THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM.
[Sidenote: Still holiday-making.]
The Easter holidays were slow in coming to an end. People who were fortunate enough to obtain pairs, lingered by the seaside or in the country house. Others were busy with the work which the recess now imposes as much as in the most feverish Parliamentary times on leading political men. Mr. Balfour was away in Ireland, among the Orangemen of Ulster and the Loyalists of Dublin; Lord Randolph Churchill was at Liverpool making silly and violent speeches; Mr. Chamberlain was colloguing—to use an excellent Irish phrase—with the publicans of the Midlands. The Irish were especially conspicuous by the smallness of their attendance. They had been months away from business, wives, children, and naturally they were anxious to take advantage of the brief breathing space which was left to them before that time came when they could not leave Westminster for a moment in the weeks during which the Home Rule Bill was in Committee!
[Sidenote: Return of the G.O.M.]
Mr. Gladstone, of course, was in his place. Down in Brighton, in a pot-hat, antediluvian in age and shape, he had been courting the breeze of the sea under the hospitable wing of Mr. Armitstead; escaping from the crowds of hero-worshippers, and attending divine service sometimes twice in the same day. He had not been idle in his temporary retreat. When the day comes to record his doings before the accurate scales of Omnipotent and Omniscient Justice, he will stand out from all other men in the absolute use of every available second of his days of life. It was clear that during his retreat, as during his hours of official work, his mind had been busy on the same absorbing and engrossing subject. He was armed with a considerable manuscript, and had evidently thought out his sentences, his arguments, his statements of facts with intense devotion and thought.
This is one of the things which distinguishes him from other public men of his time. There are men I wot of—and not very big men either—who are nothing without their audience. They deem their dignity abused if there be not the crowded bench, the cheering friends, the prominent and ostentatious place. Not so Mr. Gladstone. Perhaps it is the splendid robustness of his nerves, perhaps the absorption in his subject to the forgetfulness of himself; whatever it is, he faces this small, distrait, perhaps even depressed, audience with the same zest as though he were once again before that splendid gathering which met his eyes on the memorable night when he brought in his Home Rule Bill. Who but he could fail to have noticed the contrast, and noticing, who but he could remain so loftily unobservant and unimpressed?
[Sidenote: In splendid form.]