Sir George Soane bit his lip. He felt keenly the humiliation of his position. But it was so evident that the Earl was not himself—so evident that the tirade to which he had just listened was one of those outbursts, noble in sentiment, but verging on the impracticable and the ostentatious, in which Lord Chatham was prone to indulge in his weaker moments, that he felt little inclination to resent it. Yet to let it pass unnoticed was impossible.
‘My lord,’ he said firmly, but with respect, ’it is permitted to all to make an application which the custom of the time has sanctioned. That is the extent of my action—at the highest. The propriety of granting such requests is another matter and rests with your lordship. I have nothing to do with that.’
The Earl appeared to be as easily disarmed as he had been lightly aroused. ‘Good lad! good lad!’ he muttered. ‘Addington is a fool!’ Then drowsily, as his head sunk on his hand again, ’The man may enter. I will tell him!’
THE ATTORNEY SPEAKS
It was into an atmosphere highly charged, therefore, in which the lightning had scarcely ceased to play, and might at any moment dart its fires anew, that Mr. Fishwick was introduced. The lawyer did not know this; yet it was to be expected that without that knowledge he would bear himself but ill in the company in which he now found himself. But the task which he had come to perform raised him above himself; moreover, there is a point of depression at which timidity ceases, and he had reached this point. Admitted by Dr. Addington, he looked round, bowed stiffly to the physician, and lowly and with humility to Lord Chatham and her ladyship; then, taking his stand at the foot of the table, he produced his papers with an air of modest self-possession.
Lord Chatham did not look up, but he saw what was passing. ’We have no need of documents,’ he said in the frigid tone which marked his dealings with all save a very few. ’Your client’s suit is allowed, sir, so far as the trustees are concerned. That is all it boots me to say.’
‘I humbly thank your lordship,’ the attorney answered, speaking with an air of propriety which surprised Sir George. ’Yet I have with due submission to crave your lordship’s leave to say somewhat.’
‘There is no need,’ the Earl answered, ‘the claim being allowed, sir.’
‘It is on that point, my lord.’
The Earl, his eyes smouldering, looked his displeasure, but controlled himself. ‘What is it?’ he said irritably.
‘Some days ago, I made a singular discovery, my lord,’ the attorney answered sorrowfully. ’I felt it necessary to communicate it to my client, and I am directed by her to convey it to your lordship and to all others concerned.’ And the lawyer bowed slightly to Sir George Soane.
Lord Chatham raised his head, and for the first time since the attorney’s entrance looked at him with a peevish attention. ’If we are to go into this, Dagge should be here,’ he said impatiently. ’Or your lawyer, Sir George.’ with a look as fretful in that direction. ’Well, man, what is it?’