'Mr Haredale,' said Gashford, stealthily raising his eyes, and letting them drop again when they met the other's steady gaze, is too conscientious, too honourable, too manly, I am sure, to attach unworthy motives to an honest change of opinions, even though it implies a doubt of those he holds himself. Mr Haredale is too just, too generous, too clear-sighted in his moral vision, to--'
'Yes, sir?' he rejoined with a sarcastic smile, finding the secretary stopped. 'You were saying'--
Gashford meekly shrugged his shoulders, and looking on the ground again, was silent.
'No, but let us really,' interposed Sir John at this juncture, 'let us really, for a moment, contemplate the very remarkable character of this meeting. Haredale, my dear friend, pardon me if I think you are not sufficiently impressed with its singularity. Here we stand, by no previous appointment or arrangement, three old schoolfellows, in Westminster Hall; three old boarders in a remarkably dull and shady seminary at Saint Omer's, where you, being Catholics and of necessity educated out of England, were brought up; and where I, being a promising young Protestant at that time, was sent to learn the French tongue from a native of Paris!'
'Add to the singularity, Sir John,' said Mr Haredale, 'that some of you Protestants of promise are at this moment leagued in yonder building, to prevent our having the surpassing and unheard-of privilege of teaching our children to read and write--here--in this land, where thousands of us enter your service every year, and to preserve the freedom of which, we die in bloody battles abroad, in heaps: and that others of you, to the number of some thousands as I learn, are led on to look on all men of my creed as wolves and beasts of prey, by this man Gashford. Add to it besides the bare fact that this man lives in society, walks the streets in broad day--I was about to say, holds up his head, but that he does not-- and it will be strange, and very strange, I grant you.'
'Oh! you are hard upon our friend,' replied Sir John, with an engaging smile. 'You are really very hard upon our friend!'
'Let him go on, Sir John,' said Gashford, fumbling with his gloves. 'Let him go on. I can make allowances, Sir John. I am honoured with your good opinion, and I can dispense with Mr Haredale's. Mr Haredale is a sufferer from the penal laws, and I can't expect his favour.'
'You have so much of my favour, sir,' retorted Mr Haredale, with a bitter glance at the third party in their conversation, 'that I am glad to see you in such good company. You are the essence of your great Association, in yourselves.'
'Now, there you mistake,' said Sir John, in his most benignant way. 'There--which is a most remarkable circumstance for a man of your punctuality and exactness, Haredale--you fall into error. I don't belong to the body; I have an immense respect for its members, but I don't belong to it; although I am, it is certainly true, the conscientious opponent of your being relieved. I feel it my duty to be so; it is a most unfortunate necessity; and cost me a bitter struggle.--Will you try this box? If you don't object to a trifling infusion of a very chaste scent, you'll find its flavour exquisite.'
'I ask your pardon, Sir John,' said Mr Haredale, declining the proffer with a motion of his hand, 'for having ranked you among the humble instruments who are obvious and in all men's sight. I should have done more justice to your genius. Men of your capacity plot in secrecy and safety, and leave exposed posts to the duller wits.'
'Don't apologise, for the world,' replied Sir John sweetly; 'old friends like you and I, may be allowed some freedoms, or the deuce is in it.'
Gashford, who had been very restless all this time, but had not once looked up, now turned to Sir John, and ventured to mutter something to the effect that he must go, or my lord would perhaps be waiting.
'Don't distress yourself, good sir,' said Mr Haredale, 'I'll take my leave, and put you at your ease--' which he was about to do without ceremony, when he was stayed by a buzz and murmur at the upper end of the hall, and, looking in that direction, saw Lord George Gordon coming in, with a crowd of people round him.