Barnaby Rudge/Chapter 53

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Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens
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!’

Barnaby Rudge:
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