“Damnation! Cecil, can’t you hear me! A hound has brought against you the vilest charge that ever swindlers framed: an infamy that he deserves to be shot for, as if he were a dog. He makes me stand before you as if I were your accuser; as if I doubted you; as if I lent an ear one second to this loathsome lie. I sent for you to confront him, and to give him up to the law. Stand out, you scoundrel, and let us see how you dare look at us now!”
He swung round at the last words, and signed to Baroni to rise from the couch were he sat. The Jew advanced slowly, softly.
“If your lordship will pardon me, you have scarcely made it apparent what the matter is for which the gentleman is wanted. You have scarcely explained to him that it is on a charge of forgery.”
The Seraph’s eyes flashed on him with a light like a lion’s, and his right hand clinched hard.
“By my life! If you say that word again you shall be flung in the street like the cur you are, let me pay what I will for it! Cecil, why don’t you speak?”
Bertie had not moved; not a breath escaped his lips. He stood like a statue, deadly pale in the gaslight; when the figure of Baroni rose up and came before him, a great darkness stole on his face—it was a terrible bitterness, a great horror, a loathing disgust; but it was scarcely criminality, and it was not fear. Still he stood perfectly silent—a guilty man, any other than his loyal friend would have said: guilty, and confronted with a just accuser. The Seraph saw that look, and a deadly chill passed over him, as it had done at the Jew’s first charge—not doubt; such heresy to his creeds, such shame to his comrade and his corps could not be in him; but a vague dread hushed his impetuous vehemence. The dignity of the old Lyonnesse blood asserted its ascendency.
“M. Baroni, make your statement. Later on Mr. Cecil can avenge it.”
Cecil never moved; once his eyes went to Rockingham with a look of yearning, grateful, unendurable pain; but it was repressed instantly; a perfect passiveness was on him. The Jew smiled.
“My statement is easily made, and will not be so new to this gentleman as it was to your lordship. I simply charge the Honorable Bertie Cecil with having negotiated a bill with my firm for 750 pounds on the 15th of last month, drawn in his own favor, and accepted at two months’ date by your lordship. Your signature you, my Lord Marquis, admit to be a forgery—with that forgery I charge your friend!”
The echo of those words alone escaped the dry, white lips of Cecil; he showed no amaze, no indignation; once only, as the charge was made, he gave in sudden gesture, with a sudden gleam, so dark, so dangerous, in his eyes, that his comrade thought and hoped that with one moment more the Jew would be dashed down at his feet with the lie branded on his mouth by the fiery blow of a slandered and outraged honor. The action was repressed; the extraordinary quiescence, more hopeless because more resigned than any sign of pain or of passion, returned either by force of self-control or by the stupor of despair.