Charles Dickens

'Your friend, I might have guessed-- indeed I did guess--was sure to tell you.'

'My friend!' stammered Hugh, with an unsuccessful effort to appear surprised. 'What friend?'

'Tut tut--do you suppose I don't know where you have been?' retorted Gashford, rubbing his hands, and beating the back of one on the palm of the other, and looking at him with a cunning eye. 'How dull you think me! Shall I say his name?'

'No,' said Hugh, with a hasty glance towards Dennis.

'You have also heard from him, no doubt,' resumed the secretary, after a moment's pause, 'that the rioters who have been taken (poor fellows) are committed for trial, and that some very active witnesses have had the temerity to appear against them. Among others--' and here he clenched his teeth, as if he would suppress by force some violent words that rose upon his tongue; and spoke very slowly. 'Among others, a gentleman who saw the work going on in Warwick Street; a Catholic gentleman; one Haredale.'

Hugh would have prevented his uttering the word, but it was out already. Hearing the name, Barnaby turned swiftly round.

'Duty, duty, bold Barnaby!' cried Hugh, assuming his wildest and most rapid manner, and thrusting into his hand his staff and flag which leant against the wall. 'Mount guard without loss of time, for we are off upon our expedition. Up, Dennis, and get ready! Take care that no one turns the straw upon my bed, brave Barnaby; we know what's underneath it--eh? Now, master, quick! What you have to say, say speedily, for the little captain and a cluster of 'em are in the fields, and only waiting for us. Sharp's the word, and strike's the action. Quick!'

Barnaby was not proof against this bustle and despatch. The look of mingled astonishtnent and anger which had appeared in his face when he turned towards them, faded from it as the words passed from his memory, like breath from a polished mirror; and grasping the weapon which Hugh forced upon him, he proudly took his station at the door, beyond their hearing.

'You might have spoiled our plans, master,' said Hugh. 'YOU, too, of all men!'

'Who would have supposed that HE would be so quick?' urged Gashford.

'He's as quick sometimes--I don't mean with his hands, for that you know, but with his head--as you or any man,' said Hugh. 'Dennis, it's time we were going; they're waiting for us; I came to tell you. Reach me my stick and belt. Here! Lend a hand, master. Fling this over my shoulder, and buckle it behind, will you?'

'Brisk as ever!' said the secretary, adjusting it for him as he desired.

'A man need be brisk to-day; there's brisk work a-foot.'

'There is, is there?' said Gashford. He said it with such a provoking assumption of ignorance, that Hugh, looking over his shoulder and angrily down upon him, replied:

'Is there! You know there is! Who knows better than you, master, that the first great step to be taken is to make examples of these witnesses, and frighten all men from appearing against us or any of our body, any more?'

'There's one we know of,' returned Gashford, with an expressive smile, 'who is at least as well informed upon that subject as you or I.'

'If we mean the same gentleman, as I suppose we do,' Hugh rejoined softly, 'I tell you this--he's as good and quick information about everything as--' here he paused and looked round, as if to make sure that the person in question was not within hearing, 'as Old Nick himself. Have you done that, master? How slow you are!'

'It's quite fast now,' said Gashford, rising. 'I say--you didn't find that your friend disapproved of to-day's little expedition? Ha ha ha! It is fortunate it jumps so well with the witness policy; for, once planned, it must have been carried out. And now you are going, eh?'

'Now we are going, master!' Hugh replied. 'Any parting words?'

'Oh dear, no,' said Gashford sweetly. 'None!'

'You're sure?' cried Hugh, nudging the grinning Dennis.

'Quite sure, eh, Muster Gashford?' chuckled the hangman.

Gashford paused a moment, struggling with his caution and his malice; then putting himself between the two men, and laying a hand upon the arm of each, said, in a cramped whisper:

'Do not, my good friends--I am sure you will not--forget our talk one night--in your house, Dennis--about this person.