« PreviousContinue »
"You're sure to catch him just as he passes the door. Does he carry his name written on his back, or how are you to find him out ?”
“ Dads! that's what I never thought on. Who knows anything about the rascal's looks ?"
But, as the prints of the murderer, now so common, had not then made their way in the country, the amateur constables of the Coach and Horses were nonplussed as to the method of recognising him, even if he came among them; and, as a last hope, they resolved to apply for information to the gentleman up-stairs, whose toilet, they supposed, was by this time nearly concluded.
While they are waiting with this intent, we may as well take the opportunity of informing the reader by what means Harry Neville, Esquire, of the Inner Temple, found himself in the situation we have described.
The prettiest girl in Bath, all last winter, was Fanny Dingle. Her smiles were fascinating, and her performance in the gallopade and mazourka the admiration of the whole room. Her charms, great as they were, received a considerable augmentation in the eyes of the judicious when it was ascertained that she had thirty thousand pounds at her own disposal, besides great expectations from her father. That worshipful gentleman was certainly the most tiresome and pompous old noodle that ever set the table in a snore; but what will not the possession of a beautiful daughter produce? There was not a man within twenty miles whose dinners were more admired or conversation more attentively listened to by gay and merry-hearted young men. What an air of deference and respect he was saluted with in the street ! How his opinions were yielded to and his advice asked on the most trifling occasions! One would have fancied he was the wisest man in the world; and, in fact, if this was not the general belief, it was, at all events, the one which he himself most conscientiously maintained. He fancied, poor man! that his word was law because he had the wisdom of Solomon, whereas it was only because Fanny was as lovely as a Houri and had thirty thousand pounds.
It almost seemed, however, as if old Dingle perceived in some sort the source of his importance; for as to allowing any human being to carry off Miss Dingle, of Dingleton Hall, he would as soon have thought of allowing any one to cut off his right hand. And the instant, accordingly, that any insinuating youth seemed to be too particular in his attentions, the doors of Mr. Dingle were hermetically sealed against him. Among others, Harry Neville had seen, and, of course, fallen in love with the beautiful Fanny. After a few weeks' acquaintance the grey eyes of the father opened to a preternatural width with surprise at the effrontery of such an assault as he was manifestly making on the heart of his daughter, and the sentence of exclusion was passed. But, luckily for Harry, he had managed to secure a strong party on his side in the citadel itself, and though he was now banished from the drawingroom in the Crescent, it was impossible for even the power of Mr. Dingle to get him expelled from the city, or prevent him from writing notes, or hinder him from giving them to Jane the abigail of the lovely Fanny, or render it impossible to receive answers by the same channel. All this was beyond his power; but with a blindness very common on those occasions, the old gentleman thought he had prevented all danger,
since he had shut his own eyes to it, and after the steed was stolen, was particularly careful in double-barring the door.
“ Fanny Dingle," he said ; " remember, Madam, whose daughter you are, and behave yourself accordingly. I can't see anything in that young man, Neville; and sooner than marry him I would
“ You, papa ?”
“ If I were a woman, I mean. You are now nineteen years old, and have too much sense to disobey my commands. I flatter myself my opinions are of some weight, or í must have made a poor use of my time as chairman of quarter-sessions."
Fanny could not exactly see what connexion there could be between a chairmanship of the quarter-sessions and her liking Harry Neville, but she made no reply.
“ That's right, child; never answer me, but obey without a murmur. Come, you don't care for this young fellow ?”
“ Why-no;—that is, how should I know, papa?”
“ Answer me plainly, Miss Dingle ; if I were on the bench I can inform you, Madam, you should be differently questioned. But, after all, 'tis quite impossible you should care for him, for, upon my honour, I don't care for him at all; and I flatter myself my judgment is worth something, or I have not had much benefit from twenty-five years' practice as an active county magistrate. You are not to think of this Neville any more ; be obedient; remember you are my daughter, and forget him!” “ He has not been here for a whole week,” said Miss Dingle.
No, nor ever shall be here again. In another week you will scarcely remember his name; if you do, you must prepare to go into Wiltshire. Your aunt Miss Dorothea Dingle will be happy to receive you at Dewlap Cottage ; and you shall rejoin me at Dingleton early in the spring.”
“ Wiltshire! Aunt Dorothy! Oh, papa, you won't send me to that low, dull, horrid quagmire of a place !"
“ I've stated my intentions to you, Miss Dingle ; and if you do not assure me solemnly by this day week that you have forgotten the very name of this Mr. Neville, I will make out your mittimus without fail. I flatter myself my firmness is not the least of my good qualities, or I must have derived little advantage from my experience as a justice of peace.”
When the week passed away the question was asked, have you or have you not forgotten the existence of Mr. Neville ? But as poor Fanny had a letter from him at that very moment in the left-hand drawer of her work-table, to which she had nearly finished an answer, she could not declare that she had arrived at such a pitch of forgetfulness ; but had to confess that she recollected him very well. Whether a little piece of information contained in Harry's letter had any influence in producing this tenacity of memory we cannot pretend to decide ; all we can do is to lay the information before our readers, and let them judge for themselves. After a few flourishes, which we believe are always indispensable on such occasions, the letter stated that Harry was well acquainted with the neighbourhood of Dewlap Cottage ; and that he had a most pressing invitation to spend a month with an old college friend, the rector of a parish about fifteen miles to the south of it. Then followed a few hints about the possibility of a good horse
trotting that distance in an hour, and a little more about rapture and gratitude, which is not material to the story. Old Dingle was as positive as the old blockheads who indited the laws of the Medes and Persians; and one hour after the confession of Fanny's continued reminiscence, that young lady was rolling along the Salisbury road in the travelling carriage, and accompanied by nobody but the faithful Jane. This was at the end of February; snow was on the ground, and the “ lake of the dismal swamp” would have seemed a paradise upon earth compared to the cold, dull, ivy-covered cottage inhabited by her father's sister. Even without the latter incumbrance it would have been wretched enough, but with such a female dragon for her sole companion, the prospect was miserable beyond description. There was but one alleviation to the misery of the prospect, and that was the recollection that Harry Neville's horse could trot fifteen miles in an hour.
“ What a useful animal a horse is !” she sighed, and threw herself into the corner of the carriage and sank into a fit of musing that lasted many miles. But useful as horse might be, Harry very soon persuaded her that a couple of them with a neat post-chaise at their heels would be more useful still. When he had succeeded in establishing this fact theoretically, it did not require much time to convince her of the propriety of having a practical proof of it. And accordingly on certain day, at about eight o'clock in the evening, it was resolved to have a chaise stationed at the end of aunt Dorothy's lane, so as to convey the lovers to the house of a relation of Mr. Neville, a widow lady, in the neighbourhood of Salisbury, under whose protection Miss Dingle was to remain that night, and the knot to be tied by the rector of next morning. But alas! alas! in affairs of the heart it would almost seem as if the better a plan was laid, the more certain it was to fail. Harry Neville at the appointed hour was sitting in melancholy mood, and perishing with cold, in the wretched chaise at the corner of the lane; the rain was pouring as if it were the first time it had ever had a holiday before; mingled with the rain occasionally fell a sharp shower of hail, and the wind in the intervals howled in the most dismal manner imaginable. “Poor Fanny!" sighed the lover; “ 'tis impossible she should venture out in a storm like this. Why the deuce should not I drive boldly up to the door, murder the plethoric footman, assassinate the lame gardener, and carry off my angel after tying aunt Dorothy to the sideboard ?”
While immersed in these plans and cogitations, steps became distinctly audible along the garden walk : the door was opened, but as it was pitch dark, and the noise still at a few yards' distance, Harry could see nothing. He stepped out of the chaise, and, going up to the door of the garden, whispered—“ Hush, hush! this way, my angel!" He heard no answer, and spread out his arms; “ give me your hand, my darling! The chaise is all ready."
“ Catch him !" cried a voice of thunder, which Harry recognised in a moment for that of old Dingle. “I know him; 'tis that atrocious housebreaker, Mr. Neville; and Miss Dingle is a particeps criminis—lay hold of him. I will make him pay for this audacious attempt, or all my knowledge of the law of abduction goes for nothing !"
More steps were now heard rushing forward, and Harry felt a hand laid on his shoulder. This is the most appalling of all sensations to a young Templar on bad terms with his tailor; and, in the horror of the moment, the fingers of Mr. Henry Neville formed themselves into a round mass as hard as a cricket-ball, and projected themselves almost involuntarily with the force of a battering-ram into the countenance of the assailant, who professed his gratification at the compliment by a deep grunt and a heavy “ squelch” on the wet ground, that sounded like the fall of a sack of peas. In another instant two similar sounds showed the undiminished activity of the aforesaid cricket-ball; and being now satisfied with the execution he had done, the performer of these exploits hurried forward to the chaise, to make the best of his way out of the scrape he felt he had got into. But his sensations were by no means agreeable when he discovered that his last hope had got into the hands of the Philistines, and that the postilion was iu custody. A rescue he perceived was hopeless, and he considered that his best plan would be to cut across the plain into the great Bath and London road, and avail himself of the first coach to proceed to the house of his friend and explain to her the cause of his disappointment. Tired, miserable, and wet to the skin, he pursued his way amid the torrents of rain across the “starless wold," and at last, after many wanderings, found his way, as we have already related, to the Coach and Horses, where we left him profiting by the cares of the good Master Mitchell.
“But here comes the gentleman himself,” said Hardiman, as Harry Neville walked into the room ; “ you can ask him all about it."
“ Let the gentleman eat and drink first,” interposed the landlord; "you can't expect him to tell you much when he is both dry and hungry."
“I hope, Sir," said old Morris, “ you'll take a share of my can, Sir, and give me a little information."
“ With all my heart,” said Harry; "only let me pay my respects to the eggs and bacon, and ask me what you like, I'll answer.”
While Morris was arranging how to shape his question so as to get the desired information without putting the stranger on the scent of such a lucrative game as would be the apprehension of the murderer, Mr. Neville played a remarkably good knife and fork, and showed a vehement desire to see the bottom of the huge tankard that showed its pyramid of foam at his right hand.
“ You've heard, I dare say, Sir,” said Morris, at length,“ of one Greenacre ?"
“ The murderer ? Oh yes, I saw him in court.” “ Were you near him, Sir?” “ As close as I am to you." “ Indeed! Well, now, that's delightful! Was he a pleasant-looking
“ Pleasant? Why, he had not the most agreeable prospect before him certainly; but I should say he was a sort of a
“ Coach is up at last,” interrupted Hardiman; “ I hear it coming along the long bollow."
“ It can't be the coach yet,” said Mr. Mitchell; it won't be up for an hour. 'Tis a post-chaise; I hear only two horses.”
“ By the bye," inquired Harry Neville, “would a carriage from Marnell Down pass this way on its road to Bath ?”
“ Surely, Sir; it could not get to Bath in any other way. What a night to travel in!”
“ I'll bet any man a pot of Mitchell's best," said Hardiman, " that the postilion won't pass this door without making his inside as wet as his out."
“ If he does he'll be the only one of his trade that has done such a thing since malt was invented,” replied Mr. Mitchell, with the satisfied air of a man who is conscious of the reputation of his ale.
Further conversation, however, was now put to an end, by the pulling up of the chaise at the door; and, in a moment afterwards, by the entrance of the post-boy.
“ A pot o' beer, if you please; and let John Ostler give my horses a pail. Lord, Sir!” he cried, fixing his eyes on Harry Neville; "who'd have expected to see you here! Lord! sich a flare-up!"
“ Hush, my good fellow," said Harry, motioning him to be silent, and going up to him at the other end of the room.
“ How did you “ With a kick or two, your honour. I hope you'll consider them.”
Ay, but the lady ? did you see anything of her ?”
The postilion made no answer to this, but pointed his thumb over his shoulder, with a knowing look to the door. “ What !—there!-she there! What do you mean?”
Why, what I tell you ; there she is sure enough, and the old gentleman with her, with his eye wrapt up in cloths steeped in vinegar, and a huge patch over his nose to keep one-half from parting company with the other.”
“ How strange! My good fellow, the five guineas I promised you shall be ten, if you will manage to upset the chaise so as to break the old fellow's neck."
" And the lady, Sir ?”
“ Ah! that's the devil! No, no, you must do nothing to put her into the slightest danger. What's to be done ? Manage to delay here half an hour, and you
to-morrow." “The ten, Sir?-Oh, then, as to that, Brown Moll can cast her shoe; or Bob the Tinker take the staggers---which you please, Sir.”
“ Do as you like, only don't move for half an hour.”
After this colloquy Harry resumed his seat, and Master Morris pursued his examination. Time, however, passed on, and the occupant of the chaise became impatient, and kept calling out continually for the postilion to make haste. That worthy, however, took no notice of his summons, and enjoyed himself very leisurely over his pipe. “ And
you saw him face to face, Sir,” continued Morris" a whole day in court. You're a counsellor, perhaps, Sir?”
Harry bowed his acquiescence-not yet perceiving what the old man was driving at.
“ Would you just describe him to us, Sir ? for you must know some people says
he has escaped, and that there's a reward for his apprehension ?''
“Escaped ! indeed!” said Harry, thoughtfully: "and the reward, gentlemen ?- what is the reward?"
“ Five hundred pounds,” said Hardiman; " and old Morris here has thought of nothing else than how to get a hold of him.”
“Oh, then, I can have no hesitation in describing him to you. In the