“The pressure of these times, ladies and gentlemen, brings to the fore the most pushing and obstreperous blackguards. We have amongst us persons who, under the thin disguise of patriotism, do not scruple to bring hideous charges against public men. Such but serve the blood-stained cause of our common enemies. Conscious of the purity of our private lives, we do not care what is said of us so long as we can fulfil our duty to our country. Abstinence from every form of spirituous liquor has been the watchword of all public men since this land was first threatened by the most stupendous cataclysm which ever hung over the heads of a great democracy. We have never ceased to preach the need for it, and those who say the contrary are largely Germans or persons lost to a sense of decency.” So saying, he threw off all the bedclothes, and fell back with a groan.
“Easy, easy, my dear sir!” said the voice.
“Have you a pain in your back?”
“I shall not submit,” returned our hero, “to the ministrations of a Hun; sooner will I breathe my last.”
“Turn him over,” said the voice. And Mr. Lavender found himself on his face.
“Do you feel that?” said the voice.
Mr. Lavender answered faintly into his pillow:
“It is useless for you to torture me. No German hand shall wring from me a groan.”
“Is there mania in his family?” asked the voice. At this cruel insult Mr. Lavender, who was nearly smothered, made a great effort, and clearing his mouth of the pillow, said:
“Since we have no God nowadays, I call the God of my fathers to witness that there is no saner public man than I.”
It was, however, his last effort, for the wriggle he had given to his spine brought on a kind of vertigo, and he relapsed into unconsciousness.
IS CONVICTED OF A NEW DISEASE
Those who were assembled round the bed of Mr. Lavender remained for a moment staring at him with their mouths open, while Blink growled faintly from underneath.
“Put your hand here,” said the doctor at last.
“There is a considerable swelling, an appearance of inflammation, and the legs are a curious colour. You gave him three-quarters of a tumbler of rum—how much honey?”
Thus addressed, Joe Petty, leaning his head a little to one side, answered:
“Not ’alf a pot, sir.”
“Um! There are all the signs here of something quite new. He’s not had a fall, has he?”
“Has he?” said Mrs. Petty severely to her husband.
“No,” replied Joe.
“Singular!” said the doctor. Turn him back again; I want to feel his head. Swollen; it may account for his curious way of talking. Well, shove in quinine, and keep him quiet, with hot bottles to his feet. I think we have come on a new war disease. I’ll send you the quinine. Good morning.