'She is a zealous sister,' said Lord George. 'Her collection goes on prosperously, and is pursued with fervour. Has her husband joined?'
'A malignant,' returned the secretary, folding up his papers. 'Unworthy such a wife. He remains in outer darkness and steadily refuses.'
'The consequences be upon his own head!--Gashford!'
'You don't think,' he turned restlessly in his bed as he spoke, 'these people will desert me, when the hour arrives? I have spoken boldly for them, ventured much, suppressed nothing. They'll not fall off, will they?'
'No fear of that, my lord,' said Gashford, with a meaning look, which was rather the involuntary expression of his own thoughts than intended as any confirmation of his words, for the other's face was turned away. 'Be sure there is no fear of that.'
'Nor,' he said with a more restless motion than before, 'of their-- but they CAN sustain no harm from leaguing for this purpose. Right is on our side, though Might may be against us. You feel as sure of that as I--honestly, you do?'
The secretary was beginning with 'You do not doubt,' when the other interrupted him, and impatiently rejoined:
'Doubt. No. Who says I doubt? If I doubted, should I cast away relatives, friends, everything, for this unhappy country's sake; this unhappy country,' he cried, springing up in bed, after repeating the phrase 'unhappy country's sake' to himself, at least a dozen times, 'forsaken of God and man, delivered over to a dangerous confederacy of Popish powers; the prey of corruption, idolatry, and despotism! Who says I doubt? Am I called, and chosen, and faithful? Tell me. Am I, or am I not?'
'To God, the country, and yourself,' cried Gashford.
'I am. I will be. I say again, I will be: to the block. Who says as much! Do you? Does any man alive?'
The secretary drooped his head with an expression of perfect acquiescence in anything that had been said or might be; and Lord George gradually sinking down upon his pillow, fell asleep.
Although there was something very ludicrous in his vehement manner, taken in conjunction with his meagre aspect and ungraceful presence, it would scarcely have provoked a smile in any man of kindly feeling; or even if it had, he would have felt sorry and almost angry with himself next moment, for yielding to the impulse. This lord was sincere in his violence and in his wavering. A nature prone to false enthusiasm, and the vanity of being a leader, were the worst qualities apparent in his composition. All the rest was weakness--sheer weakness; and it is the unhappy lot of thoroughly weak men, that their very sympathies, affections, confidences--all the qualities which in better constituted minds are virtues--dwindle into foibles, or turn into downright vices.
Gashford, with many a sly look towards the bed, sat chuckling at his master's folly, until his deep and heavy breathing warned him that he might retire. Locking his desk, and replacing it within the trunk (but not before he had taken from a secret lining two printed handbills), he cautiously withdrew; looking back, as he went, at the pale face of the slumbering man, above whose head the dusty plumes that crowned the Maypole couch, waved drearily and sadly as though it were a bier.
Stopping on the staircase to listen that all was quiet, and to take off his shoes lest his footsteps should alarm any light sleeper who might be near at hand, he descended to the ground floor, and thrust one of his bills beneath the great door of the house. That done, he crept softly back to his own chamber, and from the window let another fall--carefully wrapt round a stone to save it from the wind--into the yard below.
They were addressed on the back 'To every Protestant into whose hands this shall come,' and bore within what follows:
'Men and Brethren. Whoever shall find this letter, will take it as a warning to join, without delay, the friends of Lord George Gordon. There are great events at hand; and the times are dangerous and troubled.