Maraton shrugged his shoulders.
“Let them come in,” he directed.
The three men—Peter Dale, Abraham Weavel and Graveling filed into the room a little solemnly. Maraton shook hands with the two former, but Graveling, who kept his head turned away from Julia, affected not to notice Maraton’s friendly overtures.
“So you managed it all right,” Peter Dale remarked. “Pretty close fit, wasn’t it?”
“Seven hundred,” Maraton replied. “Not so bad, considering. You see, I was a complete stranger and I am not sure that I have learnt the knack yet of that sort of platform speaking.”
“However that may be,” Abraham Weavel declared, accepting a cigar from the box which Maraton had ordered, and standing with his hands underneath his coat-tails upon the hearthrug, “you’ve done the trick. You’re an M.P., same as we are.”
“You’ve no objection, I hope?” Maraton remarked lightly.
“That’s as may be,” Mr. Weavel observed sententiously. “We don’t, so to speak, know exactly where we are just at this moment. There’s all sorts of rumours going about, and we want them cleared up. Go on, Dale, ask him the first question. You’re spokesman, you know.”
Mr. Peter Dale threw away the match with which he had just lit his pipe, sampled the whiskey and water to which he had helped himself with a most liberal hand, and deliberately selected the most comfortable chair within reach. With his hands in his trousers pockets, the thumbs protruding, his pipe in the left-hand corner of his mouth, his eyebrows drawn close together, he looked steadfastly towards Maraton.
“The first question,” he began stolidly, “is this. You owe your seat in Parliament to the Unionists. What have you promised them in return? You haven’t attempted to commit us to anything, I hope?”
“Certainly not,” Maraton replied. “Such an idea never occurred to me. So far as I know,” he went on, after a moment’s hesitation, “Mr. Foley is not, at the moment, in need of your support. His majority is sufficient.”
Peter Dale frowned ominously.
“That may or may not be,” he remarked gruffly. “So long as you haven’t taken it upon yourself to pledge us to anything, well, that disposes of question number one. The next is, where are you going to sit in the House?”
Maraton’s eyebrows were slightly raised.
“Where am I going to sit?” he repeated. “Remember, if you please, that as a member I have never been inside your House of Commons. I am not acquainted with its procedure. Where, in your opinion, ought I to sit?”
“Your place is with us,” Peter Dale declared. “I can’t see that there’s any doubt about that.”
“You’re a Labour man, aren’t you?” Peter Dale asked. “You call yourself one, anyway.
“If I am a Labour man,” Maraton said, “why did you put up a candidate to oppose me at Nottingham?”