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Charles Dickens > Barnaby Rudge > Chapter 37

Barnaby Rudge

Chapter 37

To surround anything, however monstrous or ridiculous, with an air
of mystery, is to invest it with a secret charm, and power of
attraction which to the crowd is irresistible. False priests,
false prophets, false doctors, false patriots, false prodigies of
every kind, veiling their proceedings in mystery, have always
addressed themselves at an immense advantage to the popular
credulity, and have been, perhaps, more indebted to that resource
in gaining and keeping for a time the upper hand of Truth and
Common Sense, than to any half-dozen items in the whole catalogue
of imposture. Curiosity is, and has been from the creation of the
world, a master-passion. To awaken it, to gratify it by slight
degrees, and yet leave something always in suspense, is to
establish the surest hold that can be had, in wrong, on the
unthinking portion of mankind.

If a man had stood on London Bridge, calling till he was hoarse,
upon the passers-by, to join with Lord George Gordon, although for
an object which no man understood, and which in that very incident
had a charm of its own,--the probability is, that he might have
influenced a score of people in a month. If all zealous
Protestants had been publicly urged to join an association for the
avowed purpose of singing a hymn or two occasionally, and hearing
some indifferent speeches made, and ultimately of petitioning
Parliament not to pass an act for abolishing the penal laws against
Roman Catholic priests, the penalty of perpetual imprisonment
denounced against those who educated children in that persuasion,
and the disqualification of all members of the Romish church to
inherit real property in the United Kingdom by right of purchase or
descent,--matters so far removed from the business and bosoms of
the mass, might perhaps have called together a hundred people. But
when vague rumours got abroad, that in this Protestant association
a secret power was mustering against the government for undefined
and mighty purposes; when the air was filled with whispers of a
confederacy among the Popish powers to degrade and enslave England,
establish an inquisition in London, and turn the pens of Smithfield
market into stakes and cauldrons; when terrors and alarms which no
man understood were perpetually broached, both in and out of
Parliament, by one enthusiast who did not understand himself, and
bygone bugbears which had lain quietly in their graves for
centuries, were raised again to haunt the ignorant and credulous;
when all this was done, as it were, in the dark, and secret
invitations to join the Great Protestant Association in defence of
religion, life, and liberty, were dropped in the public ways,
thrust under the house-doors, tossed in at windows, and pressed
into the hands of those who trod the streets by night; when they
glared from every wall, and shone on every post and pillar, so that
stocks and stones appeared infected with the common fear, urging
all men to join together blindfold in resistance of they knew not
what, they knew not why;--then the mania spread indeed, and the
body, still increasing every day, grew forty thousand strong.

So said, at least, in this month of March, 1780, Lord George
Gordon, the Association's president. Whether it was the fact or
otherwise, few men knew or cared to ascertain. It had never made
any public demonstration; had scarcely ever been heard of, save
through him; had never been seen; and was supposed by many to be
the mere creature of his disordered brain. He was accustomed to
talk largely about numbers of men--stimulated, as it was inferred,
by certain successful disturbances, arising out of the same
subject, which had occurred in Scotland in the previous year; was
looked upon as a cracked-brained member of the lower house, who
attacked all parties and sided with none, and was very little
regarded. It was known that there was discontent abroad--there
always is; he had been accustomed to address the people by placard,
speech, and pamphlet, upon other questions; nothing had come, in
England, of his past exertions, and nothing was apprehended from
his present. Just as he has come upon the reader, he had come,
from time to time, upon the public, and been forgotten in a day; as
suddenly as he appears in these pages, after a blank of five long
years, did he and his proceedings begin to force themselves, about
this period, upon the notice of thousands of people, who had
mingled in active life during the whole interval, and who, without
being deaf or blind to passing events, had scarcely ever thought of
him before.

'My lord,' said Gashford in his ear, as he drew the curtains of his
bed betimes; 'my lord!'

'Yes--who's that? What is it?'

'The clock has struck nine,' returned the secretary, with meekly
folded hands. 'You have slept well? I hope you have slept well?
If my prayers are heard, you are refreshed indeed.'

'To say the truth, I have slept so soundly,' said Lord George,
rubbing his eyes and looking round the room, 'that I don't remember
quite--what place is this?'

'My lord!' cried Gashford, with a smile.

'Oh!' returned his superior. 'Yes. You're not a Jew then?'

'A Jew!' exclaimed the pious secretary, recoiling.

'I dreamed that we were Jews, Gashford. You and I--both of us--
Jews with long beards.'

'Heaven forbid, my lord! We might as well be Papists.'

'I suppose we might,' returned the other, very quickly. 'Eh? You
really think so, Gashford?'

'Surely I do,' the secretary cried, with looks of great surprise.

'Humph!' he muttered. 'Yes, that seems reasonable.'

'I hope my lord--' the secretary began.

'Hope!' he echoed, interrupting him. 'Why do you say, you hope?
There's no harm in thinking of such things.'

'Not in dreams,' returned the Secretary.

'In dreams! No, nor waking either.'

--'"Called, and chosen, and faithful,"' said Gashford, taking up
Lord George's watch which lay upon a chair, and seeming to read the
inscription on the seal, abstractedly.

It was the slightest action possible, not obtruded on his notice,
and apparently the result of a moment's absence of mind, not worth
remark. But as the words were uttered, Lord George, who had been
going on impetuously, stopped short, reddened, and was silent.
Apparently quite unconscious of this change in his demeanour, the
wily Secretary stepped a little apart, under pretence of pulling up
the window-blind, and returning when the other had had time to
recover, said:

'The holy cause goes bravely on, my lord. I was not idle, even
last night. I dropped two of the handbills before I went to bed,
and both are gone this morning. Nobody in the house has mentioned
the circumstance of finding them, though I have been downstairs
full half-an-hour. One or two recruits will be their first fruit,
I predict; and who shall say how many more, with Heaven's blessing
on your inspired exertions!'

'It was a famous device in the beginning,' replied Lord George; 'an
excellent device, and did good service in Scotland. It was quite
worthy of you. You remind me not to be a sluggard, Gashford, when
the vineyard is menaced with destruction, and may be trodden down
by Papist feet. Let the horses be saddled in half-an-hour. We
must be up and doing!'

He said this with a heightened colour, and in a tone of such
enthusiasm, that the secretary deemed all further prompting
needless, and withdrew.

--'Dreamed he was a Jew,' he said thoughtfully, as he closed the
bedroom door. 'He may come to that before he dies. It's like
enough. Well! After a time, and provided I lost nothing by it, I
don't see why that religion shouldn't suit me as well as any
other. There are rich men among the Jews; shaving is very
troublesome;--yes, it would suit me well enough. For the present,
though, we must be Christian to the core. Our prophetic motto will
suit all creeds in their turn, that's a comfort.' Reflecting on
this source of consolation, he reached the sitting-room, and rang
the bell for breakfast.

Lord George was quickly dressed (for his plain toilet was easily
made), and as he was no less frugal in his repasts than in his
Puritan attire, his share of the meal was soon dispatched. The
secretary, however, more devoted to the good things of this world,
or more intent on sustaining his strength and spirits for the sake
of the Protestant cause, ate and drank to the last minute, and
required indeed some three or four reminders from John Grueby,
before he could resolve to tear himself away from Mr Willet's
plentiful providing.

At length he came downstairs, wiping his greasy mouth, and having
paid John Willet's bill, climbed into his saddle. Lord George, who
had been walking up and down before the house talking to himself
with earnest gestures, mounted his horse; and returning old John
Willet's stately bow, as well as the parting salutation of a dozen
idlers whom the rumour of a live lord being about to leave the
Maypole had gathered round the porch, they rode away, with stout
John Grueby in the rear.

If Lord George Gordon had appeared in the eyes of Mr Willet,
overnight, a nobleman of somewhat quaint and odd exterior, the
impression was confirmed this morning, and increased a hundredfold.
Sitting bolt upright upon his bony steed, with his long, straight
hair, dangling about his face and fluttering in the wind; his limbs
all angular and rigid, his elbows stuck out on either side
ungracefully, and his whole frame jogged and shaken at every motion
of his horse's feet; a more grotesque or more ungainly figure can
hardly be conceived. In lieu of whip, he carried in his hand a
great gold-headed cane, as large as any footman carries in these
days, and his various modes of holding this unwieldy weapon--now
upright before his face like the sabre of a horse-soldier, now over
his shoulder like a musket, now between his finger and thumb, but
always in some uncouth and awkward fashion--contributed in no small
degree to the absurdity of his appearance. Stiff, lank, and
solemn, dressed in an unusual manner, and ostentatiously
exhibiting--whether by design or accident--all his peculiarities of
carriage, gesture, and conduct, all the qualities, natural and
artificial, in which he differed from other men; he might have
moved the sternest looker-on to laughter, and fully provoked the
smiles and whispered jests which greeted his departure from the
Maypole inn.

Quite unconscious, however, of the effect he produced, he trotted
on beside his secretary, talking to himself nearly all the way,
until they came within a mile or two of London, when now and then
some passenger went by who knew him by sight, and pointed him out
to some one else, and perhaps stood looking after him, or cried in
jest or earnest as it might be, 'Hurrah Geordie! No Popery!' At
which he would gravely pull off his hat, and bow. When they
reached the town and rode along the streets, these notices became
more frequent; some laughed, some hissed, some turned their heads
and smiled, some wondered who he was, some ran along the pavement
by his side and cheered. When this happened in a crush of carts
and chairs and coaches, he would make a dead stop, and pulling off
his hat, cry, 'Gentlemen, No Popery!' to which the gentlemen would
respond with lusty voices, and with three times three; and then, on
he would go again with a score or so of the raggedest, following at
his horse's heels, and shouting till their throats were parched.

The old ladies too--there were a great many old ladies in the
streets, and these all knew him. Some of them--not those of the
highest rank, but such as sold fruit from baskets and carried
burdens--clapped their shrivelled hands, and raised a weazen,
piping, shrill 'Hurrah, my lord.' Others waved their hands or
handkerchiefs, or shook their fans or parasols, or threw up windows
and called in haste to those within, to come and see. All these
marks of popular esteem, he received with profound gravity and
respect; bowing very low, and so frequently that his hat was more
off his head than on; and looking up at the houses as he passed
along, with the air of one who was making a public entry, and yet
was not puffed up or proud.

So they rode (to the deep and unspeakable disgust of John Grueby)
the whole length of Whitechapel, Leadenhall Street, and Cheapside,
and into St Paul's Churchyard. Arriving close to the cathedral, he
halted; spoke to Gashford; and looking upward at its lofty dome,
shook his head, as though he said, 'The Church in Danger!' Then to
be sure, the bystanders stretched their throats indeed; and he went
on again with mighty acclamations from the mob, and lower bows than

So along the Strand, up Swallow Street, into the Oxford Road, and
thence to his house in Welbeck Street, near Cavendish Square,
whither he was attended by a few dozen idlers; of whom he took
leave on the steps with this brief parting, 'Gentlemen, No Popery.
Good day. God bless you.' This being rather a shorter address
than they expected, was received with some displeasure, and cries
of 'A speech! a speech!' which might have been complied with, but
that John Grueby, making a mad charge upon them with all three
horses, on his way to the stables, caused them to disperse into the
adjoining fields, where they presently fell to pitch and toss,
chuck-farthing, odd or even, dog-fighting, and other Protestant

In the afternoon Lord George came forth again, dressed in a black
velvet coat, and trousers and waistcoat of the Gordon plaid, all of
the same Quaker cut; and in this costume, which made him look a
dozen times more strange and singular than before, went down on
foot to Westminster. Gashford, meanwhile, bestirred himself in
business matters; with which he was still engaged when, shortly
after dusk, John Grueby entered and announced a visitor.

'Let him come in,' said Gashford.

'Here! come in!' growled John to somebody without; 'You're a
Protestant, an't you?'

'I should think so,' replied a deep, gruff voice.

'You've the looks of it,' said John Grueby. 'I'd have known you
for one, anywhere.' With which remark he gave the visitor
admission, retired, and shut the door.

The man who now confronted Gashford, was a squat, thickset
personage, with a low, retreating forehead, a coarse shock head of
hair, and eyes so small and near together, that his broken nose
alone seemed to prevent their meeting and fusing into one of the
usual size. A dingy handkerchief twisted like a cord about his
neck, left its great veins exposed to view, and they were swollen
and starting, as though with gulping down strong passions, malice,
and ill-will. His dress was of threadbare velveteen--a faded,
rusty, whitened black, like the ashes of a pipe or a coal fire
after a day's extinction; discoloured with the soils of many a
stale debauch, and reeking yet with pot-house odours. In lieu of
buckles at his knees, he wore unequal loops of packthread; and in
his grimy hands he held a knotted stick, the knob of which was
carved into a rough likeness of his own vile face. Such was the
visitor who doffed his three-cornered hat in Gashford's presence,
and waited, leering, for his notice.

'Ah! Dennis!' cried the secretary. 'Sit down.'

'I see my lord down yonder--' cried the man, with a jerk of his
thumb towards the quarter that he spoke of, 'and he says to me,
says my lord, "If you've nothing to do, Dennis, go up to my house
and talk with Muster Gashford." Of course I'd nothing to do, you
know. These an't my working hours. Ha ha! I was a-taking the air
when I see my lord, that's what I was doing. I takes the air by
night, as the howls does, Muster Gashford.'

And sometimes in the day-time, eh?' said the secretary--'when you
go out in state, you know.'

'Ha ha!' roared the fellow, smiting his leg; 'for a gentleman as
'ull say a pleasant thing in a pleasant way, give me Muster
Gashford agin' all London and Westminster! My lord an't a bad 'un
at that, but he's a fool to you. Ah to be sure,--when I go out in

'And have your carriage,' said the secretary; 'and your chaplain,
eh? and all the rest of it?'

'You'll be the death of me,' cried Dennis, with another roar, 'you
will. But what's in the wind now, Muster Gashford,' he asked
hoarsely, 'Eh? Are we to be under orders to pull down one of them
Popish chapels--or what?'

'Hush!' said the secretary, suffering the faintest smile to play
upon his face. 'Hush! God bless me, Dennis! We associate, you
know, for strictly peaceable and lawful purposes.'

'I know, bless you,' returned the man, thrusting his tongue into
his cheek; 'I entered a' purpose, didn't I!'

'No doubt,' said Gashford, smiling as before. And when he said so,
Dennis roared again, and smote his leg still harder, and falling
into fits of laughter, wiped his eyes with the corner of his
neckerchief, and cried, 'Muster Gashford agin' all England hollow!'

'Lord George and I were talking of you last night,' said Gashford,
after a pause. 'He says you are a very earnest fellow.'

'So I am,' returned the hangman.

'And that you truly hate the Papists.'

'So I do,' and he confirmed it with a good round oath. 'Lookye
here, Muster Gashford,' said the fellow, laying his hat and stick
upon the floor, and slowly beating the palm of one hand with the
fingers of the other; 'Ob-serve. I'm a constitutional officer that
works for my living, and does my work creditable. Do I, or do I


'Very good. Stop a minute. My work, is sound, Protestant,
constitutional, English work. Is it, or is it not?'

'No man alive can doubt it.'

'Nor dead neither. Parliament says this here--says Parliament, "If
any man, woman, or child, does anything which goes again a certain
number of our acts"--how many hanging laws may there be at this
present time, Muster Gashford? Fifty?'

'I don't exactly know how many,' replied Gashford, leaning back in
his chair and yawning; 'a great number though.'

'Well, say fifty. Parliament says, "If any man, woman, or child,
does anything again any one of them fifty acts, that man, woman, or
child, shall be worked off by Dennis." George the Third steps in
when they number very strong at the end of a sessions, and says,
"These are too many for Dennis. I'll have half for myself and
Dennis shall have half for himself;" and sometimes he throws me in
one over that I don't expect, as he did three year ago, when I got
Mary Jones, a young woman of nineteen who come up to Tyburn with a
infant at her breast, and was worked off for taking a piece of
cloth off the counter of a shop in Ludgate Hill, and putting it
down again when the shopman see her; and who had never done any
harm before, and only tried to do that, in consequence of her
husband having been pressed three weeks previous, and she being
left to beg, with two young children--as was proved upon the trial.
Ha ha!--Well! That being the law and the practice of England, is
the glory of England, an't it, Muster Gashford?'

'Certainly,' said the secretary.

'And in times to come,' pursued the hangman, 'if our grandsons
should think of their grandfathers' times, and find these things
altered, they'll say, "Those were days indeed, and we've been going
down hill ever since." Won't they, Muster Gashford?'

'I have no doubt they will,' said the secretary.

'Well then, look here,' said the hangman. 'If these Papists gets
into power, and begins to boil and roast instead of hang, what
becomes of my work! If they touch my work that's a part of so many
laws, what becomes of the laws in general, what becomes of the
religion, what becomes of the country!--Did you ever go to church,
Muster Gashford?'

'Ever!' repeated the secretary with some indignation; 'of course.'

'Well,' said the ruffian, 'I've been once--twice, counting the time
I was christened--and when I heard the Parliament prayed for, and
thought how many new hanging laws they made every sessions, I
considered that I was prayed for. Now mind, Muster Gashford,' said
the fellow, taking up his stick and shaking it with a ferocious
air, 'I mustn't have my Protestant work touched, nor this here
Protestant state of things altered in no degree, if I can help it;
I mustn't have no Papists interfering with me, unless they come to
be worked off in course of law; I mustn't have no biling, no
roasting, no frying--nothing but hanging. My lord may well call
me an earnest fellow. In support of the great Protestant principle
of having plenty of that, I'll,' and here he beat his club upon the
ground, 'burn, fight, kill--do anything you bid me, so that it's
bold and devilish--though the end of it was, that I got hung
myself.--There, Muster Gashford!'

He appropriately followed up this frequent prostitution of a noble
word to the vilest purposes, by pouring out in a kind of ecstasy at
least a score of most tremendous oaths; then wiped his heated face
upon his neckerchief, and cried, 'No Popery! I'm a religious man,
by G--!'

Gashford had leant back in his chair, regarding him with eyes so
sunken, and so shadowed by his heavy brows, that for aught the
hangman saw of them, he might have been stone blind. He remained
smiling in silence for a short time longer, and then said, slowly
and distinctly:

'You are indeed an earnest fellow, Dennis--a most valuable fellow--
the staunchest man I know of in our ranks. But you must calm
yourself; you must be peaceful, lawful, mild as any lamb. I am
sure you will be though.'

'Ay, ay, we shall see, Muster Gashford, we shall see. You won't
have to complain of me,' returned the other, shaking his head.

'I am sure I shall not,' said the secretary in the same mild tone,
and with the same emphasis. 'We shall have, we think, about next
month, or May, when this Papist relief bill comes before the house,
to convene our whole body for the first time. My lord has thoughts
of our walking in procession through the streets--just as an
innocent display of strength--and accompanying our petition down to
the door of the House of Commons.'

'The sooner the better,' said Dennis, with another oath.

'We shall have to draw up in divisions, our numbers being so large;
and, I believe I may venture to say,' resumed Gashford, affecting
not to hear the interruption, 'though I have no direct instructions
to that effect--that Lord George has thought of you as an excellent
leader for one of these parties. I have no doubt you would be an
admirable one.'

'Try me,' said the fellow, with an ugly wink.

'You would be cool, I know,' pursued the secretary, still smiling,
and still managing his eyes so that he could watch him closely, and
really not be seen in turn, 'obedient to orders, and perfectly
temperate. You would lead your party into no danger, I am certain.'

'I'd lead them, Muster Gashford,'--the hangman was beginning in a
reckless way, when Gashford started forward, laid his finger on his
lips, and feigned to write, just as the door was opened by John

'Oh!' said John, looking in; 'here's another Protestant.'

'Some other room, John,' cried Gashford in his blandest voice. 'I
am engaged just now.'

But John had brought this new visitor to the door, and he walked in
unbidden, as the words were uttered; giving to view the form and
features, rough attire, and reckless air, of Hugh.

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Index Index

Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25
Chapter 26
Chapter 27
Chapter 28
Chapter 29
Chapter 30
Chapter 31
Chapter 32
Chapter 33
Chapter 34
Chapter 35
Chapter 36
Chapter 37
Chapter 38
Chapter 39
Chapter 40
Chapter 41
Chapter 42
Chapter 43
Chapter 44
Chapter 45
Chapter 46
Chapter 47
Chapter 48
Chapter 49
Chapter 50
Chapter 51
Chapter 52
Chapter 53
Chapter 54
Chapter 55
Chapter 56
Chapter 57
Chapter 58
Chapter 59
Chapter 60
Chapter 61
Chapter 62
Chapter 63
Chapter 64
Chapter 65
Chapter 66
Chapter 67
Chapter 68
Chapter 69
Chapter 70
Chapter 71
Chapter 72
Chapter 73
Chapter 74
Chapter 75
Chapter 76
Chapter 77
Chapter 78
Chapter 79
Chapter 80
Chapter 81
Chapter 82

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