'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?'
'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.