[Sidenote: An awkward moment.]
In the midst of the exultation which the announcement of the Government had produced in the Liberal ranks, there came a difficulty and a humiliation. An amendment had been proposed, Mr. Gladstone had twice opposed it, everything pointed to its ignominious rejection, and, in view of the coming closure, everybody seemed to want rapid despatch. And thus a division was immediately called. The House was cleared; members rushed in, and, indeed, had already begun to pass through the lobby; when suddenly there was a complete change of tactics; Mr. Marjoribanks, rushing to the Treasury Bench, called upon the Government to capitulate. The fact got out; the Government were in a minority—their forces had not come in time, and the Tories would have beaten us if they had been allowed to go to a division. It was one of the narrowest shaves—one of the most uncomfortable quarters of a minute—we have had in the House of Commons for many a long day.
[Sidenote: The fateful moment.]
But half-past five comes at last; then the discussion on the Home Rule Bill has to come to an end, and the Speaker takes the chair. Members think there is a look of unusual excitement on his face, that its air is angry; and the Unionists take comfort from the idea that this step is against his judgment. But, then, it is a matter for the House itself and not for the decision of the chair, and so we go ahead. Mr. Morley is put up by Mr. Gladstone to read the words of the resolution. The Old Man himself is composedly writing that letter to the Queen which it is still his duty daily to indite. Mr. Morley’s face betrays under all its studied calm, the excitement of the hour, and he reads every separate announcement with a certain dramatic emphasis that brings out all the hidden meaning; and the document is one, the reading of which lends itself to dramatic effect and to dramatic manifestations. For each clause winds up with the same words, at “ten of the clock,” until these words come to sound something like the burden of a song—the refrain of a lament—the iteration of an Athanasian curse against sinners and heretics. The House sees all this; and each side manifests emotion according to its fashion. The Irish cheer themselves hoarse in triumph; the Tories answer back as defiantly and loudly; and so we enter, with clang of battle, with shouts and cheers, and hoarse cries of joy or of rage, into the second great pitched battle on Home Rule.