“And you ought to have been down there about it three or four days ago. Of course you must step into it.”
“Of course I shan’t,” returned Sir Francis. “To represent West Lynne will not suit me.”
“Not suit you? West Lynne! Why, of all places, it is most suitable. It’s close to your own property.”
“If you call ten miles close. I shall not put up for West Lynne, Meredith.”
“Headthelot came up this morning,” said Mr. Meredith.
The information somewhat aroused Sir Francis. “Headthelot? What brings him back?”
“You. I tell you, Levison, there’s a hot row. Headthelot expected you would be at West Lynne days past, and he has come up in an awful rage. Every additional vote we can count in the House is worth its weight in gold; and you, he says are allowing West Lynne to slip through your fingers! You must start for it at once Levison.”
Sir Francis mused. Had the alternative been given him, he would have preferred to represent a certain warm place underground, rather than West Lynne. But, to quit Headthelot, and the snug post he anticipated, would be ruin irretrievable; nothing short of outlawry, or the queen’s prison. It was awfully necessary to get his threatened person into parliament, and he began to turn over in his mind whether he could bring himself to make further acquaintance with West Lynne. “The thing must have blown over for good by this time,” was the result of his cogitations, unconsciously speaking aloud.
“I can understand your reluctance to appear at West Lynne,” cried Mr. Meredith; “the scene, unless I mistake, of that notorious affair of yours. But private feelings must give way to public interests, and the best thing you can do is to start. Headthelot is angry enough as it is. He says, had you been down at first, as you ought to have been, you would have slipped in without opposition, but now there will be a contest.”
Sir Francis looked up sharply. “A contest? Who is going to stand the funds?”
“Pshaw! As if we should let funds be any barrier! Have you heard who is in the field?”
“No,” was the apathetic answer.
“Carlyle!” uttered Sir Francis, startled. “Oh, by George, though! I can’t stand against him.”
“Well, there’s the alternative. If you can’t, Thornton will.”
“I should run no chance. West Lynne would not elect me in preference to him. I’m not sure, indeed, that West Lynne would have me in any case.”
“Nonsense! You know our interest there. Government put in Attley, and it can put you in. Yes, or no, Levison?”
“Yes,” answered Sir Francis.
An hour’s time, and Sir Francis Levison went forth. On his way to be conveyed to West Lynne? Not yet. He turned his steps to Scotland Yard. In considerably less than an hour the following telegram, marked “Secret,” went down from the head office to the superintendent of police at West Lynne.