Lewis flushed deeply. “That is the worst thing I have done, and I feel horribly penitent. It was the act of a cad and a silly schoolboy. But I had some provocation, Tommy. I had spoken at length amid many interruptions, and I was getting cross. It was at Gledfoot, and the meeting was entirely against me. Then a man got up to tackle me, not a native, but some wretched London agitator. As I looked at him—a little chap With fiery eyes and receding brow—and heard his cockney patter, my temper went utterly. I made a fool of him, and I abused the whole assembly, and, funnily enough, I carried them with me. People say I helped my cause immensely.”
“It is possible,” said Wratislaw dryly. “The Scot has a sense of humour and has no objection to seeing his prophets put to shame. But you are getting a nice reputation elsewhere. When I read some of your sayings, I laughed of course, but I thought ruefully of your chances.”
It was a penitent and desponding man who followed Wratislaw into the snuggery at Etterick. But light and food, the gleam of silver and vellum and the sweet fragrance of tobacco consoled him; for in most matters he was half-hearted, and politics sat lightly on his affections.
To Alice the weeks of the contest were filled with dire unpleasantness. Lewis, naturally, kept far from Glenavelin, while of Mr. Stocks she was never free. She followed Lady Manorwater’s lead and canvassed vigorously, hoping to find distraction in the excitement of the fight. But her efforts did not prosper. On one occasion she found herself in a cottage on the Gledsmuir road, her hands filled with election literature. A hale old man was sitting at his meal, who greeted her cordially, and made her sit down while she stumbled through the usual questions and exhortations. “Are ye no’ bidin’ at Glenavelin?” he asked. “And have I no seen ye walking on the hill wi’ Maister Lewie?” When the girl assented, he asked, with the indignation of the privileged, “Then what for are ye sac keen this body Stocks should win in? If Maister Lewie’s fond o’ ye, wad it no be wiser—like to wark for him? Poalitics! What should a woman’s poalitics be but just the same as her lad’s? I hae nae opeenion o’ this clash about weemen’s eddication.” And with flaming cheeks the poor girl had risen and fled from the old reactionary.
The incident burned into her mind, and she was wretched with the anomaly of her position. A dawning respect for her rejected lover began to rise in her heart. The first of his meetings which she attended had impressed her with his skill in his own vocation. He had held those people interested. He had spoken bluntly, strongly, honestly. To few women is it given to distinguish the subtle shades of sincerity in speech, and to the rule Alice was no exception. The rhetoric and the cheers which followed had roused the speaker to a new life. His face became keen, almost attractive, without question full of power. He was an orator beyond doubt, and when he concluded in a riot of applause, Alice sat with small hands clenched and eyes shining with delight. He had spoken the main articles of her creed, but with what force and freshness! She was convinced, satisfied, delighted; though somewhere in her thought lurked her old dislike of the man and the memory of another.