And that flock of disgruntled spirits who sat around waiting for an election that would never come and ran like old war-horses at the scent of gun-powder to group themselves, as soon as a row started and the bell began to ring for order, in two factions on either side of the president’s chair, could never have imagined that the young deputy, on many a night, broke off his study with a temptation to throw the thick tomes of records against the wall, yielding finally, with thrills of intense voluptuousness, to the thought of what might have become of him had he gone out into life on his own in the trail of a pair of green eyes whose golden lights he thought he could still see glittering in front of him between the lines of clumsy parliamentary prose, tempting him as they had tempted him of yore!
“Order of the day. Resumption of debate on ecclesiastical appropriations!”
The Chamber suddenly came to life with a wild movement of dispersion, something comparable to the stampede of a herd or the panic of an army. The deputies of quickest motory reactions were on their feet in an instant, followed by dozens and dozens of others, all making for the doors. Whole blocks of seats were emptied.
The Chamber had been packed from the opening of the Session. It was a day of intense excitement: a debate between the leader of the Right and a former comrade who was now in the Opposition. The jealousy between the two old cronies was resulting in a small-sized scandal. Mutual secrets of their ancient intimacy as colleagues were coming to light—many of the intrigues that had settled historic parliamentary contests for the premiership. The galleries were filled with spectators who had come to enjoy the fun. The deputies and ministers occupied every seat on either hand of the presidential chair. But now the incident was closed. Two hours of veiled insult and pungent gossip had passed all too soon. And the phrase “Ecclesiastical Appropriations” had served as a fire-alarm. Run—do not walk—to the nearest exit!
However, the name of the orator who was now being given the floor served to check the stampede somewhat, much as routs have been stopped by some great historic warcry. A few deputies hurried back to their benches. All eyes turned toward the extreme Left of the Chamber, where, a white head, rising above the red seats over a pair of spectacles and a gently ironical smile, was coming into view.
The old man was on his feet, at last. He was small, so frail of person, that he hardly overtopped the men still seated. All his vital energies had been concentrated in that huge, nobly proportioned head of his, pink at the top, with shocks of white hair combed back over it. His pale countenance had the warlike transparency of a sound, vigorous old age. To it a shining, luminous silvery beard added a majesty like that with which Sacred Art used to picture the Almighty.