Baroni, lying passive and breathless with the violence of the shock and the surprise, yet kept, even amid the hurricane of wrath that had tossed him upward and downward as the winds toss leaves, his hold upon the document, and his clear, cool, ready self-possession.
“My lord,” he said faintly, “I do not wonder at your excitement, aggressive as it renders you; but I cannot admit that false which I know to be a for—”
“Silence! Say that word once more, and I shall forget myself and hurl you out into the street like the dog of a Jew you are!”
“Have patience an instant, my lord. Will it profit your friend and brother-in-arms if it be afterward said that when this charge was brought against him, you, my Lord Rockingham, had so little faith in his power to refute it that you bore down with all your mighty strength in a personal assault upon one so weakly as myself, and sought to put an end to the evidence against him by bodily threats against my safety, and by—what will look legally, my lord, like—an attempt to coerce me into silence and to obtain the paper from my hands by violence?”
Faint and hoarse the words were, but they were spoken with quiet confidence, with admirable acumen; they were the very words to lash the passions of his listener into unendurable fire, yet to chain them powerless down; the Guardsman stood above him, his features flushed and dark with rage, his eyes literally blazing with fury, his lips working under his tawny, leonine beard. At every syllable he could have thrown himself afresh upon the Jew and flung him out of his presence as so much carrion; yet the impotence that truth so often feels, caught and meshed in the coils of subtlety—the desperate disadvantage at which Right is so often placed, when met by the cunning science and sophistry of Wrong—held the Seraph in their net now. He saw his own rashness, he saw how his actions could be construed till they cast a slur even on the man he defended; he saw how legally he was in error, how legally the gallant vengeance of an indignant friendship might be construed into consciousness of guilt in the accused for whose sake the vengeance fell.
He stood silent, overwhelmed with the intensity of his own passion, baffled by the ingenuity of a serpent-wisdom he could not refute.
Ezra Baroni saw his advantage. He ventured to raise himself slightly.
“My lord, since your faith in your friend is so perfect, send for him. If he be innocent, and I a liar, with a look I shall be confounded.”
The tone was perfectly impassive, but the words expressed a world. For a moment the Seraph’s eyes flashed on him with a look that made him feel nearer his death than he had been near to it in all his days; but Rockingham restrained himself from force.
“I will send for him,” he said briefly; in that answer there was more of menace and of meaning than in any physical action.
He moved and let Baroni rise; shaken and bruised, but otherwise little seriously hurt, and still holding, in a tenacious grasp, the crumpled paper. He rang; his own servant answered the summons.