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Barnaby Rudge

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Chapter 36

Gashford, with a smiling face, but still with looks of profound deference and humility, betook himself towards his master’s room, smoothing his hair down as he went, and humming a psalm tune. As he approached Lord George’s door, he cleared his throat and hummed more vigorously.

There was a remarkable contrast between this man’s occupation at the moment, and the expression of his countenance, which was singularly repulsive and malicious. His beetling brow almost obscured his eyes; his lip was curled contemptuously; his very shoulders seemed to sneer in stealthy whisperings with his great flapped ears.

‘Hush!’ he muttered softly, as he peeped in at the chamber-door. ‘He seems to be asleep. Pray Heaven he is! Too much watching, too much care, too much thought—ah! Lord preserve him for a martyr! He is a saint, if ever saint drew breath on this bad earth.’

Placing his light upon a table, he walked on tiptoe to the fire, and sitting in a chair before it with his back towards the bed, went on communing with himself like one who thought aloud:

‘The saviour of his country and his country’s religion, the friend of his poor countrymen, the enemy of the proud and harsh; beloved of the rejected and oppressed, adored by forty thousand bold and loyal English hearts—what happy slumbers his should be!’ And here he sighed, and warmed his hands, and shook his head as men do when their hearts are full, and heaved another sigh, and warmed his hands again.

‘Why, Gashford?’ said Lord George, who was lying broad awake, upon his side, and had been staring at him from his entrance.

‘My—my lord,’ said Gashford, starting and looking round as though in great surprise. ‘I have disturbed you!’

‘I have not been sleeping.’

‘Not sleeping!’ he repeated, with assumed confusion. ‘What can I say for having in your presence given utterance to thoughts—but they were sincere—they were sincere!’ exclaimed the secretary, drawing his sleeve in a hasty way across his eyes; ‘and why should I regret your having heard them?’

‘Gashford,’ said the poor lord, stretching out his hand with manifest emotion. ‘Do not regret it. You love me well, I know—too well. I don’t deserve such homage.’

Gashford made no reply, but grasped the hand and pressed it to his lips. Then rising, and taking from the trunk a little desk, he placed it on a table near the fire, unlocked it with a key he carried in his pocket, sat down before it, took out a pen, and, before dipping it in the inkstand, sucked it—to compose the fashion of his mouth perhaps, on which a smile was hovering yet.

‘How do our numbers stand since last enrolling-night?’ inquired Lord George. ‘Are we really forty thousand strong, or do we still speak in round numbers when we take the Association at that amount?’

‘Our total now exceeds that number by a score and three,’ Gashford replied, casting his eyes upon his papers.

‘The funds?’

‘Not VERY improving; but there is some manna in the wilderness, my lord. Hem! On Friday night the widows’ mites dropped in. “Forty scavengers, three and fourpence. An aged pew-opener of St Martin’s parish, sixpence. A bell-ringer of the established church, sixpence. A Protestant infant, newly born, one halfpenny. The United Link Boys, three shillings—one bad. The anti-popish prisoners in Newgate, five and fourpence. A friend in Bedlam, half-a-crown. Dennis the hangman, one shilling.”’

‘That Dennis,’ said his lordship, ‘is an earnest man. I marked him in the crowd in Welbeck Street, last Friday.’

‘A good man,’ rejoined the secretary, ‘a staunch, sincere, and truly zealous man.’

‘He should be encouraged,’ said Lord George. ‘Make a note of Dennis. I’ll talk with him.’

Gashford obeyed, and went on reading from his list:

‘“The Friends of Reason, half-a-guinea. The Friends of Liberty, half-a-guinea. The Friends of Peace, half-a-guinea. The Friends of Charity, half-a-guinea. The Friends of Mercy, half-a-guinea. The Associated Rememberers of Bloody Mary, half-a-guinea. The United Bulldogs, half-a-guinea.”’

‘The United Bulldogs,’ said Lord George, biting his nails most horribly, ‘are a new society, are they not?’

‘Formerly the ‘Prentice Knights, my lord. The indentures of the old members expiring by degrees, they changed their name, it seems, though they still have ‘prentices among them, as well as workmen.’

‘What is their president’s name?’ inquired Lord George.

‘President,’ said Gashford, reading, ‘Mr Simon Tappertit.’

‘I remember him. The little man, who sometimes brings an elderly sister to our meetings, and sometimes another female too, who is conscientious, I have no doubt, but not well-favoured?’

‘The very same, my lord.’

‘Tappertit is an earnest man,’ said Lord George, thoughtfully. ‘Eh, Gashford?’

‘One of the foremost among them all, my lord. He snuffs the battle from afar, like the war-horse. He throws his hat up in the street as if he were inspired, and makes most stirring speeches from the shoulders of his friends.’

‘Make a note of Tappertit,’ said Lord George Gordon. ‘We may advance him to a place of trust.’

‘That,’ rejoined the secretary, doing as he was told, ‘is all—except Mrs Varden’s box (fourteenth time of opening), seven shillings and sixpence in silver and copper, and half-a-guinea in gold; and Miggs (being the saving of a quarter’s wages), one-and-threepence.’

‘Miggs,’ said Lord George. ‘Is that a man?’

‘The name is entered on the list as a woman,’ replied the secretary. ‘I think she is the tall spare female of whom you spoke just now, my lord, as not being well-favoured, who sometimes comes to hear the speeches—along with Tappertit and Mrs Varden.’

‘Mrs Varden is the elderly lady then, is she?’

The secretary nodded, and rubbed the bridge of his nose with the feather of his pen.

‘She is a zealous sister,’ said Lord George. ‘Her collection goes on prosperously, and is pursued with fervour. Has her husband joined?’

‘A malignant,’ returned the secretary, folding up his papers. ‘Unworthy such a wife. He remains in outer darkness and steadily refuses.’

‘The consequences be upon his own head!—Gashford!’

‘My lord!’

‘You don’t think,’ he turned restlessly in his bed as he spoke, ‘these people will desert me, when the hour arrives? I have spoken boldly for them, ventured much, suppressed nothing. They’ll not fall off, will they?’

‘No fear of that, my lord,’ said Gashford, with a meaning look, which was rather the involuntary expression of his own thoughts than intended as any confirmation of his words, for the other’s face was turned away. ‘Be sure there is no fear of that.’

‘Nor,’ he said with a more restless motion than before, ‘of their—but they CAN sustain no harm from leaguing for this purpose. Right is on our side, though Might may be against us. You feel as sure of that as I—honestly, you do?’

The secretary was beginning with ‘You do not doubt,’ when the other interrupted him, and impatiently rejoined:

‘Doubt. No. Who says I doubt? If I doubted, should I cast away relatives, friends, everything, for this unhappy country’s sake; this unhappy country,’ he cried, springing up in bed, after repeating the phrase ‘unhappy country’s sake’ to himself, at least a dozen times, ‘forsaken of God and man, delivered over to a dangerous confederacy of Popish powers; the prey of corruption, idolatry, and despotism! Who says I doubt? Am I called, and chosen, and faithful? Tell me. Am I, or am I not?’

‘To God, the country, and yourself,’ cried Gashford.

‘I am. I will be. I say again, I will be: to the block. Who says as much! Do you? Does any man alive?’

The secretary drooped his head with an expression of perfect acquiescence in anything that had been said or might be; and Lord George gradually sinking down upon his pillow, fell asleep.

Although there was something very ludicrous in his vehement manner, taken in conjunction with his meagre aspect and ungraceful presence, it would scarcely have provoked a smile in any man of kindly feeling; or even if it had, he would have felt sorry and almost angry with himself next moment, for yielding to the impulse. This lord was sincere in his violence and in his wavering. A nature prone to false enthusiasm, and the vanity of being a leader, were the worst qualities apparent in his composition. All the rest was weakness—sheer weakness; and it is the unhappy lot of thoroughly weak men, that their very sympathies, affections, confidences—all the qualities which in better constituted minds are virtues—dwindle into foibles, or turn into downright vices.

Gashford, with many a sly look towards the bed, sat chuckling at his master’s folly, until his deep and heavy breathing warned him that he might retire. Locking his desk, and replacing it within the trunk (but not before he had taken from a secret lining two printed handbills), he cautiously withdrew; looking back, as he went, at the pale face of the slumbering man, above whose head the dusty plumes that crowned the Maypole couch, waved drearily and sadly as though it were a bier.

Stopping on the staircase to listen that all was quiet, and to take off his shoes lest his footsteps should alarm any light sleeper who might be near at hand, he descended to the ground floor, and thrust one of his bills beneath the great door of the house. That done, he crept softly back to his own chamber, and from the window let another fall—carefully wrapt round a stone to save it from the wind—into the yard below.

They were addressed on the back ‘To every Protestant into whose hands this shall come,’ and bore within what follows:

‘Men and Brethren. Whoever shall find this letter, will take it as a warning to join, without delay, the friends of Lord George Gordon. There are great events at hand; and the times are dangerous and troubled. Read this carefully, keep it clean, and drop it somewhere else. For King and Country. Union.’

‘More seed, more seed,’ said Gashford as he closed the window. ‘When will the harvest come!’






Chapter 37

To surround anything, however monstrous or ridiculous, with an air of mystery, is to invest it with a secret charm, and power of attraction which to the crowd is irresistible. False priests, false prophets, false doctors, false patriots, false prodigies of every kind, veiling their proceedings in mystery, have always addressed themselves at an immense advantage to the popular credulity, and have been, perhaps, more indebted to that resource in gaining and keeping for a time the upper hand of Truth and Common Sense, than to any half-dozen items in the whole catalogue of imposture. Curiosity is, and has been from the creation of the world, a master-passion. To awaken it, to gratify it by slight degrees, and yet leave something always in suspense, is to establish the surest hold that can be had, in wrong, on the unthinking portion of mankind.

If a man had stood on London Bridge, calling till he was hoarse, upon the passers-by, to join with Lord George Gordon, although for an object which no man understood, and which in that very incident had a charm of its own,—the probability is, that he might have influenced a score of people in a month. If all zealous Protestants had been publicly urged to join an association for the avowed purpose of singing a hymn or two occasionally, and hearing some indifferent speeches made, and ultimately of petitioning Parliament not to pass an act for abolishing the penal laws against Roman Catholic priests, the penalty of perpetual imprisonment denounced against those who educated children in that persuasion, and the disqualification of all members of the Romish church to inherit real property in the United Kingdom by right of purchase or descent,—matters so far removed from the business and bosoms of the mass, might perhaps have called together a hundred people. But when vague rumours got abroad, that in this Protestant association a secret power was mustering against the government for undefined and mighty purposes; when the air was filled with whispers of a confederacy among the Popish powers to degrade and enslave England, establish an inquisition in London, and turn the pens of Smithfield market into stakes and cauldrons; when terrors and alarms which no man understood were perpetually broached, both in and out of Parliament, by one enthusiast who did not understand himself, and bygone bugbears which had lain quietly in their graves for centuries, were raised again to haunt the ignorant and credulous; when all this was done, as it were, in the dark, and secret invitations to join the Great Protestant Association in defence of religion, life, and liberty, were dropped in the public ways, thrust under the house-doors, tossed in at windows, and pressed into the hands of those who trod the streets by night; when they glared from every wall, and shone on every post and pillar, so that stocks and stones appeared infected with the common fear, urging all men to join together blindfold in resistance of they knew not what, they knew not why;—then the mania spread indeed, and the body, still increasing every day, grew forty thousand strong.

So said, at least, in this month of March, 1780, Lord George Gordon, the Association’s president. Whether it was the fact or otherwise, few men knew or cared to ascertain. It had never made any public demonstration; had scarcely ever been heard of, save through him; had never been seen; and was supposed by many to be the mere creature of his disordered brain. He was accustomed to talk largely about numbers of men—stimulated, as it was inferred, by certain successful disturbances, arising out of the same subject, which had occurred in Scotland in the previous year; was looked upon as a cracked-brained member of the lower house, who attacked all parties and sided with none, and was very little regarded. It was known that there was discontent abroad—there always is; he had been accustomed to address the people by placard, speech, and pamphlet, upon other questions; nothing had come, in England, of his past exertions, and nothing was apprehended from his present. Just as he has come upon the reader, he had come, from time to time, upon the public, and been forgotten in a day; as suddenly as he appears in these pages, after a blank of five long years, did he and his proceedings begin to force themselves, about this period, upon the notice of thousands of people, who had mingled in active life during the whole interval, and who, without being deaf or blind to passing events, had scarcely ever thought of him before.

‘My lord,’ said Gashford in his ear, as he drew the curtains of his bed betimes; ‘my lord!’

‘Yes—who’s that? What is it?’

‘The clock has struck nine,’ returned the secretary, with meekly folded hands. ‘You have slept well? I hope you have slept well? If my prayers are heard, you are refreshed indeed.’

‘To say the truth, I have slept so soundly,’ said Lord George, rubbing his eyes and looking round the room, ‘that I don’t remember quite—what place is this?’

‘My lord!’ cried Gashford, with a smile.

‘Oh!’ returned his superior. ‘Yes. You’re not a Jew then?’

‘A Jew!’ exclaimed the pious secretary, recoiling.

‘I dreamed that we were Jews, Gashford. You and I—both of us—Jews with long beards.’

‘Heaven forbid, my lord! We might as well be Papists.’

‘I suppose we might,’ returned the other, very quickly. ‘Eh? You really think so, Gashford?’

‘Surely I do,’ the secretary cried, with looks of great surprise.

‘Humph!’ he muttered. ‘Yes, that seems reasonable.’

‘I hope my lord—’ the secretary began.

‘Hope!’ he echoed, interrupting him. ‘Why do you say, you hope? There’s no harm in thinking of such things.’

‘Not in dreams,’ returned the Secretary.

‘In dreams! No, nor waking either.’

—‘"Called, and chosen, and faithful,”’ said Gashford, taking up Lord George’s watch which lay upon a chair, and seeming to read the inscription on the seal, abstractedly.

It was the slightest action possible, not obtruded on his notice, and apparently the result of a moment’s absence of mind, not worth remark. But as the words were uttered, Lord George, who had been going on impetuously, stopped short, reddened, and was silent. Apparently quite unconscious of this change in his demeanour, the wily Secretary stepped a little apart, under pretence of pulling up the window-blind, and returning when the other had had time to recover, said:

‘The holy cause goes bravely on, my lord. I was not idle, even last night. I dropped two of the handbills before I went to bed, and both are gone this morning. Nobody in the house has mentioned the circumstance of finding them, though I have been downstairs full half-an-hour. One or two recruits will be their first fruit, I predict; and who shall say how many more, with Heaven’s blessing on your inspired exertions!’

‘It was a famous device in the beginning,’ replied Lord George; ‘an excellent device, and did good service in Scotland. It was quite worthy of you. You remind me not to be a sluggard, Gashford, when the vineyard is menaced with destruction, and may be trodden down by Papist feet. Let the horses be saddled in half-an-hour. We must be up and doing!’

He said this with a heightened colour, and in a tone of such enthusiasm, that the secretary deemed all further prompting needless, and withdrew.

—‘Dreamed he was a Jew,’ he said thoughtfully, as he closed the bedroom door. ‘He may come to that before he dies. It’s like enough. Well! After a time, and provided I lost nothing by it, I don’t see why that religion shouldn’t suit me as well as any other. There are rich men among the Jews; shaving is very troublesome;—yes, it would suit me well enough. For the present, though, we must be Christian to the core. Our prophetic motto will suit all creeds in their turn, that’s a comfort.’ Reflecting on this source of consolation, he reached the sitting-room, and rang the bell for breakfast.

Lord George was quickly dressed (for his plain toilet was easily made), and as he was no less frugal in his repasts than in his Puritan attire, his share of the meal was soon dispatched. The secretary, however, more devoted to the good things of this world, or more intent on sustaining his strength and spirits for the sake of the Protestant cause, ate and drank to the last minute, and required indeed some three or four reminders from John Grueby, before he could resolve to tear himself away from Mr Willet’s plentiful providing.

At length he came downstairs, wiping his greasy mouth, and having paid John Willet’s bill, climbed into his saddle. Lord George, who had been walking up and down before the house talking to himself with earnest gestures, mounted his horse; and returning old John Willet’s stately bow, as well as the parting salutation of a dozen idlers whom the rumour of a live lord being about to leave the Maypole had gathered round the porch, they rode away, with stout John Grueby in the rear.

If Lord George Gordon had appeared in the eyes of Mr Willet, overnight, a nobleman of somewhat quaint and odd exterior, the impression was confirmed this morning, and increased a hundredfold. Sitting bolt upright upon his bony steed, with his long, straight hair, dangling about his face and fluttering in the wind; his limbs all angular and rigid, his elbows stuck out on either side ungracefully, and his whole frame jogged and shaken at every motion of his horse’s feet; a more grotesque or more ungainly figure can hardly be conceived. In lieu of whip, he carried in his hand a great gold-headed cane, as large as any footman carries in these days, and his various modes of holding this unwieldy weapon—now upright before his face like the sabre of a horse-soldier, now over his shoulder like a musket, now between his finger and thumb, but always in some uncouth and awkward fashion—contributed in no small degree to the absurdity of his appearance. Stiff, lank, and solemn, dressed in an unusual manner, and ostentatiously exhibiting—whether by design or accident—all his peculiarities of carriage, gesture, and conduct, all the qualities, natural and artificial, in which he differed from other men; he might have moved the sternest looker-on to laughter, and fully provoked the smiles and whispered jests which greeted his departure from the Maypole inn.

Quite unconscious, however, of the effect he produced, he trotted on beside his secretary, talking to himself nearly all the way, until they came within a mile or two of London, when now and then some passenger went by who knew him by sight, and pointed him out to some one else, and perhaps stood looking after him, or cried in jest or earnest as it might be, ‘Hurrah Geordie! No Popery!’ At which he would gravely pull off his hat, and bow. When they reached the town and rode along the streets, these notices became more frequent; some laughed, some hissed, some turned their heads and smiled, some wondered who he was, some ran along the pavement by his side and cheered. When this happened in a crush of carts and chairs and coaches, he would make a dead stop, and pulling off his hat, cry, ‘Gentlemen, No Popery!’ to which the gentlemen would respond with lusty voices, and with three times three; and then, on he would go again with a score or so of the raggedest, following at his horse’s heels, and shouting till their throats were parched.

The old ladies too—there were a great many old ladies in the streets, and these all knew him. Some of them—not those of the highest rank, but such as sold fruit from baskets and carried burdens—clapped their shrivelled hands, and raised a weazen, piping, shrill ‘Hurrah, my lord.’ Others waved their hands or handkerchiefs, or shook their fans or parasols, or threw up windows and called in haste to those within, to come and see. All these marks of popular esteem, he received with profound gravity and respect; bowing very low, and so frequently that his hat was more off his head than on; and looking up at the houses as he passed along, with the air of one who was making a public entry, and yet was not puffed up or proud.

So they rode (to the deep and unspeakable disgust of John Grueby) the whole length of Whitechapel, Leadenhall Street, and Cheapside, and into St Paul’s Churchyard. Arriving close to the cathedral, he halted; spoke to Gashford; and looking upward at its lofty dome, shook his head, as though he said, ‘The Church in Danger!’ Then to be sure, the bystanders stretched their throats indeed; and he went on again with mighty acclamations from the mob, and lower bows than ever.

So along the Strand, up Swallow Street, into the Oxford Road, and thence to his house in Welbeck Street, near Cavendish Square, whither he was attended by a few dozen idlers; of whom he took leave on the steps with this brief parting, ‘Gentlemen, No Popery. Good day. God bless you.’ This being rather a shorter address than they expected, was received with some displeasure, and cries of ‘A speech! a speech!’ which might have been complied with, but that John Grueby, making a mad charge upon them with all three horses, on his way to the stables, caused them to disperse into the adjoining fields, where they presently fell to pitch and toss, chuck-farthing, odd or even, dog-fighting, and other Protestant recreations.

In the afternoon Lord George came forth again, dressed in a black velvet coat, and trousers and waistcoat of the Gordon plaid, all of the same Quaker cut; and in this costume, which made him look a dozen times more strange and singular than before, went down on foot to Westminster. Gashford, meanwhile, bestirred himself in business matters; with which he was still engaged when, shortly after dusk, John Grueby entered and announced a visitor.

‘Let him come in,’ said Gashford.

‘Here! come in!’ growled John to somebody without; ‘You’re a Protestant, an’t you?’

‘I should think so,’ replied a deep, gruff voice.

‘You’ve the looks of it,’ said John Grueby. ‘I’d have known you for one, anywhere.’ With which remark he gave the visitor admission, retired, and shut the door.

The man who now confronted Gashford, was a squat, thickset personage, with a low, retreating forehead, a coarse shock head of hair, and eyes so small and near together, that his broken nose alone seemed to prevent their meeting and fusing into one of the usual size. A dingy handkerchief twisted like a cord about his neck, left its great veins exposed to view, and they were swollen and starting, as though with gulping down strong passions, malice, and ill-will. His dress was of threadbare velveteen—a faded, rusty, whitened black, like the ashes of a pipe or a coal fire after a day’s extinction; discoloured with the soils of many a stale debauch, and reeking yet with pot-house odours. In lieu of buckles at his knees, he wore unequal loops of packthread; and in his grimy hands he held a knotted stick, the knob of which was carved into a rough likeness of his own vile face. Such was the visitor who doffed his three-cornered hat in Gashford’s presence, and waited, leering, for his notice.

‘Ah! Dennis!’ cried the secretary. ‘Sit down.’

‘I see my lord down yonder—’ cried the man, with a jerk of his thumb towards the quarter that he spoke of, ‘and he says to me, says my lord, “If you’ve nothing to do, Dennis, go up to my house and talk with Muster Gashford.” Of course I’d nothing to do, you know. These an’t my working hours. Ha ha! I was a-taking the air when I see my lord, that’s what I was doing. I takes the air by night, as the howls does, Muster Gashford.’

And sometimes in the day-time, eh?’ said the secretary—‘when you go out in state, you know.’

‘Ha ha!’ roared the fellow, smiting his leg; ‘for a gentleman as ‘ull say a pleasant thing in a pleasant way, give me Muster Gashford agin’ all London and Westminster! My lord an’t a bad ‘un at that, but he’s a fool to you. Ah to be sure,—when I go out in state.’

‘And have your carriage,’ said the secretary; ‘and your chaplain, eh? and all the rest of it?’

‘You’ll be the death of me,’ cried Dennis, with another roar, ‘you will. But what’s in the wind now, Muster Gashford,’ he asked hoarsely, ‘Eh? Are we to be under orders to pull down one of them Popish chapels—or what?’

‘Hush!’ said the secretary, suffering the faintest smile to play upon his face. ‘Hush! God bless me, Dennis! We associate, you know, for strictly peaceable and lawful purposes.’

‘I know, bless you,’ returned the man, thrusting his tongue into his cheek; ‘I entered a’ purpose, didn’t I!’

‘No doubt,’ said Gashford, smiling as before. And when he said so, Dennis roared again, and smote his leg still harder, and falling into fits of laughter, wiped his eyes with the corner of his neckerchief, and cried, ‘Muster Gashford agin’ all England hollow!’

‘Lord George and I were talking of you last night,’ said Gashford, after a pause. ‘He says you are a very earnest fellow.’

‘So I am,’ returned the hangman.

‘And that you truly hate the Papists.’

‘So I do,’ and he confirmed it with a good round oath. ‘Lookye here, Muster Gashford,’ said the fellow, laying his hat and stick upon the floor, and slowly beating the palm of one hand with the fingers of the other; ‘Ob-serve. I’m a constitutional officer that works for my living, and does my work creditable. Do I, or do I not?’

‘Unquestionably.’

‘Very good. Stop a minute. My work, is sound, Protestant, constitutional, English work. Is it, or is it not?’

‘No man alive can doubt it.’

‘Nor dead neither. Parliament says this here—says Parliament, “If any man, woman, or child, does anything which goes again a certain number of our acts”—how many hanging laws may there be at this present time, Muster Gashford? Fifty?’

‘I don’t exactly know how many,’ replied Gashford, leaning back in his chair and yawning; ‘a great number though.’

‘Well, say fifty. Parliament says, “If any man, woman, or child, does anything again any one of them fifty acts, that man, woman, or child, shall be worked off by Dennis.” George the Third steps in when they number very strong at the end of a sessions, and says, “These are too many for Dennis. I’ll have half for myself and Dennis shall have half for himself;” and sometimes he throws me in one over that I don’t expect, as he did three year ago, when I got Mary Jones, a young woman of nineteen who come up to Tyburn with a infant at her breast, and was worked off for taking a piece of cloth off the counter of a shop in Ludgate Hill, and putting it down again when the shopman see her; and who had never done any harm before, and only tried to do that, in consequence of her husband having been pressed three weeks previous, and she being left to beg, with two young children—as was proved upon the trial. Ha ha!—Well! That being the law and the practice of England, is the glory of England, an’t it, Muster Gashford?’

‘Certainly,’ said the secretary.

‘And in times to come,’ pursued the hangman, ‘if our grandsons should think of their grandfathers’ times, and find these things altered, they’ll say, “Those were days indeed, and we’ve been going down hill ever since.” Won’t they, Muster Gashford?’

‘I have no doubt they will,’ said the secretary.

‘Well then, look here,’ said the hangman. ‘If these Papists gets into power, and begins to boil and roast instead of hang, what becomes of my work! If they touch my work that’s a part of so many laws, what becomes of the laws in general, what becomes of the religion, what becomes of the country!—Did you ever go to church, Muster Gashford?’

‘Ever!’ repeated the secretary with some indignation; ‘of course.’

‘Well,’ said the ruffian, ‘I’ve been once—twice, counting the time I was christened—and when I heard the Parliament prayed for, and thought how many new hanging laws they made every sessions, I considered that I was prayed for. Now mind, Muster Gashford,’ said the fellow, taking up his stick and shaking it with a ferocious air, ‘I mustn’t have my Protestant work touched, nor this here Protestant state of things altered in no degree, if I can help it; I mustn’t have no Papists interfering with me, unless they come to be worked off in course of law; I mustn’t have no biling, no roasting, no frying—nothing but hanging. My lord may well call me an earnest fellow. In support of the great Protestant principle of having plenty of that, I’ll,’ and here he beat his club upon the ground, ‘burn, fight, kill—do anything you bid me, so that it’s bold and devilish—though the end of it was, that I got hung myself.—There, Muster Gashford!’

He appropriately followed up this frequent prostitution of a noble word to the vilest purposes, by pouring out in a kind of ecstasy at least a score of most tremendous oaths; then wiped his heated face upon his neckerchief, and cried, ‘No Popery! I’m a religious man, by G—!’

Gashford had leant back in his chair, regarding him with eyes so sunken, and so shadowed by his heavy brows, that for aught the hangman saw of them, he might have been stone blind. He remained smiling in silence for a short time longer, and then said, slowly and distinctly:

‘You are indeed an earnest fellow, Dennis—a most valuable fellow—the staunchest man I know of in our ranks. But you must calm yourself; you must be peaceful, lawful, mild as any lamb. I am sure you will be though.’

‘Ay, ay, we shall see, Muster Gashford, we shall see. You won’t have to complain of me,’ returned the other, shaking his head.

‘I am sure I shall not,’ said the secretary in the same mild tone, and with the same emphasis. ‘We shall have, we think, about next month, or May, when this Papist relief bill comes before the house, to convene our whole body for the first time. My lord has thoughts of our walking in procession through the streets—just as an innocent display of strength—and accompanying our petition down to the door of the House of Commons.’

‘The sooner the better,’ said Dennis, with another oath.

‘We shall have to draw up in divisions, our numbers being so large; and, I believe I may venture to say,’ resumed Gashford, affecting not to hear the interruption, ‘though I have no direct instructions to that effect—that Lord George has thought of you as an excellent leader for one of these parties. I have no doubt you would be an admirable one.’

‘Try me,’ said the fellow, with an ugly wink.

‘You would be cool, I know,’ pursued the secretary, still smiling, and still managing his eyes so that he could watch him closely, and really not be seen in turn, ‘obedient to orders, and perfectly temperate. You would lead your party into no danger, I am certain.’

‘I’d lead them, Muster Gashford,’—the hangman was beginning in a reckless way, when Gashford started forward, laid his finger on his lips, and feigned to write, just as the door was opened by John Grueby.

‘Oh!’ said John, looking in; ‘here’s another Protestant.’

‘Some other room, John,’ cried Gashford in his blandest voice. ‘I am engaged just now.’

But John had brought this new visitor to the door, and he walked in unbidden, as the words were uttered; giving to view the form and features, rough attire, and reckless air, of Hugh.






Chapter 38

The secretary put his hand before his eyes to shade them from the glare of the lamp, and for some moments looked at Hugh with a frowning brow, as if he remembered to have seen him lately, but could not call to mind where, or on what occasion. His uncertainty was very brief, for before Hugh had spoken a word, he said, as his countenance cleared up:

‘Ay, ay, I recollect. It’s quite right, John, you needn’t wait. Don’t go, Dennis.’

‘Your servant, master,’ said Hugh, as Grueby disappeared.

‘Yours, friend,’ returned the secretary in his smoothest manner. ‘What brings YOU here? We left nothing behind us, I hope?’

Hugh gave a short laugh, and thrusting his hand into his breast, produced one of the handbills, soiled and dirty from lying out of doors all night, which he laid upon the secretary’s desk after flattening it upon his knee, and smoothing out the wrinkles with his heavy palm.

‘Nothing but that, master. It fell into good hands, you see.’

‘What is this!’ said Gashford, turning it over with an air of perfectly natural surprise. ‘Where did you get it from, my good fellow; what does it mean? I don’t understand this at all.’

A little disconcerted by this reception, Hugh looked from the secretary to Dennis, who had risen and was standing at the table too, observing the stranger by stealth, and seeming to derive the utmost satisfaction from his manners and appearance. Considering himself silently appealed to by this action, Mr Dennis shook his head thrice, as if to say of Gashford, ‘No. He don’t know anything at all about it. I know he don’t. I’ll take my oath he don’t;’ and hiding his profile from Hugh with one long end of his frowzy neckerchief, nodded and chuckled behind this screen in extreme approval of the secretary’s proceedings.

‘It tells the man that finds it, to come here, don’t it?’ asked Hugh. ‘I’m no scholar, myself, but I showed it to a friend, and he said it did.’

‘It certainly does,’ said Gashford, opening his eyes to their utmost width; ‘really this is the most remarkable circumstance I have ever known. How did you come by this piece of paper, my good friend?’

‘Muster Gashford,’ wheezed the hangman under his breath, ‘agin’ all Newgate!’

Whether Hugh heard him, or saw by his manner that he was being played upon, or perceived the secretary’s drift of himself, he came in his blunt way to the point at once.

‘Here!’ he said, stretching out his hand and taking it back; ‘never mind the bill, or what it says, or what it don’t say. You don’t know anything about it, master,—no more do I,—no more does he,’ glancing at Dennis. ‘None of us know what it means, or where it comes from: there’s an end of that. Now I want to make one against the Catholics, I’m a No-Popery man, and ready to be sworn in. That’s what I’ve come here for.’

‘Put him down on the roll, Muster Gashford,’ said Dennis approvingly. ‘That’s the way to go to work—right to the end at once, and no palaver.’

‘What’s the use of shooting wide of the mark, eh, old boy!’ cried Hugh.

‘My sentiments all over!’ rejoined the hangman. ‘This is the sort of chap for my division, Muster Gashford. Down with him, sir. Put him on the roll. I’d stand godfather to him, if he was to be christened in a bonfire, made of the ruins of the Bank of England.’

With these and other expressions of confidence of the like flattering kind, Mr Dennis gave him a hearty slap on the back, which Hugh was not slow to return.

‘No Popery, brother!’ cried the hangman.

‘No Property, brother!’ responded Hugh.

‘Popery, Popery,’ said the secretary with his usual mildness.

‘It’s all the same!’ cried Dennis. ‘It’s all right. Down with him, Muster Gashford. Down with everybody, down with everything! Hurrah for the Protestant religion! That’s the time of day, Muster Gashford!’

The secretary regarded them both with a very favourable expression of countenance, while they gave loose to these and other demonstrations of their patriotic purpose; and was about to make some remark aloud, when Dennis, stepping up to him, and shading his mouth with his hand, said, in a hoarse whisper, as he nudged him with his elbow:

‘Don’t split upon a constitutional officer’s profession, Muster Gashford. There are popular prejudices, you know, and he mightn’t like it. Wait till he comes to be more intimate with me. He’s a fine-built chap, an’t he?’

‘A powerful fellow indeed!’

‘Did you ever, Muster Gashford,’ whispered Dennis, with a horrible kind of admiration, such as that with which a cannibal might regard his intimate friend, when hungry,—‘did you ever—and here he drew still closer to his ear, and fenced his mouth with both his open hands—‘see such a throat as his? Do but cast your eye upon it. There’s a neck for stretching, Muster Gashford!’

The secretary assented to this proposition with the best grace he could assume—it is difficult to feign a true professional relish: which is eccentric sometimes—and after asking the candidate a few unimportant questions, proceeded to enrol him a member of the Great Protestant Association of England. If anything could have exceeded Mr Dennis’s joy on the happy conclusion of this ceremony, it would have been the rapture with which he received the announcement that the new member could neither read nor write: those two arts being (as Mr Dennis swore) the greatest possible curse a civilised community could know, and militating more against the professional emoluments and usefulness of the great constitutional office he had the honour to hold, than any adverse circumstances that could present themselves to his imagination.

The enrolment being completed, and Hugh having been informed by Gashford, in his peculiar manner, of the peaceful and strictly lawful objects contemplated by the body to which he now belonged—during which recital Mr Dennis nudged him very much with his elbow, and made divers remarkable faces—the secretary gave them both to understand that he desired to be alone. Therefore they took their leaves without delay, and came out of the house together.

‘Are you walking, brother?’ said Dennis.

‘Ay!’ returned Hugh. ‘Where you will.’

‘That’s social,’ said his new friend. ‘Which way shall we take? Shall we go and have a look at doors that we shall make a pretty good clattering at, before long—eh, brother?’

Hugh answering in the affirmative, they went slowly down to Westminster, where both houses of Parliament were then sitting. Mingling in the crowd of carriages, horses, servants, chairmen, link-boys, porters, and idlers of all kinds, they lounged about; while Hugh’s new friend pointed out to him significantly the weak parts of the building, how easy it was to get into the lobby, and so to the very door of the House of Commons; and how plainly, when they marched down there in grand array, their roars and shouts would be heard by the members inside; with a great deal more to the same purpose, all of which Hugh received with manifest delight.

He told him, too, who some of the Lords and Commons were, by name, as they came in and out; whether they were friendly to the Papists or otherwise; and bade him take notice of their liveries and equipages, that he might be sure of them, in case of need. Sometimes he drew him close to the windows of a passing carriage, that he might see its master’s face by the light of the lamps; and, both in respect of people and localities, he showed so much acquaintance with everything around, that it was plain he had often studied there before; as indeed, when they grew a little more confidential, he confessed he had.

Perhaps the most striking part of all this was, the number of people—never in groups of more than two or three together—who seemed to be skulking about the crowd for the same purpose. To the greater part of these, a slight nod or a look from Hugh’s companion was sufficient greeting; but, now and then, some man would come and stand beside him in the throng, and, without turning his head or appearing to communicate with him, would say a word or two in a low voice, which he would answer in the same cautious manner. Then they would part, like strangers. Some of these men often reappeared again unexpectedly in the crowd close to Hugh, and, as they passed by, pressed his hand, or looked him sternly in the face; but they never spoke to him, nor he to them; no, not a word.

It was remarkable, too, that whenever they happened to stand where there was any press of people, and Hugh chanced to be looking downward, he was sure to see an arm stretched out—under his own perhaps, or perhaps across him—which thrust some paper into the hand or pocket of a bystander, and was so suddenly withdrawn that it was impossible to tell from whom it came; nor could he see in any face, on glancing quickly round, the least confusion or surprise. They often trod upon a paper like the one he carried in his breast, but his companion whispered him not to touch it or to take it up,—not even to look towards it,—so there they let them lie, and passed on.

When they had paraded the street and all the avenues of the building in this manner for near two hours, they turned away, and his friend asked him what he thought of what he had seen, and whether he was prepared for a good hot piece of work if it should come to that. ‘The hotter the better,’ said Hugh, ‘I’m prepared for anything.’—‘So am I,’ said his friend, ‘and so are many of us; and they shook hands upon it with a great oath, and with many terrible imprecations on the Papists.

As they were thirsty by this time, Dennis proposed that they should repair together to The Boot, where there was good company and strong liquor. Hugh yielding a ready assent, they bent their steps that way with no loss of time.

This Boot was a lone house of public entertainment, situated in the fields at the back of the Foundling Hospital; a very solitary spot at that period, and quite deserted after dark. The tavern stood at some distance from any high road, and was approachable only by a dark and narrow lane; so that Hugh was much surprised to find several people drinking there, and great merriment going on. He was still more surprised to find among them almost every face that had caught his attention in the crowd; but his companion having whispered him outside the door, that it was not considered good manners at The Boot to appear at all curious about the company, he kept his own counsel, and made no show of recognition.

Before putting his lips to the liquor which was brought for them, Dennis drank in a loud voice the health of Lord George Gordon, President of the Great Protestant Association; which toast Hugh pledged likewise, with corresponding enthusiasm. A fiddler who was present, and who appeared to act as the appointed minstrel of the company, forthwith struck up a Scotch reel; and that in tones so invigorating, that Hugh and his friend (who had both been drinking before) rose from their seats as by previous concert, and, to the great admiration of the assembled guests, performed an extemporaneous No-Popery Dance.






Chapter 39

The applause which the performance of Hugh and his new friend elicited from the company at The Boot, had not yet subsided, and the two dancers were still panting from their exertions, which had been of a rather extreme and violent character, when the party was reinforced by the arrival of some more guests, who, being a detachment of United Bulldogs, were received with very flattering marks of distinction and respect.

The leader of this small party—for, including himself, they were but three in number—was our old acquaintance, Mr Tappertit, who seemed, physically speaking, to have grown smaller with years (particularly as to his legs, which were stupendously little), but who, in a moral point of view, in personal dignity and self-esteem, had swelled into a giant. Nor was it by any means difficult for the most unobservant person to detect this state of feeling in the quondam ‘prentice, for it not only proclaimed itself impressively and beyond mistake in his majestic walk and kindling eye, but found a striking means of revelation in his turned-up nose, which scouted all things of earth with deep disdain, and sought communion with its kindred skies.

Mr Tappertit, as chief or captain of the Bulldogs, was attended by his two lieutenants; one, the tall comrade of his younger life; the other, a ‘Prentice Knight in days of yore—Mark Gilbert, bound in the olden time to Thomas Curzon of the Golden Fleece. These gentlemen, like himself, were now emancipated from their ‘prentice thraldom, and served as journeymen; but they were, in humble emulation of his great example, bold and daring spirits, and aspired to a distinguished state in great political events. Hence their connection with the Protestant Association of England, sanctioned by the name of Lord George Gordon; and hence their present visit to The Boot.

‘Gentlemen!’ said Mr Tappertit, taking off his hat as a great general might in addressing his troops. ‘Well met. My lord does me and you the honour to send his compliments per self.’

‘You’ve seen my lord too, have you?’ said Dennis. ‘I see him this afternoon.’

‘My duty called me to the Lobby when our shop shut up; and I saw him there, sir,’ Mr Tappertit replied, as he and his lieutenants took their seats. ‘How do YOU do?’

‘Lively, master, lively,’ said the fellow. ‘Here’s a new brother, regularly put down in black and white by Muster Gashford; a credit to the cause; one of the stick-at-nothing sort; one arter my own heart. D’ye see him? Has he got the looks of a man that’ll do, do you think?’ he cried, as he slapped Hugh on the back.

‘Looks or no looks,’ said Hugh, with a drunken flourish of his arm, ‘I’m the man you want. I hate the Papists, every one of ‘em. They hate me and I hate them. They do me all the harm they can, and I’ll do them all the harm I can. Hurrah!’

‘Was there ever,’ said Dennis, looking round the room, when the echo of his boisterous voice had died away; ‘was there ever such a game boy! Why, I mean to say, brothers, that if Muster Gashford had gone a hundred mile and got together fifty men of the common run, they wouldn’t have been worth this one.’

The greater part of the company implicitly subscribed to this opinion, and testified their faith in Hugh by nods and looks of great significance. Mr Tappertit sat and contemplated him for a long time in silence, as if he suspended his judgment; then drew a little nearer to him, and eyed him over more carefully; then went close up to him, and took him apart into a dark corner.

‘I say,’ he began, with a thoughtful brow, ‘haven’t I seen you before?’

‘It’s like you may,’ said Hugh, in his careless way. ‘I don’t know; shouldn’t wonder.’

‘No, but it’s very easily settled,’ returned Sim. ‘Look at me. Did you ever see ME before? You wouldn’t be likely to forget it, you know, if you ever did. Look at me. Don’t be afraid; I won’t do you any harm. Take a good look—steady now.’

The encouraging way in which Mr Tappertit made this request, and coupled it with an assurance that he needn’t be frightened, amused Hugh mightily—so much indeed, that he saw nothing at all of the small man before him, through closing his eyes in a fit of hearty laughter, which shook his great broad sides until they ached again.

‘Come!’ said Mr Tappertit, growing a little impatient under this disrespectful treatment. ‘Do you know me, feller?’

‘Not I,’ cried Hugh. ‘Ha ha ha! Not I! But I should like to.’

‘And yet I’d have wagered a seven-shilling piece,’ said Mr Tappertit, folding his arms, and confronting him with his legs wide apart and firmly planted on the ground, ‘that you once were hostler at the Maypole.’

Hugh opened his eyes on hearing this, and looked at him in great surprise.

‘—And so you were, too,’ said Mr Tappertit, pushing him away with a condescending playfulness. ‘When did MY eyes ever deceive—unless it was a young woman! Don’t you know me now?’

‘Why it an’t—’ Hugh faltered.

‘An’t it?’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘Are you sure of that? You remember G. Varden, don’t you?’

Certainly Hugh did, and he remembered D. Varden too; but that he didn’t tell him.

‘You remember coming down there, before I was out of my time, to ask after a vagabond that had bolted off, and left his disconsolate father a prey to the bitterest emotions, and all the rest of it—don’t you?’ said Mr Tappertit.

‘Of course I do!’ cried Hugh. ‘And I saw you there.’

‘Saw me there!’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘Yes, I should think you did see me there. The place would be troubled to go on without me. Don’t you remember my thinking you liked the vagabond, and on that account going to quarrel with you; and then finding you detested him worse than poison, going to drink with you? Don’t you remember that?’

‘To be sure!’ cried Hugh.

‘Well! and are you in the same mind now?’ said Mr Tappertit.

‘Yes!’ roared Hugh.

‘You speak like a man,’ said Mr Tappertit, ‘and I’ll shake hands with you.’ With these conciliatory expressions he suited the action to the word; and Hugh meeting his advances readily, they performed the ceremony with a show of great heartiness.

‘I find,’ said Mr Tappertit, looking round on the assembled guests, ‘that brother What’s-his-name and I are old acquaintance.—You never heard anything more of that rascal, I suppose, eh?’

‘Not a syllable,’ replied Hugh. ‘I never want to. I don’t believe I ever shall. He’s dead long ago, I hope.’

‘It’s to be hoped, for the sake of mankind in general and the happiness of society, that he is,’ said Mr Tappertit, rubbing his palm upon his legs, and looking at it between whiles. ‘Is your other hand at all cleaner? Much the same. Well, I’ll owe you another shake. We’ll suppose it done, if you’ve no objection.’

Hugh laughed again, and with such thorough abandonment to his mad humour, that his limbs seemed dislocated, and his whole frame in danger of tumbling to pieces; but Mr Tappertit, so far from receiving this extreme merriment with any irritation, was pleased to regard it with the utmost favour, and even to join in it, so far as one of his gravity and station could, with any regard to that decency and decorum which men in high places are expected to maintain.

Mr Tappertit did not stop here, as many public characters might have done, but calling up his brace of lieutenants, introduced Hugh to them with high commendation; declaring him to be a man who, at such times as those in which they lived, could not be too much cherished. Further, he did him the honour to remark, that he would be an acquisition of which even the United Bulldogs might be proud; and finding, upon sounding him, that he was quite ready and willing to enter the society (for he was not at all particular, and would have leagued himself that night with anything, or anybody, for any purpose whatsoever), caused the necessary preliminaries to be gone into upon the spot. This tribute to his great merit delighted no man more than Mr Dennis, as he himself proclaimed with several rare and surprising oaths; and indeed it gave unmingled satisfaction to the whole assembly.

‘Make anything you like of me!’ cried Hugh, flourishing the can he had emptied more than once. ‘Put me on any duty you please. I’m your man. I’ll do it. Here’s my captain—here’s my leader. Ha ha ha! Let him give me the word of command, and I’ll fight the whole Parliament House single-handed, or set a lighted torch to the King’s Throne itself!’ With that, he smote Mr Tappertit on the back, with such violence that his little body seemed to shrink into a mere nothing; and roared again until the very foundlings near at hand were startled in their beds.

In fact, a sense of something whimsical in their companionship seemed to have taken entire possession of his rude brain. The bare fact of being patronised by a great man whom he could have crushed with one hand, appeared in his eyes so eccentric and humorous, that a kind of ferocious merriment gained the mastery over him, and quite subdued his brutal nature. He roared and roared again; toasted Mr Tappertit a hundred times; declared himself a Bulldog to the core; and vowed to be faithful to him to the last drop of blood in his veins.

All these compliments Mr Tappertit received as matters of course—flattering enough in their way, but entirely attributable to his vast superiority. His dignified self-possession only delighted Hugh the more; and in a word, this giant and dwarf struck up a friendship which bade fair to be of long continuance, as the one held it to be his right to command, and the other considered it an exquisite pleasantry to obey. Nor was Hugh by any means a passive follower, who scrupled to act without precise and definite orders; for when Mr Tappertit mounted on an empty cask which stood by way of rostrum in the room, and volunteered a speech upon the alarming crisis then at hand, he placed himself beside the orator, and though he grinned from ear to ear at every word he said, threw out such expressive hints to scoffers in the management of his cudgel, that those who were at first the most disposed to interrupt, became remarkably attentive, and were the loudest in their approbation.

It was not all noise and jest, however, at The Boot, nor were the whole party listeners to the speech. There were some men at the other end of the room (which was a long, low-roofed chamber) in earnest conversation all the time; and when any of this group went out, fresh people were sure to come in soon afterwards and sit down in their places, as though the others had relieved them on some watch or duty; which it was pretty clear they did, for these changes took place by the clock, at intervals of half an hour. These persons whispered very much among themselves, and kept aloof, and often looked round, as jealous of their speech being overheard; some two or three among them entered in books what seemed to be reports from the others; when they were not thus employed one of them would turn to the newspapers which were strewn upon the table, and from the St James’s Chronicle, the Herald, Chronicle, or Public Advertiser, would read to the rest in a low voice some passage having reference to the topic in which they were all so deeply interested. But the great attraction was a pamphlet called The Thunderer, which espoused their own opinions, and was supposed at that time to emanate directly from the Association. This was always in request; and whether read aloud, to an eager knot of listeners, or by some solitary man, was certain to be followed by stormy talking and excited looks.

In the midst of all his merriment, and admiration of his captain, Hugh was made sensible by these and other tokens, of the presence of an air of mystery, akin to that which had so much impressed him out of doors. It was impossible to discard a sense that something serious was going on, and that under the noisy revel of the public-house, there lurked unseen and dangerous matter. Little affected by this, however, he was perfectly satisfied with his quarters and would have remained there till morning, but that his conductor rose soon after midnight, to go home; Mr Tappertit following his example, left him no excuse to stay. So they all three left the house together: roaring a No-Popery song until the fields resounded with the dismal noise.

‘Cheer up, captain!’ cried Hugh, when they had roared themselves out of breath. ‘Another stave!’

Mr Tappertit, nothing loath, began again; and so the three went staggering on, arm-in-arm, shouting like madmen, and defying the watch with great valour. Indeed this did not require any unusual bravery or boldness, as the watchmen of that time, being selected for the office on account of excessive age and extraordinary infirmity, had a custom of shutting themselves up tight in their boxes on the first symptoms of disturbance, and remaining there until they disappeared. In these proceedings, Mr Dennis, who had a gruff voice and lungs of considerable power, distinguished himself very much, and acquired great credit with his two companions.

‘What a queer fellow you are!’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘You’re so precious sly and close. Why don’t you ever tell what trade you’re of?’

‘Answer the captain instantly,’ cried Hugh, beating his hat down on his head; ‘why don’t you ever tell what trade you’re of?’

‘I’m of as gen-teel a calling, brother, as any man in England—as light a business as any gentleman could desire.’

‘Was you ‘prenticed to it?’ asked Mr Tappertit.

‘No. Natural genius,’ said Mr Dennis. ‘No ‘prenticing. It come by natur’. Muster Gashford knows my calling. Look at that hand of mine—many and many a job that hand has done, with a neatness and dexterity, never known afore. When I look at that hand,’ said Mr Dennis, shaking it in the air, ‘and remember the helegant bits of work it has turned off, I feel quite molloncholy to think it should ever grow old and feeble. But sich is life!’

He heaved a deep sigh as he indulged in these reflections, and putting his fingers with an absent air on Hugh’s throat, and particularly under his left ear, as if he were studying the anatomical development of that part of his frame, shook his head in a despondent manner and actually shed tears.

‘You’re a kind of artist, I suppose—eh!’ said Mr Tappertit.

‘Yes,’ rejoined Dennis; ‘yes—I may call myself a artist—a fancy workman—art improves natur’—that’s my motto.’

‘And what do you call this?’ said Mr Tappertit taking his stick out of his hand.

‘That’s my portrait atop,’ Dennis replied; ‘d’ye think it’s like?’

‘Why—it’s a little too handsome,’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘Who did it? You?’

‘I!’ repeated Dennis, gazing fondly on his image. ‘I wish I had the talent. That was carved by a friend of mine, as is now no more. The very day afore he died, he cut that with his pocket-knife from memory! “I’ll die game,” says my friend, “and my last moments shall be dewoted to making Dennis’s picter.” That’s it.’

‘That was a queer fancy, wasn’t it?’ said Mr Tappertit.

‘It WAS a queer fancy,’ rejoined the other, breathing on his fictitious nose, and polishing it with the cuff of his coat, ‘but he was a queer subject altogether—a kind of gipsy—one of the finest, stand-up men, you ever see. Ah! He told me some things that would startle you a bit, did that friend of mine, on the morning when he died.’

‘You were with him at the time, were you?’ said Mr Tappertit.

‘Yes,’ he answered with a curious look, ‘I was there. Oh! yes certainly, I was there. He wouldn’t have gone off half as comfortable without me. I had been with three or four of his family under the same circumstances. They were all fine fellows.’

‘They must have been fond of you,’ remarked Mr Tappertit, looking at him sideways.

‘I don’t know that they was exactly fond of me,’ said Dennis, with a little hesitation, ‘but they all had me near ‘em when they departed. I come in for their wardrobes too. This very handkecher that you see round my neck, belonged to him that I’ve been speaking of—him as did that likeness.’

Mr Tappertit glanced at the article referred to, and appeared to think that the deceased’s ideas of dress were of a peculiar and by no means an expensive kind. He made no remark upon the point, however, and suffered his mysterious companion to proceed without interruption.

‘These smalls,’ said Dennis, rubbing his legs; ‘these very smalls—they belonged to a friend of mine that’s left off sich incumbrances for ever: this coat too—I’ve often walked behind this coat, in the street, and wondered whether it would ever come to me: this pair of shoes have danced a hornpipe for another man, afore my eyes, full half-a-dozen times at least: and as to my hat,’ he said, taking it off, and whirling it round upon his fist—‘Lord! I’ve seen this hat go up Holborn on the box of a hackney-coach—ah, many and many a day!’

‘You don’t mean to say their old wearers are ALL dead, I hope?’ said Mr Tappertit, falling a little distance from him as he spoke.

‘Every one of ‘em,’ replied Dennis. ‘Every man Jack!’

There was something so very ghastly in this circumstance, and it appeared to account, in such a very strange and dismal manner, for his faded dress—which, in this new aspect, seemed discoloured by the earth from graves—that Mr Tappertit abruptly found he was going another way, and, stopping short, bade him good night with the utmost heartiness. As they happened to be near the Old Bailey, and Mr Dennis knew there were turnkeys in the lodge with whom he could pass the night, and discuss professional subjects of common interest among them before a rousing fire, and over a social glass, he separated from his companions without any great regret, and warmly shaking hands with Hugh, and making an early appointment for their meeting at The Boot, left them to pursue their road.

‘That’s a strange sort of man,’ said Mr Tappertit, watching the hackney-coachman’s hat as it went bobbing down the street. ‘I don’t know what to make of him. Why can’t he have his smalls made to order, or wear live clothes at any rate?’

‘He’s a lucky man, captain,’ cried Hugh. ‘I should like to have such friends as his.’

‘I hope he don’t get ‘em to make their wills, and then knock ‘em on the head,’ said Mr Tappertit, musing. ‘But come. The United B.‘s expect me. On!—What’s the matter?’

‘I quite forgot,’ said Hugh, who had started at the striking of a neighbouring clock. ‘I have somebody to see to-night—I must turn back directly. The drinking and singing put it out of my head. It’s well I remembered it!’

Mr Tappertit looked at him as though he were about to give utterance to some very majestic sentiments in reference to this act of desertion, but as it was clear, from Hugh’s hasty manner, that the engagement was one of a pressing nature, he graciously forbore, and gave him his permission to depart immediately, which Hugh acknowledged with a roar of laughter.

‘Good night, captain!’ he cried. ‘I am yours to the death, remember!’

‘Farewell!’ said Mr Tappertit, waving his hand. ‘Be bold and vigilant!’

‘No Popery, captain!’ roared Hugh.

‘England in blood first!’ cried his desperate leader. Whereat Hugh cheered and laughed, and ran off like a greyhound.

‘That man will prove a credit to my corps,’ said Simon, turning thoughtfully upon his heel. ‘And let me see. In an altered state of society—which must ensue if we break out and are victorious—when the locksmith’s child is mine, Miggs must be got rid of somehow, or she’ll poison the tea-kettle one evening when I’m out. He might marry Miggs, if he was drunk enough. It shall be done. I’ll make a note of it.’






Chapter 40

Little thinking of the plan for his happy settlement in life which had suggested itself to the teeming brain of his provident commander, Hugh made no pause until Saint Dunstan’s giants struck the hour above him, when he worked the handle of a pump which stood hard by, with great vigour, and thrusting his head under the spout, let the water gush upon him until a little stream ran down from every uncombed hair, and he was wet to the waist. Considerably refreshed by this ablution, both in mind and body, and almost sobered for the time, he dried himself as he best could; then crossed the road, and plied the knocker of the Middle Temple gate.

The night-porter looked through a small grating in the portal with a surly eye, and cried ‘Halloa!’ which greeting Hugh returned in kind, and bade him open quickly.

‘We don’t sell beer here,’ cried the man; ‘what else do you want?’

‘To come in,’ Hugh replied, with a kick at the door.

‘Where to go?’

‘Paper Buildings.’

‘Whose chambers?’

‘Sir John Chester’s.’ Each of which answers, he emphasised with another kick.

After a little growling on the other side, the gate was opened, and he passed in: undergoing a close inspection from the porter as he did so.

‘YOU wanting Sir John, at this time of night!’ said the man.

‘Ay!’ said Hugh. ‘I! What of that?’

‘Why, I must go with you and see that you do, for I don’t believe it.’

‘Come along then.’

Eyeing him with suspicious looks, the man, with key and lantern, walked on at his side, and attended him to Sir John Chester’s door, at which Hugh gave one knock, that echoed through the dark staircase like a ghostly summons, and made the dull light tremble in the drowsy lamp.

‘Do you think he wants me now?’ said Hugh.

Before the man had time to answer, a footstep was heard within, a light appeared, and Sir John, in his dressing-gown and slippers, opened the door.

‘I ask your pardon, Sir John,’ said the porter, pulling off his hat. ‘Here’s a young man says he wants to speak to you. It’s late for strangers. I thought it best to see that all was right.’

‘Aha!’ cried Sir John, raising his eyebrows. ‘It’s you, messenger, is it? Go in. Quite right, friend. I commend your prudence highly. Thank you. God bless you. Good night.’

To be commended, thanked, God-blessed, and bade good night by one who carried ‘Sir’ before his name, and wrote himself M.P. to boot, was something for a porter. He withdrew with much humility and reverence. Sir John followed his late visitor into the dressing-room, and sitting in his easy-chair before the fire, and moving it so that he could see him as he stood, hat in hand, beside the door, looked at him from head to foot.

The old face, calm and pleasant as ever; the complexion, quite juvenile in its bloom and clearness; the same smile; the wonted precision and elegance of dress; the white, well-ordered teeth; the delicate hands; the composed and quiet manner; everything as it used to be: no mark of age or passion, envy, hate, or discontent: all unruffled and serene, and quite delightful to behold.

He wrote himself M.P.—but how? Why, thus. It was a proud family—more proud, indeed, than wealthy. He had stood in danger of arrest; of bailiffs, and a jail—a vulgar jail, to which the common people with small incomes went. Gentlemen of ancient houses have no privilege of exemption from such cruel laws—unless they are of one great house, and then they have. A proud man of his stock and kindred had the means of sending him there. He offered—not indeed to pay his debts, but to let him sit for a close borough until his own son came of age, which, if he lived, would come to pass in twenty years. It was quite as good as an Insolvent Act, and infinitely more genteel. So Sir John Chester was a member of Parliament.

But how Sir John? Nothing so simple, or so easy. One touch with a sword of state, and the transformation was effected. John Chester, Esquire, M.P., attended court—went up with an address—headed a deputation. Such elegance of manner, so many graces of deportment, such powers of conversation, could never pass unnoticed. Mr was too common for such merit. A man so gentlemanly should have been—but Fortune is capricious—born a Duke: just as some dukes should have been born labourers. He caught the fancy of the king, knelt down a grub, and rose a butterfly. John Chester, Esquire, was knighted and became Sir John.

‘I thought when you left me this evening, my esteemed acquaintance,’ said Sir John after a pretty long silence, ‘that you intended to return with all despatch?’

‘So I did, master.’

‘And so you have?’ he retorted, glancing at his watch. ‘Is that what you would say?’

Instead of replying, Hugh changed the leg on which he leant, shuffled his cap from one hand to the other, looked at the ground, the wall, the ceiling, and finally at Sir John himself; before whose pleasant face he lowered his eyes again, and fixed them on the floor.

‘And how have you been employing yourself in the meanwhile?’ quoth Sir John, lazily crossing his legs. ‘Where have you been? what harm have you been doing?’

‘No harm at all, master,’ growled Hugh, with humility. ‘I have only done as you ordered.’

‘As I WHAT?’ returned Sir John.

‘Well then,’ said Hugh uneasily, ‘as you advised, or said I ought, or said I might, or said that you would do, if you was me. Don’t be so hard upon me, master.’

Something like an expression of triumph in the perfect control he had established over this rough instrument appeared in the knight’s face for an instant; but it vanished directly, as he said—paring his nails while speaking:

‘When you say I ordered you, my good fellow, you imply that I directed you to do something for me—something I wanted done—something for my own ends and purposes—you see? Now I am sure I needn’t enlarge upon the extreme absurdity of such an idea, however unintentional; so please—’ and here he turned his eyes upon him—‘to be more guarded. Will you?’

‘I meant to give you no offence,’ said Hugh. ‘I don’t know what to say. You catch me up so very short.’

‘You will be caught up much shorter, my good friend—infinitely shorter—one of these days, depend upon it,’ replied his patron calmly. ‘By-the-bye, instead of wondering why you have been so long, my wonder should be why you came at all. Why did you?’

‘You know, master,’ said Hugh, ‘that I couldn’t read the bill I found, and that supposing it to be something particular from the way it was wrapped up, I brought it here.’

‘And could you ask no one else to read it, Bruin?’ said Sir John.

‘No one that I could trust with secrets, master. Since Barnaby Rudge was lost sight of for good and all—and that’s five years ago—I haven’t talked with any one but you.’

‘You have done me honour, I am sure.’

‘I have come to and fro, master, all through that time, when there was anything to tell, because I knew that you’d be angry with me if I stayed away,’ said Hugh, blurting the words out, after an embarrassed silence; ‘and because I wished to please you if I could, and not to have you go against me. There. That’s the true reason why I came to-night. You know that, master, I am sure.’

‘You are a specious fellow,’ returned Sir John, fixing his eyes upon him, ‘and carry two faces under your hood, as well as the best. Didn’t you give me in this room, this evening, any other reason; no dislike of anybody who has slighted you lately, on all occasions, abused you, treated you with rudeness; acted towards you, more as if you were a mongrel dog than a man like himself?’

‘To be sure I did!’ cried Hugh, his passion rising, as the other meant it should; ‘and I say it all over now, again. I’d do anything to have some revenge on him—anything. And when you told me that he and all the Catholics would suffer from those who joined together under that handbill, I said I’d make one of ‘em, if their master was the devil himself. I AM one of ‘em. See whether I am as good as my word and turn out to be among the foremost, or no. I mayn’t have much head, master, but I’ve head enough to remember those that use me ill. You shall see, and so shall he, and so shall hundreds more, how my spirit backs me when the time comes. My bark is nothing to my bite. Some that I know had better have a wild lion among ‘em than me, when I am fairly loose—they had!’

The knight looked at him with a smile of far deeper meaning than ordinary; and pointing to the old cupboard, followed him with his eyes while he filled and drank a glass of liquor; and smiled when his back was turned, with deeper meaning yet.

‘You are in a blustering mood, my friend,’ he said, when Hugh confronted him again.

‘Not I, master!’ cried Hugh. ‘I don’t say half I mean. I can’t. I haven’t got the gift. There are talkers enough among us; I’ll be one of the doers.’

‘Oh! you have joined those fellows then?’ said Sir John, with an air of most profound indifference.

‘Yes. I went up to the house you told me of; and got put down upon the muster. There was another man there, named Dennis—’

‘Dennis, eh!’ cried Sir John, laughing. ‘Ay, ay! a pleasant fellow, I believe?’

‘A roaring dog, master—one after my own heart—hot upon the matter too—red hot.’

‘So I have heard,’ replied Sir John, carelessly. ‘You don’t happen to know his trade, do you?’

‘He wouldn’t say,’ cried Hugh. ‘He keeps it secret.’

‘Ha ha!’ laughed Sir John. ‘A strange fancy—a weakness with some persons—you’ll know it one day, I dare swear.’

‘We’re intimate already,’ said Hugh.

‘Quite natural! And have been drinking together, eh?’ pursued Sir John. ‘Did you say what place you went to in company, when you left Lord George’s?’

Hugh had not said or thought of saying, but he told him; and this inquiry being followed by a long train of questions, he related all that had passed both in and out of doors, the kind of people he had seen, their numbers, state of feeling, mode of conversation, apparent expectations and intentions. His questioning was so artfully contrived, that he seemed even in his own eyes to volunteer all this information rather than to have it wrested from him; and he was brought to this state of feeling so naturally, that when Mr Chester yawned at length and declared himself quite wearied out, he made a rough kind of excuse for having talked so much.

‘There—get you gone,’ said Sir John, holding the door open in his hand. ‘You have made a pretty evening’s work. I told you not to do this. You may get into trouble. You’ll have an opportunity of revenging yourself on your proud friend Haredale, though, and for that, you’d hazard anything, I suppose?’

‘I would,’ retorted Hugh, stopping in his passage out and looking back; ‘but what do I risk! What do I stand a chance of losing, master? Friends, home? A fig for ‘em all; I have none; they are nothing to me. Give me a good scuffle; let me pay off old scores in a bold riot where there are men to stand by me; and then use me as you like—it don’t matter much to me what the end is!’

‘What have you done with that paper?’ said Sir John.

‘I have it here, master.’

‘Drop it again as you go along; it’s as well not to keep such things about you.’

Hugh nodded, and touching his cap with an air of as much respect as he could summon up, departed.

Sir John, fastening the doors behind him, went back to his dressing-room, and sat down once again before the fire, at which he gazed for a long time, in earnest meditation.

‘This happens fortunately,’ he said, breaking into a smile, ‘and promises well. Let me see. My relative and I, who are the most Protestant fellows in the world, give our worst wishes to the Roman Catholic cause; and to Saville, who introduces their bill, I have a personal objection besides; but as each of us has himself for the first article in his creed, we cannot commit ourselves by joining with a very extravagant madman, such as this Gordon most undoubtedly is. Now really, to foment his disturbances in secret, through the medium of such a very apt instrument as my savage friend here, may further our real ends; and to express at all becoming seasons, in moderate and polite terms, a disapprobation of his proceedings, though we agree with him in principle, will certainly be to gain a character for honesty and uprightness of purpose, which cannot fail to do us infinite service, and to raise us into some importance. Good! So much for public grounds. As to private considerations, I confess that if these vagabonds WOULD make some riotous demonstration (which does not appear impossible), and WOULD inflict some little chastisement on Haredale as a not inactive man among his sect, it would be extremely agreeable to my feelings, and would amuse me beyond measure. Good again! Perhaps better!’

When he came to this point, he took a pinch of snuff; then beginning slowly to undress, he resumed his meditations, by saying with a smile:

‘I fear, I DO fear exceedingly, that my friend is following fast in the footsteps of his mother. His intimacy with Mr Dennis is very ominous. But I have no doubt he must have come to that end any way. If I lend him a helping hand, the only difference is, that he may, upon the whole, possibly drink a few gallons, or puncheons, or hogsheads, less in this life than he otherwise would. It’s no business of mine. It’s a matter of very small importance!’

So he took another pinch of snuff, and went to bed.