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FRIENDS IN COUNCIL.
The Vicar was quite right. Evening is the time for pleasure, and morning is the time for affairs. Reuben's little committee of friends got through more business round the breakfast-table in a couple of hours, than they could have transacted at supper in twice the space of time; nor did any of the party sincerely regret that Mrs. Medlicott was prevented from appearing in consequence of an attack of rheumatism, brought on by walking home from supper in the night air.
" Let us begin with the finances," said Mr. Cox. " It is not the fault of us, reformers, if elections are not to be conducted
As things are, however, it is out of the question. Bribery will never be encouraged, or sanctioned by me, either in Chichester or elsewhere ; but an election, under existing circumstances, involves other expenses of no inconsiderable amount, and for those we must provide in the first instance. Supposing a contest to take place, what sum, Broad, do you think we shall have occasion for—to meet the legitimate ex
Mr. Broad thought a thousand pounds would bring his illustrious friend into Parliament for his native city.
The Alderman sensibly remarked, that legitimate expense was a very indefinite thing; he should not like to engage in a contest, unless there was at least a couple of thousand in the purse.
The Vicar was afraid that so large a sum might be a temptation to cross the boundary between the legitimate expenses and the illegitimate.
“ That can be provided against,” continued the Alderman, " by placing the purse in the hands of somebody of such rigid probity as to remove all fear upon that score."
“ If Mr. Cox will be treasurer,” said the Vicar, “ I waive my objection.”
Mr. Primrose here sagaciously interposed, observing that it would be unfair to impose such a heavy duty on Mr. Cox, and suggesting that Mr. Broad should carry the bag.
The little cutler jumped up, then sat down, fidgeted in his chair, thanked Mr. Primrose, and was manifestly pleased at being nominated to the office.
“ But,” said he, “the responsibility will be too much for the shoulders of an humble man like me; I hope, gentlemen, you will give me a colleague.”
"I am sure," said Hyacinth," my friend Dr. Page won't object to be named along with you."
“On the contrary, I shall be most happy,” said the confident Doctor; and as nobody, of course, had any objection to make, Mr. Primrose had the satisfaction of seeing the financial arrangements placed in the hands of two of Reuben's most enthusiastic and least scrupulous friends. The Vicar and Mr. Cox were completely hoodwinked; and, indeed, neither the cutler nor the Doctor had a notion of what Hyacinth's drift was in making them joint-treasurers; but Hyacinth knew who was who, and what was what, better than anybody at the table.
Now, to raise the money,” said the Alderman.
Primrose took out his pocket-book, and held his pencil in readiness to enter the subscriptions.
“ Put down three hundred for me," said Mr. Cox.
The Vicar rose from the table to conceal his emotion at old Matthew's liberality, which he knew had its source in the strength of his private affections. He then left the room to acquaint his wife with Mr. Cox's munificence. While he was absent, Mr. Broad subscribed two hundred, the Alderman one; and then Mr. Cox, putting his hand into his pocket with solemnity, produced two letters he had received that very morning. One was from a Quaker bookseller in London, no other than our friend Harvey, who had levied contributions to the extent of six hundred pounds from members of the Society of Friends in the metropolis, interested in the cause of universal philanthropy, and anxious to have it eloquently represented in Parliament. The other was a communication from Mrs. Winning, of Sunbury, subscribing a hundred.
“ We have one thousand, three hundred already,” said Primrose, entering the sums; and I am authorised by another London bookseller, Mr. Trevor, to put down his name for any sum not exceeding a hundred. Master Turner will give the same, and Lord Maudlin will go as far as three, if we want it.”
6 Who the deu is Lord Maudlin ?" cried Dr. Page.
If you had but seen Mr. Broad's looks and gesticulations at such a question !
“ Lord Maudlin, sir,” he replied, with ludicrous energy, it possible, sir, you don't know who Lord Viscount Maudlin is ?
Why, sir, it was his lordship who took the chair at that great meeting in London on behalf of unfortunate Poland, where Mr. Reuben Medlicott made that famous speech, which I had the pleasure and honour of hearing. Why, sir, he spoke upon that grand occasion for two mortal hours and a half without ever drawing his breath.”
Quiet, Broad, quiet now,” said Mr. Cox, gently tapping him on the shoulder ; " keep to the point, or we shall never get through business. How much have we now, Mr. Primrose ?!
“ One thousand, eight hundred,” said Hyacinth, totting his entries.
“ Which I am ready to make the square two thousand,” said Dr. Page. He had scarcely spoken when a servant came in and presented Mr. Medlicott with a letter. It was from the Earl of Stromness, and assured the Vicar that if the contest for Chichester took the turn it threatened to take at that moment, he would be very happy to support his son, and would willingly bear a reasonable share of the expense of his election.
“ We shall have too much money," said the Vicar. “ No harm in a little surplus,” said the Doctor.
“ The only man who ever finds a surplus troublesome is the Chancellor of the Exchequer,” said Primrose.
So little was he perplexed himself by the superabundance of resources, that it made him very comfortable to think he had Mrs. Mountjoy's contribution quietly in reserve. He said nothing about it for fear of alarming the Vicar still more, but determined to put it privately into the Doctor's hands, having little doubt a necessity would practically arise for relaxing the strict rules of morality for which, in theory (he flattered himself), he entertained as profound a respect as any man.
“ Now," said Mr. Cox, addressing Mr. Broad, “ now I give you your freedom; if you have anything to say on the subject of our friend Reuben's qualifications for Parliament, we are ready to hear you.” He laid a gentle emphasis on the word “ qualification” in this sentence.
“He has every possible qualification,” cried the zealous cutler. “ Let any man get up and say what qualification he wants."
Primrose shook his head.
“I am afraid,” said he, “I must respectfully differ from Mr. Broad, though I entertain so high an opinion of my friend's abilities ; but I have a letter from himself upon the subject; you shall all hear what he says."
“ The modesty, sir, that always accompanies distinguished merit,” said Mr. Broad.
Primrose smiled, and read Reuben's letter to the company, which soon enlightened Mr. Broad as to the nature of the qualification that was now in question.
The Vicar disliked evading the law, although an unreasonable and absurd one.
Mr. Primrose suggested that a successful evasion of the law could never be a wrong proceeding, for it could only succeed by being beyond impeachment; and if unimpeachable by law, it was permissible by law, and therefore legal in the strictest sense of the word.
Mr. Broad applauded this reasoning highly; but Matthew Cox looked sceptical, and smiled, adding, however, that a way had occurred to him by which Reuben could be provided with a bonâ-fide property qualification, though he was unable to say more on the subject at that moment. Perhaps the gentlemen would refer that subject altogether to him. With the advice of his lawyer, he trusted to settle it satisfactorily.
This matter having been disposed of, it seemed as if everything had been done that could be done at present, when it suddenly occurred to Mr. Primrose that Reuben's consent had not yet been formally asked to stand for Chichester.
“ We must write to him to come down at once,” said Mr. Cox.
“ Pardon me,” said Primrose; “ in my opinion, instead of asking him to come down to you, some of you ought to go up to him.”
“ Hear Mr. Primrose,” cried Broad, lustily.
Hear, hear,” cried another and a strange voice, at some little distance. It was Sirach the raven, who had just hopped in through an open window, and
who had never forgotten the cry since he first learned it, when Dr. Pigwidgeon delivered Reuben's speech from the pear-tree.
My advice is a deputation," said Mr. Broad; and the general opinion being in favour of that measure (the Vicar alone dissentient), a deputation was then and there resolved on, to consist of Mr. Broad, the Alderman, and another influential citizen, whose co-operation might be relied on. Mr. Broad was for setting out that very evening, but the following morning was ultimately fixed on; and it was also agreed to keep the entire affair
as quiet as possible for the present. Mr. Cox and Primrose pressed this strongly.
“ Especially from Mr. Pigwidgeon,” said Doctor Page.
“ Mum's the word,” said Mr. Broad; but before the sun went down upon Chichester, nobody in that city, who was in a position to know anything of such matters, was ignorant of what Mr. Medlicott's friends were about, or of the important embassy that was going up to London.
SIRACH, THE RAVEN.
“ A FINE old bird, that raven of yours, Mr. Medlicott,” said Primrose, as they sat under the walnut-tree, after sunset, that same evening; a fine old bird; what may his age be ?"
Unknown,” said the Vicar; “ I had him from my predecessor in this living, who told me he received him from his predecessor, who told him the same story. When I came first to Underwood, there was an ancient gravedigger here—his own grave has since been dug—from whom I learned that he remembered Sirach as long as he remembered anything connected with the parish; and when he first knew the bird, one of his phrases was Old Noll—he used to cry Old Noll—from which I infer that Sirach could tell us something about the Commonwealth if he was disposed to be communicative. I sometimes say to my wife, that it is not impossible he may have seen the Good Parson.'" “ I should
certainly has, sir,” said Primrose.
The Vicar acknowledged the compliments of his guests with a bow and a smile, while Primrose began to speculate upon the notion of the raven writing his memoirs.
“ What an historian he would make, with his old experience, if he would only pluck a quill from his own wing and give us his personal reminiscences."
"The annals of a single vicarage," said Mr. Medlicott, “ would doubtless be a valuable supplement to general ecclesi