The better part of the speech was wiped clean from his memory at the start, so he had to lean heavily on the written word. He read rapidly but without intelligence. Now and again a faint cheer would break the even flow, and he would look up for a moment with startled eyes, only to go off again with quickened speed. He found himself talking neat paradoxes which he did not understand, and speaking glibly of names which to him were no more than echoes. Eventually he came to an end at least twenty minutes before a normal political speech should close, and sat down, hot and perplexed, with a horrible sense of having made a fool of himself.
The chairman, no less perplexed, made the usual remarks and then called for questions, for the time had to be filled in somehow. The words left George aghast. The wretched man looked forward to raw public shame. His ignorance would be exposed, his presumption laid bare, his pride thrown in the dust. He nerved himself for a despairing effort. He would brazen things out as far as possible; afterwards, let the heavens fall.
An old minister rose and asked in a thin ancient voice what the Government had done for the protection of missionaries in Khass-Kotannun. Was he, Mr. Winterham, aware that our missionaries in that distant land had been compelled to wear native dress by the arrogant chiefs, and so fallen victims to numerous chills and epidemics?
George replied that he considered the treatment abominable, believed that the matter occupied the mind of the Foreign Office night and day, and would be glad personally to subscribe to any relief fund. The good man declared himself satisfied, and St. Sebastian breathed freely again.
A sturdy man in homespun rose to discover the Government’s intention on Church matters. Did the speaker ken that on his small holding he paid ten pound sterling in tithes, though he himself did not hold with the Establishment, being a Reformed Presbyterian? The Laodicean George said he did not understand the differences, but that it seemed to him a confounded shame, and he would undertake that Mr. Haystoun, if returned, would take immediate steps in the matter.
So far he had done well, but with the next question he betrayed his ignorance. A good man arose, also hot on Church affairs, to discourse on some disabilities, and casually described himself as a U.P. George’s wits busied themselves in guessing at the mystic sign. At last to his delight he seemed to achieve it, and, in replying, electrified his audience by assuming that the two letters stood for Unreformed Presbyterian.