Which of us'--and here he turned red again--'would be safe, if that were made the law!'
'Not one,' replied the secretary; 'in that case, the greater the zeal, the truth, and talent; the more direct the call from above; the clearer would be the madness. With regard to this young man, my lord,' he added, with a lip that slightly curled as he looked at Barnaby, who stood twirling his hat, and stealthily beckoning them to come away, 'he is as sensible and self-possessed as any one I ever saw.'
'And you desire to make one of this great body?' said Lord George, addressing him; 'and intended to make one, did you?'
'Yes--yes,' said Barnaby, with sparkling eyes. 'To be sure I did! I told her so myself.'
'I see,' replied Lord George, with a reproachful glance at the unhappy mother. 'I thought so. Follow me and this gentleman, and you shall have your wish.'
Barnaby kissed his mother tenderly on the cheek, and bidding her be of good cheer, for their fortunes were both made now, did as he was desired. She, poor woman, followed too--with how much fear and grief it would be hard to tell.
They passed quickly through the Bridge Road, where the shops were all shut up (for the passage of the great crowd and the expectation of their return had alarmed the tradesmen for their goods and windows), and where, in the upper stories, all the inhabitants were congregated, looking down into the street below, with faces variously expressive of alarm, of interest, expectancy, and indignation. Some of these applauded, and some hissed; but regardless of these interruptions--for the noise of a vast congregation of people at a little distance, sounded in his ears like the roaring of the sea--Lord George Gordon quickened his pace, and presently arrived before St George's Fields.
They were really fields at that time, and of considerable extent. Here an immense multitude was collected, bearing flags of various kinds and sizes, but all of the same colour--blue, like the cockades--some sections marching to and fro in military array, and others drawn up in circles, squares, and lines. A large portion, both of the bodies which paraded the ground, and of those which remained stationary, were occupied in singing hymns or psalms. With whomsoever this originated, it was well done; for the sound of so many thousand voices in the air must have stirred the heart of any man within him, and could not fail to have a wonderful effect upon enthusiasts, however mistaken.
Scouts had been posted in advance of the great body, to give notice of their leader's coming. These falling back, the word was quickly passed through the whole host, and for a short interval there ensued a profound and deathlike silence, during which the mass was so still and quiet, that the fluttering of a banner caught the eye, and became a circumstance of note. Then they burst into a tremendous shout, into another, and another; and the air seemed rent and shaken, as if by the discharge of cannon.
'Gashford!' cried Lord George, pressing his secretary's arm tight within his own, and speaking with as much emotion in his voice, as in his altered face, 'I arn called indeed, now. I feel and know it. I am the leader of a host. If they summoned me at this moment with one voice to lead them on to death, I'd do it--Yes, and fall first myself!'
'It is a proud sight,' said the secretary. 'It is a noble day for England, and for the great cause throughout the world. Such homage, my lord, as I, an humble but devoted man, can render--'
'What are you doing?' cried his master, catching him by both hands; for he had made a show of kneeling at his feet. 'Do not unfit me, dear Gashford, for the solemn duty of this glorious day--' the tears stood in the eyes of the poor gentleman as he said the words.--'Let us go among them; we have to find a place in some division for this new recruit--give me your hand.'
Gashford slid his cold insidious palm into his master's grasp, and so, hand in hand, and followed still by Barnaby and by his mother too, they mingled with the concourse.