But the meeting was in good humour in spite of his incomprehensible address and unsatisfying answers, till a small section of the young bloods of the opposite party, who had come to disturb, felt that this peace must be put an end to. Mr. Samuel M’Turk, lawyer’s clerk, who hailed from the west country and betrayed his origin in his speech, rose amid some applause from his admirers to discomfit George. He was a young man with a long, sallow face, carefully oiled and parted hair, and a resonant taste in dress. A bundle of papers graced his hand, and his air was parliamentary.
“Wis Mister Winterham aware that Mister Haystoun had contradicted himself on two occasions lately, as he would proceed to show?”
George heard him patiently, said that now he was aware of the fact, but couldn’t for the life of him see what the deuce it mattered.
“After Mister Winterham’s ignoring of my pint,” went on the young man, “I proceed to show . . .” and with all the calmness in the world he displayed to his own satisfaction how Mr. Lewis Haystoun was no fit person to represent the constituency. He profaned the Sabbath, which this gentleman professed to hold dear, he was notorious for drunkenness, and his conduct abroad had not been above suspicion.
George was on his feet in a moment, his confusion gone, his face very red, and his shoulders squared for a fight. The man saw the effect of his words, and promptly sat down.
“Get up,” said George abruptly.
The man’s face whitened and he shrank back among his friends.
“Get up; up higher—on the top of the seat, that everybody may see and hear you! Now repeat very carefully all that over again.”
The man’s confidence had deserted him. He stammered something about meaning no harm.
“You called my friend a drunken blackguard. I am going to hear the accusation in detail.” George stood up to his full height, a terrible figure to the shrinking clerk, who repeated his former words with a faltering tongue.
He heard him out quietly, and then stared coolly down on the people. He felt himself master of the situation. The enemy had played into his hands, and in the shape of a sweating clerk sat waiting on his action.
“You have heard what this man has to tell you. I ask you as men, as folk of this countryside, if it is true?”
It was the real speech of the evening, which was all along waiting to be delivered instead of the frigid pedantries on the paper. A man was speaking simply, valiantly, on behalf of his friend. It was cunningly done, with the natural tact which rarely deserts the truly honest man in his hour of extremity. He spoke of Lewis as he had known him, at school and college and in many wild sporting expeditions in desert places, and slowly the people kindled and listened. Then, so to speak, he kicked away the scaffolding of his erection. He ceased to be the apologist, and became the frank eulogist. He stood squarely on the edge of the platform, gathering the eyes of his hearers, smiling pleasantly, arms akimbo, a man at his ease and possibly at his pleasure.