The secretary put his hand before his eyes to shade them from the glare of th_amp, and for some moments looked at Hugh with a frowning brow, as if h_emembered to have seen him lately, but could not call to mind where, or o_hat occasion. His uncertainty was very brief, for before Hugh had spoken _ord, he said, as his countenance cleared up:
‘Ay, ay, I recollect. It’s quite right, John, you needn’t wait. Don’t go,
‘Your servant, master,’ said Hugh, as Grueby disappeared.
‘Yours, friend,’ returned the secretary in his smoothest manner. ‘What bring_ou here? We left nothing behind us, I hope?’
Hugh gave a short laugh, and thrusting his hand into his breast, produced on_f the handbills, soiled and dirty from lying out of doors all night, which h_aid upon the secretary’s desk after flattening it upon his knee, an_moothing 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 perfectl_atural surprise. ‘Where did you get it from, my good fellow; what does i_ean? I don’t understand this at all.’
A little disconcerted by this reception, Hugh looked from the secretary t_ennis, who had risen and was standing at the table too, observing th_tranger by stealth, and seeming to derive the utmost satisfaction from hi_anners and appearance. Considering himself silently appealed to by thi_ction, Mr Dennis shook his head thrice, as if to say of Gashford, ‘No. H_on’t know anything at all about it. I know he don’t. I’ll take my oath h_on’t;’ and hiding his profile from Hugh with one long end of his frowz_eckerchief, nodded and chuckled behind this screen in extreme approval of th_ecretary’s proceedings.
‘It tells the man that finds it, to come here, don’t it?’ asked Hugh. ‘I’m n_cholar, 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 di_ou 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, o_erceived the secretary’s drift of himself, he came in his blunt way to th_oint at once.
‘Here!’ he said, stretching out his hand and taking it back; ‘never mind th_ill, 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 kno_hat it means, or where it comes from: there’s an end of that. Now I want t_ake one against the Catholics, I’m a No-Popery man, and ready to be sworn in.
That’s what I’ve come here for.’
‘Put him down on the roll, Muster Gashford,’ said Dennis approvingly. ‘That’_he 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 fo_y division, Muster Gashford. Down with him, sir. Put him on the roll. I’_tand godfather to him, if he was to be christened in a bonfire, made of th_uins of the Bank of England.’
With these and other expressions of confidence of the like flattering kind, M_ennis 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, Muste_ashford. Down with everybody, down with everything! Hurrah for the Protestan_eligion! That’s the time of day, Muster Gashford!’
The secretary regarded them both with a very favourable expression o_ountenance, while they gave loose to these and other demonstrations of thei_atriotic 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 hoars_hisper, 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 h_omes 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 o_dmiration, such as that with which a cannibal might regard his intimat_riend, 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? D_ut cast your eye upon it. There’s a neck for stretching, Muster Gashford!’
The secretary assented to this proposition with the best grace he coul_ssume—it is difficult to feign a true professional relish: which is eccentri_ometimes—and after asking the candidate a few unimportant questions,
proceeded to enrol him a member of the Great Protestant Association o_ngland. If anything could have exceeded Mr Dennis’s joy on the happ_onclusion of this ceremony, it would have been the rapture with which h_eceived the announcement that the new member could neither read nor write:
those two arts being (as Mr Dennis swore) the greatest possible curse _ivilised community could know, and militating more against the professiona_moluments and usefulness of the great constitutional office he had the honou_o hold, than any adverse circumstances that could present themselves to hi_magination.
The enrolment being completed, and Hugh having been informed by Gashford, i_is peculiar manner, of the peaceful and strictly lawful objects contemplate_y the body to which he now belonged— during which recital Mr Dennis nudge_im very much with his elbow, and made divers remarkable faces—the secretar_ave them both to understand that he desired to be alone. Therefore they too_heir 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 g_nd 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, wher_oth houses of Parliament were then sitting. Mingling in the crowd o_arriages, horses, servants, chairmen, link-boys, porters, and idlers of al_inds, they lounged about; while Hugh’s new friend pointed out to hi_ignificantly the weak parts of the building, how easy it was to get into th_obby, and so to the very door of the House of Commons; and how plainly, whe_hey marched down there in grand array, their roars and shouts would be hear_y the members inside; with a great deal more to the same purpose, all o_hich Hugh received with manifest delight.
He told him, too, who some of the Lords and Commons were, by name, as the_ame in and out; whether they were friendly to the Papists or otherwise; an_ade him take notice of their liveries and equipages, that he might be sure o_hem, in case of need. Sometimes he drew him close to the windows of a passin_arriage, 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 wit_verything around, that it was plain he had often studied there before; a_ndeed, 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 i_roups of more than two or three together—who seemed to be skulking about th_rowd for the same purpose. To the greater part of these, a slight nod or _ook from Hugh’s companion was sufficient greeting; but, now and then, som_an would come and stand beside him in the throng, and, without turning hi_ead or appearing to communicate with him, would say a word or two in a lo_oice, which he would answer in the same cautious manner. Then they woul_art, like strangers. Some of these men often reappeared again unexpectedly i_he crowd close to Hugh, and, as they passed by, pressed his hand, or looke_im sternly in the face; but they never spoke to him, nor he to them; no, no_ word.
It was remarkable, too, that whenever they happened to stand where there wa_ny press of people, and Hugh chanced to be looking downward, he was sure t_ee an arm stretched out—under his own perhaps, or perhaps across him—whic_hrust some paper into the hand or pocket of a bystander, and was so suddenl_ithdrawn that it was impossible to tell from whom it came; nor could he se_n any face, on glancing quickly round, the least confusion or surprise. The_ften trod upon a paper like the one he carried in his breast, but hi_ompanion whispered him not to touch it or to take it up,—not even to loo_owards it,—so there they let them lie, and passed on.
When they had paraded the street and all the avenues of the building in thi_anner for near two hours, they turned away, and his friend asked him what h_hought of what he had seen, and whether he was prepared for a good hot piec_f work if it should come to that. The hotter the better,’ said Hugh, ‘I’_repared 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 terribl_mprecations on the Papists.
As they were thirsty by this time, Dennis proposed that they should repai_ogether to The Boot, where there was good company and strong liquor. Hug_ielding 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 a_he back of the Foundling Hospital; a very solitary spot at that period, an_uite deserted after dark. The tavern stood at some distance from any hig_oad, and was approachable only by a dark and narrow lane; so that Hugh wa_uch surprised to find several people drinking there, and great merrimen_oing on. He was still more surprised to find among them almost every fac_hat had caught his attention in the crowd; but his companion having whispere_im outside the door, that it was not considered good manners at The Boot t_ppear at all curious about the company, he kept his own counsel, and made n_how of recognition.
Before putting his lips to the liquor which was brought for them, Dennis dran_n a loud voice the health of Lord George Gordon, President of the Grea_rotestant Association; which toast Hugh pledged likewise, with correspondin_nthusiasm. A fiddler who was present, and who appeared to act as th_ppointed minstrel of the company, forthwith struck up a Scotch reel; and tha_n tones so invigorating, that Hugh and his friend (who had both been drinkin_efore) rose from their seats as by previous concert, and, to the grea_dmiration of the assembled guests, performed an extemporaneous No-Poper_ance.