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A Great Reform

"I am hipped Stephen" said Jack Aubrey. "We have known each other above thirty years now and for you to do this defies belief."

The Radical candidate seemed hurt. "I assure you Jack that this is meant as no personal reflection. I have ever been a friend of liberty and now that the Reform Act has been passed it was suggested that I should stand for Parliament."

"But for my seat?" said Jack. "That ain't civil."

"Your seat Jack? The whole point of the Reform Act is that the seat is not in the gift of one man but that 187 men of modest property resident there should freely decide who should represent them and a thousand of the less fortunate townsfolk."

The election was not a pretty affair. At the King's Head many barrels of beer were opened and charged to the account of the Tory candidate. From the Aubrey Arms, out on the Shelmerston road, the Radical candidate could be seen telling all who walked by about the benefits of tolerance and liberty and freedom from irrational oppression, and dispensing medical treatment gratis to the sick and afflicted of the community. Meanwhile the landlord dispensed drinks to all who wanted them and prepared an account for a group of Sethians who had guaranteed certain costs on the chance of being freed of paying tithes to the Anglican rector. A party of former sailors roamed the small constituency encouraging potential electors to support the sitting member by all means short of impressing them for a tour of duty with the Royal Navy.

Those electors retaining their mobility after hearing the arguments of both parties repaired to the market cross to cast their votes. The returning officers made their count, counted again and nervously delivered their verdict. Admiral Aubrey, the Member of Parliament for as long as most could remember even when sober, had been defeated.

A rider entered the market square from the London road. "Make way for a King?s Messenger!" he called. "Where is Admiral Aubrey?"

"Here." He took a packet from the messenger, ripped it open then laughed openly and heartily. "Stephen my friend, read this," he cried, passing the letter to the newly elected member. Stephen Maturin read for a moment and joined in the laughter. "So your career in the Commons is curtailed by a higher power than mine. Congratulations my lord!"

© 2000 Martin Watts