“Sir,” interposed Mr. Fett, “give me leave to assure you that an audience may be amused and yet throw things. Were this the time and place for reminiscences, I could tell you a tale of Stony Stratford (appropriately so-called, sir), where, as ‘Juba’ in Mr. Addison’s tragedy of Cato, for two hours I piled the Pelion of passion upon the Ossa of elocutionary correctness, still without surmounting the zone of plant life; which in the Arts, sir, must extend higher than geographers concede. And yet I evoked laughter; from which I may conclude that my efforts amused. The great Demosthenes, sir, practised declamation with his mouth full of pebbles—for retaliatory purposes, I have sometimes thought.”
Here my father, who had been paying no attention to Mr. Fett’s discourse, interrupted it with a sharp but joyful exclamation; and glancing towards him I saw his face clear of anxiety.
“We are safe,” he announced quietly, nodding in the direction of the Three Cups. “What we wanted was a fool, and we have found him.”
TRIBULATIONS OF A MAYOR
“Like the Mayor
of Falmouth, who thanked God when the Town Jail
was enlarged.”—Old Byword.
His nod was levelled at a horseman who had ridden down the street and was pressing upon the outskirts of the crowd: and this was no less a dignitary than the Mayor of Falmouth, preceded on foot by a beadle and two mace-bearers, all three of them shouting “Way! Make way for the Mayor!” with such effect that in less than half a minute the crowd had divided itself to form a lane for them.
“Eh? eh? What is this? What is the meaning of all this?” demanded his Worship, magisterially, as, having drawn rein, he fumbled in his tail pocket, drew forth a pair of horn spectacles, adjusted them on his nose, and glared round upon the throng.
“That, sir,” answered my father, stepping forward, “is what we are waiting to learn.”
“Sir John Constantine?” The Mayor bowed from his saddle. “You will pardon me, Sir John, that for the moment I missed to recognize you. The fact is, I suffer, Sir John, from some—er—shortness of sight: a grave inconvenience, at times, to one in my position.”
“Indeed?” said my father, gravely. “And yet, as I have heard, ’tis a malady most incident to borough magistrates.”
“You don’t say so?” The Mayor considered this for a moment. “The visitations of Providence are indeed inscrutable, Sir John. It would give me pleasure to discuss them with you, on some—er—more suitable occasion, if I might have the honour. But as I was about to say, I am delighted to see you, Sir John: your presence here will strengthen my hands in dealing with this—er—unlawful assembly.”
“Is this an unlawful assembly?” my father asked.
“It is worse, Sir John; it is far worse. I have been studying the law, and the law admits of no dubiety. It is unlawful assembly where three or more persons meet together to carry out some private enterprise in circumstances calculated to excite alarm. Mark those words, Sir John—” some private enterprise. “When the enterprise is not private but meant to redress a public grievance, or to reform religion, the offence becomes high treason.”