned to betray his feelings when the hateful petition was presented, but they were acute notwithstanding: indeed, so acute that they prompted him to withhold that brilliant speech with which he intended to astonish the House. The thing came upon him so unexpectedly, he was not prepared for the blow. He knew of course that the opposing party had been zealous in their efforts to get up a petition, but he had been led by his agents to believe that those efforts had utterly failed: when, however, he actually saw the unblest document, he could no longer lay the flattering unction to his soul which those agents had been from the first prescribing.
I have been grossly deceived,' said he, addressing Sir William, who sat by his side. Those fellows assured me that the idea of a petition was, under the circumstances, absurd.'
'Oh, it may come to nothing now,' returned the Baronet. is the last day on which it could be presented. The prosecution of a petition does not of necessity follow its presentation. The chances are that it will yet be abandoned.'
'I fear not,' said Stanley.
'Because the grounds upon which they stand are too tenable to justify a hope that the thing will be relinquished.'
'The grounds!' exclaimed Sir William. "The grounds have little indeed to do with the matter. It depends upon the committee. If you get a majority,—and, of course, we must have a whip for it,—you are safe: you need not care then a single straw about the grounds.' Stanley appreciated this remark very highly. He knew that, although in strictly barbarous states the system of trying the merits of petitions by a directly responsible tribunal might obtain, it would be in a country so enlightened as this repudiated, not only as ridiculous but dangerous, inasmuch as the practice established was of such surpassing excellence that it rendered the operation of party bias and factious influence almost impossible, and particularly in cases in which parties are so nicely balanced that the loss of a vote on either side is of very
great importance: he knew also that every member was at that happy period an honourable man, and so strictly pure in principle, that he would rather see his own party go to the dogs than sacrifice or even slightly tamper with his conscience: he, moreover, knew that, albeit certain signally uncivilized persons had attempted to upset the just and most salutary system established, their attempts had utterly and of course most deservedly failed; still, with all this knowledge, he felt apprehensive that, whether he obtained a majority or not, his seat would be lost, and was therefore at first indisposed to defend it.
Sir William, however, powerfully painted to him the almost unprecedented folly of yielding, and as most men are guided by the opinions of others, if even they conceive their own judgment to be superior, provided always that their vanity is flattered; so Stanley, although he knew that the allegations contained in the petition were true, and that, therefore, under the system proposed by the unconstitutional innovators referred to, he would have had no chance at all of retaining his seat. surrendered his own judgment to that of Sir William, in the full and lively hope of being able to whip in a just and one-sided committee.
This hope, however, although it sustained him for a time, was not realised. The committee was moved for; the whip was used on both sides with great effect, and the result was seven to four against him. The great point of Sir William was thus at once destroyed, and Stanley again felt disposed to retire; but Sir William, knowing well what the expenses of defending a seat under the circumstances usually were, and being still sincerely anxious to reduce him to a state of destitution, shifted his ground, and not only ridiculed the idea of giving in, but contended for self conviction in such a case being comparable only with suicide; and in this he was ably seconded by the Widow.
'It would be, you know, such an extremely shocking thing,' said that lady, when her opinion of the matter had been demanded; it would be absolutely dreadful-dear me ! it would be an eternal dis grace to retire from the field without a struggle, you know, my dear!'
'Mother,' said Stanley, 'look at the expense.'
'A fig for the expense, my love! we are not poor. I look at the thing in the abstract.'
'You do, without reference to the cost. Look at that in the abstract! I confess that I have an imperfect knowledge of the expense of these things; but I know it to be something very, very considerable.'
'Well, my love! let it be considerable.
Thank Heaven we are not beggars! But we are not beaten yet! Where is your philosophy, my dear? Should we make ourselves wretched to-day, because it happens to be possible for us to be wretched to-morrow? Oh, dear me, no! defend the seat by all means.'
Mother,' rejoined Stanley, 'you know me, I think, too well to believe that I would not do so if I saw the slightest prospect of success.'
'My dearest boy, I know that would not; you I am perfectly certain of that; but then, although you cannot see this prospect, others can! Good gracious me! what does Sir William say!--does he not say that these things are all a lottery?'
'But how can we reasonably hope to succeed, when we know nearly all with which we are charged to be true?'
True!-my dear! Has not Sir William again and again said, that a thousand things may be true which cannot be proved?'
'I have, of course, no inclination to resign, which you know: if I conceived it to be probable that my seat could be retained, I would defend it with all the means in my power; but as the case stands at present I cannot perceive a chance."
'Oh, there are a thousand chances; rely on it, my love, there are ten thousand chances, although you do not perceive them. Besides, if even the worst should come to the worst, we are surely, my love, as capable of bearing our share of the expenses as the Swansdown faction are of bearing theirs!'
'But that may not be the worst. Suppose we are fixed with all the costs?'
'Oh, but you know, Sir William says that an instance of that kind has not occurred within his recollection.'
'But the thing is not impossible: it may occur in our case, and if it should, can it be borne without sensibly affecting your fortune?' Of course! Dear me, my love, what a ridiculous question!' 'Oh, I know nothing about your affairs: you have always most studiously kept them from me.'
Fear nothing on that score; by all means oppose this horrible petition.'
'Very well: but understand, that if opposed at all it must be opposed with spirit; no expense must be spared; there must be no stopping short; the thing once begun must be carried on boldly to the end!'
That is precisely my feeling. Never mind the expense; do not dream about that. Have everything that may be deemed essential to success. We shall beat them! I am sure that we shall beat them. It would be such a truly dreadful thing, you know, my love, to give up all without an effort to retain it. It would look so cowardly and would be so disgraceful, as Sir William says! I should go mad! I am sure of it. I never could be happy again. Therefore, oppose them, my love, by all means; oppose them with all your power. Engage the highest talent availab`e. Stanley, my dearest love! let me prevail upon you: will you oppose them?'
Stanley consented. He had of course no desire to relinquish his seat he never had; but knowing well that his election must have cost something very considerable, although the amount had been concealed from him, he felt, being ignorant of the Widow's resources, that the expense of opposing the petition-if the opposition should be reported 'frivolous and vexatious,' might involve them all in ruin. When, however, he heard that the worst could be borne without any material or permanent injury, he resolved to go on with the opposition boldly he would not yield an inch: he defied them to prove their allegations, although he knew them to be true, declaring that his seat should be defended till the last.
The battle then commenced. The opening speeches were made. Coach-loads of witnesses were brought up to town, and among them Stanley recognised many, whom, during the election, he had treated with the utmost kindness and liberality. On ascertaining the quarters of these people, he sent an agent to remonstrate with them; but they
viewed the affair as a mere matter of business, declaring that they had no private feeling either way; that the franchise was a property of which they had a clear and indisputable right to make the most, that every contingency increased its value, and if Stanley wanted them why he might have them even then. The agent spoke of gratitude, of course, and enlarged on its brightness and beauty; and they agreed with him; they thought it an excellent thing, and they said so, and contended that its value should be commensurate with his excellence, and at the same time declared that they had plenty to sell, and should be glad to dispose of their whole stock at a price. As, however, it was deemed inexpedient under the circumstances to purchase this inestimable commodity of them-the investment not be. ing quite safe-there was no business done; the agent left them in possession of their gratitude, which, if all had been taken at their own valuation, would have made a man wealthy indeed.
There was, however, another class of witnesses of a far more formidable character, inasmuch as they were actuated by feelings of revenge, and had a certain amount of social respectability about them which imparted a nominal purity to their testimony, and thereby gave it an additional weight. These were the tradesmen whom the chairman of Stanley's committee had insulted by his shabby and unconstitutional refusal to meet their prescriptive demands. The rest of the witnesses against him cared nothing about the result; they had no vindictive feelings to gratify; their object was to make all the money they could, and it mattered not a straw to them which party triumphed; but these men had set their noble souls upon his defeat; they had firmly resolved to do all in their power to ensure his political destruction; he had robbed them-for it is a real robbery, when the thing is properly looked at, to refuse to pay respectable men what is regular-and, therefore, they had one and all determined to stick at nothing which could tend to promote the accom. plishment of the just and legitimate object in view.
The committee sat daily; but their progress was but slow. The counsel on both sides displayed all the eloquence, zeal, and ingenuity they had in them, and bullied each other with admirable ferocity. On one point, however, they seemed to be agreed, and that was to make the thing last as long as possible. It seldom indeed happens in ordinary cases, that opposing counsel agree at all; but it is an extraordinary fact, that in this case they were on that great point perfectly unanimous. During the examination of witnesses an objection was started at every third question with the utmost regularity and tact, and the speeches which succeeded those objections re spectively were remarkable as well for their length as for the sound deliberation with which they were delivered.
After a week or two the honourable members of the committee became naturally tired of the business; but the witnesses in the aggregate were by no means impatient; they cared not how long the thing lasted; it met their views precisely; nothing on earth could have suited them better; they were not only living like Aldermen in town, but really beginning to get into flesh.
At length, when all concerned save counsel and these philosophic witnesses, were weary, the labours of the committee were brought to an end, and the result was, that they reported the opposition to the petition 'frivolous and vexatious,' and thus fixed Stanley with the whole of the costs, which were enormous !
This to him and his immediate friends was indeed a heavy blow; but poor Amelia felt it most deeply. Her anguish was poignant in the extreme, and while she tried to soothe her Stanley, whose high hopes had thus been blasted, she would hang upon his neck and sob as if her heart were breaking.
To Sir William and his associates Stanley wished it to appear that he was comparatively indifferent about the matter, but when in the presence of the Widow alone, his rage could not be calmed.
'You see,' he exclaimed, when the result became known, 'you see the position to which you have reduced me!' 'I, my love?'
Yes, mother, you!'
'Gracious heavens! what can you mean?'
'Did you not prompt me to pursue this mad course? have opposed this infernal petition had it not been for you?'
'My love! you know that I advised you for the best!' 'You advised me for the worst! You imagined, I suppose, that it would tame me. I was a fool to follow your advice; a wretched, a consummate fool!'
Stanley! Stanley !' exclaimed the Widow, bursting into tears, as he fiercely paced the room. Oh! this is cruel-very cruel! You ought not to be unkind, indeed, indeed, you ought not to afflict me You should consider that I have feelings, Stanley.' 'Mother, you do not consider that I have feelings!'
'I do I do, indeed! I know that my poor boy must feel it most deeply; but do not, pray do not, add gall to this calamity; do not increase our affliction by attributing motives which you must know could never have actuated me. But, my dearest love, can we not appeal?' 'Appeal! No, there is no appeal.'
'But the decision was corrupt, my love; grossly corrupt. The committee were guided by factious views solely, and while the coun. sel against us were demons, our own counsel ought to be ashamed of themselves for having suffered the fiends to go on so. Now, under these circumstances, you know, my love, it strikes me—'
'Again I tell you, there is no appeal! And if there were, if even I could appeal, I would not. I know that these monstrous expenses must materially affect our fortunes. I am sure of it, quite sure, although you conceal the fact from me.'
'They are indeed; very heavy indeed.'
'You admit, then,' demanded Stanley fiercely, 'you admit that they have involved us?'
"No, my love; no no; they have not involved us. I said that they were heavy!-I merely said that. But come, my love, all will be well. Come, be calm and kind; you are my only joy: I cannot be happy if you are not kind.'
The widow again burst into tears and buried her face in his bosom. She knew that that which Stanley suspected was true; she was conscious that these enormous costs, immediately following the expenses of the election, had involved her, and although she had yet but an imperfect knowledge of the extent, she knew well that her position would be sensibly affected.
And Sir William knew it too, and was glad. The destruction of Amelia's virtue was his object, and he now felt more than ever sure that that object would at no remote period be attained.