'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.