Charles Kingsley, Alton Locke, Tailor and Poet: Ch. 27

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My triumph was complete. Even O'Flynn, who, like all Irishmen, had plenty of loose good-nature at bottom, and was as sudden and furious in his loves as in his hostilities, scrambled over the benches, regardless of patriots' toes, to shake me violently by the hand, and inform me that I was "a broth of a boy," and that "any little disagreements between us had vanished like a passing cloud from the sunshine of our fraternity"—when my eye was caught by a face which there was no mistaking—my cousin's!

Yes, there he sat, watching me like a basilisk, with his dark, glittering, mesmeric eyes, out of a remote corner of the room—not in contempt or anger, but there was a quiet, assured, sardonic smile about his lips, which chilled me to the heart.

The meeting was sufficiently public to allow of his presence, but how had he found out its existence? Had he come there as a spy on me? Had he been in the room when my visit to D * * * * was determined on? I trembled at the thought; and I trembled, too, lest he should be daring enough—and I knew he could dare anything—to claim acquaintance with me there and then. It would have ruined my new-restored reputation for ever. But he sat still and steady: and I had to go through the rest of the evening's business under the miserable, cramping knowledge that every word and gesture was being noted down by my most deadly enemy; trembling whenever I was addressed, lest some chance word of an acquaintance would implicate me still further—though, indeed, I was deep enough already. The meeting seemed interminable; and there I fidgeted, with my face scarlet—always seeing those basilisk eyes upon me—in fancy—for I dared not look again towards the corner where I knew they were.

At last it was over—the audience went out; and when I had courage to look round, my cousin had vanished among them. A load was taken off my breast, and I breathed freely again—for five minutes;—for I had not made ten steps up the street, when an arm was familiarly thrust through mine, and I found myself in the clutches of my evil genius.

"How are you, my dear fellow? Expected to meet you there. Why, what an orator you are! Really, I haven't heard more fluent or passionate English this month of Sundays. You must give me a lesson in sermon-preaching. I can tell you, we parsons want a hint or two in that line. So you're going down to D * * * *, to see after those poor starving labourers? 'Pon my honour, I've a great mind to go with you."

So, then, he knew all! However, there was nothing for it but to brazen it out; and, besides, I was in his power, and however hateful to me his seeming cordiality might be, I dared not offend him at that moment.

"It would be well if you did. If you parsons would show yourselves at such places as these a little oftener, you would do more to make the people believe your mission real, than by all the tracts and sermons in the world."

"But, my dear cousin" (and he began to snuffle and sink his voice), "there is so much sanguinary language, so much unsanctified impatience, you frighten away all the meek apostolic men among the priesthood—the very ones who feel most for the lost sheep of the flock.

"Then the parsons are either great Pharisees or great cowards, or both."

"Very likely. I was in a precious fright myself, I know, when I saw you recognized me. If I had not felt strengthened, you know, as of course one ought to be in all trials, by the sense of my holy calling, I think I should have bolted at once. However, I took the precaution of bringing my Bowie and revolver with me, in case the worst came to the worst."

"And a very needless precaution it was," said I, half laughing at the quaint incongruity of the priestly and the lay elements in his speech. "You don't seem to know much of working men's meetings, or working men's morals. Why, that place was open to all the world. The proceedings will be in the newspaper to-morrow. The whole bench of bishops might have been there, if they had chosen; and a great deal of good it would have done them!"