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.