'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.