'What do you talk of master? Who was it set me on?'
'Who?' said Mr Chester, wheeling sharply round, and looking full at him for the first time. 'I didn't hear you. Who was it?'
Hugh faltered, and muttered something which was not audible.
'Who was it? I am curious to know,' said Mr Chester, with surpassing affability. 'Some rustic beauty perhaps? But be cautious, my good friend. They are not always to be trusted. Do take my advice now, and be careful of yourself.' With these words he turned to the glass again, and went on with his toilet.
Hugh would have answered him that he, the questioner himself had set him on, but the words stuck in his throat. The consummate art with which his patron had led him to this point, and managed the whole conversation, perfectly baffled him. He did not doubt that if he had made the retort which was on his lips when Mr Chester turned round and questioned him so keenly, he would straightway have given him into custody and had him dragged before a justice with the stolen property upon him; in which case it was as certain he would have been hung as it was that he had been born. The ascendency which it was the purpose of the man of the world to establish over this savage instrument, was gained from that time. Hugh's submission was complete. He dreaded him beyond description; and felt that accident and artifice had spun a web about him, which at a touch from such a master-hand as his, would bind him to the gallows.
With these thoughts passing through his mind, and yet wondering at the very same time how he who came there rioting in the confidence of this man (as he thought), should be so soon and so thoroughly subdued, Hugh stood cowering before him, regarding him uneasily from time to time, while he finished dressing. When he had done so, he took up the letter, broke the seal, and throwing himself back in his chair, read it leisurely through.
'Very neatly worded upon my life! Quite a woman's letter, full of what people call tenderness, and disinterestedness, and heart, and all that sort of thing!'
As he spoke, he twisted it up, and glancing lazily round at Hugh as though he would say 'You see this?' held it in the flame of the candle. When it was in a full blaze, he tossed it into the grate, and there it smouldered away.
'It was directed to my son,' he said, turning to Hugh, 'and you did quite right to bring it here. I opened it on my own responsibility, and you see what I have done with it. Take this, for your trouble.'
Hugh stepped forward to receive the piece of money he held out to him. As he put it in his hand, he added:
'If you should happen to find anything else of this sort, or to pick up any kind of information you may think I would like to have, bring it here, will you, my good fellow?'
This was said with a smile which implied--or Hugh thought it did-- 'fail to do so at your peril!' He answered that he would.
'And don't,' said his patron, with an air of the very kindest patronage, 'don't be at all downcast or uneasy respecting that little rashness we have been speaking of. Your neck is as safe in my hands, my good fellow, as though a baby's fingers clasped it, I assure you.--Take another glass. You are quieter now.'
Hugh accepted it from his hand, and looking stealthily at his smiling face, drank the contents in silence.
'Don't you--ha, ha!--don't you drink to the drink any more?' said Mr Chester, in his most winning manner.
'To you, sir,' was the sullen answer, with something approaching to a bow. 'I drink to you.'
'Thank you. God bless you. By the bye, what is your name, my good soul? You are called Hugh, I know, of course--your other name?'
'I have no other name.'
'A very strange fellow! Do you mean that you never knew one, or that you don't choose to tell it? Which?'
'I'd tell it if I could,' said Hugh, quickly. 'I can't. I have been always called Hugh; nothing more. I never knew, nor saw, nor thought about a father; and I was a boy of six--that's not very old--when they hung my mother up at Tyburn for a couple of thousand men to stare at.