When the concourse separated, and, dividing into chance clusters, drew off i_arious directions, there still remained upon the scene of the lat_isturbance, one man. This man was Gashford, who, bruised by his late fall, and hurt in a much greater degree by the indignity he had undergone, and th_xposure of which he had been the victim, limped up and down, breathing curse_nd threats of vengeance.
It was not the secretary’s nature to waste his wrath in words. While he vente_he froth of his malevolence in those effusions, he kept a steady eye on tw_en, who, having disappeared with the rest when the alarm was spread, ha_ince returned, and were now visible in the moonlight, at no great distance, as they walked to and fro, and talked together.
He made no move towards them, but waited patiently on the dark side of th_treet, until they were tired of strolling backwards and forwards and walke_way in company. Then he followed, but at some distance: keeping them in view, without appearing to have that object, or being seen by them.
They went up Parliament Street, past Saint Martin’s church, and away by Sain_iles’s to Tottenham Court Road, at the back of which, upon the western side, was then a place called the Green Lanes. This was a retired spot, not of th_hoicest kind, leading into the fields. Great heaps of ashes; stagnant pools, overgrown with rank grass and duckweed; broken turnstiles; and the uprigh_osts of palings long since carried off for firewood, which menaced al_eedless walkers with their jagged and rusty nails; were the leading feature_f the landscape: while here and there a donkey, or a ragged horse, tethere_o a stake, and cropping off a wretched meal from the coarse stunted turf, were quite in keeping with the scene, and would have suggested (if the house_ad not done so, sufficiently, of themselves) how very poor the people wer_ho lived in the crazy huts adjacent, and how foolhardy it might prove for on_ho carried money, or wore decent clothes, to walk that way alone, unless b_aylight.
Poverty has its whims and shows of taste, as wealth has. Some of these cabin_ere turreted, some had false windows painted on their rotten walls; one had _imic clock, upon a crazy tower of four feet high, which screened the chimney; each in its little patch of ground had a rude seat or arbour. The populatio_ealt in bones, in rags, in broken glass, in old wheels, in birds, and dogs.
These, in their several ways of stowage, filled the gardens; and shedding _erfume, not of the most delicious nature, in the air, filled it besides wit_elps, and screams, and howling.
Into this retreat, the secretary followed the two men whom he had held i_ight; and here he saw them safely lodged, in one of the meanest houses, whic_as but a room, and that of small dimensions. He waited without, until th_ound of their voices, joined in a discordant song, assured him they wer_aking merry; and then approaching the door, by means of a tottering plan_hich crossed the ditch in front, knocked at it with his hand.
‘Muster Gashfordl’ said the man who opened it, taking his pipe from his mouth, in evident surprise. ‘Why, who’d have thought of this here honour! Walk in, Muster Gashford—walk in, sir.’
Gashford required no second invitation, and entered with a gracious air. Ther_as a fire in the rusty grate (for though the spring was pretty far advanced, the nights were cold), and on a stool beside it Hugh sat smoking. Denni_laced a chair, his only one, for the secretary, in front of the hearth; an_ook his seat again upon the stool he had left when he rose to give th_isitor admission.
‘What’s in the wind now, Muster Gashford?’ he said, as he resumed his pipe, and looked at him askew. ‘Any orders from head-quarters? Are we going t_egin? What is it, Muster Gashford?’
‘Oh, nothing, nothing,’ rejoined the secretary, with a friendly nod to Hugh.
‘We have broken the ice, though. We had a little spurt to-day—eh, Dennis?’
‘A very little one,’ growled the hangman. ‘Not half enough for me.’
‘Nor me neither!’ cried Hugh. ‘Give us something to do with life in it—wit_ife in it, master. Ha, ha!’
‘Why, you wouldn’t,’ said the secretary, with his worst expression of face, and in his mildest tones, ‘have anything to do, with—with death in it?’
‘I don’t know that,’ replied Hugh. ‘I’m open to orders. I don’t care; not I.’
‘Nor I!’ vociferated Dennis.
‘Brave fellows!’ said the secretary, in as pastor-like a voice as if he wer_ommending them for some uncommon act of valour and generosity. ‘By th_ye’—and here he stopped and warmed his hands: then suddenly looked up—‘wh_hrew that stone to-day?’
Mr Dennis coughed and shook his head, as who should say, ‘a mystery indeed!’ Hugh sat and smoked in silence.
‘It was well done!’ said the secretary, warming his hands again. ‘I shoul_ike to know that man.’
‘Would you?’ said Dennis, after looking at his face to assure himself that h_as serious. ‘Would you like to know that man, Muster Gashford?’
‘I should indeed,’ replied the secretary.
‘Why then, Lord love you,’ said the hangman, in his hoarest chuckle, as h_ointed with his pipe to Hugh, ‘there he sits. That’s the man. My stars an_alters, Muster Gashford,’ he added in a whisper, as he drew his stool clos_o him and jogged him with his elbow, ‘what a interesting blade he is! H_ants as much holding in as a thorough-bred bulldog. If it hadn’t been for m_o-day, he’d have had that ‘ere Roman down, and made a riot of it, in anothe_inute.’
‘And why not?’ cried Hugh in a surly voice, as he overheard this last remark.
‘Where’s the good of putting things off? Strike while the iron’s hot; that’_hat I say.’
‘Ah!’ retorted Dennis, shaking his head, with a kind of pity for his friend’_ngenuous youth; ‘but suppose the iron an’t hot, brother! You must ge_eople’s blood up afore you strike, and have ’em in the humour. There wasn’_uite enough to provoke ’em to- day, I tell you. If you’d had your way, you’_ave spoilt the fun to come, and ruined us.’
‘Dennis is quite right,’ said Gashford, smoothly. ‘He is perfectly correct.
Dennis has great knowledge of the world.’
‘I ought to have, Muster Gashford, seeing what a many people I’ve helped ou_f it, eh?’ grinned the hangman, whispering the words behind his hand.
The secretary laughed at this jest as much as Dennis could desire, and when h_ad done, said, turning to Hugh:
‘Dennis’s policy was mine, as you may have observed. You saw, for instance, how I fell when I was set upon. I made no resistance. I did nothing to provok_n outbreak. Oh dear no!’
‘No, by the Lord Harry!’ cried Dennis with a noisy laugh, ‘you went down ver_uiet, Muster Gashford—and very flat besides. I thinks to myself at the time “it’s all up with Muster Gashford!” I never see a man lay flatter nor mor_till—with the life in him—than you did to-day. He’s a rough ‘un to play with, is that ‘ere Papist, and that’s the fact.’
The secretary’s face, as Dennis roared with laughter, and turned his wrinkle_yes on Hugh who did the like, might have furnished a study for the devil’_icture. He sat quite silent until they were serious again, and then said, looking round:
‘We are very pleasant here; so very pleasant, Dennis, that but for my lord’_articular desire that I should sup with him, and the time being very near a_and, I should he inclined to stay, until it would be hardly safe to g_omeward. I come upon a little business—yes, I do—as you supposed. It’s ver_lattering to you; being this. If we ever should be obliged—and we can’t tell, you know—this is a very uncertain world’—
‘I believe you, Muster Gashford,’ interposed the hangman with a grave nod.
‘The uncertainties as I’ve seen in reference to this here state of existence, the unexpected contingencies as have come about!—Oh my eye!’ Feeling th_ubject much too vast for expression, he puffed at his pipe again, and looke_he rest.
‘I say,’ resumed the secretary, in a slow, impressive way; ‘we can’t tell wha_ay come to pass; and if we should be obliged, against our wills, to hav_ecourse to violence, my lord (who has suffered terribly to-day, as far a_ords can go) consigns to you two—bearing in mind my recommendation of yo_oth, as good staunch men, beyond all doubt and suspicion—the pleasant task o_unishing this Haredale. You may do as you please with him, or his, provide_hat you show no mercy, and no quarter, and leave no two beams of his hous_tanding where the builder placed them. You may sack it, burn it, do with i_s you like, but it must come down; it must be razed to the ground; and he, and all belonging to him, left as shelterless as new-born infants whom thei_others have exposed. Do you understand me?’ said Gashford, pausing, an_ressing his hands together gently.
‘I knew you would like it,’ said Gashford, shaking him by the hand; ‘I though_ou would. Good night! Don’t rise, Dennis: I would rather find my way alone. _ay have to make other visits here, and it’s pleasant to come and go withou_isturbing you. I can find my way perfectly well. Good night!’
He was gone, and had shut the door behind him. They looked at each other, an_odded approvingly: Dennis stirred up the fire.
‘This looks a little more like business!’ he said.
‘Ay, indeed!’ cried Hugh; ‘this suits me!’
‘I’ve heerd it said of Muster Gashford,’ said the hangman, ‘that he’d _urprising memory and wonderful firmness—that he never forgot, and neve_orgave.—Let’s drink his health!’
Hugh readily complied—pouring no liquor on the floor when he drank thi_oast—and they pledged the secretary as a man after their own hearts, in _umper.