Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens - HTML preview
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A homely proverb recognises the existence of a troublesome class of persons who, having an inch conceded them, will take an ell. Not to quote the illustrious examples of those heroic scourges of mankind, whose amiable path in life has been from birth to death through blood, and fire, and ruin, and who would seem to have existed for no better purpose than to teach mankind that as the absence of pain is pleasure, so the earth, purged of their presence, may be deemed a blessed place--not to quote such mighty instances, it will be sufficient to refer to old John Willet.
Old John having long encroached a good standard inch, full measure, on the liberty of Joe, and having snipped off a Flemish ell in the matter of the parole, grew so despotic and so great, that his thirst for conquest knew no bounds. The more young Joe submitted, the more absolute old John became. The ell soon faded into nothing. Yards, furlongs, miles arose; and on went old John in the pleasantest manner possible, trimming off an exuberance in this place, shearing away some liberty of speech or action in that, and conducting himself in his small way with as much high mightiness and majesty, as the most glorious tyrant that ever had his statue reared in the public ways, of ancient or of modern times.
As great men are urged on to the abuse of power (when they need urging, which is not often), by their flatterers and dependents, so old John was impelled to these exercises of authority by the applause and admiration of his Maypole cronies, who, in the intervals of their nightly pipes and pots, would shake their heads and say that Mr Willet was a father of the good old English sort; that there were no new-fangled notions or modern ways in him; that he put them in mind of what their fathers were when they were boys; that there was no mistake about him; that it would be well for the country if there were more like him, and more was the pity that there were not; with many other original remarks of that nature. Then they would condescendingly give Joe to understand that it was all for his good, and he would be thankful for it one day; and in particular, Mr Cobb would acquaint him, that when he was his age, his father thought no more of giving him a parental kick, or a box on the ears, or a cuff on the head, or some little admonition of that sort, than he did of any other ordinary duty of life; and he would further remark, with looks of great significance, that but for this judicious bringing up, he might have never been the man he was at that present speaking; which was probable enough, as he was, beyond all question, the dullest dog of the party. In short, between old John and old John's friends, there never was an unfortunate young fellow so bullied, badgered, worried, fretted, and brow-beaten; so constantly beset, or made so tired of his life, as poor Joe Willet.
This had come to be the recognised and established state of things; but as John was very anxious to flourish his supremacy before the eyes of Mr Chester, he did that day exceed himself, and did so goad and chafe his son and heir, that but for Joe's having made a solemn vow to keep his hands in his pockets when they were not otherwise engaged, it is impossible to say what he might have done with them. But the longest day has an end, and at length Mr Chester came downstairs to mount his horse, which was ready at the door.
As old John was not in the way at the moment, Joe, who was sitting in the bar ruminating on his dismal fate and the manifold perfections of Dolly Varden, ran out to hold the guest's stirrup and assist him to mount. Mr Chester was scarcely in the saddle, and Joe was in the very act of making him a graceful bow, when old John came diving out of the porch, and collared him.
'None of that, sir,' said John, 'none of that, sir. No breaking of patroles. How dare you come out of the door, sir, without leave? You're trying to get away, sir, are you, and to make a traitor of yourself again? What do you mean, sir?'
'Let me go, father,' said Joe, imploringly, as he marked the smile upon their visitor's face, and observed the pleasure his disgrace afforded him. 'This is too bad. Who wants to get away?'
'Who wants to get away!' cried John, shaking him. 'Why you do, sir, you do. You're the boy, sir,' added John, collaring with one band, and aiding the effect of a farewell bow to the visitor with the other, 'that wants to sneak into houses, and stir up differences between noble gentlemen and their sons, are you, eh? Hold your tongue, sir.'
Joe made no effort to reply. It was the crowning circumstance of his degradation. He extricated himself from his father's grasp, darted an angry look at the departing guest, and returned into the house.
'But for her,' thought Joe, as he threw his arms upon a table in the common room, and laid his head upon them, 'but for Dolly, who I couldn't bear should think me the rascal they would make me out to be if I ran away, this house and I should part to-night.'
It being evening by this time, Solomon Daisy, Tom Cobb, and Long Parkes, were all in the common room too, and had from the window been witnesses of what had just occurred. Mr Willet joining them soon afterwards, received the compliments of the company with great composure, and lighting his pipe, sat down among them.'We'll see, gentlemen,' said John, after a long pause, 'who's the master of this house, and who isn't. We'll see whether boys are to govern men, or men are to govern boys.' 'And quite right too,' assented Solomon Daisy with some approving nods; 'quite right, Johnny. Very good, Johnny. Well said, Mr Willet. Brayvo, sir.'
John slowly brought his eyes to bear upon him, looked at him for a long time, and finally made answer, to the unspeakable consternation of his hearers, 'When I want encouragement from you, sir, I'll ask you for it. You let me alone, sir. I can get on without you, I hope. Don't you tackle me, sir, if you please.'
'Don't take it ill, Johnny; I didn't mean any harm,' pleaded the little man.
'Very good, sir,' said John, more than usually obstinate after his late success. 'Never mind, sir. I can stand pretty firm of myself, sir, I believe, without being shored up by you.' And having given utterance to this retort, Mr Willet fixed his eyes upon the boiler, and fell into a kind of tobacco-trance.
The spirits of the company being somewhat damped by this embarrassing line of conduct on the part of their host, nothing more was said for a long time; but at length Mr Cobb took upon himself to remark, as he rose to knock the ashes out of his pipe, that he hoped Joe would thenceforth learn to obey his father in all things; that he had found, that day, he was not one of the sort of men who were to be trifled with; and that he would recommend him, poetically speaking, to mind his eye for the future.'I'd recommend you, in return,' said Joe, looking up with a flushed face, 'not to talk to me.' 'Hold your tongue, sir,' cried Mr Willet, suddenly rousing himself, and turning round.
'I won't, father,' cried Joe, smiting the table with his fist, so that the jugs and glasses rung again; 'these things are hard enough to bear from you; from anybody else I never will endure them any more. Therefore I say, Mr Cobb, don't talk to me.''Why, who are you,' said Mr Cobb, sneeringly, 'that you're not to be talked to, eh, Joe?'
To which Joe returned no answer, but with a very ominous shake of the head, resumed his old position, which he would have peacefully preserved until the house shut up at night, but that Mr Cobb, stimulated by the wonder of the company at the young man's presumption, retorted with sundry taunts, which proved too much for flesh and blood to bear. Crowding into one moment the vexation and the wrath of years, Joe started up, overturned the table, fell upon his long enemy, pummelled him with all his might and main, and finished by driving him with surprising swiftness against a heap of spittoons in one corner; plunging into which, head foremost, with a tremendous crash, he lay at full length among the ruins, stunned and motionless. Then, without waiting to receive the compliments of the bystanders on the victory be had won, he retreated to his own bedchamber, and considering himself in a state of siege, piled all the portable furniture against the door by way of barricade.
'I have done it now,' said Joe, as he sat down upon his bedstead and wiped his heated face. 'I knew it would come at last. The Maypole and I must part company. I'm a roving vagabond--she hates me for evermore--it's all over!'
Pondering on his unhappy lot, Joe sat and listened for a long time, expecting every moment to hear their creaking footsteps on the stairs, or to be greeted by his worthy father with a summons to capitulate unconditionally, and deliver himself up straightway. But neither voice nor footstep came; and though some distant echoes, as of closing doors and people hurrying in and out of rooms, resounding from time to time through the great passages, and penetrating to his remote seclusion, gave note of unusual commotion downstairs, no nearer sound disturbed his place of retreat, which seemed the quieter for these far-off noises, and was as dull and full of gloom as any hermit's cell.
It came on darker and darker. The old-fashioned furniture of the chamber, which was a kind of hospital for all the invalided movables in the house, grew indistinct and shadowy in its many shapes; chairs and tables, which by day were as honest cripples as need be, assumed a doubtful and mysterious character; and one old leprous screen of faded India leather and gold binding, which had kept out many a cold breath of air in days of yore and shut in many a jolly face, frowned on him with a spectral aspect, and stood at full height in its allotted corner, like some gaunt ghost who waited to be questioned. A portrait opposite the window--a queer, old grey-eyed general, in an oval frame--seemed to wink and doze as the light decayed, and at length, when the last faint glimmering speck of day went out, to shut its eyes in good earnest, and fall sound asleep. There was such a hush and mystery about everything, that Joe could not help following its example; and so went off into a slumber likewise, and dreamed of Dolly, till the clock of Chigwell church struck two.
Still nobody came. The distant noises in the house had ceased, and out of doors all was quiet; save for the occasional barking of some deep-mouthed dog, and the shaking of the branches by the night wind. He gazed mournfully out of window at each well-known object as it lay sleeping in the dim light of the moon; and creeping back to his former seat, thought about the late uproar, until, with long thinking of, it seemed to have occurred a month ago. Thus, between dozing, and thinking, and walking to the window and looking out, the night wore away; the grim old screen, and the kindred chairs and tables, began slowly to reveal themselves in their accustomed forms; the grey-eyed general seemed to wink and yawn and rouse himself; and at last he was broad awake again, and very uncomfortable and cold and haggard he looked, in the dull grey light of morning.
The sun had begun to peep above the forest trees, and already flung across the curling mist bright bars of gold, when Joe dropped from his window on the ground below, a little bundle and his trusty stick, and prepared to descend himself.
It was not a very difficult task; for there were so many projections and gable ends in the way, that they formed a series of clumsy steps, with no greater obstacle than a jump of some few feet at last. Joe, with his stick and bundle on his shoulder, quickly stood on the firm earth, and looked up at the old Maypole, it might be for the last time.
He didn't apostrophise it, for he was no great scholar. He didn't curse it, for he had little ill-will to give to anything on earth. He felt more affectionate and kind to it than ever he had done in all his life before, so said with all his heart, 'God bless you!' as a parting wish, and turned away.
He walked along at a brisk pace, big with great thoughts of going for a soldier and dying in some foreign country where it was very hot and sandy, and leaving God knows what unheard-of wealth in prize-money to Dolly, who would be very much affected when she came to know of it; and full of such youthful visions, which were sometimes sanguine and sometimes melancholy, but always had her for their main point and centre, pushed on vigorously until the noise of London sounded in his ears, and the Black Lion hove in sight.
It was only eight o'clock then, and very much astonished the Black Lion was, to see him come walking in with dust upon his feet at that early hour, with no grey mare to bear him company. But as he ordered breakfast to be got ready with all speed, and on its being set before him gave indisputable tokens of a hearty appetite, the Lion received him, as usual, with a hospitable welcome; and treated him with those marks of distinction, which, as a regular customer, and one within the freemasonry of the trade, he had a right to claim.
This Lion or landlord,--for he was called both man and beast, by reason of his having instructed the artist who painted his sign, to convey into the features of the lordly brute whose effigy it bore, as near a counterpart of his own face as his skill could compass and devise,--was a gentleman almost as quick of apprehension, and of almost as subtle a wit, as the mighty John himself. But the difference between them lay in this: that whereas Mr Willet's extreme sagacity and acuteness were the efforts of unassisted nature, the Lion stood indebted, in no small amount, to beer; of which he swigged such copious draughts, that most of his faculties were utterly drowned and washed away, except the one great faculty of sleep, which he retained in surprising perfection. The creaking Lion over the house-door was, therefore, to say the truth, rather a drowsy, tame, and feeble lion; and as these social representatives of a savage class are usually of a conventional character (being depicted, for the most part, in impossible attitudes and of unearthly colours), he was frequently supposed by the more ignorant and uninformed among the neighbours, to be the veritable portrait of the host as he appeared on the occasion of some great funeral ceremony or public mourning.'What noisy fellow is that in the next room?' said Joe, when he had disposed of his breakfast, and had washed and brushed himself.
'A recruiting serjeant,' replied the Lion. Joe started involuntarily. Here was the very thing he had been dreaming of, all the way along.
'And I wish,' said the Lion, 'he was anywhere else but here. The party make noise enough, but don't call for much. There's great cry there, Mr Willet, but very little wool. Your father wouldn't like 'em, I know.'Perhaps not much under any circumstances. Perhaps if he could have known what was passing at that moment in Joe's mind, he would have liked them still less. 'Is he recruiting for a--for a fine regiment?' said Joe, glancing at a little round mirror that hung in the bar.
'I believe he is,' replied the host. 'It's much the same thing, whatever regiment he's recruiting for. I'm told there an't a deal of difference between a fine man and another one, when they're shot through and through.''They're not all shot,' said Joe. 'No,' the Lion answered, 'not all. Those that are--supposing it's done easy--are the best off in my opinion.' 'Ah!' retorted Joe, 'but you don't care for glory.' 'For what?' said the Lion. 'Glory.'
'No,' returned the Lion, with supreme indifference. 'I don't. You're right in that, Mr Willet. When Glory comes here, and calls for anything to drink and changes a guinea to pay for it, I'll give it him for nothing. It's my belief, sir, that the Glory's arms wouldn't do a very strong business.'
These remarks were not at all comforting. Joe walked out, stopped at the door of the next room, and listened. The serjeant was describing a military life. It was all drinking, he said, except that there were frequent intervals of eating and love-making. A battle was the finest thing in the world--when your side won it-- and Englishmen always did that. 'Supposing you should be killed, sir?' said a timid voice in one corner. 'Well, sir, supposing you should be,' said the serjeant, 'what then? Your country loves you, sir; his Majesty King George the Third loves you; your memory is honoured, revered, respected; everybody's fond of you, and grateful to you; your name's wrote down at full length in a book in the War Office. Damme, gentlemen, we must all die some time, or another, eh?'
The voice coughed, and said no more. Joe walked into the room. A group of half-a-dozen fellows had gathered together in the taproom, and were listening with greedy ears. One of them, a carter in a smockfrock, seemed wavering and disposed to enlist. The rest, who were by no means disposed, strongly urged him to do so (according to the custom of mankind), backed the serjeant's arguments, and grinned among themselves. 'I say nothing, boys,' said the serjeant, who sat a little apart, drinking his liquor. 'For lads of spirit'--here he cast an eye on Joe--'this is the time. I don't want to inveigle you. The king's not come to that, I hope. Brisk young blood is what we want; not milk and water. We won't take five men out of six. We want top- sawyers, we do. I'm not a-going to tell tales out of school, but, damme, if every gentleman's son that carries arms in our corps, through being under a cloud and having little differences with his relations, was counted up'--here his eye fell on Joe again, and so good-naturedly, that Joe beckoned him out. He came directly.'You're a gentleman, by G--!' was his first remark, as he slapped him on the back. 'You're a gentleman in disguise. So am I. Let's swear a friendship.' Joe didn't exactly do that, but he shook hands with him, and thanked him for his good opinion. 'You want to serve,' said his new friend. 'You shall. You were made for it. You're one of us by nature. What'll you take to drink?' 'Nothing just now,' replied Joe, smiling faintly. 'I haven't quite made up my mind.' 'A mettlesome fellow like you, and not made up his mind!' cried the serjeant. 'Here--let me give the bell a pull, and you'll make up your mind in half a minute, I know.'
'You're right so far'--answered Joe, 'for if you pull the bell here, where I'm known, there'll be an end of my soldiering inclinations in no time. Look in my face. You see me, do you?'
'I do,' replied the serjeant with an oath, 'and a finer young fellow or one better qualified to serve his king and country, I never set my--' he used an adjective in this place--'eyes on.'Thank you,' said Joe, 'I didn't ask you for want of a compliment, but thank you all the same. Do I look like a sneaking fellow or a liar?'
The serjeant rejoined with many choice asseverations that he didn't; and that if his (the serjeant's) own father were to say he did, he would run the old gentleman through the body cheerfully, and consider it a meritorious action.
Joe expressed his obligations, and continued, 'You can trust me then, and credit what I say. I believe I shall enlist in your regiment to-night. The reason I don't do so now is, because I don't want until to-night, to do what I can't recall. Where shall I find you, this evening?'
His friend replied with some unwillingness, and after much ineffectual entreaty having for its object the immediate settlement of the business, that his quarters would be at the Crooked Billet in Tower Street; where he would be found waking until midnight, and sleeping until breakfast time to-morrow.
'You're the kind of lad for us,' cried the serjeant, holding Joe's hand in his, in the excess of his admiration. 'You're the boy to push your fortune. I don't say it because I bear you any envy, or would take away from the credit of the rise you'll make, but if I had been bred and taught like you, I'd have been a colonel by this time.'
'Tush, man!' said Joe, 'I'm not so young as that. Needs must when the devil drives; and the devil that drives me is an empty pocket and an unhappy home. For the present, good-bye.''For king and country!' cried the serjeant, flourishing his cap. 'For bread and meat!' cried Joe, snapping his fingers. And so they parted.
He had very little money in his pocket; so little indeed, that after paying for his breakfast (which he was too honest and perhaps too proud to score up to his father's charge) he had but a penny left. He had courage, notwithstanding, to resist all the affectionate importunities of the serjeant, who waylaid him at the door with many protestations of eternal friendship, and did in particular request that he would do him the favour to accept of only one shilling as a temporary accommodation. Rejecting his offers both of cash and credit, Joe walked away with stick and bundle as before, bent upon getting through the day as he best could, and going down to the locksmith's in the dusk of the evening; for it should go hard, he had resolved, but he would have a parting word with charming Dolly Varden.
He went out by Islington and so on to Highgate, and sat on many stones and gates, but there were no voices in the bells to bid him turn. Since the time of noble Whittington, fair flower of merchants, bells have come to have less sympathy with humankind. They only ring for money and on state occasions. Wanderers have increased in number; ships leave the Thames for distant regions, carrying from stem to stern no other cargo; the bells are silent; they ring out no entreaties or regrets; they are used to it and have grown worldly.
Joe bought a roll, and reduced his purse to the condition (with a difference) of that celebrated purse of Fortunatus, which, whatever were its favoured owner's necessities, had one unvarying amount in it. In these real times, when all the Fairies are dead and buried, there are still a great many purses which possess that quality. The sum-total they contain is expressed in arithmetic by a circle, and whether it be added to or multiplied by its own amount, the result of the problem is more easily stated than any known in figures.
Evening drew on at last. With the desolate and solitary feeling of one who had no home or shelter, and was alone utterly in the world for the first time, he bent his steps towards the locksmith's house. He had delayed till now, knowing that Mrs Varden sometimes went out alone, or with Miggs for her sole attendant, to lectures in the evening; and devoutly hoping that this might be one of her nights of moral culture.
He had walked up and down before the house, on the opposite side of the way, two or three times, when as he returned to it again, he caught a glimpse of a fluttering skirt at the door. It was Dolly's--to whom else could it belong? no dress but hers had such a flow as that. He plucked up his spirits, and followed it into the workshop of the Golden Key.
His darkening the door caused her to look round. Oh that face! 'If it hadn't been for that,' thought Joe, 'I should never have walked into poor Tom Cobb. She's twenty times handsomer than ever. She might marry a Lord!'
He didn't say this. He only thought it--perhaps looked it also. Dolly was glad to see him, and was SO sorry her father and mother were away from home. Joe begged she wouldn't mention it on any account.
Dolly hesitated to lead the way into the parlour, for there it was nearly dark; at the same time she hesitated to stand talking in the workshop, which was yet light and open to the street. They had got by some means, too, before the little forge; and Joe having her hand in his (which he had no right to have, for Dolly only gave it him to shake), it was so like standing before some homely altar being married, that it was the most embarrassing state of things in the world.'I have come,' said Joe, 'to say good-bye--to say good-bye for I don't know how many years; perhaps for ever. I am going abroad.'
Now this was exactly what he should not have said. Here he was, talking like a gentleman at large who was free to come and go and roam about the world at pleasure, when that gallant coachmaker had vowed but the night before that Miss Varden held him bound in adamantine chains; and had positively stated in so many words that she was killing him by inches, and that in a fortnight more or thereabouts he expected to make a decent end and leave the business to his mother.
Dolly released her hand and said 'Indeed!' She remarked in the same breath that it was a fine night, and in short, betrayed no more emotion than the forge itself.
Dolly was more sorry than she could tell, that he should have taken so much trouble. It was such a long way, and he must have such a deal to do. And how WAS Mr Willet-that dear old gentleman--'Is this all you say!' cried Joe.
All! Good gracious, what did the man expect! She was obliged to take her apron in her hand and run her eyes along the hem from corner to corner, to keep herself from laughing in his face;--not because his gaze confused her--not at all.
Joe had small experience in love affairs, and had no notion how different young ladies are at different times; he had expected to take Dolly up again at the very point where he had left her after that delicious evening ride, and was no more prepared for such an alteration than to see the sun and moon change places. He had buoyed himself up all day with an indistinct idea that she would certainly say 'Don't go,' or 'Don't leave us,' or 'Why do you go?' or 'Why do you leave us?' or would give him some little encouragement of that sort; he had even entertained the possibility of her bursting into tears, of her throwing herself into his arms, of her falling down in a fainting fit without previous word or sign; but any approach to such a line of conduct as this, had been so far from his thoughts that he could only look at her in silent wonder.
Dolly in the meanwhile, turned to the corners of her apron, and measured the sides, and smoothed out the wrinkles, and was as silent as he. At last after a long pause, Joe said good-bye. 'Good-bye'--said Dolly--with as pleasant a smile as if he were going into the next street, and were coming back to supper; 'good- bye.'
'Come,' said Joe, putting out both hands, 'Dolly, dear Dolly, don't let us part like this. I love you dearly, with all my heart and soul; with as much truth and earnestness as ever man loved woman in this world, I do believe. I am a poor fellow, as you know--poorer now than ever, for I have fled from home, not being able to bear it any longer, and must fight my own way without help. You are beautiful, admired, are loved by everybody, are well off and happy; and may you ever be so! Heaven forbid I should ever make you otherwise; but give me a word of comfort. Say something kind to me. I have no right to expect it of you, I know, but I ask it because I love you, and shall treasure the slightest word from you all through my life. Dolly, dearest, have you nothing to say to me?'
No. Nothing. Dolly was a coquette by nature, and a spoilt child. She had no notion of being carried by storm in this way. The coachmaker would have been dissolved in tears, and would have knelt down, and called himself names, and clasped his hands, and beat his breast, and tugged wildly at his cravat, and done all kinds of poetry. Joe had no business to be going abroad. He had no right to be able to do it. If he was in adamantine chains, he couldn't.'I have said good-bye,' said Dolly, 'twice. Take your arm away directly, Mr Joseph, or I'll call Miggs.'
'I'll not reproach you,' answered Joe, 'it's my fault, no doubt. I have thought sometimes that you didn't quite despise me, but I was a fool to think so. Every one must, who has seen the life I have led--you most of all. God bless you!'
He was gone, actually gone. Dolly waited a little while, thinking he would return, peeped out at the door, looked up the street and down as well as the increasing darkness would allow, came in again, waited a little longer, went upstairs humming a tune, bolted herself in, laid her head down on her bed, and cried as if her heart would break. And yet such natures are made up of so many contradictions, that if Joe Willet had come back that night, next day, next week, next month, the odds are a hundred to one she would have treated him in the very same manner, and have wept for it afterwards with the very same distress.
She had no sooner left the workshop than there cautiously peered out from behind the chimney of the forge, a face which had already emerged from the same concealment twice or thrice, unseen, and which, after satisfying itself that it was now alone, was followed by a leg, a shoulder, and so on by degrees, until the form of Mr Tappertit stood confessed, with a brown-paper cap stuck negligently on one side of its head, and its arms very much a-kimbo.'Have my ears deceived me,' said the 'prentice, 'or do I dream! am I to thank thee, Fortun', or to cus thee--which?'
He gravely descended from his elevation, took down his piece of looking-glass, planted it against the wall upon the usual bench, twisted his head round, and looked closely at his legs.
'If they're a dream,' said Sim, 'let sculptures have such wisions, and chisel 'em out when they wake. This is reality. Sleep has no such limbs as them. Tremble, Willet, and despair. She's mine! She's mine!'
With these triumphant expressions, he seized a hammer and dealt a heavy blow at a vice, which in his mind's eye represented the sconce or head of Joseph Willet. That done, he burst into a peal of laughter which startled Miss Miggs even in her distant kitchen, and dipping his head into a bowl of water, had recourse to a jack- towel inside the closet door, which served the double purpose of smothering his feelings and drying his face.
Joe, disconsolate and down-hearted, but full of courage too, on leaving the locksmith's house made the best of his way to the Crooked Billet, and there inquired for his friend the serjeant, who, expecting no man less, received him with open arms. In the course of five minutes after his arrival at that house of entertainment, he was enrolled among the gallant defenders of his native land; and within half an hour, was regaled with a steaming supper of boiled tripe and onions, prepared, as his friend assured him more than once, at the express command of his most Sacred Majesty the King. To this meal, which tasted very savoury after his long fasting, he did ample justice; and when he had followed it up, or down, with a variety of loyal and patriotic toasts, he was conducted to a straw mattress in a loft over the stable, and locked in there for the night.
The next morning, he found that the obliging care of his martial friend had decorated his hat with sundry particoloured streamers, which made a very lively appearance; and in company with that officer, and three other military gentlemen newly enrolled, who were under a cloud so dense that it only left three shoes, a boot, and a coat and a half visible among them, repaired to the riverside. Here they were joined by a corporal and four more heroes, of whom two were drunk and daring, and two sober and penitent, but each of whom, like Joe, had his dusty stick and bundle. The party embarked in a passage-boat bound for Gravesend, whence they were to proceed on foot to Chatham; the wind was in their favour, and they soon left London behind them, a mere dark mist-a giant phantom in the air.
Misfortunes, saith the adage, never come singly. There is little doubt that troubles are exceedingly gregarious in their nature, and flying in flocks, are apt to perch capriciously; crowding on the heads of some poor wights until there is not an inch of room left on their unlucky crowns, and taking no more notice of others who offer as good restingplaces for the soles of their feet, than if they had no existence. It may have happened that a flight of troubles brooding over London, and looking out for Joseph Willet, whom they couldn't find, darted down haphazard on the first young man that caught their fancy, and settled on him instead. However this may be, certain it is that on the very day of Joe's departure they swarmed about the ears of Edward Chester, and did so buzz and flap their wings, and persecute him, that he was most profoundly wretched.
It was evening, and just eight o'clock, when he and his father, having wine and dessert set before them, were left to themselves for the first time that day. They had dined together, but a third person had been present during the meal, and until they met at table they had not seen each other since the previous night.
Edward was reserved and silent. Mr Chester was more than usually gay; but not caring, as it seemed, to open a conversation with one whose humour was so different, he vented the lightness of his spirit in smiles and sparkling looks, and made no effort to awaken his attention. So they remained for some time: the father lying on a sofa with his accustomed air of graceful negligence; the son seated opposite to him with downcast eyes, busied, it was plain, with painful and uneasy thoughts.
'My dear Edward,' said Mr Chester at length, with a most engaging laugh, 'do not extend your drowsy influence to the decanter. Suffer that to circulate, let your spirits be never so stagnant.'Edward begged his pardon, passed it, and relapsed into his former state.
'You do wrong not to fill your glass,' said Mr Chester, holding up his own before the light. 'Wine in moderation--not in excess, for that makes men ugly--has a thousand pleasant influences. It brightens the eye, improves the voice, imparts a new vivacity to one's thoughts and conversation: you should try it, Ned.''Ah father!' cried his son, 'if--'
'My good fellow,' interposed the parent hastily, as he set down his glass, and raised his eyebrows with a startled and horrified expression, 'for Heaven's sake don't call me by that obsolete and ancient name. Have some regard for delicacy. Am I grey, or wrinkled, do I go on crutches, have I lost my teeth, that you adopt such a mode of address? Good God, how very coarse!'
'I was about to speak to you from my heart, sir,' returned Edward, 'in the confidence which should subsist between us; and you check me in the outset.'
'Now do, Ned, do not,' said Mr Chester, raising his delicate hand imploringly, 'talk in that monstrous manner. About to speak from your heart. Don't you know that the heart is an ingenious part of our formation--the centre of the blood-vessels and all that sort of thing
-which has no more to do with what you say or think, than your knees have? How can you be so very vulgar and absurd? These anatomical allusions should be left to gentlemen of the medical profession. They are really not agreeable in society. You quite surprise me, Ned.'
'There again,' said Mr Chester, sipping his wine, 'you are wrong. I distinctly say there are such things. We know there are. The hearts of animals--of bullocks, sheep, and so forth--are cooked and devoured, as I am told, by the lower classes, with a vast deal of relish. Men are sometimes stabbed to the heart, shot to the heart; but as to speaking from the heart, or to the heart, or being warm- hearted, or cold-hearted, or brokenhearted, or being all heart, or having no heart--pah! these things are nonsense, Ned.''No doubt, sir,' returned his son, seeing that he paused for him to speak. 'No doubt.'
'There's Haredale's niece, your late flame,' said Mr Chester, as a careless illustration of his meaning. 'No doubt in your mind she was all heart once. Now she has none at all. Yet she is the same person, Ned, exactly.''She is a changed person, sir,' cried Edward, reddening; 'and changed by vile means, I believe.' 'You have had a cool dismissal, have you?' said his father. 'Poor Ned! I told you last night what would happen.--May I ask you for the nutcrackers?'
'She has been tampered with, and most treacherously deceived,' cried Edward, rising from his seat. 'I never will believe that the knowledge of my real position, given her by myself, has worked this change. I know she is beset and tortured. But though our contract is at an end, and broken past all redemption; though I charge upon her want of firmness and want of truth, both to herself and me; I do not now, and never will believe, that any sordid motive, or her own unbiassed will, has led her to this course--never!'
'You make me blush,' returned his father gaily, 'for the folly of your nature, in which--but we never know ourselves--I devoutly hope there is no reflection of my own. With regard to the young lady herself, she has done what is very natural and proper, my dear fellow; what you yourself proposed, as I learn from Haredale; and what I predicted--with no great exercise of sagacity--she would do. She supposed you to be rich, or at least quite rich enough; and found you poor. Marriage is a civil contract; people marry to better their worldly condition and improve appearances; it is an affair of house and furniture, of liveries, servants, equipage, and so forth. The lady being poor and you poor also, there is an end of the matter. You cannot enter upon these considerations, and have no manner of business with the ceremony. I drink her health in this glass, and respect and honour her for her extreme good sense. It is a lesson to you. Fill yours, Ned.''It is a lesson,' returned his son, 'by which I hope I may never profit, and if years and experience impress it on--' 'Don't say on the heart,' interposed his father. 'On men whom the world and its hypocrisy have spoiled,' said Edward warmly, 'Heaven keep me from its knowledge.'
'Come, sir,' returned his father, raising himself a little on the sofa, and looking straight towards him; 'we have had enough of this. Remember, if you please, your interest, your duty, your moral obligations, your filial affections, and all that sort of thing, which it is so very delightful and charming to reflect upon; or you will repent it.'
'I shall never repent the preservation of my self-respect, sir,' said Edward. 'Forgive me if I say that I will not sacrifice it at your bidding, and that I will not pursue the track which you would have me take, and to which the secret share you have had in this late separation tends.'
His father rose a little higher still, and looking at him as though curious to know if he were quite resolved and earnest, dropped gently down again, and said in the calmest voice--eating his nuts meanwhile,
'Edward, my father had a son, who being a fool like you, and, like you, entertaining low and disobedient sentiments, he disinherited and cursed one morning after breakfast. The circumstance occurs to me with a singular clearness of recollection this evening. I remember eating muffins at the time, with marmalade. He led a miserable life (the son, I mean) and died early; it was a happy release on all accounts; he degraded the family very much. It is a sad circumstance, Edward, when a father finds it necessary to resort to such strong measures.
'It is,' replied Edward, 'and it is sad when a son, proffering him his love and duty in their best and truest sense, finds himself repelled at every turn, and forced to disobey. Dear father,' he added, more earnestly though in a gentler tone, 'I have reflected many times on what occurred between us when we first discussed this subject. Let there be a confidence between us; not in terms, but truth. Hear what I have to say.'
'As I anticipate what it is, and cannot fail to do so, Edward,' returned his father coldly, 'I decline. I couldn't possibly. I am sure it would put me out of temper, which is a state of mind I can't endure. If you intend to mar my plans for your establishment in life, and the preservation of that gentility and becoming pride, which our family have so long sustained--if, in short, you are resolved to take your own course, you must take it, and my curse with it. I am very sorry, but there's really no alternative.'
'The curse may pass your lips,' said Edward, 'but it will be but empty breath. I do not believe that any man on earth has greater power to call one down upon his fellow--least of all, upon his own child--than he has to make one drop of rain or flake of snow fall from the clouds above us at his impious bidding. Beware, sir, what you do.'
'You are so very irreligious, so exceedingly undutiful, so horribly profane,' rejoined his father, turning his face lazily towards him, and cracking another nut, 'that I positively must interrupt you here. It is quite impossible we can continue to go on, upon such terms as these. If you will do me the favour to ring the bell, the servant will show you to the door. Return to this roof no more, I beg you. Go, sir, since you have no moral sense remaining; and go to the Devil, at my express desire. Good day.'Edward left the room without another word or look, and turned his back upon the house for ever. The father's face was slightly flushed and heated, but his manner was quite unchanged, as he rang the bell again, and addressed the servant on his entrance. 'Peak--if that gentleman who has just gone out--' 'I beg your pardon, sir, Mr Edward?'
'Were there more than one, dolt, that you ask the question?--If that gentleman should send here for his wardrobe, let him have it, do you hear? If he should call himself at any time, I'm not at home. You'll tell him so, and shut the door.'
So, it soon got whispered about, that Mr Chester was very unfortunate in his son, who had occasioned him great grief and sorrow. And the good people who heard this and told it again, marvelled the more at his equanimity and even temper, and said what an amiable nature that man must have, who, having undergone so much, could be so placid and so calm. And when Edward's name was spoken, Society shook its head, and laid its finger on its lip, and sighed, and looked very grave; and those who had sons about his age, waxed wrathful and indignant, and hoped, for Virtue's sake, that he was dead. And the world went on turning round, as usual, for five years, concerning which this Narrative is silent.
One wintry evening, early in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and eighty, a keen north wind arose as it grew dark, and night came on with black and dismal looks. A bitter storm of sleet, sharp, dense, and icy-cold, swept the wet streets, and rattled on the trembling windows. Signboards, shaken past endurance in their creaking frames, fell crashing on the pavement; old tottering chimneys reeled and staggered in the blast; and many a steeple rocked again that night, as though the earth were troubled.
It was not a time for those who could by any means get light and warmth, to brave the fury of the weather. In coffee-houses of the better sort, guests crowded round the fire, forgot to be political, and told each other with a secret gladness that the blast grew fiercer every minute. Each humble tavern by the water-side, had its group of uncouth figures round the hearth, who talked of vessels foundering at sea, and all hands lost; related many a dismal tale of shipwreck and drowned men, and hoped that some they knew were safe, and shook their heads in doubt. In private dwellings, children clustered near the blaze; listening with timid pleasure to tales of ghosts and goblins, and tall figures clad in white standing by bed-sides, and people who had gone to sleep in old churches and being overlooked had found themselves alone there at the dead hour of the night: until they shuddered at the thought of the dark rooms upstairs, yet loved to hear the wind moan too, and hoped it would continue bravely. From time to time these happy indoor people stopped to listen, or one held up his finger and cried 'Hark!' and then, above the rumbling in the chimney, and the fast pattering on the glass, was heard a wailing, rushing sound, which shook the walls as though a giant's hand were on them; then a hoarse roar as if the sea had risen; then such a whirl and tumult that the air seemed mad; and then, with a lengthened howl, the waves of wind swept on, and left a moment's interval of rest.
Cheerily, though there were none abroad to see it, shone the Maypole light that evening. Blessings on the red--deep, ruby, glowing red--old curtain of the window; blending into one rich stream of brightness, fire and candle, meat, drink, and company, and gleaming like a jovial eye upon the bleak waste out of doors! Within, what carpet like its crunching sand, what music merry as its crackling logs, what perfume like its kitchen's dainty breath, what weather genial as its hearty warmth! Blessings on the old house, how sturdily it stood! How did the vexed wind chafe and roar about its stalwart roof; how did it pant and strive with its wide chimneys, which still poured forth from their hospitable throats, great clouds of smoke, and puffed defiance in its face; how, above all, did it drive and rattle at the casement, emulous to extinguish that cheerful glow, which would not be put down and seemed the brighter for the conflict!
The profusion too, the rich and lavish bounty, of that goodly tavern! It was not enough that one fire roared and sparkled on its spacious hearth; in the tiles which paved and compassed it, five hundred flickering fires burnt brightly also. It was not enough that one red curtain shut the wild night out, and shed its cheerful influence on the room. In every saucepan lid, and candlestick, and vessel of copper, brass, or tin that hung upon the walls, were countless ruddy hangings, flashing and gleaming with every motion of the blaze, and offering, let the eye wander where it might, interminable vistas of the same rich colour. The old oak wainscoting, the beams, the chairs, the seats, reflected it in a deep, dull glimmer. There were fires and red curtains in the very eyes of the drinkers, in their buttons, in their liquor, in the pipes they smoked.
Mr Willet sat in what had been his accustomed place five years before, with his eyes on the eternal boiler; and had sat there since the clock struck eight, giving no other signs of life than breathing with a loud and constant snore (though he was wide awake), and from time to time putting his glass to his lips, or knocking the ashes out of his pipe, and filling it anew. It was now half-past ten. Mr Cobb and long Phil Parkes were his companions, as of old, and for two mortal hours and a half, none of the company had pronounced one word.
Whether people, by dint of sitting together in the same place and the same relative positions, and doing exactly the same things for a great many years, acquire a sixth sense, or some unknown power of influencing each other which serves them in its stead, is a question for philosophy to settle. But certain it is that old John Willet, Mr Parkes, and Mr Cobb, were one and all firmly of opinion that they were very jolly companions--rather choice spirits than otherwise; that they looked at each other every now and then as if there were a perpetual interchange of ideas going on among them; that no man considered himself or his neighbour by any means silent; and that each of them nodded occasionally when he caught the eye of another, as if he would say, 'You have expressed yourself extremely well, sir, in relation to that sentiment, and I quite agree with you.'
The room was so very warm, the tobacco so very good, and the fire so very soothing, that Mr Willet by degrees began to doze; but as he had perfectly acquired, by dint of long habit, the art of smoking in his sleep, and as his breathing was pretty much the same, awake or asleep, saving that in the latter case he sometimes experienced a slight difficulty in respiration (such as a carpenter meets with when he is planing and comes to a knot), neither of his companions was aware of the circumstance, until he met with one of these impediments and was obliged to try again.'Johnny's dropped off,' said Mr Parkes in a whisper. 'Fast as a top,' said Mr Cobb.
Neither of them said any more until Mr Willet came to another knot-- one of surpassing obduracy--which bade fair to throw him into convulsions, but which he got over at last without waking, by an effort quite superhuman.
'He sleeps uncommon hard,' said Mr Cobb. Mr Parkes, who was possibly a hard-sleeper himself, replied with some disdain, 'Not a bit on it;' and directed his eyes towards a handbill pasted over the chimney-piece, which was decorated at the top with a woodcut representing a youth of tender years running away very fast, with a bundle over his shoulder at the end of a stick, and--to carry out the idea--a finger-post and a milestone beside him. Mr Cobb likewise turned his eyes in the same direction, and surveyed the placard as if that were the first time he had ever beheld it. Now, this was a document which Mr Willet had himself indited on the disappearance of his son Joseph, acquainting the nobility and gentry and the public in general with the circumstances of his having left his home; describing his dress and appearance; and offering a reward of five pounds to any person or persons who would pack him up and return him safely to the Maypole at Chigwell, or lodge him in any of his Majesty's jails until such time as his father should come and claim him. In this advertisement Mr Willet had obstinately persisted, despite the advice and entreaties of his friends, in describing his son as a 'young boy;' and furthermore as being from eighteen inches to a couple of feet shorter than he really was; two circumstances which perhaps accounted, in some degree, for its never having been productive of any other effect than the transmission to Chigwell at various times and at a vast expense, of some five-and-forty runaways varying from six years old to twelve.
Mr Cobb and Mr Parkes looked mysteriously at this composition, at each other, and at old John. From the time he had pasted it up with his own hands, Mr Willet had never by word or sign alluded to the subject, or encouraged any one else to do so. Nobody had the least notion what his thoughts or opinions were, connected with it; whether he remembered it or forgot it; whether he had any idea that such an event had ever taken place. Therefore, even while he slept, no one ventured to refer to it in his presence; and for such sufficient reasons, these his chosen friends were silent now.Mr Willet had got by this time into such a complication of knots, that it was perfectly clear he must wake or die. He chose the former alternative, and opened his eyes. 'If he don't come in five minutes,' said John, 'I shall have supper without him.'
The antecedent of this pronoun had been mentioned for the last time at eight o'clock. Messrs Parkes and Cobb being used to this style of conversation, replied without difficulty that to be sure Solomon was very late, and they wondered what had happened to detain him.
'He an't blown away, I suppose,' said Parkes. 'It's enough to carry a man of his figure off his legs, and easy too. Do you hear it? It blows great guns, indeed. There'll be many a crash in the Forest to-night, I reckon, and many a broken branch upon the ground tomorrow.''It won't break anything in the Maypole, I take it, sir,' returned old John. 'Let it try. I give it leave--what's that?'
'The wind,' cried Parkes. 'It's howling like a Christian, and has been all night long.' 'Did you ever, sir,' asked John, after a minute's contemplation, 'hear the wind say "Maypole"?''Why, what man ever did?' said Parkes. 'Nor "ahoy," perhaps?' added John. 'No. Nor that neither.' 'Very good, sir,' said Mr Willet, perfectly unmoved; 'then if that was the wind just now, and you'll wait a little time without speaking, you'll hear it say both words very plain.'
Mr Willet was right. After listening for a few moments, they could clearly hear, above the roar and tumult out of doors, this shout repeated; and that with a shrillness and energy, which denoted that it came from some person in great distress or terror. They looked at each other, turned pale, and held their breath. No man stirred.
It was in this emergency that Mr Willet displayed something of that strength of mind and plenitude of mental resource, which rendered him the admiration of all his friends and neighbours. After looking at Messrs Parkes and Cobb for some time in silence, he clapped his two hands to his cheeks, and sent forth a roar which made the glasses dance and rafters ring--a long-sustained, discordant bellow, that rolled onward with the wind, and startling every echo, made the night a hundred times more boisterous--a deep, loud, dismal bray, that sounded like a human gong. Then, with every vein in his head and face swollen with the great exertion, and his countenance suffused with a lively purple, he drew a little nearer to the fire, and turning his back upon it, said with dignity:
'If that's any comfort to anybody, they're welcome to it. If it an't, I'm sorry for 'em. If either of you two gentlemen likes to go out and see what's the matter, you can. I'm not curious, myself.'
While he spoke the cry drew nearer and nearer, footsteps passed the window, the latch of the door was raised, it opened, was violently shut again, and Solomon Daisy, with a lighted lantern in his hand, and the rain streaming from his disordered dress, dashed into the room.
A more complete picture of terror than the little man presented, it would be difficult to imagine. The perspiration stood in beads upon his face, his knees knocked together, his every limb trembled, the power of articulation was quite gone; and there he stood, panting for breath, gazing on them with such livid ashy looks, that they were infected with his fear, though ignorant of its occasion, and, reflecting his dismayed and horrorstricken visage, stared back again without venturing to question him; until old John Willet, in a fit of temporary insanity, made a dive at his cravat, and, seizing him by that portion of his dress, shook him to and fro until his very teeth appeared to rattle in his head.
'Tell us what's the matter, sir,' said John, 'or I'll kill you. Tell us what's the matter, sir, or in another second I'll have your head under the biler. How dare you look like that? Is anybody a- following of you? What do you mean? Say something, or I'll be the death of you, I will.'
Mr Willet, in his frenzy, was so near keeping his word to the very letter (Solomon Daisy's eyes already beginning to roll in an alarming manner, and certain guttural sounds, as of a choking man, to issue from his throat), that the two bystanders, recovering in some degree, plucked him off his victim by main force, and placed the little clerk of Chigwell in a chair. Directing a fearful gaze all round the room, he implored them in a faint voice to give him some drink; and above all to lock the house-door and close and bar the shutters of the room, without a moment's loss of time. The latter request did not tend to reassure his hearers, or to fill them with the most comfortable sensations; they complied with it, however, with the greatest expedition; and having handed him a bumper of brandy-and-water, nearly boiling hot, waited to hear what he might have to tell them.
'Oh, Johnny,' said Solomon, shaking him by the hand. 'Oh, Parkes. Oh, Tommy Cobb. Why did I leave this house to-night! On the nineteenth of March--of all nights in the year, on the nineteenth of March!'
They all drew closer to the fire. Parkes, who was nearest to the door, started and looked over his shoulder. Mr Willet, with great indignation, inquired what the devil he meant by that--and then said, 'God forgive me,' and glanced over his own shoulder, and came a little nearer.
'When I left here to-night,' said Solomon Daisy, 'I little thought what day of the month it was. I have never gone alone into the church after dark on this day, for seven-andtwenty years. I have heard it said that as we keep our birthdays when we are alive, so the ghosts of dead people, who are not easy in their graves, keep the day they died upon.--How the wind roars!'Nobody spoke. All eyes were fastened on Solomon.
'I might have known,' he said, 'what night it was, by the foul weather. There's no such night in the whole year round as this is, always. I never sleep quietly in my bed on the nineteenth of March.''Go on,' said Tom Cobb, in a low voice. 'Nor I neither.' Solomon Daisy raised his glass to his lips; put it down upon the floor with such a trembling hand that the spoon tinkled in it like a little bell; and continued thus:
'Have I ever said that we are always brought back to this subject in some strange way, when the nineteenth of this month comes round? Do you suppose it was by accident, I forgot to wind up the church- clock? I never forgot it at any other time, though it's such a clumsy thing that it has to be wound up every day. Why should it escape my memory on this day of all others?
'I made as much haste down there as I could when I went from here, but I had to go home first for the keys; and the wind and rain being dead against me all the way, it was pretty well as much as I could do at times to keep my legs. I got there at last, opened the church-door, and went in. I had not met a soul all the way, and you may judge whether it was dull or not. Neither of you would bear me company. If you could have known what was to come, you'd have been in the right.
'The wind was so strong, that it was as much as I could do to shut the church-door by putting my whole weight against it; and even as it was, it burst wide open twice, with such strength that any of you would have sworn, if you had been leaning against it, as I was, that somebody was pushing on the other side. However, I got the key turned, went into the belfry, and wound up the clock--which was very near run down, and would have stood stock-still in half an hour.
'As I took up my lantern again to leave the church, it came upon me all at once that this was the nineteenth of March. It came upon me with a kind of shock, as if a hand had struck the thought upon my forehead; at the very same moment, I heard a voice outside the tower--rising from among the graves.'
Here old John precipitately interrupted the speaker, and begged that if Mr Parkes (who was seated opposite to him and was staring directly over his head) saw anything, he would have the goodness to mention it. Mr Parkes apologised, and remarked that he was only listening; to which Mr Willet angrily retorted, that his listening with that kind of expression in his face was not agreeable, and that if he couldn't look like other people, he had better put his pocket-handkerchief over his head. Mr Parkes with great submission pledged himself to do so, if again required, and John Willet turning to Solomon desired him to proceed. After waiting until a violent gust of wind and rain, which seemed to shake even that sturdy house to its foundation, had passed away, the little man complied:
'Never tell me that it was my fancy, or that it was any other sound which I mistook for that I tell you of. I heard the wind whistle through the arches of the church. I heard the steeple strain and creak. I heard the rain as it came driving against the walls. I felt the bells shake. I saw the ropes sway to and fro. And I heard that voice.''What did it say?' asked Tom Cobb.
'I don't know what; I don't know that it spoke. It gave a kind of cry, as any one of us might do, if something dreadful followed us in a dream, and came upon us unawares; and then it died off: seeming to pass quite round the church.''I don't see much in that,' said John, drawing a long breath, and looking round him like a man who felt relieved. 'Perhaps not,' returned his friend, 'but that's not all.' 'What more do you mean to say, sir, is to come?' asked John, pausing in the act of wiping his face upon his apron. 'What are you a-going to tell us of next?' 'What I saw.' 'Saw!' echoed all three, bending forward.
'When I opened the church-door to come out,' said the little man, with an expression of face which bore ample testimony to the sincerity of his conviction, 'when I opened the church-door to come out, which I did suddenly, for I wanted to get it shut again before another gust of wind came up, there crossed me--so close, that by stretching out my finger I could have touched it--something in the likeness of a man. It was bare-headed to the storm. It turned its face without stopping, and fixed its eyes on mine. It was a ghost-- a spirit.''Whose?' they all three cried together.
In the excess of his emotion (for he fell back trembling in his chair, and waved his hand as if entreating them to question him no further), his answer was lost on all but old John Willet, who happened to be seated close beside him.'Who!' cried Parkes and Tom Cobb, looking eagerly by turns at Solomon Daisy and at Mr Willet. 'Who was it?' 'Gentlemen,' said Mr Willet after a long pause, 'you needn't ask. The likeness of a murdered man. This is the nineteenth of March.' A profound silence ensued.
'If you'll take my advice,' said John, 'we had better, one and all, keep this a secret. Such tales would not be liked at the Warren. Let us keep it to ourselves for the present time at all events, or we may get into trouble, and Solomon may lose his place. Whether it was really as he says, or whether it wasn't, is no matter. Right or wrong, nobody would believe him. As to the probabilities, I don't myself think,' said Mr Willet, eyeing the corners of the room in a manner which showed that, like some other philosophers, he was not quite easy in his theory, 'that a ghost as had been a man of sense in his lifetime, would be out a-walking in such weather--I only know that I wouldn't, if I was one.'
But this heretical doctrine was strongly opposed by the other three, who quoted a great many precedents to show that bad weather was the very time for such appearances; and Mr Parkes (who had had a ghost in his family, by the mother's side) argued the matter with so much ingenuity and force of illustration, that John was only saved from having to retract his opinion by the opportune appearance of supper, to which they applied themselves with a dreadful relish. Even Solomon Daisy himself, by dint of the elevating influences of fire, lights, brandy, and good company, so far recovered as to handle his knife and fork in a highly creditable manner, and to display a capacity both of eating and drinking, such as banished all fear of his having sustained any lasting injury from his fright.
Supper done, they crowded round the fire again, and, as is common on such occasions, propounded all manner of leading questions calculated to surround the story with new horrors and surprises. But Solomon Daisy, notwithstanding these temptations, adhered so steadily to his original account, and repeated it so often, with such slight variations, and with such solemn asseverations of its truth and reality, that his hearers were (with good reason) more astonished than at first. As he took John Willet's view of the matter in regard to the propriety of not bruiting the tale abroad, unless the spirit should appear to him again, in which case it would be necessary to take immediate counsel with the clergyman, it was solemnly resolved that it should be hushed up and kept quiet. And as most men like to have a secret to tell which may exalt their own importance, they arrived at this conclusion with perfect unanimity.
As it was by this time growing late, and was long past their usual hour of separating, the cronies parted for the night. Solomon Daisy, with a fresh candle in his lantern, repaired homewards under the escort of long Phil Parkes and Mr Cobb, who were rather more nervous than himself. Mr Willet, after seeing them to the door, returned to collect his thoughts with the assistance of the boiler, and to listen to the storm of wind and rain, which had not yet abated one jot of its fury.
Before old John had looked at the boiler quite twenty minutes, he got his ideas into a focus, and brought them to bear upon Solomon Daisy's story. The more he thought of it, the more impressed he became with a sense of his own wisdom, and a desire that Mr Haredale should be impressed with it likewise. At length, to the end that he might sustain a principal and important character in the affair; and might have the start of Solomon and his two friends, through whose means he knew the adventure, with a variety of exaggerations, would be known to at least a score of people, and most likely to Mr Haredale himself, by breakfast-time to-morrow; he determined to repair to the Warren before going to bed.
'He's my landlord,' thought John, as he took a candle in his hand, and setting it down in a corner out of the wind's way, opened a casement in the rear of the house, looking towards the stables. 'We haven't met of late years so often as we used to do--changes are taking place in the family--it's desirable that I should stand as well with them, in point of dignity, as possible--the whispering about of this here tale will anger him--it's good to have confidences with a gentleman of his natur', and set one's-self right besides. Halloa there! Hugh--Hugh. Hal-loa!'
When he had repeated this shout a dozen times, and startled every pigeon from its slumbers, a door in one of the ruinous old buildings opened, and a rough voice demanded what was amiss now, that a man couldn't even have his sleep in quiet.'What! Haven't you sleep enough, growler, that you're not to be knocked up for once?' said John. 'No,' replied the voice, as the speaker yawned and shook himself. 'Not half enough.'
'I don't know how you CAN sleep, with the wind a bellowsing and roaring about you, making the tiles fly like a pack of cards,' said John; 'but no matter for that. Wrap yourself up in something or another, and come here, for you must go as far as the Warren with me. And look sharp about it.'
Hugh, with much low growling and muttering, went back into his lair; and presently reappeared, carrying a lantern and a cudgel, and enveloped from head to foot in an old, frowzy, slouching horse- cloth. Mr Willet received this figure at the back-door, and ushered him into the bar, while he wrapped himself in sundry greatcoats and capes, and so tied and knotted his face in shawls and handkerchiefs, that how he breathed was a mystery.
'You don't take a man out of doors at near midnight in such weather, without putting some heart into him, do you, master?' said Hugh.
'Yes I do, sir,' returned Mr Willet. 'I put the heart (as you call it) into him when he has brought me safe home again, and his standing steady on his legs an't of so much consequence. So hold that light up, if you please, and go on a step or two before, to show the way.'
Hugh obeyed with a very indifferent grace, and a longing glance at the bottles. Old John, laying strict injunctions on his cook to keep the doors locked in his absence, and to open to nobody but himself on pain of dismissal, followed him into the blustering darkness out of doors.
The way was wet and dismal, and the night so black, that if Mr Willet had been his own pilot, he would have walked into a deep horsepond within a few hundred yards of his own house, and would certainly have terminated his career in that ignoble sphere of action. But Hugh, who had a sight as keen as any hawk's, and, apart from that endowment, could have found his way blindfold to any place within a dozen miles, dragged old John along, quite deaf to his remonstrances, and took his own course without the slightest reference to, or notice of, his master. So they made head against the wind as they best could; Hugh crushing the wet grass beneath his heavy tread, and stalking on after his ordinary savage fashion; John Willet following at arm's length, picking his steps, and looking about him, now for bogs and ditches, and now for such stray ghosts as might be wandering abroad, with looks of as much dismay and uneasiness as his immovable face was capable of expressing.
At length they stood upon the broad gravel-walk before the Warren- house. The building was profoundly dark, and none were moving near it save themselves. From one solitary turret-chamber, however, there shone a ray of light; and towards this speck of comfort in the cold, cheerless, silent scene, Mr Willet bade his pilot lead him.'The old room,' said John, looking timidly upward; 'Mr Reuben's own apartment, God be with us! I wonder his brother likes to sit there, so late at night--on this night too.' 'Why, where else should he sit?' asked Hugh, holding the lantern to his breast, to keep the candle from the wind, while he trimmed it with his fingers. 'It's snug enough, an't it?' 'Snug!' said John indignantly. 'You have a comfortable idea of snugness, you have, sir. Do you know what was done in that room, you ruffian?'
'Why, what is it the worse for that!' cried Hugh, looking into John's fat face. 'Does it keep out the rain, and snow, and wind, the less for that? Is it less warm or dry, because a man was killed there? Ha, ha, ha! Never believe it, master. One man's no such matter as that comes to.'
Mr Willet fixed his dull eyes on his follower, and began--by a species of inspiration--to think it just barely possible that he was something of a dangerous character, and that it might be advisable to get rid of him one of these days. He was too prudent to say anything, with the journey home before him; and therefore turned to the iron gate before which this brief dialogue had passed, and pulled the handle of the bell that hung beside it. The turret in which the light appeared being at one corner of the building, and only divided from the path by one of the garden- walks, upon which this gate opened, Mr Haredale threw up the window directly, and demanded who was there.'Begging pardon, sir,' said John, 'I knew you sat up late, and made bold to come round, having a word to say to you.' 'Willet--is it not?' 'Of the Maypole--at your service, sir.'
Mr Haredale closed the window, and withdrew. He presently appeared at a door in the bottom of the turret, and coming across the garden-walk, unlocked the gate and let them in.'You are a late visitor, Willet. What is the matter?' 'Nothing to speak of, sir,' said John; 'an idle tale, I thought you ought to know of; nothing more.' 'Let your man go forward with the lantern, and give me your hand. The stairs are crooked and narrow. Gently with your light, friend. You swing it like a censer.'
Hugh, who had already reached the turret, held it more steadily, and ascended first, turning round from time to time to shed his light downward on the steps. Mr Haredale following next, eyed his lowering face with no great favour; and Hugh, looking down on him, returned his glances with interest, as they climbed the winding stairs.
It terminated in a little ante-room adjoining that from which they had seen the light. Mr Haredale entered first, and led the way through it into the latter chamber, where he seated himself at a writing-table from which he had risen when they had rung the bell.
'Come in,' he said, beckoning to old John, who remained bowing at the door. 'Not you, friend,' he added hastily to Hugh, who entered also. 'Willet, why do you bring that fellow here?''Why, sir,' returned John, elevating his eyebrows, and lowering his voice to the tone in which the question had been asked him, 'he's a good guard, you see.' 'Don't be too sure of that,' said Mr Haredale, looking towards him as he spoke. 'I doubt it. He has an evil eye.'
'There's no imagination in his eye,' returned Mr Willet, glancing over his shoulder at the organ in question, 'certainly.'
'There is no good there, be assured,' said Mr Haredale. 'Wait in that little room, friend, and close the door between us.'
Hugh shrugged his shoulders, and with a disdainful look, which showed, either that he had overheard, or that he guessed the purport of their whispering, did as he was told. When he was shut out, Mr Haredale turned to John, and bade him go on with what he had to say, but not to speak too loud, for there were quick ears yonder.
Thus cautioned, Mr Willet, in an oily whisper, recited all that he had heard and said that night; laying particular stress upon his own sagacity, upon his great regard for the family, and upon his solicitude for their peace of mind and happiness. The story moved his auditor much more than he had expected. Mr Haredale often changed his attitude, rose and paced the room, returned again, desired him to repeat, as nearly as he could, the very words that Solomon had used, and gave so many other signs of being disturbed and ill at ease, that even Mr Willet was surprised.
'You did quite right,' he said, at the end of a long conversation, 'to bid them keep this story secret. It is a foolish fancy on the part of this weak-brained man, bred in his fears and superstition. But Miss Haredale, though she would know it to be so, would be disturbed by it if it reached her ears; it is too nearly connected with a subject very painful to us all, to be heard with indifference. You were most prudent, and have laid me under a great obligation. I thank you very much.'
This was equal to John's most sanguine expectations; but he would have preferred Mr Haredale's looking at him when he spoke, as if he really did thank him, to his walking up and down, speaking by fits and starts, often stopping with his eyes fixed on the ground, moving hurriedly on again, like one distracted, and seeming almost unconscious of what he said or did.
This, however, was his manner; and it was so embarrassing to John that he sat quite passive for a long time, not knowing what to do. At length he rose. Mr Haredale stared at him for a moment as though he had quite forgotten his being present, then shook hands with him, and opened the door. Hugh, who was, or feigned to be, fast asleep on the ante-chamber floor, sprang up on their entrance, and throwing his cloak about him, grasped his stick and lantern, and prepared to descend the stairs.'Stay,' said Mr Haredale. 'Will this man drink?' 'Drink! He'd drink the Thames up, if it was strong enough, sir, replied John Willet. 'He'll have something when he gets home. He's better without it, now, sir.' 'Nay. Half the distance is done,' said Hugh. 'What a hard master you are! I shall go home the better for one glassful, halfway. Come!' As John made no reply, Mr Haredale brought out a glass of liquor, and gave it to Hugh, who, as he took it in his hand, threw part of it upon the floor. 'What do you mean by splashing your drink about a gentleman's house, sir?' said John.
'I'm drinking a toast,' Hugh rejoined, holding the glass above his head, and fixing his eyes on Mr Haredale's face; 'a toast to this house and its master.' With that he muttered something to himself, and drank the rest, and setting down the glass, preceded them without another word.
John was a good deal scandalised by this observance, but seeing that Mr Haredale took little heed of what Hugh said or did, and that his thoughts were otherwise employed, he offered no apology, and went in silence down the stairs, across the walk, and through the garden-gate. They stopped upon the outer side for Hugh to hold the light while Mr Haredale locked it on the inner; and then John saw with wonder (as he often afterwards related), that he was very pale, and that his face had changed so much and grown so haggard since their entrance, that he almost seemed another man.
They were in the open road again, and John Willet was walking on behind his escort, as he had come, thinking very steadily of what be had just now seen, when Hugh drew him suddenly aside, and almost at the same instant three horsemen swept past--the nearest brushed his shoulder even then--who, checking their steeds as suddenly as they could, stood still, and waited for their coming up.
When John Willet saw that the horsemen wheeled smartly round, and drew up three abreast in the narrow road, waiting for him and his man to join them, it occurred to him with unusual precipitation that they must be highwaymen; and had Hugh been armed with a blunderbuss, in place of his stout cudgel, he would certainly have ordered him to fire it off at a venture, and would, while the word of command was obeyed, have consulted his own personal safety in immediate flight. Under the circumstances of disadvantage, however, in which he and his guard were placed, he deemed it prudent to adopt a different style of generalship, and therefore whispered his attendant to address them in the most peaceable and courteous terms. By way of acting up to the spirit and letter of this instruction, Hugh stepped forward, and flourishing his staff before the very eyes of the rider nearest to him, demanded roughly what he and his fellows meant by so nearly galloping over them, and why they scoured the king's highway at that late hour of night.
The man whom be addressed was beginning an angry reply in the same strain, when be was checked by the horseman in the centre, who, interposing with an air of authority, inquired in a somewhat loud but not harsh or unpleasant voice:'Pray, is this the London road?' 'If you follow it right, it is,' replied Hugh roughly.
'Nay, brother,' said the same person, 'you're but a churlish Englishman, if Englishman you be--which I should much doubt but for your tongue. Your companion, I am sure, will answer me more civilly. How say you, friend?'
'I say it IS the London road, sir,' answered John. 'And I wish,' he added in a subdued voice, as he turned to Hugh, 'that you was in any other road, you vagabond. Are you tired of your life, sir, that you go a-trying to provoke three great neck-or-nothing chaps, that could keep on running over us, back'ards and for'ards, till we was dead, and then take our bodies up behind 'em, and drown us ten miles off?''How far is it to London?' inquired the same speaker. 'Why, from here, sir,' answered John, persuasively, 'it's thirteen very easy mile.'
The adjective was thrown in, as an inducement to the travellers to ride away with all speed; but instead of having the desired effect, it elicited from the same person, the remark, 'Thirteen miles! That's a long distance!' which was followed by a short pause of indecision.
'Pray,' said the gentleman, 'are there any inns hereabouts?' At the word 'inns,' John plucked up his spirit in a surprising manner; his fears rolled off like smoke; all the landlord stirred within him.
'There are no inns,' rejoined Mr Willet, with a strong emphasis on the plural number; 'but there's a Inn--one Inn--the Maypole Inn. That's a Inn indeed. You won't see the like of that Inn often.''You keep it, perhaps?' said the horseman, smiling. 'I do, sir,' replied John, greatly wondering how he had found this out. 'And how far is the Maypole from here?' 'About a mile'--John was going to add that it was the easiest mile in all the world, when the third rider, who had hitherto kept a little in the rear, suddenly interposed:
'And have you one excellent bed, landlord? Hem! A bed that you can recommend--a bed that you are sure is well aired--a bed that has been slept in by some perfectly respectable and unexceptionable person?''We don't take in no tagrag and bobtail at our house, sir,' answered John. 'And as to the bed itself--' 'Say, as to three beds,' interposed the gentleman who had spoken before; 'for we shall want three if we stay, though my friend only speaks of one.'
'No, no, my lord; you are too good, you are too kind; but your life is of far too much importance to the nation in these portentous times, to be placed upon a level with one so useless and so poor as mine. A great cause, my lord, a mighty cause, depends on you. You are its leader and its champion, its advanced guard and its van. It is the cause of our altars and our homes, our country and our faith. Let ME sleep on a chair--the carpet--anywhere. No one will repine if I take cold or fever. Let John Grueby pass the night beneath the open sky--no one will repine for HIM. But forty thousand men of this our island in the wave (exclusive of women and children) rivet their eyes and thoughts on Lord George Gordon; and every day, from the rising up of the sun to the going down of the same, pray for his health and vigour. My lord,' said the speaker, rising in his stirrups, 'it is a glorious cause, and must not be forgotten. My lord, it is a mighty cause, and must not be endangered. My lord, it is a holy cause, and must not be deserted.''It IS a holy cause,' exclaimed his lordship, lifting up his hat with great solemnity. 'Amen.' 'John Grueby,' said the long-winded gentleman, in a tone of mild reproof, 'his lordship said Amen.' 'I heard my lord, sir,' said the man, sitting like a statue on his horse. 'And do not you say Amen, likewise?' To which John Grueby made no reply at all, but sat looking straight before him.
'You surprise me, Grueby,' said the gentleman. 'At a crisis like the present, when Queen Elizabeth, that maiden monarch, weeps within her tomb, and Bloody Mary, with a brow of gloom and shadow, stalks triumphant--'
'Oh, sir,' cied the man, gruffly, 'where's the use of talking of Bloody Mary, under such circumstances as the present, when my lord's wet through, and tired with hard riding? Let's either go on to London, sir, or put up at once; or that unfort'nate Bloody Mary will have more to answer for--and she's done a deal more harm in her grave than she ever did in her lifetime, I believe.'
By this time Mr Willet, who had never beard so many words spoken together at one time, or delivered with such volubility and emphasis as by the long-winded gentleman; and whose brain, being wholly unable to sustain or compass them, had quite given itself up for lost; recovered so far as to observe that there was ample accommodation at the Maypole for all the party: good beds; neat wines; excellent entertainment for man and beast; private rooms for large and small parties; dinners dressed upon the shortest notice; choice stabling, and a lock-up coach-house; and, in short, to run over such recommendatory scraps of language as were painted up on various portions of the building, and which in the course of some forty years he had learnt to repeat with tolerable correctness. He was considering whether it was at all possible to insert any novel sentences to the same purpose, when the gentleman who had spoken first, turning to him of the long wind, exclaimed, 'What say you, Gashford? Shall we tarry at this house he speaks of, or press forward? You shall decide.'
'I would submit, my lord, then,' returned the person he appealed to, in a silky tone, 'that your health and spirits--so important, under Providence, to our great cause, our pure and truthful cause'-- here his lordship pulled off his hat again, though it was raining hard--'require refreshment and repose.''Go on before, landlord, and show the way,' said Lord George Gordon; 'we will follow at a footpace.'
'If you'll give me leave, my lord,' said John Grueby, in a low voice, 'I'll change my proper place, and ride before you. The looks of the landlord's friend are not over honest, and it may be as well to be cautious with him.'
'John Grueby is quite right,' interposed Mr Gashford, falling back hastily. 'My lord, a life so precious as yours must not be put in peril. Go forward, John, by all means. If you have any reason to suspect the fellow, blow his brains out.'
John made no answer, but looking straight before him, as his custom seemed to be when the secretary spoke, bade Hugh push on, and followed close behind him. Then came his lordship, with Mr Willet at his bridle rein; and, last of all, his lordship's secretary--for that, it seemed, was Gashford's office.
Hugh strode briskly on, often looking back at the servant, whose horse was close upon his heels, and glancing with a leer at his bolster case of pistols, by which he seemed to set great store. He was a square-built, strong-made, bull-necked fellow, of the true English breed; and as Hugh measured him with his eye, he measured Hugh, regarding him meanwhile with a look of bluff disdain. He was much older than the Maypole man, being to all appearance five-and- forty; but was one of those self-possessed, hardheaded, imperturbable fellows, who, if they are ever beaten at fisticuffs, or other kind of warfare, never know it, and go on coolly till they win.'If I led you wrong now,' said Hugh, tauntingly, 'you'd--ha ha ha!-- you'd shoot me through the head, I suppose.' John Grueby took no more notice of this remark than if he had been deaf and Hugh dumb; but kept riding on quite comfortably, with his eyes fixed on the horizon. 'Did you ever try a fall with a man when you were young, master?' said Hugh. 'Can you make any play at single-stick?' John Grueby looked at him sideways with the same contented air, but deigned not a word in answer. '--Like this?' said Hugh, giving his cudgel one of those skilful flourishes, in which the rustic of that time delighted. 'Whoop!'
'--Or that,' returned John Grueby, beating down his guard with his whip, and striking him on the head with its butt end. 'Yes, I played a little once. You wear your hair too long; I should have cracked your crown if it had been a little shorter.'
It was a pretty smart, loud-sounding rap, as it was, and evidently astonished Hugh; who, for the moment, seemed disposed to drag his new acquaintance from his saddle. But his face betokening neither malice, triumph, rage, nor any lingering idea that he had given him offence; his eyes gazing steadily in the old direction, and his manner being as careless and composed as if he had merely brushed away a fly; Hugh was so puzzled, and so disposed to look upon him as a customer of almost supernatural toughness, that he merely laughed, and cried 'Well done!' then, sheering off a little, led the way in silence.
Before the lapse of many minutes the party halted at the Maypole door. Lord George and his secretary quickly dismounting, gave their horses to their servant, who, under the guidance of Hugh, repaired to the stables. Right glad to escape from the inclemency of the night, they followed Mr Willet into the common room, and stood warming themselves and drying their clothes before the cheerful fire, while he busied himself with such orders and preparations as his guest's high quality required.
As he bustled in and out of the room, intent on these arrangements, he had an opportunity of observing the two travellers, of whom, as yet, he knew nothing but the voice. The lord, the great personage who did the Maypole so much honour, was about the middle height, of a slender make, and sallow complexion, with an aquiline nose, and long hair of a reddish brown, combed perfectly straight and smooth about his ears, and slightly powdered, but without the faintest vestige of a curl. He was attired, under his greatcoat, in a full suit of black, quite free from any ornament, and of the most precise and sober cut. The gravity of his dress, together with a certain lankness of cheek and stiffness of deportment, added nearly ten years to his age, but his figure was that of one not yet past thirty. As he stood musing in the red glow of the fire, it was striking to observe his very bright large eye, which betrayed a restlessness of thought and purpose, singularly at variance with the studied composure and sobriety of his mien, and with his quaint and sad apparel. It had nothing harsh or cruel in its expression; neither had his face, which was thin and mild, and wore an air of melancholy; but it was suggestive of an indefinable uneasiness; which infected those who looked upon him, and filled them with a kind of pity for the man: though why it did so, they would have had some trouble to explain.
Gashford, the secretary, was taller, angularly made, high- shouldered, bony, and ungraceful. His dress, in imitation of his superior, was demure and staid in the extreme; his manner, formal and constrained. This gentleman had an overhanging brow, great hands and feet and ears, and a pair of eyes that seemed to have made an unnatural retreat into his head, and to have dug themselves a cave to hide in. His manner was smooth and humble, but very sly and slinking. He wore the aspect of a man who was always lying in wait for something that woun't come to pass; but he looked patient--very patient--and fawned like a spaniel dog. Even now, while he warmed and rubbed his hands before the blaze, he had the air of one who only presumed to enjoy it in his degree as a commoner; and though he knew his lord was not regarding him, he looked into his face from time to time, and with a meek and deferential manner, smiled as if for practice.
Such were the guests whom old John Willet, with a fixed and leaden eye, surveyed a hundred times, and to whom he now advanced with a state candlestick in each hand, beseeching them to follow him into a worthier chamber. 'For my lord,' said John--it is odd enough, but certain people seem to have as great a pleasure in pronouncing titles as their owners have in wearing them--'this room, my lord, isn't at all the sort of place for your lordship, and I have to beg your lordship's pardon for keeping you here, my lord, one minute.'
With this address, John ushered them upstairs into the state apartment, which, like many other things of state, was cold and comfortless. Their own footsteps, reverberating through the spacious room, struck upon their hearing with a hollow sound; and its damp and chilly atmosphere was rendered doubly cheerless by contrast with the homely warmth they had deserted.
It was of no use, however, to propose a return to the place they had quitted, for the preparations went on so briskly that there was no time to stop them. John, with the tall candlesticks in his hands, bowed them up to the fireplace; Hugh, striding in with a lighted brand and pile of firewood, cast it down upon the hearth, and set it in a blaze; John Grueby (who had a great blue cockade in his hat, which he appeared to despise mightily) brought in the portmanteau he had carried on his horse, and placed it on the floor; and presently all three were busily engaged in drawing out the screen, laying the cloth, inspecting the beds, lighting fires in the bedrooms, expediting the supper, and making everything as cosy and as snug as might be, on so short a notice. In less than an hour's time, supper had been served, and ate, and cleared away; and Lord George and his secretary, with slippered feet, and legs stretched out before the fire, sat over some hot mulled wine together.
'Ah!'--and here the secretary clasped his hands--'a blessed yesterday indeed! The Protestants of Suffolk are godly men and true. Though others of our countrymen have lost their way in darkness, even as we, my lord, did lose our road to-night, theirs is the light and glory.''Did I move them, Gashford ?' said Lord George. 'Move them, my lord! Move them! They cried to be led on against the Papists, they vowed a dreadful vengeance on their heads, they roared like men possessed--' 'But not by devils,' said his lord. 'By devils! my lord! By angels.'
'Yes--oh surely--by angels, no doubt,' said Lord George, thrusting his hands into his pockets, taking them out again to bite his nails, and looking uncomfortably at the fire. 'Of course by angels--eh Gashford?''You do not doubt it, my lord?' said the secretary.
'No--No,' returned his lord. 'No. Why should I? I suppose it would be decidedly irreligious to doubt it--wouldn't it, Gashford? Though there certainly were,' he added, without waiting for an answer, 'some plaguy ill-looking characters among them.'
'When you warmed,' said the secretary, looking sharply at the other's downcast eyes, which brightened slowly as he spoke; 'when you warmed into that noble outbreak; when you told them that you were never of the lukewarm or the timid tribe, and bade them take heed that they were prepared to follow one who would lead them on, though to the very death; when you spoke of a hundred and twenty thousand men across the Scottish border who would take their own redress at any time, if it were not conceded; when you cried "Perish the Pope and all his base adherents; the penal laws against them shall never be repealed while Englishmen have hearts and hands"--and waved your own and touched your sword; and when they cried "No Popery!" and you cried "No; not even if we wade in blood," and they threw up their hats and cried "Hurrah! not even if we wade in blood; No Popery! Lord George! Down with the Papists-- Vengeance on their heads:" when this was said and done, and a word from you, my lord, could raise or still the tumult--ah! then I felt what greatness was indeed, and thought, When was there ever power like this of Lord George Gordon's!''It's a great power. You're right. It is a great power!' he cried with sparkling eyes. 'But-dear Gashford--did I really say all that?' 'And how much more!' cried the secretary, looking upwards. 'Ah! how much more!' 'And I told them what you say, about the one hundred and forty thousand men in Scotland, did I!' he asked with evident delight. 'That was bold.' 'Our cause is boldness. Truth is always bold.' 'Certainly. So is religion. She's bold, Gashford?' 'The true religion is, my lord.'
'And that's ours,' he rejoined, moving uneasily in his seat, and biting his nails as though he would pare them to the quick. 'There can be no doubt of ours being the true one. You feel as certain of that as I do, Gashford, don't you?'
'Does my lord ask me,' whined Gashford, drawing his chair nearer with an injured air, and laying his broad flat hand upon the table; 'me,' he repeated, bending the dark hollows of his eyes upon him with an unwholesome smile, 'who, stricken by the magic of his eloquence in Scotland but a year ago, abjured the errors of the Romish church, and clung to him as one whose timely hand had plucked me from a pit?'
'True. No--No. I--I didn't mean it,' replied the other, shaking him by the hand, rising from his seat, and pacing restlessly about the room. 'It's a proud thing to lead the people, Gashford,' he added as he made a sudden halt.'By force of reason too,' returned the pliant secretary.
'Ay, to be sure. They may cough and jeer, and groan in Parliament, and call me fool and madman, but which of them can raise this human sea and make it swell and roar at pleasure? Not one.'
'Not one,' repeated Gashford. 'Which of them can say for his honesty, what I can say for mine; which of them has refused a minister's bribe of one thousand pounds a year, to resign his seat in favour of another? Not one.''Not one,' repeated Gashford again--taking the lion's share of the mulled wine between whiles.
'And as we are honest, true, and in a sacred cause, Gashford,' said Lord George with a heightened colour and in a louder voice, as he laid his fevered hand upon his shoulder, 'and are the only men who regard the mass of people out of doors, or are regarded by them, we will uphold them to the last; and will raise a cry against these un-English Papists which shall re-echo through the country, and roll with a noise like thunder. I will be worthy of the motto on my coat of arms, "Called and chosen and faithful."'Called,' said the secretary, 'by Heaven.' 'I am.' 'Chosen by the people.' 'Yes.' 'Faithful to both.' 'To the block!'
It would be difficult to convey an adequate idea of the excited manner in which he gave these answers to the secretary's promptings; of the rapidity of his utterance, or the violence of his tone and gesture; in which, struggling through his Puritan's demeanour, was something wild and ungovernable which broke through all restraint. For some minutes he walked rapidly up and down the room, then stopping suddenly, exclaimed,'Gashford-you moved them yesterday too. Oh yes! You did.' 'I shone with a reflected light, my lord,' replied the humble secretary, laying his hand upon his heart. 'I did my best.'
'You did well,' said his master, 'and are a great and worthy instrument. If you will ring for John Grueby to carry the portmanteau into my room, and will wait here while I undress, we will dispose of business as usual, if you're not too tired.'
'Too tired, my lord!--But this is his consideration! Christian from head to foot.' With which soliloquy, the secretary tilted the jug, and looked very hard into the mulled wine, to see how much remained.
John Willet and John Grueby appeared together. The one bearing the great candlesticks, and the other the portmanteau, showed the deluded lord into his chamber; and left the secretary alone, to yawn and shake himself, and finally to fall asleep before the fire.
'I hope you're not a-going to trouble your head to-night, or my lord's head neither, with anything more about Bloody Mary,' said John. 'I wish the blessed old creetur had never been born.''I said you might go to bed, John,' returned the secretary. 'You didn't hear me, I think.'
'Between Bloody Marys, and blue cockades, and glorious Queen Besses, and no Poperys, and Protestant associations, and making of speeches,' pursued John Grueby, looking, as usual, a long way off, and taking no notice of this hint, 'my lord's half off his head. When we go out o' doors, such a set of ragamuffins comes a- shouting after us, "Gordon forever!" that I'm ashamed of myself and don't know where to look. When we're indoors, they come a- roaring and screaming about the house like so many devils; and my lord instead of ordering them to be drove away, goes out into the balcony and demeans himself by making speeches to 'em, and calls 'em "Men of England," and "Fellow-countrymen," as if he was fond of 'em and thanked 'em for coming. I can't make it out, but they're all mixed up somehow or another with that unfort'nate Bloody Mary, and call her name out till they're hoarse. They're all Protestants too--every man and boy among 'em: and Protestants are very fond of spoons, I find, and silver-plate in general, whenever area-gates is left open accidentally. I wish that was the worst of it, and that no more harm might be to come; but if you don't stop these ugly customers in time, Mr Gashford (and I know you; you're the man that blows the fire), you'll find 'em grow a little bit too strong for you. One of these evenings, when the weather gets warmer and Protestants are thirsty, they'll be pulling London down,--and I never heard that Bloody Mary went as far as that.'
Gashford had vanished long ago, and these remarks had been bestowed on empty air. Not at all discomposed by the discovery, John Grueby fixed his hat on, wrongside foremost that he might be unconscious of the shadow of the obnoxious cockade, and withdrew to bed; shaking his head in a very gloomy and prophetic manner until he reached his chamber.
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 wellfavoured?''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 halfa-guinea in gold; and Miggs (being the saving of a quarter's wages), one-andthreepence.''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!'
'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.
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 NoPopery 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 bands--'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.
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 bad 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 be 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'shis-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, lowroofed 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-inarm, 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 dex-terity, 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!'
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.'
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, wellordered 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.