Barnaby Rudge

A Tale of the Riots of ’Eighty


Charles Dickens

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Table of Contents

  1. Chapter 1
  2. Chapter 2
  3. Chapter 3
  4. Chapter 4
  5. Chapter 5
  6. Chapter 6
  7. Chapter 7
  8. Chapter 8
  9. Chapter 9
  10. Chapter 10
  11. Chapter 11
  12. Chapter 12
  13. Chapter 13
  14. Chapter 14
  15. Chapter 15
  16. Chapter 16
  17. Chapter 17
  18. Chapter 18
  19. Chapter 19
  20. Chapter 20
  21. Chapter 21
  22. Chapter 22
  23. Chapter 23
  24. Chapter 24
  25. Chapter 25
  26. Chapter 26
  27. Chapter 27
  28. Chapter 28
  29. Chapter 29
  30. Chapter 30
  31. Chapter 31
  32. Chapter 32
  33. Chapter 33
  34. Chapter 34
  35. Chapter 35
  36. Chapter 36
  37. Chapter 37
  38. Chapter 38
  39. Chapter 39
  40. Chapter 40
  41. Chapter 41
  42. Chapter 42
  43. Chapter 43
  44. Chapter 44
  45. Chapter 45
  46. Chapter 46
  47. Chapter 47
  48. Chapter 48
  49. Chapter 49
  50. Chapter 50
  51. Chapter 51
  52. Chapter 52
  53. Chapter 53
  54. Chapter 54
  55. Chapter 55
  56. Chapter 56
  57. Chapter 57
  58. Chapter 58
  59. Chapter 59
  60. Chapter 60
  61. Chapter 61
  62. Chapter 62
  63. Chapter 63
  64. Chapter 64
  65. Chapter 65
  66. Chapter 66
  67. Chapter 67
  68. Chapter 68
  69. Chapter 69
  70. Chapter 70
  71. Chapter 71
  72. Chapter 72
  73. Chapter 73
  74. Chapter 74
  75. Chapter 75
  76. Chapter 76
  77. Chapter 77
  78. Chapter 78
  79. Chapter 79
  80. Chapter 80
  81. Chapter 81
  82. Chapter the Last

PREFACE

The late Mr Waterton having, some time ago, expressed his opinion that ravens are gradually becoming extinct in England, I offered the few following words about my experience of these birds.

The raven in this story is a compound of two great originals, of whom I was, at different times, the proud possessor. The first was in the bloom of his youth, when he was discovered in a modest retirement in London, by a friend of mine, and given to me. He had from the first, as Sir Hugh Evans says of Anne Page, ‘good gifts’, which he improved by study and attention in a most exemplary manner. He slept in a stable — generally on horseback — and so terrified a Newfoundland dog by his preternatural sagacity, that he has been known, by the mere superiority of his genius, to walk off unmolested with the dog’s dinner, from before his face. He was rapidly rising in acquirements and virtues, when, in an evil hour, his stable was newly painted. He observed the workmen closely, saw that they were careful of the paint, and immediately burned to possess it. On their going to dinner, he ate up all they had left behind, consisting of a pound or two of white lead; and this youthful indiscretion terminated in death.

While I was yet inconsolable for his loss, another friend of mine in Yorkshire discovered an older and more gifted raven at a village public-house, which he prevailed upon the landlord to part with for a consideration, and sent up to me. The first act of this Sage, was, to administer to the effects of his predecessor, by disinterring all the cheese and halfpence he had buried in the garden — a work of immense labour and research, to which he devoted all the energies of his mind. When he had achieved this task, he applied himself to the acquisition of stable language, in which he soon became such an adept, that he would perch outside my window and drive imaginary horses with great skill, all day. Perhaps even I never saw him at his best, for his former master sent his duty with him, ‘and if I wished the bird to come out very strong, would I be so good as to show him a drunken man’— which I never did, having (unfortunately) none but sober people at hand.

But I could hardly have respected him more, whatever the stimulating influences of this sight might have been. He had not the least respect, I am sorry to say, for me in return, or for anybody but the cook; to whom he was attached — but only, I fear, as a Policeman might have been. Once, I met him unexpectedly, about half-a-mile from my house, walking down the middle of a public street, attended by a pretty large crowd, and spontaneously exhibiting the whole of his accomplishments. His gravity under those trying circumstances, I can never forget, nor the extraordinary gallantry with which, refusing to be brought home, he defended himself behind a pump, until overpowered by numbers. It may have been that he was too bright a genius to live long, or it may have been that he took some pernicious substance into his bill, and thence into his maw — which is not improbable, seeing that he new-pointed the greater part of the garden-wall by digging out the mortar, broke countless squares of glass by scraping away the putty all round the frames, and tore up and swallowed, in splinters, the greater part of a wooden staircase of six steps and a landing — but after some three years he too was taken ill, and died before the kitchen fire. He kept his eye to the last upon the meat as it roasted, and suddenly. turned over on his back with a sepulchral cry of ‘Cuckoo!’ Since then I have been ravenless.

No account of the Gordon Riots having been to my knowledge introduced into any Work of Fiction, and the subject presenting very extraordinary and remarkable features, I was led to project this Tale.

It is unnecessary to say, that those shameful tumults, while they reflect indelible disgrace upon the time in which they occurred, and all who had act or part in them, teach a good lesson. That what we falsely call a religious cry is easily raised by men who have no religion, and who in their daily practice set at nought the commonest principles of right and wrong; that it is begotten of intolerance and persecution; that it is senseless, besotted, inveterate and unmerciful; all History teaches us. But perhaps we do not know it in our hearts too well, to profit by even so humble an example as the ‘No Popery’ riots of Seventeen Hundred and Eighty.

However imperfectly those disturbances are set forth in the following pages, they are impartially painted by one who has no sympathy with the Romish Church, though he acknowledges, as most men do, some esteemed friends among the followers of its creed.

In the description of the principal outrages, reference has been had to the best authorities of that time, such as they are; the account given in this Tale, of all the main features of the Riots, is substantially correct.

Mr Dennis’s allusions to the flourishing condition of his trade in those days, have their foundation in Truth, and not in the Author’s fancy. Any file of old Newspapers, or odd volume of the Annual Register, will prove this with terrible ease.

Even the case of Mary Jones, dwelt upon with so much pleasure by the same character, is no effort of invention. The facts were stated, exactly as they are stated here, in the House of Commons. Whether they afforded as much entertainment to the merry gentlemen assembled there, as some other most affecting circumstances of a similar nature mentioned by Sir Samuel Romilly, is not recorded.

That the case of Mary Jones may speak the more emphatically for itself, I subjoin it, as related by SIR WILLIAM MEREDITH in a speech in Parliament, ‘on Frequent Executions’, made in 1777.

‘Under this act,’ the Shop-lifting Act, ‘one Mary Jones was executed, whose case I shall just mention; it was at the time when press warrants were issued, on the alarm about Falkland Islands. The woman’s husband was pressed, their goods seized for some debts of his, and she, with two small children, turned into the streets a-begging. It is a circumstance not to be forgotten, that she was very young (under nineteen), and most remarkably handsome. She went to a linen-draper’s shop, took some coarse linen off the counter, and slipped it under her cloak; the shopman saw her, and she laid it down: for this she was hanged. Her defence was (I have the trial in my pocket), “that she had lived in credit, and wanted for nothing, till a press-gang came and stole her husband from her; but since then, she had no bed to lie on; nothing to give her children to eat; and they were almost naked; and perhaps she might have done something wrong, for she hardly knew what she did.” The parish officers testified the truth of this story; but it seems, there had been a good deal of shop-lifting about Ludgate; an example was thought necessary; and this woman was hanged for the comfort and satisfaction of shopkeepers in Ludgate Street. When brought to receive sentence, she behaved in such a frantic manner, as proved her mind to he in a distracted and desponding state; and the child was sucking at her breast when she set out for Tyburn.’

Chapter 1

In the year 1775, there stood upon the borders of Epping Forest, at a distance of about twelve miles from London — measuring from the Standard in Cornhill,’ or rather from the spot on or near to which the Standard used to be in days of yore — a house of public entertainment called the Maypole; which fact was demonstrated to all such travellers as could neither read nor write (and at that time a vast number both of travellers and stay-at-homes were in this condition) by the emblem reared on the roadside over against the house, which, if not of those goodly proportions that Maypoles were wont to present in olden times, was a fair young ash, thirty feet in height, and straight as any arrow that ever English yeoman drew.

The Maypole — by which term from henceforth is meant the house, and not its sign — the Maypole was an old building, with more gable ends than a lazy man would care to count on a sunny day; huge zig-zag chimneys, out of which it seemed as though even smoke could not choose but come in more than naturally fantastic shapes, imparted to it in its tortuous progress; and vast stables, gloomy, ruinous, and empty. The place was said to have been built in the days of King Henry the Eighth; and there was a legend, not only that Queen Elizabeth had slept there one night while upon a hunting excursion, to wit, in a certain oak-panelled room with a deep bay window, but that next morning, while standing on a mounting block before the door with one foot in the stirrup, the virgin monarch had then and there boxed and cuffed an unlucky page for some neglect of duty. The matter-of-fact and doubtful folks, of whom there were a few among the Maypole customers, as unluckily there always are in every little community, were inclined to look upon this tradition as rather apocryphal; but, whenever the landlord of that ancient hostelry appealed to the mounting block itself as evidence, and triumphantly pointed out that there it stood in the same place to that very day, the doubters never failed to be put down by a large majority, and all true believers exulted as in a victory.

Whether these, and many other stories of the like nature, were true or untrue, the Maypole was really an old house, a very old house, perhaps as old as it claimed to be, and perhaps older, which will sometimes happen with houses of an uncertain, as with ladies of a certain, age. Its windows were old diamond-pane lattices, its floors were sunken and uneven, its ceilings blackened by the hand of time, and heavy with massive beams. Over the doorway was an ancient porch, quaintly and grotesquely carved; and here on summer evenings the more favoured customers smoked and drank — ay, and sang many a good song too, sometimes — reposing on two grim-looking high-backed settles, which, like the twin dragons of some fairy tale, guarded the entrance to the mansion.

In the chimneys of the disused rooms, swallows had built their nests for many a long year, and from earliest spring to latest autumn whole colonies of sparrows chirped and twittered in the eaves. There were more pigeons about the dreary stable-yard and out-buildings than anybody but the landlord could reckon up. The wheeling and circling flights of runts, fantails, tumblers, and pouters, were perhaps not quite consistent with the grave and sober character of the building, but the monotonous cooing, which never ceased to be raised by some among them all day long, suited it exactly, and seemed to lull it to rest. With its overhanging stories, drowsy little panes of glass, and front bulging out and projecting over the pathway, the old house looked as if it were nodding in its sleep. Indeed, it needed no very great stretch of fancy to detect in it other resemblances to humanity. The bricks of which it was built had originally been a deep dark red, but had grown yellow and discoloured like an old man’s skin; the sturdy timbers had decayed like teeth; and here and there the ivy, like a warm garment to comfort it in its age, wrapt its green leaves closely round the time-worn walls.

It was a hale and hearty age though, still: and in the summer or autumn evenings, when the glow of the setting sun fell upon the oak and chestnut trees of the adjacent forest, the old house, partaking of its lustre, seemed their fit companion, and to have many good years of life in him yet.

The evening with which we have to do, was neither a summer nor an autumn one, but the twilight of a day in March, when the wind howled dismally among the bare branches of the trees, and rumbling in the wide chimneys and driving the rain against the windows of the Maypole Inn, gave such of its frequenters as chanced to be there at the moment an undeniable reason for prolonging their stay, and caused the landlord to prophesy that the night would certainly clear at eleven o’clock precisely — which by a remarkable coincidence was the hour at which he always closed his house.

The name of him upon whom the spirit of prophecy thus descended was John Willet, a burly, large-headed man with a fat face, which betokened profound obstinacy and slowness of apprehension, combined with a very strong reliance upon his own merits. It was John Willet’s ordinary boast in his more placid moods that if he were slow he was sure; which assertion could, in one sense at least, be by no means gainsaid, seeing that he was in everything unquestionably the reverse of fast, and withal one of the most dogged and positive fellows in existence — always sure that what he thought or said or did was right, and holding it as a thing quite settled and ordained by the laws of nature and Providence, that anybody who said or did or thought otherwise must be inevitably and of necessity wrong.

Mr Willet walked slowly up to the window, flattened his fat nose against the cold glass, and shading his eyes that his sight might not be affected by the ruddy glow of the fire, looked abroad. Then he walked slowly back to his old seat in the chimney-corner, and, composing himself in it with a slight shiver, such as a man might give way to and so acquire an additional relish for the warm blaze, said, looking round upon his guests:

‘It’ll clear at eleven o’clock. No sooner and no later. Not before and not arterwards.’

‘How do you make out that?’ said a little man in the opposite corner. ‘The moon is past the full, and she rises at nine.’

John looked sedately and solemnly at his questioner until he had brought his mind to bear upon the whole of his observation, and then made answer, in a tone which seemed to imply that the moon was peculiarly his business and nobody else’s:

‘Never you mind about the moon. Don’t you trouble yourself about her. You let the moon alone, and I’ll let you alone.’

‘No offence I hope?’ said the little man.

Again John waited leisurely until the observation had thoroughly penetrated to his brain, and then replying, ‘No offence as YET,’ applied a light to his pipe and smoked in placid silence; now and then casting a sidelong look at a man wrapped in a loose riding-coat with huge cuffs ornamented with tarnished silver lace and large metal buttons, who sat apart from the regular frequenters of the house, and wearing a hat flapped over his face, which was still further shaded by the hand on which his forehead rested, looked unsociable enough.

There was another guest, who sat, booted and spurred, at some distance from the fire also, and whose thoughts — to judge from his folded arms and knitted brows, and from the untasted liquor before him — were occupied with other matters than the topics under discussion or the persons who discussed them. This was a young man of about eight-and-twenty, rather above the middle height, and though of somewhat slight figure, gracefully and strongly made. He wore his own dark hair, and was accoutred in a riding dress, which together with his large boots (resembling in shape and fashion those worn by our Life Guardsmen at the present day), showed indisputable traces of the bad condition of the roads. But travel-stained though he was, he was well and even richly attired, and without being overdressed looked a gallant gentleman.

Lying upon the table beside him, as he had carelessly thrown them down, were a heavy riding-whip and a slouched hat, the latter worn no doubt as being best suited to the inclemency of the weather. There, too, were a pair of pistols in a holster-case, and a short riding-cloak. Little of his face was visible, except the long dark lashes which concealed his downcast eyes, but an air of careless ease and natural gracefulness of demeanour pervaded the figure, and seemed to comprehend even those slight accessories, which were all handsome, and in good keeping.

Towards this young gentleman the eyes of Mr Willet wandered but once, and then as if in mute inquiry whether he had observed his silent neighbour. It was plain that John and the young gentleman had often met before. Finding that his look was not returned, or indeed observed by the person to whom it was addressed, John gradually concentrated the whole power of his eyes into one focus, and brought it to bear upon the man in the flapped hat, at whom he came to stare in course of time with an intensity so remarkable, that it affected his fireside cronies, who all, as with one accord, took their pipes from their lips, and stared with open mouths at the stranger likewise.

The sturdy landlord had a large pair of dull fish-like eyes, and the little man who had hazarded the remark about the moon (and who was the parish-clerk and bell-ringer of Chigwell, a village hard by) had little round black shiny eyes like beads; moreover this little man wore at the knees of his rusty black breeches, and on his rusty black coat, and all down his long flapped waistcoat, little queer buttons like nothing except his eyes; but so like them, that as they twinkled and glistened in the light of the fire, which shone too in his bright shoe-buckles, he seemed all eyes from head to foot, and to be gazing with every one of them at the unknown customer. No wonder that a man should grow restless under such an inspection as this, to say nothing of the eyes belonging to short Tom Cobb the general chandler and post-office keeper, and long Phil Parkes the ranger, both of whom, infected by the example of their companions, regarded him of the flapped hat no less attentively.

The stranger became restless; perhaps from being exposed to this raking fire of eyes, perhaps from the nature of his previous meditations — most probably from the latter cause, for as he changed his position and looked hastily round, he started to find himself the object of such keen regard, and darted an angry and suspicious glance at the fireside group. It had the effect of immediately diverting all eyes to the chimney, except those of John Willet, who finding himself as it were, caught in the fact, and not being (as has been already observed) of a very ready nature, remained staring at his guest in a particularly awkward and disconcerted manner.

‘Well?’ said the stranger.

Well. There was not much in well. It was not a long speech. ‘I thought you gave an order,’ said the landlord, after a pause of two or three minutes for consideration.

The stranger took off his hat, and disclosed the hard features of a man of sixty or thereabouts, much weatherbeaten and worn by time, and the naturally harsh expression of which was not improved by a dark handkerchief which was bound tightly round his head, and, while it served the purpose of a wig, shaded his forehead, and almost hid his eyebrows. If it were intended to conceal or divert attention from a deep gash, now healed into an ugly seam, which when it was first inflicted must have laid bare his cheekbone, the object was but indifferently attained, for it could scarcely fail to be noted at a glance. His complexion was of a cadaverous hue, and he had a grizzly jagged beard of some three weeks’ date. Such was the figure (very meanly and poorly clad) that now rose from the seat, and stalking across the room sat down in a corner of the chimney, which the politeness or fears of the little clerk very readily assigned to him.

‘A highwayman!’ whispered Tom Cobb to Parkes the ranger.

‘Do you suppose highwaymen don’t dress handsomer than that?’ replied Parkes. ‘It’s a better business than you think for, Tom, and highwaymen don’t need or use to be shabby, take my word for it.’

Meanwhile the subject of their speculations had done due honour to the house by calling for some drink, which was promptly supplied by the landlord’s son Joe, a broad-shouldered strapping young fellow of twenty, whom it pleased his father still to consider a little boy, and to treat accordingly. Stretching out his hands to warm them by the blazing fire, the man turned his head towards the company, and after running his eye sharply over them, said in a voice well suited to his appearance:

‘What house is that which stands a mile or so from here?’

‘Public-house?’ said the landlord, with his usual deliberation.

‘Public-house, father!’ exclaimed Joe, ‘where’s the public-house within a mile or so of the Maypole? He means the great house — the Warren — naturally and of course. The old red brick house, sir, that stands in its own grounds —?’

‘Aye,’ said the stranger.

‘And that fifteen or twenty years ago stood in a park five times as broad, which with other and richer property has bit by bit changed hands and dwindled away — more’s the pity!’ pursued the young man.

‘Maybe,’ was the reply. ‘But my question related to the owner. What it has been I don’t care to know, and what it is I can see for myself.’

The heir-apparent to the Maypole pressed his finger on his lips, and glancing at the young gentleman already noticed, who had changed his attitude when the house was first mentioned, replied in a lower tone:

‘The owner’s name is Haredale, Mr Geoffrey Haredale, and’— again he glanced in the same direction as before —‘and a worthy gentleman too — hem!’

Paying as little regard to this admonitory cough, as to the significant gesture that had preceded it, the stranger pursued his questioning.

‘I turned out of my way coming here, and took the footpath that crosses the grounds. Who was the young lady that I saw entering a carriage? His daughter?’

‘Why, how should I know, honest man?’ replied Joe, contriving in the course of some arrangements about the hearth, to advance close to his questioner and pluck him by the sleeve, ‘I didn’t see the young lady, you know. Whew! There’s the wind again — AND rain — well it IS a night!’

Rough weather indeed!’ observed the strange man.

‘You’re used to it?’ said Joe, catching at anything which seemed to promise a diversion of the subject.

‘Pretty well,’ returned the other. ‘About the young lady — has Mr Haredale a daughter?’

‘No, no,’ said the young fellow fretfully, ‘he’s a single gentleman — he’s — be quiet, can’t you, man? Don’t you see this talk is not relished yonder?’

Regardless of this whispered remonstrance, and affecting not to hear it, his tormentor provokingly continued:

‘Single men have had daughters before now. Perhaps she may be his daughter, though he is not married.’

‘What do you mean?’ said Joe, adding in an undertone as he approached him again, ‘You’ll come in for it presently, I know you will!’

‘I mean no harm’— returned the traveller boldly, ‘and have said none that I know of. I ask a few questions — as any stranger may, and not unnaturally — about the inmates of a remarkable house in a neighbourhood which is new to me, and you are as aghast and disturbed as if I were talking treason against King George. Perhaps you can tell me why, sir, for (as I say) I am a stranger, and this is Greek to me?’

The latter observation was addressed to the obvious cause of Joe Willet’s discomposure, who had risen and was adjusting his riding-cloak preparatory to sallying abroad. Briefly replying that he could give him no information, the young man beckoned to Joe, and handing him a piece of money in payment of his reckoning, hurried out attended by young Willet himself, who taking up a candle followed to light him to the house-door.

While Joe was absent on this errand, the elder Willet and his three companions continued to smoke with profound gravity, and in a deep silence, each having his eyes fixed on a huge copper boiler that was suspended over the fire. After some time John Willet slowly shook his head, and thereupon his friends slowly shook theirs; but no man withdrew his eyes from the boiler, or altered the solemn expression of his countenance in the slightest degree.

At length Joe returned — very talkative and conciliatory, as though with a strong presentiment that he was going to be found fault with.

‘Such a thing as love is!’ he said, drawing a chair near the fire, and looking round for sympathy. ‘He has set off to walk to London — all the way to London. His nag gone lame in riding out here this blessed afternoon, and comfortably littered down in our stable at this minute; and he giving up a good hot supper and our best bed, because Miss Haredale has gone to a masquerade up in town, and he has set his heart upon seeing her! I don’t think I could persuade myself to do that, beautiful as she is — but then I’m not in love (at least I don’t think I am) and that’s the whole difference.’

‘He is in love then?’ said the stranger.

‘Rather,’ replied Joe. ‘He’ll never be more in love, and may very easily be less.’

‘Silence, sir!’ cried his father.

‘What a chap you are, Joe!’ said Long Parkes.

‘Such a inconsiderate lad!’ murmured Tom Cobb.

‘Putting himself forward and wringing the very nose off his own father’s face!’ exclaimed the parish-clerk, metaphorically.

‘What HAVE I done?’ reasoned poor Joe.

‘Silence, sir!’ returned his father, ‘what do you mean by talking, when you see people that are more than two or three times your age, sitting still and silent and not dreaming of saying a word?’

‘Why that’s the proper time for me to talk, isn’t it?’ said Joe rebelliously.

‘The proper time, sir!’ retorted his father, ‘the proper time’s no time.’

‘Ah to be sure!’ muttered Parkes, nodding gravely to the other two who nodded likewise, observing under their breaths that that was the point.

‘The proper time’s no time, sir,’ repeated John Willet; ‘when I was your age I never talked, I never wanted to talk. I listened and improved myself that’s what I did.’

‘And you’d find your father rather a tough customer in argeyment, Joe, if anybody was to try and tackle him,’ said Parkes.

‘For the matter o’ that, Phil!’ observed Mr Willet, blowing a long, thin, spiral cloud of smoke out of the corner of his mouth, and staring at it abstractedly as it floated away; ‘For the matter o’ that, Phil, argeyment is a gift of Natur. If Natur has gifted a man with powers of argeyment, a man has a right to make the best of ’em, and has not a right to stand on false delicacy, and deny that he is so gifted; for that is a turning of his back on Natur, a flouting of her, a slighting of her precious caskets, and a proving of one’s self to be a swine that isn’t worth her scattering pearls before.’

The landlord pausing here for a very long time, Mr Parkes naturally concluded that he had brought his discourse to an end; and therefore, turning to the young man with some austerity, exclaimed:

‘You hear what your father says, Joe? You wouldn’t much like to tackle him in argeyment, I’m thinking, sir.’

‘IF,’ said John Willet, turning his eyes from the ceiling to the face of his interrupter, and uttering the monosyllable in capitals, to apprise him that he had put in his oar, as the vulgar say, with unbecoming and irreverent haste; ‘IF, sir, Natur has fixed upon me the gift of argeyment, why should I not own to it, and rather glory in the same? Yes, sir, I AM a tough customer that way. You are right, sir. My toughness has been proved, sir, in this room many and many a time, as I think you know; and if you don’t know,’ added John, putting his pipe in his mouth again, ‘so much the better, for I an’t proud and am not going to tell you.’

A general murmur from his three cronies, and a general shaking of heads at the copper boiler, assured John Willet that they had had good experience of his powers and needed no further evidence to assure them of his superiority. John smoked with a little more dignity and surveyed them in silence.

‘It’s all very fine talking,’ muttered Joe, who had been fidgeting in his chair with divers uneasy gestures. ‘But if you mean to tell me that I’m never to open my lips —’

‘Silence, sir!’ roared his father. ‘No, you never are. When your opinion’s wanted, you give it. When you’re spoke to, you speak. When your opinion’s not wanted and you’re not spoke to, don’t you give an opinion and don’t you speak. The world’s undergone a nice alteration since my time, certainly. My belief is that there an’t any boys left — that there isn’t such a thing as a boy — that there’s nothing now between a male baby and a man — and that all the boys went out with his blessed Majesty King George the Second.’

‘That’s a very true observation, always excepting the young princes,’ said the parish-clerk, who, as the representative of church and state in that company, held himself bound to the nicest loyalty. ‘If it’s godly and righteous for boys, being of the ages of boys, to behave themselves like boys, then the young princes must be boys and cannot be otherwise.’

‘Did you ever hear tell of mermaids, sir?’ said Mr Willet.

‘Certainly I have,’ replied the clerk.

‘Very good,’ said Mr Willet. ‘According to the constitution of mermaids, so much of a mermaid as is not a woman must be a fish. According to the constitution of young princes, so much of a young prince (if anything) as is not actually an angel, must be godly and righteous. Therefore if it’s becoming and godly and righteous in the young princes (as it is at their ages) that they should be boys, they are and must be boys, and cannot by possibility be anything else.’

This elucidation of a knotty point being received with such marks of approval as to put John Willet into a good humour, he contented himself with repeating to his son his command of silence, and addressing the stranger, said:

‘If you had asked your questions of a grown-up person — of me or any of these gentlemen — you’d have had some satisfaction, and wouldn’t have wasted breath. Miss Haredale is Mr Geoffrey Haredale’s niece.’

‘Is her father alive?’ said the man, carelessly.

‘No,’ rejoined the landlord, ‘he is not alive, and he is not dead —’

‘Not dead!’ cried the other.

‘Not dead in a common sort of way,’ said the landlord.

The cronies nodded to each other, and Mr Parkes remarked in an undertone, shaking his head meanwhile as who should say, ‘let no man contradict me, for I won’t believe him,’ that John Willet was in amazing force to-night, and fit to tackle a Chief Justice.

The stranger suffered a short pause to elapse, and then asked abruptly, ‘What do you mean?’

‘More than you think for, friend,’ returned John Willet. ‘Perhaps there’s more meaning in them words than you suspect.’

‘Perhaps there is,’ said the strange man, gruffly; ‘but what the devil do you speak in such mysteries for? You tell me, first, that a man is not alive, nor yet dead — then, that he’s not dead in a common sort of way — then, that you mean a great deal more than I think for. To tell you the truth, you may do that easily; for so far as I can make out, you mean nothing. What DO you mean, I ask again?’

‘That,’ returned the landlord, a little brought down from his dignity by the stranger’s surliness, ‘is a Maypole story, and has been any time these four-and-twenty years. That story is Solomon Daisy’s story. It belongs to the house; and nobody but Solomon Daisy has ever told it under this roof, or ever shall — that’s more.’

The man glanced at the parish-clerk, whose air of consciousness and importance plainly betokened him to be the person referred to, and, observing that he had taken his pipe from his lips, after a very long whiff to keep it alight, and was evidently about to tell his story without further solicitation, gathered his large coat about him, and shrinking further back was almost lost in the gloom of the spacious chimney-corner, except when the flame, struggling from under a great faggot, whose weight almost crushed it for the time, shot upward with a strong and sudden glare, and illumining his figure for a moment, seemed afterwards to cast it into deeper obscurity than before.

By this flickering light, which made the old room, with its heavy timbers and panelled walls, look as if it were built of polished ebony — the wind roaring and howling without, now rattling the latch and creaking the hinges of the stout oaken door, and now driving at the casement as though it would beat it in — by this light, and under circumstances so auspicious, Solomon Daisy began his tale:

‘It was Mr Reuben Haredale, Mr Geoffrey’s elder brother —’

Here he came to a dead stop, and made so long a pause that even John Willet grew impatient and asked why he did not proceed.

‘Cobb,’ said Solomon Daisy, dropping his voice and appealing to the post-office keeper; ‘what day of the month is this?’

‘The nineteenth.’

‘Of March,’ said the clerk, bending forward, ‘the nineteenth of March; that’s very strange.’

In a low voice they all acquiesced, and Solomon went on:

‘It was Mr Reuben Haredale, Mr Geoffrey’s elder brother, that twenty-two years ago was the owner of the Warren, which, as Joe has said — not that you remember it, Joe, for a boy like you can’t do that, but because you have often heard me say so — was then a much larger and better place, and a much more valuable property than it is now. His lady was lately dead, and he was left with one child — the Miss Haredale you have been inquiring about — who was then scarcely a year old.’

Although the speaker addressed himself to the man who had shown so much curiosity about this same family, and made a pause here as if expecting some exclamation of surprise or encouragement, the latter made no remark, nor gave any indication that he heard or was interested in what was said. Solomon therefore turned to his old companions, whose noses were brightly illuminated by the deep red glow from the bowls of their pipes; assured, by long experience, of their attention, and resolved to show his sense of such indecent behaviour.

‘Mr Haredale,’ said Solomon, turning his back upon the strange man, ‘left this place when his lady died, feeling it lonely like, and went up to London, where he stopped some months; but finding that place as lonely as this — as I suppose and have always heard say — he suddenly came back again with his little girl to the Warren, bringing with him besides, that day, only two women servants, and his steward, and a gardener.’

Mr Daisy stopped to take a whiff at his pipe, which was going out, and then proceeded — at first in a snuffling tone, occasioned by keen enjoyment of the tobacco and strong pulling at the pipe, and afterwards with increasing distinctness:

‘— Bringing with him two women servants, and his steward, and a gardener. The rest stopped behind up in London, and were to follow next day. It happened that that night, an old gentleman who lived at Chigwell Row, and had long been poorly, deceased, and an order came to me at half after twelve o’clock at night to go and toll the passing-bell.’

There was a movement in the little group of listeners, sufficiently indicative of the strong repugnance any one of them would have felt to have turned out at such a time upon such an errand. The clerk felt and understood it, and pursued his theme accordingly.

‘It WAS a dreary thing, especially as the grave-digger was laid up in his bed, from long working in a damp soil and sitting down to take his dinner on cold tombstones, and I was consequently under obligation to go alone, for it was too late to hope to get any other companion. However, I wasn’t unprepared for it; as the old gentleman had often made it a request that the bell should be tolled as soon as possible after the breath was out of his body, and he had been expected to go for some days. I put as good a face upon it as I could, and muffling myself up (for it was mortal cold), started out with a lighted lantern in one hand and the key of the church in the other.’

At this point of the narrative, the dress of the strange man rustled as if he had turned himself to hear more distinctly. Slightly pointing over his shoulder, Solomon elevated his eyebrows and nodded a silent inquiry to Joe whether this was the case. Joe shaded his eyes with his hand and peered into the corner, but could make out nothing, and so shook his head.

‘It was just such a night as this; blowing a hurricane, raining heavily, and very dark — I often think now, darker than I ever saw it before or since; that may be my fancy, but the houses were all close shut and the folks in doors, and perhaps there is only one other man who knows how dark it really was. I got into the church, chained the door back so that it should keep ajar — for, to tell the truth, I didn’t like to be shut in there alone — and putting my lantern on the stone seat in the little corner where the bell-rope is, sat down beside it to trim the candle.

‘I sat down to trim the candle, and when I had done so I could not persuade myself to get up again, and go about my work. I don’t know how it was, but I thought of all the ghost stories I had ever heard, even those that I had heard when I was a boy at school, and had forgotten long ago; and they didn’t come into my mind one after another, but all crowding at once, like. I recollected one story there was in the village, how that on a certain night in the year (it might be that very night for anything I knew), all the dead people came out of the ground and sat at the heads of their own graves till morning. This made me think how many people I had known, were buried between the church-door and the churchyard gate, and what a dreadful thing it would be to have to pass among them and know them again, so earthy and unlike themselves. I had known all the niches and arches in the church from a child; still, I couldn’t persuade myself that those were their natural shadows which I saw on the pavement, but felt sure there were some ugly figures hiding among ’em and peeping out. Thinking on in this way, I began to think of the old gentleman who was just dead, and I could have sworn, as I looked up the dark chancel, that I saw him in his usual place, wrapping his shroud about him and shivering as if he felt it cold. All this time I sat listening and listening, and hardly dared to breathe. At length I started up and took the bell-rope in my hands. At that minute there rang — not that bell, for I had hardly touched the rope — but another!

‘I heard the ringing of another bell, and a deep bell too, plainly. It was only for an instant, and even then the wind carried the sound away, but I heard it. I listened for a long time, but it rang no more. I had heard of corpse candles, and at last I persuaded myself that this must be a corpse bell tolling of itself at midnight for the dead. I tolled my bell — how, or how long, I don’t know — and ran home to bed as fast as I could touch the ground.

‘I was up early next morning after a restless night, and told the story to my neighbours. Some were serious and some made light of it; I don’t think anybody believed it real. But, that morning, Mr Reuben Haredale was found murdered in his bedchamber; and in his hand was a piece of the cord attached to an alarm-bell outside the roof, which hung in his room and had been cut asunder, no doubt by the murderer, when he seized it.

‘That was the bell I heard.

‘A bureau was found opened, and a cash-box, which Mr Haredale had brought down that day, and was supposed to contain a large sum of money, was gone. The steward and gardener were both missing and both suspected for a long time, but they were never found, though hunted far and wide. And far enough they might have looked for poor Mr Rudge the steward, whose body — scarcely to be recognised by his clothes and the watch and ring he wore — was found, months afterwards, at the bottom of a piece of water in the grounds, with a deep gash in the breast where he had been stabbed with a knife. He was only partly dressed; and people all agreed that he had been sitting up reading in his own room, where there were many traces of blood, and was suddenly fallen upon and killed before his master.

Everybody now knew that the gardener must be the murderer, and though he has never been heard of from that day to this, he will be, mark my words. The crime was committed this day two-and-twenty years — on the nineteenth of March, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-three. On the nineteenth of March in some year — no matter when — I know it, I am sure of it, for we have always, in some strange way or other, been brought back to the subject on that day ever since — on the nineteenth of March in some year, sooner or later, that man will be discovered.’

Chapter 2

‘A strange story!’ said the man who had been the cause of the narration. —‘Stranger still if it comes about as you predict. Is that all?’

A question so unexpected, nettled Solomon Daisy not a little. By dint of relating the story very often, and ornamenting it (according to village report) with a few flourishes suggested by the various hearers from time to time, he had come by degrees to tell it with great effect; and ‘Is that all?’ after the climax, was not what he was accustomed to.

‘Is that all?’ he repeated, ‘yes, that’s all, sir. And enough too, I think.’

‘I think so too. My horse, young man! He is but a hack hired from a roadside posting house, but he must carry me to London to-night.’

‘To-night!’ said Joe.

‘To-night,’ returned the other. ‘What do you stare at? This tavern would seem to be a house of call for all the gaping idlers of the neighbourhood!’

At this remark, which evidently had reference to the scrutiny he had undergone, as mentioned in the foregoing chapter, the eyes of John Willet and his friends were diverted with marvellous rapidity to the copper boiler again. Not so with Joe, who, being a mettlesome fellow, returned the stranger’s angry glance with a steady look, and rejoined:

‘It is not a very bold thing to wonder at your going on to-night. Surely you have been asked such a harmless question in an inn before, and in better weather than this. I thought you mightn’t know the way, as you seem strange to this part.’

‘The way —’ repeated the other, irritably.

‘Yes. DO you know it?’

‘I’ll — humph! — I’ll find it,’ replied the nian, waving his hand and turning on his heel. ‘Landlord, take the reckoning here.’

John Willet did as he was desired; for on that point he was seldom slow, except in the particulars of giving change, and testing the goodness of any piece of coin that was proffered to him, by the application of his teeth or his tongue, or some other test, or in doubtful cases, by a long series of tests terminating in its rejection. The guest then wrapped his garments about him so as to shelter himself as effectually as he could from the rough weather, and without any word or sign of farewell betook himself to the stableyard. Here Joe (who had left the room on the conclusion of their short dialogue) was protecting himself and the horse from the rain under the shelter of an old penthouse roof.

‘He’s pretty much of my opinion,’ said Joe, patting the horse upon the neck. ‘I’ll wager that your stopping here to-night would please him better than it would please me.’

‘He and I are of different opinions, as we have been more than once on our way here,’ was the short reply.

‘So I was thinking before you came out, for he has felt your spurs, poor beast.’

The stranger adjusted his coat-collar about his face, and made no answer.

‘You’ll know me again, I see,’ he said, marking the young fellow’s earnest gaze, when he had sprung into the saddle.

‘The man’s worth knowing, master, who travels a road he don’t know, mounted on a jaded horse, and leaves good quarters to do it on such a night as this.’

‘You have sharp eyes and a sharp tongue, I find.’

‘Both I hope by nature, but the last grows rusty sometimes for want of using.’

‘Use the first less too, and keep their sharpness for your sweethearts, boy,’ said the man.

So saying he shook his hand from the bridle, struck him roughly on the head with the butt end of his whip, and galloped away; dashing through the mud and darkness with a headlong speed, which few badly mounted horsemen would have cared to venture, even had they been thoroughly acquainted with the country; and which, to one who knew nothing of the way he rode, was attended at every step with great hazard and danger.

The roads, even within twelve miles of London, were at that time ill paved, seldom repaired, and very badly made. The way this rider traversed had been ploughed up by the wheels of heavy waggons, and rendered rotten by the frosts and thaws of the preceding winter, or possibly of many winters. Great holes and gaps had been worn into the soil, which, being now filled with water from the late rains, were not easily distinguishable even by day; and a plunge into any one of them might have brought down a surer-footed horse than the poor beast now urged forward to the utmost extent of his powers. Sharp flints and stones rolled from under his hoofs continually; the rider could scarcely see beyond the animal’s head, or farther on either side than his own arm would have extended. At that time, too, all the roads in the neighbourhood of the metropolis were infested by footpads or highwaymen, and it was a night, of all others, in which any evil-disposed person of this class might have pursued his unlawful calling with little fear of detection.

Still, the traveller dashed forward at the same reckless pace, regardless alike of the dirt and wet which flew about his head, the profound darkness of the night, and the probability of encountering some desperate characters abroad. At every turn and angle, even where a deviation from the direct course might have been least expected, and could not possibly be seen until he was close upon it, he guided the bridle with an unerring hand, and kept the middle of the road. Thus he sped onward, raising himself in the stirrups, leaning his body forward until it almost touched the horse’s neck, and flourishing his heavy whip above his head with the fervour of a madman.

There are times when, the elements being in unusual commotion, those who are bent on daring enterprises, or agitated by great thoughts, whether of good or evil, feel a mysterious sympathy with the tumult of nature, and are roused into corresponding violence. In the midst of thunder, lightning, and storm, many tremendous deeds have been committed; men, self-possessed before, have given a sudden loose to passions they could no longer control. The demons of wrath and despair have striven to emulate those who ride the whirlwind and direct the storm; and man, lashed into madness with the roaring winds and boiling waters, has become for the time as wild and merciless as the elements themselves.

Whether the traveller was possessed by thoughts which the fury of the night had heated and stimulated into a quicker current, or was merely impelled by some strong motive to reach his journey’s end, on he swept more like a hunted phantom than a man, nor checked his pace until, arriving at some cross roads, one of which led by a longer route to the place whence he had lately started, he bore down so suddenly upon a vehicle which was coming towards him, that in the effort to avoid it he well-nigh pulled his horse upon his haunches, and narrowly escaped being thrown.

‘Yoho!’ cried the voice of a man. ‘What’s that? Who goes there?’

‘A friend!’ replied the traveller.

‘A friend!’ repeated the voice. ‘Who calls himself a friend and rides like that, abusing Heaven’s gifts in the shape of horseflesh, and endangering, not only his own neck (which might be no great matter) but the necks of other people?’

‘You have a lantern there, I see,’ said the traveller dismounting, ‘lend it me for a moment. You have wounded my horse, I think, with your shaft or wheel.’

‘Wounded him!’ cried the other, ‘if I haven’t killed him, it’s no fault of yours. What do you mean by galloping along the king’s highway like that, eh?’

‘Give me the light,’ returned the traveller, snatching it from his hand, ‘and don’t ask idle questions of a man who is in no mood for talking.’

‘If you had said you were in no mood for talking before, I should perhaps have been in no mood for lighting,’ said the voice. ‘Hows’ever as it’s the poor horse that’s damaged and not you, one of you is welcome to the light at all events — but it’s not the crusty one.’

The traveller returned no answer to this speech, but holding the light near to his panting and reeking beast, examined him in limb and carcass. Meanwhile, the other man sat very composedly in his vehicle, which was a kind of chaise with a depository for a large bag of tools, and watched his proceedings with a careful eye.

The looker-on was a round, red-faced, sturdy yeoman, with a double chin, and a voice husky with good living, good sleeping, good humour, and good health. He was past the prime of life, but Father Time is not always a hard parent, and, though he tarries for none of his children, often lays his hand lightly upon those who have used him well; making them old men and women inexorably enough, but leaving their hearts and spirits young and in full vigour. With such people the grey head is but the impression of the old fellow’s hand in giving them his blessing, and every wrinkle but a notch in the quiet calendar of a well-spent life.

The person whom the traveller had so abruptly encountered was of this kind: bluff, hale, hearty, and in a green old age: at peace with himself, and evidently disposed to be so with all the world. Although muffled up in divers coats and handkerchiefs — one of which, passed over his crown, and tied in a convenient crease of his double chin, secured his three-cornered hat and bob-wig from blowing off his head — there was no disguising his plump and comfortable figure; neither did certain dirty finger-marks upon his face give it any other than an odd and comical expression, through which its natural good humour shone with undiminished lustre.

‘He is not hurt,’ said the traveller at length, raising his head and the lantern together.

‘You have found that out at last, have you?’ rejoined the old man. ‘My eyes have seen more light than yours, but I wouldn’t change with you.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Mean! I could have told you he wasn’t hurt, five minutes ago. Give me the light, friend; ride forward at a gentler pace; and good night.’

In handing up the lantern, the man necessarily cast its rays full on the speaker’s face. Their eyes met at the instant. He suddenly dropped it and crushed it with his foot.

‘Did you never see a locksmith before, that you start as if you had come upon a ghost?’ cried the old man in the chaise, ‘or is this,’ he added hastily, thrusting his hand into the tool basket and drawing out a hammer, ‘a scheme for robbing me? I know these roads, friend. When I travel them, I carry nothing but a few shillings, and not a crown’s worth of them. I tell you plainly, to save us both trouble, that there’s nothing to be got from me but a pretty stout arm considering my years, and this tool, which, mayhap from long acquaintance with, I can use pretty briskly. You shall not have it all your own way, I promise you, if you play at that game. With these words he stood upon the defensive.

‘I am not what you take me for, Gabriel Varden,’ replied the other.

‘Then what and who are you?’ returned the locksmith. ‘You know my name, it seems. Let me know yours.’

‘I have not gained the information from any confidence of yours, but from the inscription on your cart which tells it to all the town,’ replied the traveller.

‘You have better eyes for that than you had for your horse, then,’ said Varden, descending nimbly from his chaise; ‘who are you? Let me see your face.’

While the locksmith alighted, the traveller had regained his saddle, from which he now confronted the old man, who, moving as the horse moved in chafing under the tightened rein, kept close beside him.

‘Let me see your face, I say.’

‘Stand off!’

‘No masquerading tricks,’ said the locksmith, ‘and tales at the club to-morrow, how Gabriel Varden was frightened by a surly voice and a dark night. Stand — let me see your face.’

Finding that further resistance would only involve him in a personal struggle with an antagonist by no means to be despised, the traveller threw back his coat, and stooping down looked steadily at the locksmith.

Perhaps two men more powerfully contrasted, never opposed each other face to face. The ruddy features of the locksmith so set off and heightened the excessive paleness of the man on horseback, that he looked like a bloodless ghost, while the moisture, which hard riding had brought out upon his skin, hung there in dark and heavy drops, like dews of agony and death. The countenance of the old locksmith lighted up with the smile of one expecting to detect in this unpromising stranger some latent roguery of eye or lip, which should reveal a familiar person in that arch disguise, and spoil his jest. The face of the other, sullen and fierce, but shrinking too, was that of a man who stood at bay; while his firmly closed jaws, his puckered mouth, and more than all a certain stealthy motion of the hand within his breast, seemed to announce a desperate purpose very foreign to acting, or child’s play.

Thus they regarded each other for some time, in silence.

‘Humph!’ he said when he had scanned his features; ‘I don’t know you.’

‘Don’t desire to?’— returned the other, muffling himself as before.

‘I don’t,’ said Gabriel; ‘to be plain with you, friend, you don’t carry in your countenance a letter of recommendation.’

‘It’s not my wish,’ said the traveller. ‘My humour is to be avoided.’

‘Well,’ said the locksmith bluntly, ‘I think you’ll have your humour.’

‘I will, at any cost,’ rejoined the traveller. ‘In proof of it, lay this to heart — that you were never in such peril of your life as you have been within these few moments; when you are within five minutes of breathing your last, you will not be nearer death than you have been to-night!’

‘Aye!’ said the sturdy locksmith.

‘Aye! and a violent death.’

‘From whose hand?’

‘From mine,’ replied the traveller.

With that he put spurs to his horse, and rode away; at first plashing heavily through the mire at a smart trot, but gradually increasing in speed until the last sound of his horse’s hoofs died away upon the wind; when he was again hurrying on at the same furious gallop, which had been his pace when the locksmith first encountered him.

Gabriel Varden remained standing in the road with the broken lantern in his hand, listening in stupefied silence until no sound reached his ear but the moaning of the wind, and the fast-falling rain; when he struck himself one or two smart blows in the breast by way of rousing himself, and broke into an exclamation of surprise.

‘What in the name of wonder can this fellow be! a madman? a highwayman? a cut-throat? If he had not scoured off so fast, we’d have seen who was in most danger, he or I. I never nearer death than I have been to-night! I hope I may be no nearer to it for a score of years to come — if so, I’ll be content to be no farther from it. My stars! — a pretty brag this to a stout man — pooh, pooh!’

Gabriel resumed his seat, and looked wistfully up the road by which the traveller had come; murmuring in a half whisper:

‘The Maypole — two miles to the Maypole. I came the other road from the Warren after a long day’s work at locks and bells, on purpose that I should not come by the Maypole and break my promise to Martha by looking in — there’s resolution! It would be dangerous to go on to London without a light; and it’s four miles, and a good half mile besides, to the Halfway-House; and between this and that is the very place where one needs a light most. Two miles to the Maypole! I told Martha I wouldn’t; I said I wouldn’t, and I didn’t — there’s resolution!’

Repeating these two last words very often, as if to compensate for the little resolution he was going to show by piquing himself on the great resolution he had shown, Gabriel Varden quietly turned back, determining to get a light at the Maypole, and to take nothing but a light.

When he got to the Maypole, however, and Joe, responding to his well-known hail, came running out to the horse’s head, leaving the door open behind him, and disclosing a delicious perspective of warmth and brightness — when the ruddy gleam of the fire, streaming through the old red curtains of the common room, seemed to bring with it, as part of itself, a pleasant hum of voices, and a fragrant odour of steaming grog and rare tobacco, all steeped as it were in the cheerful glow — when the shadows, flitting across the curtain, showed that those inside had risen from their snug seats, and were making room in the snuggest corner (how well he knew that corner!) for the honest locksmith, and a broad glare, suddenly streaming up, bespoke the goodness of the crackling log from which a brilliant train of sparks was doubtless at that moment whirling up the chimney in honour of his coming — when, superadded to these enticements, there stole upon him from the distant kitchen a gentle sound of frying, with a musical clatter of plates and dishes, and a savoury smell that made even the boisterous wind a perfume — Gabriel felt his firmness oozing rapidly away. He tried to look stoically at the tavern, but his features would relax into a look of fondness. He turned his head the other way, and the cold black country seemed to frown him off, and drive him for a refuge into its hospitable arms.

‘The merciful man, Joe,’ said the locksmith, ‘is merciful to his beast. I’ll get out for a little while.’

And how natural it was to get out! And how unnatural it seemed for a sober man to be plodding wearily along through miry roads, encountering the rude buffets of the wind and pelting of the rain, when there was a clean floor covered with crisp white sand, a well swept hearth, a blazing fire, a table decorated with white cloth, bright pewter flagons, and other tempting preparations for a well-cooked meal — when there were these things, and company disposed to make the most of them, all ready to his hand, and entreating him to enjoyment!

Chapter 3

Such were the locksmith’s thoughts when first seated in the snug corner, and slowly recovering from a pleasant defect of vision — pleasant, because occasioned by the wind blowing in his eyes — which made it a matter of sound policy and duty to himself, that he should take refuge from the weather, and tempted him, for the same reason, to aggravate a slight cough, and declare he felt but poorly. Such were still his thoughts more than a full hour afterwards, when, supper over, he still sat with shining jovial face in the same warm nook, listening to the cricket-like chirrup of little Solomon Daisy, and bearing no unimportant or slightly respected part in the social gossip round the Maypole fire.

‘I wish he may be an honest man, that’s all,’ said Solomon, winding up a variety of speculations relative to the stranger, concerning whom Gabriel had compared notes with the company, and so raised a grave discussion; ‘I wish he may be an honest man.’

‘So we all do, I suppose, don’t we?’ observed the locksmith.

‘I don’t,’ said Joe.

‘No!’ cried Gabriel.

‘No. He struck me with his whip, the coward, when he was mounted and I afoot, and I should be better pleased that he turned out what I think him.’

‘And what may that be, Joe?’

‘No good, Mr Varden. You may shake your head, father, but I say no good, and will say no good, and I would say no good a hundred times over, if that would bring him back to have the drubbing he deserves.’

‘Hold your tongue, sir,’ said John Willet.

‘I won’t, father. It’s all along of you that he ventured to do what he did. Seeing me treated like a child, and put down like a fool, HE plucks up a heart and has a fling at a fellow that he thinks — and may well think too — hasn’t a grain of spirit. But he’s mistaken, as I’ll show him, and as I’ll show all of you before long.’

‘Does the boy know what he’s a saying of!’ cried the astonished John Willet.

‘Father,’ returned Joe, ‘I know what I say and mean, well — better than you do when you hear me. I can bear with you, but I cannot bear the contempt that your treating me in the way you do, brings upon me from others every day. Look at other young men of my age. Have they no liberty, no will, no right to speak? Are they obliged to sit mumchance, and to be ordered about till they are the laughing-stock of young and old? I am a bye-word all over Chigwell, and I say — and it’s fairer my saying so now, than waiting till you are dead, and I have got your money — I say, that before long I shall be driven to break such bounds, and that when I do, it won’t be me that you’ll have to blame, but your own self, and no other.’

John Willet was so amazed by the exasperation and boldness of his hopeful son, that he sat as one bewildered, staring in a ludicrous manner at the boiler, and endeavouring, but quite ineffectually, to collect his tardy thoughts, and invent an answer. The guests, scarcely less disturbed, were equally at a loss; and at length, with a variety of muttered, half-expressed condolences, and pieces of advice, rose to depart; being at the same time slightly muddled with liquor.

The honest locksmith alone addressed a few words of coherent and sensible advice to both parties, urging John Willet to remember that Joe was nearly arrived at man’s estate, and should not be ruled with too tight a hand, and exhorting Joe himself to bear with his father’s caprices, and rather endeavour to turn them aside by temperate remonstrance than by ill-timed rebellion. This advice was received as such advice usually is. On John Willet it made almost as much impression as on the sign outside the door, while Joe, who took it in the best part, avowed himself more obliged than he could well express, but politely intimated his intention nevertheless of taking his own course uninfluenced by anybody.

‘You have always been a very good friend to me, Mr Varden,’ he said, as they stood without, in the porch, and the locksmith was equipping himself for his journey home; ‘I take it very kind of you to say all this, but the time’s nearly come when the Maypole and I must part company.’

‘Roving stones gather no moss, Joe,’ said Gabriel.

‘Nor milestones much,’ replied Joe. ‘I’m little better than one here, and see as much of the world.’

‘Then, what would you do, Joe?’ pursued the locksmith, stroking his chin reflectively. ‘What could you be? Where could you go, you see?’

‘I must trust to chance, Mr Varden.’

‘A bad thing to trust to, Joe. I don’t like it. I always tell my girl when we talk about a husband for her, never to trust to chance, but to make sure beforehand that she has a good man and true, and then chance will neither make her nor break her. What are you fidgeting about there, Joe? Nothing gone in the harness, I hope?’

‘No no,’ said Joe — finding, however, something very engrossing to do in the way of strapping and buckling —‘Miss Dolly quite well?’

‘Hearty, thankye. She looks pretty enough to be well, and good too.’

‘She’s always both, sir’—

‘So she is, thank God!’

‘I hope,’ said Joe after some hesitation, ‘that you won’t tell this story against me — this of my having been beat like the boy they’d make of me — at all events, till I have met this man again and settled the account. It’ll be a better story then.’

‘Why who should I tell it to?’ returned Gabriel. ‘They know it here, and I’m not likely to come across anybody else who would care about it.’

‘That’s true enough,’ said the young fellow with a sigh. ‘I quite forgot that. Yes, that’s true!’

So saying, he raised his face, which was very red — no doubt from the exertion of strapping and buckling as aforesaid — and giving the reins to the old man, who had by this time taken his seat, sighed again and bade him good night.

‘Good night!’ cried Gabriel. ‘Now think better of what we have just been speaking of; and don’t be rash, there’s a good fellow! I have an interest in you, and wouldn’t have you cast yourself away. Good night!’

Returning his cheery farewell with cordial goodwill, Joe Willet lingered until the sound of wheels ceased to vibrate in his ears, and then, shaking his head mournfully, re-entered the house.

Gabriel Varden went his way towards London, thinking of a great many things, and most of all of flaming terms in which to relate his adventure, and so account satisfactorily to Mrs Varden for visiting the Maypole, despite certain solemn covenants between himself and that lady. Thinking begets, not only thought, but drowsiness occasionally, and the more the locksmith thought, the more sleepy he became.

A man may be very sober — or at least firmly set upon his legs on that neutral ground which lies between the confines of perfect sobriety and slight tipsiness — and yet feel a strong tendency to mingle up present circumstances with others which have no manner of connection with them; to confound all consideration of persons, things, times, and places; and to jumble his disjointed thoughts together in a kind of mental kaleidoscope, producing combinations as unexpected as they are transitory. This was Gabriel Varden’s state, as, nodding in his dog sleep, and leaving his horse to pursue a road with which he was well acquainted, he got over the ground unconsciously, and drew nearer and nearer home. He had roused himself once, when the horse stopped until the turnpike gate was opened, and had cried a lusty ‘good night!’ to the toll-keeper; but then he awoke out of a dream about picking a lock in the stomach of the Great Mogul, and even when he did wake, mixed up the turnpike man with his mother-in-law who had been dead twenty years. It is not surprising, therefore, that he soon relapsed, and jogged heavily along, quite insensible to his progress.

And, now, he approached the great city, which lay outstretched before him like a dark shadow on the ground, reddening the sluggish air with a deep dull light, that told of labyrinths of public ways and shops, and swarms of busy people. Approaching nearer and nearer yet, this halo began to fade, and the causes which produced it slowly to develop themselves. Long lines of poorly lighted streets might be faintly traced, with here and there a lighter spot, where lamps were clustered round a square or market, or round some great building; after a time these grew more distinct, and the lamps themselves were visible; slight yellow specks, that seemed to be rapidly snuffed out, one by one, as intervening obstacles hid them from the sight. Then, sounds arose — the striking of church clocks, the distant bark of dogs, the hum of traffic in the streets; then outlines might be traced — tall steeples looming in the air, and piles of unequal roofs oppressed by chimneys; then, the noise swelled into a louder sound, and forms grew more distinct and numerous still, and London — visible in the darkness by its own faint light, and not by that of Heaven — was at hand.

The locksmith, however, all unconscious of its near vicinity, still jogged on, half sleeping and half waking, when a loud cry at no great distance ahead, roused him with a start.

For a moment or two he looked about him like a man who had been transported to some strange country in his sleep, but soon recognising familiar objects, rubbed his eyes lazily and might have relapsed again, but that the cry was repeated — not once or twice or thrice, but many times, and each time, if possible, with increased vehemence. Thoroughly aroused, Gabriel, who was a bold man and not easily daunted, made straight to the spot, urging on his stout little horse as if for life or death.

The matter indeed looked sufficiently serious, for, coming to the place whence the cries had proceeded, he descried the figure of a man extended in an apparently lifeless state upon the pathway, and, hovering round him, another person with a torch in his hand, which he waved in the air with a wild impatience, redoubling meanwhile those cries for help which had brought the locksmith to the spot.

‘What’s here to do?’ said the old man, alighting. ‘How’s this — what — Barnaby?’

The bearer of the torch shook his long loose hair back from his eyes, and thrusting his face eagerly into that of the locksmith, fixed upon him a look which told his history at once.

‘You know me, Barnaby?’ said Varden.

He nodded — not once or twice, but a score of times, and that with a fantastic exaggeration which would have kept his head in motion for an hour, but that the locksmith held up his finger, and fixing his eye sternly upon him caused him to desist; then pointed to the body with an inquiring look.

‘There’s blood upon him,’ said Barnaby with a shudder. ‘It makes me sick!’

‘How came it there?’ demanded Varden.

‘Steel, steel, steel!’ he replied fiercely, imitating with his hand the thrust of a sword.

‘Is he robbed?’ said the locksmith.

Barnaby caught him by the arm, and nodded ‘Yes;’ then pointed towards the city.

‘Oh!’ said the old man, bending over the body and looking round as he spoke into Barnaby’s pale face, strangely lighted up by something that was NOT intellect. ‘The robber made off that way, did he? Well, well, never mind that just now. Hold your torch this way — a little farther off — so. Now stand quiet, while I try to see what harm is done.’

With these words, he applied himself to a closer examination of the prostrate form, while Barnaby, holding the torch as he had been directed, looked on in silence, fascinated by interest or curiosity, but repelled nevertheless by some strong and secret horror which convulsed him in every nerve.

As he stood, at that moment, half shrinking back and half bending forward, both his face and figure were full in the strong glare of the link, and as distinctly revealed as though it had been broad day. He was about three-and-twenty years old, and though rather spare, of a fair height and strong make. His hair, of which he had a great profusion, was red, and hanging in disorder about his face and shoulders, gave to his restless looks an expression quite unearthly — enhanced by the paleness of his complexion, and the glassy lustre of his large protruding eyes. Startling as his aspect was, the features were good, and there was something even plaintive in his wan and haggard aspect. But, the absence of the soul is far more terrible in a living man than in a dead one; and in this unfortunate being its noblest powers were wanting.

His dress was of green, clumsily trimmed here and there — apparently by his own hands — with gaudy lace; brightest where the cloth was most worn and soiled, and poorest where it was at the best. A pair of tawdry ruffles dangled at his wrists, while his throat was nearly bare. He had ornamented his hat with a cluster of peacock’s feathers, but they were limp and broken, and now trailed negligently down his back. Girt to his side was the steel hilt of an old sword without blade or scabbard; and some particoloured ends of ribands and poor glass toys completed the ornamental portion of his attire. The fluttered and confused disposition of all the motley scraps that formed his dress, bespoke, in a scarcely less degree than his eager and unsettled manner, the disorder of his mind, and by a grotesque contrast set off and heightened the more impressive wildness of his face.

‘Barnaby,’ said the locksmith, after a hasty but careful inspection, ‘this man is not dead, but he has a wound in his side, and is in a fainting-fit.’

‘I know him, I know him!’ cried Barnaby, clapping his hands.

‘Know him?’ repeated the locksmith.

‘Hush!’ said Barnaby, laying his fingers upon his lips. ‘He went out to-day a wooing. I wouldn’t for a light guinea that he should never go a wooing again, for, if he did, some eyes would grow dim that are now as bright as — see, when I talk of eyes, the stars come out! Whose eyes are they? If they are angels’ eyes, why do they look down here and see good men hurt, and only wink and sparkle all the night?’

‘Now Heaven help this silly fellow,’ murmured the perplexed locksmith; ‘can he know this gentleman? His mother’s house is not far off; I had better see if she can tell me who he is. Barnaby, my man, help me to put him in the chaise, and we’ll ride home together.’

‘I can’t touch him!’ cried the idiot falling back, and shuddering as with a strong spasm; he’s bloody!’

‘It’s in his nature, I know,’ muttered the locksmith, ‘it’s cruel to ask him, but I must have help. Barnaby — good Barnaby — dear Barnaby — if you know this gentleman, for the sake of his life and everybody’s life that loves him, help me to raise him and lay him down.’

‘Cover him then, wrap him close — don’t let me see it — smell it — hear the word. Don’t speak the word — don’t!’

‘No, no, I’ll not. There, you see he’s covered now. Gently. Well done, well done!’

They placed him in the carriage with great ease, for Barnaby was strong and active, but all the time they were so occupied he shivered from head to foot, and evidently experienced an ecstasy of terror.

This accomplished, and the wounded man being covered with Varden’s own greatcoat which he took off for the purpose, they proceeded onward at a brisk pace: Barnaby gaily counting the stars upon his fingers, and Gabriel inwardly congratulating himself upon having an adventure now, which would silence Mrs Varden on the subject of the Maypole, for that night, or there was no faith in woman.

Chapter 4

In the venerable suburb — it was a suburb once — of Clerkenwell, towards that part of its confines which is nearest to the Charter House, and in one of those cool, shady Streets, of which a few, widely scattered and dispersed, yet remain in such old parts of the metropolis — each tenement quietly vegetating like an ancient citizen who long ago retired from business, and dozing on in its infirmity until in course of time it tumbles down, and is replaced by some extravagant young heir, flaunting in stucco and ornamental work, and all the vanities of modern days — in this quarter, and in a street of this description, the business of the present chapter lies.

At the time of which it treats, though only six-and-sixty years ago, a very large part of what is London now had no existence. Even in the brains of the wildest speculators, there had sprung up no long rows of streets connecting Highgate with Whitechapel, no assemblages of palaces in the swampy levels, nor little cities in the open fields. Although this part of town was then, as now, parcelled out in streets, and plentifully peopled, it wore a different aspect. There were gardens to many of the houses, and trees by the pavement side; with an air of freshness breathing up and down, which in these days would be sought in vain. Fields were nigh at hand, through which the New River took its winding course, and where there was merry haymaking in the summer time. Nature was not so far removed, or hard to get at, as in these days; and although there were busy trades in Clerkenwell, and working jewellers by scores, it was a purer place, with farm-houses nearer to it than many modern Londoners would readily believe, and lovers’ walks at no great distance, which turned into squalid courts, long before the lovers of this age were born, or, as the phrase goes, thought of.

In one of these streets, the cleanest of them all, and on the shady side of the way — for good housewives know that sunlight damages their cherished furniture, and so choose the shade rather than its intrusive glare — there stood the house with which we have to deal. It was a modest building, not very straight, not large, not tall; not bold-faced, with great staring windows, but a shy, blinking house, with a conical roof going up into a peak over its garret window of four small panes of glass, like a cocked hat on the head of an elderly gentleman with one eye. It was not built of brick or lofty stone, but of wood and plaster; it was not planned with a dull and wearisome regard to regularity, for no one window matched the other, or seemed to have the slightest reference to anything besides itself.

The shop — for it had a shop — was, with reference to the first floor, where shops usually are; and there all resemblance between it and any other shop stopped short and ceased. People who went in and out didn’t go up a flight of steps to it, or walk easily in upon a level with the street, but dived down three steep stairs, as into a cellar. Its floor was paved with stone and brick, as that of any other cellar might be; and in lieu of window framed and glazed it had a great black wooden flap or shutter, nearly breast high from the ground, which turned back in the day-time, admitting as much cold air as light, and very often more. Behind this shop was a wainscoted parlour, looking first into a paved yard, and beyond that again into a little terrace garden, raised some feet above it. Any stranger would have supposed that this wainscoted parlour, saving for the door of communication by which he had entered, was cut off and detached from all the world; and indeed most strangers on their first entrance were observed to grow extremely thoughtful, as weighing and pondering in their minds whether the upper rooms were only approachable by ladders from without; never suspecting that two of the most unassuming and unlikely doors in existence, which the most ingenious mechanician on earth must of necessity have supposed to be the doors of closets, opened out of this room — each without the smallest preparation, or so much as a quarter of an inch of passage — upon two dark winding flights of stairs, the one upward, the other downward, which were the sole means of communication between that chamber and the other portions of the house.

With all these oddities, there was not a neater, more scrupulously tidy, or more punctiliously ordered house, in Clerkenwell, in London, in all England. There were not cleaner windows, or whiter floors, or brighter Stoves, or more highly shining articles of furniture in old mahogany; there was not more rubbing, scrubbing, burnishing and polishing, in the whole street put together. Nor was this excellence attained without some cost and trouble and great expenditure of voice, as the neighbours were frequently reminded when the good lady of the house overlooked and assisted in its being put to rights on cleaning days — which were usually from Monday morning till Saturday night, both days inclusive.

Leaning against the door-post of this, his dwelling, the locksmith stood early on the morning after he had met with the wounded man, gazing disconsolately at a great wooden emblem of a key, painted in vivid yellow to resemble gold, which dangled from the house-front, and swung to and fro with a mournful creaking noise, as if complaining that it had nothing to unlock. Sometimes, he looked over his shoulder into the shop, which was so dark and dingy with numerous tokens of his trade, and so blackened by the smoke of a little forge, near which his ‘prentice was at work, that it would have been difficult for one unused to such espials to have distinguished anything but various tools of uncouth make and shape, great bunches of rusty keys, fragments of iron, half-finished locks, and such like things, which garnished the walls and hung in clusters from the ceiling.

After a long and patient contemplation of the golden key, and many such backward glances, Gabriel stepped into the road, and stole a look at the upper windows. One of them chanced to be thrown open at the moment, and a roguish face met his; a face lighted up by the loveliest pair of sparkling eyes that ever locksmith looked upon; the face of a pretty, laughing, girl; dimpled and fresh, and healthful — the very impersonation of good-humour and blooming beauty.

‘Hush!’ she whispered, bending forward and pointing archly to the window underneath. ‘Mother is still asleep.’

‘Still, my dear,’ returned the locksmith in the same tone. ‘You talk as if she had been asleep all night, instead of little more than half an hour. But I’m very thankful. Sleep’s a blessing — no doubt about it.’ The last few words he muttered to himself.

‘How cruel of you to keep us up so late this morning, and never tell us where you were, or send us word!’ said the girl.

‘Ah Dolly, Dolly!’ returned the locksmith, shaking his head, and smiling, ‘how cruel of you to run upstairs to bed! Come down to breakfast, madcap, and come down lightly, or you’ll wake your mother. She must be tired, I am sure — I am.’

Keeping these latter words to himself, and returning his daughter’s nod, he was passing into the workshop, with the smile she had awakened still beaming on his face, when he just caught sight of his ‘prentice’s brown paper cap ducking down to avoid observation, and shrinking from the window back to its former place, which the wearer no sooner reached than he began to hammer lustily.

‘Listening again, Simon!’ said Gabriel to himself. ‘That’s bad. What in the name of wonder does he expect the girl to say, that I always catch him listening when SHE speaks, and never at any other time! A bad habit, Sim, a sneaking, underhanded way. Ah! you may hammer, but you won’t beat that out of me, if you work at it till your time’s up!’

So saying, and shaking his head gravely, he re-entered the workshop, and confronted the subject of these remarks.

‘There’s enough of that just now,’ said the locksmith. ‘You needn’t make any more of that confounded clatter. Breakfast’s ready.’

‘Sir,’ said Sim, looking up with amazing politeness, and a peculiar little bow cut short off at the neck, ‘I shall attend you immediately.’

‘I suppose,’ muttered Gabriel, ‘that’s out of the ‘Prentice’s Garland or the ‘Prentice’s Delight, or the ‘Prentice’s Warbler, or the Prentice’s Guide to the Gallows, or some such improving textbook. Now he’s going to beautify himself — here’s a precious locksmith!’

Quite unconscious that his master was looking on from the dark corner by the parlour door, Sim threw off the paper cap, sprang from his seat, and in two extraordinary steps, something between skating and minuet dancing, bounded to a washing place at the other end of the shop, and there removed from his face and hands all traces of his previous work — practising the same step all the time with the utmost gravity. This done, he drew from some concealed place a little scrap of looking-glass, and with its assistance arranged his hair, and ascertained the exact state of a little carbuncle on his nose. Having now completed his toilet, he placed the fragment of mirror on a low bench, and looked over his shoulder at so much of his legs as could be reflected in that small compass, with the greatest possible complacency and satisfaction.

Sim, as he was called in the locksmith’s family, or Mr Simon Tappertit, as he called himself, and required all men to style him out of doors, on holidays, and Sundays out — was an old-fashioned, thin-faced, sleek-haired, sharp-nosed, small-eyed little fellow, very little more than five feet high, and thoroughly convinced in his own mind that he was above the middle size; rather tall, in fact, than otherwise. Of his figure, which was well enough formed, though somewhat of the leanest, he entertained the highest admiration; and with his legs, which, in knee-breeches, were perfect curiosities of littleness, he was enraptured to a degree amounting to enthusiasm. He also had some majestic, shadowy ideas, which had never been quite fathomed by his intimate friends, concerning the power of his eye. Indeed he had been known to go so far as to boast that he could utterly quell and subdue the haughtiest beauty by a simple process, which he termed ‘eyeing her over;’ but it must be added, that neither of this faculty, nor of the power he claimed to have, through the same gift, of vanquishing and heaving down dumb animals, even in a rabid state, had he ever furnished evidence which could be deemed quite satisfactory and conclusive.

It may be inferred from these premises, that in the small body of Mr Tappertit there was locked up an ambitious and aspiring soul. As certain liquors, confined in casks too cramped in their dimensions, will ferment, and fret, and chafe in their imprisonment, so the spiritual essence or soul of Mr Tappertit would sometimes fume within that precious cask, his body, until, with great foam and froth and splutter, it would force a vent, and carry all before it. It was his custom to remark, in reference to any one of these occasions, that his soul had got into his head; and in this novel kind of intoxication many scrapes and mishaps befell him, which he had frequently concealed with no small difficulty from his worthy master.

Sim Tappertit, among the other fancies upon which his before-mentioned soul was for ever feasting and regaling itself (and which fancies, like the liver of Prometheus, grew as they were fed upon), had a mighty notion of his order; and had been heard by the servant-maid openly expressing his regret that the ‘prentices no longer carried clubs wherewith to mace the citizens: that was his strong expression. He was likewise reported to have said that in former times a stigma had been cast upon the body by the execution of George Barnwell, to which they should not have basely submitted, but should have demanded him of the legislature — temperately at first; then by an appeal to arms, if necessary — to be dealt with as they in their wisdom might think fit. These thoughts always led him to consider what a glorious engine the ‘prentices might yet become if they had but a master spirit at their head; and then he would darkly, and to the terror of his hearers, hint at certain reckless fellows that he knew of, and at a certain Lion Heart ready to become their captain, who, once afoot, would make the Lord Mayor tremble on his throne.

In respect of dress and personal decoration, Sim Tappertit was no less of an adventurous and enterprising character. He had been seen, beyond dispute, to pull off ruffles of the finest quality at the corner of the street on Sunday nights, and to put them carefully in his pocket before returning home; and it was quite notorious that on all great holiday occasions it was his habit to exchange his plain steel knee-buckles for a pair of glittering paste, under cover of a friendly post, planted most conveniently in that same spot. Add to this that he was in years just twenty, in his looks much older, and in conceit at least two hundred; that he had no objection to be jested with, touching his admiration of his master’s daughter; and had even, when called upon at a certain obscure tavern to pledge the lady whom he honoured with his love, toasted, with many winks and leers, a fair creature whose Christian name, he said, began with a D—; — and as much is known of Sim Tappertit, who has by this time followed the locksmith in to breakfast, as is necessary to be known in making his acquaintance.

It was a substantial meal; for, over and above the ordinary tea equipage, the board creaked beneath the weight of a jolly round of beef, a ham of the first magnitude, and sundry towers of buttered Yorkshire cake, piled slice upon slice in most alluring order. There was also a goodly jug of well-browned clay, fashioned into the form of an old gentleman, not by any means unlike the locksmith, atop of whose bald head was a fine white froth answering to his wig, indicative, beyond dispute, of sparkling home-brewed ale. But, better far than fair home-brewed, or Yorkshire cake, or ham, or beef, or anything to eat or drink that earth or air or water can supply, there sat, presiding over all, the locksmith’s rosy daughter, before whose dark eyes even beef grew insignificant, and malt became as nothing.

Fathers should never kiss their daughters when young men are by. It’s too much. There are bounds to human endurance. So thought Sim Tappertit when Gabriel drew those rosy lips to his — those lips within Sim’s reach from day to day, and yet so far off. He had a respect for his master, but he wished the Yorkshire cake might choke him.

‘Father,’ said the locksmith’s daughter, when this salute was over, and they took their seats at table, ‘what is this I hear about last night?’

‘All true, my dear; true as the Gospel, Doll.’

‘Young Mr Chester robbed, and lying wounded in the road, when you came up!’

‘Ay — Mr Edward. And beside him, Barnaby, calling for help with all his might. It was well it happened as it did; for the road’s a lonely one, the hour was late, and, the night being cold, and poor Barnaby even less sensible than usual from surprise and fright, the young gentleman might have met his death in a very short time.’

‘I dread to think of it!’ cried his daughter with a shudder. ‘How did you know him?’

‘Know him!’ returned the locksmith. ‘I didn’t know him — how could I? I had never seen him, often as I had heard and spoken of him. I took him to Mrs Rudge’s; and she no sooner saw him than the truth came out.’

‘Miss Emma, father — If this news should reach her, enlarged upon as it is sure to be, she will go distracted.’

‘Why, lookye there again, how a man suffers for being good-natured,’ said the locksmith. ‘Miss Emma was with her uncle at the masquerade at Carlisle House, where she had gone, as the people at the Warren told me, sorely against her will. What does your blockhead father when he and Mrs Rudge have laid their heads together, but goes there when he ought to be abed, makes interest with his friend the doorkeeper, slips him on a mask and domino, and mixes with the masquers.’

‘And like himself to do so!’ cried the girl, putting her fair arm round his neck, and giving him a most enthusiastic kiss.

‘Like himself!’ repeated Gabriel, affecting to grumble, but evidently delighted with the part he had taken, and with her praise. ‘Very like himself — so your mother said. However, he mingled with the crowd, and prettily worried and badgered he was, I warrant you, with people squeaking, “Don’t you know me?” and “I’ve found you out,” and all that kind of nonsense in his ears. He might have wandered on till now, but in a little room there was a young lady who had taken off her mask, on account of the place being very warm, and was sitting there alone.’

‘And that was she?’ said his daughter hastily.

‘And that was she,’ replied the locksmith; ‘and I no sooner whispered to her what the matter was — as softly, Doll, and with nearly as much art as you could have used yourself — than she gives a kind of scream and faints away.’

‘What did you do — what happened next?’ asked his daughter. ‘Why, the masks came flocking round, with a general noise and hubbub, and I thought myself in luck to get clear off, that’s all,’ rejoined the locksmith. ‘What happened when I reached home you may guess, if you didn’t hear it. Ah! Well, it’s a poor heart that never rejoices. — Put Toby this way, my dear.’

This Toby was the brown jug of which previous mention has been made. Applying his lips to the worthy old gentleman’s benevolent forehead, the locksmith, who had all this time been ravaging among the eatables, kept them there so long, at the same time raising the vessel slowly in the air, that at length Toby stood on his head upon his nose, when he smacked his lips, and set him on the table again with fond reluctance.

Although Sim Tappertit had taken no share in this conversation, no part of it being addressed to him, he had not been wanting in such silent manifestations of astonishment, as he deemed most compatible with the favourable display of his eyes. Regarding the pause which now ensued, as a particularly advantageous opportunity for doing great execution with them upon the locksmith’s daughter (who he had no doubt was looking at him in mute admiration), he began to screw and twist his face, and especially those features, into such extraordinary, hideous, and unparalleled contortions, that Gabriel, who happened to look towards him, was stricken with amazement.

‘Why, what the devil’s the matter with the lad?’ cried the locksmith. ‘Is he choking?’

‘Who?’ demanded Sim, with some disdain.

‘Who? Why, you,’ returned his master. ‘What do you mean by making those horrible faces over your breakfast?’

‘Faces are matters of taste, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, rather discomfited; not the less so because he saw the locksmith’s daughter smiling.

‘Sim,’ rejoined Gabriel, laughing heartily. ‘Don’t be a fool, for I’d rather see you in your senses. These young fellows,’ he added, turning to his daughter, ‘are always committing some folly or another. There was a quarrel between Joe Willet and old John last night though I can’t say Joe was much in fault either. He’ll be missing one of these mornings, and will have gone away upon some wild-goose errand, seeking his fortune. — Why, what’s the matter, Doll? YOU are making faces now. The girls are as bad as the boys every bit!’

‘It’s the tea,’ said Dolly, turning alternately very red and very white, which is no doubt the effect of a slight scald —‘so very hot.’

Mr Tappertit looked immensely big at a quartern loaf on the table, and breathed hard.

‘Is that all?’ returned the locksmith. ‘Put some more milk in it. — Yes, I am sorry for Joe, because he is a likely young fellow, and gains upon one every time one sees him. But he’ll start off, you’ll find. Indeed he told me as much himself!’

‘Indeed!’ cried Dolly in a faint voice. ‘In-deed!’

‘Is the tea tickling your throat still, my dear?’ said the locksmith.

But, before his daughter could make him any answer, she was taken with a troublesome cough, and it was such a very unpleasant cough, that, when she left off, the tears were starting in her bright eyes. The good-natured locksmith was still patting her on the back and applying such gentle restoratives, when a message arrived from Mrs Varden, making known to all whom it might concern, that she felt too much indisposed to rise after her great agitation and anxiety of the previous night; and therefore desired to be immediately accommodated with the little black teapot of strong mixed tea, a couple of rounds of buttered toast, a middling-sized dish of beef and ham cut thin, and the Protestant Manual in two volumes post octavo. Like some other ladies who in remote ages flourished upon this globe, Mrs Varden was most devout when most ill-tempered. Whenever she and her husband were at unusual variance, then the Protestant Manual was in high feather.

Knowing from experience what these requests portended, the triumvirate broke up; Dolly, to see the orders executed with all despatch; Gabriel, to some out-of-door work in his little chaise; and Sim, to his daily duty in the workshop, to which retreat he carried the big look, although the loaf remained behind.

Indeed the big look increased immensely, and when he had tied his apron on, became quite gigantic. It was not until he had several times walked up and down with folded arms, and the longest strides be could take, and had kicked a great many small articles out of his way, that his lip began to curl. At length, a gloomy derision came upon his features, and he smiled; uttering meanwhile with supreme contempt the monosyllable ‘Joe!’

‘I eyed her over, while he talked about the fellow,’ he said, ‘and that was of course the reason of her being confused. Joe!’

He walked up and down again much quicker than before, and if possible with longer strides; sometimes stopping to take a glance at his legs, and sometimes to jerk out, and cast from him, another ‘Joe!’ In the course of a quarter of an hour or so he again assumed the paper cap and tried to work. No. It could not be done.

‘I’ll do nothing to-day,’ said Mr Tappertit, dashing it down again, ‘but grind. I’ll grind up all the tools. Grinding will suit my present humour well. Joe!’

Whirr-r-r-r. The grindstone was soon in motion; the sparks were flying off in showers. This was the occupation for his heated spirit.

Whirr-r-r-r-r-r-r.

‘Something will come of this!’ said Mr Tappertit, pausing as if in triumph, and wiping his heated face upon his sleeve. ‘Something will come of this. I hope it mayn’t be human gore!’

Whirr-r-r-r-r-r-r-r.

Chapter 5

As soon as the business of the day was over, the locksmith sallied forth, alone, to visit the wounded gentleman and ascertain the progress of his recovery. The house where he had left him was in a by-street in Southwark, not far from London Bridge; and thither he hied with all speed, bent upon returning with as little delay as might be, and getting to bed betimes.

The evening was boisterous — scarcely better than the previous night had been. It was not easy for a stout man like Gabriel to keep his legs at the street corners, or to make head against the high wind, which often fairly got the better of him, and drove him back some paces, or, in defiance of all his energy, forced him to take shelter in an arch or doorway until the fury of the gust was spent. Occasionally a hat or wig, or both, came spinning and trundling past him, like a mad thing; while the more serious spectacle of falling tiles and slates, or of masses of brick and mortar or fragments of stone-coping rattling upon the pavement near at hand, and splitting into fragments, did not increase the pleasure of the journey, or make the way less dreary.

‘A trying night for a man like me to walk in!’ said the locksmith, as he knocked softly at the widow’s door. ‘I’d rather be in old John’s chimney-corner, faith!’

‘Who’s there?’ demanded a woman’s voice from within. Being answered, it added a hasty word of welcome, and the door was quickly opened.

She was about forty — perhaps two or three years older — with a cheerful aspect, and a face that had once been pretty. It bore traces of affliction and care, but they were of an old date, and Time had smoothed them. Any one who had bestowed but a casual glance on Barnaby might have known that this was his mother, from the strong resemblance between them; but where in his face there was wildness and vacancy, in hers there was the patient composure of long effort and quiet resignation.

One thing about this face was very strange and startling. You could not look upon it in its most cheerful mood without feeling that it had some extraordinary capacity of expressing terror. It was not on the surface. It was in no one feature that it lingered. You could not take the eyes or mouth, or lines upon the cheek, and say, if this or that were otherwise, it would not be so. Yet there it always lurked — something for ever dimly seen, but ever there, and never absent for a moment. It was the faintest, palest shadow of some look, to which an instant of intense and most unutterable horror only could have given birth; but indistinct and feeble as it was, it did suggest what that look must have been, and fixed it in the mind as if it had had existence in a dream.

More faintly imaged, and wanting force and purpose, as it were, because of his darkened intellect, there was this same stamp upon the son. Seen in a picture, it must have had some legend with it, and would have haunted those who looked upon the canvas. They who knew the Maypole story, and could remember what the widow was, before her husband’s and his master’s murder, understood it well. They recollected how the change had come, and could call to mind that when her son was born, upon the very day the deed was known, he bore upon his wrist what seemed a smear of blood but half washed out.

‘God save you, neighbour!’ said the locksmith, as he followed her, with the air of an old friend, into a little parlour where a cheerful fire was burning.

‘And you,’ she answered smiling. ‘Your kind heart has brought you here again. Nothing will keep you at home, I know of old, if there are friends to serve or comfort, out of doors.’

‘Tut, tut,’ returned the locksmith, rubbing his hands and warming them. ‘You women are such talkers. What of the patient, neighbour?’

‘He is sleeping now. He was very restless towards daylight, and for some hours tossed and tumbled sadly. But the fever has left him, and the doctor says he will soon mend. He must not be removed until to-morrow.’

‘He has had visitors to-day — humph?’ said Gabriel, slyly.

‘Yes. Old Mr Chester has been here ever since we sent for him, and had not been gone many minutes when you knocked.’

‘No ladies?’ said Gabriel, elevating his eyebrows and looking disappointed.

‘A letter,’ replied the widow.

‘Come. That’s better than nothing!’ replied the locksmith. ‘Who was the bearer?’

‘Barnaby, of course.’

‘Barnaby’s a jewel!’ said Varden; ‘and comes and goes with ease where we who think ourselves much wiser would make but a poor hand of it. He is not out wandering, again, I hope?’

‘Thank Heaven he is in his bed; having been up all night, as you know, and on his feet all day. He was quite tired out. Ah, neighbour, if I could but see him oftener so — if I could but tame down that terrible restlessness —’

‘In good time,’ said the locksmith, kindly, ‘in good time — don’t be down-hearted. To my mind he grows wiser every day.’

The widow shook her head. And yet, though she knew the locksmith sought to cheer her, and spoke from no conviction of his own, she was glad to hear even this praise of her poor benighted son.

‘He will be a ‘cute man yet,’ resumed the locksmith. ‘Take care, when we are growing old and foolish, Barnaby doesn’t put us to the blush, that’s all. But our other friend,’ he added, looking under the table and about the floor —‘sharpest and cunningest of all the sharp and cunning ones — where’s he?’

‘In Barnaby’s room,’ rejoined the widow, with a faint smile.

‘Ah! He’s a knowing blade!’ said Varden, shaking his head. ‘I should be sorry to talk secrets before him. Oh! He’s a deep customer. I’ve no doubt he can read, and write, and cast accounts if he chooses. What was that? Him tapping at the door?’

‘No,’ returned the widow. ‘It was in the street, I think. Hark! Yes. There again! ’Tis some one knocking softly at the shutter. Who can it be!’

They had been speaking in a low tone, for the invalid lay overhead, and the walls and ceilings being thin and poorly built, the sound of their voices might otherwise have disturbed his slumber. The party without, whoever it was, could have stood close to the shutter without hearing anything spoken; and, seeing the light through the chinks and finding all so quiet, might have been persuaded that only one person was there.

‘Some thief or ruffian maybe,’ said the locksmith. ‘Give me the light.’

‘No, no,’ she returned hastily. ‘Such visitors have never come to this poor dwelling. Do you stay here. You’re within call, at the worst. I would rather go myself — alone.’

‘Why?’ said the locksmith, unwillingly relinquishing the candle he had caught up from the table.

‘Because — I don’t know why — because the wish is so strong upon me,’ she rejoined. ‘There again — do not detain me, I beg of you!’

Gabriel looked at her, in great surprise to see one who was usually so mild and quiet thus agitated, and with so little cause. She left the room and closed the door behind her. She stood for a moment as if hesitating, with her hand upon the lock. In this short interval the knocking came again, and a voice close to the window — a voice the locksmith seemed to recollect, and to have some disagreeable association with — whispered ‘Make haste.’

The words were uttered in that low distinct voice which finds its way so readily to sleepers’ ears, and wakes them in a fright. For a moment it startled even the locksmith; who involuntarily drew back from the window, and listened.

The wind rumbling in the chimney made it difficult to hear what passed, but he could tell that the door was opened, that there was the tread of a man upon the creaking boards, and then a moment’s silence — broken by a suppressed something which was not a shriek, or groan, or cry for help, and yet might have been either or all three; and the words ‘My God!’ uttered in a voice it chilled him to hear.

He rushed out upon the instant. There, at last, was that dreadful look — the very one he seemed to know so well and yet had never seen before — upon her face. There she stood, frozen to the ground, gazing with starting eyes, and livid cheeks, and every feature fixed and ghastly, upon the man he had encountered in the dark last night. His eyes met those of the locksmith. It was but a flash, an instant, a breath upon a polished glass, and he was gone.

The locksmith was upon him — had the skirts of his streaming garment almost in his grasp — when his arms were tightly clutched, and the widow flung herself upon the ground before him.

‘The other way — the other way,’ she cried. ‘He went the other way. Turn — turn!’

‘The other way! I see him now,’ rejoined the locksmith, pointing — ‘yonder — there — there is his shadow passing by that light. What — who is this? Let me go.’

‘Come back, come back!’ exclaimed the woman, clasping him; ‘Do not touch him on your life. I charge you, come back. He carries other lives besides his own. Come back!’

‘What does this mean?’ cried the locksmith.

‘No matter what it means, don’t ask, don’t speak, don’t think about it. He is not to be followed, checked, or stopped. Come back!’

The old man looked at her in wonder, as she writhed and clung about him; and, borne down by her passion, suffered her to drag him into the house. It was not until she had chained and double-locked the door, fastened every bolt and bar with the heat and fury of a maniac, and drawn him back into the room, that she turned upon him, once again, that stony look of horror, and, sinking down into a chair, covered her face, and shuddered, as though the hand of death were on her.

Chapter 6

Beyond all measure astonished by the strange occurrences which had passed with so much violence and rapidity, the locksmith gazed upon the shuddering figure in the chair like one half stupefied, and would have gazed much longer, had not his tongue been loosened by compassion and humanity.

‘You are ill,’ said Gabriel. ‘Let me call some neighbour in.’

‘Not for the world,’ she rejoined, motioning to him with her trembling hand, and holding her face averted. ‘It is enough that you have been by, to see this.’

‘Nay, more than enough — or less,’ said Gabriel.

‘Be it so,’ she returned. ‘As you like. Ask me no questions, I entreat you.’

‘Neighbour,’ said the locksmith, after a pause. ‘Is this fair, or reasonable, or just to yourself? Is it like you, who have known me so long and sought my advice in all matters — like you, who from a girl have had a strong mind and a staunch heart?’

‘I have need of them,’ she replied. ‘I am growing old, both in years and care. Perhaps that, and too much trial, have made them weaker than they used to be. Do not speak to me.’

‘How can I see what I have seen, and hold my peace!’ returned the locksmith. ‘Who was that man, and why has his coming made this change in you?’

She was silent, but held to the chair as though to save herself from falling on the ground.

‘I take the licence of an old acquaintance, Mary,’ said the locksmith, ‘who has ever had a warm regard for you, and maybe has tried to prove it when he could. Who is this ill-favoured man, and what has he to do with you? Who is this ghost, that is only seen in the black nights and bad weather? How does he know, and why does he haunt, this house, whispering through chinks and crevices, as if there was that between him and you, which neither durst so much as speak aloud of? Who is he?’

‘You do well to say he haunts this house,’ returned the widow, faintly. ‘His shadow has been upon it and me, in light and darkness, at noonday and midnight. And now, at last, he has come in the body!’

‘But he wouldn’t have gone in the body,’ returned the locksmith with some irritation, ‘if you had left my arms and legs at liberty. What riddle is this?’

‘It is one,’ she answered, rising as she spoke, ‘that must remain for ever as it is. I dare not say more than that.’

‘Dare not!’ repeated the wondering locksmith.

‘Do not press me,’ she replied. ‘I am sick and faint, and every faculty of life seems dead within me. — No! — Do not touch me, either.’

Gabriel, who had stepped forward to render her assistance, fell back as she made this hasty exclamation, and regarded her in silent wonder.

‘Let me go my way alone,’ she said in a low voice, ‘and let the hands of no honest man touch mine to-night.’ When she had tottered to the door, she turned, and added with a stronger effort, ‘This is a secret, which, of necessity, I trust to you. You are a true man. As you have ever been good and kind to me — keep it. If any noise was heard above, make some excuse — say anything but what you really saw, and never let a word or look between us, recall this circumstance. I trust to you. Mind, I trust to you. How much I trust, you never can conceive.’

Casting her eyes upon him for an instant, she withdrew, and left him there alone.

Gabriel, not knowing what to think, stood staring at the door with a countenance full of surprise and dismay. The more he pondered on what had passed, the less able he was to give it any favourable interpretation. To find this widow woman, whose life for so many years had been supposed to be one of solitude and retirement, and who, in her quiet suffering character, had gained the good opinion and respect of all who knew her — to find her linked mysteriously with an ill-omened man, alarmed at his appearance, and yet favouring his escape, was a discovery that pained as much as startled him. Her reliance on his secrecy, and his tacit acquiescence, increased his distress of mind. If he had spoken boldly, persisted in questioning her, detained her when she rose to leave the room, made any kind of protest, instead of silently compromising himself, as he felt he had done, he would have been more at ease.

‘Why did I let her say it was a secret, and she trusted it to me!’ said Gabriel, putting his wig on one side to scratch his head with greater ease, and looking ruefully at the fire. ‘I have no more readiness than old John himself. Why didn’t I say firmly, “You have no right to such secrets, and I demand of you to tell me what this means,” instead of standing gaping at her, like an old moon-calf as I am! But there’s my weakness. I can be obstinate enough with men if need be, but women may twist me round their fingers at their pleasure.’

He took his wig off outright as he made this reflection, and, warming his handkerchief at the fire began to rub and polish his bald head with it, until it glistened again.

‘And yet,’ said the locksmith, softening under this soothing process, and stopping to smile, ‘it MAY be nothing. Any drunken brawler trying to make his way into the house, would have alarmed a quiet soul like her. But then’— and here was the vexation —‘how came it to be that man; how comes he to have this influence over her; how came she to favour his getting away from me; and, more than all, how came she not to say it was a sudden fright, and nothing more? It’s a sad thing to have, in one minute, reason to mistrust a person I have known so long, and an old sweetheart into the bargain; but what else can I do, with all this upon my mind! — Is that Barnaby outside there?’

‘Ay!’ he cried, looking in and nodding. ‘Sure enough it’s Barnaby — how did you guess?’

‘By your shadow,’ said the locksmith.

‘Oho!’ cried Barnaby, glancing over his shoulder, ‘He’s a merry fellow, that shadow, and keeps close to me, though I AM silly. We have such pranks, such walks, such runs, such gambols on the grass! Sometimes he’ll be half as tall as a church steeple, and sometimes no bigger than a dwarf. Now, he goes on before, and now behind, and anon he’ll be stealing on, on this side, or on that, stopping whenever I stop, and thinking I can’t see him, though I have my eye on him sharp enough. Oh! he’s a merry fellow. Tell me — is he silly too? I think he is.’

‘Why?’ asked Gabriel.

‘Because be never tires of mocking me, but does it all day long. — Why don’t you come?’

‘Where?’

‘Upstairs. He wants you. Stay — where’s HIS shadow? Come. You’re a wise man; tell me that.’

‘Beside him, Barnaby; beside him, I suppose,’ returned the locksmith.

‘No!’ he replied, shaking his head. ‘Guess again.’

‘Gone out a walking, maybe?’

‘He has changed shadows with a woman,’ the idiot whispered in his ear, and then fell back with a look of triumph. ‘Her shadow’s always with him, and his with her. That’s sport I think, eh?’

‘Barnaby,’ said the locksmith, with a grave look; ‘come hither, lad.’

‘I know what you want to say. I know!’ he replied, keeping away from him. ‘But I’m cunning, I’m silent. I only say so much to you — are you ready?’ As he spoke, he caught up the light, and waved it with a wild laugh above his head.

‘Softly — gently,’ said the locksmith, exerting all his influence to keep him calm and quiet. ‘I thought you had been asleep.’

‘So I HAVE been asleep,’ he rejoined, with widely-opened eyes. ‘There have been great faces coming and going — close to my face, and then a mile away — low places to creep through, whether I would or no — high churches to fall down from — strange creatures crowded up together neck and heels, to sit upon the bed — that’s sleep, eh?’

‘Dreams, Barnaby, dreams,’ said the locksmith.

‘Dreams!’ he echoed softly, drawing closer to him. ‘Those are not dreams.’

‘What are,’ replied the locksmith, ‘if they are not?’

‘I dreamed,’ said Barnaby, passing his arm through Varden’s, and peering close into his face as he answered in a whisper, ‘I dreamed just now that something — it was in the shape of a man — followed me — came softly after me — wouldn’t let me be — but was always hiding and crouching, like a cat in dark corners, waiting till I should pass; when it crept out and came softly after me. — Did you ever see me run?’

‘Many a time, you know.’

‘You never saw me run as I did in this dream. Still it came creeping on to worry me. Nearer, nearer, nearer — I ran faster — leaped — sprung out of bed, and to the window — and there, in the street below — but he is waiting for us. Are you coming?’

‘What in the street below, Barnaby?’ said Varden, imagining that he traced some connection between this vision and what had actually occurred.

Barnaby looked into his face, muttered incoherently, waved the light above his head again, laughed, and drawing the locksmith’s arm more tightly through his own, led him up the stairs in silence.

They entered a homely bedchamber, garnished in a scanty way with chairs, whose spindle-shanks bespoke their age, and other furniture of very little worth; but clean and neatly kept. Reclining in an easy-chair before the fire, pale and weak from waste of blood, was Edward Chester, the young gentleman who had been the first to quit the Maypole on the previous night, and who, extending his hand to the locksmith, welcomed him as his preserver and friend.

‘Say no more, sir, say no more,’ said Gabriel. ‘I hope I would have done at least as much for any man in such a strait, and most of all for you, sir. A certain young lady,’ he added, with some hesitation, ‘has done us many a kind turn, and we naturally feel — I hope I give you no offence in saying this, sir?’

The young man smiled and shook his head; at the same time moving in his chair as if in pain.

‘It’s no great matter,’ he said, in answer to the locksmith’s sympathising look, ‘a mere uneasiness arising at least as much from being cooped up here, as from the slight wound I have, or from the loss of blood. Be seated, Mr Varden.’

‘If I may make so bold, Mr Edward, as to lean upon your chair,’ returned the locksmith, accommodating his action to his speech, and bending over him, ‘I’ll stand here for the convenience of speaking low. Barnaby is not in his quietest humour to-night, and at such times talking never does him good.’

They both glanced at the subject of this remark, who had taken a seat on the other side of the fire, and, smiling vacantly, was making puzzles on his fingers with a skein of string.

‘Pray, tell me, sir,’ said Varden, dropping his voice still lower, ‘exactly what happened last night. I have my reason for inquiring. You left the Maypole, alone?’

‘And walked homeward alone, until I had nearly reached the place where you found me, when I heard the gallop of a horse.’

‘Behind you?’ said the locksmith.

‘Indeed, yes — behind me. It was a single rider, who soon overtook me, and checking his horse, inquired the way to London.’

‘You were on the alert, sir, knowing how many highwaymen there are, scouring the roads in all directions?’ said Varden.

‘I was, but I had only a stick, having imprudently left my pistols in their holster-case with the landlord’s son. I directed him as he desired. Before the words had passed my lips, he rode upon me furiously, as if bent on trampling me down beneath his horse’s hoofs. In starting aside, I slipped and fell. You found me with this stab and an ugly bruise or two, and without my purse — in which he found little enough for his pains. And now, Mr Varden,’ he added, shaking the locksmith by the hand, ‘saving the extent of my gratitude to you, you know as much as I.’

‘Except,’ said Gabriel, bending down yet more, and looking cautiously towards their silent neighhour, ‘except in respect of the robber himself. What like was he, sir? Speak low, if you please. Barnaby means no harm, but I have watched him oftener than you, and I know, little as you would think it, that he’s listening now.’

It required a strong confidence in the locksmith’s veracity to lead any one to this belief, for every sense and faculty that Barnahy possessed, seemed to be fixed upon his game, to the exclusion of all other things. Something in the young man’s face expressed this opinion, for Gabriel repeated what he had just said, more earnestly than before, and with another glance towards Barnaby, again asked what like the man was.

‘The night was so dark,’ said Edward, ‘the attack so sudden, and he so wrapped and muffled up, that I can hardly say. It seems that —’

‘Don’t mention his name, sir,’ returned the locksmith, following his look towards Barnaby; ‘I know HE saw him. I want to know what YOU saw.’

‘All I remember is,’ said Edward, ‘that as he checked his horse his hat was blown off. He caught it, and replaced it on his head, which I observed was bound with a dark handkerchief. A stranger entered the Maypole while I was there, whom I had not seen — for I had sat apart for reasons of my own — and when I rose to leave the room and glanced round, he was in the shadow of the chimney and hidden from my sight. But, if he and the robber were two different persons, their voices were strangely and most remarkably alike; for directly the man addressed me in the road, I recognised his speech again.’

‘It is as I feared. The very man was here to-night,’ thought the locksmith, changing colour. ‘What dark history is this!’

‘Halloa!’ cried a hoarse voice in his ear. ‘Halloa, halloa, halloa! Bow wow wow. What’s the matter here! Hal-loa!’

The speaker — who made the locksmith start as if he had been some supernatural agent — was a large raven, who had perched upon the top of the easy-chair, unseen by him and Edward, and listened with a polite attention and a most extraordinary appearance of comprehending every word, to all they had said up to this point; turning his head from one to the other, as if his office were to judge between them, and it were of the very last importance that he should not lose a word.

‘Look at him!’ said Varden, divided between admiration of the bird and a kind of fear of him. ‘Was there ever such a knowing imp as that! Oh he’s a dreadful fellow!’

The raven, with his head very much on one side, and his bright eye shining like a diamond, preserved a thoughtful silence for a few seconds, and then replied in a voice so hoarse and distant, that it seemed to come through his thick feathers rather than out of his mouth.

‘Halloa, halloa, halloa! What’s the matter here! Keep up your spirits. Never say die. Bow wow wow. I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a devil. Hurrah!’— And then, as if exulting in his infernal character, he began to whistle.

‘I more than half believe he speaks the truth. Upon my word I do,’ said Varden. ‘Do you see how he looks at me, as if he knew what I was saying?’

To which the bird, balancing himself on tiptoe, as it were, and moving his body up and down in a sort of grave dance, rejoined, ‘I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a devil,’ and flapped his wings against his sides as if he were bursting with laughter. Barnaby clapped his hands, and fairly rolled upon the ground in an ecstasy of delight.

‘Strange companions, sir,’ said the locksmith, shaking his head, and looking from one to the other. ‘The bird has all the wit.’

‘Strange indeed!’ said Edward, holding out his forefinger to the raven, who, in acknowledgment of the attention, made a dive at it immediately with his iron bill. ‘Is he old?’

‘A mere boy, sir,’ replied the locksmith. ‘A hundred and twenty, or thereabouts. Call him down, Barnaby, my man.’

‘Call him!’ echoed Barnaby, sitting upright upon the floor, and staring vacantly at Gabriel, as he thrust his hair back from his face. ‘But who can make him come! He calls me, and makes me go where he will. He goes on before, and I follow. He’s the master, and I’m the man. Is that the truth, Grip?’

The raven gave a short, comfortable, confidential kind of croak; — a most expressive croak, which seemed to say, ‘You needn’t let these fellows into our secrets. We understand each other. It’s all right.’

‘I make HIM come?’ cried Barnaby, pointing to the bird. ‘Him, who never goes to sleep, or so much as winks! — Why, any time of night, you may see his eyes in my dark room, shining like two sparks. And every night, and all night too, he’s broad awake, talking to himself, thinking what he shall do to-morrow, where we shall go, and what he shall steal, and hide, and bury. I make HIM come! Ha ha ha!’

On second thoughts, the bird appeared disposed to come of himself. After a short survey of the ground, and a few sidelong looks at the ceiling and at everybody present in turn, he fluttered to the floor, and went to Barnaby — not in a hop, or walk, or run, but in a pace like that of a very particular gentleman with exceedingly tight boots on, trying to walk fast over loose pebbles. Then, stepping into his extended hand, and condescending to be held out at arm’s length, he gave vent to a succession of sounds, not unlike the drawing of some eight or ten dozen of long corks, and again asserted his brimstone birth and parentage with great distinctness.

The locksmith shook his head — perhaps in some doubt of the creature’s being really nothing but a bird — perhaps in pity for Bamaby, who by this time had him in his arms, and was rolling about, with him, on the ground. As he raised his eyes from the poor fellow he encountered those of his mother, who had entered the room, and was looking on in silence.

She was quite white in the face, even to her lips, but had wholly subdued her emotion, and wore her usual quiet look. Varden fancied as he glanced at her that she shrunk from his eye; and that she busied herself about the wounded gentleman to avoid him the better.

It was time he went to bed, she said. He was to be removed to his own home on the morrow, and he had already exceeded his time for sitting up, by a full hour. Acting on this hint, the locksmith prepared to take his leave.

‘By the bye,’ said Edward, as he shook him by the hand, and looked from him to Mrs Rudge and back again, ‘what noise was that below? I heard your voice in the midst of it, and should have inquired before, but our other conversation drove it from my memory. What was it?’

The locksmith looked towards her, and bit his lip. She leant against the chair, and bent her eyes upon the ground. Barnaby too — he was listening.

—‘Some mad or drunken fellow, sir,’ Varden at length made answer, looking steadily at the widow as he spoke. ‘He mistook the house, and tried to force an entrance.’

She breathed more freely, but stood quite motionless. As the locksmith said ‘Good night,’ and Barnaby caught up the candle to light him down the stairs, she took it from him, and charged him — with more haste and earnestness than so slight an occasion appeared to warrant — not to stir. The raven followed them to satisfy himself that all was right below, and when they reached the street-door, stood on the bottom stair drawing corks out of number.

With a trembling hand she unfastened the chain and bolts, and turned the key. As she had her hand upon the latch, the locksmith said in a low voice,

‘I have told a lie to-night, for your sake, Mary, and for the sake of bygone times and old acquaintance, when I would scorn to do so for my own. I hope I may have done no harm, or led to none. I can’t help the suspicions you have forced upon me, and I am loth, I tell you plainly, to leave Mr Edward here. Take care he comes to no hurt. I doubt the safety of this roof, and am glad he leaves it so soon. Now, let me go.’

For a moment she hid her face in her hands and wept; but resisting the strong impulse which evidently moved her to reply, opened the door — no wider than was sufficient for the passage of his body — and motioned him away. As the locksmith stood upon the step, it was chained and locked behind him, and the raven, in furtherance of these precautions, barked like a lusty house-dog.

‘In league with that ill-looking figure that might have fallen from a gibbet — he listening and hiding here — Barnaby first upon the spot last night — can she who has always borne so fair a name be guilty of such crimes in secret!’ said the locksmith, musing. ‘Heaven forgive me if I am wrong, and send me just thoughts; but she is poor, the temptation may be great, and we daily hear of things as strange. — Ay, bark away, my friend. If there’s any wickedness going on, that raven’s in it, I’ll be sworn.’

Chapter 7

Mrs Varden was a lady of what is commonly called an uncertain temper — a phrase which being interpreted signifies a temper tolerably certain to make everybody more or less uncomfortable. Thus it generally happened, that when other people were merry, Mrs Varden was dull; and that when other people were dull, Mrs Varden was disposed to be amazingly cheerful. Indeed the worthy housewife was of such a capricious nature, that she not only attained a higher pitch of genius than Macbeth, in respect of her ability to be wise, amazed, temperate and furious, loyal and neutral in an instant, but would sometimes ring the changes backwards and forwards on all possible moods and flights in one short quarter of an hour; performing, as it were, a kind of triple bob major on the peal of instruments in the female belfry, with a skilfulness and rapidity of execution that astonished all who heard her.

It had been observed in this good lady (who did not want for personal attractions, being plump and buxom to look at, though like her fair daughter, somewhat short in stature) that this uncertainty of disposition strengthened and increased with her temporal prosperity; and divers wise men and matrons, on friendly terms with the locksmith and his family, even went so far as to assert, that a tumble down some half-dozen rounds in the world’s ladder — such as the breaking of the bank in which her husband kept his money, or some little fall of that kind — would be the making of her, and could hardly fail to render her one of the most agreeable companions in existence. Whether they were right or wrong in this conjecture, certain it is that minds, like bodies, will often fall into a pimpled ill-conditioned state from mere excess of comfort, and like them, are often successfully cured by remedies in themselves very nauseous and unpalatable.

Mrs Varden’s chief aider and abettor, and at the same time her principal victim and object of wrath, was her single domestic servant, one Miss Miggs; or as she was called, in conformity with those prejudices of society which lop and top from poor hand-maidens all such genteel excrescences — Miggs. This Miggs was a tall young lady, very much addicted to pattens in private life; slender and shrewish, of a rather uncomfortable figure, and though not absolutely ill-looking, of a sharp and acid visage. As a general principle and abstract proposition, Miggs held the male sex to be utterly contemptible and unworthy of notice; to be fickle, false, base, sottish, inclined to perjury, and wholly undeserving. When particularly exasperated against them (which, scandal said, was when Sim Tappertit slighted her most) she was accustomed to wish with great emphasis that the whole race of women could but die off, in order that the men might be brought to know the real value of the blessings by which they set so little store; nay, her feeling for her order ran so high, that she sometimes declared, if she could only have good security for a fair, round number — say ten thousand — of young virgins following her example, she would, to spite mankind, hang, drown, stab, or poison herself, with a joy past all expression.

It was the voice of Miggs that greeted the locksmith, when he knocked at his own house, with a shrill cry of ‘Who’s there?’

‘Me, girl, me,’ returned Gabriel.

What, already, sir!’ said Miggs, opening the door with a look of surprise. ‘We were just getting on our nightcaps to sit up — me and mistress. Oh, she has been SO bad!’

Miggs said this with an air of uncommon candour and concern; but the parlour-door was standing open, and as Gabriel very well knew for whose ears it was designed, he regarded her with anything but an approving look as he passed in.

‘Master’s come home, mim,’ cried Miggs, running before him into the parlour. ‘You was wrong, mim, and I was right. I thought he wouldn’t keep us up so late, two nights running, mim. Master’s always considerate so far. I’m so glad, mim, on your account. I’m a little’— here Miggs simpered —‘a little sleepy myself; I’ll own it now, mim, though I said I wasn’t when you asked me. It ain’t of no consequence, mim, of course.’

‘You had better,’ said the locksmith, who most devoutly wished that Barnaby’s raven was at Miggs’s ankles, ‘you had better get to bed at once then.’

‘Thanking you kindly, sir,’ returned Miggs, ‘I couldn’t take my rest in peace, nor fix my thoughts upon my prayers, otherways than that I knew mistress was comfortable in her bed this night; by rights she ought to have been there, hours ago.’

‘You’re talkative, mistress,’ said Varden, pulling off his greatcoat, and looking at her askew.

‘Taking the hint, sir,’ cried Miggs, with a flushed face, ‘and thanking you for it most kindly, I will make bold to say, that if I give offence by having consideration for my mistress, I do not ask your pardon, but am content to get myself into trouble and to be in suffering.’

Here Mrs Varden, who, with her countenance shrouded in a large nightcap, had been all this time intent upon the Protestant Manual, looked round, and acknowledged Miggs’s championship by commanding her to hold her tongue.

Every little bone in Miggs’s throat and neck developed itself with a spitefulness quite alarming, as she replied, ‘Yes, mim, I will.’

‘How do you find yourself now, my dear?’ said the locksmith, taking a chair near his wife (who had resumed her book), and rubbing his knees hard as he made the inquiry.

‘You’re very anxious to know, an’t you?’ returned Mrs Varden, with her eyes upon the print. ‘You, that have not been near me all day, and wouldn’t have been if I was dying!’

‘My dear Martha —’ said Gabriel.

Mrs Varden turned over to the next page; then went back again to the bottom line over leaf to be quite sure of the last words; and then went on reading with an appearance of the deepest interest and study.

‘My dear Martha,’ said the locksmith, ‘how can you say such things, when you know you don’t mean them? If you were dying! Why, if there was anything serious the matter with you, Martha, shouldn’t I be in constant attendance upon you?’

‘Yes!’ cried Mrs Varden, bursting into tears, ‘yes, you would. I don’t doubt it, Varden. Certainly you would. That’s as much as to tell me that you would be hovering round me like a vulture, waiting till the breath was out of my body, that you might go and marry somebody else.’

Miggs groaned in sympathy — a little short groan, checked in its birth, and changed into a cough. It seemed to say, ‘I can’t help it. It’s wrung from me by the dreadful brutality of that monster master.’

‘But you’ll break my heart one of these days,’ added Mrs Varden, with more resignation, ‘and then we shall both be happy. My only desire is to see Dolly comfortably settled, and when she is, you may settle ME as soon as you like.’

‘Ah!’ cried Miggs — and coughed again.

Poor Gabriel twisted his wig about in silence for a long time, and then said mildly, ‘Has Dolly gone to bed?’

‘Your master speaks to you,’ said Mrs Varden, looking sternly over her shoulder at Miss Miggs in waiting.

‘No, my dear, I spoke to you,’ suggested the locksmith.

‘Did you hear me, Miggs?’ cried the obdurate lady, stamping her foot upon the ground. ‘YOU are beginning to despise me now, are you? But this is example!’

At this cruel rebuke, Miggs, whose tears were always ready, for large or small parties, on the shortest notice and the most reasonable terms, fell a crying violently; holding both her hands tight upon her heart meanwhile, as if nothing less would prevent its splitting into small fragments. Mrs Varden, who likewise possessed that faculty in high perfection, wept too, against Miggs; and with such effect that Miggs gave in after a time, and, except for an occasional sob, which seemed to threaten some remote intention of breaking out again, left her mistress in possession of the field. Her superiority being thoroughly asserted, that lady soon desisted likewise, and fell into a quiet melancholy.

The relief was so great, and the fatiguing occurrences of last night so completely overpowered the locksmith, that he nodded in his chair, and would doubtless have slept there all night, but for the voice of Mrs Varden, which, after a pause of some five minutes, awoke him with a start.

‘If I am ever,’ said Mrs V. — not scolding, but in a sort of monotonous remonstrance —‘in spirits, if I am ever cheerful, if I am ever more than usually disposed to be talkative and comfortable, this is the way I am treated.’

‘Such spirits as you was in too, mim, but half an hour ago!’ cried Miggs. ‘I never see such company!’

‘Because,’ said Mrs Varden, ‘because I never interfere or interrupt; because I never question where anybody comes or goes; because my whole mind and soul is bent on saving where I can save, and labouring in this house; — therefore, they try me as they do.’

‘Martha,’ urged the locksmith, endeavouring to look as wakeful as possible, ‘what is it you complain of? I really came home with every wish and desire to be happy. I did, indeed.’

‘What do I complain of!’ retorted his wife. ‘Is it a chilling thing to have one’s husband sulking and falling asleep directly he comes home — to have him freezing all one’s warm-heartedness, and throwing cold water over the fireside? Is it natural, when I know he went out upon a matter in which I am as much interested as anybody can be, that I should wish to know all that has happened, or that he should tell me without my begging and praying him to do it? Is that natural, or is it not?’

‘I am very sorry, Martha,’ said the good-natured locksmith. ‘I was really afraid you were not disposed to talk pleasantly; I’ll tell you everything; I shall only be too glad, my dear.’

‘No, Varden,’ returned his wife, rising with dignity. ‘I dare say — thank you! I’m not a child to be corrected one minute and petted the next — I’m a little too old for that, Varden. Miggs, carry the light. — YOU can be cheerful, Miggs, at least’

Miggs, who, to this moment, had been in the very depths of compassionate despondency, passed instantly into the liveliest state conceivable, and tossing her head as she glanced towards the locksmith, bore off her mistress and the light together.

‘Now, who would think,’ thought Varden, shrugging his shoulders and drawing his chair nearer to the fire, ‘that that woman could ever be pleasant and agreeable? And yet she can be. Well, well, all of us have our faults. I’ll not be hard upon hers. We have been man and wife too long for that.’

He dozed again — not the less pleasantly, perhaps, for his hearty temper. While his eyes were closed, the door leading to the upper stairs was partially opened; and a head appeared, which, at sight of him, hastily drew back again.

‘I wish,’ murmured Gabriel, waking at the noise, and looking round the room, ‘I wish somebody would marry Miggs. But that’s impossible! I wonder whether there’s any madman alive, who would marry Miggs!’

This was such a vast speculation that he fell into a doze again, and slept until the fire was quite burnt out. At last he roused himself; and having double-locked the street-door according to custom, and put the key in his pocket, went off to bed.

He had not left the room in darkness many minutes, when the head again appeared, and Sim Tappertit entered, bearing in his hand a little lamp.

‘What the devil business has he to stop up so late!’ muttered Sim, passing into the workshop, and setting it down upon the forge. ‘Here’s half the night gone already. There’s only one good that has ever come to me, out of this cursed old rusty mechanical trade, and that’s this piece of ironmongery, upon my soul!’

As he spoke, he drew from the right hand, or rather right leg pocket of his smalls, a clumsy large-sized key, which he inserted cautiously in the lock his master had secured, and softly opened the door. That done, he replaced his piece of secret workmanship in his pocket; and leaving the lamp burning, and closing the door carefully and without noise, stole out into the street — as little suspected by the locksmith in his sound deep sleep, as by Barnaby himself in his phantom-haunted dreams.

Chapter 8

Clear of the locksmith’s house, Sim Tappertit laid aside his cautious manner, and assuming in its stead that of a ruffling, swaggering, roving blade, who would rather kill a man than otherwise, and eat him too if needful, made the best of his way along the darkened streets.

Half pausing for an instant now and then to smite his pocket and assure himself of the safety of his master key, he hurried on to Barbican, and turning into one of the narrowest of the narrow streets which diverged from that centre, slackened his pace and wiped his heated brow, as if the termination of his walk were near at hand.

It was not a very choice spot for midnight expeditions, being in truth one of more than questionable character, and of an appearance by no means inviting. From the main street he had entered, itself little better than an alley, a low-browed doorway led into a blind court, or yard, profoundly dark, unpaved, and reeking with stagnant odours. Into this ill-favoured pit, the locksmith’s vagrant ‘prentice groped his way; and stopping at a house from whose defaced and rotten front the rude effigy of a bottle swung to and fro like some gibbeted malefactor, struck thrice upon an iron grating with his foot. After listening in vain for some response to his signal, Mr Tappertit became impatient, and struck the grating thrice again.

A further delay ensued, but it was not of long duration. The ground seemed to open at his feet, and a ragged head appeared.

‘Is that the captain?’ said a voice as ragged as the head.

‘Yes,’ replied Mr Tappertit haughtily, descending as he spoke, ‘who should it be?’

‘It’s so late, we gave you up,’ returned the voice, as its owner stopped to shut and fasten the grating. ‘You’re late, sir.’

‘Lead on,’ said Mr Tappertit, with a gloomy majesty, ‘and make remarks when I require you. Forward!’

This latter word of command was perhaps somewhat theatrical and unnecessary, inasmuch as the descent was by a very narrow, steep, and slippery flight of steps, and any rashness or departure from the beaten track must have ended in a yawning water-butt. But Mr Tappertit being, like some other great commanders, favourable to strong effects, and personal display, cried ‘Forward!’ again, in the hoarsest voice he could assume; and led the way, with folded arms and knitted brows, to the cellar down below, where there was a small copper fixed in one corner, a chair or two, a form and table, a glimmering fire, and a truckle-bed, covered with a ragged patchwork rug.

‘Welcome, noble captain!’ cried a lanky figure, rising as from a nap.

The captain nodded. Then, throwing off his outer coat, he stood composed in all his dignity, and eyed his follower over.

‘What news to-night?’ he asked, when he had looked into his very soul.

‘Nothing particular,’ replied the other, stretching himself — and he was so long already that it was quite alarming to see him do it — ‘how come you to be so late?’

‘No matter,’ was all the captain deigned to say in answer. ‘Is the room prepared?’

‘It is,’ replied the follower.

‘The comrade — is he here?’

‘Yes. And a sprinkling of the others — you hear ’em?’

‘Playing skittles!’ said the captain moodily. ‘Light-hearted revellers!’

There was no doubt respecting the particular amusement in which these heedless spirits were indulging, for even in the close and stifling atmosphere of the vault, the noise sounded like distant thunder. It certainly appeared, at first sight, a singular spot to choose, for that or any other purpose of relaxation, if the other cellars answered to the one in which this brief colloquy took place; for the floors were of sodden earth, the walls and roof of damp bare brick tapestried with the tracks of snails and slugs; the air was sickening, tainted, and offensive. It seemed, from one strong flavour which was uppermost among the various odours of the place, that it had, at no very distant period, been used as a storehouse for cheeses; a circumstance which, while it accounted for the greasy moisture that hung about it, was agreeably suggestive of rats. It was naturally damp besides, and little trees of fungus sprung from every mouldering corner.

The proprietor of this charming retreat, and owner of the ragged head before mentioned — for he wore an old tie-wig as bare and frowzy as a stunted hearth-broom — had by this time joined them; and stood a little apart, rubbing his hands, wagging his hoary bristled chin, and smiling in silence. His eyes were closed; but had they been wide open, it would have been easy to tell, from the attentive expression of the face he turned towards them — pale and unwholesome as might be expected in one of his underground existence — and from a certain anxious raising and quivering of the lids, that he was blind.

‘Even Stagg hath been asleep,’ said the long comrade, nodding towards this person.

‘Sound, captain, sound!’ cried the blind man; ‘what does my noble captain drink — is it brandy, rum, usquebaugh? Is it soaked gunpowder, or blazing oil? Give it a name, heart of oak, and we’d get it for you, if it was wine from a bishop’s cellar, or melted gold from King George’s mint.’

‘See,’ said Mr Tappertit haughtily, ‘that it’s something strong, and comes quick; and so long as you take care of that, you may bring it from the devil’s cellar, if you like.’

‘Boldly said, noble captain!’ rejoined the blind man. ‘Spoken like the ‘Prentices’ Glory. Ha, ha! From the devil’s cellar! A brave joke! The captain joketh. Ha, ha, ha!’

‘I’ll tell you what, my fine feller,’ said Mr Tappertit, eyeing the host over as he walked to a closet, and took out a bottle and glass as carelessly as if he had been in full possession of his sight, ‘if you make that row, you’ll find that the captain’s very far from joking, and so I tell you.’

‘He’s got his eyes on me!’ cried Stagg, stopping short on his way back, and affecting to screen his face with the bottle. ‘I feel ’em though I can’t see ’em. Take ’em off, noble captain. Remove ’em, for they pierce like gimlets.’

Mr Tappertit smiled grimly at his comrade; and twisting out one more look — a kind of ocular screw — under the influence of which the blind man feigned to undergo great anguish and torture, bade him, in a softened tone, approach, and hold his peace.

‘I obey you, captain,’ cried Stagg, drawing close to him and filling out a bumper without spilling a drop, by reason that he held his little finger at the brim of the glass, and stopped at the instant the liquor touched it, ‘drink, noble governor. Death to all masters, life to all ‘prentices, and love to all fair damsels. Drink, brave general, and warm your gallant heart!’

Mr Tappertit condescended to take the glass from his outstretched hand. Stagg then dropped on one knee, and gently smoothed the calves of his legs, with an air of humble admiration.

‘That I had but eyes!’ he cried, ‘to behold my captain’s symmetrical proportions! That I had but eyes, to look upon these twin invaders of domestic peace!’

‘Get out!’ said Mr Tappertit, glancing downward at his favourite limbs. ‘Go along, will you, Stagg!’

‘When I touch my own afterwards,’ cried the host, smiting them reproachfully, ‘I hate ’em. Comparatively speaking, they’ve no more shape than wooden legs, beside these models of my noble captain’s.’

‘Yours!’ exclaimed Mr Tappertit. ‘No, I should think not. Don’t talk about those precious old toothpicks in the same breath with mine; that’s rather too much. Here. Take the glass. Benjamin. Lead on. To business!’

With these words, he folded his arms again; and frowning with a sullen majesty, passed with his companion through a little door at the upper end of the cellar, and disappeared; leaving Stagg to his private meditations.

The vault they entered, strewn with sawdust and dimly lighted, was between the outer one from which they had just come, and that in which the skittle-players were diverting themselves; as was manifested by the increased noise and clamour of tongues, which was suddenly stopped, however, and replaced by a dead silence, at a signal from the long comrade. Then, this young gentleman, going to a little cupboard, returned with a thigh-bone, which in former times must have been part and parcel of some individual at least as long as himself, and placed the same in the hands of Mr Tappertit; who, receiving it as a sceptre and staff of authority, cocked his three-cornered hat fiercely on the top of his head, and mounted a large table, whereon a chair of state, cheerfully ornamented with a couple of skulls, was placed ready for his reception.

He had no sooner assumed this position, than another young gentleman appeared, bearing in his arms a huge clasped book, who made him a profound obeisance, and delivering it to the long comrade, advanced to the table, and turning his back upon it, stood there Atlas-wise. Then, the long comrade got upon the table too; and seating himself in a lower chair than Mr Tappertit’s, with much state and ceremony, placed the large book on the shoulders of their mute companion as deliberately as if he had been a wooden desk, and prepared to make entries therein with a pen of corresponding size.

When the long comrade had made these preparations, he looked towards Mr Tappertit; and Mr Tappertit, flourishing the bone, knocked nine times therewith upon one of the skulls. At the ninth stroke, a third young gentleman emerged from the door leading to the skittle ground, and bowing low, awaited his commands.

‘Prentice!’ said the mighty captain, ‘who waits without?’

The ‘prentice made answer that a stranger was in attendance, who claimed admission into that secret society of ‘Prentice Knights, and a free participation in their rights, privileges, and immunities. Thereupon Mr Tappertit flourished the bone again, and giving the other skull a prodigious rap on the nose, exclaimed ‘Admit him!’ At these dread words the ‘prentice bowed once more, and so withdrew as he had come.

There soon appeared at the same door, two other ‘prentices, having between them a third, whose eyes were bandaged, and who was attired in a bag-wig, and a broad-skirted coat, trimmed with tarnished lace; and who was girded with a sword, in compliance with the laws of the Institution regulating the introduction of candidates, which required them to assume this courtly dress, and kept it constantly in lavender, for their convenience. One of the conductors of this novice held a rusty blunderbuss pointed towards his ear, and the other a very ancient sabre, with which he carved imaginary offenders as he came along in a sanguinary and anatomical manner.

As this silent group advanced, Mr Tappertit fixed his hat upon his head. The novice then laid his hand upon his breast and bent before him. When he had humbled himself sufficiently, the captain ordered the bandage to be removed, and proceeded to eye him over.

‘Ha!’ said the captain, thoughtfully, when he had concluded this ordeal. ‘Proceed.’

The long comrade read aloud as follows:—‘Mark Gilbert. Age, nineteen. Bound to Thomas Curzon, hosier, Golden Fleece, Aldgate. Loves Curzon’s daughter. Cannot say that Curzon’s daughter loves him. Should think it probable. Curzon pulled his ears last Tuesday week.’

‘How!’ cried the captain, starting.

‘For looking at his daughter, please you,’ said the novice.

‘Write Curzon down, Denounced,’ said the captain. ‘Put a black cross against the name of Curzon.’

‘So please you,’ said the novice, ‘that’s not the worst — he calls his ‘prentice idle dog, and stops his beer unless he works to his liking. He gives Dutch cheese, too, eating Cheshire, sir, himself; and Sundays out, are only once a month.’

‘This,’ said Mr Tappert;t gravely, ‘is a flagrant case. Put two black crosses to the name of Curzon.’

‘If the society,’ said the novice, who was an ill-looking, one-sided, shambling lad, with sunken eyes set close together in his head —‘if the society would burn his house down — for he’s not insured — or beat him as he comes home from his club at night, or help me to carry off his daughter, and marry her at the Fleet, whether she gave consent or no —’

Mr Tappertit waved his grizzly truncheon as an admonition to him not to interrupt, and ordered three black crosses to the name of Curzon.

‘Which means,’ he said in gracious explanation, ‘vengeance, complete and terrible. ‘Prentice, do you love the Constitution?’

To which the novice (being to that end instructed by his attendant sponsors) replied ‘I do!’

‘The Church, the State, and everything established — but the masters?’ quoth the captain.

Again the novice said ‘I do.’

Having said it, he listened meekly to the captain, who in an address prepared for such occasions, told him how that under that same Constitution (which was kept in a strong box somewhere, but where exactly he could not find out, or he would have endeavoured to procure a copy of it), the ‘prentices had, in times gone by, had frequent holidays of right, broken people’s heads by scores, defied their masters, nay, even achieved some glorious murders in the streets, which privileges had gradually been wrested from them, and in all which noble aspirations they were now restrained; how the degrading checks imposed upon them were unquestionably attributable to the innovating spirit of the times, and how they united therefore to resist all change, except such change as would restore those good old English customs, by which they would stand or fall. After illustrating the wisdom of going backward, by reference to that sagacious fish, the crab, and the not unfrequent practice of the mule and donkey, he described their general objects; which were briefly vengeance on their Tyrant Masters (of whose grievous and insupportable oppression no ‘prentice could entertain a moment’s doubt) and the restoration, as aforesaid, of their ancient rights and holidays; for neither of which objects were they now quite ripe, being barely twenty strong, but which they pledged themselves to pursue with fire and sword when needful. Then he described the oath which every member of that small remnant of a noble body took, and which was of a dreadful and impressive kind; binding him, at the bidding of his chief, to resist and obstruct the Lord Mayor, sword-bearer, and chaplain; to despise the authority of the sheriffs; and to hold the court of aldermen as nought; but not on any account, in case the fulness of time should bring a general rising of ‘prentices, to damage or in any way disfigure Temple Bar, which was strictly constitutional and always to be approached with reverence. Having gone over these several heads with great eloquence and force, and having further informed the novice that this society had its origin in his own teeming brain, stimulated by a swelling sense of wrong and outrage, Mr Tappertit demanded whether he had strength of heart to take the mighty pledge required, or whether he would withdraw while retreat was yet in his power.

To this the novice made rejoinder, that he would take the vow, though it should choke him; and it was accordingly administered with many impressive circumstances, among which the lighting up of the two skulls with a candle-end inside of each, and a great many flourishes with the bone, were chiefly conspicuous; not to mention a variety of grave exercises with the blunderbuss and sabre, and some dismal groaning by unseen ‘prentices without. All these dark and direful ceremonies being at length completed, the table was put aside, the chair of state removed, the sceptre locked up in its usual cupboard, the doors of communication between the three cellars thrown freely open, and the ‘Prentice Knights resigned themselves to merriment.

But Mr Tappertit, who had a soul above the vulgar herd, and who, on account of his greatness, could only afford to be merry now and then, threw himself on a bench with the air of a man who was faint with dignity. He looked with an indifferent eye, alike on skittles, cards, and dice, thinking only of the locksmith’s daughter, and the base degenerate days on which he had fallen.

‘My noble captain neither games, nor sings, nor dances,’ said his host, taking a seat beside him. ‘Drink, gallant general!’

Mr Tappertit drained the proffered goblet to the dregs; then thrust his hands into his pockets, and with a lowering visage walked among the skittles, while his followers (such is the influence of superior genius) restrained the ardent ball, and held his little shins in dumb respect.

‘If I had been born a corsair or a pirate, a brigand, genteel highwayman or patriot — and they’re the same thing,’ thought Mr Tappertit, musing among the nine-pins, ‘I should have been all right. But to drag out a ignoble existence unbeknown to mankind in general — patience! I will be famous yet. A voice within me keeps on whispering Greatness. I shall burst out one of these days, and when I do, what power can keep me down? I feel my soul getting into my head at the idea. More drink there!’

‘The novice,’ pursued Mr Tappertit, not exactly in a voice of thunder, for his tones, to say the truth were rather cracked and shrill — but very impressively, notwithstanding —‘where is he?’

‘Here, noble captain!’ cried Stagg. ‘One stands beside me who I feel is a stranger.’

‘Have you,’ said Mr Tappertit, letting his gaze fall on the party indicated, who was indeed the new knight, by this time restored to his own apparel; ‘Have you the impression of your street-door key in wax?’

The long comrade anticipated the reply, by producing it from the shelf on which it had been deposited.

‘Good,’ said Mr Tappertit, scrutinising it attentively, while a breathless silence reigned around; for he had constructed secret door-keys for the whole society, and perhaps owed something of his influence to that mean and trivial circumstance — on such slight accidents do even men of mind depend! —‘This is easily made. Come hither, friend.’

With that, he beckoned the new knight apart, and putting the pattern in his pocket, motioned to him to walk by his side.

‘And so,’ he said, when they had taken a few turns up and down, you — you love your master’s daughter?’

‘I do,’ said the ‘prentice. ‘Honour bright. No chaff, you know.’

‘Have you,’ rejoined Mr Tappertit, catching him by the wrist, and giving him a look which would have been expressive of the most deadly malevolence, but for an accidental hiccup that rather interfered with it; ‘have you a — a rival?’

‘Not as I know on,’ replied the ‘prentice.

‘If you had now —’ said Mr Tappertit —‘what would you — eh? —’

The ‘prentice looked fierce and clenched his fists.

‘It is enough,’ cried Mr Tappertit hastily, ‘we understand each other. We are observed. I thank you.’

So saying, he cast him off again; and calling the long comrade aside after taking a few hasty turns by himself, bade him immediately write and post against the wall, a notice, proscribing one Joseph Willet (commonly known as Joe) of Chigwell; forbidding all ‘Prentice Knights to succour, comfort, or hold communion with him; and requiring them, on pain of excommunication, to molest, hurt, wrong, annoy, and pick quarrels with the said Joseph, whensoever and wheresoever they, or any of them, should happen to encounter him.

Having relieved his mind by this energetic proceeding, he condescended to approach the festive board, and warming by degrees, at length deigned to preside, and even to enchant the company with a song. After this, he rose to such a pitch as to consent to regale the society with a hornpipe, which be actually performed to the music of a fiddle (played by an ingenious member) with such surpassing agility and brilliancy of execution, that the spectators could not be sufficiently enthusiastic in their admiration; and their host protested, with tears in his eyes, that he had never truly felt his blindness until that moment.

But the host withdrawing — probably to weep in secret — soon returned with the information that it wanted little more than an hour of day, and that all the cocks in Barbican had already begun to crow, as if their lives depended on it. At this intelligence, the ‘Prentice Knights arose in haste, and marshalling into a line, filed off one by one and dispersed with all speed to their several homes, leaving their leader to pass the grating last.

‘Good night, noble captain,’ whispered the blind man as he held it open for his passage out; ‘Farewell, brave general. Bye, bye, illustrious commander. Good luck go with you for a — conceited, bragging, empty-headed, duck-legged idiot.’

With which parting words, coolly added as he listened to his receding footsteps and locked the grate upon himself, he descended the steps, and lighting the fire below the little copper, prepared, without any assistance, for his daily occupation; which was to retail at the area-head above pennyworths of broth and soup, and savoury puddings, compounded of such scraps as were to be bought in the heap for the least money at Fleet Market in the evening time; and for the sale of which he had need to have depended chiefly on his private connection, for the court had no thoroughfare, and was not that kind of place in which many people were likely to take the air, or to frequent as an agreeable promenade.

Chapter 9

Chronicler’s are privileged to enter where they list, to come and go through keyholes, to ride upon the wind, to overcome, in their soarings up and down, all obstacles of distance, time, and place. Thrice blessed be this last consideration, since it enables us to follow the disdainful Miggs even into the sanctity of her chamber, and to hold her in sweet companionship through the dreary watches of the night!

Miss Miggs, having undone her mistress, as she phrased it (which means, assisted to undress her), and having seen her comfortably to bed in the back room on the first floor, withdrew to her own apartment, in the attic story. Notwithstanding her declaration in the locksmith’s presence, she was in no mood for sleep; so, putting her light upon the table and withdrawing the little window curtain, she gazed out pensively at the wild night sky.

Perhaps she wondered what star was destined for her habitation when she had run her little course below; perhaps speculated which of those glimmering spheres might be the natal orb of Mr Tappertit; perhaps marvelled how they could gaze down on that perfidious creature, man, and not sicken and turn green as chemists’ lamps; perhaps thought of nothing in particular. Whatever she thought about, there she sat, until her attention, alive to anything connected with the insinuating ‘prentice, was attracted by a noise in the next room to her own — his room; the room in which he slept, and dreamed — it might be, sometimes dreamed of her.

That he was not dreaming now, unless he was taking a walk in his sleep, was clear, for every now and then there came a shuffling noise, as though he were engaged in polishing the whitewashed wall; then a gentle creaking of his door; then the faintest indication of his stealthy footsteps on the landing-place outside. Noting this latter circumstance, Miss Miggs turned pale and shuddered, as mistrusting his intentions; and more than once exclaimed, below her breath, ‘Oh! what a Providence it is, as I am bolted in!’— which, owing doubtless to her alarm, was a confusion of ideas on her part between a bolt and its use; for though there was one on the door, it was not fastened.

Miss Miggs’s sense of hearing, however, having as sharp an edge as her temper, and being of the same snappish and suspicious kind, very soon informed her that the footsteps passed her door, and appeared to have some object quite separate and disconnected from herself. At this discovery she became more alarmed than ever, and was about to give utterance to those cries of ‘Thieves!’ and ‘Murder!’ which she had hitherto restrained, when it occurred to her to look softly out, and see that her fears had some good palpable foundation.

Looking out accordingly, and stretching her neck over the handrail, she descried, to her great amazement, Mr Tappertit completely dressed, stealing downstairs, one step at a time, with his shoes in one hand and a lamp in the other. Following him with her eyes, and going down a little way herself to get the better of an intervening angle, she beheld him thrust his head in at the parlour-door, draw it back again with great swiftness, and immediately begin a retreat upstairs with all possible expedition.

‘Here’s mysteries!’ said the damsel, when she was safe in her own room again, quite out of breath. ‘Oh, gracious, here’s mysteries!’

The prospect of finding anybody out in anything, would have kept Miss Miggs awake under the influence of henbane. Presently, she heard the step again, as she would have done if it had been that of a feather endowed with motion and walking down on tiptoe. Then gliding out as before, she again beheld the retreating figure of the ‘prentice; again he looked cautiously in at the parlour-door, but this time instead of retreating, he passed in and disappeared.

Miggs was back in her room, and had her head out of the window, before an elderly gentleman could have winked and recovered from it. Out he came at the street-door, shut it carefully behind him, tried it with his knee, and swaggered off, putting something in his pocket as he went along. At this spectacle Miggs cried ‘Gracious!’ again, and then ‘Goodness gracious!’ and then ‘Goodness gracious me!’ and then, candle in hand, went downstairs as he had done. Coming to the workshop, she saw the lamp burning on the forge, and everything as Sim had left it.

‘Why I wish I may only have a walking funeral, and never be buried decent with a mourning-coach and feathers, if the boy hasn’t been and made a key for his own self!’ cried Miggs. ‘Oh the little villain!’

This conclusion was not arrived at without consideration, and much peeping and peering about; nor was it unassisted by the recollection that she had on several occasions come upon the ‘prentice suddenly, and found him busy at some mysterious occupation. Lest the fact of Miss Miggs calling him, on whom she stooped to cast a favourable eye, a boy, should create surprise in any breast, it may be observed that she invariably affected to regard all male bipeds under thirty as mere chits and infants; which phenomenon is not unusual in ladies of Miss Miggs’s temper, and is indeed generally found to be the associate of such indomitable and savage virtue.

Miss Miggs deliberated within herself for some little time, looking hard at the shop-door while she did so, as though her eyes and thoughts were both upon it; and then, taking a sheet of paper from a drawer, twisted it into a long thin spiral tube. Having filled this instrument with a quantity of small coal-dust from the forge, she approached the door, and dropping on one knee before it, dexterously blew into the keyhole as much of these fine ashes as the lock would hold. When she had filled it to the brim in a very workmanlike and skilful manner, she crept upstairs again, and chuckled as she went.

‘There!’ cried Miggs, rubbing her hands, ‘now let’s see whether you won’t be glad to take some notice of me, mister. He, he, he! You’ll have eyes for somebody besides Miss Dolly now, I think. A fat-faced puss she is, as ever I come across!’

As she uttered this criticism, she glanced approvingly at her small mirror, as who should say, I thank my stars that can’t be said of me! — as it certainly could not; for Miss Miggs’s style of beauty was of that kind which Mr Tappertit himself had not inaptly termed, in private, ‘scraggy.’

‘I don’t go to bed this night!’ said Miggs, wrapping herself in a shawl, and drawing a couple of chairs near the window, flouncing down upon one, and putting her feet upon the other, ‘till you come home, my lad. I wouldn’t,’ said Miggs viciously, ‘no, not for five-and-forty pound!’

With that, and with an expression of face in which a great number of opposite ingredients, such as mischief, cunning, malice, triumph, and patient expectation, were all mixed up together in a kind of physiognomical punch, Miss Miggs composed herself to wait and listen, like some fair ogress who had set a trap and was watching for a nibble from a plump young traveller.

She sat there, with perfect composure, all night. At length, just upon break of day, there was a footstep in the street, and presently she could hear Mr Tappertit stop at the door. Then she could make out that he tried his key — that he was blowing into it — that he knocked it on the nearest post to beat the dust out — that he took it under a lamp to look at it — that he poked bits of stick into the lock to clear it — that he peeped into the keyhole, first with one eye, and then with the other — that he tried the key again — that he couldn’t turn it, and what was worse, couldn’t get it out — that he bent it — that then it was much less disposed to come out than before — that he gave it a mighty twist and a great pull, and then it came out so suddenly that he staggered backwards — that he kicked the door — that he shook it — finally, that he smote his forehead, and sat down on the step in despair.

When this crisis had arrived, Miss Miggs, affecting to be exhausted with terror, and to cling to the window-sill for support, put out her nightcap, and demanded in a faint voice who was there.

Mr Tappertit cried ‘Hush!’ and, backing to the road, exhorted her in frenzied pantomime to secrecy and silence.

‘Tell me one thing,’ said Miggs. ‘Is it thieves?’

‘No — no — no!’ cried Mr Tappertit.

‘Then,’ said Miggs, more faintly than before, ‘it’s fire. Where is it, sir? It’s near this room, I know. I’ve a good conscience, sir, and would much rather die than go down a ladder. All I wish is, respecting my love to my married sister, Golden Lion Court, number twenty-sivin, second bell-handle on the right-hand door-post.’

‘Miggs!’ cried Mr Tappertit, ‘don’t you know me? Sim, you know — Sim —’

‘Oh! what about him!’ cried Miggs, clasping her hands. ‘Is he in any danger? Is he in the midst of flames and blazes! Oh gracious, gracious!’

‘Why I’m here, an’t I?’ rejoined Mr Tappertit, knocking himself on the breast. ‘Don’t you see me? What a fool you are, Miggs!’

‘There!’ cried Miggs, unmindful of this compliment. ‘Why — so it — Goodness, what is the meaning of — If you please, mim, here’s —’

‘No, no!’ cried Mr Tappertit, standing on tiptoe, as if by that means he, in the street, were any nearer being able to stop the mouth of Miggs in the garret. ‘Don’t! — I’ve been out without leave, and something or another’s the matter with the lock. Come down, and undo the shop window, that I may get in that way.’

‘I dursn’t do it, Simmun,’ cried Miggs — for that was her pronunciation of his Christian name. ‘I dursn’t do it, indeed. You know as well as anybody, how particular I am. And to come down in the dead of night, when the house is wrapped in slumbers and weiled in obscurity.’ And there she stopped and shivered, for her modesty caught cold at the very thought.

‘But Miggs,’ cried Mr Tappertit, getting under the lamp, that she might see his eyes. ‘My darling Miggs —’

Miggs screamed slightly.

‘— That I love so much, and never can help thinking of,’ and it is impossible to describe the use he made of his eyes when he said this —‘do — for my sake, do.’

‘Oh Simmun,’ cried Miggs, ‘this is worse than all. I know if I come down, you’ll go, and —’

‘And what, my precious?’ said Mr Tappertit.

‘And try,’ said Miggs, hysterically, ‘to kiss me, or some such dreadfulness; I know you will!’

‘I swear I won’t,’ said Mr Tappertit, with remarkable earnestness. ‘Upon my soul I won’t. It’s getting broad day, and the watchman’s waking up. Angelic Miggs! If you’ll only come and let me in, I promise you faithfully and truly I won’t.’

Miss Miggs, whose gentle heart was touched, did not wait for the oath (knowing how strong the temptation was, and fearing he might forswear himself), but tripped lightly down the stairs, and with her own fair hands drew back the rough fastenings of the workshop window. Having helped the wayward ‘prentice in, she faintly articulated the words ‘Simmun is safe!’ and yielding to her woman’s nature, immediately became insensible.

‘I knew I should quench her,’ said Sim, rather embarrassed by this circumstance. ‘Of course I was certain it would come to this, but there was nothing else to be done — if I hadn’t eyed her over, she wouldn’t have come down. Here. Keep up a minute, Miggs. What a slippery figure she is! There’s no holding her, comfortably. Do keep up a minute, Miggs, will you?’

As Miggs, however, was deaf to all entreaties, Mr Tappertit leant her against the wall as one might dispose of a walking-stick or umbrella, until he had secured the window, when he took her in his arms again, and, in short stages and with great difficulty — arising from her being tall and his being short, and perhaps in some degree from that peculiar physical conformation on which he had already remarked — carried her upstairs, and planting her, in the same umbrella and walking-stick fashion, just inside her own door, left her to her repose.

‘He may be as cool as he likes,’ said Miss Miggs, recovering as soon as she was left alone; ‘but I’m in his confidence and he can’t help himself, nor couldn’t if he was twenty Simmunses!’

Chapter 10

It was on one of those mornings, common in early spring, when the year, fickle and changeable in its youth like all other created things, is undecided whether to step backward into winter or forward into summer, and in its uncertainty inclines now to the one and now to the other, and now to both at once — wooing summer in the sunshine, and lingering still with winter in the shade — it was, in short, on one of those mornings, when it is hot and cold, wet and dry, bright and lowering, sad and cheerful, withering and genial, in the compass of one short hour, that old John Willet, who was dropping asleep over the copper boiler, was roused by the sound of a horse’s feet, and glancing out at window, beheld a traveller of goodly promise, checking his bridle at the Maypole door.

He was none of your flippant young fellows, who would call for a tankard of mulled ale, and make themselves as much at home as if they had ordered a hogshead of wine; none of your audacious young swaggerers, who would even penetrate into the bar — that solemn sanctuary — and, smiting old John upon the back, inquire if there was never a pretty girl in the house, and where he hid his little chambermaids, with a hundred other impertinences of that nature; none of your free-and-easy companions, who would scrape their boots upon the firedogs in the common room, and be not at all particular on the subject of spittoons; none of your unconscionable blades, requiring impossible chops, and taking unheard-of pickles for granted. He was a staid, grave, placid gentleman, something past the prime of life, yet upright in his carriage, for all that, and slim as a greyhound. He was well-mounted upon a sturdy chestnut cob, and had the graceful seat of an experienced horseman; while his riding gear, though free from such fopperies as were then in vogue, was handsome and well chosen. He wore a riding-coat of a somewhat brighter green than might have been expected to suit the taste of a gentleman of his years, with a short, black velvet cape, and laced pocket-holes and cuffs, all of a jaunty fashion; his linen, too, was of the finest kind, worked in a rich pattern at the wrists and throat, and scrupulously white. Although he seemed, judging from the mud he had picked up on the way, to have come from London, his horse was as smooth and cool as his own iron-grey periwig and pigtail. Neither man nor beast had turned a single hair; and saving for his soiled skirts and spatter-dashes, this gentleman, with his blooming face, white teeth, exactly-ordered dress, and perfect calmness, might have come from making an elaborate and leisurely toilet, to sit for an equestrian portrait at old John Willet’s gate.

It must not be supposed that John observed these several characteristics by other than very slow degrees, or that he took in more than half a one at a time, or that he even made up his mind upon that, without a great deal of very serious consideration. Indeed, if he had been distracted in the first instance by questionings and orders, it would have taken him at the least a fortnight to have noted what is here set down; but it happened that the gentleman, being struck with the old house, or with the plump pigeons which were skimming and curtseying about it, or with the tall maypole, on the top of which a weathercock, which had been out of order for fifteen years, performed a perpetual walk to the music of its own creaking, sat for some little time looking round in silence. Hence John, standing with his hand upon the horse’s bridle, and his great eyes on the rider, and with nothing passing to divert his thoughts, had really got some of these little circumstances into his brain by the time he was called upon to speak.

‘A quaint place this,’ said the gentleman — and his voice was as rich as his dress. ‘Are you the landlord?’

‘At your service, sir,’ replied John Willet.

‘You can give my horse good stabling, can you, and me an early dinner (I am not particular what, so that it be cleanly served), and a decent room of which there seems to be no lack in this great mansion,’ said the stranger, again running his eyes over the exterior.

‘You can have, sir,’ returned John with a readiness quite surprising, ‘anything you please.’

‘It’s well I am easily satisfied,’ returned the other with a smile, ‘or that might prove a hardy pledge, my friend.’ And saying so, he dismounted, with the aid of the block before the door, in a twinkling.

‘Halloa there! Hugh!’ roared John. ‘I ask your pardon, sir, for keeping you standing in the porch; but my son has gone to town on business, and the boy being, as I may say, of a kind of use to me, I’m rather put out when he’s away. Hugh! — a dreadful idle vagrant fellow, sir, half a gipsy, as I think — always sleeping in the sun in summer, and in the straw in winter time, sir — Hugh! Dear Lord, to keep a gentleman a waiting here through him! — Hugh! I wish that chap was dead, I do indeed.’

‘Possibly he is,’ returned the other. ‘I should think if he were living, he would have heard you by this time.’

‘In his fits of laziness, he sleeps so desperate hard,’ said the distracted host, ‘that if you were to fire off cannon-balls into his ears, it wouldn’t wake him, sir.’

The guest made no remark upon this novel cure for drowsiness, and recipe for making people lively, but, with his hands clasped behind him, stood in the porch, very much amused to see old John, with the bridle in his hand, wavering between a strong impulse to abandon the animal to his fate, and a half disposition to lead him into the house, and shut him up in the parlour, while he waited on his master.

‘Pillory the fellow, here he is at last!’ cried John, in the very height and zenith of his distress. ‘Did you hear me a calling, villain?’

The figure he addressed made no answer, but putting his hand upon the saddle, sprung into it at a bound, turned the horse’s head towards the stable, and was gone in an instant.

‘Brisk enough when he is awake,’ said the guest.

‘Brisk enough, sir!’ replied John, looking at the place where the horse had been, as if not yet understanding quite, what had become of him. ‘He melts, I think. He goes like a drop of froth. You look at him, and there he is. You look at him again, and — there he isn’t.’

Having, in the absence of any more words, put this sudden climax to what he had faintly intended should be a long explanation of the whole life and character of his man, the oracular John Willet led the gentleman up his wide dismantled staircase into the Maypole’s best apartment.

It was spacious enough in all conscience, occupying the whole depth of the house, and having at either end a great bay window, as large as many modern rooms; in which some few panes of stained glass, emblazoned with fragments of armorial bearings, though cracked, and patched, and shattered, yet remained; attesting, by their presence, that the former owner had made the very light subservient to his state, and pressed the sun itself into his list of flatterers; bidding it, when it shone into his chamber, reflect the badges of his ancient family, and take new hues and colours from their pride.

But those were old days, and now every little ray came and went as it would; telling the plain, bare, searching truth. Although the best room of the inn, it had the melancholy aspect of grandeur in decay, and was much too vast for comfort. Rich rustling hangings, waving on the walls; and, better far, the rustling of youth and beauty’s dress; the light of women’s eyes, outshining the tapers and their own rich jewels; the sound of gentle tongues, and music, and the tread of maiden feet, had once been there, and filled it with delight. But they were gone, and with them all its gladness. It was no longer a home; children were never born and bred there; the fireside had become mercenary — a something to be bought and sold — a very courtezan: let who would die, or sit beside, or leave it, it was still the same — it missed nobody, cared for nobody, had equal warmth and smiles for all. God help the man whose heart ever changes with the world, as an old mansion when it becomes an inn!

No effort had been made to furnish this chilly waste, but before the broad chimney a colony of chairs and tables had been planted on a square of carpet, flanked by a ghostly screen, enriched with figures, grinning and grotesque. After lighting with his own hands the faggots which were heaped upon the hearth, old John withdrew to hold grave council with his cook, touching the stranger’s entertainment; while the guest himself, seeing small comfort in the yet unkindled wood, opened a lattice in the distant window, and basked in a sickly gleam of cold March sun.

Leaving the window now and then, to rake the crackling logs together, or pace the echoing room from end to end, he closed it when the fire was quite burnt up, and having wheeled the easiest chair into the warmest corner, summoned John Willet.

‘Sir,’ said John.

He wanted pen, ink, and paper. There was an old standish on the mantelshelf containing a dusty apology for all three. Having set this before him, the landlord was retiring, when he motioned him to stay.

‘There’s a house not far from here,’ said the guest when he had written a few lines, ‘which you call the Warren, I believe?’

As this was said in the tone of one who knew the fact, and asked the question as a thing of course, John contented himself with nodding his head in the affirmative; at the same time taking one hand out of his pockets to cough behind, and then putting it in again.

‘I want this note’— said the guest, glancing on what he had written, and folding it, ‘conveyed there without loss of time, and an answer brought back here. Have you a messenger at hand?’

John was thoughtful for a minute or thereabouts, and then said Yes.

‘Let me see him,’ said the guest.

This was disconcerting; for Joe being out, and Hugh engaged in rubbing down the chestnut cob, he designed sending on the errand, Barnaby, who had just then arrived in one of his rambles, and who, so that he thought himself employed on a grave and serious business, would go anywhere.

‘Why the truth is,’ said John after a long pause, ‘that the person who’d go quickest, is a sort of natural, as one may say, sir; and though quick of foot, and as much to be trusted as the post itself, he’s not good at talking, being touched and flighty, sir.’

‘You don’t,’ said the guest, raising his eyes to John’s fat face, ‘you don’t mean — what’s the fellow’s name — you don’t mean Barnaby?’

‘Yes, I do,’ returned the landlord, his features turning quite expressive with surprise.

‘How comes he to be here?’ inquired the guest, leaning back in his chair; speaking in the bland, even tone, from which he never varied; and with the same soft, courteous, never-changing smile upon his face. ‘I saw him in London last night.’

‘He’s, for ever, here one hour, and there the next,’ returned old John, after the usual pause to get the question in his mind. ‘Sometimes he walks, and sometimes runs. He’s known along the road by everybody, and sometimes comes here in a cart or chaise, and sometimes riding double. He comes and goes, through wind, rain, snow, and hail, and on the darkest nights. Nothing hurts HIM.’

‘He goes often to the Warren, does he not?’ said the guest carelessly. ‘I seem to remember his mother telling me something to that effect yesterday. But I was not attending to the good woman much.’

‘You’re right, sir,’ John made answer, ‘he does. His father, sir, was murdered in that house.’

‘So I have heard,’ returned the guest, taking a gold toothpick from his pocket with the same sweet smile. ‘A very disagreeable circumstance for the family.’

‘Very,’ said John with a puzzled look, as if it occurred to him, dimly and afar off, that this might by possibility be a cool way of treating the subject.

‘All the circumstances after a murder,’ said the guest soliloquising, ‘must be dreadfully unpleasant — so much bustle and disturbance — no repose — a constant dwelling upon one subject — and the running in and out, and up and down stairs, intolerable. I wouldn’t have such a thing happen to anybody I was nearly interested in, on any account. ‘Twould be enough to wear one’s life out. — You were going to say, friend —’ he added, turning to John again.

‘Only that Mrs Rudge lives on a little pension from the family, and that Barnaby’s as free of the house as any cat or dog about it,’ answered John. ‘Shall he do your errand, sir?’

‘Oh yes,’ replied the guest. ‘Oh certainly. Let him do it by all means. Please to bring him here that I may charge him to be quick. If he objects to come you may tell him it’s Mr Chester. He will remember my name, I dare say.’

John was so very much astonished to find who his visitor was, that he could express no astonishment at all, by looks or otherwise, but left the room as if he were in the most placid and imperturbable of all possible conditions. It has been reported that when he got downstairs, he looked steadily at the boiler for ten minutes by the clock, and all that time never once left off shaking his head; for which statement there would seem to be some ground of truth and feasibility, inasmuch as that interval of time did certainly elapse, before he returned with Barnaby to the guest’s apartment.

‘Come hither, lad,’ said Mr Chester. ‘You know Mr Geoffrey Haredale?’

Barnaby laughed, and looked at the landlord as though he would say, ‘You hear him?’ John, who was greatly shocked at this breach of decorum, clapped his finger to his nose, and shook his head in mute remonstrance.

‘He knows him, sir,’ said John, frowning aside at Barnaby, ‘as well as you or I do.’

‘I haven’t the pleasure of much acquaintance with the gentleman,’ returned his guest. ‘YOU may have. Limit the comparison to yourself, my friend.’

Although this was said with the same easy affability, and the same smile, John felt himself put down, and laying the indignity at Barnaby’s door, determined to kick his raven, on the very first opportunity.

‘Give that,’ said the guest, who had by this time sealed the note, and who beckoned his messenger towards him as he spoke, ‘into Mr Haredale’s own hands. Wait for an answer, and bring it back to me here. If you should find that Mr Haredale is engaged just now, tell him — can he remember a message, landlord?’

‘When he chooses, sir,’ replied John. ‘He won’t forget this one.’

‘How are you sure of that?’

John merely pointed to him as he stood with his head bent forward, and his earnest gaze fixed closely on his questioner’s face; and nodded sagely.

‘Tell him then, Barnaby, should he be engaged,’ said Mr Chester, ‘that I shall be glad to wait his convenience here, and to see him (if he will call) at any time this evening. — At the worst I can have a bed here, Willet, I suppose?’

Old John, immensely flattered by the personal notoriety implied in this familiar form of address, answered, with something like a knowing look, ‘I should believe you could, sir,’ and was turning over in his mind various forms of eulogium, with the view of selecting one appropriate to the qualities of his best bed, when his ideas were put to flight by Mr Chester giving Barnaby the letter, and bidding him make all speed away.

‘Speed!’ said Barnaby, folding the little packet in his breast, ‘Speed! If you want to see hurry and mystery, come here. Here!’

With that, he put his hand, very much to John Willet’s horror, on the guest’s fine broadcloth sleeve, and led him stealthily to the back window.

‘Look down there,’ he said softly; ‘do you mark how they whisper in each other’s ears; then dance and leap, to make believe they are in sport? Do you see how they stop for a moment, when they think there is no one looking, and mutter among themselves again; and then how they roll and gambol, delighted with the mischief they’ve been plotting? Look at ’em now. See how they whirl and plunge. And now they stop again, and whisper, cautiously together — little thinking, mind, how often I have lain upon the grass and watched them. I say what is it that they plot and hatch? Do you know?’

‘They are only clothes,’ returned the guest, ‘such as we wear; hanging on those lines to dry, and fluttering in the wind.’

‘Clothes!’ echoed Barnaby, looking close into his face, and falling quickly back. ‘Ha ha! Why, how much better to be silly, than as wise as you! You don’t see shadowy people there, like those that live in sleep — not you. Nor eyes in the knotted panes of glass, nor swift ghosts when it blows hard, nor do you hear voices in the air, nor see men stalking in the sky — not you! I lead a merrier life than you, with all your cleverness. You’re the dull men. We’re the bright ones. Ha! ha! I’ll not change with you, clever as you are — not I!’

With that, he waved his hat above his head, and darted off.

‘A strange creature, upon my word!’ said the guest, pulling out a handsome box, and taking a pinch of snuff.

‘He wants imagination,’ said Mr Willet, very slowly, and after a long silence; ‘that’s what he wants. I’ve tried to instil it into him, many and many’s the time; but’— John added this in confidence — ‘he an’t made for it; that’s the fact.’

To record that Mr Chester smiled at John’s remark would be little to the purpose, for he preserved the same conciliatory and pleasant look at all times. He drew his chair nearer to the fire though, as a kind of hint that he would prefer to be alone, and John, having no reasonable excuse for remaining, left him to himself.

Very thoughtful old John Willet was, while the dinner was preparing; and if his brain were ever less clear at one time than another, it is but reasonable to suppose that he addled it in no slight degree by shaking his head so much that day. That Mr Chester, between whom and Mr Haredale, it was notorious to all the neighbourhood, a deep and bitter animosity existed, should come down there for the sole purpose, as it seemed, of seeing him, and should choose the Maypole for their place of meeting, and should send to him express, were stumbling blocks John could not overcome. The only resource he had, was to consult the boiler, and wait impatiently for Barnaby’s return.

But Barnaby delayed beyond all precedent. The visitor’s dinner was served, removed, his wine was set, the fire replenished, the hearth clean swept; the light waned without, it grew dusk, became quite dark, and still no Barnaby appeared. Yet, though John Willet was full of wonder and misgiving, his guest sat cross-legged in the easy-chair, to all appearance as little ruffled in his thoughts as in his dress — the same calm, easy, cool gentleman, without a care or thought beyond his golden toothpick.

‘Barnaby’s late,’ John ventured to observe, as he placed a pair of tarnished candlesticks, some three feet high, upon the table, and snuffed the lights they held.

‘He is rather so,’ replied the guest, sipping his wine. ‘He will not be much longer, I dare say.’

John coughed and raked the fire together.

‘As your roads bear no very good character, if I may judge from my son’s mishap, though,’ said Mr Chester, ‘and as I have no fancy to be knocked on the head — which is not only disconcerting at the moment, but places one, besides, in a ridiculous position with respect to the people who chance to pick one up — I shall stop here to-night. I think you said you had a bed to spare.’

‘Such a bed, sir,’ returned John Willet; ‘ay, such a bed as few, even of the gentry’s houses, own. A fixter here, sir. I’ve heard say that bedstead is nigh two hundred years of age. Your noble son — a fine young gentleman — slept in it last, sir, half a year ago.’

‘Upon my life, a recommendation!’ said the guest, shrugging his shoulders and wheeling his chair nearer to the fire. ‘See that it be well aired, Mr Willet, and let a blazing fire be lighted there at once. This house is something damp and chilly.’

John raked the faggots up again, more from habit than presence of mind, or any reference to this remark, and was about to withdraw, when a bounding step was heard upon the stair, and Barnaby came panting in.

‘He’ll have his foot in the stirrup in an hour’s time,’ he cried, advancing. ‘He has been riding hard all day — has just come home — but will be in the saddle again as soon as he has eat and drank, to meet his loving friend.’

‘Was that his message?’ asked the visitor, looking up, but without the smallest discomposure — or at least without the show of any.

‘All but the last words,’ Barnaby rejoined. ‘He meant those. I saw that, in his face.’

‘This for your pains,’ said the other, putting money in his hand, and glancing at him steadfastly.’ This for your pains, sharp Barnaby.’

‘For Grip, and me, and Hugh, to share among us,’ he rejoined, putting it up, and nodding, as he counted it on his fingers. ‘Grip one, me two, Hugh three; the dog, the goat, the cats — well, we shall spend it pretty soon, I warn you. Stay. — Look. Do you wise men see nothing there, now?’

He bent eagerly down on one knee, and gazed intently at the smoke, which was rolling up the chimney in a thick black cloud. John Willet, who appeared to consider himself particularly and chiefly referred to under the term wise men, looked that way likewise, and with great solidity of feature.

‘Now, where do they go to, when they spring so fast up there,’ asked Barnaby; ‘eh? Why do they tread so closely on each other’s heels, and why are they always in a hurry — which is what you blame me for, when I only take pattern by these busy folk about me? More of ’em! catching to each other’s skirts; and as fast as they go, others come! What a merry dance it is! I would that Grip and I could frisk like that!’

‘What has he in that basket at his back?’ asked the guest after a few moments, during which Barnaby was still bending down to look higher up the chimney, and earnestly watching the smoke.

‘In this?’ he answered, jumping up, before John Willet could reply — shaking it as he spoke, and stooping his head to listen. ‘In this! What is there here? Tell him!’

‘A devil, a devil, a devil!’ cried a hoarse voice.

‘Here’s money!’ said Barnaby, chinking it in his hand, ‘money for a treat, Grip!’

‘Hurrah! Hurrah! Hurrah!’ replied the raven, ‘keep up your spirits. Never say die. Bow, wow, wow!’

Mr Willet, who appeared to entertain strong doubts whether a customer in a laced coat and fine linen could be supposed to have any acquaintance even with the existence of such unpolite gentry as the bird claimed to belong to, took Barnaby off at this juncture, with the view of preventing any other improper declarations, and quitted the room with his very best bow.

Chapter 11

There was great news that night for the regular Maypole customers, to each of whom, as he straggled in to occupy his allotted seat in the chimney-corner, John, with a most impressive slowness of delivery, and in an apoplectic whisper, communicated the fact that Mr Chester was alone in the large room upstairs, and was waiting the arrival of Mr Geoffrey Haredale, to whom he had sent a letter (doubtless of a threatening nature) by the hands of Barnaby, then and there present.

For a little knot of smokers and solemn gossips, who had seldom any new topics of discussion, this was a perfect Godsend. Here was a good, dark-looking mystery progressing under that very roof — brought home to the fireside, as it were, and enjoyable without the smallest pains or trouble. It is extraordinary what a zest and relish it gave to the drink, and how it heightened the flavour of the tobacco. Every man smoked his pipe with a face of grave and serious delight, and looked at his neighbour with a sort of quiet congratulation. Nay, it was felt to be such a holiday and special night, that, on the motion of little Solomon Daisy, every man (including John himself) put down his sixpence for a can of flip, which grateful beverage was brewed with all despatch, and set down in the midst of them on the brick floor; both that it might simmer and stew before the fire, and that its fragrant steam, rising up among them, and mixing with the wreaths of vapour from their pipes, might shroud them in a delicious atmosphere of their own, and shut out all the world. The very furniture of the room seemed to mellow and deepen in its tone; the ceiling and walls looked blacker and more highly polished, the curtains of a ruddier red; the fire burnt clear and high, and the crickets in the hearthstone chirped with a more than wonted satisfaction.

There were present two, however, who showed but little interest in the general contentment. Of these, one was Barnaby himself, who slept, or, to avoid being beset with questions, feigned to sleep, in the chimney-corner; the other, Hugh, who, sleeping too, lay stretched upon the bench on the opposite side, in the full glare of the blazing fire.

The light that fell upon this slumbering form, showed it in all its muscular and handsome proportions. It was that of a young man, of a hale athletic figure, and a giant’s strength, whose sunburnt face and swarthy throat, overgrown with jet black hair, might have served a painter for a model. Loosely attired, in the coarsest and roughest garb, with scraps of straw and hay — his usual bed — clinging here and there, and mingling with his uncombed locks, he had fallen asleep in a posture as careless as his dress. The negligence and disorder of the whole man, with something fierce and sullen in his features, gave him a picturesque appearance, that attracted the regards even of the Maypole customers who knew him well, and caused Long Parkes to say that Hugh looked more like a poaching rascal to-night than ever he had seen him yet.

‘He’s waiting here, I suppose,’ said Solomon, ‘to take Mr Haredale’s horse.’

‘That’s it, sir,’ replied John Willet. ‘He’s not often in the house, you know. He’s more at his ease among horses than men. I look upon him as a animal himself.’

Following up this opinion with a shrug that seemed meant to say, ‘we can’t expect everybody to be like us,’ John put his pipe into his mouth again, and smoked like one who felt his superiority over the general run of mankind.

‘That chap, sir,’ said John, taking it out again after a time, and pointing at him with the stem, ‘though he’s got all his faculties about him — bottled up and corked down, if I may say so, somewheres or another —’

‘Very good!’ said Parkes, nodding his head. ‘A very good expression, Johnny. You’ll be a tackling somebody presently. You’re in twig to-night, I see.’

‘Take care,’ said Mr Willet, not at all grateful for the compliment, ‘that I don’t tackle you, sir, which I shall certainly endeavour to do, if you interrupt me when I’m making observations. — That chap, I was a saying, though he has all his faculties about him, somewheres or another, bottled up and corked down, has no more imagination than Barnaby has. And why hasn’t he?’

The three friends shook their heads at each other; saying by that action, without the trouble of opening their lips, ‘Do you observe what a philosophical mind our friend has?’

‘Why hasn’t he?’ said John, gently striking the table with his open hand. ‘Because they was never drawed out of him when he was a boy. That’s why. What would any of us have been, if our fathers hadn’t drawed our faculties out of us? What would my boy Joe have been, if I hadn’t drawed his faculties out of him? — Do you mind what I’m a saying of, gentlemen?’

‘Ah! we mind you,’ cried Parkes. ‘Go on improving of us, Johnny.’

‘Consequently, then,’ said Mr Willet, ‘that chap, whose mother was hung when he was a little boy, along with six others, for passing bad notes — and it’s a blessed thing to think how many people are hung in batches every six weeks for that, and such like offences, as showing how wide awake our government is — that chap that was then turned loose, and had to mind cows, and frighten birds away, and what not, for a few pence to live on, and so got on by degrees to mind horses, and to sleep in course of time in lofts and litter, instead of under haystacks and hedges, till at last he come to be hostler at the Maypole for his board and lodging and a annual trifle — that chap that can’t read nor write, and has never had much to do with anything but animals, and has never lived in any way but like the animals he has lived among, IS a animal. And,’ said Mr Willet, arriving at his logical conclusion, ‘is to be treated accordingly.’

‘Willet,’ said Solomon Daisy, who had exhibited some impatience at the intrusion of so unworthy a subject on their more interesting theme, ‘when Mr Chester come this morning, did he order the large room?’

‘He signified, sir,’ said John, ‘that he wanted a large apartment. Yes. Certainly.’

‘Why then, I’ll tell you what,’ said Solomon, speaking softly and with an earnest look. ‘He and Mr Haredale are going to fight a duel in it.’

Everybody looked at Mr Willet, after this alarming suggestion. Mr Willet looked at the fire, weighing in his own mind the effect which such an occurrence would be likely to have on the establishment.

‘Well,’ said John, ‘I don’t know — I am sure — I remember that when I went up last, he HAD put the lights upon the mantel-shelf.’

‘It’s as plain,’ returned Solomon, ‘as the nose on Parkes’s face’— Mr Parkes, who had a large nose, rubbed it, and looked as if he considered this a personal allusion —‘they’ll fight in that room. You know by the newspapers what a common thing it is for gentlemen to fight in coffee-houses without seconds. One of ’em will be wounded or perhaps killed in this house.’

‘That was a challenge that Barnaby took then, eh?’ said John.

‘— Inclosing a slip of paper with the measure of his sword upon it, I’ll bet a guinea,’ answered the little man. ‘We know what sort of gentleman Mr Haredale is. You have told us what Barnaby said about his looks, when he came back. Depend upon it, I’m right. Now, mind.’

The flip had had no flavour till now. The tobacco had been of mere English growth, compared with its present taste. A duel in that great old rambling room upstairs, and the best bed ordered already for the wounded man!

‘Would it be swords or pistols, now?’ said John.

‘Heaven knows. Perhaps both,’ returned Solomon. ‘The gentlemen wear swords, and may easily have pistols in their pockets — most likely have, indeed. If they fire at each other without effect, then they’ll draw, and go to work in earnest.’

A shade passed over Mr Willet’s face as he thought of broken windows and disabled furniture, but bethinking himself that one of the parties would probably be left alive to pay the damage, he brightened up again.

‘And then,’ said Solomon, looking from face to face, ‘then we shall have one of those stains upon the floor that never come out. If Mr Haredale wins, depend upon it, it’ll be a deep one; or if he loses, it will perhaps be deeper still, for he’ll never give in unless he’s beaten down. We know him better, eh?’

‘Better indeed!’ they whispered all together.

‘As to its ever being got out again,’ said Solomon, ‘I tell you it never will, or can be. Why, do you know that it has been tried, at a certain house we are acquainted with?’

‘The Warren!’ cried John. ‘No, sure!’

‘Yes, sure — yes. It’s only known by very few. It has been whispered about though, for all that. They planed the board away, but there it was. They went deep, but it went deeper. They put new boards down, but there was one great spot that came through still, and showed itself in the old place. And — harkye — draw nearer — Mr Geoffrey made that room his study, and sits there, always, with his foot (as I have heard) upon it; and he believes, through thinking of it long and very much, that it will never fade until he finds the man who did the deed.’

As this recital ended, and they all drew closer round the fire, the tramp of a horse was heard without.

‘The very man!’ cried John, starting up. ‘Hugh! Hugh!’

The sleeper staggered to his feet, and hurried after him. John quickly returned, ushering in with great attention and deference (for Mr Haredale was his landlord) the long-expected visitor, who strode into the room clanking his heavy boots upon the floor; and looking keenly round upon the bowing group, raised his hat in acknowledgment of their profound respect.

‘You have a stranger here, Willet, who sent to me,’ he said, in a voice which sounded naturally stern and deep. ‘Where is he?’

‘In the great room upstairs, sir,’ answered John.

‘Show the way. Your staircase is dark, I know. Gentlemen, good night.’

With that, he signed to the landlord to go on before; and went clanking out, and up the stairs; old John, in his agitation, ingeniously lighting everything but the way, and making a stumble at every second step.

‘Stop!’ he said, when they reached the landing. ‘I can announce myself. Don’t wait.’

He laid his hand upon the door, entered, and shut it heavily. Mr Willet was by no means disposed to stand there listening by himself, especially as the walls were very thick; so descended, with much greater alacrity than he had come up, and joined his friends below.

Chapter 12

There was a brief pause in the state-room of the Maypole, as Mr Haredale tried the lock to satisfy himself that he had shut the door securely, and, striding up the dark chamber to where the screen inclosed a little patch of light and warmth, presented himself, abruptly and in silence, before the smiling guest.

If the two had no greater sympathy in their inward thoughts than in their outward bearing and appearance, the meeting did not seem likely to prove a very calm or pleasant one. With no great disparity between them in point of years, they were, in every other respect, as unlike and far removed from each other as two men could well be. The one was soft-spoken, delicately made, precise, and elegant; the other, a burly square-built man, negligently dressed, rough and abrupt in manner, stern, and, in his present mood, forbidding both in look and speech. The one preserved a calm and placid smile; the other, a distrustful frown. The new-comer, indeed, appeared bent on showing by his every tone and gesture his determined opposition and hostility to the man he had come to meet. The guest who received him, on the other hand, seemed to feel that the contrast between them was all in his favour, and to derive a quiet exultation from it which put him more at his ease than ever.

‘Haredale,’ said this gentleman, without the least appearance of embarrassment or reserve, ‘I am very glad to see you.’

‘Let us dispense with compliments. They are misplaced between us,’ returned the other, waving his hand, ‘and say plainly what we have to say. You have asked me to meet you. I am here. Why do we stand face to face again?’

‘Still the same frank and sturdy character, I see!’

‘Good or bad, sir, I am,’ returned the other, leaning his arm upon the chimney-piece, and turning a haughty look upon the occupant of the easy-chair, ‘the man I used to be. I have lost no old likings or dislikings; my memory has not failed me by a hair’s-breadth. You ask me to give you a meeting. I say, I am here.’

‘Our meeting, Haredale,’ said Mr Chester, tapping his snuff-box, and following with a smile the impatient gesture he had made — perhaps unconsciously — towards his sword, ‘is one of conference and peace, I hope?’

‘I have come here,’ returned the other, ‘at your desire, holding myself bound to meet you, when and where you would. I have not come to bandy pleasant speeches, or hollow professions. You are a smooth man of the world, sir, and at such play have me at a disadvantage. The very last man on this earth with whom I would enter the lists to combat with gentle compliments and masked faces, is Mr Chester, I do assure you. I am not his match at such weapons, and have reason to believe that few men are.’

‘You do me a great deal of honour Haredale,’ returned the other, most composedly, ‘and I thank you. I will be frank with you —’

‘I beg your pardon — will be what?’

‘Frank — open — perfectly candid.’

‘Hab!’ cried Mr Haredale, drawing his breath. ‘But don’t let me interrupt you.’

‘So resolved am I to hold this course,’ returned the other, tasting his wine with great deliberation; ‘that I have determined not to quarrel with you, and not to be betrayed into a warm expression or a hasty word.’

‘There again,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘you have me at a great advantage. Your self-command —’

‘Is not to be disturbed, when it will serve my purpose, you would say’— rejoined the other, interrupting him with the same complacency. ‘Granted. I allow it. And I have a purpose to serve now. So have you. I am sure our object is the same. Let us attain it like sensible men, who have ceased to be boys some time. — Do you drink?’

‘With my friends,’ returned the other.

‘At least,’ said Mr Chester, ‘you will be seated?’

‘I will stand,’ returned Mr Haredale impatiently, ‘on this dismantled, beggared hearth, and not pollute it, fallen as it is, with mockeries. Go on.’

‘You are wrong, Haredale,’ said the other, crossing his legs, and smiling as he held his glass up in the bright glow of the fire. ‘You are really very wrong. The world is a lively place enough, in which we must accommodate ourselves to circumstances, sail with the stream as glibly as we can, be content to take froth for substance, the surface for the depth, the counterfeit for the real coin. I wonder no philosopher has ever established that our globe itself is hollow. It should be, if Nature is consistent in her works.’

‘YOU think it is, perhaps?’

‘I should say,’ he returned, sipping his wine, ‘there could be no doubt about it. Well; we, in trifling with this jingling toy, have had the ill-luck to jostle and fall out. We are not what the world calls friends; but we are as good and true and loving friends for all that, as nine out of every ten of those on whom it bestows the title. You have a niece, and I a son — a fine lad, Haredale, but foolish. They fall in love with each other, and form what this same world calls an attachment; meaning a something fanciful and false like the rest, which, if it took its own free time, would break like any other bubble. But it may not have its own free time — will not, if they are left alone — and the question is, shall we two, because society calls us enemies, stand aloof, and let them rush into each other’s arms, when, by approaching each other sensibly, as we do now, we can prevent it, and part them?’

‘I love my niece,’ said Mr Haredale, after a short silence. ‘It may sound strangely in your ears; but I love her.’

‘Strangely, my good fellow!’ cried Mr Chester, lazily filling his glass again, and pulling out his toothpick. ‘Not at all. I like Ned too — or, as you say, love him — that’s the word among such near relations. I’m very fond of Ned. He’s an amazingly good fellow, and a handsome fellow — foolish and weak as yet; that’s all. But the thing is, Haredale — for I’ll be very frank, as I told you I would at first — independently of any dislike that you and I might have to being related to each other, and independently of the religious differences between us — and damn it, that’s important — I couldn’t afford a match of this description. Ned and I couldn’t do it. It’s impossible.’

‘Curb your tongue, in God’s name, if this conversation is to last,’ retorted Mr Haredale fiercely. ‘I have said I love my niece. Do you think that, loving her, I would have her fling her heart away on any man who had your blood in his veins?’

‘You see,’ said the other, not at all disturbed, ‘the advantage of being so frank and open. Just what I was about to add, upon my honour! I am amazingly attached to Ned — quite doat upon him, indeed — and even if we could afford to throw ourselves away, that very objection would be quite insuperable. — I wish you’d take some wine?’

‘Mark me,’ said Mr Haredale, striding to the table, and laying his hand upon it heavily. ‘If any man believes — presumes to think — that I, in word or deed, or in the wildest dream, ever entertained remotely the idea of Emma Haredale’s favouring the suit of any one who was akin to you — in any way — I care not what — he lies. He lies, and does me grievous wrong, in the mere thought.’

‘Haredale,’ returned the other, rocking himself to and fro as in assent, and nodding at the fire, ‘it’s extremely manly, and really very generous in you, to meet me in this unreserved and handsome way. Upon my word, those are exactly my sentiments, only expressed with much more force and power than I could use — you know my sluggish nature, and will forgive me, I am sure.’

‘While I would restrain her from all correspondence with your son, and sever their intercourse here, though it should cause her death,’ said Mr Haredale, who had been pacing to and fro, ‘I would do it kindly and tenderly if I can. I have a trust to discharge, which my nature is not formed to understand, and, for this reason, the bare fact of there being any love between them comes upon me to-night, almost for the first time.’

‘I am more delighted than I can possibly tell you,’ rejoined Mr Chester with the utmost blandness, ‘to find my own impression so confirmed. You see the advantage of our having met. We understand each other. We quite agree. We have a most complete and thorough explanation, and we know what course to take. — Why don’t you taste your tenant’s wine? It’s really very good.’

‘Pray who,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘have aided Emma, or your son? Who are their go-betweens, and agents — do you know?’

‘All the good people hereabouts — the neighbourhood in general, I think,’ returned the other, with his most affable smile. ‘The messenger I sent to you to-day, foremost among them all.’

‘The idiot? Barnaby?’

‘You are surprised? I am glad of that, for I was rather so myself. Yes. I wrung that from his mother — a very decent sort of woman — from whom, indeed, I chiefly learnt how serious the matter had become, and so determined to ride out here to-day, and hold a parley with you on this neutral ground. — You’re stouter than you used to be, Haredale, but you look extremely well.’

‘Our business, I presume, is nearly at an end,’ said Mr Haredale, with an expression of impatience he was at no pains to conceal. ‘Trust me, Mr Chester, my niece shall change from this time. I will appeal,’ he added in a lower tone, ‘to her woman’s heart, her dignity, her pride, her duty —’

‘I shall do the same by Ned,’ said Mr Chester, restoring some errant faggots to their places in the grate with the toe of his boot. ‘If there is anything real in this world, it is those amazingly fine feelings and those natural obligations which must subsist between father and son. I shall put it to him on every ground of moral and religious feeling. I shall represent to him that we cannot possibly afford it — that I have always looked forward to his marrying well, for a genteel provision for myself in the autumn of life — that there are a great many clamorous dogs to pay, whose claims are perfectly just and right, and who must be paid out of his wife’s fortune. In short, that the very highest and most honourable feelings of our nature, with every consideration of filial duty and affection, and all that sort of thing, imperatively demand that he should run away with an heiress.’

‘And break her heart as speedily as possible?’ said Mr Haredale, drawing on his glove.

‘There Ned will act exactly as he pleases,’ returned the other, sipping his wine; ‘that’s entirely his affair. I wouldn’t for the world interfere with my son, Haredale, beyond a certain point. The relationship between father and son, you know, is positively quite a holy kind of bond. — WON’T you let me persuade you to take one glass of wine? Well! as you please, as you please,’ he added, helping himself again.

‘Chester,’ said Mr Haredale, after a short silence, during which he had eyed his smiling face from time to time intently, ‘you have the head and heart of an evil spirit in all matters of deception.’

‘Your health!’ said the other, with a nod. ‘But I have interrupted you —’

‘If now,’ pursued Mr Haredale, ‘we should find it difficult to separate these young people, and break off their intercourse — if, for instance, you find it difficult on your side, what course do you intend to take?’

‘Nothing plainer, my good fellow, nothing easier,’ returned the other, shrugging his shoulders and stretching himself more comfortably before the fire. ‘I shall then exert those powers on which you flatter me so highly — though, upon my word, I don’t deserve your compliments to their full extent — and resort to a few little trivial subterfuges for rousing jealousy and resentment. You see?’

‘In short, justifying the means by the end, we are, as a last resource for tearing them asunder, to resort to treachery and — and lying,’ said Mr Haredale.

‘Oh dear no. Fie, fie!’ returned the other, relishing a pinch of snuff extremely. ‘Not lying. Only a little management, a little diplomacy, a little — intriguing, that’s the word.’

‘I wish,’ said Mr Haredale, moving to and fro, and stopping, and moving on again, like one who was ill at ease, ‘that this could have been foreseen or prevented. But as it has gone so far, and it is necessary for us to act, it is of no use shrinking or regretting. Well! I shall second your endeavours to the utmost of my power. There is one topic in the whole wide range of human thoughts on which we both agree. We shall act in concert, but apart. There will be no need, I hope, for us to meet again.’

‘Are you going?’ said Mr Chester, rising with a graceful indolence. ‘Let me light you down the stairs.’

‘Pray keep your seat,’ returned the other drily, ‘I know the way. So, waving his hand slightly, and putting on his hat as he turned upon his heel, he went clanking out as he had come, shut the door behind him, and tramped down the echoing stairs.

‘Pah! A very coarse animal, indeed!’ said Mr Chester, composing himself in the easy-chair again. ‘A rough brute. Quite a human badger!’

John Willet and his friends, who had been listening intently for the clash of swords, or firing of pistols in the great room, and had indeed settled the order in which they should rush in when summoned — in which procession old John had carefully arranged that he should bring up the rear — were very much astonished to see Mr Haredale come down without a scratch, call for his horse, and ride away thoughtfully at a footpace. After some consideration, it was decided that he had left the gentleman above, for dead, and had adopted this stratagem to divert suspicion or pursuit.

As this conclusion involved the necessity of their going upstairs forthwith, they were about to ascend in the order they had agreed upon, when a smart ringing at the guest’s bell, as if he had pulled it vigorously, overthrew all their speculations, and involved them in great uncertainty and doubt. At length Mr Willet agreed to go upstairs himself, escorted by Hugh and Barnaby, as the strongest and stoutest fellows on the premises, who were to make their appearance under pretence of clearing away the glasses.

Under this protection, the brave and broad-faced John boldly entered the room, half a foot in advance, and received an order for a boot-jack without trembling. But when it was brought, and he leant his sturdy shoulder to the guest, Mr Willet was observed to look very hard into his boots as he pulled them off, and, by opening his eyes much wider than usual, to appear to express some surprise and disappointment at not finding them full of blood. He took occasion, too, to examine the gentleman as closely as he could, expecting to discover sundry loopholes in his person, pierced by his adversary’s sword. Finding none, however, and observing in course of time that his guest was as cool and unruffled, both in his dress and temper, as he had been all day, old John at last heaved a deep sigh, and began to think no duel had been fought that night.

‘And now, Willet,’ said Mr Chester, ‘if the room’s well aired, I’ll try the merits of that famous bed.’

‘The room, sir,’ returned John, taking up a candle, and nudging Barnaby and Hugh to accompany them, in case the gentleman should unexpectedly drop down faint or dead from some internal wound, ‘the room’s as warm as any toast in a tankard. Barnaby, take you that other candle, and go on before. Hugh! Follow up, sir, with the easy-chair.’

In this order — and still, in his earnest inspection, holding his candle very close to the guest; now making him feel extremely warm about the legs, now threatening to set his wig on fire, and constantly begging his pardon with great awkwardness and embarrassment — John led the party to the best bedroom, which was nearly as large as the chamber from which they had come, and held, drawn out near the fire for warmth, a great old spectral bedstead, hung with faded brocade, and ornamented, at the top of each carved post, with a plume of feathers that had once been white, but with dust and age had now grown hearse-like and funereal.

‘Good night, my friends,’ said Mr Chester with a sweet smile, seating himself, when he had surveyed the room from end to end, in the easy-chair which his attendants wheeled before the fire. ‘Good night! Barnaby, my good fellow, you say some prayers before you go to bed, I hope?’

Barnaby nodded. ‘He has some nonsense that he calls his prayers, sir,’ returned old John, officiously. ‘I’m afraid there an’t much good in em.’

‘And Hugh?’ said Mr Chester, turning to him.

‘Not I,’ he answered. ‘I know his’— pointing to Barnaby —‘they’re well enough. He sings ’em sometimes in the straw. I listen.’

‘He’s quite a animal, sir,’ John whispered in his ear with dignity. ‘You’ll excuse him, I’m sure. If he has any soul at all, sir, it must be such a very small one, that it don’t signify what he does or doesn’t in that way. Good night, sir!’

The guest rejoined ‘God bless you!’ with a fervour that was quite affecting; and John, beckoning his guards to go before, bowed himself out of the room, and left him to his rest in the Maypole’s ancient bed.

Chapter 13

If Joseph Willet, the denounced and proscribed of ‘prentices, had happened to be at home when his father’s courtly guest presented himself before the Maypole door — that is, if it had not perversely chanced to be one of the half-dozen days in the whole year on which he was at liberty to absent himself for as many hours without question or reproach — he would have contrived, by hook or crook, to dive to the very bottom of Mr Chester’s mystery, and to come at his purpose with as much certainty as though he had been his confidential adviser. In that fortunate case, the lovers would have had quick warning of the ills that threatened them, and the aid of various timely and wise suggestions to boot; for all Joe’s readiness of thought and action, and all his sympathies and good wishes, were enlisted in favour of the young people, and were staunch in devotion to their cause. Whether this disposition arose out of his old prepossessions in favour of the young lady, whose history had surrounded her in his mind, almost from his cradle, with circumstances of unusual interest; or from his attachment towards the young gentleman, into whose confidence he had, through his shrewdness and alacrity, and the rendering of sundry important services as a spy and messenger, almost imperceptibly glided; whether they had their origin in either of these sources, or in the habit natural to youth, or in the constant badgering and worrying of his venerable parent, or in any hidden little love affair of his own which gave him something of a fellow-feeling in the matter, it is needless to inquire — especially as Joe was out of the way, and had no opportunity on that particular occasion of testifying to his sentiments either on one side or the other.

It was, in fact, the twenty-fifth of March, which, as most people know to their cost, is, and has been time out of mind, one of those unpleasant epochs termed quarter-days. On this twenty-fifth of March, it was John Willet’s pride annually to settle, in hard cash, his account with a certain vintner and distiller in the city of London; to give into whose hands a canvas bag containing its exact amount, and not a penny more or less, was the end and object of a journey for Joe, so surely as the year and day came round.

This journey was performed upon an old grey mare, concerning whom John had an indistinct set of ideas hovering about him, to the effect that she could win a plate or cup if she tried. She never had tried, and probably never would now, being some fourteen or fifteen years of age, short in wind, long in body, and rather the worse for wear in respect of her mane and tail. Notwithstanding these slight defects, John perfectly gloried in the animal; and when she was brought round to the door by Hugh, actually retired into the bar, and there, in a secret grove of lemons, laughed with pride.

‘There’s a bit of horseflesh, Hugh!’ said John, when he had recovered enough self-command to appear at the door again. ‘There’s a comely creature! There’s high mettle! There’s bone!’

There was bone enough beyond all doubt; and so Hugh seemed to think, as he sat sideways in the saddle, lazily doubled up with his chin nearly touching his knees; and heedless of the dangling stirrups and loose bridle-rein, sauntered up and down on the little green before the door.

‘Mind you take good care of her, sir,’ said John, appealing from this insensible person to his son and heir, who now appeared, fully equipped and ready. ‘Don’t you ride hard.’

‘I should be puzzled to do that, I think, father,’ Joe replied, casting a disconsolate look at the animal.

‘None of your impudence, sir, if you please,’ retorted old John. ‘What would you ride, sir? A wild ass or zebra would be too tame for you, wouldn’t he, eh sir? You’d like to ride a roaring lion, wouldn’t you, sir, eh sir? Hold your tongue, sir.’ When Mr Willet, in his differences with his son, had exhausted all the questions that occurred to him, and Joe had said nothing at all in answer, he generally wound up by bidding him hold his tongue.

‘And what does the boy mean,’ added Mr Willet, after he had stared at him for a little time, in a species of stupefaction, ‘by cocking his hat, to such an extent! Are you going to kill the wintner, sir?’

‘No,’ said Joe, tartly; ‘I’m not. Now your mind’s at ease, father.’

‘With a milintary air, too!’ said Mr Willet, surveying him from top to toe; ‘with a swaggering, fire-eating, biling-water drinking sort of way with him! And what do you mean by pulling up the crocuses and snowdrops, eh sir?’

‘It’s only a little nosegay,’ said Joe, reddening. ‘There’s no harm in that, I hope?’

‘You’re a boy of business, you are, sir!’ said Mr Willet, disdainfully, ‘to go supposing that wintners care for nosegays.’

‘I don’t suppose anything of the kind,’ returned Joe. ‘Let them keep their red noses for bottles and tankards. These are going to Mr Varden’s house.’

‘And do you suppose HE minds such things as crocuses?’ demanded John.

‘I don’t know, and to say the truth, I don’t care,’ said Joe. ‘Come, father, give me the money, and in the name of patience let me go.’

‘There it is, sir,’ replied John; ‘and take care of it; and mind you don’t make too much haste back, but give the mare a long rest. — Do you mind?’

‘Ay, I mind,’ returned Joe. ‘She’ll need it, Heaven knows.’

‘And don’t you score up too much at the Black Lion,’ said John. ‘Mind that too.’

‘Then why don’t you let me have some money of my own?’ retorted Joe, sorrowfully; ‘why don’t you, father? What do you send me into London for, giving me only the right to call for my dinner at the Black Lion, which you’re to pay for next time you go, as if I was not to be trusted with a few shillings? Why do you use me like this? It’s not right of you. You can’t expect me to be quiet under it.’

‘Let him have money!’ cried John, in a drowsy reverie. ‘What does he call money — guineas? Hasn’t he got money? Over and above the tolls, hasn’t he one and sixpence?’

‘One and sixpence!’ repeated his son contemptuously.

‘Yes, sir,’ returned John, ‘one and sixpence. When I was your age, I had never seen so much money, in a heap. A shilling of it is in case of accidents — the mare casting a shoe, or the like of that. The other sixpence is to spend in the diversions of London; and the diversion I recommend is going to the top of the Monument, and sitting there. There’s no temptation there, sir — no drink — no young women — no bad characters of any sort — nothing but imagination. That’s the way I enjoyed myself when I was your age, sir.’

To this, Joe made no answer, but beckoning Hugh, leaped into the saddle and rode away; and a very stalwart, manly horseman he looked, deserving a better charger than it was his fortune to bestride. John stood staring after him, or rather after the grey mare (for he had no eyes for her rider), until man and beast had been out of sight some twenty minutes, when he began to think they were gone, and slowly re-entering the house, fell into a gentle doze.

The unfortunate grey mare, who was the agony of Joe’s life, floundered along at her own will and pleasure until the Maypole was no longer visible, and then, contracting her legs into what in a puppet would have been looked upon as a clumsy and awkward imitation of a canter, mended her pace all at once, and did it of her own accord. The acquaintance with her rider’s usual mode of proceeding, which suggested this improvement in hers, impelled her likewise to turn up a bye-way, leading — not to London, but through lanes running parallel with the road they had come, and passing within a few hundred yards of the Maypole, which led finally to an inclosure surrounding a large, old, red-brick mansion — the same of which mention was made as the Warren in the first chapter of this history. Coming to a dead stop in a little copse thereabout, she suffered her rider to dismount with right goodwill, and to tie her to the trunk of a tree.

‘Stay there, old girl,’ said Joe, ‘and let us see whether there’s any little commission for me to-day.’ So saying, he left her to browze upon such stunted grass and weeds as happened to grow within the length of her tether, and passing through a wicket gate, entered the grounds on foot.

The pathway, after a very few minutes’ walking, brought him close to the house, towards which, and especially towards one particular window, he directed many covert glances. It was a dreary, silent building, with echoing courtyards, desolated turret-chambers, and whole suites of rooms shut up and mouldering to ruin.

The terrace-garden, dark with the shade of overhanging trees, had an air of melancholy that was quite oppressive. Great iron gates, disused for many years, and red with rust, drooping on their hinges and overgrown with long rank grass, seemed as though they tried to sink into the ground, and hide their fallen state among the friendly weeds. The fantastic monsters on the walls, green with age and damp, and covered here and there with moss, looked grim and desolate. There was a sombre aspect even on that part of the mansion which was inhabited and kept in good repair, that struck the beholder with a sense of sadness; of something forlorn and failing, whence cheerfulness was banished. It would have been difficult to imagine a bright fire blazing in the dull and darkened rooms, or to picture any gaiety of heart or revelry that the frowning walls shut in. It seemed a place where such things had been, but could be no more — the very ghost of a house, haunting the old spot in its old outward form, and that was all.

Much of this decayed and sombre look was attributable, no doubt, to the death of its former master, and the temper of its present occupant; but remembering the tale connected with the mansion, it seemed the very place for such a deed, and one that might have been its predestined theatre years upon years ago. Viewed with reference to this legend, the sheet of water where the steward’s body had been found appeared to wear a black and sullen character, such as no other pool might own; the bell upon the roof that had told the tale of murder to the midnight wind, became a very phantom whose voice would raise the listener’s hair on end; and every leafless bough that nodded to another, had its stealthy whispering of the crime.

Joe paced up and down the path, sometimes stopping in affected contemplation of the building or the prospect, sometimes leaning against a tree with an assumed air of idleness and indifference, but always keeping an eye upon the window he had singled out at first. After some quarter of an hour’s delay, a small white hand was waved to him for an instant from this casement, and the young man, with a respectful bow, departed; saying under his breath as he crossed his horse again, ‘No errand for me to-day!’

But the air of smartness, the cock of the hat to which John Willet had objected, and the spring nosegay, all betokened some little errand of his own, having a more interesting object than a vintner or even a locksmith. So, indeed, it turned out; for when he had settled with the vintner — whose place of business was down in some deep cellars hard by Thames Street, and who was as purple-faced an old gentleman as if he had all his life supported their arched roof on his head — when he had settled the account, and taken the receipt, and declined tasting more than three glasses of old sherry, to the unbounded astonishment of the purple-faced vintner, who, gimlet in hand, had projected an attack upon at least a score of dusty casks, and who stood transfixed, or morally gimleted as it were, to his own wall — when he had done all this, and disposed besides of a frugal dinner at the Black Lion in Whitechapel; spurning the Monument and John’s advice, he turned his steps towards the locksmith’s house, attracted by the eyes of blooming Dolly Varden.

Joe was by no means a sheepish fellow, but, for all that, when he got to the corner of the street in which the locksmith lived, he could by no means make up his mind to walk straight to the house. First, he resolved to stroll up another street for five minutes, then up another street for five minutes more, and so on until he had lost full half an hour, when he made a bold plunge and found himself with a red face and a beating heart in the smoky workshop.

‘Joe Willet, or his ghost?’ said Varden, rising from the desk at which he was busy with his books, and looking at him under his spectacles. ‘Which is it? Joe in the flesh, eh? That’s hearty. And how are all the Chigwell company, Joe?’

‘Much as usual, sir — they and I agree as well as ever.’

‘Well, well!’ said the locksmith. ‘We must be patient, Joe, and bear with old folks’ foibles. How’s the mare, Joe? Does she do the four miles an hour as easily as ever? Ha, ha, ha! Does she, Joe? Eh! — What have we there, Joe — a nosegay!’

‘A very poor one, sir — I thought Miss Dolly —’

‘No, no,’ said Gabriel, dropping his voice, and shaking his head, ‘not Dolly. Give ’em to her mother, Joe. A great deal better give ’em to her mother. Would you mind giving ’em to Mrs Varden, Joe?’

‘Oh no, sir,’ Joe replied, and endeavouring, but not with the greatest possible success, to hide his disappointment. ‘I shall be very glad, I’m sure.’

‘That’s right,’ said the locksmith, patting him on the back. ‘It don’t matter who has ’em, Joe?’

‘Not a bit, sir.’— Dear heart, how the words stuck in his throat!

‘Come in,’ said Gabriel. ‘I have just been called to tea. She’s in the parlour.’

‘She,’ thought Joe. ‘Which of ’em I wonder — Mrs or Miss?’ The locksmith settled the doubt as neatly as if it had been expressed aloud, by leading him to the door, and saying, ‘Martha, my dear, here’s young Mr Willet.’

Now, Mrs Varden, regarding the Maypole as a sort of human mantrap, or decoy for husbands; viewing its proprietor, and all who aided and abetted him, in the light of so many poachers among Christian men; and believing, moreover, that the publicans coupled with sinners in Holy Writ were veritable licensed victuallers; was far from being favourably disposed towards her visitor. Wherefore she was taken faint directly; and being duly presented with the crocuses and snowdrops, divined on further consideration that they were the occasion of the languor which had seized upon her spirits. ‘I’m afraid I couldn’t bear the room another minute,’ said the good lady, ‘if they remained here. WOULD you excuse my putting them out of window?’

Joe begged she wouldn’t mention it on any account, and smiled feebly as he saw them deposited on the sill outside. If anybody could have known the pains he had taken to make up that despised and misused bunch of flowers! —

‘I feel it quite a relief to get rid of them, I assure you,’ said Mrs Varden. ‘I’m better already.’ And indeed she did appear to have plucked up her spirits.

Joe expressed his gratitude to Providence for this favourable dispensation, and tried to look as if he didn’t wonder where Dolly was.

‘You’re sad people at Chigwell, Mr Joseph,’ said Mrs V.

‘I hope not, ma’am,’ returned Joe.

‘You’re the cruellest and most inconsiderate people in the world,’ said Mrs Varden, bridling. ‘I wonder old Mr Willet, having been a married man himself, doesn’t know better than to conduct himself as he does. His doing it for profit is no excuse. I would rather pay the money twenty times over, and have Varden come home like a respectable and sober tradesman. If there is one character,’ said Mrs Varden with great emphasis, ‘that offends and disgusts me more than another, it is a sot.’

‘Come, Martha, my dear,’ said the locksmith cheerily, ‘let us have tea, and don’t let us talk about sots. There are none here, and Joe don’t want to hear about them, I dare say.’

At this crisis, Miggs appeared with toast.

‘I dare say he does not,’ said Mrs Varden; ‘and I dare say you do not, Varden. It’s a very unpleasant subiect, I have no doubt, though I won’t say it’s personal’— Miggs coughed —‘whatever I may be forced to think’— Miggs sneezed expressively. ‘You never will know, Varden, and nobody at young Mr Willet’s age — you’ll excuse me, sir — can be expected to know, what a woman suffers when she is waiting at home under such circumstances. If you don’t believe me, as I know you don’t, here’s Miggs, who is only too often a witness of it — ask her.’

‘Oh! she were very bad the other night, sir, indeed she were, said Miggs. ‘If you hadn’t the sweetness of an angel in you, mim, I don’t think you could abear it, I raly don’t.’

‘Miggs,’ said Mrs Varden, ‘you’re profane.’

‘Begging your pardon, mim,’ returned Miggs, with shrill rapidity, ‘such was not my intentions, and such I hope is not my character, though I am but a servant.’

‘Answering me, Miggs, and providing yourself,’ retorted her mistress, looking round with dignity, ‘is one and the same thing. How dare you speak of angels in connection with your sinful fellow-beings — mere’— said Mrs Varden, glancing at herself in a neighbouring mirror, and arranging the ribbon of her cap in a more becoming fashion —‘mere worms and grovellers as we are!’

‘I did not intend, mim, if you please, to give offence,’ said Miggs, confident in the strength of her compliment, and developing strongly in the throat as usual, ‘and I did not expect it would be took as such. I hope I know my own unworthiness, and that I hate and despise myself and all my fellow-creatures as every practicable Christian should.’

‘You’ll have the goodness, if you please,’ said Mrs Varden, loftily, ‘to step upstairs and see if Dolly has finished dressing, and to tell her that the chair that was ordered for her will be here in a minute, and that if she keeps it waiting, I shall send it away that instant. — I’m sorry to see that you don’t take your tea, Varden, and that you don’t take yours, Mr Joseph; though of course it would be foolish of me to expect that anything that can be had at home, and in the company of females, would please YOU.’

This pronoun was understood in the plural sense, and included both gentlemen, upon both of whom it was rather hard and undeserved, for Gabriel had applied himself to the meal with a very promising appetite, until it was spoilt by Mrs Varden herself, and Joe had as great a liking for the female society of the locksmith’s house — or for a part of it at all events — as man could well entertain.

But he had no opportunity to say anything in his own defence, for at that moment Dolly herself appeared, and struck him quite dumb with her beauty. Never had Dolly looked so handsome as she did then, in all the glow and grace of youth, with all her charms increased a hundredfold by a most becoming dress, by a thousand little coquettish ways which nobody could assume with a better grace, and all the sparkling expectation of that accursed party. It is impossible to tell how Joe hated that party wherever it was, and all the other people who were going to it, whoever they were.

And she hardly looked at him — no, hardly looked at him. And when the chair was seen through the open door coming blundering into the workshop, she actually clapped her hands and seemed glad to go. But Joe gave her his arm — there was some comfort in that — and handed her into it. To see her seat herself inside, with her laughing eyes brighter than diamonds, and her hand — surely she had the prettiest hand in the world — on the ledge of the open window, and her little finger provokingly and pertly tilted up, as if it wondered why Joe didn’t squeeze or kiss it! To think how well one or two of the modest snowdrops would have become that delicate bodice, and how they were lying neglected outside the parlour window! To see how Miggs looked on with a face expressive of knowing how all this loveliness was got up, and of being in the secret of every string and pin and hook and eye, and of saying it ain’t half as real as you think, and I could look quite as well myself if I took the pains! To hear that provoking precious little scream when the chair was hoisted on its poles, and to catch that transient but not-to-be-forgotten vision of the happy face within — what torments and aggravations, and yet what delights were these! The very chairmen seemed favoured rivals as they bore her down the street.

There never was such an alteration in a small room in a small time as in that parlour when they went back to finish tea. So dark, so deserted, so perfectly disenchanted. It seemed such sheer nonsense to be sitting tamely there, when she was at a dance with more lovers than man could calculate fluttering about her — with the whole party doting on and adoring her, and wanting to marry her. Miggs was hovering about too; and the fact of her existence, the mere circumstance of her ever having been born, appeared, after Dolly, such an unaccountable practical joke. It was impossible to talk. It couldn’t be done. He had nothing left for it but to stir his tea round, and round, and round, and ruminate on all the fascinations of the locksmith’s lovely daughter.

Gabriel was dull too. It was a part of the certain uncertainty of Mrs Varden’s temper, that when they were in this condition, she should be gay and sprightly.

‘I need have a cheerful disposition, I am sure,’ said the smiling housewife, ‘to preserve any spirits at all; and how I do it I can scarcely tell.’

‘Ah, mim,’ sighed Miggs, ‘begging your pardon for the interruption, there an’t a many like you.’

‘Take away, Miggs,’ said Mrs Varden, rising, ‘take away, pray. I know I’m a restraint here, and as I wish everybody to enjoy themselves as they best can, I feel I had better go.’

‘No, no, Martha,’ cried the locksmith. ‘Stop here. I’m sure we shall be very sorry to lose you, eh Joe!’ Joe started, and said ‘Certainly.’

‘Thank you, Varden, my dear,’ returned his wife; ‘but I know your wishes better. Tobacco and beer, or spirits, have much greater attractions than any I can boast of, and therefore I shall go and sit upstairs and look out of window, my love. Good night, Mr Joseph. I’m very glad to have seen you, and I only wish I could have provided something more suitable to your taste. Remember me very kindly if you please to old Mr Willet, and tell him that whenever he comes here I have a crow to pluck with him. Good night!’

Having uttered these words with great sweetness of manner, the good lady dropped a curtsey remarkable for its condescension, and serenely withdrew.

And it was for this Joe had looked forward to the twenty-fifth of March for weeks and weeks, and had gathered the flowers with so much care, and had cocked his hat, and made himself so smart! This was the end of all his bold determination, resolved upon for the hundredth time, to speak out to Dolly and tell her how he loved her! To see her for a minute — for but a minute — to find her going out to a party and glad to go; to be looked upon as a common pipe-smoker, beer-bibber, spirit-guzzler, and tosspot! He bade farewell to his friend the locksmith, and hastened to take horse at the Black Lion, thinking as he turned towards home, as many another Joe has thought before and since, that here was an end to all his hopes — that the thing was impossible and never could be — that she didn’t care for him — that he was wretched for life — and that the only congenial prospect left him, was to go for a soldier or a sailor, and get some obliging enemy to knock his brains out as soon as possible.

Chapter 14

Joe Willet rode leisurely along in his desponding mood, picturing the locksmith’s daughter going down long country-dances, and poussetting dreadfully with bold strangers — which was almost too much to bear — when he heard the tramp of a horse’s feet behind him, and looking back, saw a well-mounted gentleman advancing at a smart canter. As this rider passed, he checked his steed, and called him of the Maypole by his name. Joe set spurs to the grey mare, and was at his side directly.

‘I thought it was you, sir,’ he said, touching his hat. ‘A fair evening, sir. Glad to see you out of doors again.’

The gentleman smiled and nodded. ‘What gay doings have been going on to-day, Joe? Is she as pretty as ever? Nay, don’t blush, man.’

‘If I coloured at all, Mr Edward,’ said Joe, ‘which I didn’t know I did, it was to think I should have been such a fool as ever to have any hope of her. She’s as far out of my reach as — as Heaven is.’

‘Well, Joe, I hope that’s not altogether beyond it,’ said Edward, good-humouredly. ‘Eh?’

‘Ah!’ sighed Joe. ‘It’s all very fine talking, sir. Proverbs are easily made in cold blood. But it can’t be helped. Are you bound for our house, sir?’

‘Yes. As I am not quite strong yet, I shall stay there to-night, and ride home coolly in the morning.’

‘If you’re in no particular hurry,’ said Joe after a short silence, ‘and will bear with the pace of this poor jade, I shall be glad to ride on with you to the Warren, sir, and hold your horse when you dismount. It’ll save you having to walk from the Maypole, there and back again. I can spare the time well, sir, for I am too soon.’

‘And so am I,’ returned Edward, ‘though I was unconsciously riding fast just now, in compliment I suppose to the pace of my thoughts, which were travelling post. We will keep together, Joe, willingly, and be as good company as may be. And cheer up, cheer up, think of the locksmith’s daughter with a stout heart, and you shall win her yet.’

Joe shook his head; but there was something so cheery in the buoyant hopeful manner of this speech, that his spirits rose under its influence, and communicated as it would seem some new impulse even to the grey mare, who, breaking from her sober amble into a gentle trot, emulated the pace of Edward Chester’s horse, and appeared to flatter herself that he was doing his very best.

It was a fine dry night, and the light of a young moon, which was then just rising, shed around that peace and tranquillity which gives to evening time its most delicious charm. The lengthened shadows of the trees, softened as if reflected in still water, threw their carpet on the path the travellers pursued, and the light wind stirred yet more softly than before, as though it were soothing Nature in her sleep. By little and little they ceased talking, and rode on side by side in a pleasant silence.

‘The Maypole lights are brilliant to-night,’ said Edward, as they rode along the lane from which, while the intervening trees were bare of leaves, that hostelry was visible.

‘Brilliant indeed, sir,’ returned Joe, rising in his stirrups to get a better view. ‘Lights in the large room, and a fire glimmering in the best bedchamber? Why, what company can this be for, I wonder!’

‘Some benighted horseman wending towards London, and deterred from going on to-night by the marvellous tales of my friend the highwayman, I suppose,’ said Edward.

‘He must be a horseman of good quality to have such accommodations. Your bed too, sir —!’

‘No matter, Joe. Any other room will do for me. But come — there’s nine striking. We may push on.’

They cantered forward at as brisk a pace as Joe’s charger could attain, and presently stopped in the little copse where he had left her in the morning. Edward dismounted, gave his bridle to his companion, and walked with a light step towards the house.

A female servant was waiting at a side gate in the garden-wall, and admitted him without delay. He hurried along the terrace-walk, and darted up a flight of broad steps leading into an old and gloomy hall, whose walls were ornamented with rusty suits of armour, antlers, weapons of the chase, and suchlike garniture. Here he paused, but not long; for as he looked round, as if expecting the attendant to have followed, and wondering she had not done so, a lovely girl appeared, whose dark hair next moment rested on his breast. Almost at the same instant a heavy hand was laid upon her arm, Edward felt himself thrust away, and Mr Haredale stood between them.

He regarded the young man sternly without removing his hat; with one hand clasped his niece, and with the other, in which he held his riding-whip, motioned him towards the door. The young man drew himself up, and returned his gaze.

‘This is well done of you, sir, to corrupt my servants, and enter my house unbidden and in secret, like a thief!’ said Mr Haredale. ‘Leave it, sir, and return no more.’

‘Miss Haredale’s presence,’ returned the young man, ‘and your relationship to her, give you a licence which, if you are a brave man, you will not abuse. You have compelled me to this course, and the fault is yours — not mine.’

‘It is neither generous, nor honourable, nor the act of a true man, sir,’ retorted the other, ‘to tamper with the affections of a weak, trusting girl, while you shrink, in your unworthiness, from her guardian and protector, and dare not meet the light of day. More than this I will not say to you, save that I forbid you this house, and require you to be gone.’

‘It is neither generous, nor honourable, nor the act of a true man to play the spy,’ said Edward. ‘Your words imply dishonour, and I reject them with the scorn they merit.’

‘You will find,’ said Mr Haredale, calmly, ‘your trusty go-between in waiting at the gate by which you entered. I have played no spy’s part, sir. I chanced to see you pass the gate, and followed. You might have heard me knocking for admission, had you been less swift of foot, or lingered in the garden. Please to withdraw. Your presence here is offensive to me and distressful to my niece.’ As he said these words, he passed his arm about the waist of the terrified and weeping girl, and drew her closer to him; and though the habitual severity of his manner was scarcely changed, there was yet apparent in the action an air of kindness and sympathy for her distress.

‘Mr Haredale,’ said Edward, ‘your arm encircles her on whom I have set my every hope and thought, and to purchase one minute’s happiness for whom I would gladly lay down my life; this house is the casket that holds the precious jewel of my existence. Your niece has plighted her faith to me, and I have plighted mine to her. What have I done that you should hold me in this light esteem, and give me these discourteous words?’

‘You have done that, sir,’ answered Mr Haredale, ‘which must he undone. You have tied a lover’-knot here which must be cut asunder. Take good heed of what I say. Must. I cancel the bond between ye. I reject you, and all of your kith and kin — all the false, hollow, heartless stock.’

‘High words, sir,’ said Edward, scornfully.

‘Words of purpose and meaning, as you will find,’ replied the other. ‘Lay them to heart.’

‘Lay you then, these,’ said Edward. ‘Your cold and sullen temper, which chills every breast about you, which turns affection into fear, and changes duty into dread, has forced us on this secret course, repugnant to our nature and our wish, and far more foreign, sir, to us than you. I am not a false, a hollow, or a heartless man; the character is yours, who poorly venture on these injurious terms, against the truth, and under the shelter whereof I reminded you just now. You shall not cancel the bond between us. I will not abandon this pursuit. I rely upon your niece’s truth and honour, and set your influence at nought. I leave her with a confidence in her pure faith, which you will never weaken, and with no concern but that I do not leave her in some gentler care.’

With that, he pressed her cold hand to his lips, and once more encountering and returning Mr Haredale’s steady look, withdrew.

A few words to Joe as he mounted his horse sufficiently explained what had passed, and renewed all that young gentleman’s despondency with tenfold aggravation. They rode back to the Maypole without exchanging a syllable, and arrived at the door with heavy hearts.

Old John, who had peeped from behind the red curtain as they rode up shouting for Hugh, was out directly, and said with great importance as he held the young man’s stirrup,

‘He’s comfortable in bed — the best bed. A thorough gentleman; the smilingest, affablest gentleman I ever had to do with.’

‘Who, Willet?’ said Edward carelessly, as he dismounted.

‘Your worthy father, sir,’ replied John. ‘Your honourable, venerable father.’

‘What does he mean?’ said Edward, looking with a mixture of alarm and doubt, at Joe.

‘What DO you mean?’ said Joe. ‘Don’t you see Mr Edward doesn’t understand, father?’

‘Why, didn’t you know of it, sir?’ said John, opening his eyes wide. ‘How very singular! Bless you, he’s been here ever since noon to-day, and Mr Haredale has been having a long talk with him, and hasn’t been gone an hour.’

‘My father, Willet!’

‘Yes, sir, he told me so — a handsome, slim, upright gentleman, in green-and-gold. In your old room up yonder, sir. No doubt you can go in, sir,’ said John, walking backwards into the road and looking up at the window. ‘He hasn’t put out his candles yet, I see.’

Edward glanced at the window also, and hastily murmuring that he had changed his mind — forgotten something — and must return to London, mounted his horse again and rode away; leaving the Willets, father and son, looking at each other in mute astonishment.

Chapter 15

At noon next day, John Willet’s guest sat lingering over his breakfast in his own home, surrounded by a variety of comforts, which left the Maypole’s highest flight and utmost stretch of accommodation at an infinite distance behind, and suggested comparisons very much to the disadvantage and disfavour of that venerable tavern.

In the broad old-fashioned window-seat — as capacious as many modern sofas, and cushioned to serve the purpose of a luxurious settee — in the broad old-fashioned window-seat of a roomy chamber, Mr Chester lounged, very much at his ease, over a well-furnished breakfast-table. He had exchanged his riding-coat for a handsome morning-gown, his boots for slippers; had been at great pains to atone for the having been obliged to make his toilet when he rose without the aid of dressing-case and tiring equipage; and, having gradually forgotten through these means the discomforts of an indifferent night and an early ride, was in a state of perfect complacency, indolence, and satisfaction.

The situation in which he found himself, indeed, was particularly favourable to the growth of these feelings; for, not to mention the lazy influence of a late and lonely breakfast, with the additional sedative of a newspaper, there was an air of repose about his place of residence peculiar to itself, and which hangs about it, even in these times, when it is more bustling and busy than it was in days of yore.

There are, still, worse places than the Temple, on a sultry day, for basking in the sun, or resting idly in the shade. There is yet a drowsiness in its courts, and a dreamy dulness in its trees and gardens; those who pace its lanes and squares may yet hear the echoes of their footsteps on the sounding stones, and read upon its gates, in passing from the tumult of the Strand or Fleet Street, ‘Who enters here leaves noise behind.’ There is still the plash of falling water in fair Fountain Court, and there are yet nooks and corners where dun-haunted students may look down from their dusty garrets, on a vagrant ray of sunlight patching the shade of the tall houses, and seldom troubled to reflect a passing stranger’s form. There is yet, in the Temple, something of a clerkly monkish atmosphere, which public offices of law have not disturbed, and even legal firms have failed to scare away. In summer time, its pumps suggest to thirsty idlers, springs cooler, and more sparkling, and deeper than other wells; and as they trace the spillings of full pitchers on the heated ground, they snuff the freshness, and, sighing, cast sad looks towards the Thames, and think of baths and boats, and saunter on, despondent.

It was in a room in Paper Buildings — a row of goodly tenements, shaded in front by ancient trees, and looking, at the back, upon the Temple Gardens — that this, our idler, lounged; now taking up again the paper he had laid down a hundred times; now trifling with the fragments of his meal; now pulling forth his golden toothpick, and glancing leisurely about the room, or out at window into the trim garden walks, where a few early loiterers were already pacing to and fro. Here a pair of lovers met to quarrel and make up; there a dark-eyed nursery-maid had better eyes for Templars than her charge; on this hand an ancient spinster, with her lapdog in a string, regarded both enormities with scornful sidelong looks; on that a weazen old gentleman, ogling the nursery-maid, looked with like scorn upon the spinster, and wondered she didn’t know she was no longer young. Apart from all these, on the river’s margin two or three couple of business-talkers walked slowly up and down in earnest conversation; and one young man sat thoughtfully on a bench, alone.

‘Ned is amazingly patient!’ said Mr Chester, glancing at this last-named person as he set down his teacup and plied the golden toothpick, ‘immensely patient! He was sitting yonder when I began to dress, and has scarcely changed his posture since. A most eccentric dog!’

As he spoke, the figure rose, and came towards him with a rapid pace.

‘Really, as if he had heard me,’ said the father, resuming his newspaper with a yawn. ‘Dear Ned!’

Presently the room-door opened, and the young man entered; to whom his father gently waved his hand, and smiled.

‘Are you at leisure for a little conversation, sir?’ said Edward.

‘Surely, Ned. I am always at leisure. You know my constitution. — Have you breakfasted?’

‘Three hours ago.’

‘What a very early dog!’ cried his father, contemplating him from behind the toothpick, with a languid smile.

‘The truth is,’ said Edward, bringing a chair forward, and seating himself near the table, ‘that I slept but ill last night, and was glad to rise. The cause of my uneasiness cannot but be known to you, sir; and it is upon that I wish to speak.’

‘My dear boy,’ returned his father, ‘confide in me, I beg. But you know my constitution — don’t be prosy, Ned.’

‘I will be plain, and brief,’ said Edward.

‘Don’t say you will, my good fellow,’ returned his father, crossing his legs, ‘or you certainly will not. You are going to tell me’—

‘Plainly this, then,’ said the son, with an air of great concern, ‘that I know where you were last night — from being on the spot, indeed — and whom you saw, and what your purpose was.’

‘You don’t say so!’ cried his father. ‘I am delighted to hear it. It saves us the worry, and terrible wear and tear of a long explanation, and is a great relief for both. At the very house! Why didn’t you come up? I should have been charmed to see you.’

‘I knew that what I had to say would be better said after a night’s reflection, when both of us were cool,’ returned the son.

‘‘Fore Gad, Ned,’ rejoined the father, ‘I was cool enough last night. That detestable Maypole! By some infernal contrivance of the builder, it holds the wind, and keeps it fresh. You remember the sharp east wind that blew so hard five weeks ago? I give you my honour it was rampant in that old house last night, though out of doors there was a dead calm. But you were saying’—

‘I was about to say, Heaven knows how seriously and earnestly, that you have made me wretched, sir. Will you hear me gravely for a moment?’

‘My dear Ned,’ said his father, ‘I will hear you with the patience of an anchorite. Oblige me with the milk.’

‘I saw Miss Haredale last night,’ Edward resumed, when he had complied with this request; ‘her uncle, in her presence, immediately after your interview, and, as of course I know, in consequence of it, forbade me the house, and, with circumstances of indignity which are of your creation I am sure, commanded me to leave it on the instant.’

‘For his manner of doing so, I give you my honour, Ned, I am not accountable,’ said his father. ‘That you must excuse. He is a mere boor, a log, a brute, with no address in life. — Positively a fly in the jug. The first I have seen this year.’

Edward rose, and paced the room. His imperturbable parent sipped his tea.

‘Father,’ said the young man, stopping at length before him, ‘we must not trifle in this matter. We must not deceive each other, or ourselves. Let me pursue the manly open part I wish to take, and do not repel me by this unkind indifference.’

‘Whether I am indifferent or no,’ returned the other, ‘I leave you, my dear boy, to judge. A ride of twenty-five or thirty miles, through miry roads — a Maypole dinner — a tete-a-tete with Haredale, which, vanity apart, was quite a Valentine and Orson business — a Maypole bed — a Maypole landlord, and a Maypole retinue of idiots and centaurs; — whether the voluntary endurance of these things looks like indifference, dear Ned, or like the excessive anxiety, and devotion, and all that sort of thing, of a parent, you shall determine for yourself.’

‘I wish you to consider, sir,’ said Edward, ‘in what a cruel situation I am placed. Loving Miss Haredale as I do’—

‘My dear fellow,’ interrupted his father with a compassionate smile, ‘you do nothing of the kind. You don’t know anything about it. There’s no such thing, I assure you. Now, do take my word for it. You have good sense, Ned — great good sense. I wonder you should be guilty of such amazing absurdities. You really surprise me.’

‘I repeat,’ said his son firmly, ‘that I love her. You have interposed to part us, and have, to the extent I have just now told you of, succeeded. May I induce you, sir, in time, to think more favourably of our attachment, or is it your intention and your fixed design to hold us asunder if you can?’

‘My dear Ned,’ returned his father, taking a pinch of snuff and pushing his box towards him, ‘that is my purpose most undoubtedly.’

‘The time that has elapsed,’ rejoined his son, ‘since I began to know her worth, has flown in such a dream that until now I have hardly once paused to reflect upon my true position. What is it? From my childhood I have been accustomed to luxury and idleness, and have been bred as though my fortune were large, and my expectations almost without a limit. The idea of wealth has been familiarised to me from my cradle. I have been taught to look upon those means, by which men raise themselves to riches and distinction, as being beyond my heeding, and beneath my care. I have been, as the phrase is, liberally educated, and am fit for nothing. I find myself at last wholly dependent upon you, with no resource but in your favour. In this momentous question of my life we do not, and it would seem we never can, agree. I have shrunk instinctively alike from those to whom you have urged me to pay court, and from the motives of interest and gain which have rendered them in your eyes visible objects for my suit. If there never has been thus much plain-speaking between us before, sir, the fault has not been mine, indeed. If I seem to speak too plainly now, it is, believe me father, in the hope that there may be a franker spirit, a worthier reliance, and a kinder confidence between us in time to come.’

‘My good fellow,’ said his smiling father, ‘you quite affect me. Go on, my dear Edward, I beg. But remember your promise. There is great earnestness, vast candour, a manifest sincerity in all you say, but I fear I observe the faintest indications of a tendency to prose.’

‘I am very sorry, sir.’

‘I am very sorry, too, Ned, but you know that I cannot fix my mind for any long period upon one subject. If you’ll come to the point at once, I’ll imagine all that ought to go before, and conclude it said. Oblige me with the milk again. Listening, invariably makes me feverish.’

‘What I would say then, tends to this,’ said Edward. ‘I cannot bear this absolute dependence, sir, even upon you. Time has been lost and opportunity thrown away, but I am yet a young man, and may retrieve it. Will you give me the means of devoting such abilities and energies as I possess, to some worthy pursuit? Will you let me try to make for myself an honourable path in life? For any term you please to name — say for five years if you will — I will pledge myself to move no further in the matter of our difference without your fall concurrence. During that period, I will endeavour earnestly and patiently, if ever man did, to open some prospect for myself, and free you from the burden you fear I should become if I married one whose worth and beauty are her chief endowments. Will you do this, sir? At the expiration of the term we agree upon, let us discuss this subject again. Till then, unless it is revived by you, let it never be renewed between us.’

‘My dear Ned,’ returned his father, laying down the newspaper at which he had been glancing carelessly, and throwing himself back in the window-seat, ‘I believe you know how very much I dislike what are called family affairs, which are only fit for plebeian Christmas days, and have no manner of business with people of our condition. But as you are proceeding upon a mistake, Ned — altogether upon a mistake — I will conquer my repugnance to entering on such matters, and give you a perfectly plain and candid answer, if you will do me the favour to shut the door.’

Edward having obeyed him, he took an elegant little knife from his pocket, and paring his nails, continued:

‘You have to thank me, Ned, for being of good family; for your mother, charming person as she was, and almost broken-hearted, and so forth, as she left me, when she was prematurely compelled to become immortal — had nothing to boast of in that respect.’

‘Her father was at least an eminent lawyer, sir,’ said Edward.

‘Quite right, Ned; perfectly so. He stood high at the bar, had a great name and great wealth, but having risen from nothing — I have always closed my eyes to the circumstance and steadily resisted its contemplation, but I fear his father dealt in pork, and that his business did once involve cow-heel and sausages — he wished to marry his daughter into a good family. He had his heart’s desire, Ned. I was a younger son’s younger son, and I married her. We each had our object, and gained it. She stepped at once into the politest and best circles, and I stepped into a fortune which I assure you was very necessary to my comfort — quite indispensable. Now, my good fellow, that fortune is among the things that have been. It is gone, Ned, and has been gone — how old are you? I always forget.’

‘Seven-and-twenty, sir.’

‘Are you indeed?’ cried his father, raising his eyelids in a languishing surprise. ‘So much! Then I should say, Ned, that as nearly as I remember, its skirts vanished from human knowledge, about eighteen or nineteen years ago. It was about that time when I came to live in these chambers (once your grandfather’s, and bequeathed by that extremely respectable person to me), and commenced to live upon an inconsiderable annuity and my past reputation.’

‘You are jesting with me, sir,’ said Edward.

‘Not in the slightest degree, I assure you,’ returned his father with great composure. ‘These family topics are so extremely dry, that I am sorry to say they don’t admit of any such relief. It is for that reason, and because they have an appearance of business, that I dislike them so very much. Well! You know the rest. A son, Ned, unless he is old enough to be a companion — that is to say, unless he is some two or three and twenty — is not the kind of thing to have about one. He is a restraint upon his father, his father is a restraint upon him, and they make each other mutually uncomfortable. Therefore, until within the last four years or so — I have a poor memory for dates, and if I mistake, you will correct me in your own mind — you pursued your studies at a distance, and picked up a great variety of accomplishments. Occasionally we passed a week or two together here, and disconcerted each other as only such near relations can. At last you came home. I candidly tell you, my dear boy, that if you had been awkward and overgrown, I should have exported you to some distant part of the world.’

‘I wish with all my soul you had, sir,’ said Edward.

‘No you don’t, Ned,’ said his father coolly; ‘you are mistaken, I assure you. I found you a handsome, prepossessing, elegant fellow, and I threw you into the society I can still command. Having done that, my dear fellow, I consider that I have provided for you in life, and rely upon your doing something to provide for me in return.’

‘I do not understand your meaning, sir.’

‘My meaning, Ned, is obvious — I observe another fly in the cream-jug, but have the goodness not to take it out as you did the first, for their walk when their legs are milky, is extremely ungraceful and disagreeable — my meaning is, that you must do as I did; that you must marry well and make the most of yourself.’

‘A mere fortune-hunter!’ cried the son, indignantly.

‘What in the devil’s name, Ned, would you be!’ returned the father. ‘All men are fortune-hunters, are they not? The law, the church, the court, the camp — see how they are all crowded with fortune-hunters, jostling each other in the pursuit. The stock-exchange, the pulpit, the counting-house, the royal drawing-room, the senate — what but fortune-hunters are they filled with? A fortune-hunter! Yes. You ARE one; and you would be nothing else, my dear Ned, if you were the greatest courtier, lawyer, legislator, prelate, or merchant, in existence. If you are squeamish and moral, Ned, console yourself with the reflection that at the very worst your fortune-hunting can make but one person miserable or unhappy. How many people do you suppose these other kinds of huntsmen crush in following their sport — hundreds at a step? Or thousands?’

The young man leant his head upon his hand, and made no answer.

‘I am quite charmed,’ said the father rising, and walking slowly to and fro — stopping now and then to glance at himself in the mirror, or survey a picture through his glass, with the air of a connoisseur, ‘that we have had this conversation, Ned, unpromising as it was. It establishes a confidence between us which is quite delightful, and was certainly necessary, though how you can ever have mistaken our positions and designs, I confess I cannot understand. I conceived, until I found your fancy for this girl, that all these points were tacitly agreed upon between us.’

‘I knew you were embarrassed, sir,’ returned the son, raising his head for a moment, and then falling into his former attitude, ‘but I had no idea we were the beggared wretches you describe. How could I suppose it, bred as I have been; witnessing the life you have always led; and the appearance you have always made?’

‘My dear child,’ said the father —‘for you really talk so like a child that I must call you one — you were bred upon a careful principle; the very manner of your education, I assure you, maintained my credit surprisingly. As to the life I lead, I must lead it, Ned. I must have these little refinements about me. I have always been used to them, and I cannot exist without them. They must surround me, you observe, and therefore they are here. With regard to our circumstances, Ned, you may set your mind at rest upon that score. They are desperate. Your own appearance is by no means despicable, and our joint pocket-money alone devours our income. That’s the truth.’

‘Why have I never known this before? Why have you encouraged me, sir, to an expenditure and mode of life to which we have no right or title?’

‘My good fellow,’ returned his father more compassionately than ever, ‘if you made no appearance, how could you possibly succeed in the pursuit for which I destined you? As to our mode of life, every man has a right to live in the best way he can; and to make himself as comfortable as he can, or he is an unnatural scoundrel. Our debts, I grant, are very great, and therefore it the more behoves you, as a young man of principle and honour, to pay them off as speedily as possible.’

‘The villain’s part,’ muttered Edward, ‘that I have unconsciously played! I to win the heart of Emma Haredale! I would, for her sake, I had died first!’

‘I am glad you see, Ned,’ returned his father, ‘how perfectly self-evident it is, that nothing can be done in that quarter. But apart from this, and the necessity of your speedily bestowing yourself on another (as you know you could to-morrow, if you chose), I wish you’d look upon it pleasantly. In a religious point of view alone, how could you ever think of uniting yourself to a Catholic, unless she was amazingly rich? You ought to be so very Protestant, coming of such a Protestant family as you do. Let us be moral, Ned, or we are nothing. Even if one could set that objection aside, which is impossible, we come to another which is quite conclusive. The very idea of marrying a girl whose father was killed, like meat! Good God, Ned, how disagreeable! Consider the impossibility of having any respect for your father-in-law under such unpleasant circumstances — think of his having been “viewed” by jurors, and “sat upon” by coroners, and of his very doubtful position in the family ever afterwards. It seems to me such an indelicate sort of thing that I really think the girl ought to have been put to death by the state to prevent its happening. But I tease you perhaps. You would rather be alone? My dear Ned, most willingly. God bless you. I shall be going out presently, but we shall meet to-night, or if not to-night, certainly to-morrow. Take care of yourself in the mean time, for both our sakes. You are a person of great consequence to me, Ned — of vast consequence indeed. God bless you!’

With these words, the father, who had been arranging his cravat in the glass, while he uttered them in a disconnected careless manner, withdrew, humming a tune as he went. The son, who had appeared so lost in thought as not to hear or understand them, remained quite still and silent. After the lapse of half an hour or so, the elder Chester, gaily dressed, went out. The younger still sat with his head resting on his hands, in what appeared to be a kind of stupor.

Chapter 16

A series of pictures representing the streets of London in the night, even at the comparatively recent date of this tale, would present to the eye something so very different in character from the reality which is witnessed in these times, that it would be difficult for the beholder to recognise his most familiar walks in the altered aspect of little more than half a century ago.

They were, one and all, from the broadest and best to the narrowest and least frequented, very dark. The oil and cotton lamps, though regularly trimmed twice or thrice in the long winter nights, burnt feebly at the best; and at a late hour, when they were unassisted by the lamps and candles in the shops, cast but a narrow track of doubtful light upon the footway, leaving the projecting doors and house-fronts in the deepest gloom. Many of the courts and lanes were left in total darkness; those of the meaner sort, where one glimmering light twinkled for a score of houses, being favoured in no slight degree. Even in these places, the inhabitants had often good reason for extinguishing their lamp as soon as it was lighted; and the watch being utterly inefficient and powerless to prevent them, they did so at their pleasure. Thus, in the lightest thoroughfares, there was at every turn some obscure and dangerous spot whither a thief might fly or shelter, and few would care to follow; and the city being belted round by fields, green lanes, waste grounds, and lonely roads, dividing it at that time from the suburbs that have joined it since, escape, even where the pursuit was hot, was rendered easy.

It is no wonder that with these favouring circumstances in full and constant operation, street robberies, often accompanied by cruel wounds, and not unfrequently by loss of life, should have been of nightly occurrence in the very heart of London, or that quiet folks should have had great dread of traversing its streets after the shops were closed. It was not unusual for those who wended home alone at midnight, to keep the middle of the road, the better to guard against surprise from lurking footpads; few would venture to repair at a late hour to Kentish Town or Hampstead, or even to Kensington or Chelsea, unarmed and unattended; while he who had been loudest and most valiant at the supper-table or the tavern, and had but a mile or so to go, was glad to fee a link-boy to escort him home.

There were many other characteristics — not quite so disagreeable — about the thoroughfares of London then, with which they had been long familiar. Some of the shops, especially those to the eastward of Temple Bar, still adhered to the old practice of hanging out a sign; and the creaking and swinging of these boards in their iron frames on windy nights, formed a strange and mournfal concert for the ears of those who lay awake in bed or hurried through the streets. Long stands of hackney-chairs and groups of chairmen, compared with whom the coachmen of our day are gentle and polite, obstructed the way and filled the air with clamour; night-cellars, indicated by a little stream of light crossing the pavement, and stretching out half-way into the road, and by the stifled roar of voices from below, yawned for the reception and entertainment of the most abandoned of both sexes; under every shed and bulk small groups of link-boys gamed away the earnings of the day; or one more weary than the rest, gave way to sleep, and let the fragment of his torch fall hissing on the puddled ground.

Then there was the watch with staff and lantern crying the hour, and the kind of weather; and those who woke up at his voice and turned them round in bed, were glad to hear it rained, or snowed, or blew, or froze, for very comfort’s sake. The solitary passenger was startled by the chairmen’s cry of ‘By your leave there!’ as two came trotting past him with their empty vehicle — carried backwards to show its being disengaged — and hurried to the nearest stand. Many a private chair, too, inclosing some fine lady, monstrously hooped and furbelowed, and preceded by running-footmen bearing flambeaux — for which extinguishers are yet suspended before the doors of a few houses of the better sort — made the way gay and light as it danced along, and darker and more dismal when it had passed. It was not unusual for these running gentry, who carried it with a very high hand, to quarrel in the servants’ hall while waiting for their masters and mistresses; and, falling to blows either there or in the street without, to strew the place of skirmish with hair-powder, fragments of bag-wigs, and scattered nosegays. Gaming, the vice which ran so high among all classes (the fashion being of course set by the upper), was generally the cause of these disputes; for cards and dice were as openly used, and worked as much mischief, and yielded as much excitement below stairs, as above. While incidents like these, arising out of drums and masquerades and parties at quadrille, were passing at the west end of the town, heavy stagecoaches and scarce heavier waggons were lumbering slowly towards the city, the coachmen, guard, and passengers, armed to the teeth, and the coach — a day or so perhaps behind its time, but that was nothing — despoiled by highwaymen; who made no scruple to attack, alone and single-handed, a whole caravan of goods and men, and sometimes shot a passenger or two, and were sometimes shot themselves, as the case might be. On the morrow, rumours of this new act of daring on the road yielded matter for a few hours’ conversation through the town, and a Public Progress of some fine gentleman (half-drunk) to Tyburn, dressed in the newest fashion, and damning the ordinary with unspeakable gallantry and grace, furnished to the populace, at once a pleasant excitement and a wholesome and profound example.

Among all the dangerous characters who, in such a state of society, prowled and skulked in the metropolis at night, there was one man from whom many as uncouth and fierce as he, shrunk with an involuntary dread. Who he was, or whence he came, was a question often asked, but which none could answer. His name was unknown, he had never been seen until within about eight days or thereabouts, and was equally a stranger to the old ruffians, upon whose haunts he ventured fearlessly, as to the young. He could be no spy, for he never removed his slouched hat to look about him, entered into conversation with no man, heeded nothing that passed, listened to no discourse, regarded nobody that came or went. But so surely as the dead of night set in, so surely this man was in the midst of the loose concourse in the night-cellar where outcasts of every grade resorted; and there he sat till morning.

He was not only a spectre at their licentious feasts; a something in the midst of their revelry and riot that chilled and haunted them; but out of doors he was the same. Directly it was dark, he was abroad — never in company with any one, but always alone; never lingering or loitering, but always walking swiftly; and looking (so they said who had seen him) over his shoulder from time to time, and as he did so quickening his pace. In the fields, the lanes, the roads, in all quarters of the town — east, west, north, and south — that man was seen gliding on like a shadow. He was always hurrying away. Those who encountered him, saw him steal past, caught sight of the backward glance, and so lost him in the darkness.

This constant restlessness, and flitting to and fro, gave rise to strange stories. He was seen in such distant and remote places, at times so nearly tallying with each other, that some doubted whether there were not two of them, or more — some, whether he had not unearthly means of travelling from spot to spot. The footpad hiding in a ditch had marked him passing like a ghost along its brink; the vagrant had met him on the dark high-road; the beggar had seen him pause upon the bridge to look down at the water, and then sweep on again; they who dealt in bodies with the surgeons could swear he slept in churchyards, and that they had beheld him glide away among the tombs on their approach. And as they told these stories to each other, one who had looked about him would pull his neighbour by the sleeve, and there he would be among them.

At last, one man — he was one of those whose commerce lay among the graves — resolved to question this strange companion. Next night, when he had eat his poor meal voraciously (he was accustomed to do that, they had observed, as though he had no other in the day), this fellow sat down at his elbow.

‘A black night, master!’

‘It is a black night.’

‘Blacker than last, though that was pitchy too. Didn’t I pass you near the turnpike in the Oxford Road?’

‘It’s like you may. I don’t know.’

‘Come, come, master,’ cried the fellow, urged on by the looks of his comrades, and slapping him on the shoulder; ‘be more companionable and communicative. Be more the gentleman in this good company. There are tales among us that you have sold yourself to the devil, and I know not what.’

‘We all have, have we not?’ returned the stranger, looking up. ‘If we were fewer in number, perhaps he would give better wages.’

‘It goes rather hard with you, indeed,’ said the fellow, as the stranger disclosed his haggard unwashed face, and torn clothes. ‘What of that? Be merry, master. A stave of a roaring song now’—

‘Sing you, if you desire to hear one,’ replied the other, shaking him roughly off; ‘and don’t touch me if you’re a prudent man; I carry arms which go off easily — they have done so, before now — and make it dangerous for strangers who don’t know the trick of them, to lay hands upon me.’

‘Do you threaten?’ said the fellow.

‘Yes,’ returned the other, rising and turning upon him, and looking fiercely round as if in apprehension of a general attack.

His voice, and look, and bearing — all expressive of the wildest recklessness and desperation — daunted while they repelled the bystanders. Although in a very different sphere of action now, they were not without much of the effect they had wrought at the Maypole Inn.

‘I am what you all are, and live as you all do,’ said the man sternly, after a short silence. ‘I am in hiding here like the rest, and if we were surprised would perhaps do my part with the best of ye. If it’s my humour to be left to myself, let me have it. Otherwise,’— and here he swore a tremendous oath —‘there’ll be mischief done in this place, though there ARE odds of a score against me.’

A low murmur, having its origin perhaps in a dread of the man and the mystery that surrounded him, or perhaps in a sincere opinion on the part of some of those present, that it would be an inconvenient precedent to meddle too curiously with a gentleman’s private affairs if he saw reason to conceal them, warned the fellow who had occasioned this discussion that he had best pursue it no further. After a short time the strange man lay down upon a bench to sleep, and when they thought of him again, they found he was gone.

Next night, as soon as it was dark, he was abroad again and traversing the streets; he was before the locksmith’s house more than once, but the family were out, and it was close shut. This night he crossed London Bridge and passed into Southwark. As he glided down a bye street, a woman with a little basket on her arm, turned into it at the other end. Directly he observed her, he sought the shelter of an archway, and stood aside until she had passed. Then he emerged cautiously from his hiding-place, and followed.

She went into several shops to purchase various kinds of household necessaries, and round every place at which she stopped he hovered like her evil spirit; following her when she reappeared. It was nigh eleven o’clock, and the passengers in the streets were thinning fast, when she turned, doubtless to go home. The phantom still followed her.

She turned into the same bye street in which he had seen her first, which, being free from shops, and narrow, was extremely dark. She quickened her pace here, as though distrustful of being stopped, and robbed of such trifling property as she carried with her. He crept along on the other side of the road. Had she been gifted with the speed of wind, it seemed as if his terrible shadow would have tracked her down.

At length the widow — for she it was — reached her own door, and, panting for breath, paused to take the key from her basket. In a flush and glow, with the haste she had made, and the pleasure of being safe at home, she stooped to draw it out, when, raising her head, she saw him standing silently beside her: the apparition of a dream.

His hand was on her mouth, but that was needless, for her tongue clove to its roof, and her power of utterance was gone. ‘I have been looking for you many nights. Is the house empty? Answer me. Is any one inside?’

She could only answer by a rattle in her throat.

‘Make me a sign.’

She seemed to indicate that there was no one there. He took the key, unlocked the door, carried her in, and secured it carefully behind them.

Chapter 17

It was a chilly night, and the fire in the widow’s parlour had burnt low. Her strange companion placed her in a chair, and stooping down before the half-extinguished ashes, raked them together and fanned them with his hat. From time to time he glanced at her over his shoulder, as though to assure himself of her remaining quiet and making no effort to depart; and that done, busied himself about the fire again.

It was not without reason that he took these pains, for his dress was dank and drenched with wet, his jaws rattled with cold, and he shivered from head to foot. It had rained hard during the previous night and for some hours in the morning, but since noon it had been fine. Wheresoever he had passed the hours of darkness, his condition sufficiently betokened that many of them had been spent beneath the open sky. Besmeared with mire; his saturated clothes clinging with a damp embrace about his limbs; his beard unshaven, his face unwashed, his meagre cheeks worn into deep hollows — a more miserable wretch could hardly be, than this man who now cowered down upon the widow’s hearth, and watched the struggling flame with bloodshot eyes.

She had covered her face with her hands, fearing, as it seemed, to look towards him. So they remained for some short time in silence. Glancing round again, he asked at length:

‘Is this your house?’

‘It is. Why, in the name of Heaven, do you darken it?’

‘Give me meat and drink,’ he answered sullenly, ‘or I dare do more than that. The very marrow in my bones is cold, with wet and hunger. I must have warmth and food, and I will have them here.’

‘You were the robber on the Chigwell road.’

‘I was.’

‘And nearly a murderer then.’

‘The will was not wanting. There was one came upon me and raised the hue-and-cry’, that it would have gone hard with, but for his nimbleness. I made a thrust at him.’

‘You thrust your sword at HIM!’ cried the widow, looking upwards. ‘You hear this man! you hear and saw!’

He looked at her, as, with her head thrown back, and her hands tight clenched together, she uttered these words in an agony of appeal. Then, starting to his feet as she had done, he advanced towards her.

‘Beware!’ she cried in a suppressed voice, whose firmness stopped him midway. ‘Do not so much as touch me with a finger, or you are lost; body and soul, you are lost.’

‘Hear me,’ he replied, menacing her with his hand. ‘I, that in the form of a man live the life of a hunted beast; that in the body am a spirit, a ghost upon the earth, a thing from which all creatures shrink, save those curst beings of another world, who will not leave me; — I am, in my desperation of this night, past all fear but that of the hell in which I exist from day to day. Give the alarm, cry out, refuse to shelter me. I will not hurt you. But I will not be taken alive; and so surely as you threaten me above your breath, I fall a dead man on this floor. The blood with which I sprinkle it, be on you and yours, in the name of the Evil Spirit that tempts men to their ruin!’

As he spoke, he took a pistol from his breast, and firmly clutched it in his hand.

‘Remove this man from me, good Heaven!’ cried the widow. ‘In thy grace and mercy, give him one minute’s penitence, and strike him dead!’

‘It has no such purpose,’ he said, confronting her. ‘It is deaf. Give me to eat and drink, lest I do that it cannot help my doing, and will not do for you.’

‘Will you leave me, if I do thus much? Will you leave me and return no more?’

‘I will promise nothing,’ he rejoined, seating himself at the table, ‘nothing but this — I will execute my threat if you betray me.’

She rose at length, and going to a closet or pantry in the room, brought out some fragments of cold meat and bread and put them on the table. He asked for brandy, and for water. These she produced likewise; and he ate and drank with the voracity of a famished hound. All the time he was so engaged she kept at the uttermost distance of the chamber, and sat there shuddering, but with her face towards him. She never turned her back upon him once; and although when she passed him (as she was obliged to do in going to and from the cupboard) she gathered the skirts of her garment about her, as if even its touching his by chance were horrible to think of, still, in the midst of all this dread and terror, she kept her face towards his own, and watched his every movement.

His repast ended — if that can be called one, which was a mere ravenous satisfying of the calls of hunger — he moved his chair towards the fire again, and warming himself before the blaze which had now sprung brightly up, accosted her once more.

‘I am an outcast, to whom a roof above his head is often an uncommon luxury, and the food a beggar would reject is delicate fare. You live here at your ease. Do you live alone?’

‘I do not,’ she made answer with an effort.

‘Who dwells here besides?’

‘One — it is no matter who. You had best begone, or he may find you here. Why do you linger?’

‘For warmth,’ he replied, spreading out his hands before the fire. ‘For warmth. You are rich, perhaps?’

‘Very,’ she said faintly. ‘Very rich. No doubt I am very rich.’

‘At least you are not penniless. You have some money. You were making purchases to-night.’

‘I have a little left. It is but a few shillings.’

‘Give me your purse. You had it in your hand at the door. Give it to me.’

She stepped to the table and laid it down. He reached across, took it up, and told the contents into his hand. As he was counting them, she listened for a moment, and sprung towards him.

‘Take what there is, take all, take more if more were there, but go before it is too late. I have heard a wayward step without, I know full well. It will return directly. Begone.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Do not stop to ask. I will not answer. Much as I dread to touch you, I would drag you to the door if I possessed the strength, rather than you should lose an instant. Miserable wretch! fly from this place.’

‘If there are spies without, I am safer here,’ replied the man, standing aghast. ‘I will remain here, and will not fly till the danger is past.’

‘It is too late!’ cried the widow, who had listened for the step, and not to him. ‘Hark to that foot upon the ground. Do you tremble to hear it! It is my son, my idiot son!’

As she said this wildly, there came a heavy knocking at the door. He looked at her, and she at him.

‘Let him come in,’ said the man, hoarsely. ‘I fear him less than the dark, houseless night. He knocks again. Let him come in!’

‘The dread of this hour,’ returned the widow, ‘has been upon me all my life, and I will not. Evil will fall upon him, if you stand eye to eye. My blighted boy! Oh! all good angels who know the truth — hear a poor mother’s prayer, and spare my boy from knowledge of this man!’

‘He rattles at the shutters!’ cried the man. ‘He calls you. That voice and cry! It was he who grappled with me in the road. Was it he?’

She had sunk upon her knees, and so knelt down, moving her lips, but uttering no sound. As he gazed upon her, uncertain what to do or where to turn, the shutters flew open. He had barely time to catch a knife from the table, sheathe it in the loose sleeve of his coat, hide in the closet, and do all with the lightning’s speed, when Barnaby tapped at the bare glass, and raised the sash exultingly.

‘Why, who can keep out Grip and me!’ he cried, thrusting in his head, and staring round the room. ‘Are you there, mother? How long you keep us from the fire and light.’

She stammered some excuse and tendered him her hand. But Barnaby sprung lightly in without assistance, and putting his arms about her neck, kissed her a hundred times.

‘We have been afield, mother — leaping ditches, scrambling through hedges, running down steep banks, up and away, and hurrying on. The wind has been blowing, and the rushes and young plants bowing and bending to it, lest it should do them harm, the cowards — and Grip — ha ha ha! — brave Grip, who cares for nothing, and when the wind rolls him over in the dust, turns manfully to bite it — Grip, bold Grip, has quarrelled with every little bowing twig — thinking, he told me, that it mocked him — and has worried it like a bulldog. Ha ha ha!’

The raven, in his little basket at his master’s back, hearing this frequent mention of his name in a tone of exultation, expressed his sympathy by crowing like a cock, and afterwards running over his various phrases of speech with such rapidity, and in so many varieties of hoarseness, that they sounded like the murmurs of a crowd of people.

‘He takes such care of me besides!’ said Barnaby. ‘Such care, mother! He watches all the time I sleep, and when I shut my eyes and make-believe to slumber, he practises new learning softly; but he keeps his eye on me the while, and if he sees me laugh, though never so little, stops directly. He won’t surprise me till he’s perfect.’

The raven crowed again in a rapturous manner which plainly said, ‘Those are certainly some of my characteristics, and I glory in them.’ In the meantime, Barnaby closed the window and secured it, and coming to the fireplace, prepared to sit down with his face to the closet. But his mother prevented this, by hastily taking that side herself, and motioning him towards the other.

‘How pale you are to-night!’ said Barnaby, leaning on his stick. ‘We have been cruel, Grip, and made her anxious!’

Anxious in good truth, and sick at heart! The listener held the door of his hiding-place open with his hand, and closely watched her son. Grip — alive to everything his master was unconscious of — had his head out of the basket, and in return was watching him intently with his glistening eye.

‘He flaps his wings,’ said Barnaby, turning almost quickly enough to catch the retreating form and closing door, ‘as if there were strangers here, but Grip is wiser than to fancy that. Jump then!’

Accepting this invitation with a dignity peculiar to himself, the bird hopped up on his master’s shoulder, from that to his extended hand, and so to the ground. Barnaby unstrapping the basket and putting it down in a corner with the lid open, Grip’s first care was to shut it down with all possible despatch, and then to stand upon it. Believing, no doubt, that he had now rendered it utterly impossible, and beyond the power of mortal man, to shut him up in it any more, he drew a great many corks in triumph, and uttered a corresponding number of hurrahs.

‘Mother!’ said Barnaby, laying aside his hat and stick, and returning to the chair from which he had risen, ‘I’ll tell you where we have been to-day, and what we have been doing — shall I?’

She took his hand in hers, and holding it, nodded the word she could not speak.

‘You mustn’t tell,’ said Barnaby, holding up his finger, ‘for it’s a secret, mind, and only known to me, and Grip, and Hugh. We had the dog with us, but he’s not like Grip, clever as he is, and doesn’t guess it yet, I’ll wager. — Why do you look behind me so?’

‘Did I?’ she answered faintly. ‘I didn’t know I did. Come nearer me.’

‘You are frightened!’ said Barnaby, changing colour. ‘Mother — you don’t see’—

‘See what?’

‘There’s — there’s none of this about, is there?’ he answered in a whisper, drawing closer to her and clasping the mark upon his wrist. ‘I am afraid there is, somewhere. You make my hair stand on end, and my flesh creep. Why do you look like that? Is it in the room as I have seen it in my dreams, dashing the ceiling and the walls with red? Tell me. Is it?’

He fell into a shivering fit as he put the question, and shutting out the light with his hands, sat shaking in every limb until it had passed away. After a time, he raised his head and looked about him.

‘Is it gone?’

‘There has been nothing here,’ rejoined his mother, soothing him. ‘Nothing indeed, dear Barnaby. Look! You see there are but you and me.’

He gazed at her vacantly, and, becoming reassured by degrees, burst into a wild laugh.

‘But let us see,’ he said, thoughtfully. ‘Were we talking? Was it you and me? Where have we been?’

‘Nowhere but here.’

‘Aye, but Hugh, and I,’ said Barnaby — ‘that’s it. Maypole Hugh, and I, you know, and Grip — we have been lying in the forest, and among the trees by the road side, with a dark lantern after night came on, and the dog in a noose ready to slip him when the man came by.’

‘What man?’

‘The robber; him that the stars winked at. We have waited for him after dark these many nights, and we shall have him. I’d know him in a thousand. Mother, see here! This is the man. Look!’

He twisted his handkerchief round his head, pulled his hat upon his brow, wrapped his coat about him, and stood up before her: so like the original he counterfeited, that the dark figure peering out behind him might have passed for his own shadow.

‘Ha ha ha! We shall have him,’ he cried, ridding himself of the semblance as hastily as he had assumed it. ‘You shall see him, mother, bound hand and foot, and brought to London at a saddle-girth; and you shall hear of him at Tyburn Tree if we have luck. So Hugh says. You’re pale again, and trembling. And why DO you look behind me so?’

‘It is nothing,’ she answered. ‘I am not quite well. Go you to bed, dear, and leave me here.’

‘To bed!’ he answered. ‘I don’t like bed. I like to lie before the fire, watching the prospects in the burning coals — the rivers, hills, and dells, in the deep, red sunset, and the wild faces. I am hungry too, and Grip has eaten nothing since broad noon. Let us to supper. Grip! To supper, lad!’

The raven flapped his wings, and, croaking his satisfaction, hopped to the feet of his master, and there held his bill open, ready for snapping up such lumps of meat as he should throw him. Of these he received about a score in rapid succession, without the smallest discomposure.

‘That’s all,’ said Barnaby.

‘More!’ cried Grip. ‘More!’

But it appearing for a certainty that no more was to be had, he retreated with his store; and disgorging the morsels one by one from his pouch, hid them in various corners — taking particular care, however, to avoid the closet, as being doubtful of the hidden man’s propensities and power of resisting temptation. When he had concluded these arrangements, he took a turn or two across the room with an elaborate assumption of having nothing on his mind (but with one eye hard upon his treasure all the time), and then, and not till then, began to drag it out, piece by piece, and eat it with the utmost relish.

Barnaby, for his part, having pressed his mother to eat in vain, made a hearty supper too. Once during the progress of his meal, he wanted more bread from the closet and rose to get it. She hurriedly interposed to prevent him, and summoning her utmost fortitude, passed into the recess, and brought it out herself.

‘Mother,’ said Barnaby, looking at her steadfastly as she sat down beside him after doing so; ‘is to-day my birthday?’

‘To-day!’ she answered. ‘Don’t you recollect it was but a week or so ago, and that summer, autumn, and winter have to pass before it comes again?’

‘I remember that it has been so till now,’ said Barnaby. ‘But I think to-day must be my birthday too, for all that.’

She asked him why? ‘I’ll tell you why,’ he said. ‘I have always seen you — I didn’t let you know it, but I have — on the evening of that day grow very sad. I have seen you cry when Grip and I were most glad; and look frightened with no reason; and I have touched your hand, and felt that it was cold — as it is now. Once, mother (on a birthday that was, also), Grip and I thought of this after we went upstairs to bed, and when it was midnight, striking one o’clock, we came down to your door to see if you were well. You were on your knees. I forget what it was you said. Grip, what was it we heard her say that night?’

‘I’m a devil!’ rejoined the raven promptly.

‘No, no,’ said Barnaby. ‘But you said something in a prayer; and when you rose and walked about, you looked (as you have done ever since, mother, towards night on my birthday) just as you do now. I have found that out, you see, though I am silly. So I say you’re wrong; and this must be my birthday — my birthday, Grip!’

The bird received this information with a crow of such duration as a cock, gifted with intelligence beyond all others of his kind, might usher in the longest day with. Then, as if he had well considered the sentiment, and regarded it as apposite to birthdays, he cried, ‘Never say die!’ a great many times, and flapped his wings for emphasis.

The widow tried to make light of Barnaby’s remark, and endeavoured to divert his attention to some new subject; too easy a task at all times, as she knew. His supper done, Barnaby, regardless of her entreaties, stretched himself on the mat before the fire; Grip perched upon his leg, and divided his time between dozing in the grateful warmth, and endeavouring (as it presently appeared) to recall a new accomplishment he had been studying all day.

A long and profound silence ensued, broken only by some change of position on the part of Barnaby, whose eyes were still wide open and intently fixed upon the fire; or by an effort of recollection on the part of Grip, who would cry in a low voice from time to time, ‘Polly put the ket —’ and there stop short, forgetting the remainder, and go off in a doze again.

After a long interval, Barnaby’s breathing grew more deep and regular, and his eyes were closed. But even then the unquiet spirit of the raven interposed. ‘Polly put the ket —’ cried Grip, and his master was broad awake again.

At length Barnaby slept soundly, and the bird with his bill sunk upon his breast, his breast itself puffed out into a comfortable alderman-like form, and his bright eye growing smaller and smaller, really seemed to be subsiding into a state of repose. Now and then he muttered in a sepulchral voice, ‘Polly put the ket —’ but very drowsily, and more like a drunken man than a reflecting raven.

The widow, scarcely venturing to breathe, rose from her seat. The man glided from the closet, and extinguished the candle.

‘— tle on,’ cried Grip, suddenly struck with an idea and very much excited. ‘— tle on. Hurrah! Polly put the ket-tle on, we’ll all have tea; Polly put the ket-tle on, we’ll all have tea. Hurrah, hurrah, hurrah! I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a ket-tle on, Keep up your spirits, Never say die, Bow, wow, wow, I’m a devil, I’m a ket-tle, I’m a — Polly put the ket-tle on, we’ll all have tea.’

They stood rooted to the ground, as though it had been a voice from the grave.

But even this failed to awaken the sleeper. He turned over towards the fire, his arm fell to the ground, and his head drooped heavily upon it. The widow and her unwelcome visitor gazed at him and at each other for a moment, and then she motioned him towards the door.

‘Stay,’ he whispered. ‘You teach your son well.’

‘I have taught him nothing that you heard to-night. Depart instantly, or I will rouse him.’

‘You are free to do so. Shall I rouse him?’

‘You dare not do that.’

‘I dare do anything, I have told you. He knows me well, it seems. At least I will know him.’

‘Would you kill him in his sleep?’ cried the widow, throwing herself between them.

‘Woman,’ he returned between his teeth, as he motioned her aside, ‘I would see him nearer, and I will. If you want one of us to kill the other, wake him.’

With that he advanced, and bending down over the prostrate form, softly turned back the head and looked into the face. The light of the fire was upon it, and its every lineament was revealed distinctly. He contemplated it for a brief space, and hastily uprose.

‘Observe,’ he whispered in the widow’s ear: ‘In him, of whose existence I was ignorant until to-night, I have you in my power. Be careful how you use me. Be careful how you use me. I am destitute and starving, and a wanderer upon the earth. I may take a sure and slow revenge.’

‘There is some dreadful meaning in your words. I do not fathom it.’

‘There is a meaning in them, and I see you fathom it to its very depth. You have anticipated it for years; you have told me as much. I leave you to digest it. Do not forget my warning.’

He pointed, as he left her, to the slumbering form, and stealthily withdrawing, made his way into the street. She fell on her knees beside the sleeper, and remained like one stricken into stone, until the tears which fear had frozen so long, came tenderly to her relief.

‘Oh Thou,’ she cried, ‘who hast taught me such deep love for this one remnant of the promise of a happy life, out of whose affliction, even, perhaps the comfort springs that he is ever a relying, loving child to me — never growing old or cold at heart, but needing my care and duty in his manly strength as in his cradle-time — help him, in his darkened walk through this sad world, or he is doomed, and my poor heart is broken!’

Chapter 18

Gliding along the silent streets, and holding his course where they were darkest and most gloomy, the man who had left the widow’s house crossed London Bridge, and arriving in the City, plunged into the backways, lanes, and courts, between Cornhill and Smithfield; with no more fixedness of purpose than to lose himself among their windings, and baffle pursuit, if any one were dogging his steps.

It was the dead time of the night, and all was quiet. Now and then a drowsy watchman’s footsteps sounded on the pavement, or the lamplighter on his rounds went flashing past, leaving behind a little track of smoke mingled with glowing morsels of his hot red link. He hid himself even from these partakers of his lonely walk, and, shrinking in some arch or doorway while they passed, issued forth again when they were gone and so pursued his solitary way.

To be shelterless and alone in the open country, hearing the wind moan and watching for day through the whole long weary night; to listen to the falling rain, and crouch for warmth beneath the lee of some old barn or rick, or in the hollow of a tree; are dismal things — but not so dismal as the wandering up and down where shelter is, and beds and sleepers are by thousands; a houseless rejected creature. To pace the echoing stones from hour to hour, counting the dull chimes of the clocks; to watch the lights twinkling in chamber windows, to think what happy forgetfulness each house shuts in; that here are children coiled together in their beds, here youth, here age, here poverty, here wealth, all equal in their sleep, and all at rest; to have nothing in common with the slumbering world around, not even sleep, Heaven’s gift to all its creatures, and be akin to nothing but despair; to feel, by the wretched contrast with everything on every hand, more utterly alone and cast away than in a trackless desert; this is a kind of suffering, on which the rivers of great cities close full many a time, and which the solitude in crowds alone awakens.

The miserable man paced up and down the streets — so long, so wearisome, so like each other — and often cast a wistful look towards the east, hoping to see the first faint streaks of day. But obdurate night had yet possession of the sky, and his disturbed and restless walk found no relief.

One house in a back street was bright with the cheerful glare of lights; there was the sound of music in it too, and the tread of dancers, and there were cheerful voices, and many a burst of laughter. To this place — to be near something that was awake and glad — he returned again and again; and more than one of those who left it when the merriment was at its height, felt it a check upon their mirthful mood to see him flitting to and fro like an uneasy ghost. At last the guests departed, one and all; and then the house was close shut up, and became as dull and silent as the rest.

His wanderings brought him at one time to the city jail. Instead of hastening from it as a place of ill omen, and one he had cause to shun, he sat down on some steps hard by, and resting his chin upon his hand, gazed upon its rough and frowning walls as though even they became a refuge in his jaded eyes. He paced it round and round, came back to the same spot, and sat down again. He did this often, and once, with a hasty movement, crossed to where some men were watching in the prison lodge, and had his foot upon the steps as though determined to accost them. But looking round, he saw that the day began to break, and failing in his purpose, turned and fled.

He was soon in the quarter he had lately traversed, and pacing to and fro again as he had done before. He was passing down a mean street, when from an alley close at hand some shouts of revelry arose, and there came straggling forth a dozen madcaps, whooping and calling to each other, who, parting noisily, took different ways and dispersed in smaller groups.

Hoping that some low place of entertainment which would afford him a safe refuge might be near at hand, he turned into this court when they were all gone, and looked about for a half-opened door, or lighted window, or other indication of the place whence they had come. It was so profoundly dark, however, and so ill-favoured, that he concluded they had but turned up there, missing their way, and were pouring out again when he observed them. With this impression, and finding there was no outlet but that by which he had entered, he was about to turn, when from a grating near his feet a sudden stream of light appeared, and the sound of talking came. He retreated into a doorway to see who these talkers were, and to listen to them.

The light came to the level of the pavement as he did this, and a man ascended, bearing in his hand a torch. This figure unlocked and held open the grating as for the passage of another, who presently appeared, in the form of a young man of small stature and uncommon self-importance, dressed in an obsolete and very gaudy fashion.

‘Good night, noble captain,’ said he with the torch. ‘Farewell, commander. Good luck, illustrious general!’

In return to these compliments the other bade him hold his tongue, and keep his noise to himself, and laid upon him many similar injunctions, with great fluency of speech and sternness of manner.

‘Commend me, captain, to the stricken Miggs,’ returned the torch-bearer in a lower voice. ‘My captain flies at higher game than Miggses. Ha, ha, ha! My captain is an eagle, both as respects his eye and soaring wings. My captain breaketh hearts as other bachelors break eggs at breakfast.’

‘What a fool you are, Stagg!’ said Mr Tappertit, stepping on the pavement of the court, and brushing from his legs the dust he had contracted in his passage upward.

‘His precious limbs!’ cried Stagg, clasping one of his ankles. ‘Shall a Miggs aspire to these proportions! No, no, my captain. We will inveigle ladies fair, and wed them in our secret cavern. We will unite ourselves with blooming beauties, captain.’

‘I’ll tell you what, my buck,’ said Mr Tappertit, releasing his leg; ‘I’ll trouble you not to take liberties, and not to broach certain questions unless certain questions are broached to you. Speak when you’re spoke to on particular subjects, and not otherways. Hold the torch up till I’ve got to the end of the court, and then kennel yourself, do you hear?’

‘I hear you, noble captain.’

‘Obey then,’ said Mr Tappertit haughtily. ‘Gentlemen, lead on!’ With which word of command (addressed to an imaginary staff or retinue) he folded his arms, and walked with surpassing dignity down the court.

His obsequious follower stood holding the torch above his head, and then the observer saw for the first time, from his place of concealment, that he was blind. Some involuntary motion on his part caught the quick ear of the blind man, before he was conscious of having moved an inch towards him, for he turned suddenly and cried, ‘Who’s there?’

‘A man,’ said the other, advancing. ‘A friend.’

‘A stranger!’ rejoined the blind man. ‘Strangers are not my friends. What do you do there?’

‘I saw your company come out, and waited here till they were gone. I want a lodging.’

‘A lodging at this time!’ returned Stagg, pointing towards the dawn as though he saw it. ‘Do you know the day is breaking?’

‘I know it,’ rejoined the other, ‘to my cost. I have been traversing this iron-hearted town all night.’

‘You had better traverse it again,’ said the blind man, preparing to descend, ‘till you find some lodgings suitable to your taste. I don’t let any.’

‘Stay!’ cried the other, holding him by the arm.

‘I’ll beat this light about that hangdog face of yours (for hangdog it is, if it answers to your voice), and rouse the neighbourhood besides, if you detain me,’ said the blind man. ‘Let me go. Do you hear?’

‘Do YOU hear!’ returned the other, chinking a few shillings together, and hurriedly pressing them into his hand. ‘I beg nothing of you. I will pay for the shelter you give me. Death! Is it much to ask of such as you! I have come from the country, and desire to rest where there are none to question me. I am faint, exhausted, worn out, almost dead. Let me lie down, like a dog, before your fire. I ask no more than that. If you would be rid of me, I will depart to-morrow.’

‘If a gentleman has been unfortunate on the road,’ muttered Stagg, yielding to the other, who, pressing on him, had already gained a footing on the steps —‘and can pay for his accommodation —’

‘I will pay you with all I have. I am just now past the want of food, God knows, and wish but to purchase shelter. What companion have you below?’

‘None.’

‘Then fasten your grate there, and show me the way. Quick!’

The blind man complied after a moment’s hesitation, and they descended together. The dialogue had passed as hurriedly as the words could be spoken, and they stood in his wretched room before he had had time to recover from his first surprise.

‘May I see where that door leads to, and what is beyond?’ said the man, glancing keenly round. ‘You will not mind that?’

‘I will show you myself. Follow me, or go before. Take your choice.’

He bade him lead the way, and, by the light of the torch which his conductor held up for the purpose, inspected all three cellars narrowly. Assured that the blind man had spoken truth, and that he lived there alone, the visitor returned with him to the first, in which a fire was burning, and flung himself with a deep groan upon the ground before it.

His host pursued his usual occupation without seeming to heed him any further. But directly he fell asleep — and he noted his falling into a slumber, as readily as the keenest-sighted man could have done — he knelt down beside him, and passed his hand lightly but carefully over his face and person.

His sleep was checkered with starts and moans, and sometimes with a muttered word or two. His hands were clenched, his brow bent, and his mouth firmly set. All this, the blind man accurately marked; and as if his curiosity were strongly awakened, and he had already some inkling of his mystery, he sat watching him, if the expression may be used, and listening, until it was broad day.

Chapter 19

Dolly Varden’s pretty little head was yet bewildered by various recollections of the party, and her bright eyes were yet dazzled by a crowd of images, dancing before them like motes in the sunbeams, among which the effigy of one partner in particular did especially figure, the same being a young coachmaker (a master in his own right) who had given her to understand, when he handed her into the chair at parting, that it was his fixed resolve to neglect his business from that time, and die slowly for the love of her — Dolly’s head, and eyes, and thoughts, and seven senses, were all in a state of flutter and confusion for which the party was accountable, although it was now three days old, when, as she was sitting listlessly at breakfast, reading all manner of fortunes (that is to say, of married and flourishing fortunes) in the grounds of her teacup, a step was heard in the workshop, and Mr Edward Chester was descried through the glass door, standing among the rusty locks and keys, like love among the roses — for which apt comparison the historian may by no means take any credit to himself, the same being the invention, in a sentimental mood, of the chaste and modest Miggs, who, beholding him from the doorsteps she was then cleaning, did, in her maiden meditation, give utterance to the simile.

The locksmith, who happened at the moment to have his eyes thrown upward and his head backward, in an intense communing with Toby, did not see his visitor, until Mrs Varden, more watchful than the rest, had desired Sim Tappertit to open the glass door and give him admission — from which untoward circumstance the good lady argued (for she could deduce a precious moral from the most trifling event) that to take a draught of small ale in the morning was to observe a pernicious, irreligious, and Pagan custom, the relish whereof should be left to swine, and Satan, or at least to Popish persons, and should be shunned by the righteous as a work of sin and evil. She would no doubt have pursued her admonition much further, and would have founded on it a long list of precious precepts of inestimable value, but that the young gentleman standing by in a somewhat uncomfortable and discomfited manner while she read her spouse this lecture, occasioned her to bring it to a premature conclusion.

‘I’m sure you’ll excuse me, sir,’ said Mrs Varden, rising and curtseying. ‘Varden is so very thoughtless, and needs so much reminding — Sim, bring a chair here.’

Mr Tappertit obeyed, with a flourish implying that he did so, under protest.

‘And you can go, Sim,’ said the locksmith.

Mr Tappertit obeyed again, still under protest; and betaking himself to the workshop, began seriously to fear that he might find it necessary to poison his master, before his time was out.

In the meantime, Edward returned suitable replies to Mrs Varden’s courtesies, and that lady brightened up very much; so that when he accepted a dish of tea from the fair hands of Dolly, she was perfectly agreeable.

‘I am sure if there’s anything we can do — Varden, or I, or Dolly either — to serve you, sir, at any time, you have only to say it, and it shall be done,’ said Mrs V.

‘I am much obliged to you, I am sure,’ returned Edward. ‘You encourage me to say that I have come here now, to beg your good offices.’

Mrs Varden was delighted beyond measure.

‘It occurred to me that probably your fair daughter might be going to the Warren, either to-day or to-morrow,’ said Edward, glancing at Dolly; ‘and if so, and you will allow her to take charge of this letter, ma’am, you will oblige me more than I can tell you. The truth is, that while I am very anxious it should reach its destination, I have particular reasons for not trusting it to any other conveyance; so that without your help, I am wholly at a loss.’

‘She was not going that way, sir, either to-day, or to-morrow, nor indeed all next week,’ the lady graciously rejoined, ‘but we shall be very glad to put ourselves out of the way on your account, and if you wish it, you may depend upon its going to-day. You might suppose,’ said Mrs Varden, frowning at her husband, ‘from Varden’s sitting there so glum and silent, that he objected to this arrangement; but you must not mind that, sir, if you please. It’s his way at home. Out of doors, he can be cheerful and talkative enough.’

Now, the fact was, that the unfortunate locksmith, blessing his stars to find his helpmate in such good humour, had been sitting with a beaming face, hearing this discourse with a joy past all expression. Wherefore this sudden attack quite took him by surprise.

‘My dear Martha —’ he said.

‘Oh yes, I dare say,’ interrupted Mrs Varden, with a smile of mingled scorn and pleasantry. ‘Very dear! We all know that.’

‘No, but my good soul,’ said Gabriel, ‘you are quite mistaken. You are indeed. I was delighted to find you so kind and ready. I waited, my dear, anxiously, I assure you, to hear what you would say.’

‘You waited anxiously,’ repeated Mrs V. ‘Yes! Thank you, Varden. You waited, as you always do, that I might bear the blame, if any came of it. But I am used to it,’ said the lady with a kind of solemn titter, ‘and that’s my comfort!’

‘I give you my word, Martha —’ said Gabriel.

‘Let me give you MY word, my dear,’ interposed his wife with a Christian smile, ‘that such discussions as these between married people, are much better left alone. Therefore, if you please, Varden, we’ll drop the subject. I have no wish to pursue it. I could. I might say a great deal. But I would rather not. Pray don’t say any more.’

‘I don’t want to say any more,’ rejoined the goaded locksmith.

‘Well then, don’t,’ said Mrs Varden.

‘Nor did I begin it, Martha,’ added the locksmith, good-humouredly, ‘I must say that.’

‘You did not begin it, Varden!’ exclaimed his wife, opening her eyes very wide and looking round upon the company, as though she would say, You hear this man! ‘You did not begin it, Varden! But you shall not say I was out of temper. No, you did not begin it, oh dear no, not you, my dear!’

‘Well, well,’ said the locksmith. ‘That’s settled then.’

‘Oh yes,’ rejoined his wife, ‘quite. If you like to say Dolly began it, my dear, I shall not contradict you. I know my duty. I need know it, I am sure. I am often obliged to bear it in mind, when my inclination perhaps would be for the moment to forget it. Thank you, Varden.’ And so, with a mighty show of humility and forgiveness, she folded her hands, and looked round again, with a smile which plainly said, ‘If you desire to see the first and foremost among female martyrs, here she is, on view!’

This little incident, illustrative though it was of Mrs Varden’s extraordinary sweetness and amiability, had so strong a tendency to check the conversation and to disconcert all parties but that excellent lady, that only a few monosyllables were uttered until Edward withdrew; which he presently did, thanking the lady of the house a great many times for her condescension, and whispering in Dolly’s ear that he would call on the morrow, in case there should happen to be an answer to the note — which, indeed, she knew without his telling, as Barnaby and his friend Grip had dropped in on the previous night to prepare her for the visit which was then terminating.

Gabriel, who had attended Edward to the door, came back with his hands in his pockets; and, after fidgeting about the room in a very uneasy manner, and casting a great many sidelong looks at Mrs Varden (who with the calmest countenance in the world was five fathoms deep in the Protestant Manual), inquired of Dolly how she meant to go. Dolly supposed by the stage-coach, and looked at her lady mother, who finding herself silently appealed to, dived down at least another fathom into the Manual, and became unconscious of all earthly things.

‘Martha —’ said the locksmith.

‘I hear you, Varden,’ said his wife, without rising to the surface.

‘I am sorry, my dear, you have such an objection to the Maypole and old John, for otherways as it’s a very fine morning, and Saturday’s not a busy day with us, we might have all three gone to Chigwell in the chaise, and had quite a happy day of it.’

Mrs Varden immediately closed the Manual, and bursting into tears, requested to be led upstairs.

‘What is the matter now, Martha?’ inquired the locksmith.

To which Martha rejoined, ‘Oh! don’t speak to me,’ and protested in agony that if anybody had told her so, she wouldn’t have believed it.

‘But, Martha,’ said Gabriel, putting himself in the way as she was moving off with the aid of Dolly’s shoulder, ‘wouldn’t have believed what? Tell me what’s wrong now. Do tell me. Upon my soul I don’t know. Do you know, child? Damme!’ cried the locksmith, plucking at his wig in a kind of frenzy, ‘nobody does know, I verily believe, but Miggs!’

‘Miggs,’ said Mrs Varden faintly, and with symptoms of approaching incoherence, ‘is attached to me, and that is sufficient to draw down hatred upon her in this house. She is a comfort to me, whatever she may be to others.’

‘She’s no comfort to me,’ cried Gabriel, made bold by despair. ‘She’s the misery of my life. She’s all the plagues of Egypt in one.’

‘She’s considered so, I have no doubt,’ said Mrs Varden. ‘I was prepared for that; it’s natural; it’s of a piece with the rest. When you taunt me as you do to my face, how can I wonder that you taunt her behind her back!’ And here the incoherence coming on very strong, Mrs Varden wept, and laughed, and sobbed, and shivered, and hiccoughed, and choked; and said she knew it was very foolish but she couldn’t help it; and that when she was dead and gone, perhaps they would be sorry for it — which really under the circumstances did not appear quite so probable as she seemed to think — with a great deal more to the same effect. In a word, she passed with great decency through all the ceremonies incidental to such occasions; and being supported upstairs, was deposited in a highly spasmodic state on her own bed, where Miss Miggs shortly afterwards flung herself upon the body.

The philosophy of all this was, that Mrs Varden wanted to go to Chigwell; that she did not want to make any concession or explanation; that she would only go on being implored and entreated so to do; and that she would accept no other terms. Accordingly, after a vast amount of moaning and crying upstairs, and much damping of foreheads, and vinegaring of temples, and hartshorning of noses, and so forth; and after most pathetic adjurations from Miggs, assisted by warm brandy-and-water not over-weak, and divers other cordials, also of a stimulating quality, administered at first in teaspoonfuls and afterwards in increasing doses, and of which Miss Miggs herself partook as a preventive measure (for fainting is infectious); after all these remedies, and many more too numerous to mention, but not to take, had been applied; and many verbal consolations, moral, religious, and miscellaneous, had been super-added thereto; the locksmith humbled himself, and the end was gained.

‘If it’s only for the sake of peace and quietness, father,’ said Dolly, urging him to go upstairs.

‘Oh, Doll, Doll,’ said her good-natured father. ‘If you ever have a husband of your own —’

Dolly glanced at the glass.

‘— Well, WHEN you have,’ said the locksmith, ‘never faint, my darling. More domestic unhappiness has come of easy fainting, Doll, than from all the greater passions put together. Remember that, my dear, if you would be really happy, which you never can be, if your husband isn’t. And a word in your ear, my precious. Never have a Miggs about you!’

With this advice he kissed his blooming daughter on the cheek, and slowly repaired to Mrs Varden’s room; where that lady, lying all pale and languid on her couch, was refreshing herself with a sight of her last new bonnet, which Miggs, as a means of calming her scattered spirits, displayed to the best advantage at her bedside.

‘Here’s master, mim,’ said Miggs. ‘Oh, what a happiness it is when man and wife come round again! Oh gracious, to think that him and her should ever have a word together!’ In the energy of these sentiments, which were uttered as an apostrophe to the Heavens in general, Miss Miggs perched the bonnet on the top of her own head, and folding her hands, turned on her tears.

‘I can’t help it,’ cried Miggs. ‘I couldn’t, if I was to be drownded in ’em. She has such a forgiving spirit! She’ll forget all that has passed, and go along with you, sir — Oh, if it was to the world’s end, she’d go along with you.’

Mrs Varden with a faint smile gently reproved her attendant for this enthusiasm, and reminded her at the same time that she was far too unwell to venture out that day.

‘Oh no, you’re not, mim, indeed you’re not,’ said Miggs; ‘I repeal to master; master knows you’re not, mim. The hair, and motion of the shay, will do you good, mim, and you must not give way, you must not raly. She must keep up, mustn’t she, sir, for all out sakes? I was a telling her that, just now. She must remember us, even if she forgets herself. Master will persuade you, mim, I’m sure. There’s Miss Dolly’s a-going you know, and master, and you, and all so happy and so comfortable. Oh!’ cried Miggs, turning on the tears again, previous to quitting the room in great emotion, ‘I never see such a blessed one as she is for the forgiveness of her spirit, I never, never, never did. Not more did master neither; no, nor no one — never!’

For five minutes or thereabouts, Mrs Varden remained mildly opposed to all her husband’s prayers that she would oblige him by taking a day’s pleasure, but relenting at length, she suffered herself to be persuaded, and granting him her free forgiveness (the merit whereof, she meekly said, rested with the Manual and not with her), desired that Miggs might come and help her dress. The handmaid attended promptly, and it is but justice to their joint exertions to record that, when the good lady came downstairs in course of time, completely decked out for the journey, she really looked as if nothing had happened, and appeared in the very best health imaginable.

As to Dolly, there she was again, the very pink and pattern of good looks, in a smart little cherry-coloured mantle, with a hood of the same drawn over her head, and upon the top of that hood, a little straw hat trimmed with cherry-coloured ribbons, and worn the merest trifle on one side — just enough in short to make it the wickedest and most provoking head-dress that ever malicious milliner devised. And not to speak of the manner in which these cherry-coloured decorations brightened her eyes, or vied with her lips, or shed a new bloom on her face, she wore such a cruel little muff, and such a heart-rending pair of shoes, and was so surrounded and hemmed in, as it were, by aggravations of all kinds, that when Mr Tappettit, holding the horse’s head, saw her come out of the house alone, such impulses came over him to decoy her into the chaise and drive off like mad, that he would unquestionably have done it, but for certain uneasy doubts besetting him as to the shortest way to Gretna Green; whether it was up the street or down, or up the right-hand turning or the left; and whether, supposing all the turnpikes to be carried by storm, the blacksmith in the end would marry them on credit; which by reason of his clerical office appeared, even to his excited imagination, so unlikely, that he hesitated. And while he stood hesitating, and looking post-chaises-and-six at Dolly, out came his master and his mistress, and the constant Miggs, and the opportunity was gone for ever. For now the chaise creaked upon its springs, and Mrs Varden was inside; and now it creaked again, and more than ever, and the locksmith was inside; and now it bounded once, as if its heart beat lightly, and Dolly was inside; and now it was gone and its place was empty, and he and that dreary Miggs were standing in the street together.

The hearty locksmith was in as good a humour as if nothing had occurred for the last twelve months to put him out of his way, Dolly was all smiles and graces, and Mrs Varden was agreeable beyond all precedent. As they jogged through the streets talking of this thing and of that, who should be descried upon the pavement but that very coachmaker, looking so genteel that nobody would have believed he had ever had anything to do with a coach but riding in it, and bowing like any nobleman. To be sure Dolly was confused when she bowed again, and to be sure the cherry-coloured ribbons trembled a little when she met his mournful eye, which seemed to say, ‘I have kept my word, I have begun, the business is going to the devil, and you’re the cause of it.’ There he stood, rooted to the ground: as Dolly said, like a statue; and as Mrs Varden said, like a pump; till they turned the corner: and when her father thought it was like his impudence, and her mother wondered what he meant by it, Dolly blushed again till her very hood was pale.

But on they went, not the less merrily for this, and there was the locksmith in the incautious fulness of his heart ‘pulling-up’ at all manner of places, and evincing a most intimate acquaintance with all the taverns on the road, and all the landlords and all the landladies, with whom, indeed, the little horse was on equally friendly terms, for he kept on stopping of his own accord. Never were people so glad to see other people as these landlords and landladies were to behold Mr Varden and Mrs Varden and Miss Varden; and wouldn’t they get out, said one; and they really must walk upstairs, said another; and she would take it ill and be quite certain they were proud if they wouldn’t have a little taste of something, said a third; and so on, that it was really quite a Progress rather than a ride, and one continued scene of hospitality from beginning to end. It was pleasant enough to be held in such esteem, not to mention the refreshments; so Mrs Varden said nothing at the time, and was all affability and delight — but such a body of evidence as she collected against the unfortunate locksmith that day, to be used thereafter as occasion might require, never was got together for matrimonial purposes.

In course of time — and in course of a pretty long time too, for these agreeable interruptions delayed them not a little — they arrived upon the skirts of the Forest, and riding pleasantly on among the trees, came at last to the Maypole, where the locksmith’s cheerful ‘Yoho!’ speedily brought to the porch old John, and after him young Joe, both of whom were so transfixed at sight of the ladies, that for a moment they were perfectly unable to give them any welcome, and could do nothing but stare.

It was only for a moment, however, that Joe forgot himself, for speedily reviving he thrust his drowsy father aside — to Mr Willet’s mighty and inexpressible indignation — and darting out, stood ready to help them to alight. It was necessary for Dolly to get out first. Joe had her in his arms; — yes, though for a space of time no longer than you could count one in, Joe had her in his arms. Here was a glimpse of happiness!

It would be difficult to describe what a flat and commonplace affair the helping Mrs Varden out afterwards was, but Joe did it, and did it too with the best grace in the world. Then old John, who, entertaining a dull and foggy sort of idea that Mrs Varden wasn’t fond of him, had been in some doubt whether she might not have come for purposes of assault and battery, took courage, hoped she was well, and offered to conduct her into the house. This tender being amicably received, they marched in together; Joe and Dolly followed, arm-in-arm, (happiness again!) and Varden brought up the rear.

Old John would have it that they must sit in the bar, and nobody objecting, into the bar they went. All bars are snug places, but the Maypole’s was the very snuggest, cosiest, and completest bar, that ever the wit of man devised. Such amazing bottles in old oaken pigeon-holes; such gleaming tankards dangling from pegs at about the same inclination as thirsty men would hold them to their lips; such sturdy little Dutch kegs ranged in rows on shelves; so many lemons hanging in separate nets, and forming the fragrant grove already mentioned in this chronicle, suggestive, with goodly loaves of snowy sugar stowed away hard by, of punch, idealised beyond all mortal knowledge; such closets, such presses, such drawers full of pipes, such places for putting things away in hollow window-seats, all crammed to the throat with eatables, drinkables, or savoury condiments; lastly, and to crown all, as typical of the immense resources of the establishment, and its defiances to all visitors to cut and come again, such a stupendous cheese!

It is a poor heart that never rejoices — it must have been the poorest, weakest, and most watery heart that ever beat, which would not have warmed towards the Maypole bar. Mrs Varden’s did directly. She could no more have reproached John Willet among those household gods, the kegs and bottles, lemons, pipes, and cheese, than she could have stabbed him with his own bright carving-knife. The order for dinner too — it might have soothed a savage. ‘A bit of fish,’ said John to the cook, ‘and some lamb chops (breaded, with plenty of ketchup), and a good salad, and a roast spring chicken, with a dish of sausages and mashed potatoes, or something of that sort.’ Something of that sort! The resources of these inns! To talk carelessly about dishes, which in themselves were a first-rate holiday kind of dinner, suitable to one’s wedding-day, as something of that sort: meaning, if you can’t get a spring chicken, any other trifle in the way of poultry will do — such as a peacock, perhaps! The kitchen too, with its great broad cavernous chimney; the kitchen, where nothing in the way of cookery seemed impossible; where you could believe in anything to eat, they chose to tell you of. Mrs Varden returned from the contemplation of these wonders to the bar again, with a head quite dizzy and bewildered. Her housekeeping capacity was not large enough to comprehend them. She was obliged to go to sleep. Waking was pain, in the midst of such immensity.

Dolly in the meanwhile, whose gay heart and head ran upon other matters, passed out at the garden door, and glancing back now and then (but of course not wondering whether Joe saw her), tripped away by a path across the fields with which she was well acquainted, to discharge her mission at the Warren; and this deponent hath been informed and verily believes, that you might have seen many less pleasant objects than the cherry-coloured mantle and ribbons, as they went fluttering along the green meadows in the bright light of the day, like giddy things as they were.

Chapter 20

The proud consciousness of her trust, and the great importance she derived from it, might have advertised it to all the house if she had had to run the gauntlet of its inhabitants; but as Dolly had played in every dull room and passage many and many a time, when a child, and had ever since been the humble friend of Miss Haredale, whose foster-sister she was, she was as free of the building as the young lady herself. So, using no greater precaution than holding her breath and walking on tiptoe as she passed the library door, she went straight to Emma’s room as a privileged visitor.

It was the liveliest room in the building. The chamber was sombre like the rest for the matter of that, but the presence of youth and beauty would make a prison cheerful (saving alas! that confinement withers them), and lend some charms of their own to the gloomiest scene. Birds, flowers, books, drawing, music, and a hundred such graceful tokens of feminine loves and cares, filled it with more of life and human sympathy than the whole house besides seemed made to hold. There was heart in the room; and who that has a heart, ever fails to recognise the silent presence of another!

Dolly had one undoubtedly, and it was not a tough one either, though there was a little mist of coquettishness about it, such as sometimes surrounds that sun of life in its morning, and slightly dims its lustre. Thus, when Emma rose to greet her, and kissing her affectionately on the cheek, told her, in her quiet way, that she had been very unhappy, the tears stood in Dolly’s eyes, and she felt more sorry than she could tell; but next moment she happened to raise them to the glass, and really there was something there so exceedingly agreeable, that as she sighed, she smiled, and felt surprisingly consoled.

‘I have heard about it, miss,’ said Dolly, ‘and it’s very sad indeed, but when things are at the worst they are sure to mend.’

‘But are you sure they are at the worst?’ asked Emma with a smile.

‘Why, I don’t see how they can very well be more unpromising than they are; I really don’t,’ said Dolly. ‘And I bring something to begin with.’

‘Not from Edward?’

Dolly nodded and smiled, and feeling in her pockets (there were pockets in those days) with an affectation of not being able to find what she wanted, which greatly enhanced her importance, at length produced the letter. As Emma hastily broke the seal and became absorbed in its contents, Dolly’s eyes, by one of those strange accidents for which there is no accounting, wandered to the glass again. She could not help wondering whether the coach-maker suffered very much, and quite pitied the poor man.

It was a long letter — a very long letter, written close on all four sides of the sheet of paper, and crossed afterwards; but it was not a consolatory letter, for as Emma read it she stopped from time to time to put her handkerchief to her eyes. To be sure Dolly marvelled greatly to see her in so much distress, for to her thinking a love affair ought to be one of the best jokes, and the slyest, merriest kind of thing in life. But she set it down in her own mind that all this came from Miss Haredale’s being so constant, and that if she would only take on with some other young gentleman — just in the most innocent way possible, to keep her first lover up to the mark — she would find herself inexpressibly comforted.

‘I am sure that’s what I should do if it was me,’ thought Dolly. ‘To make one’s sweetheart miserable is well enough and quite right, but to be made miserable one’s self is a little too much!’

However it wouldn’t do to say so, and therefore she sat looking on in silence. She needed a pretty considerable stretch of patience, for when the long letter had been read once all through it was read again, and when it had been read twice all through it was read again. During this tedious process, Dolly beguiled the time in the most improving manner that occurred to her, by curling her hair on her fingers, with the aid of the looking-glass before mentioned, and giving it some killing twists.

Everything has an end. Even young ladies in love cannot read their letters for ever. In course of time the packet was folded up, and it only remained to write the answer.

But as this promised to be a work of time likewise, Emma said she would put it off until after dinner, and that Dolly must dine with her. As Dolly had made up her mind to do so beforehand, she required very little pressing; and when they had settled this point, they went to walk in the garden.

They strolled up and down the terrace walks, talking incessantly — at least, Dolly never left off once — and making that quarter of the sad and mournful house quite gay. Not that they talked loudly or laughed much, but they were both so very handsome, and it was such a breezy day, and their light dresses and dark curls appeared so free and joyous in their abandonment, and Emma was so fair, and Dolly so rosy, and Emma so delicately shaped, and Dolly so plump, and — in short, there are no flowers for any garden like such flowers, let horticulturists say what they may, and both house and garden seemed to know it, and to brighten up sensibly.

After this, came the dinner and the letter writing, and some more talking, in the course of which Miss Haredale took occasion to charge upon Dolly certain flirtish and inconstant propensities, which accusations Dolly seemed to think very complimentary indeed, and to be mightily amused with. Finding her quite incorrigible in this respect, Emma suffered her to depart; but not before she had confided to her that important and never-sufficiently-to-be-taken-care-of answer, and endowed her moreover with a pretty little bracelet as a keepsake. Having clasped it on her arm, and again advised her half in jest and half in earnest to amend her roguish ways, for she knew she was fond of Joe at heart (which Dolly stoutly denied, with a great many haughty protestations that she hoped she could do better than that indeed! and so forth), she bade her farewell; and after calling her back to give her more supplementary messages for Edward, than anybody with tenfold the gravity of Dolly Varden could be reasonably expected to remember, at length dismissed her.

Dolly bade her good bye, and tripping lightly down the stairs arrived at the dreaded library door, and was about to pass it again on tiptoe, when it opened, and behold! there stood Mr Haredale. Now, Dolly had from her childhood associated with this gentleman the idea of something grim and ghostly, and being at the moment conscience-stricken besides, the sight of him threw her into such a flurry that she could neither acknowledge his presence nor run away, so she gave a great start, and then with downcast eyes stood still and trembled.

‘Come here, girl,’ said Mr Haredale, taking her by the hand. ‘I want to speak to you.’

‘If you please, sir, I’m in a hurry,’ faltered Dolly, ‘and — you have frightened me by coming so suddenly upon me, sir — I would rather go, sir, if you’ll be so good as to let me.’

‘Immediately,’ said Mr Haredale, who had by this time led her into the room and closed the door. You shall go directly. You have just left Emma?’

‘Yes, sir, just this minute. — Father’s waiting for me, sir, if you’ll please to have the goodness —’

I know. I know,’ said Mr Haredale. ‘Answer me a question. What did you bring here to-day?’

‘Bring here, sir?’ faltered Dolly.

‘You will tell me the truth, I am sure. Yes.’

Dolly hesitated for a little while, and somewhat emboldened by his manner, said at last, ‘Well then, sir. It was a letter.’

‘From Mr Edward Chester, of course. And you are the bearer of the answer?’

Dolly hesitated again, and not being able to decide upon any other course of action, burst into tears.

‘You alarm yourself without cause,’ said Mr Haredale. ‘Why are you so foolish? Surely you can answer me. You know that I have but to put the question to Emma and learn the truth directly. Have you the answer with you?’

Dolly had what is popularly called a spirit of her own, and being now fairly at bay, made the best of it.

‘Yes, sir,’ she rejoined, trembling and frightened as she was. ‘Yes, sir, I have. You may kill me if you please, sir, but I won’t give it up. I’m very sorry — but I won’t. There, sir.’

‘I commend your firmness and your plain-speaking,’ said Mr Haredale. ‘Rest assured that I have as little desire to take your letter as your life. You are a very discreet messenger and a good girl.’

Not feeling quite certain, as she afterwards said, whether he might not be ‘coming over her’ with these compliments, Dolly kept as far from him as she could, cried again, and resolved to defend her pocket (for the letter was there) to the last extremity.

‘I have some design,’ said Mr Haredale after a short silence, during which a smile, as he regarded her, had struggled through the gloom and melancholy that was natural to his face, ‘of providing a companion for my niece; for her life is a very lonely one. Would you like the office? You are the oldest friend she has, and the best entitled to it.’

‘I don’t know, sir,’ answered Dolly, not sure but he was bantering her; ‘I can’t say. I don’t know what they might wish at home. I couldn’t give an opinion, sir.’

‘If your friends had no objection, would you have any?’ said Mr Haredale. ‘Come. There’s a plain question; and easy to answer.’

‘None at all that I know of sir,’ replied Dolly. ‘I should be very glad to be near Miss Emma of course, and always am.’

‘That’s well,’ said Mr Haredale. ‘That is all I had to say. You are anxious to go. Don’t let me detain you.’

Dolly didn’t let him, nor did she wait for him to try, for the words had no sooner passed his lips than she was out of the room, out of the house, and in the fields again.

The first thing to be done, of course, when she came to herself and considered what a flurry she had been in, was to cry afresh; and the next thing, when she reflected how well she had got over it, was to laugh heartily. The tears once banished gave place to the smiles, and at last Dolly laughed so much that she was fain to lean against a tree, and give vent to her exultation. When she could laugh no longer, and was quite tired, she put her head-dress to rights, dried her eyes, looked back very merrily and triumphantly at the Warren chimneys, which were just visible, and resumed her walk.

The twilight had come on, and it was quickly growing dusk, but the path was so familiar to her from frequent traversing that she hardly thought of this, and certainly felt no uneasiness at being left alone. Moreover, there was the bracelet to admire; and when she had given it a good rub, and held it out at arm’s length, it sparkled and glittered so beautifully on her wrist, that to look at it in every point of view and with every possible turn of the arm, was quite an absorbing business. There was the letter too, and it looked so mysterious and knowing, when she took it out of her pocket, and it held, as she knew, so much inside, that to turn it over and over, and think about it, and wonder how it began, and how it ended, and what it said all through, was another matter of constant occupation. Between the bracelet and the letter, there was quite enough to do without thinking of anything else; and admiring each by turns, Dolly went on gaily.

As she passed through a wicket-gate to where the path was narrow, and lay between two hedges garnished here and there with trees, she heard a rustling close at hand, which brought her to a sudden stop. She listened. All was very quiet, and she went on again — not absolutely frightened, but a little quicker than before perhaps, and possibly not quite so much at her ease, for a check of that kind is startling.

She had no sooner moved on again, than she was conscious of the same sound, which was like that of a person tramping stealthily among bushes and brushwood. Looking towards the spot whence it appeared to come, she almost fancied she could make out a crouching figure. She stopped again. All was quiet as before. On she went once more — decidedly faster now — and tried to sing softly to herself. It must he the wind.

But how came the wind to blow only when she walked, and cease when she stood still? She stopped involuntarily as she made the reflection, and the rustling noise stopped likewise. She was really frightened now, and was yet hesitating what to do, when the bushes crackled and snapped, and a man came plunging through them, close before her.

Chapter 21

It was for the moment an inexpressible relief to Dolly, to recognise in the person who forced himself into the path so abruptly, and now stood directly in her way, Hugh of the Maypole, whose name she uttered in a tone of delighted surprise that came from her heart.

‘Was it you?’ she said, ‘how glad I am to see you! and how could you terrify me so!’

In answer to which, he said nothing at all, but stood quite still, looking at her.

‘Did you come to meet me?’ asked Dolly.

Hugh nodded, and muttered something to the effect that he had been waiting for her, and had expected her sooner.

‘I thought it likely they would send,’ said Dolly, greatly reassured by this.

‘Nobody sent me,’ was his sullen answer. ‘I came of my own accord.’

The rough bearing of this fellow, and his wild, uncouth appearance, had often filled the girl with a vague apprehension even when other people were by, and had occasioned her to shrink from him involuntarily. The having him for an unbidden companion in so solitary a place, with the darkness fast gathering about them, renewed and even increased the alarm she had felt at first.

If his manner had been merely dogged and passively fierce, as usual, she would have had no greater dislike to his company than she always felt — perhaps, indeed, would have been rather glad to have had him at hand. But there was something of coarse bold admiration in his look, which terrified her very much. She glanced timidly towards him, uncertain whether to go forward or retreat, and he stood gazing at her like a handsome satyr; and so they remained for some short time without stirring or breaking silence. At length Dolly took courage, shot past him, and hurried on.

‘Why do you spend so much breath in avoiding me?’ said Hugh, accommodating his pace to hers, and keeping close at her side.

‘I wish to get back as quickly as I can, and you walk too near me, answered Dolly.’

‘Too near!’ said Hugh, stooping over her so that she could feel his breath upon her forehead. ‘Why too near? You’re always proud to ME, mistress.’

‘I am proud to no one. You mistake me,’ answered Dolly. ‘Fall back, if you please, or go on.’

‘Nay, mistress,’ he rejoined, endeavouring to draw her arm through his, ‘I’ll walk with you.’

She released herself and clenching her little hand, struck him with right good will. At this, Maypole Hugh burst into a roar of laughter, and passing his arm about her waist, held her in his strong grasp as easily as if she had been a bird.

‘Ha ha ha! Well done, mistress! Strike again. You shall beat my face, and tear my hair, and pluck my beard up by the roots, and welcome, for the sake of your bright eyes. Strike again, mistress. Do. Ha ha ha! I like it.’

‘Let me go,’ she cried, endeavouring with both her hands to push him off. ‘Let me go this moment.’

‘You had as good be kinder to me, Sweetlips,’ said Hugh. ‘You had, indeed. Come. Tell me now. Why are you always so proud? I don’t quarrel with you for it. I love you when you’re proud. Ha ha ha! You can’t hide your beauty from a poor fellow; that’s a comfort!’

She gave him no answer, but as he had not yet checked her progress, continued to press forward as rapidly as she could. At length, between the hurry she had made, her terror, and the tightness of his embrace, her strength failed her, and she could go no further.

‘Hugh,’ cried the panting girl, ‘good Hugh; if you will leave me I will give you anything — everything I have — and never tell one word of this to any living creature.’

‘You had best not,’ he answered. ‘Harkye, little dove, you had best not. All about here know me, and what I dare do if I have a mind. If ever you are going to tell, stop when the words are on your lips, and think of the mischief you’ll bring, if you do, upon some innocent heads that you wouldn’t wish to hurt a hair of. Bring trouble on me, and I’ll bring trouble and something more on them in return. I care no more for them than for so many dogs; not so much — why should I? I’d sooner kill a man than a dog any day. I’ve never been sorry for a man’s death in all my life, and I have for a dog’s.’

There was something so thoroughly savage in the manner of these expressions, and the looks and gestures by which they were accompanied, that her great fear of him gave her new strength, and enabled her by a sudden effort to extricate herself and run fleetly from him. But Hugh was as nimble, strong, and swift of foot, as any man in broad England, and it was but a fruitless expenditure of energy, for he had her in his encircling arms again before she had gone a hundred yards.

‘Softly, darling — gently — would you fly from rough Hugh, that loves you as well as any drawing-room gallant?’

‘I would,’ she answered, struggling to free herself again. ‘I will. Help!’

‘A fine for crying out,’ said Hugh. ‘Ha ha ha! A fine, pretty one, from your lips. I pay myself! Ha ha ha!’

‘Help! help! help!’ As she shrieked with the utmost violence she could exert, a shout was heard in answer, and another, and another.

‘Thank Heaven!’ cried the girl in an ecstasy. ‘Joe, dear Joe, this way. Help!’

Her assailant paused, and stood irresolute for a moment, but the shouts drawing nearer and coming quick upon them, forced him to a speedy decision. He released her, whispered with a menacing look, ‘Tell HIM: and see what follows!’ and leaping the hedge, was gone in an instant. Dolly darted off, and fairly ran into Joe Willet’s open arms.

‘What is the matter? are you hurt? what was it? who was it? where is he? what was he like?’ with a great many encouraging expressions and assurances of safety, were the first words Joe poured forth. But poor little Dolly was so breathless and terrified that for some time she was quite unable to answer him, and hung upon his shoulder, sobbing and crying as if her heart would break.

Joe had not the smallest objection to have her hanging on his shoulder; no, not the least, though it crushed the cherry-coloured ribbons sadly, and put the smart little hat out of all shape. But he couldn’t bear to see her cry; it went to his very heart. He tried to console her, bent over her, whispered to her — some say kissed her, but that’s a fable. At any rate he said all the kind and tender things he could think of and Dolly let him go on and didn’t interrupt him once, and it was a good ten minutes before she was able to raise her head and thank him.

‘What was it that frightened you?’ said Joe.

A man whose person was unknown to her had followed her, she answered; he began by begging, and went on to threats of robbery, which he was on the point of carrying into execution, and would have executed, but for Joe’s timely aid. The hesitation and confusion with which she said this, Joe attributed to the fright she had sustained, and no suspicion of the truth occurred to him for a moment.

‘Stop when the words are on your lips.’ A hundred times that night, and very often afterwards, when the disclosure was rising to her tongue, Dolly thought of that, and repressed it. A deeply rooted dread of the man; the conviction that his ferocious nature, once roused, would stop at nothing; and the strong assurance that if she impeached him, the full measure of his wrath and vengeance would be wreaked on Joe, who had preserved her; these were considerations she had not the courage to overcome, and inducements to secrecy too powerful for her to surmount.

Joe, for his part, was a great deal too happy to inquire very curiously into the matter; and Dolly being yet too tremulous to walk without assistance, they went forward very slowly, and in his mind very pleasantly, until the Maypole lights were near at hand, twinkling their cheerful welcome, when Dolly stopped suddenly and with a half scream exclaimed,

‘The letter!’

‘What letter?’ cried Joe.

‘That I was carrying — I had it in my hand. My bracelet too,’ she said, clasping her wrist. ‘I have lost them both.’

‘Do you mean just now?’ said Joe.

‘Either I dropped them then, or they were taken from me,’ answered Dolly, vainly searching her pocket and rustling her dress. ‘They are gone, both gone. What an unhappy girl I am!’ With these words poor Dolly, who to do her justice was quite as sorry for the loss of the letter as for her bracelet, fell a-crying again, and bemoaned her fate most movingly.

Joe tried to comfort her with the assurance that directly he had housed her in the Maypole, he would return to the spot with a lantern (for it was now quite dark) and make strict search for the missing articles, which there was great probability of his finding, as it was not likely that anybody had passed that way since, and she was not conscious that they had been forcibly taken from her. Dolly thanked him very heartily for this offer, though with no great hope of his quest being successful; and so with many lamentations on her side, and many hopeful words on his, and much weakness on the part of Dolly and much tender supporting on the part of Joe, they reached the Maypole bar at last, where the locksmith and his wife and old John were yet keeping high festival.

Mr Willet received the intelligence of Dolly’s trouble with that surprising presence of mind and readiness of speech for which he was so eminently distinguished above all other men. Mrs Varden expressed her sympathy for her daughter’s distress by scolding her roundly for being so late; and the honest locksmith divided himself between condoling with and kissing Dolly, and shaking hands heartily with Joe, whom he could not sufficiently praise or thank.

In reference to this latter point, old John was far from agreeing with his friend; for besides that he by no means approved of an adventurous spirit in the abstract, it occurred to him that if his son and heir had been seriously damaged in a scuffle, the consequences would assuredly have been expensive and inconvenient, and might perhaps have proved detrimental to the Maypole business. Wherefore, and because he looked with no favourable eye upon young girls, but rather considered that they and the whole female sex were a kind of nonsensical mistake on the part of Nature, he took occasion to retire and shake his head in private at the boiler; inspired by which silent oracle, he was moved to give Joe various stealthy nudges with his elbow, as a parental reproof and gentle admonition to mind his own business and not make a fool of himself.

Joe, however, took down the lantern and lighted it; and arming himself with a stout stick, asked whether Hugh was in the stable.

‘He’s lying asleep before the kitchen fire, sir,’ said Mr Willet. ‘What do you want him for?’

‘I want him to come with me to look after this bracelet and letter,’ answered Joe. ‘Halloa there! Hugh!’

Dolly turned pale as death, and felt as if she must faint forthwith. After a few moments, Hugh came staggering in, stretching himself and yawning according to custom, and presenting every appearance of having been roused from a sound nap.

‘Here, sleepy-head,’ said Joe, giving him the lantern. ‘Carry this, and bring the dog, and that small cudgel of yours. And woe betide the fellow if we come upon him.’

‘What fellow?’ growled Hugh, rubbing his eyes and shaking himself.

‘What fellow?’ returned Joe, who was in a state of great valour and bustle; ‘a fellow you ought to know of and be more alive about. It’s well for the like of you, lazy giant that you are, to be snoring your time away in chimney-corners, when honest men’s daughters can’t cross even our quiet meadows at nightfall without being set upon by footpads, and frightened out of their precious lives.’

‘They never rob me,’ cried Hugh with a laugh. ‘I have got nothing to lose. But I’d as lief knock them at head as any other men. How many are there?’

‘Only one,’ said Dolly faintly, for everybody looked at her.

‘And what was he like, mistress?’ said Hugh with a glance at young Willet, so slight and momentary that the scowl it conveyed was lost on all but her. ‘About my height?’

‘Not — not so tall,’ Dolly replied, scarce knowing what she said.

‘His dress,’ said Hugh, looking at her keenly, ‘like — like any of ours now? I know all the people hereabouts, and maybe could give a guess at the man, if I had anything to guide me.’

Dolly faltered and turned paler yet; then answered that he was wrapped in a loose coat and had his face hidden by a handkerchief and that she could give no other description of him.

‘You wouldn’t know him if you saw him then, belike?’ said Hugh with a malicious grin.

‘I should not,’ answered Dolly, bursting into tears again. ‘I don’t wish to see him. I can’t bear to think of him. I can’t talk about him any more. Don’t go to look for these things, Mr Joe, pray don’t. I entreat you not to go with that man.’

‘Not to go with me!’ cried Hugh. ‘I’m too rough for them all. They’re all afraid of me. Why, bless you mistress, I’ve the tenderest heart alive. I love all the ladies, ma’am,’ said Hugh, turning to the locksmith’s wife.

Mrs Varden opined that if he did, he ought to be ashamed of himself; such sentiments being more consistent (so she argued) with a benighted Mussulman or wild Islander than with a stanch Protestant. Arguing from this imperfect state of his morals, Mrs Varden further opined that he had never studied the Manual. Hugh admitting that he never had, and moreover that he couldn’t read, Mrs Varden declared with much severity, that he ought to he even more ashamed of himself than before, and strongly recommended him to save up his pocket-money for the purchase of one, and further to teach himself the contents with all convenient diligence. She was still pursuing this train of discourse, when Hugh, somewhat unceremoniously and irreverently, followed his young master out, and left her to edify the rest of the company. This she proceeded to do, and finding that Mr Willet’s eyes were fixed upon her with an appearance of deep attention, gradually addressed the whole of her discourse to him, whom she entertained with a moral and theological lecture of considerable length, in the conviction that great workings were taking place in his spirit. The simple truth was, however, that Mr Willet, although his eyes were wide open and he saw a woman before him whose head by long and steady looking at seemed to grow bigger and bigger until it filled the whole bar, was to all other intents and purposes fast asleep; and so sat leaning back in his chair with his hands in his pockets until his son’s return caused him to wake up with a deep sigh, and a faint impression that he had been dreaming about pickled pork and greens — a vision of his slumbers which was no doubt referable to the circumstance of Mrs Varden’s having frequently pronounced the word ‘Grace’ with much emphasis; which word, entering the portals of Mr Willet’s brain as they stood ajar, and coupling itself with the words ‘before meat,’ which were there ranging about, did in time suggest a particular kind of meat together with that description of vegetable which is usually its companion.

The search was wholly unsuccessful. Joe had groped along the path a dozen times, and among the grass, and in the dry ditch, and in the hedge, but all in vain. Dolly, who was quite inconsolable for her loss, wrote a note to Miss Haredale giving her the same account of it that she had given at the Maypole, which Joe undertook to deliver as soon as the family were stirring next day. That done, they sat down to tea in the bar, where there was an uncommon display of buttered toast, and — in order that they might not grow faint for want of sustenance, and might have a decent halting-place or halfway house between dinner and supper — a few savoury trifles in the shape of great rashers of broiled ham, which being well cured, done to a turn, and smoking hot, sent forth a tempting and delicious fragrance.

Mrs Varden was seldom very Protestant at meals, unless it happened that they were underdone, or overdone, or indeed that anything occurred to put her out of humour. Her spirits rose considerably on beholding these goodly preparations, and from the nothingness of good works, she passed to the somethingness of ham and toast with great cheerfulness. Nay, under the influence of these wholesome stimulants, she sharply reproved her daughter for being low and despondent (which she considered an unacceptable frame of mind), and remarked, as she held her own plate for a fresh supply, that it would be well for Dolly, who pined over the loss of a toy and a sheet of paper, if she would reflect upon the voluntary sacrifices of the missionaries in foreign parts who lived chiefly on salads.

The proceedings of such a day occasion various fluctuations in the human thermometer, and especially in instruments so sensitively and delicately constructed as Mrs Varden. Thus, at dinner Mrs V. stood at summer heat; genial, smiling, and delightful. After dinner, in the sunshine of the wine, she went up at least half-a-dozen degrees, and was perfectly enchanting. As its effect subsided, she fell rapidly, went to sleep for an hour or so at temperate, and woke at something below freezing. Now she was at summer heat again, in the shade; and when tea was over, and old John, producing a bottle of cordial from one of the oaken cases, insisted on her sipping two glasses thereof in slow succession, she stood steadily at ninety for one hour and a quarter. Profiting by experience, the locksmith took advantage of this genial weather to smoke his pipe in the porch, and in consequence of this prudent management, he was fully prepared, when the glass went down again, to start homewards directly.

The horse was accordingly put in, and the chaise brought round to the door. Joe, who would on no account be dissuaded from escorting them until they had passed the most dreary and solitary part of the road, led out the grey mare at the same time; and having helped Dolly into her seat (more happiness!) sprung gaily into the saddle. Then, after many good nights, and admonitions to wrap up, and glancing of lights, and handing in of cloaks and shawls, the chaise rolled away, and Joe trotted beside it — on Dolly’s side, no doubt, and pretty close to the wheel too.

Chapter 22

It was a fine bright night, and for all her lowness of spirits Dolly kept looking up at the stars in a manner so bewitching (and SHE knew it!) that Joe was clean out of his senses, and plainly showed that if ever a man were — not to say over head and ears, but over the Monument and the top of Saint Paul’s in love, that man was himself. The road was a very good one; not at all a jolting road, or an uneven one; and yet Dolly held the side of the chaise with one little hand, all the way. If there had been an executioner behind him with an uplifted axe ready to chop off his head if he touched that hand, Joe couldn’t have helped doing it. From putting his own hand upon it as if by chance, and taking it away again after a minute or so, he got to riding along without taking it off at all; as if he, the escort, were bound to do that as an important part of his duty, and had come out for the purpose. The most curious circumstance about this little incident was, that Dolly didn’t seem to know of it. She looked so innocent and unconscious when she turned her eyes on Joe, that it was quite provoking.

She talked though; talked about her fright, and about Joe’s coming up to rescue her, and about her gratitude, and about her fear that she might not have thanked him enough, and about their always being friends from that time forth — and about all that sort of thing. And when Joe said, not friends he hoped, Dolly was quite surprised, and said not enemies she hoped; and when Joe said, couldn’t they be something much better than either, Dolly all of a sudden found out a star which was brighter than all the other stars, and begged to call his attention to the same, and was ten thousand times more innocent and unconscious than ever.

In this manner they travelled along, talking very little above a whisper, and wishing the road could be stretched out to some dozen times its natural length — at least that was Joe’s desire — when, as they were getting clear of the forest and emerging on the more frequented road, they heard behind them the sound of a horse’s feet at a round trot, which growing rapidly louder as it drew nearer, elicited a scream from Mrs Varden, and the cry ‘a friend!’ from the rider, who now came panting up, and checked his horse beside them.

‘This man again!’ cried Dolly, shuddering.

‘Hugh!’ said Joe. ‘What errand are you upon?’

‘I come to ride back with you,’ he answered, glancing covertly at the locksmith’s daughter. ‘HE sent me.

‘My father!’ said poor Joe; adding under his breath, with a very unfilial apostrophe, ‘Will he never think me man enough to take care of myself!’

‘Aye!’ returned Hugh to the first part of the inquiry. ‘The roads are not safe just now, he says, and you’d better have a companion.’

‘Ride on then,’ said Joe. ‘I’m not going to turn yet.’

Hugh complied, and they went on again. It was his whim or humour to ride immediately before the chaise, and from this position he constantly turned his head, and looked back. Dolly felt that he looked at her, but she averted her eyes and feared to raise them once, so great was the dread with which he had inspired her.

This interruption, and the consequent wakefulness of Mrs Varden, who had been nodding in her sleep up to this point, except for a minute or two at a time, when she roused herself to scold the locksmith for audaciously taking hold of her to prevent her nodding herself out of the chaise, put a restraint upon the whispered conversation, and made it difficult of resumption. Indeed, before they had gone another mile, Gabriel stopped at his wife’s desire, and that good lady protested she would not hear of Joe’s going a step further on any account whatever. It was in vain for Joe to protest on the other hand that he was by no means tired, and would turn back presently, and would see them safely past such a point, and so forth. Mrs Varden was obdurate, and being so was not to be overcome by mortal agency.

‘Good night — if I must say it,’ said Joe, sorrowfully.

‘Good night,’ said Dolly. She would have added, ‘Take care of that man, and pray don’t trust him,’ but he had turned his horse’s head, and was standing close to them. She had therefore nothing for it but to suffer Joe to give her hand a gentle squeeze, and when the chaise had gone on for some distance, to look back and wave it, as he still lingered on the spot where they had parted, with the tall dark figure of Hugh beside him.

What she thought about, going home; and whether the coach-maker held as favourable a place in her meditations as he had occupied in the morning, is unknown. They reached home at last — at last, for it was a long way, made none the shorter by Mrs Varden’s grumbling. Miggs hearing the sound of wheels was at the door immediately.

‘Here they are, Simmun! Here they are!’ cried Miggs, clapping her hands, and issuing forth to help her mistress to alight. ‘Bring a chair, Simmun. Now, an’t you the better for it, mim? Don’t you feel more yourself than you would have done if you’d have stopped at home? Oh, gracious! how cold you are! Goodness me, sir, she’s a perfect heap of ice.’

‘I can’t help it, my good girl. You had better take her in to the fire,’ said the locksmith.

‘Master sounds unfeeling, mim,’ said Miggs, in a tone of commiseration, ‘but such is not his intentions, I’m sure. After what he has seen of you this day, I never will believe but that he has a deal more affection in his heart than to speak unkind. Come in and sit yourself down by the fire; there’s a good dear — do.’

Mrs Varden complied. The locksmith followed with his hands in his pockets, and Mr Tappertit trundled off with the chaise to a neighbouring stable.

‘Martha, my dear,’ said the locksmith, when they reached the parlour, ‘if you’ll look to Dolly yourself or let somebody else do it, perhaps it will be only kind and reasonable. She has been frightened, you know, and is not at all well to-night.’

In fact, Dolly had thrown herself upon the sofa, quite regardless of all the little finery of which she had been so proud in the morning, and with her face buried in her hands was crying very much.

At first sight of this phenomenon (for Dolly was by no means accustomed to displays of this sort, rather learning from her mother’s example to avoid them as much as possible) Mrs Varden expressed her belief that never was any woman so beset as she; that her life was a continued scene of trial; that whenever she was disposed to be well and cheerful, so sure were the people around her to throw, by some means or other, a damp upon her spirits; and that, as she had enjoyed herself that day, and Heaven knew it was very seldom she did enjoy herself so she was now to pay the penalty. To all such propositions Miggs assented freely. Poor Dolly, however, grew none the better for these restoratives, but rather worse, indeed; and seeing that she was really ill, both Mrs Varden and Miggs were moved to compassion, and tended her in earnest.

But even then, their very kindness shaped itself into their usual course of policy, and though Dolly was in a swoon, it was rendered clear to the meanest capacity, that Mrs Varden was the sufferer. Thus when Dolly began to get a little better, and passed into that stage in which matrons hold that remonstrance and argument may be successfully applied, her mother represented to her, with tears in her eyes, that if she had been flurried and worried that day, she must remember it was the common lot of humanity, and in especial of womankind, who through the whole of their existence must expect no less, and were bound to make up their minds to meek endurance and patient resignation. Mrs Varden entreated her to remember that one of these days she would, in all probability, have to do violence to her feelings so far as to be married; and that marriage, as she might see every day of her life (and truly she did) was a state requiring great fortitude and forbearance. She represented to her in lively colours, that if she (Mrs V.) had not, in steering her course through this vale of tears, been supported by a strong principle of duty which alone upheld and prevented her from drooping, she must have been in her grave many years ago; in which case she desired to know what would have become of that errant spirit (meaning the locksmith), of whose eye she was the very apple, and in whose path she was, as it were, a shining light and guiding star?

Miss Miggs also put in her word to the same effect. She said that indeed and indeed Miss Dolly might take pattern by her blessed mother, who, she always had said, and always would say, though she were to be hanged, drawn, and quartered for it next minute, was the mildest, amiablest, forgivingest-spirited, longest-sufferingest female as ever she could have believed; the mere narration of whose excellencies had worked such a wholesome change in the mind of her own sister-in-law, that, whereas, before, she and her husband lived like cat and dog, and were in the habit of exchanging brass candlesticks, pot-lids, flat-irons, and other such strong resentments, they were now the happiest and affectionatest couple upon earth; as could be proved any day on application at Golden Lion Court, number twenty-sivin, second bell-handle on the right-hand doorpost. After glancing at herself as a comparatively worthless vessel, but still as one of some desert, she besought her to bear in mind that her aforesaid dear and only mother was of a weakly constitution and excitable temperament, who had constantly to sustain afflictions in domestic life, compared with which thieves and robbers were as nothing, and yet never sunk down or gave way to despair or wrath, but, in prize-fighting phraseology, always came up to time with a cheerful countenance, and went in to win as if nothing had happened. When Miggs finished her solo, her mistress struck in again, and the two together performed a duet to the same purpose; the burden being, that Mrs Varden was persecuted perfection, and Mr Varden, as the representative of mankind in that apartment, a creature of vicious and brutal habits, utterly insensible to the blessings he enjoyed. Of so refined a character, indeed, was their talent of assault under the mask of sympathy, that when Dolly, recovering, embraced her father tenderly, as in vindication of his goodness, Mrs Varden expressed her solemn hope that this would be a lesson to him for the remainder of his life, and that he would do some little justice to a woman’s nature ever afterwards — in which aspiration Miss Miggs, by divers sniffs and coughs, more significant than the longest oration, expressed her entire concurrence.

But the great joy of Miggs’s heart was, that she not only picked up a full account of what had happened, but had the exquisite delight of conveying it to Mr Tappertit for his jealousy and torture. For that gentleman, on account of Dolly’s indisposition, had been requested to take his supper in the workshop, and it was conveyed thither by Miss Miggs’s own fair hands.

‘Oh Simmun!’ said the young lady, ‘such goings on to-day! Oh, gracious me, Simmun!’

Mr Tappertit, who was not in the best of humours, and who disliked Miss Miggs more when she laid her hand on her heart and panted for breath than at any other time, as her deficiency of outline was most apparent under such circumstances, eyed her over in his loftiest style, and deigned to express no curiosity whatever.

‘I never heard the like, nor nobody else,’ pursued Miggs. ‘The idea of interfering with HER. What people can see in her to make it worth their while to do so, that’s the joke — he he he!’

Finding there was a lady in the case, Mr Tappertit haughtily requested his fair friend to be more explicit, and demanded to know what she meant by ‘her.’

‘Why, that Dolly,’ said Miggs, with an extremely sharp emphasis on the name. ‘But, oh upon my word and honour, young Joseph Willet is a brave one; and he do deserve her, that he do.’

‘Woman!’ said Mr Tappertit, jumping off the counter on which he was seated; ‘beware!’

‘My stars, Simmun!’ cried Miggs, in affected astonishment. ‘You frighten me to death! What’s the matter?’

‘There are strings,’ said Mr Tappertit, flourishing his bread-and-cheese knife in the air, ‘in the human heart that had better not be wibrated. That’s what’s the matter.’

‘Oh, very well — if you’re in a huff,’ cried Miggs, turning away.

‘Huff or no huff,’ said Mr Tappertit, detaining her by the wrist. ‘What do you mean, Jezebel? What were you going to say? Answer me!’

Notwithstanding this uncivil exhortation, Miggs gladly did as she was required; and told him how that their young mistress, being alone in the meadows after dark, had been attacked by three or four tall men, who would have certainly borne her away and perhaps murdered her, but for the timely arrival of Joseph Willet, who with his own single hand put them all to flight, and rescued her; to the lasting admiration of his fellow-creatures generally, and to the eternal love and gratitude of Dolly Varden.

‘Very good,’ said Mr Tappertit, fetching a long breath when the tale was told, and rubbing his hair up till it stood stiff and straight on end all over his head. ‘His days are numbered.’

‘Oh, Simmun!’

‘I tell you,’ said the ‘prentice, ‘his days are numbered. Leave me. Get along with you.’

Miggs departed at his bidding, but less because of his bidding than because she desired to chuckle in secret. When she had given vent to her satisfaction, she returned to the parlour; where the locksmith, stimulated by quietness and Toby, had become talkative, and was disposed to take a cheerful review of the occurrences of the day. But Mrs Varden, whose practical religion (as is not uncommon) was usually of the retrospective order, cut him short by declaiming on the sinfulness of such junketings, and holding that it was high time to go to bed. To bed therefore she withdrew, with an aspect as grim and gloomy as that of the Maypole’s own state couch; and to bed the rest of the establishment soon afterwards repaired.

Chapter 23

Twilight had given place to night some hours, and it was high noon in those quarters of the town in which ‘the world’ condescended to dwell — the world being then, as now, of very limited dimensions and easily lodged — when Mr Chester reclined upon a sofa in his dressing-room in the Temple, entertaining himself with a book.

He was dressing, as it seemed, by easy stages, and having performed half the journey was taking a long rest. Completely attired as to his legs and feet in the trimmest fashion of the day, he had yet the remainder of his toilet to perform. The coat was stretched, like a refined scarecrow, on its separate horse; the waistcoat was displayed to the best advantage; the various ornamental articles of dress were severally set out in most alluring order; and yet he lay dangling his legs between the sofa and the ground, as intent upon his book as if there were nothing but bed before him.

‘Upon my honour,’ he said, at length raising his eyes to the ceiling with the air of a man who was reflecting seriously on what he had read; ‘upon my honour, the most masterly composition, the most delicate thoughts, the finest code of morality, and the most gentlemanly sentiments in the universe! Ah Ned, Ned, if you would but form your mind by such precepts, we should have but one common feeling on every subject that could possibly arise between us!’

This apostrophe was addressed, like the rest of his remarks, to empty air: for Edward was not present, and the father was quite alone.

‘My Lord Chesterfield,’ he said, pressing his hand tenderly upon the book as he laid it down, ‘if I could but have profited by your genius soon enough to have formed my son on the model you have left to all wise fathers, both he and I would have been rich men. Shakespeare was undoubtedly very fine in his way; Milton good, though prosy; Lord Bacon deep, and decidedly knowing; but the writer who should be his country’s pride, is my Lord Chesterfield.’

He became thoughtful again, and the toothpick was in requisition.

‘I thought I was tolerably accomplished as a man of the world,’ he continued, ‘I flattered myself that I was pretty well versed in all those little arts and graces which distinguish men of the world from boors and peasants, and separate their character from those intensely vulgar sentiments which are called the national character. Apart from any natural prepossession in my own favour, I believed I was. Still, in every page of this enlightened writer, I find some captivating hypocrisy which has never occurred to me before, or some superlative piece of selfishness to which I was utterly a stranger. I should quite blush for myself before this stupendous creature, if remembering his precepts, one might blush at anything. An amazing man! a nobleman indeed! any King or Queen may make a Lord, but only the Devil himself — and the Graces — can make a Chesterfield.’

Men who are thoroughly false and hollow, seldom try to hide those vices from themselves; and yet in the very act of avowing them, they lay claim to the virtues they feign most to despise. ‘For,’ say they, ‘this is honesty, this is truth. All mankind are like us, but they have not the candour to avow it.’ The more they affect to deny the existence of any sincerity in the world, the more they would be thought to possess it in its boldest shape; and this is an unconscious compliment to Truth on the part of these philosophers, which will turn the laugh against them to the Day of Judgment.

Mr Chester, having extolled his favourite author, as above recited, took up the book again in the excess of his admiration and was composing himself for a further perusal of its sublime morality, when he was disturbed by a noise at the outer door; occasioned as it seemed by the endeavours of his servant to obstruct the entrance of some unwelcome visitor.

‘A late hour for an importunate creditor,’ he said, raising his eyebrows with as indolent an expression of wonder as if the noise were in the street, and one with which he had not the smallest possible concern. ‘Much after their accustomed time. The usual pretence I suppose. No doubt a heavy payment to make up tomorrow. Poor fellow, he loses time, and time is money as the good proverb says — I never found it out though. Well. What now? You know I am not at home.’

‘A man, sir,’ replied the servant, who was to the full as cool and negligent in his way as his master, ‘has brought home the riding-whip you lost the other day. I told him you were out, but he said he was to wait while I brought it in, and wouldn’t go till I did.’

‘He was quite right,’ returned his master, ‘and you’re a blockhead, possessing no judgment or discretion whatever. Tell him to come in, and see that he rubs his shoes for exactly five minutes first.’

The man laid the whip on a chair, and withdrew. The master, who had only heard his foot upon the ground and had not taken the trouble to turn round and look at him, shut his book, and pursued the train of ideas his entrance had disturbed.

‘If time were money,’ he said, handling his snuff-box, ‘I would compound with my creditors, and give them — let me see — how much a day? There’s my nap after dinner — an hour — they’re extremely welcome to that, and to make the most of it. In the morning, between my breakfast and the paper, I could spare them another hour; in the evening before dinner say another. Three hours a day. They might pay themselves in calls, with interest, in twelve months. I think I shall propose it to them. Ah, my centaur, are you there?’

‘Here I am,’ replied Hugh, striding in, followed by a dog, as rough and sullen as himself; ‘and trouble enough I’ve had to get here. What do you ask me to come for, and keep me out when I DO come?’

‘My good fellow,’ returned the other, raising his head a little from the cushion and carelessly surveying him from top to toe, ‘I am delighted to see you, and to have, in your being here, the very best proof that you are not kept out. How are you?’

‘I’m well enough,’ said Hugh impatiently.

‘You look a perfect marvel of health. Sit down.’

‘I’d rather stand,’ said Hugh.

‘Please yourself my good fellow,’ returned Mr Chester rising, slowly pulling off the loose robe he wore, and sitting down before the dressing-glass. ‘Please yourself by all means.’

Having said this in the politest and blandest tone possible, he went on dressing, and took no further notice of his guest, who stood in the same spot as uncertain what to do next, eyeing him sulkily from time to time.

‘Are you going to speak to me, master?’ he said, after a long silence.

‘My worthy creature,’ returned Mr Chester, ‘you are a little ruffled and out of humour. I’ll wait till you’re quite yourself again. I am in no hurry.’

This behaviour had its intended effect. It humbled and abashed the man, and made him still more irresolute and uncertain. Hard words he could have returned, violence he would have repaid with interest; but this cool, complacent, contemptuous, self-possessed reception, caused him to feel his inferiority more completely than the most elaborate arguments. Everything contributed to this effect. His own rough speech, contrasted with the soft persuasive accents of the other; his rude bearing, and Mr Chester’s polished manner; the disorder and negligence of his ragged dress, and the elegant attire he saw before him; with all the unaccustomed luxuries and comforts of the room, and the silence that gave him leisure to observe these things, and feel how ill at ease they made him; all these influences, which have too often some effect on tutored minds and become of almost resistless power when brought to bear on such a mind as his, quelled Hugh completely. He moved by little and little nearer to Mr Chester’s chair, and glancing over his shoulder at the reflection of his face in the glass, as if seeking for some encouragement in its expression, said at length, with a rough attempt at conciliation,

‘ARE you going to speak to me, master, or am I to go away?’

‘Speak you,’ said Mr Chester, ‘speak you, good fellow. I have spoken, have I not? I am waiting for you.’

‘Why, look’ee, sir,’ returned Hugh with increased embarrassment, ‘am I the man that you privately left your whip with before you rode away from the Maypole, and told to bring it back whenever he might want to see you on a certain subject?’

‘No doubt the same, or you have a twin brother,’ said Mr Chester, glancing at the reflection of his anxious face; ‘which is not probable, I should say.’

‘Then I have come, sir,’ said Hugh, ‘and I have brought it back, and something else along with it. A letter, sir, it is, that I took from the person who had charge of it.’ As he spoke, he laid upon the dressing-table, Dolly’s lost epistle. The very letter that had cost her so much trouble.

‘Did you obtain this by force, my good fellow?’ said Mr Chester, casting his eye upon it without the least perceptible surprise or pleasure.

‘Not quite,’ said Hugh. ‘Partly.’

‘Who was the messenger from whom you took it?’

‘A woman. One Varden’s daughter.’

‘Oh indeed!’ said Mr Chester gaily. ‘What else did you take from her?’

‘What else?’

‘Yes,’ said the other, in a drawling manner, for he was fixing a very small patch of sticking plaster on a very small pimple near the corner of his mouth. ‘What else?’

‘Well a kiss,’ replied Hugh, after some hesitation.

‘And what else?’

‘Nothing.’

‘I think,’ said Mr Chester, in the same easy tone, and smiling twice or thrice to try if the patch adhered —‘I think there was something else. I have heard a trifle of jewellery spoken of — a mere trifle — a thing of such little value, indeed, that you may have forgotten it. Do you remember anything of the kind — such as a bracelet now, for instance?’

Hugh with a muttered oath thrust his hand into his breast, and drawing the bracelet forth, wrapped in a scrap of hay, was about to lay it on the table likewise, when his patron stopped his hand and bade him put it up again.

‘You took that for yourself my excellent friend,’ he said, ‘and may keep it. I am neither a thief nor a receiver. Don’t show it to me. You had better hide it again, and lose no time. Don’t let me see where you put it either,’ he added, turning away his head.

‘You’re not a receiver!’ said Hugh bluntly, despite the increasing awe in which he held him. ‘What do you call THAT, master?’ striking the letter with his heavy hand.

‘I call that quite another thing,’ said Mr Chester coolly. ‘I shall prove it presently, as you will see. You are thirsty, I suppose?’

Hugh drew his sleeve across his lips, and gruffly answered yes.

‘Step to that closet and bring me a bottle you will see there, and a glass.’

He obeyed. His patron followed him with his eyes, and when his back was turned, smiled as he had never done when he stood beside the mirror. On his return he filled the glass, and bade him drink. That dram despatched, he poured him out another, and another.

‘How many can you bear?’ he said, filling the glass again.

‘As many as you like to give me. Pour on. Fill high. A bumper with a bead in the middle! Give me enough of this,’ he added, as he tossed it down his hairy throat, ‘and I’ll do murder if you ask me!’

‘As I don’t mean to ask you, and you might possibly do it without being invited if you went on much further,’ said Mr Chester with great composure, we will stop, if agreeable to you, my good friend, at the next glass. You were drinking before you came here.’

‘I always am when I can get it,’ cried Hugh boisterously, waving the empty glass above his head, and throwing himself into a rude dancing attitude. ‘I always am. Why not? Ha ha ha! What’s so good to me as this? What ever has been? What else has kept away the cold on bitter nights, and driven hunger off in starving times? What else has given me the strength and courage of a man, when men would have left me to die, a puny child? I should never have had a man’s heart but for this. I should have died in a ditch. Where’s he who when I was a weak and sickly wretch, with trembling legs and fading sight, bade me cheer up, as this did? I never knew him; not I. I drink to the drink, master. Ha ha ha!’

‘You are an exceedingly cheerful young man,’ said Mr Chester, putting on his cravat with great deliberation, and slightly moving his head from side to side to settle his chin in its proper place. ‘Quite a boon companion.’

‘Do you see this hand, master,’ said Hugh, ‘and this arm?’ baring the brawny limb to the elbow. ‘It was once mere skin and bone, and would have been dust in some poor churchyard by this time, but for the drink.’

‘You may cover it,’ said Mr Chester, ‘it’s sufficiently real in your sleeve.’

‘I should never have been spirited up to take a kiss from the proud little beauty, master, but for the drink,’ cried Hugh. ‘Ha ha ha! It was a good one. As sweet as honeysuckle, I warrant you. I thank the drink for it. I’ll drink to the drink again, master. Fill me one more. Come. One more!’

‘You are such a promising fellow,’ said his patron, putting on his waistcoat with great nicety, and taking no heed of this request, ‘that I must caution you against having too many impulses from the drink, and getting hung before your time. What’s your age?’

‘I don’t know.’

‘At any rate,’ said Mr Chester, ‘you are young enough to escape what I may call a natural death for some years to come. How can you trust yourself in my hands on so short an acquaintance, with a halter round your neck? What a confiding nature yours must be!’

Hugh fell back a pace or two and surveyed him with a look of mingled terror, indignation, and surprise. Regarding himself in the glass with the same complacency as before, and speaking as smoothly as if he were discussing some pleasant chit-chat of the town, his patron went on:

‘Robbery on the king’s highway, my young friend, is a very dangerous and ticklish occupation. It is pleasant, I have no doubt, while it lasts; but like many other pleasures in this transitory world, it seldom lasts long. And really if in the ingenuousness of youth, you open your heart so readily on the subject, I am afraid your career will be an extremely short one.’

‘How’s this?’ said Hugh. ‘What do you talk of master? Who was it set me on?’

‘Who?’ said Mr Chester, wheeling sharply round, and looking full at him for the first time. ‘I didn’t hear you. Who was it?’

Hugh faltered, and muttered something which was not audible.

‘Who was it? I am curious to know,’ said Mr Chester, with surpassing affability. ‘Some rustic beauty perhaps? But be cautious, my good friend. They are not always to be trusted. Do take my advice now, and be careful of yourself.’ With these words he turned to the glass again, and went on with his toilet.

Hugh would have answered him that he, the questioner himself had set him on, but the words stuck in his throat. The consummate art with which his patron had led him to this point, and managed the whole conversation, perfectly baffled him. He did not doubt that if he had made the retort which was on his lips when Mr Chester turned round and questioned him so keenly, he would straightway have given him into custody and had him dragged before a justice with the stolen property upon him; in which case it was as certain he would have been hung as it was that he had been born. The ascendency which it was the purpose of the man of the world to establish over this savage instrument, was gained from that time. Hugh’s submission was complete. He dreaded him beyond description; and felt that accident and artifice had spun a web about him, which at a touch from such a master-hand as his, would bind him to the gallows.

With these thoughts passing through his mind, and yet wondering at the very same time how he who came there rioting in the confidence of this man (as he thought), should be so soon and so thoroughly subdued, Hugh stood cowering before him, regarding him uneasily from time to time, while he finished dressing. When he had done so, he took up the letter, broke the seal, and throwing himself back in his chair, read it leisurely through.

‘Very neatly worded upon my life! Quite a woman’s letter, full of what people call tenderness, and disinterestedness, and heart, and all that sort of thing!’

As he spoke, he twisted it up, and glancing lazily round at Hugh as though he would say ‘You see this?’ held it in the flame of the candle. When it was in a full blaze, he tossed it into the grate, and there it smouldered away.

‘It was directed to my son,’ he said, turning to Hugh, ‘and you did quite right to bring it here. I opened it on my own responsibility, and you see what I have done with it. Take this, for your trouble.’

Hugh stepped forward to receive the piece of money he held out to him. As he put it in his hand, he added:

‘If you should happen to find anything else of this sort, or to pick up any kind of information you may think I would like to have, bring it here, will you, my good fellow?’

This was said with a smile which implied — or Hugh thought it did — ‘fail to do so at your peril!’ He answered that he would.

‘And don’t,’ said his patron, with an air of the very kindest patronage, ‘don’t be at all downcast or uneasy respecting that little rashness we have been speaking of. Your neck is as safe in my hands, my good fellow, as though a baby’s fingers clasped it, I assure you. — Take another glass. You are quieter now.’

Hugh accepted it from his hand, and looking stealthily at his smiling face, drank the contents in silence.

‘Don’t you — ha, ha! — don’t you drink to the drink any more?’ said Mr Chester, in his most winning manner.

‘To you, sir,’ was the sullen answer, with something approaching to a bow. ‘I drink to you.’

‘Thank you. God bless you. By the bye, what is your name, my good soul? You are called Hugh, I know, of course — your other name?’

‘I have no other name.’

‘A very strange fellow! Do you mean that you never knew one, or that you don’t choose to tell it? Which?’

‘I’d tell it if I could,’ said Hugh, quickly. ‘I can’t. I have been always called Hugh; nothing more. I never knew, nor saw, nor thought about a father; and I was a boy of six — that’s not very old — when they hung my mother up at Tyburn for a couple of thousand men to stare at. They might have let her live. She was poor enough.’

‘How very sad!’ exclaimed his patron, with a condescending smile. ‘I have no doubt she was an exceedingly fine woman.’

‘You see that dog of mine?’ said Hugh, abruptly.

‘Faithful, I dare say?’ rejoined his patron, looking at him through his glass; ‘and immensely clever? Virtuous and gifted animals, whether man or beast, always are so very hideous.’

‘Such a dog as that, and one of the same breed, was the only living thing except me that howled that day,’ said Hugh. ‘Out of the two thousand odd — there was a larger crowd for its being a woman — the dog and I alone had any pity. If he’d have been a man, he’d have been glad to be quit of her, for she had been forced to keep him lean and half-starved; but being a dog, and not having a man’s sense, he was sorry.’

‘It was dull of the brute, certainly,’ said Mr Chester, ‘and very like a brute.’

Hugh made no rejoinder, but whistling to his dog, who sprung up at the sound and came jumping and sporting about him, bade his sympathising friend good night.

‘Good night; he returned. ‘Remember; you’re safe with me — quite safe. So long as you deserve it, my good fellow, as I hope you always will, you have a friend in me, on whose silence you may rely. Now do be careful of yourself, pray do, and consider what jeopardy you might have stood in. Good night! bless you!’

Hugh truckled before the hidden meaning of these words as much as such a being could, and crept out of the door so submissively and subserviently — with an air, in short, so different from that with which he had entered — that his patron on being left alone, smiled more than ever.

‘And yet,’ he said, as he took a pinch of snuff, ‘I do not like their having hanged his mother. The fellow has a fine eye, and I am sure she was handsome. But very probably she was coarse — red-nosed perhaps, and had clumsy feet. Aye, it was all for the best, no doubt.’

With this comforting reflection, he put on his coat, took a farewell glance at the glass, and summoned his man, who promptly attended, followed by a chair and its two bearers.

‘Foh!’ said Mr Chester. ‘The very atmosphere that centaur has breathed, seems tainted with the cart and ladder. Here, Peak. Bring some scent and sprinkle the floor; and take away the chair he sat upon, and air it; and dash a little of that mixture upon me. I am stifled!’

The man obeyed; and the room and its master being both purified, nothing remained for Mr Chester but to demand his hat, to fold it jauntily under his arm, to take his seat in the chair and be carried off; humming a fashionable tune.

Chapter 24

How the accomplished gentleman spent the evening in the midst of a dazzling and brilliant circle; how he enchanted all those with whom he mingled by the grace of his deportment, the politeness of his manner, the vivacity of his conversation, and the sweetness of his voice; how it was observed in every corner, that Chester was a man of that happy disposition that nothing ruffled him, that he was one on whom the world’s cares and errors sat lightly as his dress, and in whose smiling face a calm and tranquil mind was constantly reflected; how honest men, who by instinct knew him better, bowed down before him nevertheless, deferred to his every word, and courted his favourable notice; how people, who really had good in them, went with the stream, and fawned and flattered, and approved, and despised themselves while they did so, and yet had not the courage to resist; how, in short, he was one of those who are received and cherished in society (as the phrase is) by scores who individually would shrink from and be repelled by the object of their lavish regard; are things of course, which will suggest themselves. Matter so commonplace needs but a passing glance, and there an end.

The despisers of mankind — apart from the mere fools and mimics, of that creed — are of two sorts. They who believe their merit neglected and unappreciated, make up one class; they who receive adulation and flattery, knowing their own worthlessness, compose the other. Be sure that the coldest-hearted misanthropes are ever of this last order.

Mr Chester sat up in bed next morning, sipping his coffee, and remembering with a kind of contemptuous satisfaction how he had shone last night, and how he had been caressed and courted, when his servant brought in a very small scrap of dirty paper, tightly sealed in two places, on the inside whereof was inscribed in pretty large text these words: ‘A friend. Desiring of a conference. Immediate. Private. Burn it when you’ve read it.’

‘Where in the name of the Gunpowder Plot did you pick up this?’ said his master.

It was given him by a person then waiting at the door, the man replied.

‘With a cloak and dagger?’ said Mr Chester.

With nothing more threatening about him, it appeared, than a leather apron and a dirty face. ‘Let him come in.’ In he came — Mr Tappertit; with his hair still on end, and a great lock in his hand, which he put down on the floor in the middle of the chamber as if he were about to go through some performances in which it was a necessary agent.

‘Sir,’ said Mr Tappertit with a low bow, ‘I thank you for this condescension, and am glad to see you. Pardon the menial office in which I am engaged, sir, and extend your sympathies to one, who, humble as his appearance is, has inn’ard workings far above his station.’

Mr Chester held the bed-curtain farther back, and looked at him with a vague impression that he was some maniac, who had not only broken open the door of his place of confinement, but had brought away the lock. Mr Tappertit bowed again, and displayed his legs to the best advantage.

‘You have heard, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, laying his hand upon his breast, ‘of G. Varden Locksmith and bell-hanger and repairs neatly executed in town and country, Clerkenwell, London?’

‘What then?’ asked Mr Chester.

‘I’m his ‘prentice, sir.’

‘What THEN?’

‘Ahem!’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘Would you permit me to shut the door, sir, and will you further, sir, give me your honour bright, that what passes between us is in the strictest confidence?’

Mr Chester laid himself calmly down in bed again, and turning a perfectly undisturbed face towards the strange apparition, which had by this time closed the door, begged him to speak out, and to be as rational as he could, without putting himself to any very great personal inconvenience.

‘In the first place, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, producing a small pocket-handkerchief and shaking it out of the folds, ‘as I have not a card about me (for the envy of masters debases us below that level) allow me to offer the best substitute that circumstances will admit of. If you will take that in your own hand, sir, and cast your eye on the right-hand corner,’ said Mr Tappertit, offering it with a graceful air, ‘you will meet with my credentials.’

‘Thank you,’ answered Mr Chester, politely accepting it, and turning to some blood-red characters at one end. ‘“Four. Simon Tappertit. One.” Is that the —’

‘Without the numbers, sir, that is my name,’ replied the ‘prentice. ‘They are merely intended as directions to the washerwoman, and have no connection with myself or family. YOUR name, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, looking very hard at his nightcap, ‘is Chester, I suppose? You needn’t pull it off, sir, thank you. I observe E. C. from here. We will take the rest for granted.’

‘Pray, Mr Tappertit,’ said Mr Chester, ‘has that complicated piece of ironmongery which you have done me the favour to bring with you, any immediate connection with the business we are to discuss?’

‘It has not, sir,’ rejoined the ‘prentice. ‘It’s going to be fitted on a ware’us-door in Thames Street.’

‘Perhaps, as that is the case,’ said Mr Chester, ‘and as it has a stronger flavour of oil than I usually refresh my bedroom with, you will oblige me so far as to put it outside the door?’

‘By all means, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit, suiting the action to the word.

‘You’ll excuse my mentioning it, I hope?’

‘Don’t apologise, sir, I beg. And now, if you please, to business.’

During the whole of this dialogue, Mr Chester had suffered nothing but his smile of unvarying serenity and politeness to appear upon his face. Sim Tappertit, who had far too good an opinion of himself to suspect that anybody could be playing upon him, thought within himself that this was something like the respect to which he was entitled, and drew a comparison from this courteous demeanour of a stranger, by no means favourable to the worthy locksmith.

‘From what passes in our house,’ said Mr Tappertit, ‘I am aware, sir, that your son keeps company with a young lady against your inclinations. Sir, your son has not used me well.’

‘Mr Tappertit,’ said the other, ‘you grieve me beyond description.’

‘Thank you, sir,’ replied the ‘prentice. ‘I’m glad to hear you say so. He’s very proud, sir, is your son; very haughty.’

‘I am afraid he IS haughty,’ said Mr Chester. ‘Do you know I was really afraid of that before; and you confirm me?’

‘To recount the menial offices I’ve had to do for your son, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit; ‘the chairs I’ve had to hand him, the coaches I’ve had to call for him, the numerous degrading duties, wholly unconnected with my indenters, that I’ve had to do for him, would fill a family Bible. Besides which, sir, he is but a young man himself and I do not consider “thank’ee Sim,” a proper form of address on those occasions.’

‘Mr Tappertit, your wisdom is beyond your years. Pray go on.’

‘I thank you for your good opinion, sir,’ said Sim, much gratified, ‘and will endeavour so to do. Now sir, on this account (and perhaps for another reason or two which I needn’t go into) I am on your side. And what I tell you is this — that as long as our people go backwards and forwards, to and fro, up and down, to that there jolly old Maypole, lettering, and messaging, and fetching and carrying, you couldn’t help your son keeping company with that young lady by deputy — not if he was minded night and day by all the Horse Guards, and every man of ’em in the very fullest uniform.’

Mr Tappertit stopped to take breath after this, and then started fresh again.

‘Now, sir, I am a coming to the point. You will inquire of me, “how is this to he prevented?” I’ll tell you how. If an honest, civil, smiling gentleman like you —’

‘Mr Tappertit — really —’

‘No, no, I’m serious,’ rejoined the ‘prentice, ‘I am, upon my soul. If an honest, civil, smiling gentleman like you, was to talk but ten minutes to our old woman — that’s Mrs Varden — and flatter her up a bit, you’d gain her over for ever. Then there’s this point got — that her daughter Dolly,’— here a flush came over Mr Tappertit’s face —‘wouldn’t be allowed to be a go-between from that time forward; and till that point’s got, there’s nothing ever will prevent her. Mind that.’

‘Mr Tappertit, your knowledge of human nature —’

‘Wait a minute,’ said Sim, folding his arms with a dreadful calmness. ‘Now I come to THE point. Sir, there is a villain at that Maypole, a monster in human shape, a vagabond of the deepest dye, that unless you get rid of and have kidnapped and carried off at the very least — nothing less will do — will marry your son to that young woman, as certainly and as surely as if he was the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. He will, sir, for the hatred and malice that he bears to you; let alone the pleasure of doing a bad action, which to him is its own reward. If you knew how this chap, this Joseph Willet — that’s his name — comes backwards and forwards to our house, libelling, and denouncing, and threatening you, and how I shudder when I hear him, you’d hate him worse than I do — worse than I do, sir,’ said Mr Tappertit wildly, putting his hair up straighter, and making a crunching noise with his teeth; ‘if sich a thing is possible.’

‘A little private vengeance in this, Mr Tappertit?’

‘Private vengeance, sir, or public sentiment, or both combined — destroy him,’ said Mr Tappertit. ‘Miggs says so too. Miggs and me both say so. We can’t bear the plotting and undermining that takes place. Our souls recoil from it. Barnaby Rudge and Mrs Rudge are in it likewise; but the villain, Joseph Willet, is the ringleader. Their plottings and schemes are known to me and Miggs. If you want information of ’em, apply to us. Put Joseph Willet down, sir. Destroy him. Crush him. And be happy.’

With these words, Mr Tappertit, who seemed to expect no reply, and to hold it as a necessary consequence of his eloquence that his hearer should be utterly stunned, dumbfoundered, and overwhelmed, folded his arms so that the palm of each hand rested on the opposite shoulder, and disappeared after the manner of those mysterious warners of whom he had read in cheap story-books.

‘That fellow,’ said Mr Chester, relaxing his face when he was fairly gone, ‘is good practice. I HAVE some command of my features, beyond all doubt. He fully confirms what I suspected, though; and blunt tools are sometimes found of use, where sharper instruments would fail. I fear I may be obliged to make great havoc among these worthy people. A troublesome necessity! I quite feel for them.’

With that he fell into a quiet slumber:— subsided into such a gentle, pleasant sleep, that it was quite infantine.

Chapter 25

Leaving the favoured, and well-received, and flattered of the world; him of the world most worldly, who never compromised himself by an ungentlemanly action, and never was guilty of a manly one; to lie smilingly asleep — for even sleep, working but little change in his dissembling face, became with him a piece of cold, conventional hypocrisy — we follow in the steps of two slow travellers on foot, making towards Chigwell.

Barnaby and his mother. Grip in their company, of course.

The widow, to whom each painful mile seemed longer than the last, toiled wearily along; while Barnaby, yielding to every inconstant impulse, fluttered here and there, now leaving her far behind, now lingering far behind himself, now darting into some by-lane or path and leaving her to pursue her way alone, until he stealthily emerged again and came upon her with a wild shout of merriment, as his wayward and capricious nature prompted. Now he would call to her from the topmost branch of some high tree by the roadside; now using his tall staff as a leaping-pole, come flying over ditch or hedge or five-barred gate; now run with surprising swiftness for a mile or more on the straight road, and halting, sport upon a patch of grass with Grip till she came up. These were his delights; and when his patient mother heard his merry voice, or looked into his flushed and healthy face, she would not have abated them by one sad word or murmur, though each had been to her a source of suffering in the same degree as it was to him of pleasure.

It is something to look upon enjoyment, so that it be free and wild and in the face of nature, though it is but the enjoyment of an idiot. It is something to know that Heaven has left the capacity of gladness in such a creature’s breast; it is something to be assured that, however lightly men may crush that faculty in their fellows, the Great Creator of mankind imparts it even to his despised and slighted work. Who would not rather see a poor idiot happy in the sunlight, than a wise man pining in a darkened jail!

Ye men of gloom and austerity, who paint the face of Infinite Benevolence with an eternal frown; read in the Everlasting Book, wide open to your view, the lesson it would teach. Its pictures are not in black and sombre hues, but bright and glowing tints; its music — save when ye drown it — is not in sighs and groans, but songs and cheerful sounds. Listen to the million voices in the summer air, and find one dismal as your own. Remember, if ye can, the sense of hope and pleasure which every glad return of day awakens in the breast of all your kind who have not changed their nature; and learn some wisdom even from the witless, when their hearts are lifted up they know not why, by all the mirth and happiness it brings.

The widow’s breast was full of care, was laden heavily with secret dread and sorrow; but her boy’s gaiety of heart gladdened her, and beguiled the long journey. Sometimes he would bid her lean upon his arm, and would keep beside her steadily for a short distance; but it was more his nature to be rambling to and fro, and she better liked to see him free and happy, even than to have him near her, because she loved him better than herself.

She had quitted the place to which they were travelling, directly after the event which had changed her whole existence; and for two-and-twenty years had never had courage to revisit it. It was her native village. How many recollections crowded on her mind when it appeared in sight!

Two-and-twenty years. Her boy’s whole life and history. The last time she looked back upon those roofs among the trees, she carried him in her arms, an infant. How often since that time had she sat beside him night and day, watching for the dawn of mind that never came; how had she feared, and doubted, and yet hoped, long after conviction forced itself upon her! The little stratagems she had devised to try him, the little tokens he had given in his childish way — not of dulness but of something infinitely worse, so ghastly and unchildlike in its cunning — came back as vividly as if but yesterday had intervened. The room in which they used to be; the spot in which his cradle stood; he, old and elfin-like in face, but ever dear to her, gazing at her with a wild and vacant eye, and crooning some uncouth song as she sat by and rocked him; every circumstance of his infancy came thronging back, and the most trivial, perhaps, the most distinctly.

His older childhood, too; the strange imaginings he had; his terror of certain senseless things — familiar objects he endowed with life; the slow and gradual breaking out of that one horror, in which, before his birth, his darkened intellect began; how, in the midst of all, she had found some hope and comfort in his being unlike another child, and had gone on almost believing in the slow development of his mind until he grew a man, and then his childhood was complete and lasting; one after another, all these old thoughts sprung up within her, strong after their long slumber and bitterer than ever.

She took his arm and they hurried through the village street. It was the same as it was wont to be in old times, yet different too, and wore another air. The change was in herself, not it; but she never thought of that, and wondered at its alteration, and where it lay, and what it was.

The people all knew Barnaby, and the children of the place came flocking round him — as she remembered to have done with their fathers and mothers round some silly beggarman, when a child herself. None of them knew her; they passed each well-remembered house, and yard, and homestead; and striking into the fields, were soon alone again.

The Warren was the end of their journey. Mr Haredale was walking in the garden, and seeing them as they passed the iron gate, unlocked it, and bade them enter that way.

‘At length you have mustered heart to visit the old place,’ he said to the widow. ‘I am glad you have.’

‘For the first time, and the last, sir,’ she replied.

‘The first for many years, but not the last?’

‘The very last.’

‘You mean,’ said Mr Haredale, regarding her with some surprise, ‘that having made this effort, you are resolved not to persevere and are determined to relapse? This is unworthy of you. I have often told you, you should return here. You would be happier here than elsewhere, I know. As to Barnaby, it’s quite his home.’

‘And Grip’s,’ said Barnaby, holding the basket open. The raven hopped gravely out, and perching on his shoulder and addressing himself to Mr Haredale, cried — as a hint, perhaps, that some temperate refreshment would be acceptable —‘Polly put the ket-tle on, we’ll all have tea!’

‘Hear me, Mary,’ said Mr Haredale kindly, as he motioned her to walk with him towards the house. ‘Your life has been an example of patience and fortitude, except in this one particular which has often given me great pain. It is enough to know that you were cruelly involved in the calamity which deprived me of an only brother, and Emma of her father, without being obliged to suppose (as I sometimes am) that you associate us with the author of our joint misfortunes.’

‘Associate you with him, sir!’ she cried.

‘Indeed,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘I think you do. I almost believe that because your husband was bound by so many ties to our relation, and died in his service and defence, you have come in some sort to connect us with his murder.’

‘Alas!’ she answered. ‘You little know my heart, sir. You little know the truth!’

‘It is natural you should do so; it is very probable you may, without being conscious of it,’ said Mr Haredale, speaking more to himself than her. ‘We are a fallen house. Money, dispensed with the most lavish hand, would be a poor recompense for sufferings like yours; and thinly scattered by hands so pinched and tied as ours, it becomes a miserable mockery. I feel it so, God knows,’ he added, hastily. ‘Why should I wonder if she does!’

‘You do me wrong, dear sir, indeed,’ she rejoined with great earnestness; ‘and yet when you come to hear what I desire your leave to say —’

‘I shall find my doubts confirmed?’ he said, observing that she faltered and became confused. ‘Well!’

He quickened his pace for a few steps, but fell back again to her side, and said:

‘And have you come all this way at last, solely to speak to me?’

She answered, ‘Yes.’

‘A curse,’ he muttered, ‘upon the wretched state of us proud beggars, from whom the poor and rich are equally at a distance; the one being forced to treat us with a show of cold respect; the other condescending to us in their every deed and word, and keeping more aloof, the nearer they approach us. — Why, if it were pain to you (as it must have been) to break for this slight purpose the chain of habit forged through two-and-twenty years, could you not let me know your wish, and beg me to come to you?’

‘There was not time, sir,’ she rejoined. ‘I took my resolution but last night, and taking it, felt that I must not lose a day — a day! an hour — in having speech with you.’

They had by this time reached the house. Mr Haredale paused for a moment, and looked at her as if surprised by the energy of her manner. Observing, however, that she took no heed of him, but glanced up, shuddering, at the old walls with which such horrors were connected in her mind, he led her by a private stair into his library, where Emma was seated in a window, reading.

The young lady, seeing who approached, hastily rose and laid aside her book, and with many kind words, and not without tears, gave her a warm and earnest welcome. But the widow shrunk from her embrace as though she feared her, and sunk down trembling on a chair.

‘It is the return to this place after so long an absence,’ said Emma gently. ‘Pray ring, dear uncle — or stay — Barnaby will run himself and ask for wine —’

‘Not for the world,’ she cried. ‘It would have another taste — I could not touch it. I want but a minute’s rest. Nothing but that.’

Miss Haredale stood beside her chair, regarding her with silent pity. She remained for a little time quite still; then rose and turned to Mr Haredale, who had sat down in his easy chair, and was contemplating her with fixed attention.

The tale connected with the mansion borne in mind, it seemed, as has been already said, the chosen theatre for such a deed as it had known. The room in which this group were now assembled — hard by the very chamber where the act was done — dull, dark, and sombre; heavy with worm-eaten books; deadened and shut in by faded hangings, muffling every sound; shadowed mournfully by trees whose rustling boughs gave ever and anon a spectral knocking at the glass; wore, beyond all others in the house, a ghostly, gloomy air. Nor were the group assembled there, unfitting tenants of the spot. The widow, with her marked and startling face and downcast eyes; Mr Haredale stern and despondent ever; his niece beside him, like, yet most unlike, the picture of her father, which gazed reproachfully down upon them from the blackened wall; Barnaby, with his vacant look and restless eye; were all in keeping with the place, and actors in the legend. Nay, the very raven, who had hopped upon the table and with the air of some old necromancer appeared to be profoundly studying a great folio volume that lay open on a desk, was strictly in unison with the rest, and looked like the embodied spirit of evil biding his time of mischief.

‘I scarcely know,’ said the widow, breaking silence, ‘how to begin. You will think my mind disordered.’

‘The whole tenor of your quiet and reproachless life since you were last here,’ returned Mr Haredale, mildly, ‘shall bear witness for you. Why do you fear to awaken such a suspicion? You do not speak to strangers. You have not to claim our interest or consideration for the first time. Be more yourself. Take heart. Any advice or assistance that I can give you, you know is yours of right, and freely yours.’

‘What if I came, sir,’ she rejoined, ‘I who have but one other friend on earth, to reject your aid from this moment, and to say that henceforth I launch myself upon the world, alone and unassisted, to sink or swim as Heaven may decree!’

‘You would have, if you came to me for such a purpose,’ said Mr Haredale calmly, ‘some reason to assign for conduct so extraordinary, which — if one may entertain the possibility of anything so wild and strange — would have its weight, of course.’

‘That, sir,’ she answered, ‘is the misery of my distress. I can give no reason whatever. My own bare word is all that I can offer. It is my duty, my imperative and bounden duty. If I did not discharge it, I should be a base and guilty wretch. Having said that, my lips are sealed, and I can say no more.’

As though she felt relieved at having said so much, and had nerved herself to the remainder of her task, she spoke from this time with a firmer voice and heightened courage.

‘Heaven is my witness, as my own heart is — and yours, dear young lady, will speak for me, I know — that I have lived, since that time we all have bitter reason to remember, in unchanging devotion, and gratitude to this family. Heaven is my witness that go where I may, I shall preserve those feelings unimpaired. And it is my witness, too, that they alone impel me to the course I must take, and from which nothing now shall turn me, as I hope for mercy.’

‘These are strange riddles,’ said Mr Haredale.

‘In this world, sir,’ she replied, ‘they may, perhaps, never be explained. In another, the Truth will be discovered in its own good time. And may that time,’ she added in a low voice, ‘be far distant!’

‘Let me be sure,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘that I understand you, for I am doubtful of my own senses. Do you mean that you are resolved voluntarily to deprive yourself of those means of support you have received from us so long — that you are determined to resign the annuity we settled on you twenty years ago — to leave house, and home, and goods, and begin life anew — and this, for some secret reason or monstrous fancy which is incapable of explanation, which only now exists, and has been dormant all this time? In the name of God, under what delusion are you labouring?’

‘As I am deeply thankful,’ she made answer, ‘for the kindness of those, alive and dead, who have owned this house; and as I would not have its roof fall down and crush me, or its very walls drip blood, my name being spoken in their hearing; I never will again subsist upon their bounty, or let it help me to subsistence. You do not know,’ she added, suddenly, ‘to what uses it may be applied; into what hands it may pass. I do, and I renounce it.’

‘Surely,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘its uses rest with you.’

‘They did. They rest with me no longer. It may be — it IS— devoted to purposes that mock the dead in their graves. It never can prosper with me. It will bring some other heavy judgement on the head of my dear son, whose innocence will suffer for his mother’s guilt.’

‘What words are these!’ cried Mr Haredale, regarding her with wonder. ‘Among what associates have you fallen? Into what guilt have you ever been betrayed?’

‘I am guilty, and yet innocent; wrong, yet right; good in intention, though constrained to shield and aid the bad. Ask me no more questions, sir; but believe that I am rather to be pitied than condemned. I must leave my house to-morrow, for while I stay there, it is haunted. My future dwelling, if I am to live in peace, must be a secret. If my poor boy should ever stray this way, do not tempt him to disclose it or have him watched when he returns; for if we are hunted, we must fly again. And now this load is off my mind, I beseech you — and you, dear Miss Haredale, too — to trust me if you can, and think of me kindly as you have been used to do. If I die and cannot tell my secret even then (for that may come to pass), it will sit the lighter on my breast in that hour for this day’s work; and on that day, and every day until it comes, I will pray for and thank you both, and trouble you no more.

With that, she would have left them, but they detained her, and with many soothing words and kind entreaties, besought her to consider what she did, and above all to repose more freely upon them, and say what weighed so sorely on her mind. Finding her deaf to their persuasions, Mr Haredale suggested, as a last resource, that she should confide in Emma, of whom, as a young person and one of her own sex, she might stand in less dread than of himself. From this proposal, however, she recoiled with the same indescribable repugnance she had manifested when they met. The utmost that could be wrung from her was, a promise that she would receive Mr Haredale at her own house next evening, and in the mean time reconsider her determination and their dissuasions — though any change on her part, as she told them, was quite hopeless. This condition made at last, they reluctantly suffered her to depart, since she would neither eat nor drink within the house; and she, and Barnaby, and Grip, accordingly went out as they had come, by the private stair and garden-gate; seeing and being seen of no one by the way.

It was remarkable in the raven that during the whole interview he had kept his eye on his book with exactly the air of a very sly human rascal, who, under the mask of pretending to read hard, was listening to everything. He still appeared to have the conversation very strongly in his mind, for although, when they were alone again, he issued orders for the instant preparation of innumerable kettles for purposes of tea, he was thoughtful, and rather seemed to do so from an abstract sense of duty, than with any regard to making himself agreeable, or being what is commonly called good company.

They were to return by the coach. As there was an interval of full two hours before it started, and they needed rest and some refreshment, Barnaby begged hard for a visit to the Maypole. But his mother, who had no wish to be recognised by any of those who had known her long ago, and who feared besides that Mr Haredale might, on second thoughts, despatch some messenger to that place of entertainment in quest of her, proposed to wait in the churchyard instead. As it was easy for Barnaby to buy and carry thither such humble viands as they required, he cheerfully assented, and in the churchyard they sat down to take their frugal dinner.

Here again, the raven was in a highly reflective state; walking up and down when he had dined, with an air of elderly complacency which was strongly suggestive of his having his hands under his coat-tails; and appearing to read the tombstones with a very critical taste. Sometimes, after a long inspection of an epitaph, he would strop his beak upon the grave to which it referred, and cry in his hoarse tones, ‘I’m a devil, I’m a devil, I’m a devil!’ but whether he addressed his observations to any supposed person below, or merely threw them off as a general remark, is matter of uncertainty.

It was a quiet pretty spot, but a sad one for Barnaby’s mother; for Mr Reuben Haredale lay there, and near the vault in which his ashes rested, was a stone to the memory of her own husband, with a brief inscription recording how and when he had lost his life. She sat here, thoughtful and apart, until their time was out, and the distant horn told that the coach was coming.

Barnaby, who had been sleeping on the grass, sprung up quickly at the sound; and Grip, who appeared to understand it equally well, walked into his basket straightway, entreating society in general (as though he intended a kind of satire upon them in connection with churchyards) never to say die on any terms. They were soon on the coach-top and rolling along the road.

It went round by the Maypole, and stopped at the door. Joe was from home, and Hugh came sluggishly out to hand up the parcel that it called for. There was no fear of old John coming out. They could see him from the coach-roof fast asleep in his cosy bar. It was a part of John’s character. He made a point of going to sleep at the coach’s time. He despised gadding about; he looked upon coaches as things that ought to be indicted; as disturbers of the peace of mankind; as restless, bustling, busy, horn-blowing contrivances, quite beneath the dignity of men, and only suited to giddy girls that did nothing but chatter and go a-shopping. ‘We know nothing about coaches here, sir,’ John would say, if any unlucky stranger made inquiry touching the offensive vehicles; ‘we don’t book for ’em; we’d rather not; they’re more trouble than they’re worth, with their noise and rattle. If you like to wait for ’em you can; but we don’t know anything about ’em; they may call and they may not — there’s a carrier — he was looked upon as quite good enough for us, when I was a boy.’

She dropped her veil as Hugh climbed up, and while he hung behind, and talked to Barnaby in whispers. But neither he nor any other person spoke to her, or noticed her, or had any curiosity about her; and so, an alien, she visited and left the village where she had been born, and had lived a merry child, a comely girl, a happy wife — where she had known all her enjoyment of life, and had entered on its hardest sorrows.

Chapter 26

‘And you’re not surprised to hear this, Varden?’ said Mr Haredale. ‘Well! You and she have always been the best friends, and you should understand her if anybody does.’

‘I ask your pardon, sir,’ rejoined the locksmith. ‘I didn’t say I understood her. I wouldn’t have the presumption to say that of any woman. It’s not so easily done. But I am not so much surprised, sir, as you expected me to be, certainly.’

‘May I ask why not, my good friend?’

‘I have seen, sir,’ returned the locksmith with evident reluctance, ‘I have seen in connection with her, something that has filled me with distrust and uneasiness. She has made bad friends, how, or when, I don’t know; but that her house is a refuge for one robber and cut-throat at least, I am certain. There, sir! Now it’s out.’

‘Varden!’

‘My own eyes, sir, are my witnesses, and for her sake I would be willingly half-blind, if I could but have the pleasure of mistrusting ’em. I have kept the secret till now, and it will go no further than yourself, I know; but I tell you that with my own eyes — broad awake — I saw, in the passage of her house one evening after dark, the highwayman who robbed and wounded Mr Edward Chester, and on the same night threatened me.’

‘And you made no effort to detain him?’ said Mr Haredale quickly.

‘Sir,’ returned the locksmith, ‘she herself prevented me — held me, with all her strength, and hung about me until he had got clear off.’ And having gone so far, he related circumstantially all that had passed upon the night in question.

This dialogue was held in a low tone in the locksmith’s little parlour, into which honest Gabriel had shown his visitor on his arrival. Mr Haredale had called upon him to entreat his company to the widow’s, that he might have the assistance of his persuasion and influence; and out of this circumstance the conversation had arisen.

‘I forbore,’ said Gabriel, ‘from repeating one word of this to anybody, as it could do her no good and might do her great harm. I thought and hoped, to say the truth, that she would come to me, and talk to me about it, and tell me how it was; but though I have purposely put myself in her way more than once or twice, she has never touched upon the subject — except by a look. And indeed,’ said the good-natured locksmith, ‘there was a good deal in the look, more than could have been put into a great many words. It said among other matters “Don’t ask me anything” so imploringly, that I didn’t ask her anything. You’ll think me an old fool, I know, sir. If it’s any relief to call me one, pray do.’

‘I am greatly disturbed by what you tell me,’ said Mr Haredale, after a silence. ‘What meaning do you attach to it?’

The locksmith shook his head, and looked doubtfully out of window at the failing light.

‘She cannot have married again,’ said Mr Haredale.

‘Not without our knowledge surely, sir.’

‘She may have done so, in the fear that it would lead, if known, to some objection or estrangement. Suppose she married incautiously — it is not improbable, for her existence has been a lonely and monotonous one for many years — and the man turned out a ruffian, she would be anxious to screen him, and yet would revolt from his crimes. This might be. It bears strongly on the whole drift of her discourse yesterday, and would quite explain her conduct. Do you suppose Barnaby is privy to these circumstances?’

‘Quite impossible to say, sir,’ returned the locksmith, shaking his head again: ‘and next to impossible to find out from him. If what you suppose is really the case, I tremble for the lad — a notable person, sir, to put to bad uses —’

‘It is not possible, Varden,’ said Mr Haredale, in a still lower tone of voice than he had spoken yet, ‘that we have been blinded and deceived by this woman from the beginning? It is not possible that this connection was formed in her husband’s lifetime, and led to his and my brother’s —’

‘Good God, sir,’ cried Gabriel, interrupting him, ‘don’t entertain such dark thoughts for a moment. Five-and-twenty years ago, where was there a girl like her? A gay, handsome, laughing, bright-eyed damsel! Think what she was, sir. It makes my heart ache now, even now, though I’m an old man, with a woman for a daughter, to think what she was and what she is. We all change, but that’s with Time; Time does his work honestly, and I don’t mind him. A fig for Time, sir. Use him well, and he’s a hearty fellow, and scorns to have you at a disadvantage. But care and suffering (and those have changed her) are devils, sir — secret, stealthy, undermining devils — who tread down the brightest flowers in Eden, and do more havoc in a month than Time does in a year. Picture to yourself for one minute what Mary was before they went to work with her fresh heart and face — do her that justice — and say whether such a thing is possible.’

‘You’re a good fellow, Varden,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘and are quite right. I have brooded on that subject so long, that every breath of suspicion carries me back to it. You are quite right.’

‘It isn’t, sir,’ cried the locksmith with brightened eyes, and sturdy, honest voice; ‘it isn’t because I courted her before Rudge, and failed, that I say she was too good for him. She would have been as much too good for me. But she WAS too good for him; he wasn’t free and frank enough for her. I don’t reproach his memory with it, poor fellow; I only want to put her before you as she really was. For myself, I’ll keep her old picture in my mind; and thinking of that, and what has altered her, I’ll stand her friend, and try to win her back to peace. And damme, sir,’ cried Gabriel, ‘with your pardon for the word, I’d do the same if she had married fifty highwaymen in a twelvemonth; and think it in the Protestant Manual too, though Martha said it wasn’t, tooth and nail, till doomsday!’

If the dark little parlour had been filled with a dense fog, which, clearing away in an instant, left it all radiance and brightness, it could not have been more suddenly cheered than by this outbreak on the part of the hearty locksmith. In a voice nearly as full and round as his own, Mr Haredale cried ‘Well said!’ and bade him come away without more parley. The locksmith complied right willingly; and both getting into a hackney coach which was waiting at the door, drove off straightway.

They alighted at the street corner, and dismissing their conveyance, walked to the house. To their first knock at the door there was no response. A second met with the like result. But in answer to the third, which was of a more vigorous kind, the parlour window-sash was gently raised, and a musical voice cried:

‘Haredale, my dear fellow, I am extremely glad to see you. How very much you have improved in your appearance since our last meeting! I never saw you looking better. HOW do you do?’

Mr Haredale turned his eyes towards the casement whence the voice proceeded, though there was no need to do so, to recognise the speaker, and Mr Chester waved his hand, and smiled a courteous welcome.

‘The door will be opened immediately,’ he said. ‘There is nobody but a very dilapidated female to perform such offices. You will excuse her infirmities? If she were in a more elevated station of society, she would be gouty. Being but a hewer of wood and drawer of water, she is rheumatic. My dear Haredale, these are natural class distinctions, depend upon it.’

Mr Haredale, whose face resumed its lowering and distrustful look the moment he heard the voice, inclined his head stiffly, and turned his back upon the speaker.

‘Not opened yet,’ said Mr Chester. ‘Dear me! I hope the aged soul has not caught her foot in some unlucky cobweb by the way. She is there at last! Come in, I beg!’

Mr Haredale entered, followed by the locksmith. Turning with a look of great astonishment to the old woman who had opened the door, he inquired for Mrs Rudge — for Barnaby. They were both gone, she replied, wagging her ancient head, for good. There was a gentleman in the parlour, who perhaps could tell them more. That was all SHE knew.

‘Pray, sir,’ said Mr Haredale, presenting himself before this new tenant, ‘where is the person whom I came here to see?’

‘My dear friend,’ he returned, ‘I have not the least idea.’

‘Your trifling is ill-timed,’ retorted the other in a suppressed tone and voice, ‘and its subject ill-chosen. Reserve it for those who are your friends, and do not expend it on me. I lay no claim to the distinction, and have the self-denial to reject it.’

‘My dear, good sir,’ said Mr Chester, ‘you are heated with walking. Sit down, I beg. Our friend is —’

‘Is but a plain honest man,’ returned Mr Haredale, ‘and quite unworthy of your notice.’

‘Gabriel Varden by name, sir,’ said the locksmith bluntly.

‘A worthy English yeoman!’ said Mr Chester. ‘A most worthy yeoman, of whom I have frequently heard my son Ned — darling fellow — speak, and have often wished to see. Varden, my good friend, I am glad to know you. You wonder now,’ he said, turning languidly to Mr Haredale, ‘to see me here. Now, I am sure you do.’

Mr Haredale glanced at him — not fondly or admiringly — smiled, and held his peace.

‘The mystery is solved in a moment,’ said Mr Chester; ‘in a moment. Will you step aside with me one instant. You remember our little compact in reference to Ned, and your dear niece, Haredale? You remember the list of assistants in their innocent intrigue? You remember these two people being among them? My dear fellow, congratulate yourself, and me. I have bought them off.’

‘You have done what?’ said Mr Haredale.

‘Bought them off,’ returned his smiling friend. ‘I have found it necessary to take some active steps towards setting this boy and girl attachment quite at rest, and have begun by removing these two agents. You are surprised? Who CAN withstand the influence of a little money! They wanted it, and have been bought off. We have nothing more to fear from them. They are gone.’

‘Gone!’ echoed Mr Haredale. ‘Where?’

‘My dear fellow — and you must permit me to say again, that you never looked so young; so positively boyish as you do to-night — the Lord knows where; I believe Columbus himself wouldn’t find them. Between you and me they have their hidden reasons, but upon that point I have pledged myself to secrecy. She appointed to see you here to-night, I know, but found it inconvenient, and couldn’t wait. Here is the key of the door. I am afraid you’ll find it inconveniently large; but as the tenement is yours, your good-nature will excuse that, Haredale, I am certain!’

Chapter 27

Mr Haredale stood in the widow’s parlour with the door-key in his hand, gazing by turns at Mr Chester and at Gabriel Varden, and occasionally glancing downward at the key as in the hope that of its own accord it would unlock the mystery; until Mr Chester, putting on his hat and gloves, and sweetly inquiring whether they were walking in the same direction, recalled him to himself.

‘No,’ he said. ‘Our roads diverge — widely, as you know. For the present, I shall remain here.’

‘You will be hipped, Haredale; you will be miserable, melancholy, utterly wretched,’ returned the other. ‘It’s a place of the very last description for a man of your temper. I know it will make you very miserable.’

‘Let it,’ said Mr Haredale, sitting down; ‘and thrive upon the thought. Good night!’

Feigning to be wholly unconscious of the abrupt wave of the hand which rendered this farewell tantamount to a dismissal, Mr Chester retorted with a bland and heartfelt benediction, and inquired of Gabriel in what direction HE was going.

‘Yours, sir, would be too much honour for the like of me,’ replied the locksmith, hesitating.

‘I wish you to remain here a little while, Varden,’ said Mr Haredale, without looking towards them. ‘I have a word or two to say to you.’

‘I will not intrude upon your conference another moment,’ said Mr Chester with inconceivable politeness. ‘May it be satisfactory to you both! God bless you!’ So saying, and bestowing upon the locksmith a most refulgent smile, he left them.

‘A deplorably constituted creature, that rugged person,’ he said, as he walked along the street; ‘he is an atrocity that carries its own punishment along with it — a bear that gnaws himself. And here is one of the inestimable advantages of having a perfect command over one’s inclinations. I have been tempted in these two short interviews, to draw upon that fellow, fifty times. Five men in six would have yielded to the impulse. By suppressing mine, I wound him deeper and more keenly than if I were the best swordsman in all Europe, and he the worst. You are the wise man’s very last resource,’ he said, tapping the hilt of his weapon; ‘we can but appeal to you when all else is said and done. To come to you before, and thereby spare our adversaries so much, is a barbarian mode of warfare, quite unworthy of any man with the remotest pretensions to delicacy of feeling, or refinement.’

He smiled so very pleasantly as he communed with himself after this manner, that a beggar was emboldened to follow for alms, and to dog his footsteps for some distance. He was gratified by the circumstance, feeling it complimentary to his power of feature, and as a reward suffered the man to follow him until he called a chair, when he graciously dismissed him with a fervent blessing.

‘Which is as easy as cursing,’ he wisely added, as he took his seat, ‘and more becoming to the face. — To Clerkenwell, my good creatures, if you please!’ The chairmen were rendered quite vivacious by having such a courteous burden, and to Clerkenwell they went at a fair round trot.

Alighting at a certain point he had indicated to them upon the road, and paying them something less than they expected from a fare of such gentle speech, he turned into the street in which the locksmith dwelt, and presently stood beneath the shadow of the Golden Key. Mr Tappertit, who was hard at work by lamplight, in a corner of the workshop, remained unconscious of his presence until a hand upon his shoulder made him start and turn his head.

‘Industry,’ said Mr Chester, ‘is the soul of business, and the keystone of prosperity. Mr Tappertit, I shall expect you to invite me to dinner when you are Lord Mayor of London.’

‘Sir,’ returned the ‘prentice, laying down his hammer, and rubbing his nose on the back of a very sooty hand, ‘I scorn the Lord Mayor and everything that belongs to him. We must have another state of society, sir, before you catch me being Lord Mayor. How de do, sir?’

‘The better, Mr Tappertit, for looking into your ingenuous face once more. I hope you are well.’

‘I am as well, sir,’ said Sim, standing up to get nearer to his ear, and whispering hoarsely, ‘as any man can be under the aggrawations to which I am exposed. My life’s a burden to me. If it wasn’t for wengeance, I’d play at pitch and toss with it on the losing hazard.’

‘Is Mrs Varden at home?’ said Mr Chester.

‘Sir,’ returned Sim, eyeing him over with a look of concentrated expression — ‘she is. Did you wish to see her?’

Mr Chester nodded.

‘Then come this way, sir,’ said Sim, wiping his face upon his apron. ‘Follow me, sir. — Would you permit me to whisper in your ear, one half a second?’

‘By all means.’

Mr Tappertit raised himself on tiptoe, applied his lips to Mr Chester’s ear, drew back his head without saying anything, looked hard at him, applied them to his ear again, again drew back, and finally whispered —‘The name is Joseph Willet. Hush! I say no more.’

Having said that much, he beckoned the visitor with a mysterious aspect to follow him to the parlour-door, where he announced him in the voice of a gentleman-usher. ‘Mr Chester.’

‘And not Mr Ed’dard, mind,’ said Sim, looking into the door again, and adding this by way of postscript in his own person; ‘it’s his father.’

‘But do not let his father,’ said Mr Chester, advancing hat in hand, as he observed the effect of this last explanatory announcement, ‘do not let his father be any check or restraint on your domestic occupations, Miss Varden.’

‘Oh! Now! There! An’t I always a-saying it!’ exclaimed Miggs, clapping her hands. ‘If he an’t been and took Missis for her own daughter. Well, she DO look like it, that she do. Only think of that, mim!’

‘Is it possible,’ said Mr Chester in his softest tones, ‘that this is Mrs Varden! I am amazed. That is not your daughter, Mrs Varden? No, no. Your sister.’

‘My daughter, indeed, sir,’ returned Mrs V., blushing with great juvenility.

‘Ah, Mrs Varden!’ cried the visitor. ‘Ah, ma’am — humanity is indeed a happy lot, when we can repeat ourselves in others, and still be young as they. You must allow me to salute you — the custom of the country, my dear madam — your daughter too.’

Dolly showed some reluctance to perform this ceremony, but was sharply reproved by Mrs Varden, who insisted on her undergoing it that minute. For pride, she said with great severity, was one of the seven deadly sins, and humility and lowliness of heart were virtues. Wherefore she desired that Dolly would be kissed immediately, on pain of her just displeasure; at the same time giving her to understand that whatever she saw her mother do, she might safely do herself, without being at the trouble of any reasoning or reflection on the subject — which, indeed, was offensive and undutiful, and in direct contravention of the church catechism.

Thus admonished, Dolly complied, though by no means willingly; for there was a broad, bold look of admiration in Mr Chester’s face, refined and polished though it sought to be, which distressed her very much. As she stood with downcast eyes, not liking to look up and meet his, he gazed upon her with an approving air, and then turned to her mother.

‘My friend Gabriel (whose acquaintance I only made this very evening) should be a happy man, Mrs Varden.’

‘Ah!’ sighed Mrs V., shaking her head.

‘Ah!’ echoed Miggs.

‘Is that the case?’ said Mr Chester, compassionately. ‘Dear me!’

‘Master has no intentions, sir,’ murmured Miggs as she sidled up to him, ‘but to be as grateful as his natur will let him, for everythink he owns which it is in his powers to appreciate. But we never, sir’— said Miggs, looking sideways at Mrs Varden, and interlarding her discourse with a sigh —‘we never know the full value of SOME wines and fig-trees till we lose ’em. So much the worse, sir, for them as has the slighting of ’em on their consciences when they’re gone to be in full blow elsewhere.’ And Miss Miggs cast up her eyes to signify where that might be.

As Mrs Varden distinctly heard, and was intended to hear, all that Miggs said, and as these words appeared to convey in metaphorical terms a presage or foreboding that she would at some early period droop beneath her trials and take an easy flight towards the stars, she immediately began to languish, and taking a volume of the Manual from a neighbouring table, leant her arm upon it as though she were Hope and that her Anchor. Mr Chester perceiving this, and seeing how the volume was lettered on the back, took it gently from her hand, and turned the fluttering leaves.

‘My favourite book, dear madam. How often, how very often in his early life — before he can remember’—(this clause was strictly true) ‘have I deduced little easy moral lessons from its pages, for my dear son Ned! You know Ned?’

Mrs Varden had that honour, and a fine affable young gentleman he was.

‘You’re a mother, Mrs Varden,’ said Mr Chester, taking a pinch of snuff, ‘and you know what I, as a father, feel, when he is praised. He gives me some uneasiness — much uneasiness — he’s of a roving nature, ma’am — from flower to flower — from sweet to sweet — but his is the butterfly time of life, and we must not be hard upon such trifling.’

He glanced at Dolly. She was attending evidently to what he said. Just what he desired!

‘The only thing I object to in this little trait of Ned’s, is,’ said Mr Chester, ‘— and the mention of his name reminds me, by the way, that I am about to beg the favour of a minute’s talk with you alone — the only thing I object to in it, is, that it DOES partake of insincerity. Now, however I may attempt to disguise the fact from myself in my affection for Ned, still I always revert to this — that if we are not sincere, we are nothing. Nothing upon earth. Let us be sincere, my dear madam —’

‘— and Protestant,’ murmured Mrs Varden.

‘— and Protestant above all things. Let us be sincere and Protestant, strictly moral, strictly just (though always with a leaning towards mercy), strictly honest, and strictly true, and we gain — it is a slight point, certainly, but still it is something tangible; we throw up a groundwork and foundation, so to speak, of goodness, on which we may afterwards erect some worthy superstructure.’

Now, to be sure, Mrs Varden thought, here is a perfect character. Here is a meek, righteous, thoroughgoing Christian, who, having mastered all these qualities, so difficult of attainment; who, having dropped a pinch of salt on the tails of all the cardinal virtues, and caught them every one; makes light of their possession, and pants for more morality. For the good woman never doubted (as many good men and women never do), that this slighting kind of profession, this setting so little store by great matters, this seeming to say, ‘I am not proud, I am what you hear, but I consider myself no better than other people; let us change the subject, pray’— was perfectly genuine and true. He so contrived it, and said it in that way that it appeared to have been forced from him, and its effect was marvellous.

Aware of the impression he had made — few men were quicker than he at such discoveries — Mr Chester followed up the blow by propounding certain virtuous maxims, somewhat vague and general in their nature, doubtless, and occasionally partaking of the character of truisms, worn a little out at elbow, but delivered in so charming a voice and with such uncommon serenity and peace of mind, that they answered as well as the best. Nor is this to be wondered at; for as hollow vessels produce a far more musical sound in falling than those which are substantial, so it will oftentimes be found that sentiments which have nothing in them make the loudest ringing in the world, and are the most relished.

Mr Chester, with the volume gently extended in one hand, and with the other planted lightly on his breast, talked to them in the most delicious manner possible; and quite enchanted all his hearers, notwithstanding their conflicting interests and thoughts. Even Dolly, who, between his keen regards and her eyeing over by Mr Tappertit, was put quite out of countenance, could not help owning within herself that he was the sweetest-spoken gentleman she had ever seen. Even Miss Miggs, who was divided between admiration of Mr Chester and a mortal jealousy of her young mistress, had sufficient leisure to be propitiated. Even Mr Tappertit, though occupied as we have seen in gazing at his heart’s delight, could not wholly divert his thoughts from the voice of the other charmer. Mrs Varden, to her own private thinking, had never been so improved in all her life; and when Mr Chester, rising and craving permission to speak with her apart, took her by the hand and led her at arm’s length upstairs to the best sitting-room, she almost deemed him something more than human.

‘Dear madam,’ he said, pressing her hand delicately to his lips; ‘be seated.’

Mrs Varden called up quite a courtly air, and became seated.

‘You guess my object?’ said Mr Chester, drawing a chair towards her. ‘You divine my purpose? I am an affectionate parent, my dear Mrs Varden.’

‘That I am sure you are, sir,’ said Mrs V.

‘Thank you,’ returned Mr Chester, tapping his snuff-box lid. ‘Heavy moral responsibilities rest with parents, Mrs Varden.’

Mrs Varden slightly raised her hands, shook her head, and looked at the ground as though she saw straight through the globe, out at the other end, and into the immensity of space beyond.

‘I may confide in you,’ said Mr Chester, ‘without reserve. I love my son, ma’am, dearly; and loving him as I do, I would save him from working certain misery. You know of his attachment to Miss Haredale. You have abetted him in it, and very kind of you it was to do so. I am deeply obliged to you — most deeply obliged to you — for your interest in his behalf; but my dear ma’am, it is a mistaken one, I do assure you.’

Mrs Varden stammered that she was sorry —’

‘Sorry, my dear ma’am,’ he interposed. ‘Never be sorry for what is so very amiable, so very good in intention, so perfectly like yourself. But there are grave and weighty reasons, pressing family considerations, and apart even from these, points of religious difference, which interpose themselves, and render their union impossible; utterly im-possible. I should have mentioned these circumstances to your husband; but he has — you will excuse my saying this so freely — he has NOT your quickness of apprehension or depth of moral sense. What an extremely airy house this is, and how beautifully kept! For one like myself — a widower so long — these tokens of female care and superintendence have inexpressible charms.’

Mrs Varden began to think (she scarcely knew why) that the young Mr Chester must be in the wrong and the old Mr Chester must he in the right.

‘My son Ned,’ resumed her tempter with his most winning air, ‘has had, I am told, your lovely daughter’s aid, and your open-hearted husband’s.’

‘— Much more than mine, sir,’ said Mrs Varden; ‘a great deal more. I have often had my doubts. It’s a —’

‘A bad example,’ suggested Mr Chester. ‘It is. No doubt it is. Your daughter is at that age when to set before her an encouragement for young persons to rebel against their parents on this most important point, is particularly injudicious. You are quite right. I ought to have thought of that myself, but it escaped me, I confess — so far superior are your sex to ours, dear madam, in point of penetration and sagacity.’

Mrs Varden looked as wise as if she had really said something to deserve this compliment — firmly believed she had, in short — and her faith in her own shrewdness increased considerably.

‘My dear ma’am,’ said Mr Chester, ‘you embolden me to be plain with you. My son and I are at variance on this point. The young lady and her natural guardian differ upon it, also. And the closing point is, that my son is bound by his duty to me, by his honour, by every solemn tie and obligation, to marry some one else.’

‘Engaged to marry another lady!’ quoth Mrs Varden, holding up her hands.

‘My dear madam, brought up, educated, and trained, expressly for that purpose. Expressly for that purpose. — Miss Haredale, I am told, is a very charming creature.’

‘I am her foster-mother, and should know — the best young lady in the world,’ said Mrs Varden.

‘I have not the smallest doubt of it. I am sure she is. And you, who have stood in that tender relation towards her, are bound to consult her happiness. Now, can I— as I have said to Haredale, who quite agrees — can I possibly stand by, and suffer her to throw herself away (although she IS of a Catholic family), upon a young fellow who, as yet, has no heart at all? It is no imputation upon him to say he has not, because young men who have plunged deeply into the frivolities and conventionalities of society, very seldom have. Their hearts never grow, my dear ma’am, till after thirty. I don’t believe, no, I do NOT believe, that I had any heart myself when I was Ned’s age.’

‘Oh sir,’ said Mrs Varden, ‘I think you must have had. It’s impossible that you, who have so much now, can ever have been without any.’

‘I hope,’ he answered, shrugging his shoulders meekly, ‘I have a little; I hope, a very little — Heaven knows! But to return to Ned; I have no doubt you thought, and therefore interfered benevolently in his behalf, that I objected to Miss Haredale. How very natural! My dear madam, I object to him — to him — emphatically to Ned himself.’

Mrs Varden was perfectly aghast at the disclosure.

‘He has, if he honourably fulfils this solemn obligation of which I have told you — and he must be honourable, dear Mrs Varden, or he is no son of mine — a fortune within his reach. He is of most expensive, ruinously expensive habits; and if, in a moment of caprice and wilfulness, he were to marry this young lady, and so deprive himself of the means of gratifying the tastes to which he has been so long accustomed, he would — my dear madam, he would break the gentle creature’s heart. Mrs Varden, my good lady, my dear soul, I put it to you — is such a sacrifice to be endured? Is the female heart a thing to be trifled with in this way? Ask your own, my dear madam. Ask your own, I beseech you.’

‘Truly,’ thought Mrs Varden, ‘this gentleman is a saint. But,’ she added aloud, and not unnaturally, ‘if you take Miss Emma’s lover away, sir, what becomes of the poor thing’s heart then?’

‘The very point,’ said Mr Chester, not at all abashed, ‘to which I wished to lead you. A marriage with my son, whom I should be compelled to disown, would be followed by years of misery; they would be separated, my dear madam, in a twelvemonth. To break off this attachment, which is more fancied than real, as you and I know very well, will cost the dear girl but a few tears, and she is happy again. Take the case of your own daughter, the young lady downstairs, who is your breathing image’— Mrs Varden coughed and simpered —‘there is a young man (I am sorry to say, a dissolute fellow, of very indifferent character) of whom I have heard Ned speak — Bullet was it — Pullet — Mullet —’

‘There is a young man of the name of Joseph Willet, sir,’ said Mrs Varden, folding her hands loftily.

‘That’s he,’ cried Mr Chester. ‘Suppose this Joseph Willet now, were to aspire to the affections of your charming daughter, and were to engage them.’

‘It would be like his impudence,’ interposed Mrs Varden, bridling, ‘to dare to think of such a thing!’

‘My dear madam, that’s the whole case. I know it would be like his impudence. It is like Ned’s impudence to do as he has done; but you would not on that account, or because of a few tears from your beautiful daughter, refrain from checking their inclinations in their birth. I meant to have reasoned thus with your husband when I saw him at Mrs Rudge’s this evening —’

‘My husband,’ said Mrs Varden, interposing with emotion, ‘would be a great deal better at home than going to Mrs Rudge’s so often. I don’t know what he does there. I don’t see what occasion he has to busy himself in her affairs at all, sir.’

‘If I don’t appear to express my concurrence in those last sentiments of yours,’ returned Mr Chester, ‘quite so strongly as you might desire, it is because his being there, my dear madam, and not proving conversational, led me hither, and procured me the happiness of this interview with one, in whom the whole management, conduct, and prosperity of her family are centred, I perceive.’

With that he took Mrs Varden’s hand again, and having pressed it to his lips with the highflown gallantry of the day — a little burlesqued to render it the more striking in the good lady’s unaccustomed eyes — proceeded in the same strain of mingled sophistry, cajolery, and flattery, to entreat that her utmost influence might be exerted to restrain her husband and daughter from any further promotion of Edward’s suit to Miss Haredale, and from aiding or abetting either party in any way. Mrs Varden was but a woman, and had her share of vanity, obstinacy, and love of power. She entered into a secret treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, with her insinuating visitor; and really did believe, as many others would have done who saw and heard him, that in so doing she furthered the ends of truth, justice, and morality, in a very uncommon degree.

Overjoyed by the success of his negotiation, and mightily amused within himself, Mr Chester conducted her downstairs in the same state as before; and having repeated the previous ceremony of salutation, which also as before comprehended Dolly, took his leave; first completing the conquest of Miss Miggs’s heart, by inquiring if ‘this young lady’ would light him to the door.

‘Oh, mim,’ said Miggs, returning with the candle. ‘Oh gracious me, mim, there’s a gentleman! Was there ever such an angel to talk as he is — and such a sweet-looking man! So upright and noble, that he seems to despise the very ground he walks on; and yet so mild and condescending, that he seems to say “but I will take notice on it too.” And to think of his taking you for Miss Dolly, and Miss Dolly for your sister — Oh, my goodness me, if I was master wouldn’t I be jealous of him!’

Mrs Varden reproved her handmaid for this vain-speaking; but very gently and mildly — quite smilingly indeed — remarking that she was a foolish, giddy, light-headed girl, whose spirits carried her beyond all bounds, and who didn’t mean half she said, or she would be quite angry with her.

‘For my part,’ said Dolly, in a thoughtful manner, ‘I half believe Mr Chester is something like Miggs in that respect. For all his politeness and pleasant speaking, I am pretty sure he was making game of us, more than once.’

‘If you venture to say such a thing again, and to speak ill of people behind their backs in my presence, miss,’ said Mrs Varden, ‘I shall insist upon your taking a candle and going to bed directly. How dare you, Dolly? I’m astonished at you. The rudeness of your whole behaviour this evening has been disgraceful. Did anybody ever hear,’ cried the enraged matron, bursting into tears, ‘of a daughter telling her own mother she has been made game of!’

What a very uncertain temper Mrs Varden’s was!

Chapter 28

Repairing to a noted coffee-house in Covent Garden when he left the locksmith’s, Mr Chester sat long over a late dinner, entertaining himself exceedingly with the whimsical recollection of his recent proceedings, and congratulating himself very much on his great cleverness. Influenced by these thoughts, his face wore an expression so benign and tranquil, that the waiter in immediate attendance upon him felt he could almost have died in his defence, and settled in his own mind (until the receipt of the bill, and a very small fee for very great trouble disabused it of the idea) that such an apostolic customer was worth half-a-dozen of the ordinary run of visitors, at least.

A visit to the gaming-table — not as a heated, anxious venturer, but one whom it was quite a treat to see staking his two or three pieces in deference to the follies of society, and smiling with equal benevolence on winners and losers — made it late before he reached home. It was his custom to bid his servant go to bed at his own time unless he had orders to the contrary, and to leave a candle on the common stair. There was a lamp on the landing by which he could always light it when he came home late, and having a key of the door about him he could enter and go to bed at his pleasure.

He opened the glass of the dull lamp, whose wick, burnt up and swollen like a drunkard’s nose, came flying off in little carbuncles at the candle’s touch, and scattering hot sparks about, rendered it matter of some difficulty to kindle the lazy taper; when a noise, as of a man snoring deeply some steps higher up, caused him to pause and listen. It was the heavy breathing of a sleeper, close at hand. Some fellow had lain down on the open staircase, and was slumbering soundly. Having lighted the candle at length and opened his own door, he softly ascended, holding the taper high above his head, and peering cautiously about; curious to see what kind of man had chosen so comfortless a shelter for his lodging.

With his head upon the landing and his great limbs flung over half-a-dozen stairs, as carelessly as though he were a dead man whom drunken bearers had thrown down by chance, there lay Hugh, face uppermost, his long hair drooping like some wild weed upon his wooden pillow, and his huge chest heaving with the sounds which so unwontedly disturbed the place and hour.

He who came upon him so unexpectedly was about to break his rest by thrusting him with his foot, when, glancing at his upturned face, he arrested himself in the very action, and stooping down and shading the candle with his hand, examined his features closely. Close as his first inspection was, it did not suffice, for he passed the light, still carefully shaded as before, across and across his face, and yet observed him with a searching eye.

While he was thus engaged, the sleeper, without any starting or turning round, awoke. There was a kind of fascination in meeting his steady gaze so suddenly, which took from the other the presence of mind to withdraw his eyes, and forced him, as it were, to meet his look. So they remained staring at each other, until Mr Chester at last broke silence, and asked him in a low voice, why he lay sleeping there.

‘I thought,’ said Hugh, struggling into a sitting posture and gazing at him intently, still, ‘that you were a part of my dream. It was a curious one. I hope it may never come true, master.’

‘What makes you shiver?’

‘The — the cold, I suppose,’ he growled, as he shook himself and rose. ‘I hardly know where I am yet.’

‘Do you know me?’ said Mr Chester.

‘Ay, I know you,’ he answered. ‘I was dreaming of you — we’re not where I thought we were. That’s a comfort.’

He looked round him as he spoke, and in particular looked above his head, as though he half expected to be standing under some object which had had existence in his dream. Then he rubbed his eyes and shook himself again, and followed his conductor into his own rooms.

Mr Chester lighted the candles which stood upon his dressing-table, and wheeling an easy-chair towards the fire, which was yet burning, stirred up a cheerful blaze, sat down before it, and bade his uncouth visitor ‘Come here,’ and draw his boots off.

‘You have been drinking again, my fine fellow,’ he said, as Hugh went down on one knee, and did as he was told.

‘As I’m alive, master, I’ve walked the twelve long miles, and waited here I don’t know how long, and had no drink between my lips since dinner-time at noon.’

‘And can you do nothing better, my pleasant friend, than fall asleep, and shake the very building with your snores?’ said Mr Chester. ‘Can’t you dream in your straw at home, dull dog as you are, that you need come here to do it? — Reach me those slippers, and tread softly.’

Hugh obeyed in silence.

‘And harkee, my dear young gentleman,’ said Mr Chester, as he put them on, ‘the next time you dream, don’t let it be of me, but of some dog or horse with whom you are better acquainted. Fill the glass once — you’ll find it and the bottle in the same place — and empty it to keep yourself awake.’

Hugh obeyed again even more zealously — and having done so, presented himself before his patron.

‘Now,’ said Mr Chester, ‘what do you want with me?’

‘There was news to-day,’ returned Hugh. ‘Your son was at our house — came down on horseback. He tried to see the young woman, but couldn’t get sight of her. He left some letter or some message which our Joe had charge of, but he and the old one quarrelled about it when your son had gone, and the old one wouldn’t let it be delivered. He says (that’s the old one does) that none of his people shall interfere and get him into trouble. He’s a landlord, he says, and lives on everybody’s custom.’

‘He’s a jewel,’ smiled Mr Chester, ‘and the better for being a dull one. — Well?’

‘Varden’s daughter — that’s the girl I kissed —’

‘— and stole the bracelet from upon the king’s highway,’ said Mr Chester, composedly. ‘Yes; what of her?’

‘She wrote a note at our house to the young woman, saying she lost the letter I brought to you, and you burnt. Our Joe was to carry it, but the old one kept him at home all next day, on purpose that he shouldn’t. Next morning he gave it to me to take; and here it is.’

‘You didn’t deliver it then, my good friend?’ said Mr Chester, twirling Dolly’s note between his finger and thumb, and feigning to be surprised.

‘I supposed you’d want to have it,’ retorted Hugh. ‘Burn one, burn all, I thought.’

‘My devil-may-care acquaintance,’ said Mr Chester —‘really if you do not draw some nicer distinctions, your career will be cut short with most surprising suddenness. Don’t you know that the letter you brought to me, was directed to my son who resides in this very place? And can you descry no difference between his letters and those addressed to other people?’

‘If you don’t want it,’ said Hugh, disconcerted by this reproof, for he had expected high praise, ‘give it me back, and I’ll deliver it. I don’t know how to please you, master.’

‘I shall deliver it,’ returned his patron, putting it away after a moment’s consideration, ‘myself. Does the young lady walk out, on fine mornings?’

‘Mostly — about noon is her usual time.’

‘Alone?’

‘Yes, alone.’

‘Where?’

‘In the grounds before the house. — Them that the footpath crosses.’

‘If the weather should be fine, I may throw myself in her way to-morrow, perhaps,’ said Mr Chester, as coolly as if she were one of his ordinary acquaintance. ‘Mr Hugh, if I should ride up to the Maypole door, you will do me the favour only to have seen me once. You must suppress your gratitude, and endeavour to forget my forbearance in the matter of the bracelet. It is natural it should break out, and it does you honour; but when other folks are by, you must, for your own sake and safety, be as like your usual self as though you owed me no obligation whatever, and had never stood within these walls. You comprehend me?’

Hugh understood him perfectly. After a pause he muttered that he hoped his patron would involve him in no trouble about this last letter; for he had kept it back solely with the view of pleasing him. He was continuing in this strain, when Mr Chester with a most beneficent and patronising air cut him short by saying:

‘My good fellow, you have my promise, my word, my sealed bond (for a verbal pledge with me is quite as good), that I will always protect you so long as you deserve it. Now, do set your mind at rest. Keep it at ease, I beg of you. When a man puts himself in my power so thoroughly as you have done, I really feel as though he had a kind of claim upon me. I am more disposed to mercy and forbearance under such circumstances than I can tell you, Hugh. Do look upon me as your protector, and rest assured, I entreat you, that on the subject of that indiscretion, you may preserve, as long as you and I are friends, the lightest heart that ever beat within a human breast. Fill that glass once more to cheer you on your road homewards — I am really quite ashamed to think how far you have to go — and then God bless you for the night.’

‘They think,’ said Hugh, when he had tossed the liquor down, ‘that I am sleeping soundly in the stable. Ha ha ha! The stable door is shut, but the steed’s gone, master.’

‘You are a most convivial fellow,’ returned his friend, ‘and I love your humour of all things. Good night! Take the greatest possible care of yourself, for my sake!’

It was remarkable that during the whole interview, each had endeavoured to catch stolen glances of the other’s face, and had never looked full at it. They interchanged one brief and hasty glance as Hugh went out, averted their eyes directly, and so separated. Hugh closed the double doors behind him, carefully and without noise; and Mr Chester remained in his easy-chair, with his gaze intently fixed upon the fire.

‘Well!’ he said, after meditating for a long time — and said with a deep sigh and an uneasy shifting of his attitude, as though he dismissed some other subject from his thoughts, and returned to that which had held possession of them all the day — the plot thickens; I have thrown the shell; it will explode, I think, in eight-and-forty hours, and should scatter these good folks amazingly. We shall see!’

He went to bed and fell asleep, but had not slept long when he started up and thought that Hugh was at the outer door, calling in a strange voice, very different from his own, to be admitted. The delusion was so strong upon him, and was so full of that vague terror of the night in which such visions have their being, that he rose, and taking his sheathed sword in his hand, opened the door, and looked out upon the staircase, and towards the spot where Hugh had lain asleep; and even spoke to him by name. But all was dark and quiet, and creeping back to bed again, he fell, after an hour’s uneasy watching, into a second sleep, and woke no more till morning.

Chapter 29

The thoughts of worldly men are for ever regulated by a moral law of gravitation, which, like the physical one, holds them down to earth. The bright glory of day, and the silent wonders of a starlit night, appeal to their minds in vain. There are no signs in the sun, or in the moon, or in the stars, for their reading. They are like some wise men, who, learning to know each planet by its Latin name, have quite forgotten such small heavenly constellations as Charity, Forbearance, Universal Love, and Mercy, although they shine by night and day so brightly that the blind may see them; and who, looking upward at the spangled sky, see nothing there but the reflection of their own great wisdom and book-learning.

It is curious to imagine these people of the world, busy in thought, turning their eyes towards the countless spheres that shine above us, and making them reflect the only images their minds contain. The man who lives but in the breath of princes, has nothing his sight but stars for courtiers’ breasts. The envious man beholds his neighbours’ honours even in the sky; to the money-hoarder, and the mass of worldly folk, the whole great universe above glitters with sterling coin — fresh from the mint — stamped with the sovereign’s head — coming always between them and heaven, turn where they may. So do the shadows of our own desires stand between us and our better angels, and thus their brightness is eclipsed.

Everything was fresh and gay, as though the world were but that morning made, when Mr Chester rode at a tranquil pace along the Forest road. Though early in the season, it was warm and genial weather; the trees were budding into leaf, the hedges and the grass were green, the air was musical with songs of birds, and high above them all the lark poured out her richest melody. In shady spots, the morning dew sparkled on each young leaf and blade of grass; and where the sun was shining, some diamond drops yet glistened brightly, as in unwillingness to leave so fair a world, and have such brief existence. Even the light wind, whose rustling was as gentle to the ear as softly-falling water, had its hope and promise; and, leaving a pleasant fragrance in its track as it went fluttering by, whispered of its intercourse with Summer, and of his happy coming.

The solitary rider went glancing on among the trees, from sunlight into shade and back again, at the same even pace — looking about him, certainly, from time to time, but with no greater thought of the day or the scene through which he moved, than that he was fortunate (being choicely dressed) to have such favourable weather. He smiled very complacently at such times, but rather as if he were satisfied with himself than with anything else: and so went riding on, upon his chestnut cob, as pleasant to look upon as his own horse, and probably far less sensitive to the many cheerful influences by which he was surrounded.

In the course of time, the Maypole’s massive chimneys rose upon his view: but he quickened not his pace one jot, and with the same cool gravity rode up to the tavern porch. John Willet, who was toasting his red face before a great fire in the bar, and who, with surpassing foresight and quickness of apprehension, had been thinking, as he looked at the blue sky, that if that state of things lasted much longer, it might ultimately become necessary to leave off fires and throw the windows open, issued forth to hold his stirrup; calling lustily for Hugh.

‘Oh, you’re here, are you, sir?’ said John, rather surprised by the quickness with which he appeared. ‘Take this here valuable animal into the stable, and have more than particular care of him if you want to keep your place. A mortal lazy fellow, sir; he needs a deal of looking after.’

‘But you have a son,’ returned Mr Chester, giving his bridle to Hugh as he dismounted, and acknowledging his salute by a careless motion of his hand towards his hat. ‘Why don’t you make HIM useful?’

‘Why, the truth is, sir,’ replied John with great importance, ‘that my son — what, you’re a-listening are you, villain?’

‘Who’s listening?’ returned Hugh angrily. ‘A treat, indeed, to hear YOU speak! Would you have me take him in till he’s cool?’

‘Walk him up and down further off then, sir,’ cried old John, ‘and when you see me and a noble gentleman entertaining ourselves with talk, keep your distance. If you don’t know your distance, sir,’ added Mr Willet, after an enormously long pause, during which he fixed his great dull eyes on Hugh, and waited with exemplary patience for any little property in the way of ideas that might come to him, ‘we’ll find a way to teach you, pretty soon.’

Hugh shrugged his shoulders scornfully, and in his reckless swaggering way, crossed to the other side of the little green, and there, with the bridle slung loosely over his shoulder, led the horse to and fro, glancing at his master every now and then from under his bushy eyebrows, with as sinister an aspect as one would desire to see.

Mr Chester, who, without appearing to do so, had eyed him attentively during this brief dispute, stepped into the porch, and turning abruptly to Mr Willet, said,

‘You keep strange servants, John.’

‘Strange enough to look at, sir, certainly,’ answered the host; ‘but out of doors; for horses, dogs, and the likes of that; there an’t a better man in England than is that Maypole Hugh yonder. He an’t fit for indoors,’ added Mr Willet, with the confidential air of a man who felt his own superior nature. ‘I do that; but if that chap had only a little imagination, sir —’

‘He’s an active fellow now, I dare swear,’ said Mr Chester, in a musing tone, which seemed to suggest that he would have said the same had there been nobody to hear him.

‘Active, sir!’ retorted John, with quite an expression in his face; ‘that chap! Hallo there! You, sir! Bring that horse here, and go and hang my wig on the weathercock, to show this gentleman whether you’re one of the lively sort or not.’

Hugh made no answer, but throwing the bridle to his master, and snatching his wig from his head, in a manner so unceremonious and hasty that the action discomposed Mr Willet not a little, though performed at his own special desire, climbed nimbly to the very summit of the maypole before the house, and hanging the wig upon the weathercock, sent it twirling round like a roasting jack. Having achieved this performance, he cast it on the ground, and sliding down the pole with inconceivable rapidity, alighted on his feet almost as soon as it had touched the earth.

‘There, sir,’ said John, relapsing into his usual stolid state, ‘you won’t see that at many houses, besides the Maypole, where there’s good accommodation for man and beast — nor that neither, though that with him is nothing.’

This last remark bore reference to his vaulting on horseback, as upon Mr Chester’s first visit, and quickly disappearing by the stable gate.

‘That with him is nothing,’ repeated Mr Willet, brushing his wig with his wrist, and inwardly resolving to distribute a small charge for dust and damage to that article of dress, through the various items of his guest’s bill; ‘he’ll get out of a’most any winder in the house. There never was such a chap for flinging himself about and never hurting his bones. It’s my opinion, sir, that it’s pretty nearly allowing to his not having any imagination; and that if imagination could be (which it can’t) knocked into him, he’d never be able to do it any more. But we was a-talking, sir, about my son.’

‘True, Willet, true,’ said his visitor, turning again towards the landlord with his accustomed serenity of face. ‘My good friend, what about him?’

It has been reported that Mr Willet, previously to making answer, winked. But as he was never known to be guilty of such lightness of conduct either before or afterwards, this may be looked upon as a malicious invention of his enemies — founded, perhaps, upon the undisputed circumstance of his taking his guest by the third breast button of his coat, counting downwards from the chin, and pouring his reply into his ear:

‘Sir,’ whispered John, with dignity, ‘I know my duty. We want no love-making here, sir, unbeknown to parents. I respect a certain young gentleman, taking him in the light of a young gentleman; I respect a certain young lady, taking her in the light of a young lady; but of the two as a couple, I have no knowledge, sir, none whatever. My son, sir, is upon his patrole.’

‘I thought I saw him looking through the corner window but this moment,’ said Mr Chester, who naturally thought that being on patrole, implied walking about somewhere.

‘No doubt you did, sir,’ returned John. ‘He is upon his patrole of honour, sir, not to leave the premises. Me and some friends of mine that use the Maypole of an evening, sir, considered what was best to be done with him, to prevent his doing anything unpleasant in opposing your desires; and we’ve put him on his patrole. And what’s more, sir, he won’t be off his patrole for a pretty long time to come, I can tell you that.’

When he had communicated this bright idea, which had its origin in the perusal by the village cronies of a newspaper, containing, among other matters, an account of how some officer pending the sentence of some court-martial had been enlarged on parole, Mr Willet drew back from his guest’s ear, and without any visible alteration of feature, chuckled thrice audibly. This nearest approach to a laugh in which he ever indulged (and that but seldom and only on extreme occasions), never even curled his lip or effected the smallest change in — no, not so much as a slight wagging of — his great, fat, double chin, which at these times, as at all others, remained a perfect desert in the broad map of his face; one changeless, dull, tremendous blank.

Lest it should be matter of surprise to any, that Mr Willet adopted this bold course in opposition to one whom he had often entertained, and who had always paid his way at the Maypole gallantly, it may be remarked that it was his very penetration and sagacity in this respect, which occasioned him to indulge in those unusual demonstrations of jocularity, just now recorded. For Mr Willet, after carefully balancing father and son in his mental scales, had arrived at the distinct conclusion that the old gentleman was a better sort of a customer than the young one. Throwing his landlord into the same scale, which was already turned by this consideration, and heaping upon him, again, his strong desires to run counter to the unfortunate Joe, and his opposition as a general principle to all matters of love and matrimony, it went down to the very ground straightway, and sent the light cause of the younger gentleman flying upwards to the ceiling. Mr Chester was not the kind of man to be by any means dim-sighted to Mr Willet’s motives, but he thanked him as graciously as if he had been one of the most disinterested martyrs that ever shone on earth; and leaving him, with many complimentary reliances on his great taste and judgment, to prepare whatever dinner he might deem most fitting the occasion, bent his steps towards the Warren.

Dressed with more than his usual elegance; assuming a gracefulness of manner, which, though it was the result of long study, sat easily upon him and became him well; composing his features into their most serene and prepossessing expression; and setting in short that guard upon himself, at every point, which denoted that he attached no slight importance to the impression he was about to make; he entered the bounds of Miss Haredale’s usual walk. He had not gone far, or looked about him long, when he descried coming towards him, a female figure. A glimpse of the form and dress as she crossed a little wooden bridge which lay between them, satisfied him that he had found her whom he desired to see. He threw himself in her way, and a very few paces brought them close together.

He raised his hat from his head, and yielding the path, suffered her to pass him. Then, as if the idea had but that moment occurred to him, he turned hastily back and said in an agitated voice:

‘I beg pardon — do I address Miss Haredale?’

She stopped in some confusion at being so unexpectedly accosted by a stranger; and answered ‘Yes.’

‘Something told me,’ he said, LOOKING a compliment to her beauty, ‘that it could be no other. Miss Haredale, I bear a name which is not unknown to you — which it is a pride, and yet a pain to me to know, sounds pleasantly in your ears. I am a man advanced in life, as you see. I am the father of him whom you honour and distinguish above all other men. May I for weighty reasons which fill me with distress, beg but a minute’s conversation with you here?’

Who that was inexperienced in deceit, and had a frank and youthful heart, could doubt the speaker’s truth — could doubt it too, when the voice that spoke, was like the faint echo of one she knew so well, and so much loved to hear? She inclined her head, and stopping, cast her eyes upon the ground.

‘A little more apart — among these trees. It is an old man’s hand, Miss Haredale; an honest one, believe me.’

She put hers in it as he said these words, and suffered him to lead her to a neighbouring seat.

‘You alarm me, sir,’ she said in a low voice. ‘You are not the bearer of any ill news, I hope?’

‘Of none that you anticipate,’ he answered, sitting down beside her. ‘Edward is well — quite well. It is of him I wish to speak, certainly; but I have no misfortune to communicate.’

She bowed her head again, and made as though she would have begged him to proceed; but said nothing.

‘I am sensible that I speak to you at a disadvantage, dear Miss Haredale. Believe me that I am not so forgetful of the feelings of my younger days as not to know that you are little disposed to view me with favour. You have heard me described as cold-hearted, calculating, selfish —’

‘I have never, sir,’— she interposed with an altered manner and a firmer voice; ‘I have never heard you spoken of in harsh or disrespectful terms. You do a great wrong to Edward’s nature if you believe him capable of any mean or base proceeding.’

‘Pardon me, my sweet young lady, but your uncle —’

‘Nor is it my uncle’s nature either,’ she replied, with a heightened colour in her cheek. ‘It is not his nature to stab in the dark, nor is it mine to love such deeds.’

She rose as she spoke, and would have left him; but he detained her with a gentle hand, and besought her in such persuasive accents to hear him but another minute, that she was easily prevailed upon to comply, and so sat down again.

‘And it is,’ said Mr Chester, looking upward, and apostrophising the air; ‘it is this frank, ingenuous, noble nature, Ned, that you can wound so lightly. Shame — shame upon you, boy!’

She turned towards him quickly, and with a scornful look and flashing eyes. There were tears in Mr Chester’s eyes, but he dashed them hurriedly away, as though unwilling that his weakness should be known, and regarded her with mingled admiration and compassion.

‘I never until now,’ he said, ‘believed, that the frivolous actions of a young man could move me like these of my own son. I never knew till now, the worth of a woman’s heart, which boys so lightly win, and lightly fling away. Trust me, dear young lady, that I never until now did know your worth; and though an abhorrence of deceit and falsehood has impelled me to seek you out, and would have done so had you been the poorest and least gifted of your sex, I should have lacked the fortitude to sustain this interview could I have pictured you to my imagination as you really are.’

Oh! If Mrs Varden could have seen the virtuous gentleman as he said these words, with indignation sparkling from his eyes — if she could have heard his broken, quavering voice — if she could have beheld him as he stood bareheaded in the sunlight, and with unwonted energy poured forth his eloquence!

With a haughty face, but pale and trembling too, Emma regarded him in silence. She neither spoke nor moved, but gazed upon him as though she would look into his heart.

‘I throw off,’ said Mr Chester, ‘the restraint which natural affection would impose on some men, and reject all bonds but those of truth and duty. Miss Haredale, you are deceived; you are deceived by your unworthy lover, and my unworthy son.’

Still she looked at him steadily, and still said not one word.

‘I have ever opposed his professions of love for you; you will do me the justice, dear Miss Haredale, to remember that. Your uncle and myself were enemies in early life, and if I had sought retaliation, I might have found it here. But as we grow older, we grow wiser — bitter, I would fain hope — and from the first, I have opposed him in this attempt. I foresaw the end, and would have spared you, if I could.’

‘Speak plainly, sir,’ she faltered. ‘You deceive me, or are deceived yourself. I do not believe you — I cannot — I should not.’

‘First,’ said Mr Chester, soothingly, ‘for there may be in your mind some latent angry feeling to which I would not appeal, pray take this letter. It reached my hands by chance, and by mistake, and should have accounted to you (as I am told) for my son’s not answering some other note of yours. God forbid, Miss Haredale,’ said the good gentleman, with great emotion, ‘that there should be in your gentle breast one causeless ground of quarrel with him. You should know, and you will see, that he was in no fault here.’

There appeared something so very candid, so scrupulously honourable, so very truthful and just in this course something which rendered the upright person who resorted to it, so worthy of belief — that Emma’s heart, for the first time, sunk within her. She turned away and burst into tears.

‘I would,’ said Mr Chester, leaning over her, and speaking in mild and quite venerable accents; ‘I would, dear girl, it were my task to banish, not increase, those tokens of your grief. My son, my erring son — I will not call him deliberately criminal in this, for men so young, who have been inconstant twice or thrice before, act without reflection, almost without a knowledge of the wrong they do — will break his plighted faith to you; has broken it even now. Shall I stop here, and having given you this warning, leave it to be fulfilled; or shall I go on?’

‘You will go on, sir,’ she answered, ‘and speak more plainly yet, in justice both to him and me.’

‘My dear girl,’ said Mr Chester, bending over her more affectionately still; ‘whom I would call my daughter, but the Fates forbid, Edward seeks to break with you upon a false and most unwarrantable pretence. I have it on his own showing; in his own hand. Forgive me, if I have had a watch upon his conduct; I am his father; I had a regard for your peace and his honour, and no better resource was left me. There lies on his desk at this present moment, ready for transmission to you, a letter, in which he tells you that our poverty — our poverty; his and mine, Miss Haredale — forbids him to pursue his claim upon your hand; in which he offers, voluntarily proposes, to free you from your pledge; and talks magnanimously (men do so, very commonly, in such cases) of being in time more worthy of your regard — and so forth. A letter, to be plain, in which he not only jilts you — pardon the word; I would summon to your aid your pride and dignity — not only jilts you, I fear, in favour of the object whose slighting treatment first inspired his brief passion for yourself and gave it birth in wounded vanity, but affects to make a merit and a virtue of the act.’

She glanced proudly at him once more, as by an involuntary impulse, and with a swelling breast rejoined, ‘If what you say be true, he takes much needless trouble, sir, to compass his design. He’s very tender of my peace of mind. I quite thank him.’

‘The truth of what I tell you, dear young lady,’ he replied, ‘you will test by the receipt or non-receipt of the letter of which I speak. Haredale, my dear fellow, I am delighted to see you, although we meet under singular circumstances, and upon a melancholy occasion. I hope you are very well.’

At these words the young lady raised her eyes, which were filled with tears; and seeing that her uncle indeed stood before them, and being quite unequal to the trial of hearing or of speaking one word more, hurriedly withdrew, and left them. They stood looking at each other, and at her retreating figure, and for a long time neither of them spoke.

‘What does this mean? Explain it,’ said Mr Haredale at length. ‘Why are you here, and why with her?’

‘My dear friend,’ rejoined the other, resuming his accustomed manner with infinite readiness, and throwing himself upon the bench with a weary air, ‘you told me not very long ago, at that delightful old tavern of which you are the esteemed proprietor (and a most charming establishment it is for persons of rural pursuits and in robust health, who are not liable to take cold), that I had the head and heart of an evil spirit in all matters of deception. I thought at the time; I really did think; you flattered me. But now I begin to wonder at your discernment, and vanity apart, do honestly believe you spoke the truth. Did you ever counterfeit extreme ingenuousness and honest indignation? My dear fellow, you have no conception, if you never did, how faint the effort makes one.’

Mr Haredale surveyed him with a look of cold contempt. ‘You may evade an explanation, I know,’ he said, folding his arms. ‘But I must have it. I can wait.’

‘Not at all. Not at all, my good fellow. You shall not wait a moment,’ returned his friend, as he lazily crossed his legs. ‘The simplest thing in the world. It lies in a nutshell. Ned has written her a letter — a boyish, honest, sentimental composition, which remains as yet in his desk, because he hasn’t had the heart to send it. I have taken a liberty, for which my parental affection and anxiety are a sufficient excuse, and possessed myself of the contents. I have described them to your niece (a most enchanting person, Haredale; quite an angelic creature), with a little colouring and description adapted to our purpose. It’s done. You may be quite easy. It’s all over. Deprived of their adherents and mediators; her pride and jealousy roused to the utmost; with nobody to undeceive her, and you to confirm me; you will find that their intercourse will close with her answer. If she receives Ned’s letter by to-morrow noon, you may date their parting from to-morrow night. No thanks, I beg; you owe me none. I have acted for myself; and if I have forwarded our compact with all the ardour even you could have desired, I have done so selfishly, indeed.’

‘I curse the compact, as you call it, with my whole heart and soul,’ returned the other. ‘It was made in an evil hour. I have bound myself to a lie; I have leagued myself with you; and though I did so with a righteous motive, and though it cost me such an effort as haply few men know, I hate and despise myself for the deed.’

‘You are very warm,’ said Mr Chester with a languid smile.

‘I AM warm. I am maddened by your coldness. ‘Death, Chester, if your blood ran warmer in your veins, and there were no restraints upon me, such as those that hold and drag me back — well; it is done; you tell me so, and on such a point I may believe you. When I am most remorseful for this treachery, I will think of you and your marriage, and try to justify myself in such remembrances, for having torn asunder Emma and your son, at any cost. Our bond is cancelled now, and we may part.’

Mr Chester kissed his hand gracefully; and with the same tranquil face he had preserved throughout — even when he had seen his companion so tortured and transported by his passion that his whole frame was shaken — lay in his lounging posture on the seat and watched him as he walked away.

‘My scapegoat and my drudge at school,’ he said, raising his head to look after him; ‘my friend of later days, who could not keep his mistress when he had won her, and threw me in her way to carry off the prize; I triumph in the present and the past. Bark on, ill-favoured, ill-conditioned cur; fortune has ever been with me — I like to hear you.’

The spot where they had met, was in an avenue of trees. Mr Haredale not passing out on either hand, had walked straight on. He chanced to turn his head when at some considerable distance, and seeing that his late companion had by that time risen and was looking after him, stood still as though he half expected him to follow and waited for his coming up.

‘It MAY come to that one day, but not yet,’ said Mr Chester, waving his hand, as though they were the best of friends, and turning away. ‘Not yet, Haredale. Life is pleasant enough to me; dull and full of heaviness to you. No. To cross swords with such a man — to indulge his humour unless upon extremity — would be weak indeed.’

For all that, he drew his sword as he walked along, and in an absent humour ran his eye from hilt to point full twenty times. But thoughtfulness begets wrinkles; remembering this, he soon put it up, smoothed his contracted brow, hummed a gay tune with greater gaiety of manner, and was his unruffled self again.

Chapter 30

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!’

Chapter 31

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.

‘And if I do come — which it’s a million to one, I shall — when will you take me out of London?’ demanded Joe.

‘To-morrow morning, at half after eight o’clock,’ replied the serjeant. ‘You’ll go abroad — a country where it’s all sunshine and plunder — the finest climate in the world.’

‘To go abroad,’ said Joe, shaking hands with him, ‘is the very thing I want. You may expect me.’

‘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.

‘I couldn’t go,’ said Joe, ‘without coming to see you. I hadn’t the heart to.’

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.

Chapter 32

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 resting-places 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.’

‘Well! there are no such things to wound, or heal, or have regard for. I know your creed, sir, and will say no more,’ returned his son.

‘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 broken-hearted, 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.

Chapter 33

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 to-morrow.’

‘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 horror-stricken 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-and-twenty 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.

Chapter 34

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.

Chapter 35

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, hard-headed, 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 WOULDN’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.

‘So ends, my lord,’ said Gashford, filling his glass with great complacency, ‘the blessed work of a most blessed day.’

‘And of a blessed yesterday,’ said his lordship, raising his head.

‘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.

‘Now, Mr Gashford sir,’ said John Grueby in his ear, after what appeared to him a moment of unconsciousness; ‘my lord’s abed.’

‘Oh. Very good, John,’ was his mild reply. ‘Thank you, John. Nobody need sit up. I know my room.’

‘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.

Chapter 36

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 well-favoured?’

‘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 half-a-guinea in gold; and Miggs (being the saving of a quarter’s wages), one-and-threepence.’

‘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!’

‘Lord George and I were talking of you last night,’ said Gashford, after a pause. ‘He says you are a very earnest fellow.’

‘So I am,’ returned the hangman.

‘And that you truly hate the Papists.’

‘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.

Chapter 38

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 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’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.

Chapter 39

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’s-his-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, low-roofed 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-in-arm, 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!’

‘You don’t mean to say their old wearers are ALL dead, I hope?’ said Mr Tappertit, falling a little distance from him as he spoke.

‘Every one of ’em,’ replied Dennis. ‘Every man Jack!’

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.’

Chapter 40

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, well-ordered 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.

Chapter 41

From the workshop of the Golden Key, there issued forth a tinkling sound, so merry and good-humoured, that it suggested the idea of some one working blithely, and made quite pleasant music. No man who hammered on at a dull monotonous duty, could have brought such cheerful notes from steel and iron; none but a chirping, healthy, honest-hearted fellow, who made the best of everything, and felt kindly towards everybody, could have done it for an instant. He might have been a coppersmith, and still been musical. If he had sat in a jolting waggon, full of rods of iron, it seemed as if he would have brought some harmony out of it.

Tink, tink, tink — clear as a silver bell, and audible at every pause of the streets’ harsher noises, as though it said, ‘I don’t care; nothing puts me out; I am resolved to he happy.’ Women scolded, children squalled, heavy carts went rumbling by, horrible cries proceeded from the lungs of hawkers; still it struck in again, no higher, no lower, no louder, no softer; not thrusting itself on people’s notice a bit the more for having been outdone by louder sounds — tink, tink, tink, tink, tink.

It was a perfect embodiment of the still small voice, free from all cold, hoarseness, huskiness, or unhealthiness of any kind; foot-passengers slackened their pace, and were disposed to linger near it; neighbours who had got up splenetic that morning, felt good-humour stealing on them as they heard it, and by degrees became quite sprightly; mothers danced their babies to its ringing; still the same magical tink, tink, tink, came gaily from the workshop of the Golden Key.

Who but the locksmith could have made such music! A gleam of sun shining through the unsashed window, and chequering the dark workshop with a broad patch of light, fell full upon him, as though attracted by his sunny heart. There he stood working at his anvil, his face all radiant with exercise and gladness, his sleeves turned up, his wig pushed off his shining forehead — the easiest, freest, happiest man in all the world. Beside him sat a sleek cat, purring and winking in the light, and falling every now and then into an idle doze, as from excess of comfort. Toby looked on from a tall bench hard by; one beaming smile, from his broad nut-brown face down to the slack-baked buckles in his shoes. The very locks that hung around had something jovial in their rust, and seemed like gouty gentlemen of hearty natures, disposed to joke on their infirmities. There was nothing surly or severe in the whole scene. It seemed impossible that any one of the innumerable keys could fit a churlish strong-box or a prison-door. Cellars of beer and wine, rooms where there were fires, books, gossip, and cheering laughter — these were their proper sphere of action. Places of distrust and cruelty, and restraint, they would have left quadruple-locked for ever.

Tink, tink, tink. The locksmith paused at last, and wiped his brow. The silence roused the cat, who, jumping softly down, crept to the door, and watched with tiger eyes a bird-cage in an opposite window. Gabriel lifted Toby to his mouth, and took a hearty draught.

Then, as he stood upright, with his head flung back, and his portly chest thrown out, you would have seen that Gabriel’s lower man was clothed in military gear. Glancing at the wall beyond, there might have been espied, hanging on their several pegs, a cap and feather, broadsword, sash, and coat of scarlet; which any man learned in such matters would have known from their make and pattern to be the uniform of a serjeant in the Royal East London Volunteers.

As the locksmith put his mug down, empty, on the bench whence it had smiled on him before, he glanced at these articles with a laughing eye, and looking at them with his head a little on one side, as though he would get them all into a focus, said, leaning on his hammer:

‘Time was, now, I remember, when I was like to run mad with the desire to wear a coat of that colour. If any one (except my father) had called me a fool for my pains, how I should have fired and fumed! But what a fool I must have been, sure-ly!’

‘Ah!’ sighed Mrs Varden, who had entered unobserved. ‘A fool indeed. A man at your time of life, Varden, should know better now.’

‘Why, what a ridiculous woman you are, Martha,’ said the locksmith, turning round with a smile.

‘Certainly,’ replied Mrs V. with great demureness. ‘Of course I am. I know that, Varden. Thank you.’

‘I mean —’ began the locksmith.

‘Yes,’ said his wife, ‘I know what you mean. You speak quite plain enough to be understood, Varden. It’s very kind of you to adapt yourself to my capacity, I am sure.’

‘Tut, tut, Martha,’ rejoined the locksmith; ‘don’t take offence at nothing. I mean, how strange it is of you to run down volunteering, when it’s done to defend you and all the other women, and our own fireside and everybody else’s, in case of need.’

‘It’s unchristian,’ cried Mrs Varden, shaking her head.

‘Unchristian!’ said the locksmith. ‘Why, what the devil —’

Mrs Varden looked at the ceiling, as in expectation that the consequence of this profanity would be the immediate descent of the four-post bedstead on the second floor, together with the best sitting-room on the first; but no visible judgment occurring, she heaved a deep sigh, and begged her husband, in a tone of resignation, to go on, and by all means to blaspheme as much as possible, because he knew she liked it.

The locksmith did for a moment seem disposed to gratify her, but he gave a great gulp, and mildly rejoined:

‘I was going to say, what on earth do you call it unchristian for? Which would be most unchristian, Martha — to sit quietly down and let our houses be sacked by a foreign army, or to turn out like men and drive ’em off? Shouldn’t I be a nice sort of a Christian, if I crept into a corner of my own chimney and looked on while a parcel of whiskered savages bore off Dolly — or you?’

When he said ‘or you,’ Mrs Varden, despite herself, relaxed into a smile. There was something complimentary in the idea. ‘In such a state of things as that, indeed —’ she simpered.

‘As that!’ repeated the locksmith. ‘Well, that would be the state of things directly. Even Miggs would go. Some black tambourine-player, with a great turban on, would be bearing HER off, and, unless the tambourine-player was proof against kicking and scratching, it’s my belief he’d have the worst of it. Ha ha ha! I’d forgive the tambourine-player. I wouldn’t have him interfered with on any account, poor fellow.’ And here the locksmith laughed again so heartily, that tears came into his eyes — much to Mrs Varden’s indignation, who thought the capture of so sound a Protestant and estimable a private character as Miggs by a pagan negro, a circumstance too shocking and awful for contemplation.

The picture Gabriel had drawn, indeed, threatened serious consequences, and would indubitably have led to them, but luckily at that moment a light footstep crossed the threshold, and Dolly, running in, threw her arms round her old father’s neck and hugged him tight.

‘Here she is at last!’ cried Gabriel. ‘And how well you look, Doll, and how late you are, my darling!’

How well she looked? Well? Why, if he had exhausted every laudatory adjective in the dictionary, it wouldn’t have been praise enough. When and where was there ever such a plump, roguish, comely, bright-eyed, enticing, bewitching, captivating, maddening little puss in all this world, as Dolly! What was the Dolly of five years ago, to the Dolly of that day! How many coachmakers, saddlers, cabinet-makers, and professors of other useful arts, had deserted their fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers, and, most of all, their cousins, for the love of her! How many unknown gentlemen — supposed to be of mighty fortunes, if not titles — had waited round the corner after dark, and tempted Miggs the incorruptible, with golden guineas, to deliver offers of marriage folded up in love-letters! How many disconsolate fathers and substantial tradesmen had waited on the locksmith for the same purpose, with dismal tales of how their sons had lost their appetites, and taken to shut themselves up in dark bedrooms, and wandering in desolate suburbs with pale faces, and all because of Dolly Varden’s loveliness and cruelty! How many young men, in all previous times of unprecedented steadiness, had turned suddenly wild and wicked for the same reason, and, in an ecstasy of unrequited love, taken to wrench off door-knockers, and invert the boxes of rheumatic watchmen! How had she recruited the king’s service, both by sea and land, through rendering desperate his loving subjects between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five! How many young ladies had publicly professed, with tears in their eyes, that for their tastes she was much too short, too tall, too bold, too cold, too stout, too thin, too fair, too dark — too everything but handsome! How many old ladies, taking counsel together, had thanked Heaven their daughters were not like her, and had hoped she might come to no harm, and had thought she would come to no good, and had wondered what people saw in her, and had arrived at the conclusion that she was ‘going off’ in her looks, or had never come on in them, and that she was a thorough imposition and a popular mistake!

And yet here was this same Dolly Varden, so whimsical and hard to please that she was Dolly Varden still, all smiles and dimples and pleasant looks, and caring no more for the fifty or sixty young fellows who at that very moment were breaking their hearts to marry her, than if so many oysters had been crossed in love and opened afterwards.

Dolly hugged her father as has been already stated, and having hugged her mother also, accompanied both into the little parlour where the cloth was already laid for dinner, and where Miss Miggs — a trifle more rigid and bony than of yore — received her with a sort of hysterical gasp, intended for a smile. Into the hands of that young virgin, she delivered her bonnet and walking dress (all of a dreadful, artful, and designing kind), and then said with a laugh, which rivalled the locksmith’s music, ‘How glad I always am to be at home again!’

‘And how glad we always are, Doll,’ said her father, putting back the dark hair from her sparkling eyes, ‘to have you at home. Give me a kiss.’

If there had been anybody of the male kind there to see her do it — but there was not — it was a mercy.

‘I don’t like your being at the Warren,’ said the locksmith, ‘I can’t bear to have you out of my sight. And what is the news over yonder, Doll?’

‘What news there is, I think you know already,’ replied his daughter. ‘I am sure you do though.’

‘Ay?’ cried the locksmith. ‘What’s that?’

‘Come, come,’ said Dolly, ‘you know very well. I want you to tell me why Mr Haredale — oh, how gruff he is again, to be sure! — has been away from home for some days past, and why he is travelling about (we know he IS travelling, because of his letters) without telling his own niece why or wherefore.’

‘Miss Emma doesn’t want to know, I’ll swear,’ returned the locksmith.

‘I don’t know that,’ said Dolly; ‘but I do, at any rate. Do tell me. Why is he so secret, and what is this ghost story, which nobody is to tell Miss Emma, and which seems to be mixed up with his going away? Now I see you know by your colouring so.’

‘What the story means, or is, or has to do with it, I know no more than you, my dear,’ returned the locksmith, ‘except that it’s some foolish fear of little Solomon’s — which has, indeed, no meaning in it, I suppose. As to Mr Haredale’s journey, he goes, as I believe —’

‘Yes,’ said Dolly.

‘As I believe,’ resumed the locksmith, pinching her cheek, ‘on business, Doll. What it may be, is quite another matter. Read Blue Beard, and don’t be too curious, pet; it’s no business of yours or mine, depend upon that; and here’s dinner, which is much more to the purpose.’

Dolly might have remonstrated against this summary dismissal of the subject, notwithstanding the appearance of dinner, but at the mention of Blue Beard Mrs Varden interposed, protesting she could not find it in her conscience to sit tamely by, and hear her child recommended to peruse the adventures of a Turk and Mussulman — far less of a fabulous Turk, which she considered that potentate to be. She held that, in such stirring and tremendous times as those in which they lived, it would be much more to the purpose if Dolly became a regular subscriber to the Thunderer, where she would have an opportunity of reading Lord George Gordon’s speeches word for word, which would be a greater comfort and solace to her, than a hundred and fifty Blue Beards ever could impart. She appealed in support of this proposition to Miss Miggs, then in waiting, who said that indeed the peace of mind she had derived from the perusal of that paper generally, but especially of one article of the very last week as ever was, entitled ‘Great Britain drenched in gore,’ exceeded all belief; the same composition, she added, had also wrought such a comforting effect on the mind of a married sister of hers, then resident at Golden Lion Court, number twenty-sivin, second bell-handle on the right-hand door-post, that, being in a delicate state of health, and in fact expecting an addition to her family, she had been seized with fits directly after its perusal, and had raved of the Inquisition ever since; to the great improvement of her husband and friends. Miss Miggs went on to say that she would recommend all those whose hearts were hardened to hear Lord George themselves, whom she commended first, in respect of his steady Protestantism, then of his oratory, then of his eyes, then of his nose, then of his legs, and lastly of his figure generally, which she looked upon as fit for any statue, prince, or angel, to which sentiment Mrs Varden fully subscribed.

Mrs Varden having cut in, looked at a box upon the mantelshelf, painted in imitation of a very red-brick dwelling-house, with a yellow roof; having at top a real chimney, down which voluntary subscribers dropped their silver, gold, or pence, into the parlour; and on the door the counterfeit presentment of a brass plate, whereon was legibly inscribed ‘Protestant Association:’— and looking at it, said, that it was to her a source of poignant misery to think that Varden never had, of all his substance, dropped anything into that temple, save once in secret — as she afterwards discovered — two fragments of tobacco-pipe, which she hoped would not be put down to his last account. That Dolly, she was grieved to say, was no less backward in her contributions, better loving, as it seemed, to purchase ribbons and such gauds, than to encourage the great cause, then in such heavy tribulation; and that she did entreat her (her father she much feared could not be moved) not to despise, but imitate, the bright example of Miss Miggs, who flung her wages, as it were, into the very countenance of the Pope, and bruised his features with her quarter’s money.

‘Oh, mim,’ said Miggs, ‘don’t relude to that. I had no intentions, mim, that nobody should know. Such sacrifices as I can make, are quite a widder’s mite. It’s all I have,’ cried Miggs with a great burst of tears — for with her they never came on by degrees —‘but it’s made up to me in other ways; it’s well made up.’

This was quite true, though not perhaps in the sense that Miggs intended. As she never failed to keep her self-denial full in Mrs Varden’s view, it drew forth so many gifts of caps and gowns and other articles of dress, that upon the whole the red-brick house was perhaps the best investment for her small capital she could possibly have hit upon; returning her interest, at the rate of seven or eight per cent in money, and fifty at least in personal repute and credit.

‘You needn’t cry, Miggs,’ said Mrs Varden, herself in tears; ‘you needn’t be ashamed of it, though your poor mistress IS on the same side.’

Miggs howled at this remark, in a peculiarly dismal way, and said she knowed that master hated her. That it was a dreadful thing to live in families and have dislikes, and not give satisfactions. That to make divisions was a thing she could not abear to think of, neither could her feelings let her do it. That if it was master’s wishes as she and him should part, it was best they should part, and she hoped he might be the happier for it, and always wished him well, and that he might find somebody as would meet his dispositions. It would be a hard trial, she said, to part from such a missis, but she could meet any suffering when her conscience told her she was in the rights, and therefore she was willing even to go that lengths. She did not think, she added, that she could long survive the separations, but, as she was hated and looked upon unpleasant, perhaps her dying as soon as possible would be the best endings for all parties. With this affecting conclusion, Miss Miggs shed more tears, and sobbed abundantly.

‘Can you bear this, Varden?’ said his wife in a solemn voice, laying down her knife and fork.

‘Why, not very well, my dear,’ rejoined the locksmith, ‘but I try to keep my temper.’

‘Don’t let there be words on my account, mim,’ sobbed Miggs. ‘It’s much the best that we should part. I wouldn’t stay — oh, gracious me! — and make dissensions, not for a annual gold mine, and found in tea and sugar.’

Lest the reader should be at any loss to discover the cause of Miss Miggs’s deep emotion, it may be whispered apart that, happening to be listening, as her custom sometimes was, when Gabriel and his wife conversed together, she had heard the locksmith’s joke relative to the foreign black who played the tambourine, and bursting with the spiteful feelings which the taunt awoke in her fair breast, exploded in the manner we have witnessed. Matters having now arrived at a crisis, the locksmith, as usual, and for the sake of peace and quietness, gave in.

‘What are you crying for, girl?’ he said. ‘What’s the matter with you? What are you talking about hatred for? I don’t hate you; I don’t hate anybody. Dry your eyes and make yourself agreeable, in Heaven’s name, and let us all be happy while we can.’

The allied powers deeming it good generalship to consider this a sufficient apology on the part of the enemy, and confession of having been in the wrong, did dry their eyes and take it in good part. Miss Miggs observed that she bore no malice, no not to her greatest foe, whom she rather loved the more indeed, the greater persecution she sustained. Mrs Varden approved of this meek and forgiving spirit in high terms, and incidentally declared as a closing article of agreement, that Dolly should accompany her to the Clerkenwell branch of the association, that very night. This was an extraordinary instance of her great prudence and policy; having had this end in view from the first, and entertaining a secret misgiving that the locksmith (who was bold when Dolly was in question) would object, she had backed Miss Miggs up to this point, in order that she might have him at a disadvantage. The manoeuvre succeeded so well that Gabriel only made a wry face, and with the warning he had just had, fresh in his mind, did not dare to say one word.

The difference ended, therefore, in Miggs being presented with a gown by Mrs Varden and half-a-crown by Dolly, as if she had eminently distinguished herself in the paths of morality and goodness. Mrs V., according to custom, expressed her hope that Varden would take a lesson from what had passed and learn more generous conduct for the time to come; and the dinner being now cold and nobody’s appetite very much improved by what had passed, they went on with it, as Mrs Varden said, ‘like Christians.’

As there was to be a grand parade of the Royal East London Volunteers that afternoon, the locksmith did no more work; but sat down comfortably with his pipe in his mouth, and his arm round his pretty daughter’s waist, looking lovingly on Mrs V., from time to time, and exhibiting from the crown of his head to the sole of his foot, one smiling surface of good humour. And to be sure, when it was time to dress him in his regimentals, and Dolly, hanging about him in all kinds of graceful winning ways, helped to button and buckle and brush him up and get him into one of the tightest coats that ever was made by mortal tailor, he was the proudest father in all England.

‘What a handy jade it is!’ said the locksmith to Mrs Varden, who stood by with folded hands — rather proud of her husband too — while Miggs held his cap and sword at arm’s length, as if mistrusting that the latter might run some one through the body of its own accord; ‘but never marry a soldier, Doll, my dear.’

Dolly didn’t ask why not, or say a word, indeed, but stooped her head down very low to tie his sash.

‘I never wear this dress,’ said honest Gabriel, ‘but I think of poor Joe Willet. I loved Joe; he was always a favourite of mine. Poor Joe! — Dear heart, my girl, don’t tie me in so tight.’

Dolly laughed — not like herself at all — the strangest little laugh that could be — and held her head down lower still.

‘Poor Joe!’ resumed the locksmith, muttering to himself; ‘I always wish he had come to me. I might have made it up between them, if he had. Ah! old John made a great mistake in his way of acting by that lad — a great mistake. — Have you nearly tied that sash, my dear?’

What an ill-made sash it was! There it was, loose again and trailing on the ground. Dolly was obliged to kneel down, and recommence at the beginning.

‘Never mind young Willet, Varden,’ said his wife frowning; ‘you might find some one more deserving to talk about, I think.’

Miss Miggs gave a great sniff to the same effect.

‘Nay, Martha,’ cried the locksmith, ‘don’t let us bear too hard upon him. If the lad is dead indeed, we’ll deal kindly by his memory.’

‘A runaway and a vagabond!’ said Mrs Varden.

Miss Miggs expressed her concurrence as before.

‘A runaway, my dear, but not a vagabond,’ returned the locksmith in a gentle tone. ‘He behaved himself well, did Joe — always — and was a handsome, manly fellow. Don’t call him a vagabond, Martha.’

Mrs Varden coughed — and so did Miggs.

‘He tried hard to gain your good opinion, Martha, I can tell you,’ said the locksmith smiling, and stroking his chin. ‘Ah! that he did. It seems but yesterday that he followed me out to the Maypole door one night, and begged me not to say how like a boy they used him — say here, at home, he meant, though at the time, I recollect, I didn’t understand. “And how’s Miss Dolly, sir?” says Joe,’ pursued the locksmith, musing sorrowfully, ‘Ah! Poor Joe!’

‘Well, I declare,’ cried Miggs. ‘Oh! Goodness gracious me!’

‘What’s the matter now?’ said Gabriel, turning sharply to her, ‘Why, if here an’t Miss Dolly,’ said the handmaid, stooping down to look into her face, ‘a-giving way to floods of tears. Oh mim! oh sir. Raly it’s give me such a turn,’ cried the susceptible damsel, pressing her hand upon her side to quell the palpitation of her heart, ‘that you might knock me down with a feather.’

The locksmith, after glancing at Miss Miggs as if he could have wished to have a feather brought straightway, looked on with a broad stare while Dolly hurried away, followed by that sympathising young woman: then turning to his wife, stammered out, ‘Is Dolly ill? Have I done anything? Is it my fault?’

‘Your fault!’ cried Mrs V. reproachfully. ‘There — you had better make haste out.’

‘What have I done?’ said poor Gabriel. ‘It was agreed that Mr Edward’s name was never to be mentioned, and I have not spoken of him, have I?’

Mrs Varden merely replied that she had no patience with him, and bounced off after the other two. The unfortunate locksmith wound his sash about him, girded on his sword, put on his cap, and walked out.

‘I am not much of a dab at my exercise,’ he said under his breath, ‘but I shall get into fewer scrapes at that work than at this. Every man came into the world for something; my department seems to be to make every woman cry without meaning it. It’s rather hard!’

But he forgot it before he reached the end of the street, and went on with a shining face, nodding to the neighbours, and showering about his friendly greetings like mild spring rain.

Chapter 42

The Royal East London Volunteers made a brilliant sight that day: formed into lines, squares, circles, triangles, and what not, to the beating of drums, and the streaming of flags; and performed a vast number of complex evolutions, in all of which Serjeant Varden bore a conspicuous share. Having displayed their military prowess to the utmost in these warlike shows, they marched in glittering order to the Chelsea Bun House, and regaled in the adjacent taverns until dark. Then at sound of drum they fell in again, and returned amidst the shouting of His Majesty’s lieges to the place from whence they came.

The homeward march being somewhat tardy — owing to the un-soldierlike behaviour of certain corporals, who, being gentlemen of sedentary pursuits in private life and excitable out of doors, broke several windows with their bayonets, and rendered it imperative on the commanding officer to deliver them over to a strong guard, with whom they fought at intervals as they came along — it was nine o’clock when the locksmith reached home. A hackney-coach was waiting near his door; and as he passed it, Mr Haredale looked from the window and called him by his name.

‘The sight of you is good for sore eyes, sir,’ said the locksmith, stepping up to him. ‘I wish you had walked in though, rather than waited here.’

‘There is nobody at home, I find,’ Mr Haredale answered; ‘besides, I desired to be as private as I could.’

‘Humph!’ muttered the locksmith, looking round at his house. ‘Gone with Simon Tappertit to that precious Branch, no doubt.’

Mr Haredale invited him to come into the coach, and, if he were not tired or anxious to go home, to ride with him a little way that they might have some talk together. Gabriel cheerfully complied, and the coachman mounting his box drove off.

‘Varden,’ said Mr Haredale, after a minute’s pause, ‘you will be amazed to hear what errand I am on; it will seem a very strange one.’

‘I have no doubt it’s a reasonable one, sir, and has a meaning in it,’ replied the locksmith; ‘or it would not be yours at all. Have you just come back to town, sir?’

‘But half an hour ago.’

‘Bringing no news of Barnaby, or his mother?’ said the locksmith dubiously. ‘Ah! you needn’t shake your head, sir. It was a wild-goose chase. I feared that, from the first. You exhausted all reasonable means of discovery when they went away. To begin again after so long a time has passed is hopeless, sir — quite hopeless.’

‘Why, where are they?’ he returned impatiently. ‘Where can they be? Above ground?’

‘God knows,’ rejoined the locksmith, ‘many that I knew above it five years ago, have their beds under the grass now. And the world is a wide place. It’s a hopeless attempt, sir, believe me. We must leave the discovery of this mystery, like all others, to time, and accident, and Heaven’s pleasure.’

‘Varden, my good fellow,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘I have a deeper meaning in my present anxiety to find them out, than you can fathom. It is not a mere whim; it is not the casual revival of my old wishes and desires; but an earnest, solemn purpose. My thoughts and dreams all tend to it, and fix it in my mind. I have no rest by day or night; I have no peace or quiet; I am haunted.’

His voice was so altered from its usual tones, and his manner bespoke so much emotion, that Gabriel, in his wonder, could only sit and look towards him in the darkness, and fancy the expression of his face.

‘Do not ask me,’ continued Mr Haredale, ‘to explain myself. If I were to do so, you would think me the victim of some hideous fancy. It is enough that this is so, and that I cannot — no, I can not — lie quietly in my bed, without doing what will seem to you incomprehensible.’

‘Since when, sir,’ said the locksmith after a pause, ‘has this uneasy feeling been upon you?’

Mr Haredale hesitated for some moments, and then replied: ‘Since the night of the storm. In short, since the last nineteenth of March.’

As though he feared that Varden might express surprise, or reason with him, he hastily went on:

‘You will think, I know, I labour under some delusion. Perhaps I do. But it is not a morbid one; it is a wholesome action of the mind, reasoning on actual occurrences. You know the furniture remains in Mrs Rudge’s house, and that it has been shut up, by my orders, since she went away, save once a-week or so, when an old neighbour visits it to scare away the rats. I am on my way there now.’

‘For what purpose?’ asked the locksmith.

‘To pass the night there,’ he replied; ‘and not to-night alone, but many nights. This is a secret which I trust to you in case of any unexpected emergency. You will not come, unless in case of strong necessity, to me; from dusk to broad day I shall be there. Emma, your daughter, and the rest, suppose me out of London, as I have been until within this hour. Do not undeceive them. This is the errand I am bound upon. I know I may confide it to you, and I rely upon your questioning me no more at this time.’

With that, as if to change the theme, he led the astounded locksmith back to the night of the Maypole highwayman, to the robbery of Edward Chester, to the reappearance of the man at Mrs Rudge’s house, and to all the strange circumstances which afterwards occurred. He even asked him carelessly about the man’s height, his face, his figure, whether he was like any one he had ever seen — like Hugh, for instance, or any man he had known at any time — and put many questions of that sort, which the locksmith, considering them as mere devices to engage his attention and prevent his expressing the astonishment he felt, answered pretty much at random.

At length, they arrived at the corner of the street in which the house stood, where Mr Haredale, alighting, dismissed the coach. ‘If you desire to see me safely lodged,’ he said, turning to the locksmith with a gloomy smile, ‘you can.’

Gabriel, to whom all former marvels had been nothing in comparison with this, followed him along the narrow pavement in silence. When they reached the door, Mr Haredale softly opened it with a key he had about him, and closing it when Varden entered, they were left in thorough darkness.

They groped their way into the ground-floor room. Here Mr Haredale struck a light, and kindled a pocket taper he had brought with him for the purpose. It was then, when the flame was full upon him, that the locksmith saw for the first time how haggard, pale, and changed he looked; how worn and thin he was; how perfectly his whole appearance coincided with all that he had said so strangely as they rode along. It was not an unnatural impulse in Gabriel, after what he had heard, to note curiously the expression of his eyes. It was perfectly collected and rational; — so much so, indeed, that he felt ashamed of his momentary suspicion, and drooped his own when Mr Haredale looked towards him, as if he feared they would betray his thoughts.

‘Will you walk through the house?’ said Mr Haredale, with a glance towards the window, the crazy shutters of which were closed and fastened. ‘Speak low.’

There was a kind of awe about the place, which would have rendered it difficult to speak in any other manner. Gabriel whispered ‘Yes,’ and followed him upstairs.

Everything was just as they had seen it last. There was a sense of closeness from the exclusion of fresh air, and a gloom and heaviness around, as though long imprisonment had made the very silence sad. The homely hangings of the beds and windows had begun to droop; the dust lay thick upon their dwindling folds; and damps had made their way through ceiling, wall, and floor. The boards creaked beneath their tread, as if resenting the unaccustomed intrusion; nimble spiders, paralysed by the taper’s glare, checked the motion of their hundred legs upon the wall, or dropped like lifeless things upon the ground; the death-watch ticked; and the scampering feet of rats and mice rattled behind the wainscot.

As they looked about them on the decaying furniture, it was strange to find how vividly it presented those to whom it had belonged, and with whom it was once familiar. Grip seemed to perch again upon his high-backed chair; Barnaby to crouch in his old favourite corner by the fire; the mother to resume her usual seat, and watch him as of old. Even when they could separate these objects from the phantoms of the mind which they invoked, the latter only glided out of sight, but lingered near them still; for then they seemed to lurk in closets and behind the doors, ready to start out and suddenly accost them in well-remembered tones.

They went downstairs, and again into the room they had just now left. Mr Haredale unbuckled his sword and laid it on the table, with a pair of pocket pistols; then told the locksmith he would light him to the door.

‘But this is a dull place, sir,’ said Gabriel lingering; ‘may no one share your watch?’

He shook his head, and so plainly evinced his wish to be alone, that Gabriel could say no more. In another moment the locksmith was standing in the street, whence he could see that the light once more travelled upstairs, and soon returning to the room below, shone brightly through the chinks of the shutters.

If ever man were sorely puzzled and perplexed, the locksmith was, that night. Even when snugly seated by his own fireside, with Mrs Varden opposite in a nightcap and night-jacket, and Dolly beside him (in a most distracting dishabille) curling her hair, and smiling as if she had never cried in all her life and never could — even then, with Toby at his elbow and his pipe in his mouth, and Miggs (but that perhaps was not much) falling asleep in the background, he could not quite discard his wonder and uneasiness. So in his dreams — still there was Mr Haredale, haggard and careworn, listening in the solitary house to every sound that stirred, with the taper shining through the chinks until the day should turn it pale and end his lonely watching.

Chapter 43

Next morning brought no satisfaction to the locksmith’s thoughts, nor next day, nor the next, nor many others. Often after nightfall he entered the street, and turned his eyes towards the well-known house; and as surely as he did so, there was the solitary light, still gleaming through the crevices of the window-shutter, while all within was motionless, noiseless, cheerless, as a grave. Unwilling to hazard Mr Haredale’s favour by disobeying his strict injunction, he never ventured to knock at the door or to make his presence known in any way. But whenever strong interest and curiosity attracted him to the spot — which was not seldom — the light was always there.

If he could have known what passed within, the knowledge would have yielded him no clue to this mysterious vigil. At twilight, Mr Haredale shut himself up, and at daybreak he came forth. He never missed a night, always came and went alone, and never varied his proceedings in the least degree.

The manner of his watch was this. At dusk, he entered the house in the same way as when the locksmith bore him company, kindled a light, went through the rooms, and narrowly examined them. That done, he returned to the chamber on the ground-floor, and laying his sword and pistols on the table, sat by it until morning.

He usually had a book with him, and often tried to read, but never fixed his eyes or thoughts upon it for five minutes together. The slightest noise without doors, caught his ear; a step upon the pavement seemed to make his heart leap.

He was not without some refreshment during the long lonely hours; generally carrying in his pocket a sandwich of bread and meat, and a small flask of wine. The latter diluted with large quantities of water, he drank in a heated, feverish way, as though his throat were dried; but he scarcely ever broke his fast, by so much as a crumb of bread.

If this voluntary sacrifice of sleep and comfort had its origin, as the locksmith on consideration was disposed to think, in any superstitious expectation of the fulfilment of a dream or vision connected with the event on which he had brooded for so many years, and if he waited for some ghostly visitor who walked abroad when men lay sleeping in their beds, he showed no trace of fear or wavering. His stern features expressed inflexible resolution; his brows were puckered, and his lips compressed, with deep and settled purpose; and when he started at a noise and listened, it was not with the start of fear but hope, and catching up his sword as though the hour had come at last, he would clutch it in his tight-clenched hand, and listen with sparkling eyes and eager looks, until it died away.

These disappointments were numerous, for they ensued on almost every sound, but his constancy was not shaken. Still, every night he was at his post, the same stern, sleepless, sentinel; and still night passed, and morning dawned, and he must watch again.

This went on for weeks; he had taken a lodging at Vauxhall in which to pass the day and rest himself; and from this place, when the tide served, he usually came to London Bridge from Westminster by water, in order that he might avoid the busy streets.

One evening, shortly before twilight, he came his accustomed road upon the river’s bank, intending to pass through Westminster Hall into Palace Yard, and there take boat to London Bridge as usual. There was a pretty large concourse of people assembled round the Houses of Parliament, looking at the members as they entered and departed, and giving vent to rather noisy demonstrations of approval or dislike, according to their known opinions. As he made his way among the throng, he heard once or twice the No-Popery cry, which was then becoming pretty familiar to the ears of most men; but holding it in very slight regard, and observing that the idlers were of the lowest grade, he neither thought nor cared about it, but made his way along, with perfect indifference.

There were many little knots and groups of persons in Westminster Hall: some few looking upward at its noble ceiling, and at the rays of evening light, tinted by the setting sun, which streamed in aslant through its small windows, and growing dimmer by degrees, were quenched in the gathering gloom below; some, noisy passengers, mechanics going home from work, and otherwise, who hurried quickly through, waking the echoes with their voices, and soon darkening the small door in the distance, as they passed into the street beyond; some, in busy conference together on political or private matters, pacing slowly up and down with eyes that sought the ground, and seeming, by their attitudes, to listen earnestly from head to foot. Here, a dozen squabbling urchins made a very Babel in the air; there, a solitary man, half clerk, half mendicant, paced up and down with hungry dejection in his look and gait; at his elbow passed an errand-lad, swinging his basket round and round, and with his shrill whistle riving the very timbers of the roof; while a more observant schoolboy, half-way through, pocketed his ball, and eyed the distant beadle as he came looming on. It was that time of evening when, if you shut your eyes and open them again, the darkness of an hour appears to have gathered in a second. The smooth-worn pavement, dusty with footsteps, still called upon the lofty walls to reiterate the shuffle and the tread of feet unceasingly, save when the closing of some heavy door resounded through the building like a clap of thunder, and drowned all other noises in its rolling sound.

Mr Haredale, glancing only at such of these groups as he passed nearest to, and then in a manner betokening that his thoughts were elsewhere, had nearly traversed the Hall, when two persons before him caught his attention. One of these, a gentleman in elegant attire, carried in his hand a cane, which he twirled in a jaunty manner as he loitered on; the other, an obsequious, crouching, fawning figure, listened to what he said — at times throwing in a humble word himself — and, with his shoulders shrugged up to his ears, rubbed his hands submissively, or answered at intervals by an inclination of the head, half-way between a nod of acquiescence, and a bow of most profound respect.

In the abstract there was nothing very remarkable in this pair, for servility waiting on a handsome suit of clothes and a cane — not to speak of gold and silver sticks, or wands of office — is common enough. But there was that about the well-dressed man, yes, and about the other likewise, which struck Mr Haredale with no pleasant feeling. He hesitated, stopped, and would have stepped aside and turned out of his path, but at the moment, the other two faced about quickly, and stumbled upon him before he could avoid them.

The gentleman with the cane lifted his hat and had begun to tender an apology, which Mr Haredale had begun as hastily to acknowledge and walk away, when he stopped short and cried, ‘Haredale! Gad bless me, this is strange indeed!’

‘It is,’ he returned impatiently; ‘yes — a —’

‘My dear friend,’ cried the other, detaining him, ‘why such great speed? One minute, Haredale, for the sake of old acquaintance.’

‘I am in haste,’ he said. ‘Neither of us has sought this meeting. Let it be a brief one. Good night!’

‘Fie, fie!’ replied Sir John (for it was he), ‘how very churlish! We were speaking of you. Your name was on my lips — perhaps you heard me mention it? No? I am sorry for that. I am really sorry. — You know our friend here, Haredale? This is really a most remarkable meeting!’

The friend, plainly very ill at ease, had made bold to press Sir John’s arm, and to give him other significant hints that he was desirous of avoiding this introduction. As it did not suit Sir John’s purpose, however, that it should be evaded, he appeared quite unconscious of these silent remonstrances, and inclined his hand towards him, as he spoke, to call attention to him more particularly.

The friend, therefore, had nothing for it, but to muster up the pleasantest smile he could, and to make a conciliatory bow, as Mr Haredale turned his eyes upon him. Seeing that he was recognised, he put out his hand in an awkward and embarrassed manner, which was not mended by its contemptuous rejection.

‘Mr Gashford!’ said Haredale, coldly. ‘It is as I have heard then. You have left the darkness for the light, sir, and hate those whose opinions you formerly held, with all the bitterness of a renegade. You are an honour, sir, to any cause. I wish the one you espouse at present, much joy of the acquisition it has made.’

The secretary rubbed his hands and bowed, as though he would disarm his adversary by humbling himself before him. Sir John Chester again exclaimed, with an air of great gaiety, ‘Now, really, this is a most remarkable meeting!’ and took a pinch of snuff with his usual self-possession.

‘Mr Haredale,’ said Gashford, stealthily raising his eyes, and letting them drop again when they met the other’s steady gaze, is too conscientious, too honourable, too manly, I am sure, to attach unworthy motives to an honest change of opinions, even though it implies a doubt of those he holds himself. Mr Haredale is too just, too generous, too clear-sighted in his moral vision, to —’

‘Yes, sir?’ he rejoined with a sarcastic smile, finding the secretary stopped. ‘You were saying’—

Gashford meekly shrugged his shoulders, and looking on the ground again, was silent.

‘No, but let us really,’ interposed Sir John at this juncture, ‘let us really, for a moment, contemplate the very remarkable character of this meeting. Haredale, my dear friend, pardon me if I think you are not sufficiently impressed with its singularity. Here we stand, by no previous appointment or arrangement, three old schoolfellows, in Westminster Hall; three old boarders in a remarkably dull and shady seminary at Saint Omer’s, where you, being Catholics and of necessity educated out of England, were brought up; and where I, being a promising young Protestant at that time, was sent to learn the French tongue from a native of Paris!’

‘Add to the singularity, Sir John,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘that some of you Protestants of promise are at this moment leagued in yonder building, to prevent our having the surpassing and unheard-of privilege of teaching our children to read and write — here — in this land, where thousands of us enter your service every year, and to preserve the freedom of which, we die in bloody battles abroad, in heaps: and that others of you, to the number of some thousands as I learn, are led on to look on all men of my creed as wolves and beasts of prey, by this man Gashford. Add to it besides the bare fact that this man lives in society, walks the streets in broad day — I was about to say, holds up his head, but that he does not — and it will be strange, and very strange, I grant you.’

‘Oh! you are hard upon our friend,’ replied Sir John, with an engaging smile. ‘You are really very hard upon our friend!’

‘Let him go on, Sir John,’ said Gashford, fumbling with his gloves. ‘Let him go on. I can make allowances, Sir John. I am honoured with your good opinion, and I can dispense with Mr Haredale’s. Mr Haredale is a sufferer from the penal laws, and I can’t expect his favour.’

‘You have so much of my favour, sir,’ retorted Mr Haredale, with a bitter glance at the third party in their conversation, ‘that I am glad to see you in such good company. You are the essence of your great Association, in yourselves.’

‘Now, there you mistake,’ said Sir John, in his most benignant way. ‘There — which is a most remarkable circumstance for a man of your punctuality and exactness, Haredale — you fall into error. I don’t belong to the body; I have an immense respect for its members, but I don’t belong to it; although I am, it is certainly true, the conscientious opponent of your being relieved. I feel it my duty to be so; it is a most unfortunate necessity; and cost me a bitter struggle. — Will you try this box? If you don’t object to a trifling infusion of a very chaste scent, you’ll find its flavour exquisite.’

‘I ask your pardon, Sir John,’ said Mr Haredale, declining the proffer with a motion of his hand, ‘for having ranked you among the humble instruments who are obvious and in all men’s sight. I should have done more justice to your genius. Men of your capacity plot in secrecy and safety, and leave exposed posts to the duller wits.’

‘Don’t apologise, for the world,’ replied Sir John sweetly; ‘old friends like you and I, may be allowed some freedoms, or the deuce is in it.’

Gashford, who had been very restless all this time, but had not once looked up, now turned to Sir John, and ventured to mutter something to the effect that he must go, or my lord would perhaps be waiting.

‘Don’t distress yourself, good sir,’ said Mr Haredale, ‘I’ll take my leave, and put you at your ease —’ which he was about to do without ceremony, when he was stayed by a buzz and murmur at the upper end of the hall, and, looking in that direction, saw Lord George Gordon coming in, with a crowd of people round him.

There was a lurking look of triumph, though very differently expressed, in the faces of his two companions, which made it a natural impulse on Mr Haredale’s part not to give way before this leader, but to stand there while he passed. He drew himself up and, clasping his hands behind him, looked on with a proud and scornful aspect, while Lord George slowly advanced (for the press was great about him) towards the spot where they were standing.

He had left the House of Commons but that moment, and had come straight down into the Hall, bringing with him, as his custom was, intelligence of what had been said that night in reference to the Papists, and what petitions had been presented in their favour, and who had supported them, and when the bill was to be brought in, and when it would be advisable to present their own Great Protestant petition. All this he told the persons about him in a loud voice, and with great abundance of ungainly gesture. Those who were nearest him made comments to each other, and vented threats and murmurings; those who were outside the crowd cried, ‘Silence,’ and Stand back,’ or closed in upon the rest, endeavouring to make a forcible exchange of places: and so they came driving on in a very disorderly and irregular way, as it is the manner of a crowd to do.

When they were very near to where the secretary, Sir John, and Mr Haredale stood, Lord George turned round and, making a few remarks of a sufliciently violent and incoherent kind, concluded with the usual sentiment, and called for three cheers to back it. While these were in the act of being given with great energy, he extricated himself from the press, and stepped up to Gashford’s side. Both he and Sir John being well known to the populace, they fell back a little, and left the four standing together.

‘Mr Haredale, Lord George,’ said Sir John Chester, seeing that the nobleman regarded him with an inquisitive look. ‘A Catholic gentleman unfortunately — most unhappily a Catholic — but an esteemed acquaintance of mine, and once of Mr Gashford’s. My dear Haredale, this is Lord George Gordon.’

‘I should have known that, had I been ignorant of his lordship’s person,’ said Mr Haredale. ‘I hope there is but one gentleman in England who, addressing an ignorant and excited throng, would speak of a large body of his fellow-subjects in such injurious language as I heard this moment. For shame, my lord, for shame!’

‘I cannot talk to you, sir,’ replied Lord George in a loud voice, and waving his hand in a disturbed and agitated manner; ‘we have nothing in common.’

‘We have much in common — many things — all that the Almighty gave us,’ said Mr Haredale; ‘and common charity, not to say common sense and common decency, should teach you to refrain from these proceedings. If every one of those men had arms in their hands at this moment, as they have them in their heads, I would not leave this place without telling you that you disgrace your station.’

‘I don’t hear you, sir,’ he replied in the same manner as before; ‘I can’t hear you. It is indifferent to me what you say. Don’t retort, Gashford,’ for the secretary had made a show of wishing to do so; ‘I can hold no communion with the worshippers of idols.’

As he said this, he glanced at Sir John, who lifted his hands and eyebrows, as if deploring the intemperate conduct of Mr Haredale, and smiled in admiration of the crowd and of their leader.

‘HE retort!’ cried Haredale. ‘Look you here, my lord. Do you know this man?’

Lord George replied by laying his hand upon the shoulder of his cringing secretary, and viewing him with a smile of confidence.

‘This man,’ said Mr Haredale, eyeing him from top to toe, ‘who in his boyhood was a thief, and has been from that time to this, a servile, false, and truckling knave: this man, who has crawled and crept through life, wounding the hands he licked, and biting those he fawned upon: this sycophant, who never knew what honour, truth, or courage meant; who robbed his benefactor’s daughter of her virtue, and married her to break her heart, and did it, with stripes and cruelty: this creature, who has whined at kitchen windows for the broken food, and begged for halfpence at our chapel doors: this apostle of the faith, whose tender conscience cannot bear the altars where his vicious life was publicly denounced — Do you know this man?’

‘Oh, really — you are very, very hard upon our friend!’ exclaimed Sir John.

‘Let Mr Haredale go on,’ said Gashford, upon whose unwholesome face the perspiration had broken out during this speech, in blotches of wet; ‘I don’t mind him, Sir John; it’s quite as indifferent to me what he says, as it is to my lord. If he reviles my lord, as you have heard, Sir John, how can I hope to escape?’

‘Is it not enough, my lord,’ Mr Haredale continued, ‘that I, as good a gentleman as you, must hold my property, such as it is, by a trick at which the state connives because of these hard laws; and that we may not teach our youth in schools the common principles of right and wrong; but must we be denounced and ridden by such men as this! Here is a man to head your No-Popery cry! For shame. For shame!’

The infatuated nobleman had glanced more than once at Sir John Chester, as if to inquire whether there was any truth in these statements concerning Gashford, and Sir John had as often plainly answered by a shrug or look, ‘Oh dear me! no.’ He now said, in the same loud key, and in the same strange manner as before:

‘I have nothing to say, sir, in reply, and no desire to hear anything more. I beg you won’t obtrude your conversation, or these personal attacks, upon me. I shall not be deterred from doing my duty to my country and my countrymen, by any such attempts, whether they proceed from emissaries of the Pope or not, I assure you. Come, Gashford!’

They had walked on a few paces while speaking, and were now at the Hall-door, through which they passed together. Mr Haredale, without any leave-taking, turned away to the river stairs, which were close at hand, and hailed the only boatman who remained there.

But the throng of people — the foremost of whom had heard every word that Lord George Gordon said, and among all of whom the rumour had been rapidly dispersed that the stranger was a Papist who was bearding him for his advocacy of the popular cause — came pouring out pell-mell, and, forcing the nobleman, his secretary, and Sir John Chester on before them, so that they appeared to be at their head, crowded to the top of the stairs where Mr Haredale waited until the boat was ready, and there stood still, leaving him on a little clear space by himself.

They were not silent, however, though inactive. At first some indistinct mutterings arose among them, which were followed by a hiss or two, and these swelled by degrees into a perfect storm. Then one voice said, ‘Down with the Papists!’ and there was a pretty general cheer, but nothing more. After a lull of a few moments, one man cried out, ‘Stone him;’ another, ‘Duck him;’ another, in a stentorian voice, ‘No Popery!’ This favourite cry the rest re-echoed, and the mob, which might have been two hundred strong, joined in a general shout.

Mr Haredale had stood calmly on the brink of the steps, until they made this demonstration, when he looked round contemptuously, and walked at a slow pace down the stairs. He was pretty near the boat, when Gashford, as if without intention, turned about, and directly afterwards a great stone was thrown by some hand, in the crowd, which struck him on the head, and made him stagger like a drunken man.

The blood sprung freely from the wound, and trickled down his coat. He turned directly, and rushing up the steps with a boldness and passion which made them all fall back, demanded:

‘Who did that? Show me the man who hit me.’

Not a soul moved; except some in the rear who slunk off, and, escaping to the other side of the way, looked on like indifferent spectators.

‘Who did that?’ he repeated. ‘Show me the man who did it. Dog, was it you? It was your deed, if not your hand — I know you.’

He threw himself on Gashford as he said the words, and hurled him to the ground. There was a sudden motion in the crowd, and some laid hands upon him, but his sword was out, and they fell off again.

‘My lord — Sir John,’— he cried, ‘draw, one of you — you are responsible for this outrage, and I look to you. Draw, if you are gentlemen.’ With that he struck Sir John upon the breast with the flat of his weapon, and with a burning face and flashing eyes stood upon his guard; alone, before them all.

For an instant, for the briefest space of time the mind can readily conceive, there was a change in Sir John’s smooth face, such as no man ever saw there. The next moment, he stepped forward, and laid one hand on Mr Haredale’s arm, while with the other he endeavoured to appease the crowd.

‘My dear friend, my good Haredale, you are blinded with passion — it’s very natural, extremely natural — but you don’t know friends from foes.’

‘I know them all, sir, I can distinguish well —’ he retorted, almost mad with rage. ‘Sir John, Lord George — do you hear me? Are you cowards?’

‘Never mind, sir,’ said a man, forcing his way between and pushing him towards the stairs with friendly violence, ‘never mind asking that. For God’s sake, get away. What CAN you do against this number? And there are as many more in the next street, who’ll be round dfrectly,’— indeed they began to pour in as he said the words —‘you’d be giddy from that cut, in the first heat of a scuffle. Now do retire, sir, or take my word for it you’ll be worse used than you would be if every man in the crowd was a woman, and that woman Bloody Mary. Come, sir, make haste — as quick as you can.’

Mr Haredale, who began to turn faint and sick, felt how sensible this advice was, and descended the steps with his unknown friend’s assistance. John Grueby (for John it was) helped him into the boat, and giving her a shove off, which sent her thirty feet into the tide, bade the waterman pull away like a Briton; and walked up again as composedly as if he had just landed.

There was at first a slight disposition on the part of the mob to resent this interference; but John looking particularly strong and cool, and wearing besides Lord George’s livery, they thought better of it, and contented themselves with sending a shower of small missiles after the boat, which plashed harmlessly in the water; for she had by this time cleared the bridge, and was darting swiftly down the centre of the stream.

From this amusement, they proceeded to giving Protestant knocks at the doors of private houses, breaking a few lamps, and assaulting some stray constables. But, it being whispered that a detachment of Life Guards had been sent for, they took to their heels with great expedition, and left the street quite clear.

Chapter 44

When the concourse separated, and, dividing into chance clusters, drew off in various directions, there still remained upon the scene of the late disturbance, 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 the exposure of which he had been the victim, limped up and down, breathing curses and threats of vengeance.

It was not the secretary’s nature to waste his wrath in words. While he vented the froth of his malevolence in those effusions, he kept a steady eye on two men, who, having disappeared with the rest when the alarm was spread, had since 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 the street, until they were tired of strolling backwards and forwards and walked away 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 Saint Giles’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 the choicest kind, leading into the fields. Great heaps of ashes; stagnant pools, overgrown with rank grass and duckweed; broken turnstiles; and the upright posts of palings long since carried off for firewood, which menaced all heedless walkers with their jagged and rusty nails; were the leading features of the landscape: while here and there a donkey, or a ragged horse, tethered to 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 houses had not done so, sufficiently, of themselves) how very poor the people were who lived in the crazy huts adjacent, and how foolhardy it might prove for one who carried money, or wore decent clothes, to walk that way alone, unless by daylight.

Poverty has its whims and shows of taste, as wealth has. Some of these cabins were turreted, some had false windows painted on their rotten walls; one had a mimic 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 population dealt 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 a perfume, not of the most delicious nature, in the air, filled it besides with yelps, and screams, and howling.

Into this retreat, the secretary followed the two men whom he had held in sight; and here he saw them safely lodged, in one of the meanest houses, which was but a room, and that of small dimensions. He waited without, until the sound of their voices, joined in a discordant song, assured him they were making merry; and then approaching the door, by means of a tottering plank which 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. There was 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. Dennis placed a chair, his only one, for the secretary, in front of the hearth; and took his seat again upon the stool he had left when he rose to give the visitor 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 to begin? 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 — with life 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 were commending them for some uncommon act of valour and generosity. ‘By the bye’— and here he stopped and warmed his hands: then suddenly looked up —‘who threw 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 should like to know that man.’

‘Would you?’ said Dennis, after looking at his face to assure himself that he was 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 he pointed with his pipe to Hugh, ‘there he sits. That’s the man. My stars and halters, Muster Gashford,’ he added in a whisper, as he drew his stool close to him and jogged him with his elbow, ‘what a interesting blade he is! He wants as much holding in as a thorough-bred bulldog. If it hadn’t been for me to-day, he’d have had that ‘ere Roman down, and made a riot of it, in another minute.’

‘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’s what I say.’

‘Ah!’ retorted Dennis, shaking his head, with a kind of pity for his friend’s ingenuous youth; ‘but suppose the iron an’t hot, brother! You must get people’s blood up afore you strike, and have ’em in the humour. There wasn’t quite enough to provoke ’em to-day, I tell you. If you’d had your way, you’d have 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 out of 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 he had 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 provoke an outbreak. Oh dear no!’

‘No, by the Lord Harry!’ cried Dennis with a noisy laugh, ‘you went down very quiet, 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 more still — 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 wrinkled eyes on Hugh who did the like, might have furnished a study for the devil’s picture. 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’s particular desire that I should sup with him, and the time being very near at hand, I should he inclined to stay, until it would be hardly safe to go homeward. I come upon a little business — yes, I do — as you supposed. It’s very flattering 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 the subject much too vast for expression, he puffed at his pipe again, and looked the rest.

‘I say,’ resumed the secretary, in a slow, impressive way; ‘we can’t tell what may come to pass; and if we should be obliged, against our wills, to have recourse to violence, my lord (who has suffered terribly to-day, as far as words can go) consigns to you two — bearing in mind my recommendation of you both, as good staunch men, beyond all doubt and suspicion — the pleasant task of punishing this Haredale. You may do as you please with him, or his, provided that you show no mercy, and no quarter, and leave no two beams of his house standing where the builder placed them. You may sack it, burn it, do with it as 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 their mothers have exposed. Do you understand me?’ said Gashford, pausing, and pressing his hands together gently.

‘Understand you, master!’ cried Hugh. ‘You speak plain now. Why, this is hearty!’

‘I knew you would like it,’ said Gashford, shaking him by the hand; ‘I thought you would. Good night! Don’t rise, Dennis: I would rather find my way alone. I may have to make other visits here, and it’s pleasant to come and go without disturbing 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, and nodded 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 a surprising memory and wonderful firmness — that he never forgot, and never forgave. — Let’s drink his health!’

Hugh readily complied — pouring no liquor on the floor when he drank this toast — and they pledged the secretary as a man after their own hearts, in a bumper.

Chapter 45

While the worst passions of the worst men were thus working in the dark, and the mantle of religion, assumed to cover the ugliest deformities, threatened to become the shroud of all that was good and peaceful in society, a circumstance occurred which once more altered the position of two persons from whom this history has long been separated, and to whom it must now return.

In a small English country town, the inhabitants of which supported themselves by the labour of their hands in plaiting and preparing straw for those who made bonnets and other articles of dress and ornament from that material — concealed under an assumed name, and living in a quiet poverty which knew no change, no pleasures, and few cares but that of struggling on from day to day in one great toil for bread — dwelt Barnaby and his mother. Their poor cottage had known no stranger’s foot since they sought the shelter of its roof five years before; nor had they in all that time held any commerce or communication with the old world from which they had fled. To labour in peace, and devote her labour and her life to her poor son, was all the widow sought. If happiness can be said at any time to be the lot of one on whom a secret sorrow preys, she was happy now. Tranquillity, resignation, and her strong love of him who needed it so much, formed the small circle of her quiet joys; and while that remained unbroken, she was contented.

For Barnaby himself, the time which had flown by, had passed him like the wind. The daily suns of years had shed no brighter gleam of reason on his mind; no dawn had broken on his long, dark night. He would sit sometimes — often for days together on a low seat by the fire or by the cottage door, busy at work (for he had learnt the art his mother plied), and listening, God help him, to the tales she would repeat, as a lure to keep him in her sight. He had no recollection of these little narratives; the tale of yesterday was new to him upon the morrow; but he liked them at the moment; and when the humour held him, would remain patiently within doors, hearing her stories like a little child, and working cheerfully from sunrise until it was too dark to see.

At other times — and then their scanty earnings were barely sufficient to furnish them with food, though of the coarsest sort — he would wander abroad from dawn of day until the twilight deepened into night. Few in that place, even of the children, could be idle, and he had no companions of his own kind. Indeed there were not many who could have kept up with him in his rambles, had there been a legion. But there were a score of vagabond dogs belonging to the neighbours, who served his purpose quite as well. With two or three of these, or sometimes with a full half-dozen barking at his heels, he would sally forth on some long expedition that consumed the day; and though, on their return at nightfall, the dogs would come home limping and sore-footed, and almost spent with their fatigue, Barnaby was up and off again at sunrise with some new attendants of the same class, with whom he would return in like manner. On all these travels, Grip, in his little basket at his master’s back, was a constant member of the party, and when they set off in fine weather and in high spirits, no dog barked louder than the raven.

Their pleasures on these excursions were simple enough. A crust of bread and scrap of meat, with water from the brook or spring, sufficed for their repast. Barnaby’s enjoyments were, to walk, and run, and leap, till he was tired; then to lie down in the long grass, or by the growing corn, or in the shade of some tall tree, looking upward at the light clouds as they floated over the blue surface of the sky, and listening to the lark as she poured out her brilliant song. There were wild-flowers to pluck — the bright red poppy, the gentle harebell, the cowslip, and the rose. There were birds to watch; fish; ants; worms; hares or rabbits, as they darted across the distant pathway in the wood and so were gone: millions of living things to have an interest in, and lie in wait for, and clap hands and shout in memory of, when they had disappeared. In default of these, or when they wearied, there was the merry sunlight to hunt out, as it crept in aslant through leaves and boughs of trees, and hid far down — deep, deep, in hollow places — like a silver pool, where nodding branches seemed to bathe and sport; sweet scents of summer air breathing over fields of beans or clover; the perfume of wet leaves or moss; the life of waving trees, and shadows always changing. When these or any of them tired, or in excess of pleasing tempted him to shut his eyes, there was slumber in the midst of all these soft delights, with the gentle wind murmuring like music in his ears, and everything around melting into one delicious dream.

Their hut — for it was little more — stood on the outskirts of the town, at a short distance from the high road, but in a secluded place, where few chance passengers strayed at any season of the year. It had a plot of garden-ground attached, which Barnaby, in fits and starts of working, trimmed, and kept in order. Within doors and without, his mother laboured for their common good; and hail, rain, snow, or sunshine, found no difference in her.

Though so far removed from the scenes of her past life, and with so little thought or hope of ever visiting them again, she seemed to have a strange desire to know what happened in the busy world. Any old newspaper, or scrap of intelligence from London, she caught at with avidity. The excitement it produced was not of a pleasurable kind, for her manner at such times expressed the keenest anxiety and dread; but it never faded in the least degree. Then, and in stormy winter nights, when the wind blew loud and strong, the old expression came into her face, and she would be seized with a fit of trembling, like one who had an ague. But Barnaby noted little of this; and putting a great constraint upon herself, she usually recovered her accustomed manner before the change had caught his observation.

Grip was by no means an idle or unprofitable member of the humble household. Partly by dint of Barnaby’s tuition, and partly by pursuing a species of self-instruction common to his tribe, and exerting his powers of observation to the utmost, he had acquired a degree of sagacity which rendered him famous for miles round. His conversational powers and surprising performances were the universal theme: and as many persons came to see the wonderful raven, and none left his exertions unrewarded — when he condescended to exhibit, which was not always, for genius is capricious — his earnings formed an important item in the common stock. Indeed, the bird himself appeared to know his value well; for though he was perfectly free and unrestrained in the presence of Barnaby and his mother, he maintained in public an amazing gravity, and never stooped to any other gratuitous performances than biting the ankles of vagabond boys (an exercise in which he much delighted), killing a fowl or two occasionally, and swallowing the dinners of various neighbouring dogs, of whom the boldest held him in great awe and dread.

Time had glided on in this way, and nothing had happened to disturb or change their mode of life, when, one summer’s night in June, they were in their little garden, resting from the labours of the day. The widow’s work was yet upon her knee, and strewn upon the ground about her; and Barnaby stood leaning on his spade, gazing at the brightness in the west, and singing softly to himself.

‘A brave evening, mother! If we had, chinking in our pockets, but a few specks of that gold which is piled up yonder in the sky, we should be rich for life.’

‘We are better as we are,’ returned the widow with a quiet smile. ‘Let us be contented, and we do not want and need not care to have it, though it lay shining at our feet.’

‘Ay!’ said Barnaby, resting with crossed arms on his spade, and looking wistfully at the sunset, that’s well enough, mother; but gold’s a good thing to have. I wish that I knew where to find it. Grip and I could do much with gold, be sure of that.’

‘What would you do?’ she asked.

‘What! A world of things. We’d dress finely — you and I, I mean; not Grip — keep horses, dogs, wear bright colours and feathers, do no more work, live delicately and at our ease. Oh, we’d find uses for it, mother, and uses that would do us good. I would I knew where gold was buried. How hard I’d work to dig it up!’

‘You do not know,’ said his mother, rising from her seat and laying her hand upon his shoulder, ‘what men have done to win it, and how they have found, too late, that it glitters brightest at a distance, and turns quite dim and dull when handled.’

‘Ay, ay; so you say; so you think,’ he answered, still looking eagerly in the same direction. ‘For all that, mother, I should like to try.’

‘Do you not see,’ she said, ‘how red it is? Nothing bears so many stains of blood, as gold. Avoid it. None have such cause to hate its name as we have. Do not so much as think of it, dear love. It has brought such misery and suffering on your head and mine as few have known, and God grant few may have to undergo. I would rather we were dead and laid down in our graves, than you should ever come to love it.’

For a moment Barnaby withdrew his eyes and looked at her with wonder. Then, glancing from the redness in the sky to the mark upon his wrist as if he would compare the two, he seemed about to question her with earnestness, when a new object caught his wandering attention, and made him quite forgetful of his purpose.

This was a man with dusty feet and garments, who stood, bare-headed, behind the hedge that divided their patch of garden from the pathway, and leant meekly forward as if he sought to mingle with their conversation, and waited for his time to speak. His face was turned towards the brightness, too, but the light that fell upon it showed that he was blind, and saw it not.

‘A blessing on those voices!’ said the wayfarer. ‘I feel the beauty of the night more keenly, when I hear them. They are like eyes to me. Will they speak again, and cheer the heart of a poor traveller?’

‘Have you no guide?’ asked the widow, after a moment’s pause.

‘None but that,’ he answered, pointing with his staff towards the sun; ‘and sometimes a milder one at night, but she is idle now.’

‘Have you travelled far?’

‘A weary way and long,’ rejoined the traveller as he shook his head. ‘A weary, weary, way. I struck my stick just now upon the bucket of your well — be pleased to let me have a draught of water, lady.’

‘Why do you call me lady?’ she returned. ‘I am as poor as you.’

‘Your speech is soft and gentle, and I judge by that,’ replied the man. ‘The coarsest stuffs and finest silks, are — apart from the sense of touch — alike to me. I cannot judge you by your dress.’

‘Come round this way,’ said Barnaby, who had passed out at the garden-gate and now stood close beside him. ‘Put your hand in mine. You’re blind and always in the dark, eh? Are you frightened in the dark? Do you see great crowds of faces, now? Do they grin and chatter?’

‘Alas!’ returned the other, ‘I see nothing. Waking or sleeping, nothing.’

Barnaby looked curiously at his eyes, and touching them with his fingers, as an inquisitive child might, led him towards the house.

‘You have come a long distance, ‘said the widow, meeting him at the door. ‘How have you found your way so far?’

‘Use and necessity are good teachers, as I have heard — the best of any,’ said the blind man, sitting down upon the chair to which Barnaby had led him, and putting his hat and stick upon the red-tiled floor. ‘May neither you nor your son ever learn under them. They are rough masters.’

‘You have wandered from the road, too,’ said the widow, in a tone of pity.

‘Maybe, maybe,’ returned the blind man with a sigh, and yet with something of a smile upon his face, ‘that’s likely. Handposts and milestones are dumb, indeed, to me. Thank you the more for this rest, and this refreshing drink!’

As he spoke, he raised the mug of water to his mouth. It was clear, and cold, and sparkling, but not to his taste nevertheless, or his thirst was not very great, for he only wetted his lips and put it down again.

He wore, hanging with a long strap round his neck, a kind of scrip or wallet, in which to carry food. The widow set some bread and cheese before him, but he thanked her, and said that through the kindness of the charitable he had broken his fast once since morning, and was not hungry. When he had made her this reply, he opened his wallet, and took out a few pence, which was all it appeared to contain.

‘Might I make bold to ask,’ he said, turning towards where Barnaby stood looking on, ‘that one who has the gift of sight, would lay this out for me in bread to keep me on my way? Heaven’s blessing on the young feet that will bestir themselves in aid of one so helpless as a sightless man!’

Barnaby looked at his mother, who nodded assent; in another moment he was gone upon his charitable errand. The blind man sat listening with an attentive face, until long after the sound of his retreating footsteps was inaudible to the widow, and then said, suddenly, and in a very altered tone:

‘There are various degrees and kinds of blindness, widow. There is the connubial blindness, ma’am, which perhaps you may have observed in the course of your own experience, and which is a kind of wilful and self-bandaging blindness. There is the blindness of party, ma’am, and public men, which is the blindness of a mad bull in the midst of a regiment of soldiers clothed in red. There is the blind confidence of youth, which is the blindness of young kittens, whose eyes have not yet opened on the world; and there is that physical blindness, ma’am, of which I am, contrairy to my own desire, a most illustrious example. Added to these, ma’am, is that blindness of the intellect, of which we have a specimen in your interesting son, and which, having sometimes glimmerings and dawnings of the light, is scarcely to be trusted as a total darkness. Therefore, ma’am, I have taken the liberty to get him out of the way for a short time, while you and I confer together, and this precaution arising out of the delicacy of my sentiments towards yourself, you will excuse me, ma’am, I know.’

Having delivered himself of this speech with many flourishes of manner, he drew from beneath his coat a flat stone bottle, and holding the cork between his teeth, qualified his mug of water with a plentiful infusion of the liquor it contained. He politely drained the bumper to her health, and the ladies, and setting it down empty, smacked his lips with infinite relish.

‘I am a citizen of the world, ma’am,’ said the blind man, corking his bottle, ‘and if I seem to conduct myself with freedom, it is therefore. You wonder who I am, ma’am, and what has brought me here. Such experience of human nature as I have, leads me to that conclusion, without the aid of eyes by which to read the movements of your soul as depicted in your feminine features. I will satisfy your curiosity immediately, ma’am; immediately.’ With that he slapped his bottle on its broad back, and having put it under his garment as before, crossed his legs and folded his hands, and settled himself in his chair, previous to proceeding any further.

The change in his manner was so unexpected, the craft and wickedness of his deportment were so much aggravated by his condition — for we are accustomed to see in those who have lost a human sense, something in its place almost divine — and this alteration bred so many fears in her whom he addressed, that she could not pronounce one word. After waiting, as it seemed, for some remark or answer, and waiting in vain, the visitor resumed:

‘Madam, my name is Stagg. A friend of mine who has desired the honour of meeting with you any time these five years past, has commissioned me to call upon you. I should be glad to whisper that gentleman’s name in your ear. — Zounds, ma’am, are you deaf? Do you hear me say that I should be glad to whisper my friend’s name in your ear?’

‘You need not repeat it,’ said the widow, with a stifled groan; ‘I see too well from whom you come.’

‘But as a man of honour, ma’am,’ said the blind man, striking himself on the breast, ‘whose credentials must not be disputed, I take leave to say that I WILL mention that gentleman’s name. Ay, ay,’ he added, seeming to catch with his quick ear the very motion of her hand, ‘but not aloud. With your leave, ma’am, I desire the favour of a whisper.’

She moved towards him, and stooped down. He muttered a word in her ear; and, wringing her hands, she paced up and down the room like one distracted. The blind man, with perfect composure, produced his bottle again, mixed another glassful; put it up as before; and, drinking from time to time, followed her with his face in silence.

‘You are slow in conversation, widow,’ he said after a time, pausing in his draught. ‘We shall have to talk before your son.’

‘What would you have me do?’ she answered. ‘What do you want?’

‘We are poor, widow, we are poor,’ he retorted, stretching out his right hand, and rubbing his thumb upon its palm.

‘Poor!’ she cried. ‘And what am I?’

‘Comparisons are odious,’ said the blind man. ‘I don’t know, I don’t care. I say that we are poor. My friend’s circumstances are indifferent, and so are mine. We must have our rights, widow, or we must be bought off. But you know that, as well as I, so where is the use of talking?’

She still walked wildly to and fro. At length, stopping abruptly before him, she said:

‘Is he near here?’

‘He is. Close at hand.’

‘Then I am lost!’

‘Not lost, widow,’ said the blind man, calmly; ‘only found. Shall I call him?’

‘Not for the world,’ she answered, with a shudder.

‘Very good,’ he replied, crossing his legs again, for he had made as though he would rise and walk to the door. ‘As you please, widow. His presence is not necessary that I know of. But both he and I must live; to live, we must eat and drink; to eat and drink, we must have money:— I say no more.’

‘Do you know how pinched and destitute I am?’ she retorted. ‘I do not think you do, or can. If you had eyes, and could look around you on this poor place, you would have pity on me. Oh! let your heart be softened by your own affliction, friend, and have some sympathy with mine.’

The blind man snapped his fingers as he answered:

‘— Beside the question, ma’am, beside the question. I have the softest heart in the world, but I can’t live upon it. Many a gentleman lives well upon a soft head, who would find a heart of the same quality a very great drawback. Listen to me. This is a matter of business, with which sympathies and sentiments have nothing to do. As a mutual friend, I wish to arrange it in a satisfactory manner, if possible; and thus the case stands. — If you are very poor now, it’s your own choice. You have friends who, in case of need, are always ready to help you. My friend is in a more destitute and desolate situation than most men, and, you and he being linked together in a common cause, he naturally looks to you to assist him. He has boarded and lodged with me a long time (for as I said just now, I am very soft-hearted), and I quite approve of his entertaining this opinion. You have always had a roof over your head; he has always been an outcast. You have your son to comfort and assist you; he has nobody at all. The advantages must not be all one side. You are in the same boat, and we must divide the ballast a little more equally.’

She was about to speak, but he checked her, and went on.

‘The only way of doing this, is by making up a little purse now and then for my friend; and that’s what I advise. He bears you no malice that I know of, ma’am: so little, that although you have treated him harshly more than once, and driven him, I may say, out of doors, he has that regard for you that I believe even if you disappointed him now, he would consent to take charge of your son, and to make a man of him.’

He laid a great stress on these latter words, and paused as if to find out what effect they had produced. She only answered by her tears.

‘He is a likely lad,’ said the blind man, thoughtfully, ‘for many purposes, and not ill-disposed to try his fortune in a little change and bustle, if I may judge from what I heard of his talk with you to-night. — Come. In a word, my friend has pressing necessity for twenty pounds. You, who can give up an annuity, can get that sum for him. It’s a pity you should be troubled. You seem very comfortable here, and it’s worth that much to remain so. Twenty pounds, widow, is a moderate demand. You know where to apply for it; a post will bring it you. — Twenty pounds!’

She was about to answer him again, but again he stopped her.

‘Don’t say anything hastily; you might be sorry for it. Think of it a little while. Twenty pounds — of other people’s money — how easy! Turn it over in your mind. I’m in no hurry. Night’s coming on, and if I don’t sleep here, I shall not go far. Twenty pounds! Consider of it, ma’am, for twenty minutes; give each pound a minute; that’s a fair allowance. I’ll enjoy the air the while, which is very mild and pleasant in these parts.’

With these words he groped his way to the door, carrying his chair with him. Then seating himself, under a spreading honeysuckle, and stretching his legs across the threshold so that no person could pass in or out without his knowledge, he took from his pocket a pipe, flint, steel and tinder-box, and began to smoke. It was a lovely evening, of that gentle kind, and at that time of year, when the twilight is most beautiful. Pausing now and then to let his smoke curl slowly off, and to sniff the grateful fragrance of the flowers, he sat there at his ease — as though the cottage were his proper dwelling, and he had held undisputed possession of it all his life — waiting for the widow’s answer and for Barnaby’s return.

Chapter 46

When Barnaby returned with the bread, the sight of the pious old pilgrim smoking his pipe and making himself so thoroughly at home, appeared to surprise even him; the more so, as that worthy person, instead of putting up the loaf in his wallet as a scarce and precious article, tossed it carelessly on the table, and producing his bottle, bade him sit down and drink.

‘For I carry some comfort, you see,’ he said. ‘Taste that. Is it good?’

The water stood in Barnaby’s eyes as he coughed from the strength of the draught, and answered in the affirmative.

‘Drink some more,’ said the blind man; ‘don’t be afraid of it. You don’t taste anything like that, often, eh?’

‘Often!’ cried Barnaby. ‘Never!’

‘Too poor?’ returned the blind man with a sigh. ‘Ay. That’s bad. Your mother, poor soul, would be happier if she was richer, Barnaby.’

‘Why, so I tell her — the very thing I told her just before you came to-night, when all that gold was in the sky,’ said Barnaby, drawing his chair nearer to him, and looking eagerly in his face. ‘Tell me. Is there any way of being rich, that I could find out?’

‘Any way! A hundred ways.’

‘Ay, ay?’ he returned. ‘Do you say so? What are they? — Nay, mother, it’s for your sake I ask; not mine; — for yours, indeed. What are they?’

The blind man turned his face, on which there was a smile of triumph, to where the widow stood in great distress; and answered,

‘Why, they are not to be found out by stay-at-homes, my good friend.’

‘By stay-at-homes!’ cried Barnaby, plucking at his sleeve. ‘But I am not one. Now, there you mistake. I am often out before the sun, and travel home when he has gone to rest. I am away in the woods before the day has reached the shady places, and am often there when the bright moon is peeping through the boughs, and looking down upon the other moon that lives in the water. As I walk along, I try to find, among the grass and moss, some of that small money for which she works so hard and used to shed so many tears. As I lie asleep in the shade, I dream of it — dream of digging it up in heaps; and spying it out, hidden under bushes; and seeing it sparkle, as the dew-drops do, among the leaves. But I never find it. Tell me where it is. I’d go there, if the journey were a whole year long, because I know she would be happier when I came home and brought some with me. Speak again. I’ll listen to you if you talk all night.’

The blind man passed his hand lightly over the poor fellow’s face, and finding that his elbows were planted on the table, that his chin rested on his two hands, that he leaned eagerly forward, and that his whole manner expressed the utmost interest and anxiety, paused for a minute as though he desired the widow to observe this fully, and then made answer:

‘It’s in the world, bold Barnaby, the merry world; not in solitary places like those you pass your time in, but in crowds, and where there’s noise and rattle.’

‘Good! good!’ cried Barnaby, rubbing his hands. ‘Yes! I love that. Grip loves it too. It suits us both. That’s brave!’

‘— The kind of places,’ said the blind man, ‘that a young fellow likes, and in which a good son may do more for his mother, and himself to boot, in a month, than he could here in all his life — that is, if he had a friend, you know, and some one to advise with.’

‘You hear this, mother?’ cried Barnaby, turning to her with delight. ‘Never tell me we shouldn’t heed it, if it lay shining at out feet. Why do we heed it so much now? Why do you toil from morning until night?’

‘Surely,’ said the blind man, ‘surely. Have you no answer, widow? Is your mind,’ he slowly added, ‘not made up yet?’

‘Let me speak with you,’ she answered, ‘apart.’

‘Lay your hand upon my sleeve,’ said Stagg, arising from the table; ‘and lead me where you will. Courage, bold Barnaby. We’ll talk more of this: I’ve a fancy for you. Wait there till I come back. Now, widow.’

She led him out at the door, and into the little garden, where they stopped.

‘You are a fit agent,’ she said, in a half breathless manner, ‘and well represent the man who sent you here.’

‘I’ll tell him that you said so,’ Stagg retorted. ‘He has a regard for you, and will respect me the more (if possible) for your praise. We must have our rights, widow.’

‘Rights! Do you know,’ she said, ‘that a word from me —’

‘Why do you stop?’ returned the blind man calmly, after a long pause. ‘Do I know that a word from you would place my friend in the last position of the dance of life? Yes, I do. What of that? It will never be spoken, widow.’

‘You are sure of that?’

‘Quite — so sure, that I don’t come here to discuss the question. I say we must have our rights, or we must be bought off. Keep to that point, or let me return to my young friend, for I have an interest in the lad, and desire to put him in the way of making his fortune. Bah! you needn’t speak,’ he added hastily; ‘I know what you would say: you have hinted at it once already. Have I no feeling for you, because I am blind? No, I have not. Why do you expect me, being in darkness, to be better than men who have their sight — why should you? Is the hand of Heaven more manifest in my having no eyes, than in your having two? It’s the cant of you folks to be horrified if a blind man robs, or lies, or steals; oh yes, it’s far worse in him, who can barely live on the few halfpence that are thrown to him in streets, than in you, who can see, and work, and are not dependent on the mercies of the world. A curse on you! You who have five senses may be wicked at your pleasure; we who have four, and want the most important, are to live and be moral on our affliction. The true charity and justice of rich to poor, all the world over!’

He paused a moment when he had said these words, and caught the sound of money, jingling in her hand.

‘Well?’ he cried, quickly resuming his former manner. ‘That should lead to something. The point, widow?’

‘First answer me one question,’ she replied. ‘You say he is close at hand. Has he left London?’

‘Being close at hand, widow, it would seem he has,’ returned the blind man.

‘I mean, for good? You know that.’

‘Yes, for good. The truth is, widow, that his making a longer stay there might have had disagreeable consequences. He has come away for that reason.’

‘Listen,’ said the widow, telling some money out, upon a bench beside them. ‘Count.’

‘Six,’ said the blind man, listening attentively. ‘Any more?’

‘They are the savings,’ she answered, ‘of five years. Six guineas.’

He put out his hand for one of the coins; felt it carefully, put it between his teeth, rung it on the bench; and nodded to her to proceed.

‘These have been scraped together and laid by, lest sickness or death should separate my son and me. They have been purchased at the price of much hunger, hard labour, and want of rest. If you CAN take them — do — on condition that you leave this place upon the instant, and enter no more into that room, where he sits now, expecting your return.’

‘Six guineas,’ said the blind man, shaking his head, ‘though of the fullest weight that were ever coined, fall very far short of twenty pounds, widow.’

‘For such a sum, as you know, I must write to a distant part of the country. To do that, and receive an answer, I must have time.’

‘Two days?’ said Stagg.

‘More.’

‘Four days?’

‘A week. Return on this day week, at the same hour, but not to the house. Wait at the corner of the lane.’

‘Of course,’ said the blind man, with a crafty look, ‘I shall find you there?’

‘Where else can I take refuge? Is it not enough that you have made a beggar of me, and that I have sacrificed my whole store, so hardly earned, to preserve this home?’

‘Humph!’ said the blind man, after some consideration. ‘Set me with my face towards the point you speak of, and in the middle of the road. Is this the spot?’

‘It is.’

‘On this day week at sunset. And think of him within doors. — For the present, good night.’

She made him no answer, nor did he stop for any. He went slowly away, turning his head from time to time, and stopping to listen, as if he were curious to know whether he was watched by any one. The shadows of night were closing fast around, and he was soon lost in the gloom. It was not, however, until she had traversed the lane from end to end, and made sure that he was gone, that she re-entered the cottage, and hurriedly barred the door and window.

‘Mother!’ said Barnaby. ‘What is the matter? Where is the blind man?’

‘He is gone.’

‘Gone!’ he cried, starting up. ‘I must have more talk with him. Which way did he take?’

‘I don’t know,’ she answered, folding her arms about him. ‘You must not go out to-night. There are ghosts and dreams abroad.’

‘Ay?’ said Barnaby, in a frightened whisper.

‘It is not safe to stir. We must leave this place to-morrow.’

‘This place! This cottage — and the little garden, mother!’

‘Yes! To-morrow morning at sunrise. We must travel to London; lose ourselves in that wide place — there would be some trace of us in any other town — then travel on again, and find some new abode.’

Little persuasion was required to reconcile Barnaby to anything that promised change. In another minute, he was wild with delight; in another, full of grief at the prospect of parting with his friends the dogs; in another, wild again; then he was fearful of what she had said to prevent his wandering abroad that night, and full of terrors and strange questions. His light-heartedness in the end surmounted all his other feelings, and lying down in his clothes to the end that he might be ready on the morrow, he soon fell fast asleep before the poor turf fire.

His mother did not close her eyes, but sat beside him, watching. Every breath of wind sounded in her ears like that dreaded footstep at the door, or like that hand upon the latch, and made the calm summer night, a night of horror. At length the welcome day appeared. When she had made the little preparations which were needful for their journey, and had prayed upon her knees with many tears, she roused Barnaby, who jumped up gaily at her summons.

His clothes were few enough, and to carry Grip was a labour of love. As the sun shed his earliest beams upon the earth, they closed the door of their deserted home, and turned away. The sky was blue and bright. The air was fresh and filled with a thousand perfumes. Barnaby looked upward, and laughed with all his heart.

But it was a day he usually devoted to a long ramble, and one of the dogs — the ugliest of them all — came bounding up, and jumping round him in the fulness of his joy. He had to bid him go back in a surly tone, and his heart smote him while he did so. The dog retreated; turned with a half-incredulous, half-imploring look; came a little back; and stopped.

It was the last appeal of an old companion and a faithful friend — cast off. Barnaby could bear no more, and as he shook his head and waved his playmate home, he burst into tears.

‘Oh mother, mother, how mournful he will be when he scratches at the door, and finds it always shut!’

There was such a sense of home in the thought, that though her own eyes overflowed she would not have obliterated the recollection of it, either from her own mind or from his, for the wealth of the whole wide world.

Chapter 47

In the exhaustless catalogue of Heaven’s mercies to mankind, the power we have of finding some germs of comfort in the hardest trials must ever occupy the foremost place; not only because it supports and upholds us when we most require to be sustained, but because in this source of consolation there is something, we have reason to believe, of the divine spirit; something of that goodness which detects amidst our own evil doings, a redeeming quality; something which, even in our fallen nature, we possess in common with the angels; which had its being in the old time when they trod the earth, and lingers on it yet, in pity.

How often, on their journey, did the widow remember with a grateful heart, that out of his deprivation Barnaby’s cheerfulness and affection sprung! How often did she call to mind that but for that, he might have been sullen, morose, unkind, far removed from her — vicious, perhaps, and cruel! How often had she cause for comfort, in his strength, and hope, and in his simple nature! Those feeble powers of mind which rendered him so soon forgetful of the past, save in brief gleams and flashes — even they were a comfort now. The world to him was full of happiness; in every tree, and plant, and flower, in every bird, and beast, and tiny insect whom a breath of summer wind laid low upon the ground, he had delight. His delight was hers; and where many a wise son would have made her sorrowful, this poor light-hearted idiot filled her breast with thankfulness and love.

Their stock of money was low, but from the hoard she had told into the blind man’s hand, the widow had withheld one guinea. This, with the few pence she possessed besides, was to two persons of their frugal habits, a goodly sum in bank. Moreover they had Grip in company; and when they must otherwise have changed the guinea, it was but to make him exhibit outside an alehouse door, or in a village street, or in the grounds or gardens of a mansion of the better sort, and scores who would have given nothing in charity, were ready to bargain for more amusement from the talking bird.

One day — for they moved slowly, and although they had many rides in carts and waggons, were on the road a week — Barnaby, with Grip upon his shoulder and his mother following, begged permission at a trim lodge to go up to the great house, at the other end of the avenue, and show his raven. The man within was inclined to give them admittance, and was indeed about to do so, when a stout gentleman with a long whip in his hand, and a flushed face which seemed to indicate that he had had his morning’s draught, rode up to the gate, and called in a loud voice and with more oaths than the occasion seemed to warrant to have it opened directly.

‘Who hast thou got here?’ said the gentleman angrily, as the man threw the gate wide open, and pulled off his hat, ‘who are these? Eh? art a beggar, woman?’

The widow answered with a curtsey, that they were poor travellers.

‘Vagrants,’ said the gentleman, ‘vagrants and vagabonds. Thee wish to be made acquainted with the cage, dost thee — the cage, the stocks, and the whipping-post? Where dost come from?’

She told him in a timid manner — for he was very loud, hoarse, and red-faced — and besought him not to be angry, for they meant no harm, and would go upon their way that moment.

‘Don’t he too sure of that,’ replied the gentleman, ‘we don’t allow vagrants to roam about this place. I know what thou want’st —-stray linen drying on hedges, and stray poultry, eh? What hast got in that basket, lazy hound?’

‘Grip, Grip, Grip — Grip the clever, Grip the wicked, Grip the knowing — Grip, Grip, Grip,’ cried the raven, whom Barnaby had shut up on the approach of this stern personage. ‘I’m a devil I’m a devil I’m a devil, Never say die Hurrah Bow wow wow, Polly put the kettle on we’ll all have tea.’

‘Take the vermin out, scoundrel,’ said the gentleman, ‘and let me see him.’

Barnaby, thus condescendingly addressed, produced his bird, but not without much fear and trembling, and set him down upon the ground; which he had no sooner done than Grip drew fifty corks at least, and then began to dance; at the same time eyeing the gentleman with surprising insolence of manner, and screwing his head so much on one side that he appeared desirous of screwing it off upon the spot.

The cork-drawing seemed to make a greater impression on the gentleman’s mind, than the raven’s power of speech, and was indeed particularly adapted to his habits and capacity. He desired to have that done again, but despite his being very peremptory, and notwithstanding that Barnaby coaxed to the utmost, Grip turned a deaf ear to the request, and preserved a dead silence.

‘Bring him along,’ said the gentleman, pointing to the house. But Grip, who had watched the action, anticipated his master, by hopping on before them; — constantly flapping his wings, and screaming ‘cook!’ meanwhile, as a hint perhaps that there was company coming, and a small collation would be acceptable.

Barnaby and his mother walked on, on either side of the gentleman on horseback, who surveyed each of them from time to time in a proud and coarse manner, and occasionally thundered out some question, the tone of which alarmed Barnaby so much that he could find no answer, and, as a matter of course, could make him no reply. On one of these occasions, when the gentleman appeared disposed to exercise his horsewhip, the widow ventured to inform him in a low voice and with tears in her eyes, that her son was of weak mind.

‘An idiot, eh?’ said the gentleman, looking at Barnaby as he spoke. ‘And how long hast thou been an idiot?’

‘She knows,’ was Barnaby’s timid answer, pointing to his mother — ‘I— always, I believe.’

‘From his birth,’ said the widow.

‘I don’t believe it,’ cried the gentleman, ‘not a bit of it. It’s an excuse not to work. There’s nothing like flogging to cure that disorder. I’d make a difference in him in ten minutes, I’ll be bound.’

‘Heaven has made none in more than twice ten years, sir,’ said the widow mildly.

‘Then why don’t you shut him up? we pay enough for county institutions, damn ’em. But thou’d rather drag him about to excite charity — of course. Ay, I know thee.’

Now, this gentleman had various endearing appellations among his intimate friends. By some he was called ‘a country gentleman of the true school,’ by some ‘a fine old country gentleman,’ by some ‘a sporting gentleman,’ by some ‘a thorough-bred Englishman,’ by some ‘a genuine John Bull;’ but they all agreed in one respect, and that was, that it was a pity there were not more like him, and that because there were not, the country was going to rack and ruin every day. He was in the commission of the peace, and could write his name almost legibly; but his greatest qualifications were, that he was more severe with poachers, was a better shot, a harder rider, had better horses, kept better dogs, could eat more solid food, drink more strong wine, go to bed every night more drunk and get up every morning more sober, than any man in the county. In knowledge of horseflesh he was almost equal to a farrier, in stable learning he surpassed his own head groom, and in gluttony not a pig on his estate was a match for him. He had no seat in Parliament himself, but he was extremely patriotic, and usually drove his voters up to the poll with his own hands. He was warmly attached to church and state, and never appointed to the living in his gift any but a three-bottle man and a first-rate fox-hunter. He mistrusted the honesty of all poor people who could read and write, and had a secret jealousy of his own wife (a young lady whom he had married for what his friends called ‘the good old English reason,’ that her father’s property adjoined his own) for possessing those accomplishments in a greater degree than himself. In short, Barnaby being an idiot, and Grip a creature of mere brute instinct, it would be very hard to say what this gentleman was.

He rode up to the door of a handsome house approached by a great flight of steps, where a man was waiting to take his horse, and led the way into a large hall, which, spacious as it was, was tainted with the fumes of last night’s stale debauch. Greatcoats, riding-whips, bridles, top-boots, spurs, and such gear, were strewn about on all sides, and formed, with some huge stags’ antlers, and a few portraits of dogs and horses, its principal embellishments.

Throwing himself into a great chair (in which, by the bye, he often snored away the night, when he had been, according to his admirers, a finer country gentleman than usual) he bade the man to tell his mistress to come down: and presently there appeared, a little flurried, as it seemed, by the unwonted summons, a lady much younger than himself, who had the appearance of being in delicate health, and not too happy.

‘Here! Thou’st no delight in following the hounds as an Englishwoman should have,’ said the gentleman. ‘See to this here. That’ll please thee perhaps.’

The lady smiled, sat down at a little distance from him, and glanced at Barnaby with a look of pity.

‘He’s an idiot, the woman says,’ observed the gentleman, shaking his head; ‘I don’t believe it.’

‘Are you his mother?’ asked the lady.

She answered yes.

‘What’s the use of asking HER?’ said the gentleman, thrusting his hands into his breeches pockets. ‘She’ll tell thee so, of course. Most likely he’s hired, at so much a day. There. Get on. Make him do something.’

Grip having by this time recovered his urbanity, condescended, at Barnaby’s solicitation, to repeat his various phrases of speech, and to go through the whole of his performances with the utmost success. The corks, and the never say die, afforded the gentleman so much delight that he demanded the repetition of this part of the entertainment, until Grip got into his basket, and positively refused to say another word, good or bad. The lady too, was much amused with him; and the closing point of his obstinacy so delighted her husband that he burst into a roar of laughter, and demanded his price.

Barnaby looked as though he didn’t understand his meaning. Probably he did not.

‘His price,’ said the gentleman, rattling the money in his pockets, ‘what dost want for him? How much?’

‘He’s not to be sold,’ replied Barnaby, shutting up the basket in a great hurry, and throwing the strap over his shoulder. ‘Mother, come away.’

‘Thou seest how much of an idiot he is, book-learner,’ said the gentleman, looking scornfully at his wife. ‘He can make a bargain. What dost want for him, old woman?’

‘He is my son’s constant companion,’ said the widow. ‘He is not to be sold, sir, indeed.’

‘Not to be sold!’ cried the gentleman, growing ten times redder, hoarser, and louder than before. ‘Not to be sold!’

‘Indeed no,’ she answered. ‘We have never thought of parting with him, sir, I do assure you.’

He was evidently about to make a very passionate retort, when a few murmured words from his wife happening to catch his ear, he turned sharply round, and said, ‘Eh? What?’

‘We can hardly expect them to sell the bird, against their own desire,’ she faltered. ‘If they prefer to keep him —’

‘Prefer to keep him!’ he echoed. ‘These people, who go tramping about the country a-pilfering and vagabondising on all hands, prefer to keep a bird, when a landed proprietor and a justice asks his price! That old woman’s been to school. I know she has. Don’t tell me no,’ he roared to the widow, ‘I say, yes.’

Barnaby’s mother pleaded guilty to the accusation, and hoped there was no harm in it.

‘No harm!’ said the gentleman. ‘No. No harm. No harm, ye old rebel, not a bit of harm. If my clerk was here, I’d set ye in the stocks, I would, or lay ye in jail for prowling up and down, on the look-out for petty larcenies, ye limb of a gipsy. Here, Simon, put these pilferers out, shove ’em into the road, out with ’em! Ye don’t want to sell the bird, ye that come here to beg, don’t ye? If they an’t out in double-quick, set the dogs upon ’em!’

They waited for no further dismissal, but fled precipitately, leaving the gentleman to storm away by himself (for the poor lady had already retreated), and making a great many vain attempts to silence Grip, who, excited by the noise, drew corks enough for a city feast as they hurried down the avenue, and appeared to congratulate himself beyond measure on having been the cause of the disturbance. When they had nearly reached the lodge, another servant, emerging from the shrubbery, feigned to be very active in ordering them off, but this man put a crown into the widow’s hand, and whispering that his lady sent it, thrust them gently from the gate.

This incident only suggested to the widow’s mind, when they halted at an alehouse some miles further on, and heard the justice’s character as given by his friends, that perhaps something more than capacity of stomach and tastes for the kennel and the stable, were required to form either a perfect country gentleman, a thoroughbred Englishman, or a genuine John Bull; and that possibly the terms were sometimes misappropriated, not to say disgraced. She little thought then, that a circumstance so slight would ever influence their future fortunes; but time and experience enlightened her in this respect.

‘Mother,’ said Barnaby, as they were sitting next day in a waggon which was to take them within ten miles of the capital, ‘we’re going to London first, you said. Shall we see that blind man there?’

She was about to answer ‘Heaven forbid!’ but checked herself, and told him No, she thought not; why did he ask?

‘He’s a wise man,’ said Barnaby, with a thoughtful countenance. ‘I wish that we may meet with him again. What was it that he said of crowds? That gold was to be found where people crowded, and not among the trees and in such quiet places? He spoke as if he loved it; London is a crowded place; I think we shall meet him there.’

‘But why do you desire to see him, love?’ she asked.

‘Because,’ said Barnaby, looking wistfully at her, ‘he talked to me about gold, which is a rare thing, and say what you will, a thing you would like to have, I know. And because he came and went away so strangely — just as white-headed old men come sometimes to my bed’s foot in the night, and say what I can’t remember when the bright day returns. He told me he’d come back. I wonder why he broke his word!’

‘But you never thought of being rich or gay, before, dear Barnaby. You have always been contented.’

He laughed and bade her say that again, then cried, ‘Ay ay — oh yes,’ and laughed once more. Then something passed that caught his fancy, and the topic wandered from his mind, and was succeeded by another just as fleeting.

But it was plain from what he had said, and from his returning to the point more than once that day, and on the next, that the blind man’s visit, and indeed his words, had taken strong possession of his mind. Whether the idea of wealth had occurred to him for the first time on looking at the golden clouds that evening — and images were often presented to his thoughts by outward objects quite as remote and distant; or whether their poor and humble way of life had suggested it, by contrast, long ago; or whether the accident (as he would deem it) of the blind man’s pursuing the current of his own remarks, had done so at the moment; or he had been impressed by the mere circumstance of the man being blind, and, therefore, unlike any one with whom he had talked before; it was impossible to tell. She tried every means to discover, but in vain; and the probability is that Barnaby himself was equally in the dark.

It filled her with uneasiness to find him harping on this string, but all that she could do, was to lead him quickly to some other subject, and to dismiss it from his brain. To caution him against their visitor, to show any fear or suspicion in reference to him, would only be, she feared, to increase that interest with which Barnaby regarded him, and to strengthen his desire to meet him once again. She hoped, by plunging into the crowd, to rid herself of her terrible pursuer, and then, by journeying to a distance and observing increased caution, if that were possible, to live again unknown, in secrecy and peace.

They reached, in course of time, their halting-place within ten miles of London, and lay there for the night, after bargaining to be carried on for a trifle next day, in a light van which was returning empty, and was to start at five o’clock in the morning. The driver was punctual, the road good — save for the dust, the weather being very hot and dry — and at seven in the forenoon of Friday the second of June, one thousand seven hundred and eighty, they alighted at the foot of Westminster Bridge, bade their conductor farewell, and stood alone, together, on the scorching pavement. For the freshness which night sheds upon such busy thoroughfares had already departed, and the sun was shining with uncommon lustre.

Chapter 48

Uncertain where to go next, and bewildered by the crowd of people who were already astir, they sat down in one of the recesses on the bridge, to rest. They soon became aware that the stream of life was all pouring one way, and that a vast throng of persons were crossing the river from the Middlesex to the Surrey shore, in unusual haste and evident excitement. They were, for the most part, in knots of two or three, or sometimes half-a-dozen; they spoke little together — many of them were quite silent; and hurried on as if they had one absorbing object in view, which was common to them all.

They were surprised to see that nearly every man in this great concourse, which still came pouring past, without slackening in the least, wore in his hat a blue cockade; and that the chance passengers who were not so decorated, appeared timidly anxious to escape observation or attack, and gave them the wall as if they would conciliate them. This, however, was natural enough, considering their inferiority in point of numbers; for the proportion of those who wore blue cockades, to those who were dressed as usual, was at least forty or fifty to one. There was no quarrelling, however: the blue cockades went swarming on, passing each other when they could, and making all the speed that was possible in such a multitude; and exchanged nothing more than looks, and very often not even those, with such of the passers-by as were not of their number.

At first, the current of people had been confined to the two pathways, and but a few more eager stragglers kept the road. But after half an hour or so, the passage was completely blocked up by the great press, which, being now closely wedged together, and impeded by the carts and coaches it encountered, moved but slowly, and was sometimes at a stand for five or ten minutes together.

After the lapse of nearly two hours, the numbers began to diminish visibly, and gradually dwindling away, by little and little, left the bridge quite clear, save that, now and then, some hot and dusty man, with the cockade in his hat, and his coat thrown over his shoulder, went panting by, fearful of being too late, or stopped to ask which way his friends had taken, and being directed, hastened on again like one refreshed. In this comparative solitude, which seemed quite strange and novel after the late crowd, the widow had for the first time an opportunity of inquiring of an old man who came and sat beside them, what was the meaning of that great assemblage.

‘Why, where have you come from,’ he returned, ‘that you haven’t heard of Lord George Gordon’s great association? This is the day that he presents the petition against the Catholics, God bless him!’

‘What have all these men to do with that?’ she said.

‘What have they to do with it!’ the old man replied. ‘Why, how you talk! Don’t you know his lordship has declared he won’t present it to the house at all, unless it is attended to the door by forty thousand good and true men at least? There’s a crowd for you!’

‘A crowd indeed!’ said Barnaby. ‘Do you hear that, mother!’

‘And they’re mustering yonder, as I am told,’ resumed the old man, ‘nigh upon a hundred thousand strong. Ah! Let Lord George alone. He knows his power. There’ll be a good many faces inside them three windows over there,’ and he pointed to where the House of Commons overlooked the river, ‘that’ll turn pale when good Lord George gets up this afternoon, and with reason too! Ay, ay. Let his lordship alone. Let him alone. HE knows!’ And so, with much mumbling and chuckling and shaking of his forefinger, he rose, with the assistance of his stick, and tottered off.

‘Mother!’ said Barnaby, ‘that’s a brave crowd he talks of. Come!’

‘Not to join it!’ cried his mother.

‘Yes, yes,’ he answered, plucking at her sleeve. ‘Why not? Come!’

‘You don’t know,’ she urged, ‘what mischief they may do, where they may lead you, what their meaning is. Dear Barnaby, for my sake —’

‘For your sake!’ he cried, patting her hand. ‘Well! It IS for your sake, mother. You remember what the blind man said, about the gold. Here’s a brave crowd! Come! Or wait till I come back — yes, yes, wait here.’

She tried with all the earnestness her fears engendered, to turn him from his purpose, but in vain. He was stooping down to buckle on his shoe, when a hackney-coach passed them rather quickly, and a voice inside called to the driver to stop.

‘Young man,’ said a voice within.

‘Who’s that?’ cried Barnaby, looking up.

‘Do you wear this ornament?’ returned the stranger, holding out a blue cockade.

‘In Heaven’s name, no. Pray do not give it him!’ exclaimed the widow.

‘Speak for yourself, woman,’ said the man within the coach, coldly. ‘Leave the young man to his choice; he’s old enough to make it, and to snap your apron-strings. He knows, without your telling, whether he wears the sign of a loyal Englishman or not.’

Barnaby, trembling with impatience, cried, ‘Yes! yes, yes, I do,’ as he had cried a dozen times already. The man threw him a cockade, and crying, ‘Make haste to St George’s Fields,’ ordered the coachman to drive on fast; and left them.

With hands that trembled with his eagerness to fix the bauble in his hat, Barnaby was adjusting it as he best could, and hurriedly replying to the tears and entreaties of his mother, when two gentlemen passed on the opposite side of the way. Observing them, and seeing how Barnaby was occupied, they stopped, whispered together for an instant, turned back, and came over to them.

‘Why are you sitting here?’ said one of them, who was dressed in a plain suit of black, wore long lank hair, and carried a great cane. ‘Why have you not gone with the rest?’

‘I am going, sir,’ replied Barnaby, finishing his task, and putting his hat on with an air of pride. ‘I shall be there directly.’

‘Say “my lord,” young man, when his lordship does you the honour of speaking to you,’ said the second gentleman mildly. ‘If you don’t know Lord George Gordon when you see him, it’s high time you should.’

‘Nay, Gashford,’ said Lord George, as Barnaby pulled off his hat again and made him a low bow, ‘it’s no great matter on a day like this, which every Englishman will remember with delight and pride. Put on your hat, friend, and follow us, for you lag behind and are late. It’s past ten now. Didn’t you know that the hour for assembling was ten o’clock?’

Barnaby shook his head and looked vacantly from one to the other.

‘You might have known it, friend,’ said Gashford, ‘it was perfectly understood. How came you to be so ill informed?’

‘He cannot tell you, sir,’ the widow interposed. ‘It’s of no use to ask him. We are but this morning come from a long distance in the country, and know nothing of these matters.’

‘The cause has taken a deep root, and has spread its branches far and wide,’ said Lord George to his secretary. ‘This is a pleasant hearing. I thank Heaven for it!’

‘Amen!’ cried Gashford with a solemn face.

‘You do not understand me, my lord,’ said the widow. ‘Pardon me, but you cruelly mistake my meaning. We know nothing of these matters. We have no desire or right to join in what you are about to do. This is my son, my poor afflicted son, dearer to me than my own life. In mercy’s name, my lord, go your way alone, and do not tempt him into danger!’

‘My good woman,’ said Gashford, ‘how can you! — Dear me! — What do you mean by tempting, and by danger? Do you think his lordship is a roaring lion, going about and seeking whom he may devour? God bless me!’

‘No, no, my lord, forgive me,’ implored the widow, laying both her hands upon his breast, and scarcely knowing what she did, or said, in the earnestness of her supplication, ‘but there are reasons why you should hear my earnest, mother’s prayer, and leave my son with me. Oh do! He is not in his right senses, he is not, indeed!’

‘It is a bad sign of the wickedness of these times,’ said Lord George, evading her touch, and colouring deeply, ‘that those who cling to the truth and support the right cause, are set down as mad. Have you the heart to say this of your own son, unnatural mother!’

‘I am astonished at you!’ said Gashford, with a kind of meek severity. ‘This is a very sad picture of female depravity.’

‘He has surely no appearance,’ said Lord George, glancing at Barnaby, and whispering in his secretary’s ear, ‘of being deranged? And even if he had, we must not construe any trifling peculiarity into madness. Which of us’— and here he turned red again —‘would be safe, if that were made the law!’

‘Not one,’ replied the secretary; ‘in that case, the greater the zeal, the truth, and talent; the more direct the call from above; the clearer would be the madness. With regard to this young man, my lord,’ he added, with a lip that slightly curled as he looked at Barnaby, who stood twirling his hat, and stealthily beckoning them to come away, ‘he is as sensible and self-possessed as any one I ever saw.’

‘And you desire to make one of this great body?’ said Lord George, addressing him; ‘and intended to make one, did you?’

‘Yes — yes,’ said Barnaby, with sparkling eyes. ‘To be sure I did! I told her so myself.’

‘I see,’ replied Lord George, with a reproachful glance at the unhappy mother. ‘I thought so. Follow me and this gentleman, and you shall have your wish.’

Barnaby kissed his mother tenderly on the cheek, and bidding her be of good cheer, for their fortunes were both made now, did as he was desired. She, poor woman, followed too — with how much fear and grief it would be hard to tell.

They passed quickly through the Bridge Road, where the shops were all shut up (for the passage of the great crowd and the expectation of their return had alarmed the tradesmen for their goods and windows), and where, in the upper stories, all the inhabitants were congregated, looking down into the street below, with faces variously expressive of alarm, of interest, expectancy, and indignation. Some of these applauded, and some hissed; but regardless of these interruptions — for the noise of a vast congregation of people at a little distance, sounded in his ears like the roaring of the sea — Lord George Gordon quickened his pace, and presently arrived before St George’s Fields.

They were really fields at that time, and of considerable extent. Here an immense multitude was collected, bearing flags of various kinds and sizes, but all of the same colour — blue, like the cockades — some sections marching to and fro in military array, and others drawn up in circles, squares, and lines. A large portion, both of the bodies which paraded the ground, and of those which remained stationary, were occupied in singing hymns or psalms. With whomsoever this originated, it was well done; for the sound of so many thousand voices in the air must have stirred the heart of any man within him, and could not fail to have a wonderful effect upon enthusiasts, however mistaken.

Scouts had been posted in advance of the great body, to give notice of their leader’s coming. These falling back, the word was quickly passed through the whole host, and for a short interval there ensued a profound and deathlike silence, during which the mass was so still and quiet, that the fluttering of a banner caught the eye, and became a circumstance of note. Then they burst into a tremendous shout, into another, and another; and the air seemed rent and shaken, as if by the discharge of cannon.

‘Gashford!’ cried Lord George, pressing his secretary’s arm tight within his own, and speaking with as much emotion in his voice, as in his altered face, ‘I arn called indeed, now. I feel and know it. I am the leader of a host. If they summoned me at this moment with one voice to lead them on to death, I’d do it — Yes, and fall first myself!’

‘It is a proud sight,’ said the secretary. ‘It is a noble day for England, and for the great cause throughout the world. Such homage, my lord, as I, an humble but devoted man, can render —’

‘What are you doing?’ cried his master, catching him by both hands; for he had made a show of kneeling at his feet. ‘Do not unfit me, dear Gashford, for the solemn duty of this glorious day —’ the tears stood in the eyes of the poor gentleman as he said the words. —‘Let us go among them; we have to find a place in some division for this new recruit — give me your hand.’

Gashford slid his cold insidious palm into his master’s grasp, and so, hand in hand, and followed still by Barnaby and by his mother too, they mingled with the concourse.

They had by this time taken to their singing again, and as their leader passed between their ranks, they raised their voices to their utmost. Many of those who were banded together to support the religion of their country, even unto death, had never heard a hymn or psalm in all their lives. But these fellows having for the most part strong lungs, and being naturally fond of singing, chanted any ribaldry or nonsense that occurred to them, feeling pretty certain that it would not be detected in the general chorus, and not caring much if it were. Many of these voluntaries were sung under the very nose of Lord George Gordon, who, quite unconscious of their burden, passed on with his usual stiff and solemn deportment, very much edified and delighted by the pious conduct of his followers.

So they went on and on, up this line, down that, round the exterior of this circle, and on every side of that hollow square; and still there were lines, and squares, and circles out of number to review. The day being now intensely hot, and the sun striking down his fiercest rays upon the field, those who carried heavy banners began to grow faint and weary; most of the number assembled were fain to pull off their neckcloths, and throw their coats and waistcoats open; and some, towards the centre, quite overpowered by the excessive heat, which was of course rendered more unendurable by the multitude around them, lay down upon the grass, and offered all they had about them for a drink of water. Still, no man left the ground, not even of those who were so distressed; still Lord George, streaming from every pore, went on with Gashford; and still Barnaby and his mother followed close behind them.

They had arrived at the top of a long line of some eight hundred men in single file, and Lord George had turned his head to look back, when a loud cry of recognition — in that peculiar and half-stifled tone which a voice has, when it is raised in the open air and in the midst of a great concourse of persons — was heard, and a man stepped with a shout of laughter from the rank, and smote Barnaby on the shoulders with his heavy hand.

‘How now!’ he cried. ‘Barnaby Rudge! Why, where have you been hiding for these hundred years?’

Barnaby had been thinking within himself that the smell of the trodden grass brought back his old days at cricket, when he was a young boy and played on Chigwell Green. Confused by this sudden and boisterous address, he stared in a bewildered manner at the man, and could scarcely say ‘What! Hugh!’

‘Hugh!’ echoed the other; ‘ay, Hugh — Maypole Hugh! You remember my dog? He’s alive now, and will know you, I warrant. What, you wear the colour, do you? Well done! Ha ha ha!’

‘You know this young man, I see,’ said Lord George.

‘Know him, my lord! as well as I know my own right hand. My captain knows him. We all know him.’

‘Will you take him into your division?’

‘It hasn’t in it a better, nor a nimbler, nor a more active man, than Barnaby Rudge,’ said Hugh. ‘Show me the man who says it has! Fall in, Barnaby. He shall march, my lord, between me and Dennis; and he shall carry,’ he added, taking a flag from the hand of a tired man who tendered it, ‘the gayest silken streamer in this valiant army.’

‘In the name of God, no!’ shrieked the widow, darting forward. ‘Barnaby — my lord — see — he’ll come back — Barnaby — Barnaby!’

‘Women in the field!’ cried Hugh, stepping between them, and holding her off. ‘Holloa! My captain there!’

‘What’s the matter here?’ cried Simon Tappertit, bustling up in a great heat. ‘Do you call this order?’

‘Nothing like it, captain,’ answered Hugh, still holding her back with his outstretched hand. ‘It’s against all orders. Ladies are carrying off our gallant soldiers from their duty. The word of command, captain! They’re filing off the ground. Quick!’

‘Close!’ cried Simon, with the whole power of his lungs. ‘Form! March!’

She was thrown to the ground; the whole field was in motion; Barnaby was whirled away into the heart of a dense mass of men, and she saw him no more.

Chapter 49

The mob had been divided from its first assemblage into four divisions; the London, the Westminster, the Southwark, and the Scotch. Each of these divisions being subdivided into various bodies, and these bodies being drawn up in various forms and figures, the general arrangement was, except to the few chiefs and leaders, as unintelligible as the plan of a great battle to the meanest soldier in the field. It was not without its method, however; for, in a very short space of time after being put in motion, the crowd had resolved itself into three great parties, and were prepared, as had been arranged, to cross the river by different bridges, and make for the House of Commons in separate detachments.

At the head of that division which had Westminster Bridge for its approach to the scene of action, Lord George Gordon took his post; with Gashford at his right hand, and sundry ruffians, of most unpromising appearance, forming a kind of staff about him. The conduct of a second party, whose route lay by Blackfriars, was entrusted to a committee of management, including perhaps a dozen men: while the third, which was to go by London Bridge, and through the main streets, in order that their numbers and their serious intentions might be the better known and appreciated by the citizens, were led by Simon Tappertit (assisted by a few subalterns, selected from the Brotherhood of United Bulldogs), Dennis the hangman, Hugh, and some others.

The word of command being given, each of these great bodies took the road assigned to it, and departed on its way, in perfect order and profound silence. That which went through the City greatly exceeded the others in number, and was of such prodigious extent that when the rear began to move, the front was nearly four miles in advance, notwithstanding that the men marched three abreast and followed very close upon each other.

At the head of this party, in the place where Hugh, in the madness of his humour, had stationed him, and walking between that dangerous companion and the hangman, went Barnaby; as many a man among the thousands who looked on that day afterwards remembered well. Forgetful of all other things in the ecstasy of the moment, his face flushed and his eyes sparkling with delight, heedless of the weight of the great banner he carried, and mindful only of its flashing in the sun and rustling in the summer breeze, on he went, proud, happy, elated past all telling:— the only light-hearted, undesigning creature, in the whole assembly.

‘What do you think of this?’ asked Hugh, as they passed through the crowded streets, and looked up at the windows which were thronged with spectators. ‘They have all turned out to see our flags and streamers? Eh, Barnaby? Why, Barnaby’s the greatest man of all the pack! His flag’s the largest of the lot, the brightest too. There’s nothing in the show, like Barnaby. All eyes are turned on him. Ha ha ha!’

‘Don’t make that din, brother,’ growled the hangman, glancing with no very approving eyes at Barnaby as he spoke: ‘I hope he don’t think there’s nothing to be done, but carrying that there piece of blue rag, like a boy at a breaking up. You’re ready for action I hope, eh? You, I mean,’ he added, nudging Barnaby roughly with his elbow. ‘What are you staring at? Why don’t you speak?’

Barnaby had been gazing at his flag, and looked vacantly from his questioner to Hugh.

‘He don’t understand your way,’ said the latter. ‘Here, I’ll explain it to him. Barnaby old boy, attend to me.’

‘I’ll attend,’ said Barnaby, looking anxiously round; ‘but I wish I could see her somewhere.’

‘See who?’ demanded Dennis in a gruff tone. ‘You an’t in love I hope, brother? That an’t the sort of thing for us, you know. We mustn’t have no love here.’

‘She would be proud indeed to see me now, eh Hugh?’ said Barnaby. ‘Wouldn’t it make her glad to see me at the head of this large show? She’d cry for joy, I know she would. Where CAN she be? She never sees me at my best, and what do I care to be gay and fine if SHE’S not by?’

‘Why, what palaver’s this?’ asked Mr Dennis with supreme disdain. ‘We an’t got no sentimental members among us, I hope.’

‘Don’t be uneasy, brother,’ cried Hugh, ‘he’s only talking of his mother.’

‘Of his what?’ said Mr Dennis with a strong oath.

‘His mother.’

‘And have I combined myself with this here section, and turned out on this here memorable day, to hear men talk about their mothers!’ growled Mr Dennis with extreme disgust. ‘The notion of a man’s sweetheart’s bad enough, but a man’s mother!’— and here his disgust was so extreme that he spat upon the ground, and could say no more.

‘Barnaby’s right,’ cried Hugh with a grin, ‘and I say it. Lookee, bold lad. If she’s not here to see, it’s because I’ve provided for her, and sent half-a-dozen gentlemen, every one of ’em with a blue flag (but not half as fine as yours), to take her, in state, to a grand house all hung round with gold and silver banners, and everything else you please, where she’ll wait till you come, and want for nothing.’

‘Ay!’ said Barnaby, his face beaming with delight: ‘have you indeed? That’s a good hearing. That’s fine! Kind Hugh!’

‘But nothing to what will come, bless you,’ retorted Hugh, with a wink at Dennis, who regarded his new companion in arms with great astonishment.

‘No, indeed?’ cried Barnaby.

‘Nothing at all,’ said Hugh. ‘Money, cocked hats and feathers, red coats and gold lace; all the fine things there are, ever were, or will be; will belong to us if we are true to that noble gentleman — the best man in the world — carry our flags for a few days, and keep ’em safe. That’s all we’ve got to do.’

‘Is that all?’ cried Barnaby with glistening eyes, as he clutched his pole the tighter; ‘I warrant you I keep this one safe, then. You have put it in good hands. You know me, Hugh. Nobody shall wrest this flag away.’

‘Well said!’ cried Hugh. ‘Ha ha! Nobly said! That’s the old stout Barnaby, that I have climbed and leaped with, many and many a day — I knew I was not mistaken in Barnaby. — Don’t you see, man,’ he added in a whisper, as he slipped to the other side of Dennis, ‘that the lad’s a natural, and can be got to do anything, if you take him the right way? Letting alone the fun he is, he’s worth a dozen men, in earnest, as you’d find if you tried a fall with him. Leave him to me. You shall soon see whether he’s of use or not.’

Mr Dennis received these explanatory remarks with many nods and winks, and softened his behaviour towards Barnaby from that moment. Hugh, laying his finger on his nose, stepped back into his former place, and they proceeded in silence.

It was between two and three o’clock in the afternoon when the three great parties met at Westminster, and, uniting into one huge mass, raised a tremendous shout. This was not only done in token of their presence, but as a signal to those on whom the task devolved, that it was time to take possession of the lobbies of both Houses, and of the various avenues of approach, and of the gallery stairs. To the last-named place, Hugh and Dennis, still with their pupil between them, rushed straightway; Barnaby having given his flag into the hands of one of their own party, who kept them at the outer door. Their followers pressing on behind, they were borne as on a great wave to the very doors of the gallery, whence it was impossible to retreat, even if they had been so inclined, by reason of the throng which choked up the passages. It is a familiar expression in describing a great crowd, that a person might have walked upon the people’s heads. In this case it was actually done; for a boy who had by some means got among the concourse, and was in imminent danger of suffocation, climbed to the shoulders of a man beside him and walked upon the people’s hats and heads into the open street; traversing in his passage the whole length of two staircases and a long gallery. Nor was the swarm without less dense; for a basket which had been tossed into the crowd, was jerked from head to head, and shoulder to shoulder, and went spinning and whirling on above them, until it was lost to view, without ever once falling in among them or coming near the ground.

Through this vast throng, sprinkled doubtless here and there with honest zealots, but composed for the most part of the very scum and refuse of London, whose growth was fostered by bad criminal laws, bad prison regulations, and the worst conceivable police, such of the members of both Houses of Parliament as had not taken the precaution to be already at their posts, were compelled to fight and force their way. Their carriages were stopped and broken; the wheels wrenched off; the glasses shivered to atoms; the panels beaten in; drivers, footmen, and masters, pulled from their seats and rolled in the mud. Lords, commoners, and reverend bishops, with little distinction of person or party, were kicked and pinched and hustled; passed from hand to hand through various stages of ill-usage; and sent to their fellow-senators at last with their clothes hanging in ribands about them, their bagwigs torn off, themselves speechless and breathless, and their persons covered with the powder which had been cuffed and beaten out of their hair. One lord was so long in the hands of the populace, that the Peers as a body resolved to sally forth and rescue him, and were in the act of doing so, when he happily appeared among them covered with dirt and bruises, and hardly to be recognised by those who knew him best. The noise and uproar were on the increase every moment. The air was filled with execrations, hoots, and howlings. The mob raged and roared, like a mad monster as it was, unceasingly, and each new outrage served to swell its fury.

Within doors, matters were even yet more threatening. Lord George — preceded by a man who carried the immense petition on a porter’s knot through the lobby to the door of the House of Commons, where it was received by two officers of the house who rolled it up to the table ready for presentation — had taken his seat at an early hour, before the Speaker went to prayers. His followers pouring in at the same time, the lobby and all the avenues were immediately filled, as we have seen. Thus the members were not only attacked in their passage through the streets, but were set upon within the very walls of Parliament; while the tumult, both within and without, was so great, that those who attempted to speak could scarcely hear their own voices: far less, consult upon the course it would be wise to take in such extremity, or animate each other to dignified and firm resistance. So sure as any member, just arrived, with dress disordered and dishevelled hair, came struggling through the crowd in the lobby, it yelled and screamed in triumph; and when the door of the House, partially and cautiously opened by those within for his admission, gave them a momentary glimpse of the interior, they grew more wild and savage, like beasts at the sight of prey, and made a rush against the portal which strained its locks and bolts in their staples, and shook the very beams.

The strangers’ gallery, which was immediately above the door of the House, had been ordered to be closed on the first rumour of disturbance, and was empty; save that now and then Lord George took his seat there, for the convenience of coming to the head of the stairs which led to it, and repeating to the people what had passed within. It was on these stairs that Barnaby, Hugh, and Dennis were posted. There were two flights, short, steep, and narrow, running parallel to each other, and leading to two little doors communicating with a low passage which opened on the gallery. Between them was a kind of well, or unglazed skylight, for the admission of light and air into the lobby, which might be some eighteen or twenty feet below.

Upon one of these little staircases — not that at the head of which Lord George appeared from time to time, but the other — Gashford stood with his elbow on the bannister, and his cheek resting on his hand, with his usual crafty aspect. Whenever he varied this attitude in the slightest degree — so much as by the gentlest motion of his arm — the uproar was certain to increase, not merely there, but in the lobby below; from which place no doubt, some man who acted as fugleman to the rest, was constantly looking up and watching him.

‘Order!’ cried Hugh, in a voice which made itself heard even above the roar and tumult, as Lord George appeared at the top of the staircase. ‘News! News from my lord!’

The noise continued, notwithstanding his appearance, until Gashford looked round. There was silence immediately — even among the people in the passages without, and on the other staircases, who could neither see nor hear, but to whom, notwithstanding, the signal was conveyed with marvellous rapidity.

‘Gentlemen,’ said Lord George, who was very pale and agitated, we must be firm. They talk of delays, but we must have no delays. They talk of taking your petition into consideration next Tuesday, but we must have it considered now. Present appearances look bad for our success, but we must succeed and will!’

‘We must succeed and will!’ echoed the crowd. And so among their shouts and cheers and other cries, he bowed to them and retired, and presently came back again. There was another gesture from Gashford, and a dead silence directly.

‘I am afraid,’ he said, this time, ‘that we have little reason, gentlemen, to hope for any redress from the proceedings of Parliament. But we must redress our own grievances, we must meet again, we must put our trust in Providence, and it will bless our endeavours.’

This speech being a little more temperate than the last, was not so favourably received. When the noise and exasperation were at their height, he came back once more, and told them that the alarm had gone forth for many miles round; that when the King heard of their assembling together in that great body, he had no doubt, His Majesty would send down private orders to have their wishes complied with; and — with the manner of his speech as childish, irresolute, and uncertain as his matter — was proceeding in this strain, when two gentlemen suddenly appeared at the door where he stood, and pressing past him and coming a step or two lower down upon the stairs, confronted the people.

The boldness of this action quite took them by surprise. They were not the less disconcerted, when one of the gentlemen, turning to Lord George, spoke thus — in a loud voice that they might hear him well, but quite coolly and collectedly:

‘You may tell these people, if you please, my lord, that I am General Conway of whom they have heard; and that I oppose this petition, and all their proceedings, and yours. I am a soldier, you may tell them, and I will protect the freedom of this place with my sword. You see, my lord, that the members of this House are all in arms to-day; you know that the entrance to it is a narrow one; you cannot be ignorant that there are men within these walls who are determined to defend that pass to the last, and before whom many lives must fall if your adherents persevere. Have a care what you do.’

‘And my Lord George,’ said the other gentleman, addressing him in like manner, ‘I desire them to hear this, from me — Colonel Gordon — your near relation. If a man among this crowd, whose uproar strikes us deaf, crosses the threshold of the House of Commons, I swear to run my sword that moment — not into his, but into your body!’

With that, they stepped back again, keeping their faces towards the crowd; took each an arm of the misguided nobleman; drew him into the passage, and shut the door; which they directly locked and fastened on the inside.

This was so quickly done, and the demeanour of both gentlemen — who were not young men either — was so gallant and resolute, that the crowd faltered and stared at each other with irresolute and timid looks. Many tried to turn towards the door; some of the faintest-hearted cried they had best go back, and called to those behind to give way; and the panic and confusion were increasing rapidly, when Gashford whispered Hugh.

‘What now!’ Hugh roared aloud, turning towards them. ‘Why go back? Where can you do better than here, boys! One good rush against these doors and one below at the same time, will do the business. Rush on, then! As to the door below, let those stand back who are afraid. Let those who are not afraid, try who shall be the first to pass it. Here goes! Look out down there!’

Without the delay of an instant, he threw himself headlong over the bannisters into the lobby below. He had hardly touched the ground when Barnaby was at his side. The chaplain’s assistant, and some members who were imploring the people to retire, immediately withdrew; and then, with a great shout, both crowds threw themselves against the doors pell-mell, and besieged the House in earnest.

At that moment, when a second onset must have brought them into collision with those who stood on the defensive within, in which case great loss of life and bloodshed would inevitably have ensued — the hindmost portion of the crowd gave way, and the rumour spread from mouth to mouth that a messenger had been despatched by water for the military, who were forming in the street. Fearful of sustaining a charge in the narrow passages in which they were so closely wedged together, the throng poured out as impetuously as they had flocked in. As the whole stream turned at once, Barnaby and Hugh went with it: and so, fighting and struggling and trampling on fallen men and being trampled on in turn themselves, they and the whole mass floated by degrees into the open street, where a large detachment of the Guards, both horse and foot, came hurrying up; clearing the ground before them so rapidly that the people seemed to melt away as they advanced.

The word of command to halt being given, the soldiers formed across the street; the rioters, breathless and exhausted with their late exertions, formed likewise, though in a very irregular and disorderly manner. The commanding officer rode hastily into the open space between the two bodies, accompanied by a magistrate and an officer of the House of Commons, for whose accommodation a couple of troopers had hastily dismounted. The Riot Act was read, but not a man stirred.

In the first rank of the insurgents, Barnaby and Hugh stood side by side. Somebody had thrust into Barnaby’s hands when he came out into the street, his precious flag; which, being now rolled up and tied round the pole, looked like a giant quarter-staff as he grasped it firmly and stood upon his guard. If ever man believed with his whole heart and soul that he was engaged in a just cause, and that he was bound to stand by his leader to the last, poor Barnaby believed it of himself and Lord George Gordon.

After an ineffectual attempt to make himself heard, the magistrate gave the word and the Horse Guards came riding in among the crowd. But, even then, he galloped here and there, exhorting the people to disperse; and, although heavy stones were thrown at the men, and some were desperately cut and bruised, they had no orders but to make prisoners of such of the rioters as were the most active, and to drive the people back with the flat of their sabres. As the horses came in among them, the throng gave way at many points, and the Guards, following up their advantage, were rapidly clearing the ground, when two or three of the foremost, who were in a manner cut off from the rest by the people closing round them, made straight towards Barnaby and Hugh, who had no doubt been pointed out as the two men who dropped into the lobby: laying about them now with some effect, and inflicting on the more turbulent of their opponents, a few slight flesh wounds, under the influence of which a man dropped, here and there, into the arms of his fellows, amid much groaning and confusion.

At the sight of gashed and bloody faces, seen for a moment in the crowd, then hidden by the press around them, Barnaby turned pale and sick. But he stood his ground, and grasping his pole more firmly yet, kept his eye fixed upon the nearest soldier — nodding his head meanwhile, as Hugh, with a scowling visage, whispered in his ear.

The soldier came spurring on, making his horse rear as the people pressed about him, cutting at the hands of those who would have grasped his rein and forced his charger back, and waving to his comrades to follow — and still Barnaby, without retreating an inch, waited for his coming. Some called to him to fly, and some were in the very act of closing round him, to prevent his being taken, when the pole swept into the air above the people’s heads, and the man’s saddle was empty in an instant.

Then, he and Hugh turned and fled, the crowd opening to let them pass, and closing up again so quickly that there was no clue to the course they had taken. Panting for breath, hot, dusty, and exhausted with fatigue, they reached the riverside in safety, and getting into a boat with all despatch were soon out of any immediate danger.

As they glided down the river, they plainly heard the people cheering; and supposing they might have forced the soldiers to retreat, lay upon their oars for a few minutes, uncertain whether to return or not. But the crowd passing along Westminster Bridge, soon assured them that the populace were dispersing; and Hugh rightly guessed from this, that they had cheered the magistrate for offering to dismiss the military on condition of their immediate departure to their several homes, and that he and Barnaby were better where they were. He advised, therefore, that they should proceed to Blackfriars, and, going ashore at the bridge, make the best of their way to The Boot; where there was not only good entertainment and safe lodging, but where they would certainly be joined by many of their late companions. Barnaby assenting, they decided on this course of action, and pulled for Blackfriars accordingly.

They landed at a critical time, and fortunately for themselves at the right moment. For, coming into Fleet Street, they found it in an unusual stir; and inquiring the cause, were told that a body of Horse Guards had just galloped past, and that they were escorting some rioters whom they had made prisoners, to Newgate for safety. Not at all ill-pleased to have so narrowly escaped the cavalcade, they lost no more time in asking questions, but hurried to The Boot with as much speed as Hugh considered it prudent to make, without appearing singular or attracting an inconvenient share of public notice.

Chapter 50

They were among the first to reach the tavern, but they had not been there many minutes, when several groups of men who had formed part of the crowd, came straggling in. Among them were Simon Tappertit and Mr Dennis; both of whom, but especially the latter, greeted Barnaby with the utmost warmth, and paid him many compliments on the prowess he had shown.

‘Which,’ said Dennis, with an oath, as he rested his bludgeon in a corner with his hat upon it, and took his seat at the same table with them, ‘it does me good to think of. There was a opportunity! But it led to nothing. For my part, I don’t know what would. There’s no spirit among the people in these here times. Bring something to eat and drink here. I’m disgusted with humanity.’

‘On what account?’ asked Mr Tappertit, who had been quenching his fiery face in a half-gallon can. ‘Don’t you consider this a good beginning, mister?’

‘Give me security that it an’t a ending,’ rejoined the hangman. ‘When that soldier went down, we might have made London ours; but no; — we stand, and gape, and look on — the justice (I wish he had had a bullet in each eye, as he would have had, if we’d gone to work my way) says, “My lads, if you’ll give me your word to disperse, I’ll order off the military,” our people sets up a hurrah, throws up the game with the winning cards in their hands, and skulks away like a pack of tame curs as they are. Ah,’ said the hangman, in a tone of deep disgust, ‘it makes me blush for my feller creeturs. I wish I had been born a ox, I do!’

‘You’d have been quite as agreeable a character if you had been, I think,’ returned Simon Tappertit, going out in a lofty manner.

‘Don’t be too sure of that,’ rejoined the hangman, calling after him; ‘if I was a horned animal at the present moment, with the smallest grain of sense, I’d toss every man in this company, excepting them two,’ meaning Hugh and Barnaby, ‘for his manner of conducting himself this day.’

With which mournful review of their proceedings, Mr Dennis sought consolation in cold boiled beef and beer; but without at all relaxing the grim and dissatisfied expression of his face, the gloom of which was rather deepened than dissipated by their grateful influence.

The company who were thus libelled might have retaliated by strong words, if not by blows, but they were dispirited and worn out. The greater part of them had fasted since morning; all had suffered extremely from the excessive heat; and between the day’s shouting, exertion, and excitement, many had quite lost their voices, and so much of their strength that they could hardly stand. Then they were uncertain what to do next, fearful of the consequences of what they had done already, and sensible that after all they had carried no point, but had indeed left matters worse than they had found them. Of those who had come to The Boot, many dropped off within an hour; such of them as were really honest and sincere, never, after the morning’s experience, to return, or to hold any communication with their late companions. Others remained but to refresh themselves, and then went home desponding; others who had theretofore been regular in their attendance, avoided the place altogether. The half-dozen prisoners whom the Guards had taken, were magnified by report into half-a-hundred at least; and their friends, being faint and sober, so slackened in their energy, and so drooped beneath these dispiriting influences, that by eight o’clock in the evening, Dennis, Hugh, and Barnaby, were left alone. Even they were fast asleep upon the benches, when Gashford’s entrance roused them.

‘Oh! you ARE here then?’ said the Secretary. ‘Dear me!’

‘Why, where should we be, Muster Gashford!’ Dennis rejoined as he rose into a sitting posture.

‘Oh nowhere, nowhere,’ he returned with excessive mildness. ‘The streets are filled with blue cockades. I rather thought you might have been among them. I am glad you are not.’

‘You have orders for us, master, then?’ said Hugh.

‘Oh dear, no. Not I. No orders, my good fellow. What orders should I have? You are not in my service.’

‘Muster Gashford,’ remonstrated Dennis, ‘we belong to the cause, don’t we?’

‘The cause!’ repeated the secretary, looking at him in a sort of abstraction. ‘There is no cause. The cause is lost.’

‘Lost!’

‘Oh yes. You have heard, I suppose? The petition is rejected by a hundred and ninety-two, to six. It’s quite final. We might have spared ourselves some trouble. That, and my lord’s vexation, are the only circumstances I regret. I am quite satisfied in all other respects.’

As he said this, he took a penknife from his pocket, and putting his hat upon his knee, began to busy himself in ripping off the blue cockade which he had worn all day; at the same time humming a psalm tune which had been very popular in the morning, and dwelling on it with a gentle regret.

His two adherents looked at each other, and at him, as if they were at a loss how to pursue the subject. At length Hugh, after some elbowing and winking between himself and Mr Dennis, ventured to stay his hand, and to ask him why he meddled with that riband in his hat.

‘Because,’ said the secretary, looking up with something between a snarl and a smile; ‘because to sit still and wear it, or to fall asleep and wear it, is a mockery. That’s all, friend.’

‘What would you have us do, master!’ cried Hugh.

‘Nothing,’ returned Gashford, shrugging his shoulders, ‘nothing. When my lord was reproached and threatened for standing by you, I, as a prudent man, would have had you do nothing. When the soldiers were trampling you under their horses’ feet, I would have had you do nothing. When one of them was struck down by a daring hand, and I saw confusion and dismay in all their faces, I would have had you do nothing — just what you did, in short. This is the young man who had so little prudence and so much boldness. Ah! I am sorry for him.’

‘Sorry, master!’ cried Hugh.

‘Sorry, Muster Gashford!’ echoed Dennis.

‘In case there should be a proclamation out to-morrow, offering five hundred pounds, or some such trifle, for his apprehension; and in case it should include another man who dropped into the lobby from the stairs above,’ said Gashford, coldly; ‘still, do nothing.’

‘Fire and fury, master!’ cried Hugh, starting up. ‘What have we done, that you should talk to us like this!’

‘Nothing,’ returned Gashford with a sneer. ‘If you are cast into prison; if the young man —’ here he looked hard at Barnaby’s attentive face —‘is dragged from us and from his friends; perhaps from people whom he loves, and whom his death would kill; is thrown into jail, brought out and hanged before their eyes; still, do nothing. You’ll find it your best policy, I have no doubt.’

‘Come on!’ cried Hugh, striding towards the door. ‘Dennis — Barnaby — come on!’

‘Where? To do what?’ said Gashford, slipping past him, and standing with his back against it.

‘Anywhere! Anything!’ cried Hugh. ‘Stand aside, master, or the window will serve our turn as well. Let us out!’

‘Ha ha ha! You are of such — of such an impetuous nature,’ said Gashford, changing his manner for one of the utmost good fellowship and the pleasantest raillery; ‘you are such an excitable creature — but you’ll drink with me before you go?’

‘Oh, yes — certainly,’ growled Dennis, drawing his sleeve across his thirsty lips. ‘No malice, brother. Drink with Muster Gashford!’

Hugh wiped his heated brow, and relaxed into a smile. The artful secretary laughed outright.

‘Some liquor here! Be quick, or he’ll not stop, even for that. He is a man of such desperate ardour!’ said the smooth secretary, whom Mr Dennis corroborated with sundry nods and muttered oaths —‘Once roused, he is a fellow of such fierce determination!’

Hugh poised his sturdy arm aloft, and clapping Barnaby on the back, bade him fear nothing. They shook hands together — poor Barnaby evidently possessed with the idea that he was among the most virtuous and disinterested heroes in the world — and Gashford laughed again.

‘I hear,’ he said smoothly, as he stood among them with a great measure of liquor in his hand, and filled their glasses as quickly and as often as they chose, ‘I hear — but I cannot say whether it be true or false — that the men who are loitering in the streets to-night are half disposed to pull down a Romish chapel or two, and that they only want leaders. I even heard mention of those in Duke Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, and in Warwick Street, Golden Square; but common report, you know — You are not going?’

—‘To do nothing, rnaster, eh?’ cried Hugh. ‘No jails and halter for Barnaby and me. They must be frightened out of that. Leaders are wanted, are they? Now boys!’

‘A most impetuous fellow!’ cried the secretary. ‘Ha ha! A courageous, boisterous, most vehement fellow! A man who —’

There was no need to finish the sentence, for they had rushed out of the house, and were far beyond hearing. He stopped in the middle of a laugh, listened, drew on his gloves, and, clasping his hands behind him, paced the deserted room for a long time, then bent his steps towards the busy town, and walked into the streets.

They were filled with people, for the rumour of that day’s proceedings had made a great noise. Those persons who did not care to leave home, were at their doors or windows, and one topic of discourse prevailed on every side. Some reported that the riots were effectually put down; others that they had broken out again: some said that Lord George Gordon had been sent under a strong guard to the Tower; others that an attempt had been made upon the King’s life, that the soldiers had been again called out, and that the noise of musketry in a distant part of the town had been plainly heard within an hour. As it grew darker, these stories became more direful and mysterious; and often, when some frightened passenger ran past with tidings that the rioters were not far off, and were coming up, the doors were shut and barred, lower windows made secure, and as much consternation engendered, as if the city were invaded by a foreign army.

Gashford walked stealthily about, listening to all he heard, and diffusing or confirming, whenever he had an opportunity, such false intelligence as suited his own purpose; and, busily occupied in this way, turned into Holborn for the twentieth time, when a great many women and children came flying along the street — often panting and looking back — and the confused murmur of numerous voices struck upon his ear. Assured by these tokens, and by the red light which began to flash upon the houses on either side, that some of his friends were indeed approaching, he begged a moment’s shelter at a door which opened as he passed, and running with some other persons to an upper window, looked out upon the crowd.

They had torches among them, and the chief faces were distinctly visible. That they had been engaged in the destruction of some building was sufficiently apparent, and that it was a Catholic place of worship was evident from the spoils they bore as trophies, which were easily recognisable for the vestments of priests, and rich fragments of altar furniture. Covered with soot, and dirt, and dust, and lime; their garments torn to rags; their hair hanging wildly about them; their hands and faces jagged and bleeding with the wounds of rusty nails; Barnaby, Hugh, and Dennis hurried on before them all, like hideous madmen. After them, the dense throng came fighting on: some singing; some shouting in triumph; some quarrelling among themselves; some menacing the spectators as they passed; some with great wooden fragments, on which they spent their rage as if they had been alive, rending them limb from limb, and hurling the scattered morsels high into the air; some in a drunken state, unconscious of the hurts they had received from falling bricks, and stones, and beams; one borne upon a shutter, in the very midst, covered with a dingy cloth, a senseless, ghastly heap. Thus — a vision of coarse faces, with here and there a blot of flaring, smoky light; a dream of demon heads and savage eyes, and sticks and iron bars uplifted in the air, and whirled about; a bewildering horror, in which so much was seen, and yet so little, which seemed so long, and yet so short, in which there were so many phantoms, not to be forgotten all through life, and yet so many things that could not be observed in one distracting glimpse — it flitted onward, and was gone.

As it passed away upon its work of wrath and ruin, a piercing scream was heard. A knot of persons ran towards the spot; Gashford, who just then emerged into the street, among them. He was on the outskirts of the little concourse, and could not see or hear what passed within; but one who had a better place, informed him that a widow woman had descried her son among the rioters.

‘Is that all?’ said the secretary, turning his face homewards. ‘Well! I think this looks a little more like business!’

Chapter 51

Promising as these outrages were to Gashford’s view, and much like business as they looked, they extended that night no farther. The soldiers were again called out, again they took half-a-dozen prisoners, and again the crowd dispersed after a short and bloodless scuffle. Hot and drunken though they were, they had not yet broken all bounds and set all law and government at defiance. Something of their habitual deference to the authority erected by society for its own preservation yet remained among them, and had its majesty been vindicated in time, the secretary would have had to digest a bitter disappointment.

By midnight, the streets were clear and quiet, and, save that there stood in two parts of the town a heap of nodding walls and pile of rubbish, where there had been at sunset a rich and handsome building, everything wore its usual aspect. Even the Catholic gentry and tradesmen, of whom there were many resident in different parts of the City and its suburbs, had no fear for their lives or property, and but little indignation for the wrong they had already sustained in the plunder and destruction of their temples of worship. An honest confidence in the government under whose protection they had lived for many years, and a well-founded reliance on the good feeling and right thinking of the great mass of the community, with whom, notwithstanding their religious differences, they were every day in habits of confidential, affectionate, and friendly intercourse, reassured them, even under the excesses that had been committed; and convinced them that they who were Protestants in anything but the name, were no more to be considered as abettors of these disgraceful occurrences, than they themselves were chargeable with the uses of the block, the rack, the gibbet, and the stake in cruel Mary’s reign.

The clock was on the stroke of one, when Gabriel Varden, with his lady and Miss Miggs, sat waiting in the little parlour. This fact; the toppling wicks of the dull, wasted candles; the silence that prevailed; and, above all, the nightcaps of both maid and matron, were sufficient evidence that they had been prepared for bed some time ago, and had some reason for sitting up so far beyond their usual hour.

If any other corroborative testimony had been required, it would have been abundantly furnished in the actions of Miss Miggs, who, having arrived at that restless state and sensitive condition of the nervous system which are the result of long watching, did, by a constant rubbing and tweaking of her nose, a perpetual change of position (arising from the sudden growth of imaginary knots and knobs in her chair), a frequent friction of her eyebrows, the incessant recurrence of a small cough, a small groan, a gasp, a sigh, a sniff, a spasmodic start, and by other demonstrations of that nature, so file down and rasp, as it were, the patience of the locksmith, that after looking at her in silence for some time, he at last broke out into this apostrophe:—

‘Miggs, my good girl, go to bed — do go to bed. You’re really worse than the dripping of a hundred water-butts outside the window, or the scratching of as many mice behind the wainscot. I can’t bear it. Do go to bed, Miggs. To oblige me — do.’

‘You haven’t got nothing to untie, sir,’ returned Miss Miggs, ‘and therefore your requests does not surprise me. But missis has — and while you sit up, mim’— she added, turning to the locksmith’s wife, ‘I couldn’t, no, not if twenty times the quantity of cold water was aperiently running down my back at this moment, go to bed with a quiet spirit.’

Having spoken these words, Miss Miggs made divers efforts to rub her shoulders in an impossible place, and shivered from head to foot; thereby giving the beholders to understand that the imaginary cascade was still in full flow, but that a sense of duty upheld her under that and all other sufferings, and nerved her to endurance.

Mrs Varden being too sleepy to speak, and Miss Miggs having, as the phrase is, said her say, the locksmith had nothing for it but to sigh and be as quiet as he could.

But to be quiet with such a basilisk before him was impossible. If he looked another way, it was worse to feel that she was rubbing her cheek, or twitching her ear, or winking her eye, or making all kinds of extraordinary shapes with her nose, than to see her do it. If she was for a moment free from any of these complaints, it was only because of her foot being asleep, or of her arm having got the fidgets, or of her leg being doubled up with the cramp, or of some other horrible disorder which racked her whole frame. If she did enjoy a moment’s ease, then with her eyes shut and her mouth wide open, she would be seen to sit very stiff and upright in her chair; then to nod a little way forward, and stop with a jerk; then to nod a little farther forward, and stop with another jerk; then to recover herself; then to come forward again — lower — lower — lower — by very slow degrees, until, just as it seemed impossible that she could preserve her balance for another instant, and the locksmith was about to call out in an agony, to save her from dashing down upon her forehead and fracturing her skull, then all of a sudden and without the smallest notice, she would come upright and rigid again with her eyes open, and in her countenance an expression of defiance, sleepy but yet most obstinate, which plainly said, ‘I’ve never once closed ’em since I looked at you last, and I’ll take my oath of it!’

At length, after the clock had struck two, there was a sound at the street door, as if somebody had fallen against the knocker by accident. Miss Miggs immediately jumping up and clapping her hands, cried with a drowsy mingling of the sacred and profane, ‘Ally Looyer, mim! there’s Simmuns’s knock!’

‘Who’s there?’ said Gabriel.

‘Me!’ cried the well-known voice of Mr Tappertit. Gabriel opened the door, and gave him admission.

He did not cut a very insinuating figure, for a man of his stature suffers in a crowd; and having been active in yesterday morning’s work, his dress was literally crushed from head to foot: his hat being beaten out of all shape, and his shoes trodden down at heel like slippers. His coat fluttered in strips about him, the buckles were torn away both from his knees and feet, half his neckerchief was gone, and the bosom of his shirt was rent to tatters. Yet notwithstanding all these personal disadvantages; despite his being very weak from heat and fatigue; and so begrimed with mud and dust that he might have been in a case, for anything of the real texture (either of his skin or apparel) that the eye could discern; he stalked haughtily into the parlour, and throwing himself into a chair, and endeavouring to thrust his hands into the pockets of his small-clothes, which were turned inside out and displayed upon his legs, like tassels, surveyed the household with a gloomy dignity.

‘Simon,’ said the locksmith gravely, ‘how comes it that you return home at this time of night, and in this condition? Give me an assurance that you have not been among the rioters, and I am satisfied.’

‘Sir,’ replied Mr Tappertit, with a contemptuous look, ‘I wonder at YOUR assurance in making such demands.’

‘You have been drinking,’ said the locksmith.

‘As a general principle, and in the most offensive sense of the words, sir,’ returned his journeyman with great self-possession, ‘I consider you a liar. In that last observation you have unintentionally — unintentionally, sir — struck upon the truth.’

‘Martha,’ said the locksmith, turning to his wife, and shaking his head sorrowfully, while a smile at the absurd figure beside him still played upon his open face, ‘I trust it may turn out that this poor lad is not the victim of the knaves and fools we have so often had words about, and who have done so much harm to-day. If he has been at Warwick Street or Duke Street to-night —’

‘He has been at neither, sir,’ cried Mr Tappertit in a loud voice, which he suddenly dropped into a whisper as he repeated, with eyes fixed upon the locksmith, ‘he has been at neither.’

‘I am glad of it, with all my heart,’ said the locksmith in a serious tone; ‘for if he had been, and it could be proved against him, Martha, your Great Association would have been to him the cart that draws men to the gallows and leaves them hanging in the air. It would, as sure as we’re alive!’

Mrs Varden was too much scared by Simon’s altered manner and appearance, and by the accounts of the rioters which had reached her ears that night, to offer any retort, or to have recourse to her usual matrimonial policy. Miss Miggs wrung her hands, and wept.

‘He was not at Duke Street, or at Warwick Street, G. Varden,’ said Simon, sternly; ‘but he WAS at Westminster. Perhaps, sir, he kicked a county member, perhaps, sir, he tapped a lord — you may stare, sir, I repeat it — blood flowed from noses, and perhaps he tapped a lord. Who knows? This,’ he added, putting his hand into his waistcoat-pocket, and taking out a large tooth, at the sight of which both Miggs and Mrs Varden screamed, ‘this was a bishop’s. Beware, G. Varden!’

‘Now, I would rather,’ said the locksmith hastily, ‘have paid five hundred pounds, than had this come to pass. You idiot, do you know what peril you stand in?’

‘I know it, sir,’ replied his journeyman, ‘and it is my glory. I was there, everybody saw me there. I was conspicuous, and prominent. I will abide the consequences.’

The locksmith, really disturbed and agitated, paced to and fro in silence — glancing at his former ‘prentice every now and then — and at length stopping before him, said:

‘Get to bed, and sleep for a couple of hours that you may wake penitent, and with some of your senses about you. Be sorry for what you have done, and we will try to save you. If I call him by five o’clock,’ said Varden, turning hurriedly to his wife, and he washes himself clean and changes his dress, he may get to the Tower Stairs, and away by the Gravesend tide-boat, before any search is made for him. From there he can easily get on to Canterbury, where your cousin will give him work till this storm has blown over. I am not sure that I do right in screening him from the punishment he deserves, but he has lived in this house, man and boy, for a dozen years, and I should be sorry if for this one day’s work he made a miserable end. Lock the front-door, Miggs, and show no light towards the street when you go upstairs. Quick, Simon! Get to bed!’

‘And do you suppose, sir,’ retorted Mr Tappertit, with a thickness and slowness of speech which contrasted forcibly with the rapidity and earnestness of his kind-hearted master —‘and do you suppose, sir, that I am base and mean enough to accept your servile proposition? — Miscreant!’

‘Whatever you please, Sim, but get to bed. Every minute is of consequence. The light here, Miggs!’

‘Yes yes, oh do! Go to bed directly,’ cried the two women together.

Mr Tappertit stood upon his feet, and pushing his chair away to show that he needed no assistance, answered, swaying himself to and fro, and managing his head as if it had no connection whatever with his body:

‘You spoke of Miggs, sir — Miggs may be smothered!’

‘Oh Simmun!’ ejaculated that young lady in a faint voice. ‘Oh mim! Oh sir! Oh goodness gracious, what a turn he has give me!’

‘This family may ALL be smothered, sir,’ returned Mr Tappertit, after glancing at her with a smile of ineffable disdain, ‘excepting Mrs V. I have come here, sir, for her sake, this night. Mrs Varden, take this piece of paper. It’s a protection, ma’am. You may need it.’

With these words he held out at arm’s length, a dirty, crumpled scrap of writing. The locksmith took it from him, opened it, and read as follows:

‘All good friends to our cause, I hope will be particular, and do no injury to the property of any true Protestant. I am well assured that the proprietor of this house is a staunch and worthy friend to the cause.

GEORGE GORDON.’

‘What’s this!’ said the locksmith, with an altered face.

‘Something that’ll do you good service, young feller,’ replied his journeyman, ‘as you’ll find. Keep that safe, and where you can lay your hand upon it in an instant. And chalk “No Popery” on your door to-morrow night, and for a week to come — that’s all.’

‘This is a genuine document,’ said the locksmith, ‘I know, for I have seen the hand before. What threat does it imply? What devil is abroad?’

‘A fiery devil,’ retorted Sim; ‘a flaming, furious devil. Don’t you put yourself in its way, or you’re done for, my buck. Be warned in time, G. Varden. Farewell!’

But here the two women threw themselves in his way — especially Miss Miggs, who fell upon him with such fervour that she pinned him against the wall — and conjured him in moving words not to go forth till he was sober; to listen to reason; to think of it; to take some rest, and then determine.

‘I tell you,’ said Mr Tappertit, ‘that my mind is made up. My bleeding country calls me and I go! Miggs, if you don’t get out of the way, I’ll pinch you.’

Miss Miggs, still clinging to the rebel, screamed once vociferously — but whether in the distraction of her mind, or because of his having executed his threat, is uncertain.

‘Release me,’ said Simon, struggling to free himself from her chaste, but spider-like embrace. ‘Let me go! I have made arrangements for you in an altered state of society, and mean to provide for you comfortably in life — there! Will that satisfy you?’

‘Oh Simmun!’ cried Miss Miggs. ‘Oh my blessed Simmun! Oh mim! what are my feelings at this conflicting moment!’

Of a rather turbulent description, it would seem; for her nightcap had been knocked off in the scuffle, and she was on her knees upon the floor, making a strange revelation of blue and yellow curl-papers, straggling locks of hair, tags of staylaces, and strings of it’s impossible to say what; panting for breath, clasping her hands, turning her eyes upwards, shedding abundance of tears, and exhibiting various other symptoms of the acutest mental suffering.

‘I leave,’ said Simon, turning to his master, with an utter disregard of Miggs’s maidenly affliction, ‘a box of things upstairs. Do what you like with ’em. I don’t want ’em. I’m never coming back here, any more. Provide yourself, sir, with a journeyman; I’m my country’s journeyman; henceforward that’s MY line of business.’

‘Be what you like in two hours’ time, but now go up to bed,’ returned the locksmith, planting himself in the doorway. ‘Do you hear me? Go to bed!’

‘I hear you, and defy you, Varden,’ rejoined Simon Tappertit. ‘This night, sir, I have been in the country, planning an expedition which shall fill your bell-hanging soul with wonder and dismay. The plot demands my utmost energy. Let me pass!’

‘I’ll knock you down if you come near the door,’ replied the locksmith. ‘You had better go to bed!’

Simon made no answer, but gathering himself up as straight as he could, plunged head foremost at his old master, and the two went driving out into the workshop together, plying their hands and feet so briskly that they looked like half-a-dozen, while Miggs and Mrs Varden screamed for twelve.

It would have been easy for Varden to knock his old ‘prentice down, and bind him hand and foot; but as he was loth to hurt him in his then defenceless state, he contented himself with parrying his blows when he could, taking them in perfect good part when he could not, and keeping between him and the door, until a favourable opportunity should present itself for forcing him to retreat up-stairs, and shutting him up in his own room. But, in the goodness of his heart, he calculated too much upon his adversary’s weakness, and forgot that drunken men who have lost the power of walking steadily, can often run. Watching his time, Simon Tappertit made a cunning show of falling back, staggered unexpectedly forward, brushed past him, opened the door (he knew the trick of that lock well), and darted down the street like a mad dog. The locksmith paused for a moment in the excess of his astonishment, and then gave chase.

It was an excellent season for a run, for at that silent hour the streets were deserted, the air was cool, and the flying figure before him distinctly visible at a great distance, as it sped away, with a long gaunt shadow following at its heels. But the short-winded locksmith had no chance against a man of Sim’s youth and spare figure, though the day had been when he could have run him down in no time. The space between them rapidly increased, and as the rays of the rising sun streamed upon Simon in the act of turning a distant corner, Gabriel Varden was fain to give up, and sit down on a doorstep to fetch his breath. Simon meanwhile, without once stopping, fled at the same degree of swiftness to The Boot, where, as he well knew, some of his company were lying, and at which respectable hostelry — for he had already acquired the distinction of being in great peril of the law — a friendly watch had been expecting him all night, and was even now on the look-out for his coming.

‘Go thy ways, Sim, go thy ways,’ said the locksmith, as soon as he could speak. ‘I have done my best for thee, poor lad, and would have saved thee, but the rope is round thy neck, I fear.’

So saying, and shaking his head in a very sorrowful and disconsolate manner, he turned back, and soon re-entered his own house, where Mrs Varden and the faithful Miggs had been anxiously expecting his return.

Now Mrs Varden (and by consequence Miss Miggs likewise) was impressed with a secret misgiving that she had done wrong; that she had, to the utmost of her small means, aided and abetted the growth of disturbances, the end of which it was impossible to foresee; that she had led remotely to the scene which had just passed; and that the locksmith’s time for triumph and reproach had now arrived indeed. And so strongly did Mrs Varden feel this, and so crestfallen was she in consequence, that while her husband was pursuing their lost journeyman, she secreted under her chair the little red-brick dwelling-house with the yellow roof, lest it should furnish new occasion for reference to the painful theme; and now hid the same still more, with the skirts of her dress.

But it happened that the locksmith had been thinking of this very article on his way home, and that, coming into the room and not seeing it, he at once demanded where it was.

Mrs Varden had no resource but to produce it, which she did with many tears, and broken protestations that if she could have known —

‘Yes, yes,’ said Varden, ‘of course — I know that. I don’t mean to reproach you, my dear. But recollect from this time that all good things perverted to evil purposes, are worse than those which are naturally bad. A thoroughly wicked woman, is wicked indeed. When religion goes wrong, she is very wrong, for the same reason. Let us say no more about it, my dear.’

So he dropped the red-brick dwelling-house on the floor, and setting his heel upon it, crushed it into pieces. The halfpence, and sixpences, and other voluntary contributions, rolled about in all directions, but nobody offered to touch them, or to take them up.

‘That,’ said the locksmith, ‘is easily disposed of, and I would to Heaven that everything growing out of the same society could be settled as easily.’

‘It happens very fortunately, Varden,’ said his wife, with her handkerchief to her eyes, ‘that in case any more disturbances should happen — which I hope not; I sincerely hope not —’

‘I hope so too, my dear.’

‘— That in case any should occur, we have the piece of paper which that poor misguided young man brought.’

‘Ay, to be sure,’ said the locksmith, turning quickly round. ‘Where is that piece of paper?’

Mrs Varden stood aghast as he took it from her outstretched band, tore it into fragments, and threw them under the grate.

‘Not use it?’ she said.

‘Use it!’ cried the locksmith. No! Let them come and pull the roof about our ears; let them burn us out of house and home; I’d neither have the protection of their leader, nor chalk their howl upon my door, though, for not doing it, they shot me on my own threshold. Use it! Let them come and do their worst. The first man who crosses my doorstep on such an errand as theirs, had better be a hundred miles away. Let him look to it. The others may have their will. I wouldn’t beg or buy them off, if, instead of every pound of iron in the place, there was a hundred weight of gold. Get you to bed, Martha. I shall take down the shutters and go to work.’

‘So early!’ said his wife.

‘Ay,’ replied the locksmith cheerily, ‘so early. Come when they may, they shall not find us skulking and hiding, as if we feared to take our portion of the light of day, and left it all to them. So pleasant dreams to you, my dear, and cheerful sleep!’

With that he gave his wife a hearty kiss, and bade her delay no longer, or it would be time to rise before she lay down to rest. Mrs Varden quite amiably and meekly walked upstairs, followed by Miggs, who, although a good deal subdued, could not refrain from sundry stimulative coughs and sniffs by the way, or from holding up her hands in astonishment at the daring conduct of master.

Chapter 52

A mob is usually a creature of very mysterious existence, particularly in a large city. Where it comes from or whither it goes, few men can tell. Assembling and dispersing with equal suddenness, it is as difficult to follow to its various sources as the sea itself; nor does the parallel stop here, for the ocean is not more fickle and uncertain, more terrible when roused, more unreasonable, or more cruel.

The people who were boisterous at Westminster upon the Friday morning, and were eagerly bent upon the work of devastation in Duke Street and Warwick Street at night, were, in the mass, the same. Allowing for the chance accessions of which any crowd is morally sure in a town where there must always be a large number of idle and profligate persons, one and the same mob was at both places. Yet they spread themselves in various directions when they dispersed in the afternoon, made no appointment for reassembling, had no definite purpose or design, and indeed, for anything they knew, were scattered beyond the hope of future union.

At The Boot, which, as has been shown, was in a manner the head-quarters of the rioters, there were not, upon this Friday night, a dozen people. Some slept in the stable and outhouses, some in the common room, some two or three in beds. The rest were in their usual homes or haunts. Perhaps not a score in all lay in the adjacent fields and lanes, and under haystacks, or near the warmth of brick-kilns, who had not their accustomed place of rest beneath the open sky. As to the public ways within the town, they had their ordinary nightly occupants, and no others; the usual amount of vice and wretchedness, but no more.

The experience of one evening, however, had taught the reckless leaders of disturbance, that they had but to show themselves in the streets, to be immediately surrounded by materials which they could only have kept together when their aid was not required, at great risk, expense, and trouble. Once possessed of this secret, they were as confident as if twenty thousand men, devoted to their will, had been encamped about them, and assumed a confidence which could not have been surpassed, though that had really been the case. All day, Saturday, they remained quiet. On Sunday, they rather studied how to keep their men within call, and in full hope, than to follow out, by any fierce measure, their first day’s proceedings.

‘I hope,’ said Dennis, as, with a loud yawn, he raised his body from a heap of straw on which he had been sleeping, and supporting his head upon his hand, appealed to Hugh on Sunday morning, ‘that Muster Gashford allows some rest? Perhaps he’d have us at work again already, eh?’

‘It’s not his way to let matters drop, you may be sure of that,’ growled Hugh in answer. ‘I’m in no humour to stir yet, though. I’m as stiff as a dead body, and as full of ugly scratches as if I had been fighting all day yesterday with wild cats.’

‘You’ve so much enthusiasm, that’s it,’ said Dennis, looking with great admiration at the uncombed head, matted beard, and torn hands and face of the wild figure before him; ‘you’re such a devil of a fellow. You hurt yourself a hundred times more than you need, because you will be foremost in everything, and will do more than the rest.’

‘For the matter of that,’ returned Hugh, shaking back his ragged hair and glancing towards the door of the stable in which they lay; ‘there’s one yonder as good as me. What did I tell you about him? Did I say he was worth a dozen, when you doubted him?’

Mr Dennis rolled lazily over upon his breast, and resting his chin upon his hand in imitation of the attitude in which Hugh lay, said, as he too looked towards the door:

‘Ay, ay, you knew him, brother, you knew him. But who’d suppose to look at that chap now, that he could be the man he is! Isn’t it a thousand cruel pities, brother, that instead of taking his nat’ral rest and qualifying himself for further exertions in this here honourable cause, he should be playing at soldiers like a boy? And his cleanliness too!’ said Mr Dennis, who certainly had no reason to entertain a fellow feeling with anybody who was particular on that score; ‘what weaknesses he’s guilty of; with respect to his cleanliness! At five o’clock this morning, there he was at the pump, though any one would think he had gone through enough, the day before yesterday, to be pretty fast asleep at that time. But no — when I woke for a minute or two, there he was at the pump, and if you’d seen him sticking them peacock’s feathers into his hat when he’d done washing — ah! I’m sorry he’s such a imperfect character, but the best on us is incomplete in some pint of view or another.’

The subject of this dialogue and of these concluding remarks, which were uttered in a tone of philosophical meditation, was, as the reader will have divined, no other than Barnaby, who, with his flag in hand, stood sentry in the little patch of sunlight at the distant door, or walked to and fro outside, singing softly to himself; and keeping time to the music of some clear church bells. Whether he stood still, leaning with both hands on the flagstaff, or, bearing it upon his shoulder, paced slowly up and down, the careful arrangement of his poor dress, and his erect and lofty bearing, showed how high a sense he had of the great importance of his trust, and how happy and how proud it made him. To Hugh and his companion, who lay in a dark corner of the gloomy shed, he, and the sunlight, and the peaceful Sabbath sound to which he made response, seemed like a bright picture framed by the door, and set off by the stable’s blackness. The whole formed such a contrast to themselves, as they lay wallowing, like some obscene animals, in their squalor and wickedness on the two heaps of straw, that for a few moments they looked on without speaking, and felt almost ashamed.

‘Ah!‘said Hugh at length, carrying it off with a laugh: ‘He’s a rare fellow is Barnaby, and can do more, with less rest, or meat, or drink, than any of us. As to his soldiering, I put him on duty there.’

‘Then there was a object in it, and a proper good one too, I’ll be sworn,’ retorted Dennis with a broad grin, and an oath of the same quality. ‘What was it, brother?’

‘Why, you see,’ said Hugh, crawling a little nearer to him, ‘that our noble captain yonder, came in yesterday morning rather the worse for liquor, and was — like you and me — ditto last night.’

Dennis looked to where Simon Tappertit lay coiled upon a truss of hay, snoring profoundly, and nodded.

‘And our noble captain,’ continued Hugh with another laugh, ‘our noble captain and I, have planned for to-morrow a roaring expedition, with good profit in it.’

‘Again the Papists?’ asked Dennis, rubbing his hands.

‘Ay, against the Papists — against one of ’em at least, that some of us, and I for one, owe a good heavy grudge to.’

‘Not Muster Gashford’s friend that he spoke to us about in my house, eh?’ said Dennis, brimfull of pleasant expectation.

‘The same man,’ said Hugh.

‘That’s your sort,’ cried Mr Dennis, gaily shaking hands with him, ‘that’s the kind of game. Let’s have revenges and injuries, and all that, and we shall get on twice as fast. Now you talk, indeed!’

‘Ha ha ha! The captain,’ added Hugh, ‘has thoughts of carrying off a woman in the bustle, and — ha ha ha! — and so have I!’

Mr Dennis received this part of the scheme with a wry face, observing that as a general principle he objected to women altogether, as being unsafe and slippery persons on whom there was no calculating with any certainty, and who were never in the same mind for four-and-twenty hours at a stretch. He might have expatiated on this suggestive theme at much greater length, but that it occurred to him to ask what connection existed between the proposed expedition and Barnaby’s being posted at the stable-door as sentry; to which Hugh cautiously replied in these words:

‘Why, the people we mean to visit, were friends of his, once upon a time, and I know that much of him to feel pretty sure that if he thought we were going to do them any harm, he’d be no friend to our side, but would lend a ready hand to the other. So I’ve persuaded him (for I know him of old) that Lord George has picked him out to guard this place to-morrow while we’re away, and that it’s a great honour — and so he’s on duty now, and as proud of it as if he was a general. Ha ha! What do you say to me for a careful man as well as a devil of a one?’

Mr Dennis exhausted himself in compliments, and then added,

‘But about the expedition itself —’

‘About that,’ said Hugh, ‘you shall hear all particulars from me and the great captain conjointly and both together — for see, he’s waking up. Rouse yourself, lion-heart. Ha ha! Put a good face upon it, and drink again. Another hair of the dog that bit you, captain! Call for drink! There’s enough of gold and silver cups and candlesticks buried underneath my bed,’ he added, rolling back the straw, and pointing to where the ground was newly turned, ‘to pay for it, if it was a score of casks full. Drink, captain!’

Mr Tappertit received these jovial promptings with a very bad grace, being much the worse, both in mind and body, for his two nights of debauch, and but indifferently able to stand upon his legs. With Hugh’s assistance, however, he contrived to stagger to the pump; and having refreshed himself with an abundant draught of cold water, and a copious shower of the same refreshing liquid on his head and face, he ordered some rum and milk to be served; and upon that innocent beverage and some biscuits and cheese made a pretty hearty meal. That done, he disposed himself in an easy attitude on the ground beside his two companions (who were carousing after their own tastes), and proceeded to enlighten Mr Dennis in reference to to-morrow’s project.

That their conversation was an interesting one, was rendered manifest by its length, and by the close attention of all three. That it was not of an oppressively grave character, but was enlivened by various pleasantries arising out of the subject, was clear from their loud and frequent roars of laughter, which startled Barnaby on his post, and made him wonder at their levity. But he was not summoned to join them, until they had eaten, and drunk, and slept, and talked together for some hours; not, indeed, until the twilight; when they informed him that they were about to make a slight demonstration in the streets — just to keep the people’s hands in, as it was Sunday night, and the public might otherwise be disappointed — and that he was free to accompany them if he would.

Without the slightest preparation, saving that they carried clubs and wore the blue cockade, they sallied out into the streets; and, with no more settled design than that of doing as much mischief as they could, paraded them at random. Their numbers rapidly increasing, they soon divided into parties; and agreeing to meet by-and-by, in the fields near Welbeck Street, scoured the town in various directions. The largest body, and that which augmented with the greatest rapidity, was the one to which Hugh and Barnaby belonged. This took its way towards Moorfields, where there was a rich chapel, and in which neighbourhood several Catholic families were known to reside.

Beginning with the private houses so occupied, they broke open the doors and windows; and while they destroyed the furniture and left but the bare walls, made a sharp search for tools and engines of destruction, such as hammers, pokers, axes, saws, and such like instruments. Many of the rioters made belts of cord, of handkerchiefs, or any material they found at hand, and wore these weapons as openly as pioneers upon a field-day. There was not the least disguise or concealment — indeed, on this night, very little excitement or hurry. From the chapels, they tore down and took away the very altars, benches, pulpits, pews, and flooring; from the dwelling-houses, the very wainscoting and stairs. This Sunday evening’s recreation they pursued like mere workmen who had a certain task to do, and did it. Fifty resolute men might have turned them at any moment; a single company of soldiers could have scattered them like dust; but no man interposed, no authority restrained them, and, except by the terrified persons who fled from their approach, they were as little heeded as if they were pursuing their lawful occupations with the utmost sobriety and good conduct.

In the same manner, they marched to the place of rendezvous agreed upon, made great fires in the fields, and reserving the most valuable of their spoils, burnt the rest. Priestly garments, images of saints, rich stuffs and ornaments, altar-furniture and household goods, were cast into the flames, and shed a glare on the whole country round; but they danced and howled, and roared about these fires till they were tired, and were never for an instant checked.

As the main body filed off from this scene of action, and passed down Welbeck Street, they came upon Gashford, who had been a witness of their proceedings, and was walking stealthily along the pavement. Keeping up with him, and yet not seeming to speak, Hugh muttered in his ear:

‘Is this better, master?’

‘No,’ said Gashford. ‘It is not.’

‘What would you have?’ said Hugh. ‘Fevers are never at their height at once. They must get on by degrees.’

‘I would have you,’ said Gashford, pinching his arm with such malevolence that his nails seemed to meet in the skin; ‘I would have you put some meaning into your work. Fools! Can you make no better bonfires than of rags and scraps? Can you burn nothing whole?’

‘A little patience, master,’ said Hugh. ‘Wait but a few hours, and you shall see. Look for a redness in the sky, to-morrow night.’

With that, he fell back into his place beside Barnaby; and when the secretary looked after him, both were lost in the crowd.

Chapter 53

The next day was ushered in by merry peals of bells, and by the firing of the Tower guns; flags were hoisted on many of the church-steeples; the usual demonstrations were made in honour of the anniversary of the King’s birthday; and every man went about his pleasure or business as if the city were in perfect order, and there were no half-smouldering embers in its secret places, which, on the approach of night, would kindle up again and scatter ruin and dismay abroad. The leaders of the riot, rendered still more daring by the success of last night and by the booty they had acquired, kept steadily together, and only thought of implicating the mass of their followers so deeply that no hope of pardon or reward might tempt them to betray their more notorious confederates into the hands of justice.

Indeed, the sense of having gone too far to be forgiven, held the timid together no less than the bold. Many who would readily have pointed out the foremost rioters and given evidence against them, felt that escape by that means was hopeless, when their every act had been observed by scores of people who had taken no part in the disturbances; who had suffered in their persons, peace, or property, by the outrages of the mob; who would be most willing witnesses; and whom the government would, no doubt, prefer to any King’s evidence that might be offered. Many of this class had deserted their usual occupations on the Saturday morning; some had been seen by their employers active in the tumult; others knew they must be suspected, and that they would be discharged if they returned; others had been desperate from the beginning, and comforted themselves with the homely proverb, that, being hanged at all, they might as well be hanged for a sheep as a lamb. They all hoped and believed, in a greater or less degree, that the government they seemed to have paralysed, would, in its terror, come to terms with them in the end, and suffer them to make their own conditions. The least sanguine among them reasoned with himself that, at the worst, they were too many to be all punished, and that he had as good a chance of escape as any other man. The great mass never reasoned or thought at all, but were stimulated by their own headlong passions, by poverty, by ignorance, by the love of mischief, and the hope of plunder.

One other circumstance is worthy of remark; and that is, that from the moment of their first outbreak at Westminster, every symptom of order or preconcerted arrangement among them vanished. When they divided into parties and ran to different quarters of the town, it was on the spontaneous suggestion of the moment. Each party swelled as it went along, like rivers as they roll towards the sea; new leaders sprang up as they were wanted, disappeared when the necessity was over, and reappeared at the next crisis. Each tumult took shape and form from the circumstances of the moment; sober workmen, going home from their day’s labour, were seen to cast down their baskets of tools and become rioters in an instant; mere boys on errands did the like. In a word, a moral plague ran through the city. The noise, and hurry, and excitement, had for hundreds and hundreds an attraction they had no firmness to resist. The contagion spread like a dread fever: an infectious madness, as yet not near its height, seized on new victims every hour, and society began to tremble at their ravings.

It was between two and three o’clock in the afternoon when Gashford looked into the lair described in the last chapter, and seeing only Barnaby and Dennis there, inquired for Hugh.

He was out, Barnaby told him; had gone out more than an hour ago; and had not yet returned.

‘Dennis!’ said the smiling secretary, in his smoothest voice, as he sat down cross-legged on a barrel, ‘Dennis!’

The hangman struggled into a sitting posture directly, and with his eyes wide open, looked towards him.

‘How do you do, Dennis?’ said Gashford, nodding. ‘I hope you have suffered no inconvenience from your late exertions, Dennis?’

‘I always will say of you, Muster Gashford,’ returned the hangman, staring at him, ‘that that ‘ere quiet way of yours might almost wake a dead man. It is,’ he added, with a muttered oath — still staring at him in a thoughtful manner —‘so awful sly!’

‘So distinct, eh Dennis?’

‘Distinct!’ he answered, scratching his head, and keeping his eyes upon the secretary’s face; ‘I seem to hear it, Muster Gashford, in my wery bones.’

‘I am very glad your sense of hearing is so sharp, and that I succeed in making myself so intelligible,’ said Gashford, in his unvarying, even tone. ‘Where is your friend?’

Mr Dennis looked round as in expectation of beholding him asleep upon his bed of straw; then remembering he had seen him go out, replied:

‘I can’t say where he is, Muster Gashford, I expected him back afore now. I hope it isn’t time that we was busy, Muster Gashford?’

‘Nay,’ said the secretary, ‘who should know that as well as you? How can I tell you, Dennis? You are perfect master of your own actions, you know, and accountable to nobody — except sometimes to the law, eh?’

Dennis, who was very much baffled by the cool matter-of-course manner of this reply, recovered his self-possession on his professional pursuits being referred to, and pointing towards Barnaby, shook his head and frowned.

‘Hush!’ cried Barnaby.

‘Ah! Do hush about that, Muster Gashford,’ said the hangman in a low voice, ‘pop’lar prejudices — you always forget — well, Barnaby, my lad, what’s the matter?’

‘I hear him coming,’ he answered: ‘Hark! Do you mark that? That’s his foot! Bless you, I know his step, and his dog’s too. Tramp, tramp, pit-pat, on they come together, and, ha ha ha! — and here they are!’ he cried, joyfully welcoming Hugh with both hands, and then patting him fondly on the back, as if instead of being the rough companion he was, he had been one of the most prepossessing of men. ‘Here he is, and safe too! I am glad to see him back again, old Hugh!’

‘I’m a Turk if he don’t give me a warmer welcome always than any man of sense,’ said Hugh, shaking hands with him with a kind of ferocious friendship, strange enough to see. ‘How are you, boy?’

‘Hearty!’ cried Barnaby, waving his hat. ‘Ha ha ha! And merrry too, Hugh! And ready to do anything for the good cause, and the right, and to help the kind, mild, pale-faced gentleman — the lord they used so ill — eh, Hugh?’

‘Ay!’ returned his friend, dropping his hand, and looking at Gashford for an instant with a changed expression before he spoke to him. ‘Good day, master!’

‘And good day to you,’ replied the secretary, nursing his leg.

‘And many good days — whole years of them, I hope. You are heated.’

‘So would you have been, master,’ said Hugh, wiping his face, ‘if you’d been running here as fast as I have.’

‘You know the news, then? Yes, I supposed you would have heard it.’

‘News! what news?’

‘You don’t?’ cried Gashford, raising his eyebrows with an exclamation of surprise. ‘Dear me! Come; then I AM the first to make you acquainted with your distinguished position, after all. Do you see the King’s Arms a-top?’ he smilingly asked, as he took a large paper from his pocket, unfolded it, and held it out for Hugh’s inspection.

‘Well!’ said Hugh. ‘What’s that to me?’

‘Much. A great deal,’ replied the secretary. ‘Read it.’

‘I told you, the first time I saw you, that I couldn’t read,’ said Hugh, impatiently. ‘What in the Devil’s name’s inside of it?’

‘It is a proclamation from the King in Council,’ said Gashford, ‘dated to-day, and offering a reward of five hundred pounds — five hundred pounds is a great deal of money, and a large temptation to some people — to any one who will discover the person or persons most active in demolishing those chapels on Saturday night.’

‘Is that all?’ cried Hugh, with an indifferent air. ‘I knew of that.’

‘Truly I might have known you did,’ said Gashford, smiling, and folding up the document again. ‘Your friend, I might have guessed — indeed I did guess — was sure to tell you.’

‘My friend!’ stammered Hugh, with an unsuccessful effort to appear surprised. ‘What friend?’

‘Tut tut — do you suppose I don’t know where you have been?’ retorted Gashford, rubbing his hands, and beating the back of one on the palm of the other, and looking at him with a cunning eye. ‘How dull you think me! Shall I say his name?’

‘No,’ said Hugh, with a hasty glance towards Dennis.

‘You have also heard from him, no doubt,’ resumed the secretary, after a moment’s pause, ‘that the rioters who have been taken (poor fellows) are committed for trial, and that some very active witnesses have had the temerity to appear against them. Among others —’ and here he clenched his teeth, as if he would suppress by force some violent words that rose upon his tongue; and spoke very slowly. ‘Among others, a gentleman who saw the work going on in Warwick Street; a Catholic gentleman; one Haredale.’

Hugh would have prevented his uttering the word, but it was out already. Hearing the name, Barnaby turned swiftly round.

‘Duty, duty, bold Barnaby!’ cried Hugh, assuming his wildest and most rapid manner, and thrusting into his hand his staff and flag which leant against the wall. ‘Mount guard without loss of time, for we are off upon our expedition. Up, Dennis, and get ready! Take care that no one turns the straw upon my bed, brave Barnaby; we know what’s underneath it — eh? Now, master, quick! What you have to say, say speedily, for the little captain and a cluster of ’em are in the fields, and only waiting for us. Sharp’s the word, and strike’s the action. Quick!’

Barnaby was not proof against this bustle and despatch. The look of mingled astonishtnent and anger which had appeared in his face when he turned towards them, faded from it as the words passed from his memory, like breath from a polished mirror; and grasping the weapon which Hugh forced upon him, he proudly took his station at the door, beyond their hearing.

‘You might have spoiled our plans, master,’ said Hugh. ‘YOU, too, of all men!’

‘Who would have supposed that HE would be so quick?’ urged Gashford.

‘He’s as quick sometimes — I don’t mean with his hands, for that you know, but with his head — as you or any man,’ said Hugh. ‘Dennis, it’s time we were going; they’re waiting for us; I came to tell you. Reach me my stick and belt. Here! Lend a hand, master. Fling this over my shoulder, and buckle it behind, will you?’

‘Brisk as ever!’ said the secretary, adjusting it for him as he desired.

‘A man need be brisk to-day; there’s brisk work a-foot.’

‘There is, is there?’ said Gashford. He said it with such a provoking assumption of ignorance, that Hugh, looking over his shoulder and angrily down upon him, replied:

‘Is there! You know there is! Who knows better than you, master, that the first great step to be taken is to make examples of these witnesses, and frighten all men from appearing against us or any of our body, any more?’

‘There’s one we know of,’ returned Gashford, with an expressive smile, ‘who is at least as well informed upon that subject as you or I.’

‘If we mean the same gentleman, as I suppose we do,’ Hugh rejoined softly, ‘I tell you this — he’s as good and quick information about everything as —’ here he paused and looked round, as if to make sure that the person in question was not within hearing, ‘as Old Nick himself. Have you done that, master? How slow you are!’

‘It’s quite fast now,’ said Gashford, rising. ‘I say — you didn’t find that your friend disapproved of to-day’s little expedition? Ha ha ha! It is fortunate it jumps so well with the witness policy; for, once planned, it must have been carried out. And now you are going, eh?’

‘Now we are going, master!’ Hugh replied. ‘Any parting words?’

‘Oh dear, no,’ said Gashford sweetly. ‘None!’

‘You’re sure?’ cried Hugh, nudging the grinning Dennis.

‘Quite sure, eh, Muster Gashford?’ chuckled the hangman.

Gashford paused a moment, struggling with his caution and his malice; then putting himself between the two men, and laying a hand upon the arm of each, said, in a cramped whisper:

‘Do not, my good friends — I am sure you will not — forget our talk one night — in your house, Dennis — about this person. No mercy, no quarter, no two beams of his house to be left standing where the builder placed them! Fire, the saying goes, is a good servant, but a bad master. Makes it HIS master; he deserves no better. But I am sure you will be firm, I am sure you will be very resolute, I am sure you will remember that he thirsts for your lives, and those of all your brave companions. If you ever acted like staunch fellows, you will do so to-day. Won’t you, Dennis — won’t you, Hugh?’

The two looked at him, and at each other; then bursting into a roar of laughter, brandished their staves above their heads, shook hands, and hurried out.

When they had been gone a little time, Gashford followed. They were yet in sight, and hastening to that part of the adjacent fields in which their fellows had already mustered; Hugh was looking back, and flourishing his hat to Barnaby, who, delighted with his trust, replied in the same way, and then resumed his pacing up and down before the stable-door, where his feet had worn a path already. And when Gashford himself was far distant, and looked back for the last time, he was still walking to and fro, with the same measured tread; the most devoted and the blithest champion that ever maintained a post, and felt his heart lifted up with a brave sense of duty, and determination to defend it to the last.

Smiling at the simplicity of the poor idiot, Gashford betook himself to Welbeck Street by a different path from that which he knew the rioters would take, and sitting down behind a curtain in one of the upper windows of Lord George Gordon’s house, waited impatiently for their coming. They were so long, that although he knew it had been settled they should come that way, he had a misgiving they must have changed their plans and taken some other route. But at length the roar of voices was heard in the neighbouring fields, and soon afterwards they came thronging past, in a great body.

However, they were not all, nor nearly all, in one body, but were, as he soon found, divided into four parties, each of which stopped before the house to give three cheers, and then went on; the leaders crying out in what direction they were going, and calling on the spectators to join them. The first detachment, carrying, by way of banners, some relics of the havoc they had made in Moorfields, proclaimed that they were on their way to Chelsea, whence they would return in the same order, to make of the spoil they bore, a great bonfire, near at hand. The second gave out that they were bound for Wapping, to destroy a chapel; the third, that their place of destination was East Smithfield, and their object the same. All this was done in broad, bright, summer day. Gay carriages and chairs stopped to let them pass, or turned back to avoid them; people on foot stood aside in doorways, or perhaps knocked and begged permission to stand at a window, or in the hall, until the rioters had passed: but nobody interfered with them; and when they had gone by, everything went on as usual.

There still remained the fourth body, and for that the secretary looked with a most intense eagerness. At last it came up. It was numerous, and composed of picked men; for as he gazed down among them, he recognised many upturned faces which he knew well — those of Simon Tappertit, Hugh, and Dennis in the front, of course. They halted and cheered, as the others had done; but when they moved again, they did not, like them, proclaim what design they had. Hugh merely raised his hat upon the bludgeon he carried, and glancing at a spectator on the opposite side of the way, was gone.

Gashford followed the direction of his glance instinctively, and saw, standing on the pavement, and wearing the blue cockade, Sir John Chester. He held his hat an inch or two above his head, to propitiate the mob; and, resting gracefully on his cane, smiling pleasantly, and displaying his dress and person to the very best advantage, looked on in the most tranquil state imaginable. For all that, and quick and dexterous as he was, Gashford had seen him recognise Hugh with the air of a patron. He had no longer any eyes for the crowd, but fixed his keen regards upon Sir John.

He stood in the same place and posture until the last man in the concourse had turned the corner of the street; then very deliberately took the blue cockade out of his hat; put it carefully in his pocket, ready for the next emergency; refreshed himself with a pinch of snuff; put up his box; and was walking slowly off, when a passing carriage stopped, and a lady’s hand let down the glass. Sir John’s hat was off again immediately. After a minute’s conversation at the carriage-window, in which it was apparent that he was vastly entertaining on the subject of the mob, he stepped lightly in, and was driven away.

The secretary smiled, but he had other thoughts to dwell upon, and soon dismissed the topic. Dinner was brought him, but he sent it down untasted; and, in restless pacings up and down the room, and constant glances at the clock, and many futile efforts to sit down and read, or go to sleep, or look out of the window, consumed four weary hours. When the dial told him thus much time had crept away, he stole upstairs to the top of the house, and coming out upon the roof sat down, with his face towards the east.

Heedless of the fresh air that blew upon his heated brow, of the pleasant meadows from which he turned, of the piles of roofs and chimneys upon which he looked, of the smoke and rising mist he vainly sought to pierce, of the shrill cries of children at their evening sports, the distant hum and turmoil of the town, the cheerful country breath that rustled past to meet it, and to droop, and die; he watched, and watched, till it was dark save for the specks of light that twinkled in the streets below and far away — and, as the darkness deepened, strained his gaze and grew more eager yet.

‘Nothing but gloom in that direction, still!’ he muttered restlessly. ‘Dog! where is the redness in the sky, you promised me!’

Chapter 54

Rumours of the prevailing disturbances had, by this time, begun to be pretty generally circulated through the towns and villages round London, and the tidings were everywhere received with that appetite for the marvellous and love of the terrible which have probably been among the natural characteristics of mankind since the creation of the world. These accounts, however, appeared, to many persons at that day — as they would to us at the present, but that we know them to be matter of history — so monstrous and improbable, that a great number of those who were resident at a distance, and who were credulous enough on other points, were really unable to bring their minds to believe that such things could be; and rejected the intelligence they received on all hands, as wholly fabulous and absurd.

Mr Willet — not so much, perhaps, on account of his having argued and settled the matter with himself, as by reason of his constitutional obstinacy — was one of those who positively refused to entertain the current topic for a moment. On this very evening, and perhaps at the very time when Gashford kept his solitary watch, old John was so red in the face with perpetually shaking his head in contradiction of his three ancient cronies and pot companions, that he was quite a phenomenon to behold, and lighted up the Maypole Porch wherein they sat together, like a monstrous carbuncle in a fairy tale.

‘Do you think, sir,’ said Mr Willet, looking hard at Solomon Daisy — for it was his custom in cases of personal altercation to fasten upon the smallest man in the party —‘do you think, sir, that I’m a born fool?’

‘No, no, Johnny,’ returned Solomon, looking round upon the little circle of which he formed a part: ‘We all know better than that. You’re no fool, Johnny. No, no!’

Mr Cobb and Mr Parkes shook their heads in unison, muttering, ‘No, no, Johnny, not you!’ But as such compliments had usually the effect of making Mr Willet rather more dogged than before, he surveyed them with a look of deep disdain, and returned for answer:

‘Then what do you mean by coming here, and telling me that this evening you’re a-going to walk up to London together — you three — you — and have the evidence of your own senses? An’t,’ said Mr Willet, putting his pipe in his mouth with an air of solemn disgust, ‘an’t the evidence of MY senses enough for you?’

‘But we haven’t got it, Johnny,’ pleaded Parkes, humbly.

‘You haven’t got it, sir?’ repeated Mr Willet, eyeing him from top to toe. ‘You haven’t got it, sir? You HAVE got it, sir. Don’t I tell you that His blessed Majesty King George the Third would no more stand a rioting and rollicking in his streets, than he’d stand being crowed over by his own Parliament?’

‘Yes, Johnny, but that’s your sense — not your senses,’ said the adventurous Mr Parkes.

‘How do you know? ‘retorted John with great dignity. ‘You’re a contradicting pretty free, you are, sir. How do YOU know which it is? I’m not aware I ever told you, sir.’

Mr Parkes, finding himself in the position of having got into metaphysics without exactly seeing his way out of them, stammered forth an apology and retreated from the argument. There then ensued a silence of some ten minutes or a quarter of an hour, at the expiration of which period Mr Willet was observed to rumble and shake with laughter, and presently remarked, in reference to his late adversary, ‘that he hoped he had tackled him enough.’ Thereupon Messrs Cobb and Daisy laughed, and nodded, and Parkes was looked upon as thoroughly and effectually put down.

‘Do you suppose if all this was true, that Mr Haredale would be constantly away from home, as he is?’ said John, after another silence. ‘Do you think he wouldn’t be afraid to leave his house with them two young women in it, and only a couple of men, or so?’

‘Ay, but then you know,’ returned Solomon Daisy, ‘his house is a goodish way out of London, and they do say that the rioters won’t go more than two miles, or three at the farthest, off the stones. Besides, you know, some of the Catholic gentlefolks have actually sent trinkets and suchlike down here for safety — at least, so the story goes.’

‘The story goes!’ said Mr Willet testily. ‘Yes, sir. The story goes that you saw a ghost last March. But nobody believes it.’

‘Well!’ said Solomon, rising, to divert the attention of his two friends, who tittered at this retort: ‘believed or disbelieved, it’s true; and true or not, if we mean to go to London, we must be going at once. So shake hands, Johnny, and good night.’

‘I shall shake hands,’ returned the landlord, putting his into his pockets, ‘with no man as goes to London on such nonsensical errands.’

The three cronies were therefore reduced to the necessity of shaking his elbows; having performed that ceremony, and brought from the house their hats, and sticks, and greatcoats, they bade him good night and departed; promising to bring him on the morrow full and true accounts of the real state of the city, and if it were quiet, to give him the full merit of his victory.

John Willet looked after them, as they plodded along the road in the rich glow of a summer evening; and knocking the ashes out of his pipe, laughed inwardly at their folly, until his sides were sore. When he had quite exhausted himself — which took some time, for he laughed as slowly as he thought and spoke — he sat himself comfortably with his back to the house, put his legs upon the bench, then his apron over his face, and fell sound asleep.

How long he slept, matters not; but it was for no brief space, for when he awoke, the rich light had faded, the sombre hues of night were falling fast upon the landscape, and a few bright stars were already twinkling overhead. The birds were all at roost, the daisies on the green had closed their fairy hoods, the honeysuckle twining round the porch exhaled its perfume in a twofold degree, as though it lost its coyness at that silent time and loved to shed its fragrance on the night; the ivy scarcely stirred its deep green leaves. How tranquil, and how beautiful it was!

Was there no sound in the air, besides the gentle rustling of the trees and the grasshopper’s merry chirp? Hark! Something very faint and distant, not unlike the murmuring in a sea-shell. Now it grew louder, fainter now, and now it altogether died away. Presently, it came again, subsided, came once more, grew louder, fainter — swelled into a roar. It was on the road, and varied with its windings. All at once it burst into a distinct sound — the voices, and the tramping feet of many men.

It is questionable whether old John Willet, even then, would have thought of the rioters but for the cries of his cook and housemaid, who ran screaming upstairs and locked themselves into one of the old garrets — shrieking dismally when they had done so, by way of rendering their place of refuge perfectly secret and secure. These two females did afterwards depone that Mr Willet in his consternation uttered but one word, and called that up the stairs in a stentorian voice, six distinct times. But as this word was a monosyllable, which, however inoffensive when applied to the quadruped it denotes, is highly reprehensible when used in connection with females of unimpeachable character, many persons were inclined to believe that the young women laboured under some hallucination caused by excessive fear; and that their ears deceived them.

Be this as it may, John Willet, in whom the very uttermost extent of dull-headed perplexity supplied the place of courage, stationed himself in the porch, and waited for their coming up. Once, it dimly occurred to him that there was a kind of door to the house, which had a lock and bolts; and at the same time some shadowy ideas of shutters to the lower windows, flitted through his brain. But he stood stock still, looking down the road in the direction in which the noise was rapidly advancing, and did not so much as take his hands out of his pockets.

He had not to wait long. A dark mass, looming through a cloud of dust, soon became visible; the mob quickened their pace; shouting and whooping like savages, they came rushing on pell mell; and in a few seconds he was bandied from hand to hand, in the heart of a crowd of men.

‘Halloa!’ cried a voice he knew, as the man who spoke came cleaving through the throng. ‘Where is he? Give him to me. Don’t hurt him. How now, old Jack! Ha ha ha!’

Mr Willet looked at him, and saw it was Hugh; but he said nothing, and thought nothing.

‘These lads are thirsty and must drink!’ cried Hugh, thrusting him back towards the house. ‘Bustle, Jack, bustle. Show us the best — the very best — the over-proof that you keep for your own drinking, Jack!’

John faintly articulated the words, ‘Who’s to pay?’

‘He says “Who’s to pay?”’ cried Hugh, with a roar of laughter which was loudly echoed by the crowd. Then turning to John, he added, ‘Pay! Why, nobody.’

John stared round at the mass of faces — some grinning, some fierce, some lighted up by torches, some indistinct, some dusky and shadowy: some looking at him, some at his house, some at each other — and while he was, as he thought, in the very act of doing so, found himself, without any consciousness of having moved, in the bar; sitting down in an arm-chair, and watching the destruction of his property, as if it were some queer play or entertainment, of an astonishing and stupefying nature, but having no reference to himself — that he could make out — at all.

Yes. Here was the bar — the bar that the boldest never entered without special invitation — the sanctuary, the mystery, the hallowed ground: here it was, crammed with men, clubs, sticks, torches, pistols; filled with a deafening noise, oaths, shouts, screams, hootings; changed all at once into a bear-garden, a madhouse, an infernal temple: men darting in and out, by door and window, smashing the glass, turning the taps, drinking liquor out of China punchbowls, sitting astride of casks, smoking private and personal pipes, cutting down the sacred grove of lemons, hacking and hewing at the celebrated cheese, breaking open inviolable drawers, putting things in their pockets which didn’t belong to them, dividing his own money before his own eyes, wantonly wasting, breaking, pulling down and tearing up: nothing quiet, nothing private: men everywhere — above, below, overhead, in the bedrooms, in the kitchen, in the yard, in the stables — clambering in at windows when there were doors wide open; dropping out of windows when the stairs were handy; leaping over the bannisters into chasms of passages: new faces and figures presenting themselves every instant — some yelling, some singing, some fighting, some breaking glass and crockery, some laying the dust with the liquor they couldn’t drink, some ringing the bells till they pulled them down, others beating them with pokers till they beat them into fragments: more men still — more, more, more — swarming on like insects: noise, smoke, light, darkness, frolic, anger, laughter, groans, plunder, fear, and ruin!

Nearly all the time while John looked on at this bewildering scene, Hugh kept near him; and though he was the loudest, wildest, most destructive villain there, he saved his old master’s bones a score of times. Nay, even when Mr Tappertit, excited by liquor, came up, and in assertion of his prerogative politely kicked John Willet on the shins, Hugh bade him return the compliment; and if old John had had sufficient presence of mind to understand this whispered direction, and to profit by it, he might no doubt, under Hugh’s protection, have done so with impunity.

At length the band began to reassemble outside the house, and to call to those within, to join them, for they were losing time. These murmurs increasing, and attaining a high pitch, Hugh, and some of those who yet lingered in the bar, and who plainly were the leaders of the troop, took counsel together, apart, as to what was to be done with John, to keep him quiet until their Chigwell work was over. Some proposed to set the house on fire and leave him in it; others, that he should be reduced to a state of temporary insensibility, by knocking on the head; others, that he should be sworn to sit where he was until to-morrow at the same hour; others again, that he should be gagged and taken off with them, under a sufficient guard. All these propositions being overruled, it was concluded, at last, to bind him in his chair, and the word was passed for Dennis.

‘Look’ee here, Jack!’ said Hugh, striding up to him: ‘We are going to tie you, hand and foot, but otherwise you won’t be hurt. D’ye hear?’

John Willet looked at another man, as if he didn’t know which was the speaker, and muttered something about an ordinary every Sunday at two o’clock.

‘You won’t be hurt I tell you, Jack — do you hear me?’ roared Hugh, impressing the assurance upon him by means of a heavy blow on the back. ‘He’s so dead scared, he’s woolgathering, I think. Give him a drop of something to drink here. Hand over, one of you.’

A glass of liquor being passed forward, Hugh poured the contents down old John’s throat. Mr Willet feebly smacked his lips, thrust his hand into his pocket, and inquired what was to pay; adding, as he looked vacantly round, that he believed there was a trifle of broken glass —

‘He’s out of his senses for the time, it’s my belief,’ said Hugh, after shaking him, without any visible effect upon his system, until his keys rattled in his pocket. ‘Where’s that Dennis?’

The word was again passed, and presently Mr Dennis, with a long cord bound about his middle, something after the manner of a friar, came hurrying in, attended by a body-guard of half-a-dozen of his men.

‘Come! Be alive here!’ cried Hugh, stamping his foot upon the ground. ‘Make haste!’

Dennis, with a wink and a nod, unwound the cord from about his person, and raising his eyes to the ceiling, looked all over it, and round the walls and cornice, with a curious eye; then shook his head.

‘Move, man, can’t you!’ cried Hugh, with another impatient stamp of his foot. ‘Are we to wait here, till the cry has gone for ten miles round, and our work’s interrupted?’

‘It’s all very fine talking, brother,’ answered Dennis, stepping towards him; ‘but unless —’ and here he whispered in his ear — ‘unless we do it over the door, it can’t be done at all in this here room.’

‘What can’t?’ Hugh demanded.

‘What can’t!’ retorted Dennis. ‘Why, the old man can’t.’

‘Why, you weren’t going to hang him!’ cried Hugh.

‘No, brother?’ returned the hangman with a stare. ‘What else?’

Hugh made no answer, but snatching the rope from his companion’s hand, proceeded to bind old John himself; but his very first move was so bungling and unskilful, that Mr Dennis entreated, almost with tears in his eyes, that he might be permitted to perform the duty. Hugh consenting, be achieved it in a twinkling.

‘There,’ he said, looking mournfully at John Willet, who displayed no more emotion in his bonds than he had shown out of them. ‘That’s what I call pretty and workmanlike. He’s quite a picter now. But, brother, just a word with you — now that he’s ready trussed, as one may say, wouldn’t it be better for all parties if we was to work him off? It would read uncommon well in the newspapers, it would indeed. The public would think a great deal more on us!’

Hugh, inferring what his companion meant, rather from his gestures than his technical mode of expressing himself (to which, as he was ignorant of his calling, he wanted the clue), rejected this proposition for the second time, and gave the word ‘Forward!’ which was echoed by a hundred voices from without.

‘To the Warren!’ shouted Dennis as he ran out, followed by the rest. ‘A witness’s house, my lads!’

A loud yell followed, and the whole throng hurried off, mad for pillage and destruction. Hugh lingered behind for a few moments to stimulate himself with more drink, and to set all the taps running, a few of which had accidentally been spared; then, glancing round the despoiled and plundered room, through whose shattered window the rioters had thrust the Maypole itself — for even that had been sawn down — lighted a torch, clapped the mute and motionless John Willet on the back, and waving his light above his head, and uttering a fierce shout, hastened after his companions.

Chapter 55

John Willet, left alone in his dismantled bar, continued to sit staring about him; awake as to his eyes, certainly, but with all his powers of reason and reflection in a sound and dreamless sleep. He looked round upon the room which had been for years, and was within an hour ago, the pride of his heart; and not a muscle of his face was moved. The night, without, looked black and cold through the dreary gaps in the casement; the precious liquids, now nearly leaked away, dripped with a hollow sound upon the floor; the Maypole peered ruefully in through the broken window, like the bowsprit of a wrecked ship; the ground might have been the bottom of the sea, it was so strewn with precious fragments. Currents of air rushed in, as the old doors jarred and creaked upon their hinges; the candles flickered and guttered down, and made long winding-sheets; the cheery deep-red curtains flapped and fluttered idly in the wind; even the stout Dutch kegs, overthrown and lying empty in dark corners, seemed the mere husks of good fellows whose jollity had departed, and who could kindle with a friendly glow no more. John saw this desolation, and yet saw it not. He was perfectly contented to sit there, staring at it, and felt no more indignation or discomfort in his bonds than if they had been robes of honour. So far as he was personally concerned, old Time lay snoring, and the world stood still.

Save for the dripping from the barrels, the rustling of such light fragments of destruction as the wind affected, and the dull creaking of the open doors, all was profoundly quiet: indeed, these sounds, like the ticking of the death-watch in the night, only made the silence they invaded deeper and more apparent. But quiet or noisy, it was all one to John. If a train of heavy artillery could have come up and commenced ball practice outside the window, it would have been all the same to him. He was a long way beyond surprise. A ghost couldn’t have overtaken him.

By and by he heard a footstep — a hurried, and yet cautious footstep — coming on towards the house. It stopped, advanced again, then seemed to go quite round it. Having done that, it came beneath the window, and a head looked in.

It was strongly relieved against the darkness outside by the glare of the guttering candles. A pale, worn, withered face; the eyes — but that was owing to its gaunt condition — unnaturally large and bright; the hair, a grizzled black. It gave a searching glance all round the room, and a deep voice said:

‘Are you alone in this house?’

John made no sign, though the question was repeated twice, and he heard it distinctly. After a moment’s pause, the man got in at the window. John was not at all surprised at this, either. There had been so much getting in and out of window in the course of the last hour or so, that he had quite forgotten the door, and seemed to have lived among such exercises from infancy.

The man wore a large, dark, faded cloak, and a slouched hat; he walked up close to John, and looked at him. John returned the compliment with interest.

‘How long have you been sitting thus?’ said the man.

John considered, but nothing came of it.

‘Which way have the party gone?’

Some wandering speculations relative to the fashion of the stranger’s boots, got into Mr Willet’s mind by some accident or other, but they got out again in a hurry, and left him in his former state.

‘You would do well to speak,’ said the man; ‘you may keep a whole skin, though you have nothing else left that can be hurt. Which way have the party gone?’

‘That!’ said John, finding his voice all at once, and nodding with perfect good faith — he couldn’t point; he was so tightly bound — in exactly the opposite direction to the right one.

‘You lie!’ said the man angrily, and with a threatening gesture. ‘I came that way. You would betray me.’

It was so evident that John’s imperturbability was not assumed, but was the result of the late proceedings under his roof, that the man stayed his hand in the very act of striking him, and turned away.

John looked after him without so much as a twitch in a single nerve of his face. He seized a glass, and holding it under one of the little casks until a few drops were collected, drank them greedily off; then throwing it down upon the floor impatiently, he took the vessel in his hands and drained it into his throat. Some scraps of bread and meat were scattered about, and on these he fell next; eating them with voracity, and pausing every now and then to listen for some fancied noise outside. When he had refreshed himself in this manner with violent haste, and raised another barrel to his lips, he pulled his hat upon his brow as though he were about to leave the house, and turned to John.

‘Where are your servants?’

Mr Willet indistinctly remembered to have heard the rioters calling to them to throw the key of the room in which they were, out of window, for their keeping. He therefore replied, ‘Locked up.’

‘Well for them if they remain quiet, and well for you if you do the like,’ said the man. ‘Now show me the way the party went.’

This time Mr Willet indicated it correctly. The man was hurrying to the door, when suddenly there came towards them on the wind, the loud and rapid tolling of an alarm-bell, and then a bright and vivid glare streamed up, which illumined, not only the whole chamber, but all the country.

It was not the sudden change from darkness to this dreadful light, it was not the sound of distant shrieks and shouts of triumph, it was not this dread invasion of the serenity and peace of night, that drove the man back as though a thunderbolt had struck him. It was the Bell. If the ghastliest shape the human mind has ever pictured in its wildest dreams had risen up before him, he could not have staggered backward from its touch, as he did from the first sound of that loud iron voice. With eyes that started from his head, his limbs convulsed, his face most horrible to see, he raised one arm high up into the air, and holding something visionary back and down, with his other hand, drove at it as though he held a knife and stabbed it to the heart. He clutched his hair, and stopped his ears, and travelled madly round and round; then gave a frightful cry, and with it rushed away: still, still, the Bell tolled on and seemed to follow him — louder and louder, hotter and hotter yet. The glare grew brighter, the roar of voices deeper; the crash of heavy bodies falling, shook the air; bright streams of sparks rose up into the sky; but louder than them all — rising faster far, to Heaven — a million times more fierce and furious — pouring forth dreadful secrets after its long silence — speaking the language of the dead — the Bell — the Bell!

What hunt of spectres could surpass that dread pursuit and flight! Had there been a legion of them on his track, he could have better borne it. They would have had a beginning and an end, but here all space was full. The one pursuing voice was everywhere: it sounded in the earth, the air; shook the long grass, and howled among the trembling trees. The echoes caught it up, the owls hooted as it flew upon the breeze, the nightingale was silent and hid herself among the thickest boughs: it seemed to goad and urge the angry fire, and lash it into madness; everything was steeped in one prevailing red; the glow was everywhere; nature was drenched in blood: still the remorseless crying of that awful voice — the Bell, the Bell!

It ceased; but not in his ears. The knell was at his heart. No work of man had ever voice like that which sounded there, and warned him that it cried unceasingly to Heaven. Who could hear that hell, and not know what it said! There was murder in its every note — cruel, relentless, savage murder — the murder of a confiding man, by one who held his every trust. Its ringing summoned phantoms from their graves. What face was that, in which a friendly smile changed to a look of half incredulous horror, which stiffened for a moment into one of pain, then changed again into an imploring glance at Heaven, and so fell idly down with upturned eyes, like the dead stags’ he had often peeped at when a little child: shrinking and shuddering — there was a dreadful thing to think of now! — and clinging to an apron as he looked! He sank upon the ground, and grovelling down as if he would dig himself a place to hide in, covered his face and ears: but no, no, no — a hundred walls and roofs of brass would not shut out that bell, for in it spoke the wrathful voice of God, and from that voice, the whole wide universe could not afford a refuge!

While he rushed up and down, not knowing where to turn, and while he lay crouching there, the work went briskly on indeed. When they left the Maypole, the rioters formed into a solid body, and advanced at a quick pace towards the Warren. Rumour of their approach having gone before, they found the garden-doors fast closed, the windows made secure, and the house profoundly dark: not a light being visible in any portion of the building. After some fruitless ringing at the bells, and beating at the iron gates, they drew off a few paces to reconnoitre, and confer upon the course it would be best to take.

Very little conference was needed, when all were bent upon one desperate purpose, infuriated with liquor, and flushed with successful riot. The word being given to surround the house, some climbed the gates, or dropped into the shallow trench and scaled the garden wall, while others pulled down the solid iron fence, and while they made a breach to enter by, made deadly weapons of the bars. The house being completely encircled, a small number of men were despatched to break open a tool-shed in the garden; and during their absence on this errand, the remainder contented themselves with knocking violently at the doors, and calling to those within, to come down and open them on peril of their lives.

No answer being returned to this repeated summons, and the detachment who had been sent away, coming back with an accession of pickaxes, spades, and hoes, they — together with those who had such arms already, or carried (as many did) axes, poles, and crowbars — struggled into the foremost rank, ready to beset the doors and windows. They had not at this time more than a dozen lighted torches among them; but when these preparations were completed, flaming links were distributed and passed from hand to hand with such rapidity, that, in a minute’s time, at least two-thirds of the whole roaring mass bore, each man in his hand, a blazing brand. Whirling these about their heads they raised a loud shout, and fell to work upon the doors and windows.

Amidst the clattering of heavy blows, the rattling of broken glass, the cries and execrations of the mob, and all the din and turmoil of the scene, Hugh and his friends kept together at the turret-door where Mr Haredale had last admitted him and old John Willet; and spent their united force on that. It was a strong old oaken door, guarded by good bolts and a heavy bar, but it soon went crashing in upon the narrow stairs behind, and made, as it were, a platform to facilitate their tearing up into the rooms above. Almost at the same moment, a dozen other points were forced, and at every one the crowd poured in like water.

A few armed servant-men were posted in the hall, and when the rioters forced an entrance there, they fired some half-a-dozen shots. But these taking no effect, and the concourse coming on like an army of devils, they only thought of consulting their own safety, and retreated, echoing their assailants’ cries, and hoping in the confusion to be taken for rioters themselves; in which stratagem they succeeded, with the exception of one old man who was never heard of again, and was said to have had his brains beaten out with an iron bar (one of his fellows reported that he had seen the old man fall), and to have been afterwards burnt in the flames.

The besiegers being now in complete possession of the house, spread themselves over it from garret to cellar, and plied their demon labours fiercely. While some small parties kindled bonfires underneath the windows, others broke up the furniture and cast the fragments down to feed the flames below; where the apertures in the wall (windows no longer) were large enough, they threw out tables, chests of drawers, beds, mirrors, pictures, and flung them whole into the fire; while every fresh addition to the blazing masses was received with shouts, and howls, and yells, which added new and dismal terrors to the conflagration. Those who had axes and had spent their fury on the movables, chopped and tore down the doors and window frames, broke up the flooring, hewed away the rafters, and buried men who lingered in the upper rooms, in heaps of ruins. Some searched the drawers, the chests, the boxes, writing-desks, and closets, for jewels, plate, and money; while others, less mindful of gain and more mad for destruction, cast their whole contents into the courtyard without examination, and called to those below, to heap them on the blaze. Men who had been into the cellars, and had staved the casks, rushed to and fro stark mad, setting fire to all they saw — often to the dresses of their own friends — and kindling the building in so many parts that some had no time for escape, and were seen, with drooping hands and blackened faces, hanging senseless on the window-sills to which they had crawled, until they were sucked and drawn into the burning gulf. The more the fire crackled and raged, the wilder and more cruel the men grew; as though moving in that element they became fiends, and changed their earthly nature for the qualities that give delight in hell.

The burning pile, revealing rooms and passages red hot, through gaps made in the crumbling walls; the tributary fires that licked the outer bricks and stones, with their long forked tongues, and ran up to meet the glowing mass within; the shining of the flames upon the villains who looked on and fed them; the roaring of the angry blaze, so bright and high that it seemed in its rapacity to have swallowed up the very smoke; the living flakes the wind bore rapidly away and hurried on with, like a storm of fiery snow; the noiseless breaking of great beams of wood, which fell like feathers on the heap of ashes, and crumbled in the very act to sparks and powder; the lurid tinge that overspread the sky, and the darkness, very deep by contrast, which prevailed around; the exposure to the coarse, common gaze, of every little nook which usages of home had made a sacred place, and the destruction by rude hands of every little household favourite which old associations made a dear and precious thing: all this taking place — not among pitying looks and friendly murmurs of compassion, but brutal shouts and exultations, which seemed to make the very rats who stood by the old house too long, creatures with some claim upon the pity and regard of those its roof had sheltered:— combined to form a scene never to be forgotten by those who saw it and were not actors in the work, so long as life endured.

And who were they? The alarm-bell rang — and it was pulled by no faint or hesitating hands — for a long time; but not a soul was seen. Some of the insurgents said that when it ceased, they heard the shrieks of women, and saw some garments fluttering in the air, as a party of men bore away no unresisting burdens. No one could say that this was true or false, in such an uproar; but where was Hugh? Who among them had seen him, since the forcing of the doors? The cry spread through the body. Where was Hugh!

‘Here!’ he hoarsely cried, appearing from the darkness; out of breath, and blackened with the smoke. ‘We have done all we can; the fire is burning itself out; and even the corners where it hasn’t spread, are nothing but heaps of ruins. Disperse, my lads, while the coast’s clear; get back by different ways; and meet as usual!’ With that, he disappeared again — contrary to his wont, for he was always first to advance, and last to go away — leaving them to follow homewards as they would.

It was not an easy task to draw off such a throng. If Bedlam gates had been flung wide open, there would not have issued forth such maniacs as the frenzy of that night had made. There were men there, who danced and trampled on the beds of flowers as though they trod down human enemies, and wrenched them from the stalks, like savages who twisted human necks. There were men who cast their lighted torches in the air, and suffered them to fall upon their heads and faces, blistering the skin with deep unseemly burns. There were men who rushed up to the fire, and paddled in it with their hands as if in water; and others who were restrained by force from plunging in, to gratify their deadly longing. On the skull of one drunken lad — not twenty, by his looks — who lay upon the ground with a bottle to his mouth, the lead from the roof came streaming down in a shower of liquid fire, white hot; melting his head like wax. When the scattered parties were collected, men — living yet, but singed as with hot irons — were plucked out of the cellars, and carried off upon the shoulders of others, who strove to wake them as they went along, with ribald jokes, and left them, dead, in the passages of hospitals. But of all the howling throng not one learnt mercy from, or sickened at, these sights; nor was the fierce, besotted, senseless rage of one man glutted.

Slowly, and in small clusters, with hoarse hurrahs and repetitions of their usual cry, the assembly dropped away. The last few red-eyed stragglers reeled after those who had gone before; the distant noise of men calling to each other, and whistling for others whom they missed, grew fainter and fainter; at length even these sounds died away, and silence reigned alone.

Silence indeed! The glare of the flames had sunk into a fitful, flashing light; and the gentle stars, invisible till now, looked down upon the blackening heap. A dull smoke hung upon the ruin, as though to hide it from those eyes of Heaven; and the wind forbore to move it. Bare walls, roof open to the sky — chambers, where the beloved dead had, many and many a fair day, risen to new life and energy; where so many dear ones had been sad and merry; which were connected with so many thoughts and hopes, regrets and changes — all gone. Nothing left but a dull and dreary blank — a smouldering heap of dust and ashes — the silence and solitude of utter desolation.

Chapter 56

The Maypole cronies, little drearning of the change so soon to come upon their favourite haunt, struck through the Forest path upon their way to London; and avoiding the main road, which was hot and dusty, kept to the by-paths and the fields. As they drew nearer to their destination, they began to make inquiries of the people whom they passed, concerning the riots, and the truth or falsehood of the stories they had heard. The answers went far beyond any intelligence that had spread to quiet Chigwell. One man told them that that afternoon the Guards, conveying to Newgate some rioters who had been re-examined, had been set upon by the mob and compelled to retreat; another, that the houses of two witnesses near Clare Market were about to be pulled down when he came away; another, that Sir George Saville’s house in Leicester Fields was to be burned that night, and that it would go hard with Sir George if he fell into the people’s hands, as it was he who had brought in the Catholic bill. All accounts agreed that the mob were out, in stronger numbers and more numerous parties than had yet appeared; that the streets were unsafe; that no man’s house or life was worth an hour’s purchase; that the public consternation was increasing every moment; and that many families had already fled the city. One fellow who wore the popular colour, damned them for not having cockades in their hats, and bade them set a good watch to-morrow night upon their prison doors, for the locks would have a straining; another asked if they were fire-proof, that they walked abroad without the distinguishing mark of all good and true men; — and a third who rode on horseback, and was quite alone, ordered them to throw each man a shilling, in his hat, towards the support of the rioters. Although they were afraid to refuse compliance with this demand, and were much alarmed by these reports, they agreed, having come so far, to go forward, and see the real state of things with their own eyes. So they pushed on quicker, as men do who are excited by portentous news; and ruminating on what they had heard, spoke little to each other.

It was now night, and as they came nearer to the city they had dismal confirmation of this intelligence in three great fires, all close together, which burnt fiercely and were gloomily reflected in the sky. Arriving in the immediate suburbs, they found that almost every house had chalked upon its door in large characters ‘No Popery,’ that the shops were shut, and that alarm and anxiety were depicted in every face they passed.

Noting these things with a degree of apprehension which neither of the three cared to impart, in its full extent, to his companions, they came to a turnpike-gate, which was shut. They were passing through the turnstile on the path, when a horseman rode up from London at a hard gallop, and called to the toll-keeper in a voice of great agitation, to open quickly in the name of God.

The adjuration was so earnest and vehement, that the man, with a lantern in his hand, came running out — toll-keeper though he was — and was about to throw the gate open, when happening to look behind him, he exclaimed, ‘Good Heaven, what’s that! Another fire!’

At this, the three turned their heads, and saw in the distance — straight in the direction whence they had come — a broad sheet of flame, casting a threatening light upon the clouds, which glimmered as though the conflagration were behind them, and showed like a wrathful sunset.

‘My mind misgives me,’ said the horseman, ‘or I know from what far building those flames come. Don’t stand aghast, my good fellow. Open the gate!’

‘Sir,’ cried the man, laying his hand upon his horse’s bridle as he let him through: ‘I know you now, sir; be advised by me; do not go on. I saw them pass, and know what kind of men they are. You will be murdered.’

‘So be it!’ said the horseman, looking intently towards the fire, and not at him who spoke.

‘But sir — sir,’ cried the man, grasping at his rein more tightly yet, ‘if you do go on, wear the blue riband. Here, sir,’ he added, taking one from his own hat, ‘it’s necessity, not choice, that makes me wear it; it’s love of life and home, sir. Wear it for this one night, sir; only for this one night.’

‘Do!’ cried the three friends, pressing round his horse. ‘Mr Haredale — worthy sir — good gentleman — pray be persuaded.’

‘Who’s that?’ cried Mr Haredale, stooping down to look. ‘Did I hear Daisy’s voice?’

‘You did, sir,’ cried the little man. ‘Do be persuaded, sir. This gentleman says very true. Your life may hang upon it.’

‘Are you,’ said Mr Haredale abruptly, ‘afraid to come with me?’

‘I, sir? — N-n-no.’

‘Put that riband in your hat. If we meet the rioters, swear that I took you prisoner for wearing it. I will tell them so with my own lips; for as I hope for mercy when I die, I will take no quarter from them, nor shall they have quarter from me, if we come hand to hand to-night. Up here — behind me — quick! Clasp me tight round the body, and fear nothing.’

In an instant they were riding away, at full gallop, in a dense cloud of dust, and speeding on, like hunters in a dream.

It was well the good horse knew the road he traversed, for never once — no, never once in all the journey — did Mr Haredale cast his eyes upon the ground, or turn them, for an instant, from the light towards which they sped so madly. Once he said in a low voice, ‘It is my house,’ but that was the only time he spoke. When they came to dark and doubtful places, he never forgot to put his hand upon the little man to hold him more securely in his seat, but he kept his head erect and his eyes fixed on the fire, then, and always.

The road was dangerous enough, for they went the nearest way — headlong — far from the highway — by lonely lanes and paths, where waggon-wheels had worn deep ruts; where hedge and ditch hemmed in the narrow strip of ground; and tall trees, arching overhead, made it profoundly dark. But on, on, on, with neither stop nor stumble, till they reached the Maypole door, and could plainly see that the fire began to fade, as if for want of fuel.

‘Down — for one moment — for but one moment,’ said Mr Haredale, helping Daisy to the ground, and following himself. ‘Willet — Willet — where are my niece and servants — Willet!’

Crying to him distractedly, he rushed into the bar. — The landlord bound and fastened to his chair; the place dismantled, stripped, and pulled about his ears; — nobody could have taken shelter here.

He was a strong man, accustomed to restrain himself, and suppress his strong emotions; but this preparation for what was to follow — though he had seen that fire burning, and knew that his house must be razed to the ground — was more than he could bear. He covered his face with his hands for a moment, and turned away his head.

‘Johnny, Johnny,’ said Solomon — and the simple-hearted fellow cried outright, and wrung his hands —‘Oh dear old Johnny, here’s a change! That the Maypole bar should come to this, and we should live to see it! The old Warren too, Johnny — Mr Haredale — oh, Johnny, what a piteous sight this is!’

Pointing to Mr Haredale as he said these words, little Solomon Daisy put his elbows on the back of Mr Willet’s chair, and fairly blubbered on his shoulder.

While Solomon was speaking, old John sat, mute as a stock-fish, staring at him with an unearthly glare, and displaying, by every possible symptom, entire and complete unconsciousness. But when Solomon was silent again, John followed,with his great round eyes, the direction of his looks, and did appear to have some dawning distant notion that somebody had come to see him.

‘You know us, don’t you, Johnny?’ said the little clerk, rapping himself on the breast. ‘Daisy, you know — Chigwell Church — bell-ringer — little desk on Sundays — eh, Johnny?’

Mr Willet reflected for a few moments, and then muttered, as it were mechanically: ‘Let us sing to the praise and glory of —’

‘Yes, to be sure,’ cried the little man, hastily; ‘that’s it — that’s me, Johnny. You’re all right now, an’t you? Say you’re all right, Johnny.’

‘All right?’ pondered Mr Willet, as if that were a matter entirely between himself and his conscience. ‘All right? Ah!’

‘They haven’t been misusing you with sticks, or pokers, or any other blunt instruments — have they, Johnny?’ asked Solomon, with a very anxious glance at Mr Willet’s head. ‘They didn’t beat you, did they?’

John knitted his brow; looked downwards, as if he were mentally engaged in some arithmetical calculation; then upwards, as if the total would not come at his call; then at Solomon Daisy, from his eyebrow to his shoe-buckle; then very slowly round the bar. And then a great, round, leaden-looking, and not at all transparent tear, came rolling out of each eye, and he said, as he shook his head:

‘If they’d only had the goodness to murder me, I’d have thanked ’em kindly.’

‘No, no, no, don’t say that, Johnny,’ whimpered his little friend. ‘It’s very, very bad, but not quite so bad as that. No, no!’

‘Look’ee here, sir!’ cried John, turning his rueful eyes on Mr Haredale, who had dropped on one knee, and was hastily beginning to untie his bonds. ‘Look’ee here, sir! The very Maypole — the old dumb Maypole — stares in at the winder, as if it said, “John Willet, John Willet, let’s go and pitch ourselves in the nighest pool of water as is deep enough to hold us; for our day is over!”’

‘Don’t, Johnny, don’t,’ cried his friend: no less affected with this mournful effort of Mr Willet’s imagination, than by the sepulchral tone in which he had spoken of the Maypole. ‘Please don’t, Johnny!’

‘Your loss is great, and your misfortune a heavy one,’ said Mr Haredale, looking restlessly towards the door: ‘and this is not a time to comfort you. If it were, I am in no condition to do so. Before I leave you, tell me one thing, and try to tell me plainly, I implore you. Have you seen, or heard of Emma?’

‘No!’ said Mr Willet.

‘Nor any one but these bloodhounds?’

‘No!’

‘They rode away, I trust in Heaven, before these dreadful scenes began,’ said Mr Haredale, who, between his agitation, his eagerness to mount his horse again, and the dexterity with which the cords were tied, had scarcely yet undone one knot. ‘A knife, Daisy!’

‘You didn’t,’ said John, looking about, as though he had lost his pocket-handkerchief, or some such slight article —‘either of you gentlemen — see a — a coffin anywheres, did you?’

‘Willet!’ cried Mr Haredale. Solomon dropped the knife, and instantly becoming limp from head to foot, exclaimed ‘Good gracious!’

‘— Because,’ said John, not at all regarding them, ‘a dead man called a little time ago, on his way yonder. I could have told you what name was on the plate, if he had brought his coffin with him, and left it behind. If he didn’t, it don’t signify.’

His landlord, who had listened to these words with breathless attention, started that moment to his feet; and, without a word, drew Solomon Daisy to the door, mounted his horse, took him up behind again, and flew rather than galloped towards the pile of ruins, which that day’s sun had shone upon, a stately house. Mr Willet stared after them, listened, looked down upon himself to make quite sure that he was still unbound, and, without any manifestation of impatience, disappointment, or surprise, gently relapsed into the condition from which he had so imperfectly recovered.

Mr Haredale tied his horse to the trunk of a tree, and grasping his companion’s arm, stole softly along the footpath, and into what had been the garden of his house. He stopped for an instant to look upon its smoking walls, and at the stars that shone through roof and floor upon the heap of crumbling ashes. Solomon glanced timidly in his face, but his lips were tightly pressed together, a resolute and stern expression sat upon his brow, and not a tear, a look, or gesture indicating grief, escaped him.

He drew his sword; felt for a moment in his breast, as though he carried other arms about him; then grasping Solomon by the wrist again, went with a cautious step all round the house. He looked into every doorway and gap in the wall; retraced his steps at every rustling of the air among the leaves; and searched in every shadowed nook with outstretched hands. Thus they made the circuit of the building: but they returned to the spot from which they had set out, without encountering any human being, or finding the least trace of any concealed straggler.

After a short pause, Mr Haredale shouted twice or thrice. Then cried aloud, ‘Is there any one in hiding here, who knows my voice! There is nothing to fear now. If any of my people are near, I entreat them to answer!’ He called them all by name; his voice was echoed in many mournful tones; then all was silent as before.

They were standing near the foot of the turret, where the alarm-bell hung. The fire had raged there, and the floors had been sawn, and hewn, and beaten down, besides. It was open to the night; but a part of the staircase still remained, winding upward from a great mound of dust and cinders. Fragments of the jagged and broken steps offered an insecure and giddy footing here and there, and then were lost again, behind protruding angles of the wall, or in the deep shadows cast upon it by other portions of the ruin; for by this time the moon had risen, and shone brightly.

As they stood here, listening to the echoes as they died away, and hoping in vain to hear a voice they knew, some of the ashes in this turret slipped and rolled down. Startled by the least noise in that melancholy place, Solomon looked up in his companion’s face, and saw that he had turned towards the spot, and that he watched and listened keenly.

He covered the little man’s mouth with his hand, and looked again. Instantly, with kindling eyes, he bade him on his life keep still, and neither speak nor move. Then holding his breath, and stooping down, he stole into the turret, with his drawn sword in his hand, and disappeared.

Terrified to be left there by himself, under such desolate circumstances, and after all he had seen and heard that night, Solomon would have followed, but there had been something in Mr Haredale’s manner and his look, the recollection of which held him spellbound. He stood rooted to the spot; and scarcely venturing to breathe, looked up with mingled fear and wonder.

Again the ashes slipped and rolled — very, very softly — again — and then again, as though they crumbled underneath the tread of a stealthy foot. And now a figure was dimly visible; climbing very softly; and often stopping to look down; now it pursued its difficult way; and now it was hidden from the view again.

It emerged once more, into the shadowy and uncertain light — higher now, but not much, for the way was steep and toilsome, and its progress very slow. What phantom of the brain did he pursue; and why did he look down so constantly? He knew he was alone. Surely his mind was not affected by that night’s loss and agony. He was not about to throw himself headlong from the summit of the tottering wall. Solomon turned sick, and clasped his hands. His limbs trembled beneath him, and a cold sweat broke out upon his pallid face.

If he complied with Mr Haredale’s last injunction now, it was because he had not the power to speak or move. He strained his gaze, and fixed it on a patch of moonlight, into which, if he continued to ascend, he must soon emerge. When he appeared there, he would try to call to him.

Again the ashes slipped and crumbled; some stones rolled down, and fell with a dull, heavy sound upon the ground below. He kept his eyes upon the piece of moonlight. The figure was coming on, for its shadow was already thrown upon the wall. Now it appeared — and now looked round at him — and now —

The horror-stricken clerk uttered a scream that pierced the air, and cried, ‘The ghost! The ghost!’

Long before the echo of his cry had died away, another form rushed out into the light, flung itself upon the foremost one, knelt down upon its breast, and clutched its throat with both hands.

‘Villain!’ cried Mr Haredale, in a terrible voice — for it was he. ‘Dead and buried, as all men supposed through your infernal arts, but reserved by Heaven for this — at last — at last I have you. You, whose hands are red with my brother’s blood, and that of his faithful servant, shed to conceal your own atrocious guilt — You, Rudge, double murderer and monster, I arrest you in the name of God, who has delivered you into my hands. No. Though you had the strength of twenty men,’ he added, as the murderer writhed and struggled, you could not escape me or loosen my grasp to-night!’

Chapter 57

Barnaby, armed as we have seen, continued to pace up and down before the stable-door; glad to be alone again, and heartily rejoicing in the unaccustomed silence and tranquillity. After the whirl of noise and riot in which the last two days had been passed, the pleasures of solitude and peace were enhanced a thousandfold. He felt quite happy; and as he leaned upon his staff and mused, a bright smile overspread his face, and none but cheerful visions floated into his brain.

Had he no thoughts of her, whose sole delight he was, and whom he had unconsciously plunged in such bitter sorrow and such deep affliction? Oh, yes. She was at the heart of all his cheerful hopes and proud reflections. It was she whom all this honour and distinction were to gladden; the joy and profit were for her. What delight it gave her to hear of the bravery of her poor boy! Ah! He would have known that, without Hugh’s telling him. And what a precious thing it was to know she lived so happily, and heard with so much pride (he pictured to himself her look when they told her) that he was in such high esteem: bold among the boldest, and trusted before them all! And when these frays were over, and the good lord had conquered his enemies, and they were all at peace again, and he and she were rich, what happiness they would have in talking of these troubled times when he was a great soldier: and when they sat alone together in the tranquil twilight, and she had no longer reason to be anxious for the morrow, what pleasure would he have in the reflection that this was his doing — his — poor foolish Barnaby’s; and in patting her on the cheek, and saying with a merry laugh, ‘Am I silly now, mother — am I silly now?’

With a lighter heart and step, and eyes the brighter for the happy tear that dimmed them for a moment, Barnaby resumed his walk; and singing gaily to himself, kept guard upon his quiet post.

His comrade Grip, the partner of his watch, though fond of basking in the sunshine, preferred to-day to walk about the stable; having a great deal to do in the way of scattering the straw, hiding under it such small articles as had been casually left about, and haunting Hugh’s bed, to which he seemed to have taken a particular attachment. Sometimes Barnaby looked in and called him, and then he came hopping out; but he merely did this as a concession to his master’s weakness, and soon returned again to his own grave pursuits: peering into the straw with his bill, and rapidly covering up the place, as if, Midas-like, he were whispering secrets to the earth and burying them; constantly busying himself upon the sly; and affecting, whenever Barnaby came past, to look up in the clouds and have nothing whatever on his mind: in short, conducting himself, in many respects, in a more than usually thoughtful, deep, and mysterious manner.

As the day crept on, Barnaby, who had no directions forbidding him to eat and drink upon his post, but had been, on the contrary, supplied with a bottle of beer and a basket of provisions, determined to break his fast, which he had not done since morning. To this end, he sat down on the ground before the door, and putting his staff across his knees in case of alarm or surprise, summoned Grip to dinner.

This call, the bird obeyed with great alacrity; crying, as he sidled up to his master, ‘I’m a devil, I’m a Polly, I’m a kettle, I’m a Protestant, No Popery!’ Having learnt this latter sentiment from the gentry among whom he had lived of late, he delivered it with uncommon emphasis.

‘Well said, Grip!’ cried his master, as he fed him with the daintiest bits. ‘Well said, old boy!’

‘Never say die, bow wow wow, keep up your spirits, Grip Grip Grip, Holloa! We’ll all have tea, I’m a Protestant kettle, No Popery!’ cried the raven.

‘Gordon for ever, Grip!’ cried Barnaby.

The raven, placing his head upon the ground, looked at his master sideways, as though he would have said, ‘Say that again!’ Perfectly understanding his desire, Barnaby repeated the phrase a great many times. The bird listened with profound attention; sometimes repeating the popular cry in a low voice, as if to compare the two, and try if it would at all help him to this new accomplishment; sometimes flapping his wings, or barking; and sometimes in a kind of desperation drawing a multitude of corks, with extraordinary viciousness.

Barnaby was so intent upon his favourite, that he was not at first aware of the approach of two persons on horseback, who were riding at a foot-pace, and coming straight towards his post. When he perceived them, however, which he did when they were within some fifty yards of him, he jumped hastily up, and ordering Grip within doors, stood with both hands on his staff, waiting until he should know whether they were friends or foes.

He had hardly done so, when he observed that those who advanced were a gentleman and his servant; almost at the same moment he recognised Lord George Gordon, before whom he stood uncovered, with his eyes turned towards the ground.

‘Good day!’ said Lord George, not reining in his horse until he was close beside him. ‘Well!’

‘All quiet, sir, all safe!’ cried Barnaby. ‘The rest are away — they went by that path — that one. A grand party!’

‘Ay?’ said Lord George, looking thoughtfully at him. ‘And you?’

‘Oh! They left me here to watch — to mount guard — to keep everything secure till they come back. I’ll do it, sir, for your sake. You’re a good gentleman; a kind gentleman — ay, you are. There are many against you, but we’ll be a match for them, never fear!’

‘What’s that?’ said Lord George — pointing to the raven who was peeping out of the stable-door — but still looking thoughtfully, and in some perplexity, it seemed, at Barnaby.

‘Why, don’t you know!’ retorted Barnaby, with a wondering laugh. ‘Not know what HE is! A bird, to be sure. My bird — my friend — Grip.’

‘A devil, a kettle, a Grip, a Polly, a Protestant, no Popery!’ cried the raven.

‘Though, indeed,’ added Barnaby, laying his hand upon the neck of Lord George’s horse, and speaking softly: ‘you had good reason to ask me what he is, for sometimes it puzzles me — and I am used to him — to think he’s only a bird. He’s my brother, Grip is — always with me — always talking — always merry — eh, Grip?’

The raven answered by an affectionate croak, and hopping on his master’s arm, which he held downward for that purpose, submitted with an air of perfect indifference to be fondled, and turned his restless, curious eye, now upon Lord George, and now upon his man.

Lord George, biting his nails in a discomfited manner, regarded Barnaby for some time in silence; then beckoning to his servant, said:

‘Come hither, John.’

John Grueby touched his hat, and came.

‘Have you ever seen this young man before?’ his master asked in a low voice.

‘Twice, my lord,’ said John. ‘I saw him in the crowd last night and Saturday.’

‘Did — did it seem to you that his manner was at all wild or strange?’ Lord George demanded, faltering.

‘Mad,’ said John, with emphatic brevity.

‘And why do you think him mad, sir?’ said his master, speaking in a peevish tone. ‘Don’t use that word too freely. Why do you think him mad?’

‘My lord,’ John Grueby answered, ‘look at his dress, look at his eyes, look at his restless way, hear him cry “No Popery!” Mad, my lord.’

‘So because one man dresses unlike another,’ returned his angry master, glancing at himself; ‘and happens to differ from other men in his carriage and manner, and to advocate a great cause which the corrupt and irreligious desert, he is to be accounted mad, is he?’

‘Stark, staring, raving, roaring mad, my lord,’ returned the unmoved John.

‘Do you say this to my face?’ cried his master, turning sharply upon him.

‘To any man, my lord, who asks me,’ answered John.

‘Mr Gashford, I find, was right,’ said Lord George; ‘I thought him prejudiced, though I ought to have known a man like him better than to have supposed it possible!’

‘I shall never have Mr Gashford’s good word, my lord,’ replied John, touching his hat respectfully, ‘and I don’t covet it.’

‘You are an ill-conditioned, most ungrateful fellow,’ said Lord George: ‘a spy, for anything I know. Mr Gashford is perfectly correct, as I might have felt convinced he was. I have done wrong to retain you in my service. It is a tacit insult to him as my choice and confidential friend to do so, remembering the cause you sided with, on the day he was maligned at Westminster. You will leave me to-night — nay, as soon as we reach home. The sooner the better.’

‘If it comes to that, I say so too, my lord. Let Mr Gashford have his will. As to my being a spy, my lord, you know me better than to believe it, I am sure. I don’t know much about causes. My cause is the cause of one man against two hundred; and I hope it always will be.’

‘You have said quite enough,’ returned Lord George, motioning him to go back. ‘I desire to hear no more.’

‘If you’ll let me have another word, my lord,’ returned John Grueby, ‘I’d give this silly fellow a caution not to stay here by himself. The proclamation is in a good many hands already, and it’s well known that he was concerned in the business it relates to. He had better get to a place of safety if he can, poor creature.’

‘You hear what this man says?’ cried Lord George, addressing Barnaby, who had looked on and wondered while this dialogue passed. ‘He thinks you may be afraid to remain upon your post, and are kept here perhaps against your will. What do you say?’

‘I think, young man,’ said John, in explanation, ‘that the soldiers may turn out and take you; and that if they do, you will certainly be hung by the neck till you’re dead — dead — dead. And I think you had better go from here, as fast as you can. That’s what I think.’

‘He’s a coward, Grip, a coward!’ cried Barnaby, putting the raven on the ground, and shouldering his staff. ‘Let them come! Gordon for ever! Let them come!’

‘Ay!’ said Lord George, ‘let them! Let us see who will venture to attack a power like ours; the solemn league of a whole people. THIS a madman! You have said well, very well. I am proud to be the leader of such men as you.’

Bamaby’s heart swelled within his bosom as he heard these words. He took Lord George’s hand and carried it to his lips; patted his horse’s crest, as if the affection and admiration he had conceived for the man extended to the animal he rode; then unfurling his flag, and proudly waving it, resumed his pacing up and down.

Lord George, with a kindling eye and glowing cheek, took off his hat, and flourishing it above his head, bade him exultingly Farewell! — then cantered off at a brisk pace; after glancing angrily round to see that his servant followed. Honest John set spurs to his horse and rode after his master, but not before he had again warned Barnaby to retreat, with many significant gestures, which indeed he continued to make, and Barnaby to resist, until the windings of the road concealed them from each other’s view.

Left to himself again with a still higher sense of the importance of his post, and stimulated to enthusiasm by the special notice and encouragement of his leader, Barnaby walked to and fro in a delicious trance rather than as a waking man. The sunshine which prevailed around was in his mind. He had but one desire ungratified. If she could only see him now!

The day wore on; its heat was gently giving place to the cool of evening; a light wind sprung up, fanning his long hair, and making the banner rustle pleasantly above his head. There was a freedom and freshness in the sound and in the time, which chimed exactly with his mood. He was happier than ever.

He was leaning on his staff looking towards the declining sun, and reflecting with a smile that he stood sentinel at that moment over buried gold, when two or three figures appeared in the distance, making towards the house at a rapid pace, and motioning with their hands as though they urged its inmates to retreat from some approaching danger. As they drew nearer, they became more earnest in their gestures; and they were no sooner within hearing, than the foremost among them cried that the soldiers were coming up.

At these words, Barnaby furled his flag, and tied it round the pole. His heart beat high while he did so, but he had no more fear or thought of retreating than the pole itself. The friendly stragglers hurried past him, after giving him notice of his danger, and quickly passed into the house, where the utmost confusion immediately prevailed. As those within hastily closed the windows and the doors, they urged him by looks and signs to fly without loss of time, and called to him many times to do so; but he only shook his head indignantly in answer, and stood the firmer on his post. Finding that he was not to be persuaded, they took care of themselves; and leaving the place with only one old woman in it, speedily withdrew.

As yet there had been no symptom of the news having any better foundation than in the fears of those who brought it, but The Boot had not been deserted five minutes, when there appeared, coming across the fields, a body of men who, it was easy to see, by the glitter of their arms and ornaments in the sun, and by their orderly and regular mode of advancing — for they came on as one man — were soldiers. In a very little time, Barnaby knew that they were a strong detachment of the Foot Guards, having along with them two gentlemen in private clothes, and a small party of Horse; the latter brought up the rear, and were not in number more than six or eight.

They advanced steadily; neither quickening their pace as they came nearer, nor raising any cry, nor showing the least emotion or anxiety. Though this was a matter of course in the case of regular troops, even to Barnaby, there was something particularly impressive and disconcerting in it to one accustomed to the noise and tumult of an undisciplined mob. For all that, he stood his ground not a whit the less resolutely, and looked on undismayed.

Presently, they marched into the yard, and halted. The commanding-officer despatched a messenger to the horsemen, one of whom came riding back. Some words passed between them, and they glanced at Barnaby; who well remembered the man he had unhorsed at Westminster, and saw him now before his eyes. The man being speedily dismissed, saluted, and rode back to his comrades, who were drawn up apart at a short distance.

The officer then gave the word to prime and load. The heavy ringing of the musket-stocks upon the ground, and the sharp and rapid rattling of the ramrods in their barrels, were a kind of relief to Batnahy, deadly though he knew the purport of such sounds to be. When this was done, other commands were given, and the soldiers instantaneously formed in single file all round the house and stables; completely encircling them in every part, at a distance, perhaps, of some half-dozen yards; at least that seemed in Barnaby’s eyes to be about the space left between himself and those who confronted him. The horsemen remained drawn up by themselves as before.

The two gentlemen in private clothes who had kept aloof, now rode forward, one on either side the officer. The proclamation having been produced and read by one of them, the officer called on Barnaby to surrender.

He made no answer, but stepping within the door, before which he had kept guard, held his pole crosswise to protect it. In the midst of a profound silence, he was again called upon to yield.

Still he offered no reply. Indeed he had enough to do, to run his eye backward and forward along the half-dozen men who immediately fronted him, and settle hurriedly within himself at which of them he would strike first, when they pressed on him. He caught the eye of one in the centre, and resolved to hew that fellow down, though he died for it.

Again there was a dead silence, and again the same voice called upon him to deliver himself up.

Next moment he was back in the stable, dealing blows about him like a madman. Two of the men lay stretched at his feet: the one