Charles Dickens

'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.