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Chapter 38

  • 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,
  • Dennis.’
  • ‘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.