Little thinking of the plan for his happy settlement in life which ha_uggested itself to the teeming brain of his provident commander, Hugh made n_ause until Saint Dunstan’s giants struck the hour above him, when he worke_he handle of a pump which stood hard by, with great vigour, and thrusting hi_ead under the spout, let the water gush upon him until a little stream ra_own from every uncombed hair, and he was wet to the waist. Considerabl_efreshed by this ablution, both in mind and body, and almost sobered for th_ime, he dried himself as he best could; then crossed the road, and plied th_nocker of the Middle Temple gate.
The night-porter looked through a small grating in the portal with a surl_ye, and cried ‘Halloa!’ which greeting Hugh returned in kind, and bade hi_pen 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?’
‘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 passe_n: 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 a_is side, and attended him to Sir John Chester’s door, at which Hugh gave on_nock, that echoed through the dark staircase like a ghostly summons, and mad_he 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 ligh_ppeared, 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 _oung man says he wants to speak to you. It’s late for strangers. I thought i_est to see that all was right.’
‘Aha!’ cried Sir John, raising his eyebrows. ‘It’s you, messenger, is it? G_n. Quite right, friend. I commend your prudence highly. Thank you. God bles_ou. 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 _orter. He withdrew with much humility and reverence. Sir John followed hi_ate visitor into the dressing- room, and sitting in his easy-chair before th_ire, and moving it so that he could see him as he stood, hat in hand, besid_he door, looked at him from head to foot.
The old face, calm and pleasant as ever; the complexion, quite juvenile in it_loom and clearness; the same smile; the wonted precision and elegance o_ress; the white, well-ordered teeth; the delicate hands; the composed an_uiet 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 _ail—a vulgar jail, to which the common people with small incomes went.
Gentlemen of ancient houses have no privilege of exemption from such crue_aws—unless they are of one great house, and then they have. A proud man o_is stock and kindred had the means of sending him there. He offered—no_ndeed to pay his debts, but to let him sit for a close borough until his ow_on came of age, which, if he lived, would come to pass in twenty years. I_as quite as good as an Insolvent Act, and infinitely more genteel. So Si_ohn Chester was a member of Parliament.
But how Sir John? Nothing so simple, or so easy. One touch with a sword o_tate, and the transformation was effected. John Chester, Esquire, M.P., attended court—went up with an address—headed a deputation. Such elegance o_anner, so many graces of deportment, such powers of conversation, could neve_ass unnoticed. Mr was too common for such merit. A man so gentlemanly shoul_ave been— but Fortune is capricious—born a Duke: just as some dukes shoul_ave 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 Si_ohn after a pretty long silence, ‘that you intended to return with al_espatch?’
‘So I did, master.’
‘And so you have?’ he retorted, glancing at his watch. ‘Is that what you woul_ay?’
Instead of replying, Hugh changed the leg on which he leant, shuffled his ca_rom one hand to the other, looked at the ground, the wall, the ceiling, an_inally at Sir John himself; before whose pleasant face he lowered his eye_gain, 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 bee_oing?’
‘No harm at all, master,’ growled Hugh, with humility. ‘I have only done a_ou ordered.’
‘As I what?’ returned Sir John.
‘Well then,’ said Hugh uneasily, ‘as you advised, or said I ought, or said _ight, 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 ha_stablished over this rough instrument appeared in the knight’s face for a_nstant; 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 t_o something for me—something I wanted done— something for my own ends an_urposes—you see? Now I am sure I needn’t enlarge upon the extreme absurdit_f such an idea, however unintentional; so please—’ and here he turned hi_yes upon him— ‘to be more guarded. Will you?’
‘I meant to give you no offence,’ said Hugh. ‘I don’t know what to say. Yo_atch me up so very short.’
‘You will be caught up much shorter, my good friend—infinitely shorter—one o_hese days, depend upon it,’ replied his patron calmly. ‘By-the-bye, instea_f wondering why you have been so long, my wonder should be why you came a_ll. Why did you?’
‘You know, master,’ said Hugh, ‘that I couldn’t read the bill I found, an_hat supposing it to be something particular from the way it was wrapped up, _rought 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 los_ight of for good and all—and that’s five years ago—I haven’t talked with an_ne but you.’
‘You have done me honour, I am sure.’
‘I have come to and fro, master, all through that time, when there wa_nything to tell, because I knew that you’d be angry with me if I staye_way,’ said Hugh, blurting the words out, after an embarrassed silence; ‘an_ecause 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 a_ure.’
‘You are a specious fellow,’ returned Sir John, fixing his eyes upon him, ‘an_arry two faces under your hood, as well as the best. Didn’t you give me i_his room, this evening, any other reason; no dislike of anybody who ha_lighted 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 i_hould; ‘and I say it all over now, again. I’d do anything to have som_evenge on him—anything. And when you told me that he and all the Catholic_ould suffer from those who joined together under that handbill, I said I’_ake one of ’em, if their master was the devil himself. I am one of ’em. Se_hether 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 tha_se me ill. You shall see, and so shall he, and so shall hundreds more, how m_pirit backs me when the time comes. My bark is nothing to my bite. Some tha_ know had better have a wild lion among ’em than me, when I am fairl_oose—they had!’
The knight looked at him with a smile of far deeper meaning than ordinary; an_ointing to the old cupboard, followed him with his eyes while he filled an_rank a glass of liquor; and smiled when his back was turned, with deepe_eaning yet.
‘You are in a blustering mood, my friend,’ he said, when Hugh confronted hi_gain.
‘Not I, master!’ cried Hugh. ‘I don’t say half I mean. I can’t. I haven’t go_he 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 mos_rofound 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, _elieve?’
‘A roaring dog, master—one after my own heart—hot upon the matter too—re_ot.’
‘So I have heard,’ replied Sir John, carelessly. ‘You don’t happen to know hi_rade, do you?’
‘He wouldn’t say,’ cried Hugh. ‘He keeps it secret.’
‘Ha ha!’ laughed Sir John. ‘A strange fancy—a weakness with som_ersons—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. ‘Di_ou 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 inquir_eing followed by a long train of questions, he related all that had passe_oth in and out of doors, the kind of people he had seen, their numbers, stat_f feeling, mode of conversation, apparent expectations and intentions. Hi_uestioning was so artfully contrived, that he seemed even in his own eyes t_olunteer all this information rather than to have it wrested from him; and h_as brought to this state of feeling so naturally, that when Mr Chester yawne_t length and declared himself quite wearied out, he made a rough kind o_xcuse for having talked so much.
‘There—get you gone,’ said Sir John, holding the door open in his hand. ‘Yo_ave made a pretty evening’s work. I told you not to do this. You may get int_rouble. You’ll have an opportunity of revenging yourself on your proud frien_aredale, though, and for that, you’d hazard anything, I suppose?’
‘I would,’ retorted Hugh, stopping in his passage out and looking back; ‘bu_hat do I risk! What do I stand a chance of losing, master? Friends, home? _ig 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 abou_ou.’
Hugh nodded, and touching his cap with an air of as much respect as he coul_ummon up, departed.
Sir John, fastening the doors behind him, went back to his dressing-room, an_at down once again before the fire, at which he gazed for a long time, i_arnest meditation.
‘This happens fortunately,’ he said, breaking into a smile, ‘and promise_ell. Let me see. My relative and I, who are the most Protestant fellows i_he 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 o_s has himself for the first article in his creed, we cannot commit ourselve_y joining with a very extravagant madman, such as this Gordon mos_ndoubtedly is. Now really, to foment his disturbances in secret, through th_edium of such a very apt instrument as my savage friend here, may further ou_eal ends; and to express at all becoming seasons, in moderate and polit_erms, a disapprobation of his proceedings, though we agree with him i_rinciple, will certainly be to gain a character for honesty and uprightnes_f purpose, which cannot fail to do us infinite service, and to raise us int_ome importance. Good! So much for public grounds. As to privat_onsiderations, I confess that if these vagabonds would make some riotou_emonstration (which does not appear impossible), and would inflict som_ittle chastisement on Haredale as a not inactive man among his sect, it woul_e extremely agreeable to my feelings, and would amuse me beyond measure. Goo_gain! Perhaps better!’
When he came to this point, he took a pinch of snuff; then beginning slowly t_ndress, he resumed his meditations, by saying with a smile:
‘I fear, I do fear exceedingly, that my friend is following fast in th_ootsteps of his mother. His intimacy with Mr Dennis is very ominous. But _ave no doubt he must have come to that end any way. If I lend him a helpin_and, the only difference is, that he may, upon the whole, possibly drink _ew gallons, or puncheons, or hogsheads, less in this life than he otherwis_ould. 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.