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Barnaby Rudge

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Chapter 46

When Barnaby returned with the bread, the sight of the pious old pilgrim smoking his pipe and making himself so thoroughly at home, appeared to surprise even him; the more so, as that worthy person, instead of putting up the loaf in his wallet as a scarce and precious article, tossed it carelessly on the table, and producing his bottle, bade him sit down and drink.

‘For I carry some comfort, you see,’ he said. ‘Taste that. Is it good?’

The water stood in Barnaby’s eyes as he coughed from the strength of the draught, and answered in the affirmative.

‘Drink some more,’ said the blind man; ‘don’t be afraid of it. You don’t taste anything like that, often, eh?’

‘Often!’ cried Barnaby. ‘Never!’

‘Too poor?’ returned the blind man with a sigh. ‘Ay. That’s bad. Your mother, poor soul, would be happier if she was richer, Barnaby.’

‘Why, so I tell her—the very thing I told her just before you came to-night, when all that gold was in the sky,’ said Barnaby, drawing his chair nearer to him, and looking eagerly in his face. ‘Tell me. Is there any way of being rich, that I could find out?’

‘Any way! A hundred ways.’

‘Ay, ay?’ he returned. ‘Do you say so? What are they?—Nay, mother, it’s for your sake I ask; not mine;—for yours, indeed. What are they?’

The blind man turned his face, on which there was a smile of triumph, to where the widow stood in great distress; and answered,

‘Why, they are not to be found out by stay-at-homes, my good friend.’

‘By stay-at-homes!’ cried Barnaby, plucking at his sleeve. ‘But I am not one. Now, there you mistake. I am often out before the sun, and travel home when he has gone to rest. I am away in the woods before the day has reached the shady places, and am often there when the bright moon is peeping through the boughs, and looking down upon the other moon that lives in the water. As I walk along, I try to find, among the grass and moss, some of that small money for which she works so hard and used to shed so many tears. As I lie asleep in the shade, I dream of it—dream of digging it up in heaps; and spying it out, hidden under bushes; and seeing it sparkle, as the dew-drops do, among the leaves. But I never find it. Tell me where it is. I’d go there, if the journey were a whole year long, because I know she would be happier when I came home and brought some with me. Speak again. I’ll listen to you if you talk all night.’

The blind man passed his hand lightly over the poor fellow’s face, and finding that his elbows were planted on the table, that his chin rested on his two hands, that he leaned eagerly forward, and that his whole manner expressed the utmost interest and anxiety, paused for a minute as though he desired the widow to observe this fully, and then made answer:

‘It’s in the world, bold Barnaby, the merry world; not in solitary places like those you pass your time in, but in crowds, and where there’s noise and rattle.’

‘Good! good!’ cried Barnaby, rubbing his hands. ‘Yes! I love that. Grip loves it too. It suits us both. That’s brave!’

‘—The kind of places,’ said the blind man, ‘that a young fellow likes, and in which a good son may do more for his mother, and himself to boot, in a month, than he could here in all his life—that is, if he had a friend, you know, and some one to advise with.’

‘You hear this, mother?’ cried Barnaby, turning to her with delight. ‘Never tell me we shouldn’t heed it, if it lay shining at our feet. Why do we heed it so much now? Why do you toil from morning until night?’

‘Surely,’ said the blind man, ‘surely. Have you no answer, widow? Is your mind,’ he slowly added, ‘not made up yet?’

‘Let me speak with you,’ she answered, ‘apart.’

‘Lay your hand upon my sleeve,’ said Stagg, arising from the table; ‘and lead me where you will. Courage, bold Barnaby. We’ll talk more of this: I’ve a fancy for you. Wait there till I come back. Now, widow.’

She led him out at the door, and into the little garden, where they stopped.

‘You are a fit agent,’ she said, in a half breathless manner, ‘and well represent the man who sent you here.’

‘I’ll tell him that you said so,’ Stagg retorted. ‘He has a regard for you, and will respect me the more (if possible) for your praise. We must have our rights, widow.’

‘Rights! Do you know,’ she said, ‘that a word from me—’

‘Why do you stop?’ returned the blind man calmly, after a long pause. ‘Do I know that a word from you would place my friend in the last position of the dance of life? Yes, I do. What of that? It will never be spoken, widow.’

‘You are sure of that?’

‘Quite—so sure, that I don’t come here to discuss the question. I say we must have our rights, or we must be bought off. Keep to that point, or let me return to my young friend, for I have an interest in the lad, and desire to put him in the way of making his fortune. Bah! you needn’t speak,’ he added hastily; ‘I know what you would say: you have hinted at it once already. Have I no feeling for you, because I am blind? No, I have not. Why do you expect me, being in darkness, to be better than men who have their sight—why should you? Is the hand of Heaven more manifest in my having no eyes, than in your having two? It’s the cant of you folks to be horrified if a blind man robs, or lies, or steals; oh yes, it’s far worse in him, who can barely live on the few halfpence that are thrown to him in streets, than in you, who can see, and work, and are not dependent on the mercies of the world. A curse on you! You who have five senses may be wicked at your pleasure; we who have four, and want the most important, are to live and be moral on our affliction. The true charity and justice of rich to poor, all the world over!’

He paused a moment when he had said these words, and caught the sound of money, jingling in her hand.

‘Well?’ he cried, quickly resuming his former manner. ‘That should lead to something. The point, widow?’

‘First answer me one question,’ she replied. ‘You say he is close at hand. Has he left London?’

‘Being close at hand, widow, it would seem he has,’ returned the blind man.

‘I mean, for good? You know that.’

‘Yes, for good. The truth is, widow, that his making a longer stay there might have had disagreeable consequences. He has come away for that reason.’

‘Listen,’ said the widow, telling some money out, upon a bench beside them. ‘Count.’

‘Six,’ said the blind man, listening attentively. ‘Any more?’

‘They are the savings,’ she answered, ‘of five years. Six guineas.’

He put out his hand for one of the coins; felt it carefully, put it between his teeth, rung it on the bench; and nodded to her to proceed.

‘These have been scraped together and laid by, lest sickness or death should separate my son and me. They have been purchased at the price of much hunger, hard labour, and want of rest. If you CAN take them—do—on condition that you leave this place upon the instant, and enter no more into that room, where he sits now, expecting your return.’

‘Six guineas,’ said the blind man, shaking his head, ‘though of the fullest weight that were ever coined, fall very far short of twenty pounds, widow.’

‘For such a sum, as you know, I must write to a distant part of the country. To do that, and receive an answer, I must have time.’

‘Two days?’ said Stagg.

‘More.’

‘Four days?’

‘A week. Return on this day week, at the same hour, but not to the house. Wait at the corner of the lane.’

‘Of course,’ said the blind man, with a crafty look, ‘I shall find you there?’

‘Where else can I take refuge? Is it not enough that you have made a beggar of me, and that I have sacrificed my whole store, so hardly earned, to preserve this home?’

‘Humph!’ said the blind man, after some consideration. ‘Set me with my face towards the point you speak of, and in the middle of the road. Is this the spot?’

‘It is.’

‘On this day week at sunset. And think of him within doors.—For the present, good night.’

She made him no answer, nor did he stop for any. He went slowly away, turning his head from time to time, and stopping to listen, as if he were curious to know whether he was watched by any one. The shadows of night were closing fast around, and he was soon lost in the gloom. It was not, however, until she had traversed the lane from end to end, and made sure that he was gone, that she re-entered the cottage, and hurriedly barred the door and window.

‘Mother!’ said Barnaby. ‘What is the matter? Where is the blind man?’

‘He is gone.’

‘Gone!’ he cried, starting up. ‘I must have more talk with him. Which way did he take?’

‘I don’t know,’ she answered, folding her arms about him. ‘You must not go out to-night. There are ghosts and dreams abroad.’

‘Ay?’ said Barnaby, in a frightened whisper.

‘It is not safe to stir. We must leave this place to-morrow.’

‘This place! This cottage—and the little garden, mother!’

‘Yes! To-morrow morning at sunrise. We must travel to London; lose ourselves in that wide place—there would be some trace of us in any other town—then travel on again, and find some new abode.’

Little persuasion was required to reconcile Barnaby to anything that promised change. In another minute, he was wild with delight; in another, full of grief at the prospect of parting with his friends the dogs; in another, wild again; then he was fearful of what she had said to prevent his wandering abroad that night, and full of terrors and strange questions. His light-heartedness in the end surmounted all his other feelings, and lying down in his clothes to the end that he might be ready on the morrow, he soon fell fast asleep before the poor turf fire.

His mother did not close her eyes, but sat beside him, watching. Every breath of wind sounded in her ears like that dreaded footstep at the door, or like that hand upon the latch, and made the calm summer night, a night of horror. At length the welcome day appeared. When she had made the little preparations which were needful for their journey, and had prayed upon her knees with many tears, she roused Barnaby, who jumped up gaily at her summons.

His clothes were few enough, and to carry Grip was a labour of love. As the sun shed his earliest beams upon the earth, they closed the door of their deserted home, and turned away. The sky was blue and bright. The air was fresh and filled with a thousand perfumes. Barnaby looked upward, and laughed with all his heart.

But it was a day he usually devoted to a long ramble, and one of the dogs—the ugliest of them all—came bounding up, and jumping round him in the fulness of his joy. He had to bid him go back in a surly tone, and his heart smote him while he did so. The dog retreated; turned with a half-incredulous, half-imploring look; came a little back; and stopped.

It was the last appeal of an old companion and a faithful friend—cast off. Barnaby could bear no more, and as he shook his head and waved his playmate home, he burst into tears.

‘Oh mother, mother, how mournful he will be when he scratches at the door, and finds it always shut!’

There was such a sense of home in the thought, that though her own eyes overflowed she would not have obliterated the recollection of it, either from her own mind or from his, for the wealth of the whole wide world.






Chapter 47

In the exhaustless catalogue of Heaven’s mercies to mankind, the power we have of finding some germs of comfort in the hardest trials must ever occupy the foremost place; not only because it supports and upholds us when we most require to be sustained, but because in this source of consolation there is something, we have reason to believe, of the divine spirit; something of that goodness which detects amidst our own evil doings, a redeeming quality; something which, even in our fallen nature, we possess in common with the angels; which had its being in the old time when they trod the earth, and lingers on it yet, in pity.

How often, on their journey, did the widow remember with a grateful heart, that out of his deprivation Barnaby’s cheerfulness and affection sprung! How often did she call to mind that but for that, he might have been sullen, morose, unkind, far removed from her—vicious, perhaps, and cruel! How often had she cause for comfort, in his strength, and hope, and in his simple nature! Those feeble powers of mind which rendered him so soon forgetful of the past, save in brief gleams and flashes,—even they were a comfort now. The world to him was full of happiness; in every tree, and plant, and flower, in every bird, and beast, and tiny insect whom a breath of summer wind laid low upon the ground, he had delight. His delight was hers; and where many a wise son would have made her sorrowful, this poor light-hearted idiot filled her breast with thankfulness and love.

Their stock of money was low, but from the hoard she had told into the blind man’s hand, the widow had withheld one guinea. This, with the few pence she possessed besides, was to two persons of their frugal habits, a goodly sum in bank. Moreover they had Grip in company; and when they must otherwise have changed the guinea, it was but to make him exhibit outside an alehouse door, or in a village street, or in the grounds or gardens of a mansion of the better sort, and scores who would have given nothing in charity, were ready to bargain for more amusement from the talking bird.

One day—for they moved slowly, and although they had many rides in carts and waggons, were on the road a week—Barnaby, with Grip upon his shoulder and his mother following, begged permission at a trim lodge to go up to the great house, at the other end of the avenue, and show his raven. The man within was inclined to give them admittance, and was indeed about to do so, when a stout gentleman with a long whip in his hand, and a flushed face which seemed to indicate that he had had his morning’s draught, rode up to the gate, and called in a loud voice and with more oaths than the occasion seemed to warrant to have it opened directly.

‘Who hast thou got here?’ said the gentleman angrily, as the man threw the gate wide open, and pulled off his hat, ‘who are these? Eh? art a beggar, woman?’

The widow answered with a curtsey, that they were poor travellers.

‘Vagrants,’ said the gentleman, ‘vagrants and vagabonds. Thee wish to be made acquainted with the cage, dost thee—the cage, the stocks, and the whipping-post? Where dost come from?’

She told him in a timid manner,—for he was very loud, hoarse, and red-faced,—and besought him not to be angry, for they meant no harm, and would go upon their way that moment.

‘Don’t be too sure of that,’ replied the gentleman, ‘we don’t allow vagrants to roam about this place. I know what thou want’st—stray linen drying on hedges, and stray poultry, eh? What hast got in that basket, lazy hound?’

‘Grip, Grip, Grip—Grip the clever, Grip the wicked, Grip the knowing—Grip, Grip, Grip,’ cried the raven, whom Barnaby had shut up on the approach of this stern personage. ‘I’m a devil I’m a devil I’m a devil, Never say die Hurrah Bow wow wow, Polly put the kettle on we’ll all have tea.’

‘Take the vermin out, scoundrel,’ said the gentleman, ‘and let me see him.’

Barnaby, thus condescendingly addressed, produced his bird, but not without much fear and trembling, and set him down upon the ground; which he had no sooner done than Grip drew fifty corks at least, and then began to dance; at the same time eyeing the gentleman with surprising insolence of manner, and screwing his head so much on one side that he appeared desirous of screwing it off upon the spot.

The cork-drawing seemed to make a greater impression on the gentleman’s mind, than the raven’s power of speech, and was indeed particularly adapted to his habits and capacity. He desired to have that done again, but despite his being very peremptory, and notwithstanding that Barnaby coaxed to the utmost, Grip turned a deaf ear to the request, and preserved a dead silence.

‘Bring him along,’ said the gentleman, pointing to the house. But Grip, who had watched the action, anticipated his master, by hopping on before them;—constantly flapping his wings, and screaming ‘cook!’ meanwhile, as a hint perhaps that there was company coming, and a small collation would be acceptable.

Barnaby and his mother walked on, on either side of the gentleman on horseback, who surveyed each of them from time to time in a proud and coarse manner, and occasionally thundered out some question, the tone of which alarmed Barnaby so much that he could find no answer, and, as a matter of course, could make him no reply. On one of these occasions, when the gentleman appeared disposed to exercise his horsewhip, the widow ventured to inform him in a low voice and with tears in her eyes, that her son was of weak mind.

‘An idiot, eh?’ said the gentleman, looking at Barnaby as he spoke. ‘And how long hast thou been an idiot?’

‘She knows,’ was Barnaby’s timid answer, pointing to his mother—‘I—always, I believe.’

‘From his birth,’ said the widow.

‘I don’t believe it,’ cried the gentleman, ‘not a bit of it. It’s an excuse not to work. There’s nothing like flogging to cure that disorder. I’d make a difference in him in ten minutes, I’ll be bound.’

‘Heaven has made none in more than twice ten years, sir,’ said the widow mildly.

‘Then why don’t you shut him up? we pay enough for county institutions, damn ‘em. But thou’d rather drag him about to excite charity—of course. Ay, I know thee.’

Now, this gentleman had various endearing appellations among his intimate friends. By some he was called ‘a country gentleman of the true school,’ by some ‘a fine old country gentleman,’ by some ‘a sporting gentleman,’ by some ‘a thorough-bred Englishman,’ by some ‘a genuine John Bull;’ but they all agreed in one respect, and that was, that it was a pity there were not more like him, and that because there were not, the country was going to rack and ruin every day. He was in the commission of the peace, and could write his name almost legibly; but his greatest qualifications were, that he was more severe with poachers, was a better shot, a harder rider, had better horses, kept better dogs, could eat more solid food, drink more strong wine, go to bed every night more drunk and get up every morning more sober, than any man in the county. In knowledge of horseflesh he was almost equal to a farrier, in stable learning he surpassed his own head groom, and in gluttony not a pig on his estate was a match for him. He had no seat in Parliament himself, but he was extremely patriotic, and usually drove his voters up to the poll with his own hands. He was warmly attached to church and state, and never appointed to the living in his gift any but a three-bottle man and a first-rate fox-hunter. He mistrusted the honesty of all poor people who could read and write, and had a secret jealousy of his own wife (a young lady whom he had married for what his friends called ‘the good old English reason,’ that her father’s property adjoined his own) for possessing those accomplishments in a greater degree than himself. In short, Barnaby being an idiot, and Grip a creature of mere brute instinct, it would be very hard to say what this gentleman was.

He rode up to the door of a handsome house approached by a great flight of steps, where a man was waiting to take his horse, and led the way into a large hall, which, spacious as it was, was tainted with the fumes of last night’s stale debauch. Greatcoats, riding-whips, bridles, top-boots, spurs, and such gear, were strewn about on all sides, and formed, with some huge stags’ antlers, and a few portraits of dogs and horses, its principal embellishments.

Throwing himself into a great chair (in which, by the bye, he often snored away the night, when he had been, according to his admirers, a finer country gentleman than usual) he bade the man to tell his mistress to come down: and presently there appeared, a little flurried, as it seemed, by the unwonted summons, a lady much younger than himself, who had the appearance of being in delicate health, and not too happy.

‘Here! Thou’st no delight in following the hounds as an Englishwoman should have,’ said the gentleman. ‘See to this here. That’ll please thee perhaps.’

The lady smiled, sat down at a little distance from him, and glanced at Barnaby with a look of pity.

‘He’s an idiot, the woman says,’ observed the gentleman, shaking his head; ‘I don’t believe it.’

‘Are you his mother?’ asked the lady.

She answered yes.

‘What’s the use of asking HER?’ said the gentleman, thrusting his hands into his breeches pockets. ‘She’ll tell thee so, of course. Most likely he’s hired, at so much a day. There. Get on. Make him do something.’

Grip having by this time recovered his urbanity, condescended, at Barnaby’s solicitation, to repeat his various phrases of speech, and to go through the whole of his performances with the utmost success. The corks, and the never say die, afforded the gentleman so much delight that he demanded the repetition of this part of the entertainment, until Grip got into his basket, and positively refused to say another word, good or bad. The lady too, was much amused with him; and the closing point of his obstinacy so delighted her husband that he burst into a roar of laughter, and demanded his price.

Barnaby looked as though he didn’t understand his meaning. Probably he did not.

‘His price,’ said the gentleman, rattling the money in his pockets, ‘what dost want for him? How much?’

‘He’s not to be sold,’ replied Barnaby, shutting up the basket in a great hurry, and throwing the strap over his shoulder. ‘Mother, come away.’

‘Thou seest how much of an idiot he is, book-learner,’ said the gentleman, looking scornfully at his wife. ‘He can make a bargain. What dost want for him, old woman?’

‘He is my son’s constant companion,’ said the widow. ‘He is not to be sold, sir, indeed.’

‘Not to be sold!’ cried the gentleman, growing ten times redder, hoarser, and louder than before. ‘Not to be sold!’

‘Indeed no,’ she answered. ‘We have never thought of parting with him, sir, I do assure you.’

He was evidently about to make a very passionate retort, when a few murmured words from his wife happening to catch his ear, he turned sharply round, and said, ‘Eh? What?’

‘We can hardly expect them to sell the bird, against their own desire,’ she faltered. ‘If they prefer to keep him—’

‘Prefer to keep him!’ he echoed. ‘These people, who go tramping about the country a-pilfering and vagabondising on all hands, prefer to keep a bird, when a landed proprietor and a justice asks his price! That old woman’s been to school. I know she has. Don’t tell me no,’ he roared to the widow, ‘I say, yes.’

Barnaby’s mother pleaded guilty to the accusation, and hoped there was no harm in it.

‘No harm!’ said the gentleman. ‘No. No harm. No harm, ye old rebel, not a bit of harm. If my clerk was here, I’d set ye in the stocks, I would, or lay ye in jail for prowling up and down, on the look-out for petty larcenies, ye limb of a gipsy. Here, Simon, put these pilferers out, shove ‘em into the road, out with ‘em! Ye don’t want to sell the bird, ye that come here to beg, don’t ye? If they an’t out in double-quick, set the dogs upon ‘em!’

They waited for no further dismissal, but fled precipitately, leaving the gentleman to storm away by himself (for the poor lady had already retreated), and making a great many vain attempts to silence Grip, who, excited by the noise, drew corks enough for a city feast as they hurried down the avenue, and appeared to congratulate himself beyond measure on having been the cause of the disturbance. When they had nearly reached the lodge, another servant, emerging from the shrubbery, feigned to be very active in ordering them off, but this man put a crown into the widow’s hand, and whispering that his lady sent it, thrust them gently from the gate.

This incident only suggested to the widow’s mind, when they halted at an alehouse some miles further on, and heard the justice’s character as given by his friends, that perhaps something more than capacity of stomach and tastes for the kennel and the stable, were required to form either a perfect country gentleman, a thoroughbred Englishman, or a genuine John Bull; and that possibly the terms were sometimes misappropriated, not to say disgraced. She little thought then, that a circumstance so slight would ever influence their future fortunes; but time and experience enlightened her in this respect.

‘Mother,’ said Barnaby, as they were sitting next day in a waggon which was to take them within ten miles of the capital, ‘we’re going to London first, you said. Shall we see that blind man there?’

She was about to answer ‘Heaven forbid!’ but checked herself, and told him No, she thought not; why did he ask?

‘He’s a wise man,’ said Barnaby, with a thoughtful countenance. ‘I wish that we may meet with him again. What was it that he said of crowds? That gold was to be found where people crowded, and not among the trees and in such quiet places? He spoke as if he loved it; London is a crowded place; I think we shall meet him there.’

‘But why do you desire to see him, love?’ she asked.

‘Because,’ said Barnaby, looking wistfully at her, ‘he talked to me about gold, which is a rare thing, and say what you will, a thing you would like to have, I know. And because he came and went away so strangely—just as white-headed old men come sometimes to my bed’s foot in the night, and say what I can’t remember when the bright day returns. He told me he’d come back. I wonder why he broke his word!’

‘But you never thought of being rich or gay, before, dear Barnaby. You have always been contented.’

He laughed and bade her say that again, then cried, ‘Ay ay—oh yes,’ and laughed once more. Then something passed that caught his fancy, and the topic wandered from his mind, and was succeeded by another just as fleeting.

But it was plain from what he had said, and from his returning to the point more than once that day, and on the next, that the blind man’s visit, and indeed his words, had taken strong possession of his mind. Whether the idea of wealth had occurred to him for the first time on looking at the golden clouds that evening—and images were often presented to his thoughts by outward objects quite as remote and distant; or whether their poor and humble way of life had suggested it, by contrast, long ago; or whether the accident (as he would deem it) of the blind man’s pursuing the current of his own remarks, had done so at the moment; or he had been impressed by the mere circumstance of the man being blind, and, therefore, unlike any one with whom he had talked before; it was impossible to tell. She tried every means to discover, but in vain; and the probability is that Barnaby himself was equally in the dark.

It filled her with uneasiness to find him harping on this string, but all that she could do, was to lead him quickly to some other subject, and to dismiss it from his brain. To caution him against their visitor, to show any fear or suspicion in reference to him, would only be, she feared, to increase that interest with which Barnaby regarded him, and to strengthen his desire to meet him once again. She hoped, by plunging into the crowd, to rid herself of her terrible pursuer, and then, by journeying to a distance and observing increased caution, if that were possible, to live again unknown, in secrecy and peace.

They reached, in course of time, their halting-place within ten miles of London, and lay there for the night, after bargaining to be carried on for a trifle next day, in a light van which was returning empty, and was to start at five o’clock in the morning. The driver was punctual, the road good—save for the dust, the weather being very hot and dry—and at seven in the forenoon of Friday the second of June, one thousand seven hundred and eighty, they alighted at the foot of Westminster Bridge, bade their conductor farewell, and stood alone, together, on the scorching pavement. For the freshness which night sheds upon such busy thoroughfares had already departed, and the sun was shining with uncommon lustre.






Chapter 48

Uncertain where to go next, and bewildered by the crowd of people who were already astir, they sat down in one of the recesses on the bridge, to rest. They soon became aware that the stream of life was all pouring one way, and that a vast throng of persons were crossing the river from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore, in unusual haste and evident excitement. They were, for the most part, in knots of two or three, or sometimes half-a-dozen; they spoke little together—many of them were quite silent; and hurried on as if they had one absorbing object in view, which was common to them all.

They were surprised to see that nearly every man in this great concourse, which still came pouring past, without slackening in the least, wore in his hat a blue cockade; and that the chance passengers who were not so decorated, appeared timidly anxious to escape observation or attack, and gave them the wall as if they would conciliate them. This, however, was natural enough, considering their inferiority in point of numbers; for the proportion of those who wore blue cockades, to those who were dressed as usual, was at least forty or fifty to one. There was no quarrelling, however: the blue cockades went swarming on, passing each other when they could, and making all the speed that was possible in such a multitude; and exchanged nothing more than looks, and very often not even those, with such of the passers-by as were not of their number.

At first, the current of people had been confined to the two pathways, and but a few more eager stragglers kept the road. But after half an hour or so, the passage was completely blocked up by the great press, which, being now closely wedged together, and impeded by the carts and coaches it encountered, moved but slowly, and was sometimes at a stand for five or ten minutes together.

After the lapse of nearly two hours, the numbers began to diminish visibly, and gradually dwindling away, by little and little, left the bridge quite clear, save that, now and then, some hot and dusty man, with the cockade in his hat, and his coat thrown over his shoulder, went panting by, fearful of being too late, or stopped to ask which way his friends had taken, and being directed, hastened on again like one refreshed. In this comparative solitude, which seemed quite strange and novel after the late crowd, the widow had for the first time an opportunity of inquiring of an old man who came and sat beside them, what was the meaning of that great assemblage.

‘Why, where have you come from,’ he returned, ‘that you haven’t heard of Lord George Gordon’s great association? This is the day that he presents the petition against the Catholics, God bless him!’

‘What have all these men to do with that?’ she said.

‘What have they to do with it!’ the old man replied. ‘Why, how you talk! Don’t you know his lordship has declared he won’t present it to the house at all, unless it is attended to the door by forty thousand good and true men at least? There’s a crowd for you!’

‘A crowd indeed!’ said Barnaby. ‘Do you hear that, mother!’

‘And they’re mustering yonder, as I am told,’ resumed the old man, ‘nigh upon a hundred thousand strong. Ah! Let Lord George alone. He knows his power. There’ll be a good many faces inside them three windows over there,’ and he pointed to where the House of Commons overlooked the river, ‘that’ll turn pale when good Lord George gets up this afternoon, and with reason too! Ay, ay. Let his lordship alone. Let him alone. HE knows!’ And so, with much mumbling and chuckling and shaking of his forefinger, he rose, with the assistance of his stick, and tottered off.

‘Mother!’ said Barnaby, ‘that’s a brave crowd he talks of. Come!’

‘Not to join it!’ cried his mother.

‘Yes, yes,’ he answered, plucking at her sleeve. ‘Why not? Come!’

‘You don’t know,’ she urged, ‘what mischief they may do, where they may lead you, what their meaning is. Dear Barnaby, for my sake—’

‘For your sake!’ he cried, patting her hand. ‘Well! It IS for your sake, mother. You remember what the blind man said, about the gold. Here’s a brave crowd! Come! Or wait till I come back—yes, yes, wait here.’

She tried with all the earnestness her fears engendered, to turn him from his purpose, but in vain. He was stooping down to buckle on his shoe, when a hackney-coach passed them rather quickly, and a voice inside called to the driver to stop.

‘Young man,’ said a voice within.

‘Who’s that?’ cried Barnaby, looking up.

‘Do you wear this ornament?’ returned the stranger, holding out a blue cockade.

‘In Heaven’s name, no. Pray do not give it him!’ exclaimed the widow.

‘Speak for yourself, woman,’ said the man within the coach, coldly. ‘Leave the young man to his choice; he’s old enough to make it, and to snap your apron-strings. He knows, without your telling, whether he wears the sign of a loyal Englishman or not.’

Barnaby, trembling with impatience, cried, ‘Yes! yes, yes, I do,’ as he had cried a dozen times already. The man threw him a cockade, and crying, ‘Make haste to St George’s Fields,’ ordered the coachman to drive on fast; and left them.

With hands that trembled with his eagerness to fix the bauble in his hat, Barnaby was adjusting it as he best could, and hurriedly replying to the tears and entreaties of his mother, when two gentlemen passed on the opposite side of the way. Observing them, and seeing how Barnaby was occupied, they stopped, whispered together for an instant, turned back, and came over to them.

‘Why are you sitting here?’ said one of them, who was dressed in a plain suit of black, wore long lank hair, and carried a great cane. ‘Why have you not gone with the rest?’

‘I am going, sir,’ replied Barnaby, finishing his task, and putting his hat on with an air of pride. ‘I shall be there directly.’

‘Say “my lord,” young man, when his lordship does you the honour of speaking to you,’ said the second gentleman mildly. ‘If you don’t know Lord George Gordon when you see him, it’s high time you should.’

‘Nay, Gashford,’ said Lord George, as Barnaby pulled off his hat again and made him a low bow, ‘it’s no great matter on a day like this, which every Englishman will remember with delight and pride. Put on your hat, friend, and follow us, for you lag behind and are late. It’s past ten now. Didn’t you know that the hour for assembling was ten o’clock?’

Barnaby shook his head and looked vacantly from one to the other.

‘You might have known it, friend,’ said Gashford, ‘it was perfectly understood. How came you to be so ill informed?’

‘He cannot tell you, sir,’ the widow interposed. ‘It’s of no use to ask him. We are but this morning come from a long distance in the country, and know nothing of these matters.’

‘The cause has taken a deep root, and has spread its branches far and wide,’ said Lord George to his secretary. ‘This is a pleasant hearing. I thank Heaven for it!’

‘Amen!’ cried Gashford with a solemn face.

‘You do not understand me, my lord,’ said the widow. ‘Pardon me, but you cruelly mistake my meaning. We know nothing of these matters. We have no desire or right to join in what you are about to do. This is my son, my poor afflicted son, dearer to me than my own life. In mercy’s name, my lord, go your way alone, and do not tempt him into danger!’

‘My good woman,’ said Gashford, ‘how can you!—Dear me!—What do you mean by tempting, and by danger? Do you think his lordship is a roaring lion, going about and seeking whom he may devour? God bless me!’

‘No, no, my lord, forgive me,’ implored the widow, laying both her hands upon his breast, and scarcely knowing what she did, or said, in the earnestness of her supplication, ‘but there are reasons why you should hear my earnest, mother’s prayer, and leave my son with me. Oh do! He is not in his right senses, he is not, indeed!’

‘It is a bad sign of the wickedness of these times,’ said Lord George, evading her touch, and colouring deeply, ‘that those who cling to the truth and support the right cause, are set down as mad. Have you the heart to say this of your own son, unnatural mother!’

‘I am astonished at you!’ said Gashford, with a kind of meek severity. ‘This is a very sad picture of female depravity.’

‘He has surely no appearance,’ said Lord George, glancing at Barnaby, and whispering in his secretary’s ear, ‘of being deranged? And even if he had, we must not construe any trifling peculiarity into madness. Which of us’—and here he turned red again—‘would be safe, if that were made the law!’

‘Not one,’ replied the secretary; ‘in that case, the greater the zeal, the truth, and talent; the more direct the call from above; the clearer would be the madness. With regard to this young man, my lord,’ he added, with a lip that slightly curled as he looked at Barnaby, who stood twirling his hat, and stealthily beckoning them to come away, ‘he is as sensible and self-possessed as any one I ever saw.’

‘And you desire to make one of this great body?’ said Lord George, addressing him; ‘and intended to make one, did you?’

‘Yes—yes,’ said Barnaby, with sparkling eyes. ‘To be sure I did! I told her so myself.’

‘I see,’ replied Lord George, with a reproachful glance at the unhappy mother. ‘I thought so. Follow me and this gentleman, and you shall have your wish.’

Barnaby kissed his mother tenderly on the cheek, and bidding her be of good cheer, for their fortunes were both made now, did as he was desired. She, poor woman, followed too—with how much fear and grief it would be hard to tell.

They passed quickly through the Bridge Road, where the shops were all shut up (for the passage of the great crowd and the expectation of their return had alarmed the tradesmen for their goods and windows), and where, in the upper stories, all the inhabitants were congregated, looking down into the street below, with faces variously expressive of alarm, of interest, expectancy, and indignation. Some of these applauded, and some hissed; but regardless of these interruptions—for the noise of a vast congregation of people at a little distance, sounded in his ears like the roaring of the sea—Lord George Gordon quickened his pace, and presently arrived before St George’s Fields.

They were really fields at that time, and of considerable extent. Here an immense multitude was collected, bearing flags of various kinds and sizes, but all of the same colour—blue, like the cockades—some sections marching to and fro in military array, and others drawn up in circles, squares, and lines. A large portion, both of the bodies which paraded the ground, and of those which remained stationary, were occupied in singing hymns or psalms. With whomsoever this originated, it was well done; for the sound of so many thousand voices in the air must have stirred the heart of any man within him, and could not fail to have a wonderful effect upon enthusiasts, however mistaken.

Scouts had been posted in advance of the great body, to give notice of their leader’s coming. These falling back, the word was quickly passed through the whole host, and for a short interval there ensued a profound and deathlike silence, during which the mass was so still and quiet, that the fluttering of a banner caught the eye, and became a circumstance of note. Then they burst into a tremendous shout, into another, and another; and the air seemed rent and shaken, as if by the discharge of cannon.

‘Gashford!’ cried Lord George, pressing his secretary’s arm tight within his own, and speaking with as much emotion in his voice, as in his altered face, ‘I am called indeed, now. I feel and know it. I am the leader of a host. If they summoned me at this moment with one voice to lead them on to death, I’d do it—Yes, and fall first myself!’

‘It is a proud sight,’ said the secretary. ‘It is a noble day for England, and for the great cause throughout the world. Such homage, my lord, as I, an humble but devoted man, can render—’

‘What are you doing?’ cried his master, catching him by both hands; for he had made a show of kneeling at his feet. ‘Do not unfit me, dear Gashford, for the solemn duty of this glorious day—’ the tears stood in the eyes of the poor gentleman as he said the words.—‘Let us go among them; we have to find a place in some division for this new recruit—give me your hand.’

Gashford slid his cold insidious palm into his master’s grasp, and so, hand in hand, and followed still by Barnaby and by his mother too, they mingled with the concourse.

They had by this time taken to their singing again, and as their leader passed between their ranks, they raised their voices to their utmost. Many of those who were banded together to support the religion of their country, even unto death, had never heard a hymn or psalm in all their lives. But these fellows having for the most part strong lungs, and being naturally fond of singing, chanted any ribaldry or nonsense that occurred to them, feeling pretty certain that it would not be detected in the general chorus, and not caring much if it were. Many of these voluntaries were sung under the very nose of Lord George Gordon, who, quite unconscious of their burden, passed on with his usual stiff and solemn deportment, very much edified and delighted by the pious conduct of his followers.

So they went on and on, up this line, down that, round the exterior of this circle, and on every side of that hollow square; and still there were lines, and squares, and circles out of number to review. The day being now intensely hot, and the sun striking down his fiercest rays upon the field, those who carried heavy banners began to grow faint and weary; most of the number assembled were fain to pull off their neckcloths, and throw their coats and waistcoats open; and some, towards the centre, quite overpowered by the excessive heat, which was of course rendered more unendurable by the multitude around them, lay down upon the grass, and offered all they had about them for a drink of water. Still, no man left the ground, not even of those who were so distressed; still Lord George, streaming from every pore, went on with Gashford; and still Barnaby and his mother followed close behind them.

They had arrived at the top of a long line of some eight hundred men in single file, and Lord George had turned his head to look back, when a loud cry of recognition—in that peculiar and half-stifled tone which a voice has, when it is raised in the open air and in the midst of a great concourse of persons—was heard, and a man stepped with a shout of laughter from the rank, and smote Barnaby on the shoulders with his heavy hand.

‘How now!’ he cried. ‘Barnaby Rudge! Why, where have you been hiding for these hundred years?’

Barnaby had been thinking within himself that the smell of the trodden grass brought back his old days at cricket, when he was a young boy and played on Chigwell Green. Confused by this sudden and boisterous address, he stared in a bewildered manner at the man, and could scarcely say ‘What! Hugh!’

‘Hugh!’ echoed the other; ‘ay, Hugh—Maypole Hugh! You remember my dog? He’s alive now, and will know you, I warrant. What, you wear the colour, do you? Well done! Ha ha ha!’

‘You know this young man, I see,’ said Lord George.

‘Know him, my lord! as well as I know my own right hand. My captain knows him. We all know him.’

‘Will you take him into your division?’

‘It hasn’t in it a better, nor a nimbler, nor a more active man, than Barnaby Rudge,’ said Hugh. ‘Show me the man who says it has! Fall in, Barnaby. He shall march, my lord, between me and Dennis; and he shall carry,’ he added, taking a flag from the hand of a tired man who tendered it, ‘the gayest silken streamer in this valiant army.’

‘In the name of God, no!’ shrieked the widow, darting forward. ‘Barnaby—my lord—see—he’ll come back—Barnaby—Barnaby!’

‘Women in the field!’ cried Hugh, stepping between them, and holding her off. ‘Holloa! My captain there!’

‘What’s the matter here?’ cried Simon Tappertit, bustling up in a great heat. ‘Do you call this order?’

‘Nothing like it, captain,’ answered Hugh, still holding her back with his outstretched hand. ‘It’s against all orders. Ladies are carrying off our gallant soldiers from their duty. The word of command, captain! They’re filing off the ground. Quick!’

‘Close!’ cried Simon, with the whole power of his lungs. ‘Form! March!’

She was thrown to the ground; the whole field was in motion; Barnaby was whirled away into the heart of a dense mass of men, and she saw him no more.






Chapter 49

The mob had been divided from its first assemblage into four divisions; the London, the Westminster, the Southwark, and the Scotch. Each of these divisions being subdivided into various bodies, and these bodies being drawn up in various forms and figures, the general arrangement was, except to the few chiefs and leaders, as unintelligible as the plan of a great battle to the meanest soldier in the field. It was not without its method, however; for, in a very short space of time after being put in motion, the crowd had resolved itself into three great parties, and were prepared, as had been arranged, to cross the river by different bridges, and make for the House of Commons in separate detachments.

At the head of that division which had Westminster Bridge for its approach to the scene of action, Lord George Gordon took his post; with Gashford at his right hand, and sundry ruffians, of most unpromising appearance, forming a kind of staff about him. The conduct of a second party, whose route lay by Blackfriars, was entrusted to a committee of management, including perhaps a dozen men: while the third, which was to go by London Bridge, and through the main streets, in order that their numbers and their serious intentions might be the better known and appreciated by the citizens, were led by Simon Tappertit (assisted by a few subalterns, selected from the Brotherhood of United Bulldogs), Dennis the hangman, Hugh, and some others.

The word of command being given, each of these great bodies took the road assigned to it, and departed on its way, in perfect order and profound silence. That which went through the City greatly exceeded the others in number, and was of such prodigious extent that when the rear began to move, the front was nearly four miles in advance, notwithstanding that the men marched three abreast and followed very close upon each other.

At the head of this party, in the place where Hugh, in the madness of his humour, had stationed him, and walking between that dangerous companion and the hangman, went Barnaby; as many a man among the thousands who looked on that day afterwards remembered well. Forgetful of all other things in the ecstasy of the moment, his face flushed and his eyes sparkling with delight, heedless of the weight of the great banner he carried, and mindful only of its flashing in the sun and rustling in the summer breeze, on he went, proud, happy, elated past all telling:—the only light-hearted, undesigning creature, in the whole assembly.

‘What do you think of this?’ asked Hugh, as they passed through the crowded streets, and looked up at the windows which were thronged with spectators. ‘They have all turned out to see our flags and streamers? Eh, Barnaby? Why, Barnaby’s the greatest man of all the pack! His flag’s the largest of the lot, the brightest too. There’s nothing in the show, like Barnaby. All eyes are turned on him. Ha ha ha!’

‘Don’t make that din, brother,’ growled the hangman, glancing with no very approving eyes at Barnaby as he spoke: ‘I hope he don’t think there’s nothing to be done, but carrying that there piece of blue rag, like a boy at a breaking up. You’re ready for action I hope, eh? You, I mean,’ he added, nudging Barnaby roughly with his elbow. ‘What are you staring at? Why don’t you speak?’

Barnaby had been gazing at his flag, and looked vacantly from his questioner to Hugh.

‘He don’t understand your way,’ said the latter. ‘Here, I’ll explain it to him. Barnaby old boy, attend to me.’

‘I’ll attend,’ said Barnaby, looking anxiously round; ‘but I wish I could see her somewhere.’

‘See who?’ demanded Dennis in a gruff tone. ‘You an’t in love I hope, brother? That an’t the sort of thing for us, you know. We mustn’t have no love here.’

‘She would be proud indeed to see me now, eh Hugh?’ said Barnaby. ‘Wouldn’t it make her glad to see me at the head of this large show? She’d cry for joy, I know she would. Where CAN she be? She never sees me at my best, and what do I care to be gay and fine if SHE’S not by?’

‘Why, what palaver’s this?’ asked Mr Dennis with supreme disdain. ‘We an’t got no sentimental members among us, I hope.’

‘Don’t be uneasy, brother,’ cried Hugh, ‘he’s only talking of his mother.’

‘Of his what?’ said Mr Dennis with a strong oath.

‘His mother.’

‘And have I combined myself with this here section, and turned out on this here memorable day, to hear men talk about their mothers!’ growled Mr Dennis with extreme disgust. ‘The notion of a man’s sweetheart’s bad enough, but a man’s mother!’—and here his disgust was so extreme that he spat upon the ground, and could say no more.

‘Barnaby’s right,’ cried Hugh with a grin, ‘and I say it. Lookee, bold lad. If she’s not here to see, it’s because I’ve provided for her, and sent half-a-dozen gentlemen, every one of ‘em with a blue flag (but not half as fine as yours), to take her, in state, to a grand house all hung round with gold and silver banners, and everything else you please, where she’ll wait till you come, and want for nothing.’

‘Ay!’ said Barnaby, his face beaming with delight: ‘have you indeed? That’s a good hearing. That’s fine! Kind Hugh!’

‘But nothing to what will come, bless you,’ retorted Hugh, with a wink at Dennis, who regarded his new companion in arms with great astonishment.

‘No, indeed?’ cried Barnaby.

‘Nothing at all,’ said Hugh. ‘Money, cocked hats and feathers, red coats and gold lace; all the fine things there are, ever were, or will be; will belong to us if we are true to that noble gentleman—the best man in the world—carry our flags for a few days, and keep ‘em safe. That’s all we’ve got to do.’

‘Is that all?’ cried Barnaby with glistening eyes, as he clutched his pole the tighter; ‘I warrant you I keep this one safe, then. You have put it in good hands. You know me, Hugh. Nobody shall wrest this flag away.’

‘Well said!’ cried Hugh. ‘Ha ha! Nobly said! That’s the old stout Barnaby, that I have climbed and leaped with, many and many a day—I knew I was not mistaken in Barnaby.—Don’t you see, man,’ he added in a whisper, as he slipped to the other side of Dennis, ‘that the lad’s a natural, and can be got to do anything, if you take him the right way? Letting alone the fun he is, he’s worth a dozen men, in earnest, as you’d find if you tried a fall with him. Leave him to me. You shall soon see whether he’s of use or not.’

Mr Dennis received these explanatory remarks with many nods and winks, and softened his behaviour towards Barnaby from that moment. Hugh, laying his finger on his nose, stepped back into his former place, and they proceeded in silence.

It was between two and three o’clock in the afternoon when the three great parties met at Westminster, and, uniting into one huge mass, raised a tremendous shout. This was not only done in token of their presence, but as a signal to those on whom the task devolved, that it was time to take possession of the lobbies of both Houses, and of the various avenues of approach, and of the gallery stairs. To the last-named place, Hugh and Dennis, still with their pupil between them, rushed straightway; Barnaby having given his flag into the hands of one of their own party, who kept them at the outer door. Their followers pressing on behind, they were borne as on a great wave to the very doors of the gallery, whence it was impossible to retreat, even if they had been so inclined, by reason of the throng which choked up the passages. It is a familiar expression in describing a great crowd, that a person might have walked upon the people’s heads. In this case it was actually done; for a boy who had by some means got among the concourse, and was in imminent danger of suffocation, climbed to the shoulders of a man beside him and walked upon the people’s hats and heads into the open street; traversing in his passage the whole length of two staircases and a long gallery. Nor was the swarm without less dense; for a basket which had been tossed into the crowd, was jerked from head to head, and shoulder to shoulder, and went spinning and whirling on above them, until it was lost to view, without ever once falling in among them or coming near the ground.

Through this vast throng, sprinkled doubtless here and there with honest zealots, but composed for the most part of the very scum and refuse of London, whose growth was fostered by bad criminal laws, bad prison regulations, and the worst conceivable police, such of the members of both Houses of Parliament as had not taken the precaution to be already at their posts, were compelled to fight and force their way. Their carriages were stopped and broken; the wheels wrenched off; the glasses shivered to atoms; the panels beaten in; drivers, footmen, and masters, pulled from their seats and rolled in the mud. Lords, commoners, and reverend bishops, with little distinction of person or party, were kicked and pinched and hustled; passed from hand to hand through various stages of ill-usage; and sent to their fellow-senators at last with their clothes hanging in ribands about them, their bagwigs torn off, themselves speechless and breathless, and their persons covered with the powder which had been cuffed and beaten out of their hair. One lord was so long in the hands of the populace, that the Peers as a body resolved to sally forth and rescue him, and were in the act of doing so, when he happily appeared among them covered with dirt and bruises, and hardly to be recognised by those who knew him best. The noise and uproar were on the increase every moment. The air was filled with execrations, hoots, and howlings. The mob raged and roared, like a mad monster as it was, unceasingly, and each new outrage served to swell its fury.

Within doors, matters were even yet more threatening. Lord George—preceded by a man who carried the immense petition on a porter’s knot through the lobby to the door of the House of Commons, where it was received by two officers of the house who rolled it up to the table ready for presentation—had taken his seat at an early hour, before the Speaker went to prayers. His followers pouring in at the same time, the lobby and all the avenues were immediately filled, as we have seen. Thus the members were not only attacked in their passage through the streets, but were set upon within the very walls of Parliament; while the tumult, both within and without, was so great, that those who attempted to speak could scarcely hear their own voices: far less, consult upon the course it would be wise to take in such extremity, or animate each other to dignified and firm resistance. So sure as any member, just arrived, with dress disordered and dishevelled hair, came struggling through the crowd in the lobby, it yelled and screamed in triumph; and when the door of the House, partially and cautiously opened by those within for his admission, gave them a momentary glimpse of the interior, they grew more wild and savage, like beasts at the sight of prey, and made a rush against the portal which strained its locks and bolts in their staples, and shook the very beams.

The strangers’ gallery, which was immediately above the door of the House, had been ordered to be closed on the first rumour of disturbance, and was empty; save that now and then Lord George took his seat there, for the convenience of coming to the head of the stairs which led to it, and repeating to the people what had passed within. It was on these stairs that Barnaby, Hugh, and Dennis were posted. There were two flights, short, steep, and narrow, running parallel to each other, and leading to two little doors communicating with a low passage which opened on the gallery. Between them was a kind of well, or unglazed skylight, for the admission of light and air into the lobby, which might be some eighteen or twenty feet below.

Upon one of these little staircases—not that at the head of which Lord George appeared from time to time, but the other—Gashford stood with his elbow on the bannister, and his cheek resting on his hand, with his usual crafty aspect. Whenever he varied this attitude in the slightest degree—so much as by the gentlest motion of his arm—the uproar was certain to increase, not merely there, but in the lobby below; from which place no doubt, some man who acted as fugleman to the rest, was constantly looking up and watching him.

‘Order!’ cried Hugh, in a voice which made itself heard even above the roar and tumult, as Lord George appeared at the top of the staircase. ‘News! News from my lord!’

The noise continued, notwithstanding his appearance, until Gashford looked round. There was silence immediately—even among the people in the passages without, and on the other staircases, who could neither see nor hear, but to whom, notwithstanding, the signal was conveyed with marvellous rapidity.

‘Gentlemen,’ said Lord George, who was very pale and agitated, ‘we must be firm. They talk of delays, but we must have no delays. They talk of taking your petition into consideration next Tuesday, but we must have it considered now. Present appearances look bad for our success, but we must succeed and will!’

‘We must succeed and will!’ echoed the crowd. And so among their shouts and cheers and other cries, he bowed to them and retired, and presently came back again. There was another gesture from Gashford, and a dead silence directly.

‘I am afraid,’ he said, this time, ‘that we have little reason, gentlemen, to hope for any redress from the proceedings of Parliament. But we must redress our own grievances, we must meet again, we must put our trust in Providence, and it will bless our endeavours.’

This speech being a little more temperate than the last, was not so favourably received. When the noise and exasperation were at their height, he came back once more, and told them that the alarm had gone forth for many miles round; that when the King heard of their assembling together in that great body, he had no doubt, His Majesty would send down private orders to have their wishes complied with; and—with the manner of his speech as childish, irresolute, and uncertain as his matter—was proceeding in this strain, when two gentlemen suddenly appeared at the door where he stood, and pressing past him and coming a step or two lower down upon the stairs, confronted the people.

The boldness of this action quite took them by surprise. They were not the less disconcerted, when one of the gentlemen, turning to Lord George, spoke thus—in a loud voice that they might hear him well, but quite coolly and collectedly:

‘You may tell these people, if you please, my lord, that I am General Conway of whom they have heard; and that I oppose this petition, and all their proceedings, and yours. I am a soldier, you may tell them, and I will protect the freedom of this place with my sword. You see, my lord, that the members of this House are all in arms to-day; you know that the entrance to it is a narrow one; you cannot be ignorant that there are men within these walls who are determined to defend that pass to the last, and before whom many lives must fall if your adherents persevere. Have a care what you do.’

‘And my Lord George,’ said the other gentleman, addressing him in like manner, ‘I desire them to hear this, from me—Colonel Gordon—your near relation. If a man among this crowd, whose uproar strikes us deaf, crosses the threshold of the House of Commons, I swear to run my sword that moment—not into his, but into your body!’

With that, they stepped back again, keeping their faces towards the crowd; took each an arm of the misguided nobleman; drew him into the passage, and shut the door; which they directly locked and fastened on the inside.

This was so quickly done, and the demeanour of both gentlemen—who were not young men either—was so gallant and resolute, that the crowd faltered and stared at each other with irresolute and timid looks. Many tried to turn towards the door; some of the faintest-hearted cried they had best go back, and called to those behind to give way; and the panic and confusion were increasing rapidly, when Gashford whispered Hugh.

‘What now!’ Hugh roared aloud, turning towards them. ‘Why go back? Where can you do better than here, boys! One good rush against these doors and one below at the same time, will do the business. Rush on, then! As to the door below, let those stand back who are afraid. Let those who are not afraid, try who shall be the first to pass it. Here goes! Look out down there!’

Without the delay of an instant, he threw himself headlong over the bannisters into the lobby below. He had hardly touched the ground when Barnaby was at his side. The chaplain’s assistant, and some members who were imploring the people to retire, immediately withdrew; and then, with a great shout, both crowds threw themselves against the doors pell-mell, and besieged the House in earnest.

At that moment, when a second onset must have brought them into collision with those who stood on the defensive within, in which case great loss of life and bloodshed would inevitably have ensued,—the hindmost portion of the crowd gave way, and the rumour spread from mouth to mouth that a messenger had been despatched by water for the military, who were forming in the street. Fearful of sustaining a charge in the narrow passages in which they were so closely wedged together, the throng poured out as impetuously as they had flocked in. As the whole stream turned at once, Barnaby and Hugh went with it: and so, fighting and struggling and trampling on fallen men and being trampled on in turn themselves, they and the whole mass floated by degrees into the open street, where a large detachment of the Guards, both horse and foot, came hurrying up; clearing the ground before them so rapidly that the people seemed to melt away as they advanced.

The word of command to halt being given, the soldiers formed across the street; the rioters, breathless and exhausted with their late exertions, formed likewise, though in a very irregular and disorderly manner. The commanding officer rode hastily into the open space between the two bodies, accompanied by a magistrate and an officer of the House of Commons, for whose accommodation a couple of troopers had hastily dismounted. The Riot Act was read, but not a man stirred.

In the first rank of the insurgents, Barnaby and Hugh stood side by side. Somebody had thrust into Barnaby’s hands when he came out into the street, his precious flag; which, being now rolled up and tied round the pole, looked like a giant quarter-staff as he grasped it firmly and stood upon his guard. If ever man believed with his whole heart and soul that he was engaged in a just cause, and that he was bound to stand by his leader to the last, poor Barnaby believed it of himself and Lord George Gordon.

After an ineffectual attempt to make himself heard, the magistrate gave the word and the Horse Guards came riding in among the crowd. But, even then, he galloped here and there, exhorting the people to disperse; and, although heavy stones were thrown at the men, and some were desperately cut and bruised, they had no orders but to make prisoners of such of the rioters as were the most active, and to drive the people back with the flat of their sabres. As the horses came in among them, the throng gave way at many points, and the Guards, following up their advantage, were rapidly clearing the ground, when two or three of the foremost, who were in a manner cut off from the rest by the people closing round them, made straight towards Barnaby and Hugh, who had no doubt been pointed out as the two men who dropped into the lobby: laying about them now with some effect, and inflicting on the more turbulent of their opponents, a few slight flesh wounds, under the influence of which a man dropped, here and there, into the arms of his fellows, amid much groaning and confusion.

At the sight of gashed and bloody faces, seen for a moment in the crowd, then hidden by the press around them, Barnaby turned pale and sick. But he stood his ground, and grasping his pole more firmly yet, kept his eye fixed upon the nearest soldier—nodding his head meanwhile, as Hugh, with a scowling visage, whispered in his ear.

The soldier came spurring on, making his horse rear as the people pressed about him, cutting at the hands of those who would have grasped his rein and forced his charger back, and waving to his comrades to follow—and still Barnaby, without retreating an inch, waited for his coming. Some called to him to fly, and some were in the very act of closing round him, to prevent his being taken, when the pole swept into the air above the people’s heads, and the man’s saddle was empty in an instant.

Then, he and Hugh turned and fled, the crowd opening to let them pass, and closing up again so quickly that there was no clue to the course they had taken. Panting for breath, hot, dusty, and exhausted with fatigue, they reached the riverside in safety, and getting into a boat with all despatch were soon out of any immediate danger.

As they glided down the river, they plainly heard the people cheering; and supposing they might have forced the soldiers to retreat, lay upon their oars for a few minutes, uncertain whether to return or not. But the crowd passing along Westminster Bridge, soon assured them that the populace were dispersing; and Hugh rightly guessed from this, that they had cheered the magistrate for offering to dismiss the military on condition of their immediate departure to their several homes, and that he and Barnaby were better where they were. He advised, therefore, that they should proceed to Blackfriars, and, going ashore at the bridge, make the best of their way to The Boot; where there was not only good entertainment and safe lodging, but where they would certainly be joined by many of their late companions. Barnaby assenting, they decided on this course of action, and pulled for Blackfriars accordingly.

They landed at a critical time, and fortunately for themselves at the right moment. For, coming into Fleet Street, they found it in an unusual stir; and inquiring the cause, were told that a body of Horse Guards had just galloped past, and that they were escorting some rioters whom they had made prisoners, to Newgate for safety. Not at all ill-pleased to have so narrowly escaped the cavalcade, they lost no more time in asking questions, but hurried to The Boot with as much speed as Hugh considered it prudent to make, without appearing singular or attracting an inconvenient share of public notice.






Chapter 50

They were among the first to reach the tavern, but they had not been there many minutes, when several groups of men who had formed part of the crowd, came straggling in. Among them were Simon Tappertit and Mr Dennis; both of whom, but especially the latter, greeted Barnaby with the utmost warmth, and paid him many compliments on the prowess he had shown.

‘Which,’ said Dennis, with an oath, as he rested his bludgeon in a corner with his hat upon it, and took his seat at the same table with them, ‘it does me good to think of. There was a opportunity! But it led to nothing. For my part, I don’t know what would. There’s no spirit among the people in these here times. Bring something to eat and drink here. I’m disgusted with humanity.’

‘On what account?’ asked Mr Tappertit, who had been quenching his fiery face in a half-gallon can. ‘Don’t you consider this a good beginning, mister?’

‘Give me security that it an’t a ending,’ rejoined the hangman. ‘When that soldier went down, we might have made London ours; but no;—we stand, and gape, and look on—the justice (I wish he had had a bullet in each eye, as he would have had, if we’d gone to work my way) says, “My lads, if you’ll give me your word to disperse, I’ll order off the military,” our people sets up a hurrah, throws up the game with the winning cards in their hands, and skulks away like a pack of tame curs as they are. Ah,’ said the hangman, in a tone of deep disgust, ‘it makes me blush for my feller creeturs. I wish I had been born a ox, I do!’

‘You’d have been quite as agreeable a character if you had been, I think,’ returned Simon Tappertit, going out in a lofty manner.

‘Don’t be too sure of that,’ rejoined the hangman, calling after him; ‘if I was a horned animal at the present moment, with the smallest grain of sense, I’d toss every man in this company, excepting them two,’ meaning Hugh and Barnaby, ‘for his manner of conducting himself this day.’

With which mournful review of their proceedings, Mr Dennis sought consolation in cold boiled beef and beer; but without at all relaxing the grim and dissatisfied expression of his face, the gloom of which was rather deepened than dissipated by their grateful influence.

The company who were thus libelled might have retaliated by strong words, if not by blows, but they were dispirited and worn out. The greater part of them had fasted since morning; all had suffered extremely from the excessive heat; and between the day’s shouting, exertion, and excitement, many had quite lost their voices, and so much of their strength that they could hardly stand. Then they were uncertain what to do next, fearful of the consequences of what they had done already, and sensible that after all they had carried no point, but had indeed left matters worse than they had found them. Of those who had come to The Boot, many dropped off within an hour; such of them as were really honest and sincere, never, after the morning’s experience, to return, or to hold any communication with their late companions. Others remained but to refresh themselves, and then went home desponding; others who had theretofore been regular in their attendance, avoided the place altogether. The half-dozen prisoners whom the Guards had taken, were magnified by report into half-a-hundred at least; and their friends, being faint and sober, so slackened in their energy, and so drooped beneath these dispiriting influences, that by eight o’clock in the evening, Dennis, Hugh, and Barnaby, were left alone. Even they were fast asleep upon the benches, when Gashford’s entrance roused them.

‘Oh! you ARE here then?’ said the Secretary. ‘Dear me!’

‘Why, where should we be, Muster Gashford!’ Dennis rejoined as he rose into a sitting posture.

‘Oh nowhere, nowhere,’ he returned with excessive mildness. ‘The streets are filled with blue cockades. I rather thought you might have been among them. I am glad you are not.’

‘You have orders for us, master, then?’ said Hugh.

‘Oh dear, no. Not I. No orders, my good fellow. What orders should I have? You are not in my service.’

‘Muster Gashford,’ remonstrated Dennis, ‘we belong to the cause, don’t we?’

‘The cause!’ repeated the secretary, looking at him in a sort of abstraction. ‘There is no cause. The cause is lost.’

‘Lost!’

‘Oh yes. You have heard, I suppose? The petition is rejected by a hundred and ninety-two, to six. It’s quite final. We might have spared ourselves some trouble. That, and my lord’s vexation, are the only circumstances I regret. I am quite satisfied in all other respects.’

As he said this, he took a penknife from his pocket, and putting his hat upon his knee, began to busy himself in ripping off the blue cockade which he had worn all day; at the same time humming a psalm tune which had been very popular in the morning, and dwelling on it with a gentle regret.

His two adherents looked at each other, and at him, as if they were at a loss how to pursue the subject. At length Hugh, after some elbowing and winking between himself and Mr Dennis, ventured to stay his hand, and to ask him why he meddled with that riband in his hat.

‘Because,’ said the secretary, looking up with something between a snarl and a smile; ‘because to sit still and wear it, or to fall asleep and wear it, is a mockery. That’s all, friend.’

‘What would you have us do, master!’ cried Hugh.

‘Nothing,’ returned Gashford, shrugging his shoulders, ‘nothing. When my lord was reproached and threatened for standing by you, I, as a prudent man, would have had you do nothing. When the soldiers were trampling you under their horses’ feet, I would have had you do nothing. When one of them was struck down by a daring hand, and I saw confusion and dismay in all their faces, I would have had you do nothing—just what you did, in short. This is the young man who had so little prudence and so much boldness. Ah! I am sorry for him.’

‘Sorry, master!’ cried Hugh.

‘Sorry, Muster Gashford!’ echoed Dennis.

‘In case there should be a proclamation out to-morrow, offering five hundred pounds, or some such trifle, for his apprehension; and in case it should include another man who dropped into the lobby from the stairs above,’ said Gashford, coldly; ‘still, do nothing.’

‘Fire and fury, master!’ cried Hugh, starting up. ‘What have we done, that you should talk to us like this!’

‘Nothing,’ returned Gashford with a sneer. ‘If you are cast into prison; if the young man—’ here he looked hard at Barnaby’s attentive face—‘is dragged from us and from his friends; perhaps from people whom he loves, and whom his death would kill; is thrown into jail, brought out and hanged before their eyes; still, do nothing. You’ll find it your best policy, I have no doubt.’

‘Come on!’ cried Hugh, striding towards the door. ‘Dennis—Barnaby—come on!’

‘Where? To do what?’ said Gashford, slipping past him, and standing with his back against it.

‘Anywhere! Anything!’ cried Hugh. ‘Stand aside, master, or the window will serve our turn as well. Let us out!’

‘Ha ha ha! You are of such—of such an impetuous nature,’ said Gashford, changing his manner for one of the utmost good fellowship and the pleasantest raillery; ‘you are such an excitable creature—but you’ll drink with me before you go?’

‘Oh, yes—certainly,’ growled Dennis, drawing his sleeve across his thirsty lips. ‘No malice, brother. Drink with Muster Gashford!’

Hugh wiped his heated brow, and relaxed into a smile. The artful secretary laughed outright.

‘Some liquor here! Be quick, or he’ll not stop, even for that. He is a man of such desperate ardour!’ said the smooth secretary, whom Mr Dennis corroborated with sundry nods and muttered oaths—‘Once roused, he is a fellow of such fierce determination!’

Hugh poised his sturdy arm aloft, and clapping Barnaby on the back, bade him fear nothing. They shook hands together—poor Barnaby evidently possessed with the idea that he was among the most virtuous and disinterested heroes in the world—and Gashford laughed again.

‘I hear,’ he said smoothly, as he stood among them with a great measure of liquor in his hand, and filled their glasses as quickly and as often as they chose, ‘I hear—but I cannot say whether it be true or false—that the men who are loitering in the streets to-night are half disposed to pull down a Romish chapel or two, and that they only want leaders. I even heard mention of those in Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and in Warwick Street, Golden Square; but common report, you know—You are not going?’

—‘To do nothing, master, eh?’ cried Hugh. ‘No jails and halter for Barnaby and me. They must be frightened out of that. Leaders are wanted, are they? Now boys!’

‘A most impetuous fellow!’ cried the secretary. ‘Ha ha! A courageous, boisterous, most vehement fellow! A man who—’

There was no need to finish the sentence, for they had rushed out of the house, and were far beyond hearing. He stopped in the middle of a laugh, listened, drew on his gloves, and, clasping his hands behind him, paced the deserted room for a long time, then bent his steps towards the busy town, and walked into the streets.

They were filled with people, for the rumour of that day’s proceedings had made a great noise. Those persons who did not care to leave home, were at their doors or windows, and one topic of discourse prevailed on every side. Some reported that the riots were effectually put down; others that they had broken out again: some said that Lord George Gordon had been sent under a strong guard to the Tower; others that an attempt had been made upon the King’s life, that the soldiers had been again called out, and that the noise of musketry in a distant part of the town had been plainly heard within an hour. As it grew darker, these stories became more direful and mysterious; and often, when some frightened passenger ran past with tidings that the rioters were not far off, and were coming up, the doors were shut and barred, lower windows made secure, and as much consternation engendered, as if the city were invaded by a foreign army.

Gashford walked stealthily about, listening to all he heard, and diffusing or confirming, whenever he had an opportunity, such false intelligence as suited his own purpose; and, busily occupied in this way, turned into Holborn for the twentieth time, when a great many women and children came flying along the street—often panting and looking back—and the confused murmur of numerous voices struck upon his ear. Assured by these tokens, and by the red light which began to flash upon the houses on either side, that some of his friends were indeed approaching, he begged a moment’s shelter at a door which opened as he passed, and running with some other persons to an upper window, looked out upon the crowd.

They had torches among them, and the chief faces were distinctly visible. That they had been engaged in the destruction of some building was sufficiently apparent, and that it was a Catholic place of worship was evident from the spoils they bore as trophies, which were easily recognisable for the vestments of priests, and rich fragments of altar furniture. Covered with soot, and dirt, and dust, and lime; their garments torn to rags; their hair hanging wildly about them; their hands and faces jagged and bleeding with the wounds of rusty nails; Barnaby, Hugh, and Dennis hurried on before them all, like hideous madmen. After them, the dense throng came fighting on: some singing; some shouting in triumph; some quarrelling among themselves; some menacing the spectators as they passed; some with great wooden fragments, on which they spent their rage as if they had been alive, rending them limb from limb, and hurling the scattered morsels high into the air; some in a drunken state, unconscious of the hurts they had received from falling bricks, and stones, and beams; one borne upon a shutter, in the very midst, covered with a dingy cloth, a senseless, ghastly heap. Thus—a vision of coarse faces, with here and there a blot of flaring, smoky light; a dream of demon heads and savage eyes, and sticks and iron bars uplifted in the air, and whirled about; a bewildering horror, in which so much was seen, and yet so little, which seemed so long, and yet so short, in which there were so many phantoms, not to be forgotten all through life, and yet so many things that could not be observed in one distracting glimpse—it flitted onward, and was gone.

As it passed away upon its work of wrath and ruin, a piercing scream was heard. A knot of persons ran towards the spot; Gashford, who just then emerged into the street, among them. He was on the outskirts of the little concourse, and could not see or hear what passed within; but one who had a better place, informed him that a widow woman had descried her son among the rioters.

‘Is that all?’ said the secretary, turning his face homewards. ‘Well! I think this looks a little more like business!’