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A REVOLUTIONIST STRONGHOLD.
ONCE upon a time, having an inclination to obtain an insight into the strange companionship of English Republicanism, I betook myself to a meeting convened by the Patriots and held on Clerkenwell Green. It was on an evening in the summer, and I got into conversation with a promising young Revolutionist who stood at my elbow. I afterwards found that he was what is called a “sweep-washer” in the goldsmithing way, but at the time I took him to be a person in the peripatetic pastry and sweet stuff line. He had no basket-indeed it was the invisibility of that necessary article that first drew my attention particularly towards him. A Republican chief was on his legs in a green-grocer's cart, drawn up just by the pump, and my young friend, with his visage as pale as a baker's, and set teeth, had his eager gaze fixed intently on the orator the while he muttered, half aloud, “ Pies and biscuits! Pies and biscuits ! that's the sort. There's nothing like 'em. Pies and barrakays!”
The latter word was new to me, but I supposed it to be some new-fangled article of confectionery of the hardbake or toffey kind. Presently, however, some uncommonly treasonable outburst on the part of the orator in the cart made him bold to relax his clenched teeth a little, and his less impeded utterance opened my eyes to the young desperado's real character.
It was not “pies and biscuits "that he was muttering, but pikes and muskets, and the innocent sweetmeat became “barricades.”
“There's nothing like 'em,” exclaimed the pale youth turning to me, clashing his narrow jaws viciously together as though barricades were his natural food, of which he had long been deprived, and were famished for want. “What do you say, guv'ner!”.
I whispered him back that at present I was undecided between barricades and petroleum, on which he released a dirty hand from the bosom of his waistcoat and tendered me the grasp of brotherhood on the spot. We got into conversation.
“It is tremendously hot," said I, “standing out here in the blazing sun; wouldn't it be better to meet somewhere under cover.”
" Lor' bless yer! our place wouldn't hold a quarter of 'em,” said he.
"Our place ?"
“Ah, you know-Hole in the Wall,* up in Kirby Street. It's a reg'ler snug crib in the winter, but it's too close in the summer. Ever been there on Sunday nights?"
I was ignominiously compelled to admit that I never had.
“Ho, it's a treat, I tell you,” replied my young friend, wagging his head in rapture at the mere recollection. “It's head quarters, don't you know—where the banners is, and where the portraits and the pictures is. Lor' bless you, what you hear here is on’y milk-and-water to some of the speechifying of Sunday nights at the Hole. Ha! I should like to catch a skyun of the aristocracy trying to do the lofty with us there! I should like to see one of 'em so much as put his head in at the door!”
And the precious young Republican snapped his lean * This stronghold of English Republicanism has since been removed to more convenient premises, in the neighbourhood of Clerkenwell Green.
jaws again with as much relish as though they had at that moment, fixed on the ear of the unfortunate “skyun" under the startling conditions above-mentioned.
We parted affectionately by the Sessions House, my friend confiding to me his firm conviction that the happy time was approaching when we should see the gutters of Belgravia running with gore, and it was not until quite recently that the accidental perusal of a scrap of newspaper recalled to my mind our conversation, and also the resolution I at the time made, that, come the winter, I would one Sunday evening, avail myself of the treat the young gentleman with the jaws had described to me. There was to be an “important meeting and discussion,” at the Hole in the Wall on the coming Sunday evening, at half-past eight o'clock, and all true friends were invited to attend.
I was not a true friend, but I felt that I was open to conviction, and might become so one of these days, and I considered that fact a sufficient ground for accepting the invitation. It was not a pleasant night. It rained, and the wind blew about the gaslight in the lamps of the public-houses in dismal Kirby Street, in a manner that rendered it difficult to decipher the signs.
A rare night for conspirators! I was passing up the darkest part of the street hesitating of whether it would be safe to make inquiries of a policeman, when from a shadowy doorway, a voice called out “Hi! my friend ! here!” Was this the Hole-in-the-Wall! Had republicanism grown to this pitch—that the brotherhood did not scruple to challenge strangers and passers-by to join their ranks! I walked to the dark doorway. “Did you call ?" I asked of a person of whom I could make out nothing but his white neckcloth. “Yes, my friend ; our mission-room is at the end of the passage here, and the good Word is about to be preached. Come in for half an hour!” I don't know whether this is the common way in which they fish for wayfaring sinners in the shady neighbourhood of Leather-lane; I only knew that, hole in the wall as it undoubtedly was, it was not that one of which I was in quest, and passed on.
At last I found it: the stronghold of Revolutionist, the council-place from which from time to time emanate those startling manifestos that bewilder Scotland-yard and drive the Home Secretary almost crazy.
It is not an imposing edifice, the Hole-in-the-Wall. It is a small and particularly dingy public-house, with nothing to redeem it from absolute commonplace excepting a modest card in the window announcing that there was a “discussion "every Sunday and Thursday, admission free. It was plain from the outside where the discussion was held, for on the dingy blinds of the first floor were reflected several heads, three or four with hats on, and one adorned with a bonnet. I could of course form no idea of the face that was beneath the bonnet, but I must confess that my timid nature derived unspeakable comfort from the feminine reflection. Supposing that when I was in the midst of this band of desperate and daring men I were somehow betrayed and my true character revealed! The bare thought was enough to conjure to my mind a picture of what would instantly follow—the gleaming daggers, the heavy bolts on the doors shot in their sockets, the hasty book passed round and pressed to white lips, so that the oath, “Death to traitors !" might be renewed; the red cap plucked from the figure of Liberty, and thrust over my head, and pulled down over my eyes; and then the shriek of a woman, “Nay he shall not die! Doubtless he once had a mother-I am a mother-spare him!” Murmuring blessings on the bonnet, I pushed open the door, and, ordering a pint of stout and a screw of mild bird's-eye as I passed the bar, I made straight for the stairs before me and ascended.
Stern truth compels me to remark that my first impression on gazing around was, that the British Crown and Constitution are in no immediate peril, if the Opposition at the Hole-in-the-Wall are their most formidable enemies.
It was not an “off night” by any means. A Republican leader of eminence was on his legs even as I entered, and the business in hand was considered suffciently attractive to induce at least a hundred and fifty decently dressed persons to brave the inclement weather and come and assist at it. The room or rather rooms, for there are two knocked into one—are so small that the place was crowded, and at least twenty blocked the landing outside, on the hard chance of squeezing in presently. By means of a wink on my part of the recognised value of twopence at least, the waiter got me in under false pretences, and elbowed a way for me right up to the fire-place, and stood my stout on the mantleshelf.
From this point I had an excellent view of the room. There could be no doubt as to the place being the headquarters of at least this branch of the Republican League, for there in a stack at one end of the room were the big and little banners that are unfurled only on special occasions. At either end of the rooms too there was a raised platform, somewhat larger than the top of an ordinary chest of drawers, with a raised seat, and an awning of dingy old chintz. The walls and ceiling are cracked and weather-stained, and there are a few coloured prints and pictures on the walls, the latter