Hugh Badger was a man of great personal strength—square-set, bandy-legged, with a prodigious width of chest, and a frame like a Hercules, and, energetic as was Luke's assault, he maintained his ground without flinching. The struggle was desperate. Luke was of slighter proportion, though exceeding the keeper in stature by the head and shoulders. This superiority availed him little. It was rather a disadvantage in the conflict that ensued. The gripe fastened upon Hugh's throat was like that of a clenched vice. But Luke might as well have grappled the neck of a bull, as that of the stalwart keeper. Defending himself with his hobnail boots, with which he inflicted several severe blows upon Luke's shins, and struggling vehemently, Hugh succeeded in extricating himself from his throttling grasp; he then closed with his foe, and they were locked together, like a couple of bears at play. Straining, tugging, and practising every sleight and stratagem coming within the scope of feet, knees, and thighs—now tripping, now jerking, now advancing, now retreating, they continued the strife, but all with doubtful result. Victory, at length, seemed to declare itself in favor of the sturdy keeper. Aware of his opponent's strength, it was Luke's chief endeavor to keep his lower limbs disengaged, and to trust more to skill than force for ultimate success. To prevent this was Hugh's grand object. Guarding himself against every feint, he ultimately succeeded in firmly grappling his agile assailant. Luke's spine was almost broken by the shock, when he suddenly gave way; and, without losing his balance, drew his adversary forward, kicking his right leg from under him. With a crash like that of an uprooted oak, Hugh fell, with his foe upon him, into the bed of the rivulet.
Not a word had been spoken during the conflict. A convulsive groan burst from Hugh's hardy breast. His hand sought his girdle, but in vain; his knife was gone. Gazing upwards, his dancing vision encountered the glimmer of the blade. The weapon had dropped from its case in the fall. Luke brandished it before his eyes.
"Villain!" gasped Hugh, ineffectually struggling to free himself, "you will not murder me?" And his efforts to release himself became desperate.
"No," answered Luke, flinging the uplifted knife into the brook. "I will not do that, though thou hast twice aimed at my life to-night. But I will silence thee, at all events." Saying which, he dealt the keeper a blow on the head that terminated all further resistance on his part.
Leaving the inert mass to choke up the current, with whose waters the blood, oozing from the wound, began to commingle, Luke prepared to depart. His perils were not yet past. Guided by the firing, the report of which alarmed them, the keeper's assistants hastened in the direction of the sound, presenting themselves directly in the path Luke was about to take. He had either to retrace his steps, or face a double enemy. His election was made at once. He turned and fled.
For an instant the men tarried with their bleeding companion. They then dragged him from the brook, and with loud oaths followed in pursuit.
Threading, for a second time, the bosky labyrinth, Luke sought the source of the stream. This was precisely the course his enemies would have desired him to pursue; and when they beheld him take it, they felt confident of his capture.
The sides of the hollow became more and more abrupt as they advanced, though they were less covered with brushwood. The fugitive made no attempt to climb the bank, but still pressed forward. The road was tortuous, and wound round a jutting point of rock. Now he was a fair mark—no, he had swept swiftly by, and was out of sight before a gun could be raised. They reached the same point. He was still before them, but his race was nearly run. Steep, slippery rocks, shelving down to the edges of a small, deep pool of water, the source of the stream, formed an apparently insurmountable barrier in that direction. Rooted—Heaven knows how!—in some reft or fissure of the rock, grew a wild ash, throwing out a few boughs over the solitary pool; this was all the support Luke could hope for, should he attempt to scale the rock. The rock was sheer—the pool deep—yet still he hurried on. He reached the muddy embankment; mounted its sides; and seemed to hesitate. The keepers were now within a hundred yards of him. Both guns were discharged. And, sudden as the reports, with a dead, splashless plunge, like a diving otter, the fugitive dropped into the water.
The pursuers were at the brink. They gazed at the pool. A few bubbles floated upon its surface, and burst. The water was slightly discolored with sand. No ruddier stain crimsoned the tide; no figure rested on the naked rock; no hand clung to the motionless tree.
"Devil take the rascal!" growled one; "I hope he harn't escaped us, arter all."
"Noa, noa, he be fast enough, never fear," rejoined the other; "sticking like a snig at the bottom o' the pond; and, dang him! he deserves it, for he's slipped out of our fingers like a snig often enough to-night. But come, let's be stumping, and give poor Hugh Badger a helping hand."
Whereupon they returned to the assistance of the wounded and discomfited keeper.
I am right against my house—seat of my ancestors.
Rookwood Place was a fine, old, irregular pile, of considerable size, presenting a rich, picturesque outline, with its innumerable gable-ends, its fantastical coigns, and tall crest of twisted chimneys. There was no uniformity of style about the building, yet the general effect was pleasing and beautiful. Its very irregularity constituted a charm. Nothing except convenience had been consulted in its construction: additions had from time to time been made to it, but everything dropped into its proper place, and, without apparent effort or design, grew into an ornament, and heightened the beauty of the whole. It was, in short, one of those glorious manorial houses that sometimes unexpectedly greet us in our wanderings, and gladden us like the discovery of a hidden treasure. Some such ancestral hall we have occasionally encountered, in unlooked-for quarters, in our native county of Lancaster, or in its smiling sister shire; and never without feelings of intense delight, rejoicing to behold the freshness of its antiquity, and the greenness of its old age. For, be it observed in passing, a Cheshire or Lancashire hall, time-honored though it be, with its often renovated black and white squares, fancifully filled up with trefoils and quatrefoils, rosettes, and other figures, seems to bear its years so lightly, that its age, so far from detracting from its beauty, only lends it a grace; and the same mansion, to all outward appearance, fresh and perfect as it existed in the days of good Queen Bess, may be seen in admirable preservation in the days of the youthful Victoria. Such is Bramall—such Moreton, and many another we might instance; the former of these houses may, perhaps, be instanced as the best specimen of its class,—and its class in our opinion, is the best—to be met with in Cheshire, considered with reference either to the finished decoration of its exterior, rich in the chequered coloring we have alluded to, preserved with a care and neatness almost Dutch, or to the consistent taste exhibited by its possessor to the restoration and maintenance of all its original and truly national beauty within doors. As an illustration of old English hospitality—that real, hearty hospitality for which the squirearchy of this country was once so famous—Ah! why have they bartered it for other customs less substantially English?—it may be mentioned, that a road conducted the passenger directly through the great hall of this house, literally "of entertainment," where, if he listed, strong ale, and other refreshments, awaited his acceptance and courted his stay. Well might old King, the Cheshire historian, in the pride of his honest heart, exclaim, "I know divers men, who are but farmers, that in their housekeeping may compare with a lord or baron, in some countries beyond the seas;—yea, although I named a higher degree, I were able to justify it." We have no such "golden farmers" in these degenerate days!
The mansion, was originally built by Sir Ranulph de Rookwood—or, as it was then written, Rokewode—the first of the name, a stout Yorkist, who flourished in the reign of Edward IV., and received the fair domain and broad lands upon which the edifice was raised, from his sovereign, in reward for good service; retiring thither in the decline of life, at the close of the Wars of the Roses, to sequestrate himself from scenes of strife, and to consult his spiritual weal in the erection and endowment of the neighboring church. It was of mixed architecture, and combined the peculiarities of each successive era. Retaining some of the sterner features of earlier days, the period ere yet the embattled manor-house peculiar to the reigns of the later Henrys had been merged into the graceful and peaceable hall, the residence of the Rookwoods had early anticipated the gentler characteristics of a later day, though it could boast little of that exuberance of external ornament, luxuriance of design, and prodigality of beauty, which, under the sway of the Virgin Queen, distinguished the residence of the wealthier English landowner; and rendered the hall of Elizabeth, properly so called, the pride and boast of our domestic architecture.
The site selected by Sir Ranulph for his habitation had been already occupied by a vast fabric of oak, which he in part removed, though some vestiges might still be traced of that ancient pile. A massive edifice succeeded, with gate and tower, court and moat complete; substantial enough, one would have thought, to have endured for centuries. But even this ponderous structure grew into disuse, and Sir Ranulph's successors, remodelling, repairing, almost rebuilding the whole mansion, in the end so metamorphosed its aspect, that at last little of its original and distinctive character remained. Still, as we said before, it was a fine old house, though some changes had taken place for the worse, which could not be readily pardoned by the eye of taste: as, for instance, the deep embayed windows had dwindled into modernized casements, of lighter construction; the wide porch, with its flight of steps leading to the great hall of entrance, had yielded to a narrow door; and the broad quadrangular court was succeeded by a gravel drive. Yet, despite all these changes, the house of the Rookwoods, for an old house—and, after all, what is like an old house?—was no undesirable or uncongenial abode for any worshipful country gentleman "who had a great estate."
The hall was situated near the base of a gently declining hill, terminating a noble avenue of limes, and partially embosomed in an immemorial wood of the same timber, which had given its name to the family that dwelt amongst its rook-haunted shades. Descending the avenue, at the point of access afforded by a road that wound down the hill-side, towards a village distant about half a mile, as you advanced, the eye was first arrested by a singular octagonal turret of brick, of more recent construction than the house; and in all probability occupying the place where the gateway stood of yore. This tower rose to a height corresponding with the roof of the mansion; and was embellished on the side facing the house with a flamingly gilt dial, peering, like an impudent observer, at all that passed within doors. Two apartments, which it contained, were appropriated to the house-porter. Despoiled of its martial honors, the gateway still displayed the achievements of the family—the rook and the fatal branch—carved in granite, which had resisted the storms of two centuries, though stained green with moss, and mapped over with lichens. To the left, overgrown with ivy, and peeping from out a tuft of trees, appeared the hoary summit of a dovecot, indicating the near neighborhood of an ancient barn, contemporary with the earliest dwelling-house, and of a little world of offices and outbuildings buried in the thickness of the foliage. To the right was the garden—the pleasaunce of the place—formal, precise, old-fashioned, artificial, yet exquisite!—for commend us to the bygone, beautiful English garden—really a garden—not that mixture of park, meadow, and wilderness, brought up to one's very windows—which, since the days of the innovators, Kent, and his "bold associates," Capability Brown and Co., has obtained so largely—this was a garden! There might be seen the stately terraces, such as Watteau, and our own Wilson, in his earlier works, painted—the trim alleys exhibiting all the triumphs of topiarian art—
The sidelong walls Of shaven yew; the holly's prickly arms, Trimm'd into high arcades; the tonsile box, Wove in mosaic mode of many a curl, Around the figured carpet of the lawn;
the gayest of parterres and greenest of lawns, with its admonitory sun-dial, its marble basin in the centre, its fountain, and conched water-god; the quaint summer-house, surmounted with its gilt vane; the statue, glimmering from out its covert of leaves; the cool cascade, the urns, the bowers, and a hundred luxuries besides, suggested and contrived by Art to render Nature most enjoyable, and to enhance the recreative delights of home-out-of-doors—for such a garden should be—, with least sacrifice of indoor comfort and convenience.
When Epicurus to the world had taught, That pleasure was the chiefest good; —And was perhaps i' th' right, if rightly understood, His life he to his doctrine brought— And in his garden's shade that sovereign pleasure sought.
All these delights might once have been enjoyed. But at the time of which we write, this fair garden was for the most part a waste. Ill-kept, and unregarded, the gay parterres were disfigured with weeds; grass grew on the gravel walk; several of the urns were overthrown; the hour upon the dial was untold; the fountain was choked up, and the smooth-shaven lawn only rescued, it would seem, from the general fate, that it might answer the purpose of a bowling-green, as the implements of that game, scattered about, plainly testified.
Diverging from the garden to the house, we have before remarked that the more ancient and characteristic features of the place had been, for the most part, destroyed; less by the hand of time than to suit the tastes of different proprietors. This, however, was not so observable in the eastern wing, which overlooked the garden. Here might be discerned many indications of its antiquity. The strength and solidity of the walls, which had not been, as elsewhere, masked with brickwork; the low, Tudor arches; the mullioned bars of the windows—all attested its age. This wing was occupied by an upper and lower gallery, communicating with suites of chambers, for the most part deserted, excepting one or two, which were used as dormitories; and another little room on the ground-floor, with an oriel window opening upon the lawn, and commanding the prospect beyond—a favorite resort of the late Sir Piers. The interior was curious for his honeycomb ceiling, deeply moulded in plaster, with the arms and alliances of the Rookwoods. In the centre was the royal blazon of Elizabeth, who had once honored the hall with a visit during a progress, and whose cipher E. R. was also displayed upon the immense plate of iron which formed the fire-grate.
To return, for a moment, to the garden, which we linger about as a bee around a flower. Below the lawn there was another terrace, edged by a low balustrade of stone, commanding a lovely view of park, water, and woodland. High hanging-woods waved in the foreground, and an extensive sweep of flat champaign country stretched out to meet a line of blue, hazy hills bounding the distant horizon.
SIR REGINALD ROOKWOOD
A king who changed his wives as easily as a woman changes her dress. He threw aside the first, cut off the second's head, the third he disemboweled: as for the fourth, he pardoned her, and simply turned her out of doors, but to make matters even, cut off the head of number five.—VICTOR HUGO: Marie Tudor.
From the house to its inhabitants the transition is natural. Besides the connexion between them, there were many points of resemblance; many family features in common; there was the same melancholy grandeur, the same character of romance, the same fantastical display. Nor were the secret passages, peculiar to the one, wanting to the history of the other. Both had their mysteries. One blot there was in the otherwise proud escutcheon of the Rookwoods, that dimmed its splendor, and made pale its pretensions: their sun was eclipsed in blood from its rising to its meridian; and so it seemed would be its setting. This foul reproach attached to all the race; none escaped it. Traditional rumors were handed down from father to son, throughout the county, and, like all other rumors, had taken to themselves wings, and flown abroad; their crimes became a by-word. How was it they escaped punishment? How came they to evade the hand of justice? Proof was ever wanting; justice was ever baffled. They were a stern and stiff-necked people, of indomitable pride and resolution, with, for the most part, force of character sufficient to enable them to breast difficulties and dangers that would have overwhelmed ordinary individuals. No quality is so advantageous to its possessor as firmness; and the determined energy of the Rookwoods bore them harmless through a sea of trouble. Besides, they were wealthy; lavish even to profusion; and gold will do much, if skilfully administered. Yet, despite all this, a dark, ominous cloud settled over their house, and men wondered when the vengeance of Heaven, so long delayed, would fall and consume it.
Possessed of considerable landed property, once extending over nearly half the West Riding of Yorkshire, the family increased in power and importance for an uninterrupted series of years, until the outbreak of that intestine discord which ended in the civil wars, when the espousal of the royalist party, with sword and substance, by Sir Ralph Rookwood, the then lord of the mansion—a dissolute, depraved personage, who, however, had been made a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Charles I.—, ended in his own destruction at Naseby, and the wreck of much of his property; a loss which the gratitude of Charles II., on his restoration, did not fail to make good to Sir Ralph's youthful heir, Reginald.
Sir Ralph Rookwood left two sons, Reginald and Alan. The fate of the latter was buried in obscurity. It was even a mystery to his family. He was, it was said, a youth of much promise, and of gentle manners; who, having made an imprudent match, from jealousy, or some other motive, deserted his wife, and fled his country. Various reasons were assigned for his conduct. Amongst others, it was stated that the object of Alan's jealous suspicions was his elder brother, Reginald; and that it was the discovery of his wife's infidelity in this quarter which occasioned his sudden disappearance with his infant daughter. Some said he died abroad. Others, that he had appeared again for a brief space at the hall. But all now concurred in a belief of his decease. Of his child nothing was known. His inconstant wife, after enduring for some years the agonies of remorse, abandoned by Sir Reginald, and neglected by her own relatives, put an end to her existence by poison. This is all that could be gathered of the story, or the misfortunes of Alan Rookwood.
The young Sir Reginald had attended Charles, in the character of page, during his exile; and if he could not requite the devotion of the son, by absolutely reinstating the fallen fortunes of the father, the monarch could at least accord him the fostering influence of his favor and countenance; and bestow upon him certain lucrative situations in his household, as an earnest of his good-will. And thus much he did. Remarkable for his personal attractions in youth, it is not to be wondered at that we should find the name of Reginald Rookwood recorded in the scandalous chronicles of the day, as belonging to a cavalier of infinite address and discretion, matchless wit, and marvellous pleasantry; and eminent beyond his peers for his successes with some of the most distinguished beauties who ornamented that brilliant and voluptuous court.
A career of elegant dissipation ended in matrimony. His first match was unpropitious. Foiled in his attempts upon the chastity of a lady of great beauty and high honor, he was rash enough to marry her; rash, we say, for from that fatal hour all became as darkness; the curtain fell upon the comedy of his life, to rise to tragic horrors. When, passion subsided, repentance awoke, and he became anxious for deliverance from the fetters he had so heedlessly imposed on himself, and on his unfortunate dame.
The hapless lady of Sir Reginald was a fair and fragile creature, floating on the eddying current of existence, and hurried in destruction as the summer gossamer is swept away by the rude breeze, and lost forever. So beautiful, so gentle was she, that if,
Sorrow had not made Sorrow more beautiful than Beauty's self,
it would have been difficult to say whether the charm of softness and sweetness was more to be admired than her faultless personal attractions. But when a tinge of melancholy came, saddening and shading the once smooth and smiling brow; when tears dimmed the blue beauty of those deep and tender eyes; when hot, hectic flushes supplied the place of healthful bloom, and despair took possession of her heart, then was it seen what was the charm of Lady Rookwood, if charm that could be called which was a saddening sight to see, and melted the beholder's soul within him. All acknowledged, that exquisite as she had been before, the sad, sweet lady was now more exquisite still.
Seven moons had waned and flown—seven bitter, tearful moons—and each day Lady Rookwood's situation claimed more soothing attention at the hand of her lord. About this time his wife's brother, whom he hated, returned from the Dutch wars. Struck with his sister's altered appearance, he readily divined the cause; indeed, all tongues were eager to proclaim it to him. Passionately attached to her, Lionel Vavasour implored an explanation of the cause of his sister's griefs. The bewildered lady answered evasively, attributing her woe-begone looks to any other cause than her husband's cruelty; and pressing her brother, as he valued her peace, her affection, never to allude to the subject again. The fiery youth departed. He next sought out his brother-in-law, and taxed him sharply with his inhumanity, adding threats to his upbraidings. Sir Reginald listened silently and calmly. When the other had finished, with a sarcastic obeisance, he replied: "Sir, I am much beholden for the trouble you have taken in your sister's behalf. But when she entrusted herself to my keeping, she relinquished, I conceive, all claim on your guardianship: however, I thank you for the trouble you have taken; but, for your own sake, I would venture to caution you against a repetition of interference like the present."
"And I, sir, caution you. See that you give heed to my words, or, by the heaven above us! I will enforce attention to them."
"You will find me, sir, as prompt at all times to defend my conduct, as I am unalterable in my purposes. Your sister is my wife. What more would you have? Were she a harlot, you should have her back and welcome. The tool is virtuous. Devise some scheme, and take her with you hence—so you rid me of her I am content."
"Rookwood, you are a villain." And Vavasour spat upon his brother's cheek.
Sir Reginald's eyes blazed. His sword started from its scabbard. "Defend yourself!" he exclaimed, furiously attacking Vavasour. Pass after pass was exchanged. Fierce thrusts were made and parried. Feint and appeal, the most desperate and dexterous, were resorted to. Their swords glanced like lightning flashes. In the struggle, the blades became entangled. There was a moment's cessation. Each glanced at the other with deadly, inextinguishable hate. Both were admirable masters of the art of defence. Both were so brimful of wrath as to be regardless of consequences. They tore back their weapons. Vavasour's blade shivered. He was at the mercy of his adversary—an adversary who knew no mercy. Sir Reginald passed his rapier through his brother's body. The hilt struck against his ribs.
Sir Reginald's ire was kindled, not extinguished, by the deed he had done. Like the tiger, he had tasted blood—like the tiger, he thirsted for more. He sought his home. He was greeted by his wife. Terrified by his looks, she yet summoned courage sufficient to approach him. She embraced his arm—she clasped his hand. Sir Reginald smiled. His smile was cutting as his dagger's edge.
"What ails you, sweetheart?" said he.
"I know not; your smile frightens me."
"My smile frightens you—fool! be thankful that I frown not."
"Oh! do not frown. Be gentle, my Reginald, as you were when first I knew you. Smile not so coldly, but as you did then, that I may, for one instant, dream you love me."
"Silly wench! There—I do smile."
"That smile freezes me. Oh, Reginald, could you but know what I have endured this morning, on your account. My brother Lionel has been here."
"Nay, look not so. He insisted on knowing the reason of my altered appearance."
"And no doubt you made him acquainted with the cause. You told him your version of the story."
"Not a word, as I hope to live."
"By my truth, no."
"A lie, I say. He avouched it to me himself."
"Impossible! He could not—would not disobey me."
Sir Reginald laughed bitterly.
"He would not, I am sure, give utterance to any scandal," continued Lady Rookwood. "You say this but to try me, do you not?—ha! what is this? Your hand is bloody. You have not harmed him? Whose blood is this?"
"Your brother spat upon my check. I have washed out the stain," replied Sir Reginald, coldly.
"Then it is his blood!" shrieked Lady Rookwood, pressing her hand shuddering before her eyes. "Is he dead?"
Sir Reginald turned away.
"Stay," she cried, exerting her feeble strength to retain him, and becoming white as ashes, "abide and hear me. You have killed me, I feel, by your cruelty. I am sinking fast—dying. I, who loved you, only you; yes, one besides—my brother, and you have slain him. Your hands are dripping in his blood, and I have kissed them—have clasped them! And now," continued she, with an energy that shook Sir Reginald, "I hate you—I renounce you—forever! May my dying words ring in your ears on your death-bed, for that hour will come. You cannot shun that. Then think of him! think of me!"
"Away!" interrupted Sir Reginald, endeavoring to shake her off.
"I will not away! I will cling to you—will curse you. My unborn child shall live to curse you—to requite you—to visit my wrongs on you and yours. Weak as I am, you shall not cast me off. You shall learn to fear even me."
"I fear nothing living, much less a frantic woman."
"Fear the dead, then."
There was a struggle—a blow—and the wretched lady sank, shrieking, upon the floor. Convulsions seized her. A mother's pains succeeded fierce and fast. She spoke no more, but died within the hour, giving birth to a female child.
Eleanor Rookwood became her father's idol—her father's bane. All the love he had to bestow was centred in her. She returned it not. She fled from his caresses. With all her mother's beauty, she had all her father's pride. Sir Reginald's every thought was for his daughter—for her aggrandizement. In vain. She seemed only to endure him, and while his affection waxed stronger, and entwined itself round her alone, she withered beneath his embraces as the shrub withers in the clasping folds of the parasite plant.
She grew towards womanhood. Suitors thronged around her—gentle and noble ones. Sir Reginald watched them with a jealous eye. He was wealthy, powerful, high in royal favor; and could make his own election. He did so. For the first time, Eleanor promised obedience to his wishes. They accorded with her own humor. The day was appointed. It came. But with it came not the bride. She had fled, with the humblest and the meanest of the pretenders to her hand—with one upon whom Sir Reginald supposed she had not deigned to cast her eyes. He endeavored to forget her, and, to all outward seeming, was successful in the effort. But he felt that the curse was upon him; the undying flame scorched his heart.
Once, and once only, they met again, in France, whither she had wandered. It was a dread encounter—terrible to both; but most so to Sir Reginald. He spoke not of her afterwards.
Shortly after the death of his first wife, Sir Reginald had made proposals to a dowager of distinction, with a handsome jointure, one of his early attachments, and was, without scruple, accepted. The power of the family might then be said to be at its zenith; and but for certain untoward circumstances, and the growing influence of his enemies, Sir Reginald would have been elevated to the peerage. Like most reformed spend-thrifts, he had become proportionately avaricious, and his mind seemed engrossed in accumulating wealth. In the meantime, his second wife followed her predecessor, dying, it was said, of vexation and disappointment.
The propensity to matrimony, always a distinguishing characteristic of the Rookwoods, largely displayed itself in Sir Reginald. Another dame followed—equally rich, younger, and far more beautiful than her immediate predecessor. She was a prodigious flirt, and soon set her husband at defiance. Sir Reginald did not condescend to expostulate. It was not his way. He effectually prevented any recurrence of her indiscretions. She was removed, and with her expired Sir Reginald's waning popularity. So strong was the expression of odium against him, that he thought it prudent to retire to his mansion, in the country, and there altogether seclude himself. One anomaly in Sir Reginald's otherwise utterly selfish character was uncompromising devotion to the house of Stuart; and shortly after the abdication of James II., he followed that monarch to Saint Germain, having previously mixed largely in secret political intrigues; and only returned from the French court to lay his bones with those of his ancestry, in the family vault at Rookwood.
SIR PIERS ROOKWOOD
My old master kept a good house, and twenty or thirty tall sword-and-buckler men about him; and in faith his son differs not much; he will have metal too; though he has no store of cutler's blades, he will have plenty of vintners' pots. His father kept a good house for honest men, his tenants that brought him in part; and his son keeps a bad house with knaves that help to consume all: 'tis but the change of time: why should any man repine at it? Crickets, good, loving, and lucky worms, were wont to feed, sing, and rejoice in the father's chimney; and now carrion crows build in the son's kitchen.
WILKINS: Miseries of Enforced Marriage.
Sir Reginald died, leaving issue three children: a daughter, the before-mentioned Eleanor—who, entirely discountenanced by the family, had been seemingly forgotten by all but her father—, and two sons by his third wife. Reginald, the eldest, whose military taste had early procured him the command of a company of horse, and whose politics did not coalesce with those of his sire, fell, during his father's lifetime, at Killiecrankie, under the banners of William. Piers, therefore, the second son, succeeded to the title.
A very different character, in many respects, from his father and brother, holding in supreme dislike courts and courtiers, party warfare, political intrigue, and all the subtleties of Jesuitical diplomacy, neither having any inordinate relish for camps or campaigns, Sir Piers Rookwood yet displayed in early life one family propensity, viz., unremitting devotion to the sex. Among his other mistresses was the unfortunate Susan Bradley, in whom by some he was supposed to have been clandestinely united. In early youth, as has been stated, Sir Piers professed the faith of Rome, but shortly after the death of his beautiful mistress—or wife, as it might be—, having quarreled with his father's confessor, Checkley, he publicly abjured his heresies. Sir Piers subsequently allied himself to Maud, only daughter of Sir Thomas D'Aubeny, the last of a line as proud and intolerant as his own. The tables were then turned. Lady Rookwood usurped sovereign sway over her lord and Sir Piers, a cipher in his own house, scarce master of himself, much less of his dame, endured an existence so miserable, that he was often heard to regret, in his cups, that he had not inherited, with the estate of his forefathers, the family secret of shaking off the matrimonial yoke, when found to press too hardly.
At the onset, Sir Piers struggled hard to burst his bondage. But in vain—he was fast fettered; and only bruised himself, like the caged lark, against the bars of his prison-house. Abandoning all further effort at emancipation, he gave himself up to the usual resource of a weak mind, debauchery; and drank so deeply to drown his cares, that, in the end, his hale constitution yielded to his excesses. It was even said, that remorse at his abandonment of the faith of his fathers had some share in his misery; and that his old spiritual, and if report spoke truly, sinful adviser, Father Checkley, had visited him secretly at the hall. Sir Piers was observed to shudder whenever the priest's name was mentioned.
Sir Piers Rookwood was a good-humored man in the main, had little of the old family leaven about him, and was esteemed by his associates. Of late, however, his temper became soured, and his friends deserted him; for, between his domestic annoyances, remorseful feelings, and the inroads already made upon his constitution by constant inebriety, he grew so desperate and insane in his revels, and committed such fearful extravagances, that even his boon companions shrank from his orgies. Fearful were the scenes between him and Lady Rookwood upon these occasions—appalling to the witnesses, dreadful to themselves. And it was, perhaps, their frequent recurrence, that, more than anything else, banished all decent society from the hall.
At the time of Sir Piers's decease, which brings us down to the date of our story, his son and successor, Ranulph, was absent on his travels. Shortly after the completion of his academical education, he had departed to make the tour of the Continent, and had been absent rather better than a year. He had quitted his father in displeasure, and was destined never again to see his face while living. The last intelligence received of young Rookwood was from Bordeaux, whence it was thought he had departed for the Pyrenees. A special messenger had been despatched in search of him, with tidings of the melancholy event. But, as it was deemed improbable by Lady Rookwood that her son could return within any reasonable space, she gave directions for the accomplishment of the funeral rites of her husband on the sixth night after his decease—it being the custom of the Rookwoods ever to inter their dead at midnight,—intrusting their solemnization entirely to the care of one of Sir Piers's hangers-on—Dr. Titus Tyrconnel,—for which she was greatly scandalized in the neighborhood.
Ranulph Rookwood was a youth of goodly promise. The stock from which he sprang would on neither side warrant such conclusion. But it sometimes happens that from the darkest elements are compounded the brightest and subtlest substances; and so it occurred in this instance. Fair, frank, and free—generous, open, unsuspicious—he seemed the very opposite of all his race—their antagonizing principle. Capriciously indulgent, his father had allowed him ample means, neither curbing nor restraining his expenditure; acceding at one moment to every inclination, and the next irresolutely opposing it. It was impossible, therefore, for him, in such a state of things, to act decidedly, without incurring his father's displeasure; and the only measure he resolved upon, which was to absent himself for a time, was conjectured to have brought about the result he had endeavored to avoid. Other reasons, however, there were, which secretly influenced him, which it will be our business in due time to detail.
Flam. How croaks the raven? Is our good Duchess dead?
The time of the sad ceremonial drew nigh. The hurrying of the domestics to and fro; the multifarious arrangements for the night; the distribution of the melancholy trappings, and the discussion of the "funeral-baked meats," furnished abundant occupation within doors. Without, there was a constant stream of the tenantry, thronging down the avenue, mixed with an occasional horseman, once or twice intercepted by a large lumbering carriage, bringing friends of the deceased, some really anxious to pay the last tribute of regard, but the majority attracted by the anticipated spectacle of a funeral by torchlight. There were others, indeed, to whom it was not matter of choice; who were compelled, by a vassal tenure of their lands, held of the house of Rookwood, to lend a shoulder to the coffin, and a hand to the torch, on the burial of its lord. Of these there was a plentiful muster collected in the hall; they were to be marshalled by Peter Bradley, who was deemed to be well skilled in the proceedings, having been present at two solemnities of the kind. That mysterious personage, however, had not made his appearance—to the great dismay of the assemblage. Scouts were sent in search of him, but they returned with the intelligence that the door of his habitation was fastened, and its inmate apparently absent. No other tidings of the truant sexton could be obtained.
It was a sultry August evening. No breeze was stirring in the garden; no cool dews refreshed the parched and heated earth; yet from the languishing flowers rich sweets exhaled. The plash of a fountain fell pleasantly upon the ear, conveying in its sound a sense of freshness to the fervid air; while deep and drowsy murmurs hummed heavily beneath the trees, making the twilight slumberously musical. The westering sun, which filled the atmosphere with flame throughout the day, was now wildly setting; and, as he sank behind the hall, its varied and picturesque tracery became each instant more darkly and distinctly defined against the crimson sky.
At this juncture a little gate, communicating with the chase, was thrown open, and a young man entered the garden, passing through the shrubbery, and hurrying rapidly forward till he arrived at a vista opening upon the house. The spot at which the stranger halted was marked by a little basin, scantily supplied with water, streaming from a lion's kingly jaws. His dress was travel-soiled, and dusty; and his whole appearance betokened great exhaustion from heat and fatigue. Seating himself upon an adjoining bench, he threw off his riding-cap, and unclasped his collar, displaying a finely-turned head and neck; and a countenance which, besides its beauty, had that rare nobility of feature which seldom falls to the lot of the aristocrat, but is never seen in one of an inferior order. A restless disquietude of manner showed that he was suffering from over-excitement of mind, as well as from bodily exertion. His look was wild and hurried; his black ringlets were dashed heedlessly over a pallid, lofty brow, upon which care was prematurely written; while his large melancholy eyes were bent, with a look almost of agony, upon the house before him.
After a short pause, and as if struggling against violent emotions, and some overwhelming remembrance, the youth arose, and plunged his hand into the basin, applying the moist element to his burning brow. Apparently becoming more calm, he bent his steps towards the hall, when two figures, suddenly issuing from an adjoining copse, arrested his progress; neither saw him. Muttering a hurried farewell, one of the figures disappeared within the shrubbery, and the other, confronting the stranger, displayed the harsh features and gaunt form of Peter Bradley. Had Peter encountered the dead Sir Piers in corporeal form, he could not have manifested more surprise than he exhibited, for an instant or two, as he shrunk back from the stranger's path.
AN IRISH ADVENTURER
Scapin. A most outrageous, roaring fellow, with a swelled red face inflamed with brandy.—Cheats of Scapin.
An hour or two prior to the incident just narrated, in a small, cosy apartment of the hall, nominally devoted to justiciary business by its late owner, but, in reality, used as a sanctum, snuggery, or smoking-room, a singular trio were assembled, fraught with the ulterior purpose of attending the obsequies of their deceased patron and friend, though immediately occupied in the discussion of a magnum of excellent claret, the bouquet of which perfumed the air, like the fragrance of a bed of violets.
This little room had been poor Sir Piers's favorite retreat. It was, in fact, the only room in the house that he could call his own; and thither would he often, with pipe and punch, beguile the flagging hours, secure from interruption. A snug, old-fashioned apartment it was; wainscoted with rich black oak; with a fine old cabinet of the same material, and a line or two of crazy, worm-eaten bookshelves, laden with sundry dusty, unconsulted law tomes, and a light sprinkling of the elder divines, equally neglected. The only book, indeed, Sir Piers ever read, was the "Anatomie of Melancholy;" and he merely studied Burton because the quaint, racy style of the learned old hypochondriac suited his humor at seasons, and gave a zest to his sorrows, such as the olives lent to his wine.
Four portraits adorned the walls: those of Sir Reginald Rookwood and his wives. The ladies were attired in the flowing drapery of Charles the Second's day, the snow of their radiant bosoms being somewhat sullied by over-exposure, and the vermeil tinting of their cheeks darkened by the fumes of tobacco. There was a shepherdess, with her taper crook, whose large, languishing eyes, ripe pouting lips, ready to melt into kisses, and air of voluptuous abandonment, scarcely suited the innocent simplicity of her costume. She was portrayed tending a flock of downy sheep, with azure ribbons round their necks, accompanied by one of those invaluable little dogs whose length of ear and silkiness of skin evinced him perfect in his breeding, but whose large-eyed indifference to his charge proved him to be as much out of character with his situation as the refined and luxuriant charms of his mistress were out of keeping with her artless attire. This was Sir Piers's mother, the third wife, a beautiful woman, answering to the notion of one who had been somewhat of a flirt in her day. Next to her was a magnificent dame, with the throat and arm of a Juno, and a superb bust—the bust was then what the bustle is now—a paramount attraction; whether the modification be an improvement, we leave to the consideration of the lovers of the beautiful—this was the dowager. Lastly, there was the lovely and ill-fated Eleanor. Every gentle grace belonging to this unfortunate lady had been stamped in undying beauty on the canvas by the hand of Lely, breathing a spell on the picture, almost as powerful as that which had dwelt around the exquisite original. Over the high carved mantelpiece was suspended the portrait of Sir Reginald. It had been painted in early youth; the features were beautiful, disdainful,—with a fierceness breaking through the courtly air. The eyes were very fine, black as midnight, and piercing as those of Caesar Borgia, as seen in Raphael's wonderful picture in the Borghese Palace at Rome. They seemed to fascinate the gazer—to rivet his glances—to follow him whithersoever he went—and to search into his soul, as did the dark orbs of Sir Reginald in his lifetime. It was the work likewise of Lely, and had all the fidelity and graceful refinement of that great master; nor was the haughty countenance of Sir Reginald unworthy the patrician painter.
No portrait of Sir Piers was to be met with. But in lieu thereof, depending from a pair of buck's horns, hung the worthy knight's stained scarlet coat—the same in which he had ridden forth, with the intent to hunt, on the eventful occasion detailed by Peter Bradley,—his velvet cap, his buck-handled whip, and the residue of his equipment for the chase. This attire was reviewed with melancholy interest and unaffected emotion by the company, as reminding them forcibly of the departed, of which it seemed a portion.
The party consisted of the vicar of Rookwood, Dr. Polycarp Small; Dr. Titus Tyrconnel, an emigrant, and empirical professor of medicine, from the sister isle, whose convivial habits had first introduced him to the hall, and afterwards retained him there; and Mr. Codicil Coates, clerk of the peace, attorney-at-law, bailiff, and receiver. We were wrong in saying that Tyrconnel was retained. He was an impudent, intrusive fellow, whom, having once gained a footing in the house, it was impossible to dislodge. He cared for no insult; perceived no slight; and professed, in her presence, the profoundest respect for Lady Rookwood: in short, he was ever ready to do anything but depart.
Sir Piers was one of those people who cannot dine alone. He disliked a solitary repast almost as much as a tete-a-tete with his lady. He would have been recognized at once as the true Amphitryon, had any one been hardy enough to play the part of Jupiter. Ever ready to give a dinner, he found a difficulty arise, not usually experienced on such occasions—there was no one upon whom to bestow it. He had the best of wine; kept an excellent table; was himself no niggard host; but his own merits, and those of his cuisine, were forgotten in the invariable pendant to the feast; and the best of wine lost its flavor when the last bottle found its way to the guest's head. Dine alone Sir Piers would not. And as his old friends forsook him, he plunged lower in his search of society; collecting within his house a class of persons whom no one would have expected to meet at the hall, nor even its owner have chosen for his companions, had any choice remained to him. He did not endure this state of things without much outward show of discontent. "Anything for a quiet life," was his constant saying; and, like the generality of people with whom those words form a favorite maxim, he led the most uneasy life imaginable. Endurance, to excite commiseration, must be uncomplaining—an axiom the aggrieved of the gentle sex should remember. Sir Piers endured, but he grumbled lustily, and was on all hands voted a bore; domestic grievances, especially if the husband be the plaintiff, being the most intolerable of all mentionable miseries. No wonder that his friends deserted him; still there was Titus Tyrconnel; his ears and lips were ever open to pathos and to punch; so Titus kept his station. Immediately after her husband's demise, it had been Lady Rookwood's intention to clear the house of all the "vermin," so she expressed herself, that had so long infested it; and forcibly to eject Titus, and one or two other intruders of the same class. But in consequence of certain hints received from Mr. Coates, who represented the absolute necessity of complying with Sir Piers's testamentary instructions, which were particular in that respect, she thought proper to defer her intentions until after the ceremonial of interment should be completed, and, in the mean time, strange to say, committed its arrangement to Titus Tyrconnel; who, ever ready to accommodate, accepted, nothing loth, the charge, and acquitted himself admirably well in his undertaking: especially, as he said, "in the aiting and drinking department—the most essential part of it all." He kept open house—open dining-room—open cellar; resolved that his patron's funeral should emulate as much as possible an Irish burial on a grand scale, "the finest sight," in his opinion, "in the whole world."
Inflated with the importance of his office, inflamed with heat, sat Titus, like a "robustious periwig-pated" alderman after a civic feast. The natural rubicundity of his countenance was darkened to a deep purple tint, like that of a full-blown peony, while his ludicrous dignity was augmented by a shining suit of sables, in which his portly person was invested.
The first magnum had been discussed in solemn silence; the cloud, however, which hung over the conclave, disappeared under the genial influence of "another and a better" bottle, and gave place to a denser vapor, occasioned by the introduction of the pipe and its accompaniments.
Ensconced in a comfortable old chair—it is not every old chair that is comfortable,—with pipe in mouth, and in full unbuttoned ease, his bushy cauliflower wig laid aside, by reason of the heat, reposed Dr. Small. Small, indeed, was somewhat of a misnomer, as applied to the worthy doctor, who, besides being no diminutive specimen of his kind, entertained no insignificant opinion of himself. His height was certainly not remarkable; but his width of shoulder—his sesquipedality of stomach—and obesity of calf—these were unique! Of his origin we know nothing; but presume he must, in some way or other, have been connected with the numerous family of "the Smalls," who, according to Christopher North, form the predominant portion of mankind. In appearance, the doctor was short-necked and puffy, with a sodden, pasty face, wherein were set eyes whose obliquity of vision was, in some measure, redeemed by their expression of humor. He was accounted a man of parts and erudition, and had obtained high honors at his university. Rigidly orthodox, he abominated the very names of Papists and Jacobites, amongst which heretical herd he classed his companion, Mr. Titus Tyrconnel—Ireland being with him synonymous with superstition and Catholicism—and every Irishman rebellious and schismatical. On this head he was inclined to be disputatious. His prejudices did not prevent him from passing the claret, nor from laughing, as heartily as a plethoric asthma and sense of the decorum due to the occasion would permit, at the quips and quirks of the Irishman, who, he admitted, notwithstanding his heresies, was a pleasant fellow in the main. And when, in addition to the flattery, a pipe had been insinuated by the officious Titus, at the precise moment that Small yearned for his afternoon's solace, yet scrupled to ask for it; when the door had been made fast, and the first whiff exhaled, all his misgivings vanished, and he surrendered himself to the soft seduction. In this Elysian state we find him.
"Ah! you may say that, Dr. Small," said Titus, in answer to some observation of the vicar, "that's a most original apothegm. We all of us hould our lives by a thrid. Och! many's the sudden finale I have seen. Many's the fine fellow's heels tripped up unawares, when least expected. Death hangs over our heads by a single hair, as your reverence says, precisely like the sword of Dan Maclise, the flatterer of Dinnish what-do-you-call-him, ready to fall at a moment's notice, or no notice at all—eh?—Mr. Coates. And that brings me back again to Sir Piers—poor gentleman—ah! we sha'n't soon see the like of him again!"
"Poor Sir Piers!" said Mr. Coates, a small man, in a scratch wig, with a face red and round as an apple, and almost as diminutive. "It is to be regretted that his over-conviviality should so much have hastened his lamented demise."
"Conviviality!" replied Titus; "no such thing—it was apoplexy—extravasation of sarum."
"Extra vase-ation of rum and water, you mean," replied Coates, who, like all his tribe, rejoiced in a quibble.
"The squire's ailment," continued Titus, "was a sanguineous effusion, as we call it—positive determination of blood to the head, occasioned by a low way he got into, just before his attack—a confirmed case of hypochondriasis, as that ould book Sir Piers was so fond of terms the blue devils. He neglected the bottle, which, in a man who has been a hard drinker all his life, is a bad sign. The lowering system never answers—never. Doctor, I'll just trouble you"—for Small, in a fit of absence, had omitted to pass the bottle, though not to help himself. "Had he stuck to this"—holding up a glass, ruby bright—"the elixir vitae—the grand panacea—he might have been hale and hearty at this present moment, and as well as any of us. But he wouldn't be advised. To my thinking, as that was the case, he'd have been all the better for a little of your reverence's sperretual advice; and his conscience having been relieved by confession and absolution, he might have opened a fresh account with an aisy heart and clane breast."
"I trust, sir," said Small, gravely withdrawing his pipe from his lips, "that Sir Piers Rookwood addressed himself to a higher source than a sinning creature of clay like himself for remission of his sins; but, if there was any load of secret guilt that might have weighed heavy upon his conscience, it is to be regretted that he refused the last offices of the church, and died incommunicate. I was denied all admittance to his chamber."
"Exactly my case," said Mr. Coates, pettishly. "I was refused entrance, though my business was of the utmost importance—certain dispositions—special bequests—matter connected with his sister—for though the estate is entailed, yet still there are charges—you understand me—very strange to refuse to see me. Some people may regret it—may live to regret it, I say—that's all. I've just sent up a package to Lady Rookwood, which was not to be delivered till after Sir Piers's death. Odd circumstance that—been in my custody a long while—some reason to think Sir Piers meant to alter his will—ought to have seen me—sad neglect!"
"More's the pity. But it was none of poor Sir Piers's doing!" replied Titus; "he had no will of his own, poor fellow, during his life, and the devil a will was he likely to have after his death. It was all Lady Rookwood's doing," added he, in a whisper. "I, his medical adviser and confidential friend, was ordered out of the room; and, although I knew it was as much as his life was worth to leave him for a moment in that state, I was forced to comply: and, would you believe it, as I left the room, I heard high words. Yes, doctor, as I hope to be saved, words of anger from her at that awful juncture."
The latter part of this speech was uttered in a low tone, and very mysterious manner. The speakers drew so closely together, that the bowls of their pipes formed a common centre, whence the stems radiated. A momentary silence ensued, during which each man puffed for very life. Small next knocked the ashes from his tube, and began to replenish it, coughing significantly. Mr. Coates expelled a thin, curling stream of vapor from a minute orifice in the corner of his almost invisible mouth, and arched his eyebrows in a singular manner, as if he dared not trust the expression of his thoughts to any other feature. Titus shook his huge head, and, upon the strength of a bumper which he swallowed, mustered resolution enough to unburden his bosom.
"By my sowl," said he, mysteriously, "I've seen enough lately to frighten any quiet gentleman out of his senses. I'll not get a wink of sleep, I fear, for a week to come. There must have been something dreadful upon Sir Piers's mind; sure—nay, there's no use in mincing the matter with you—in a word, then, some crime too deep to be divulged."
"Crime!" echoed Coates and Small, in a breath.
"Ay, crime!" repeated Titus. "Whist! not so loud, lest any one should overhear us. Poor Sir Piers, he's dead now. I'm sure you both loved him as I did, and pity and pardon him if he was guilty; for certain am I that no soul ever took its flight more heavily laden than did that of our poor friend. Och! it was a terrible ending. But you shall hear how he died, and judge for yourselves. When I returned to his room after Lady Rookwood's departure, I found him quite delirious. I knew death was not far off then. One minute he was in the chase, cheering on the hounds. 'Halloo! tallyho!' cried he: 'who clears that fence?—who swims that stream?' The next, he was drinking, carousing, and hurrahing, at the head of his table. 'Hip! hip! hip!'—as mad, and wild, and frantic as ever he used to be when wine had got the better of him; and then all of a sudden, in the midst of his shouting, he stopped, exclaiming, 'What! here again?—who let her in?—the door is fast—I locked it myself. Devil! why did you open it?—you have betrayed me—she will poison me—and I cannot resist. Ha! another! Who—who is that?—her face is white—her hair hangs about her shoulders. Is she alive again? Susan! Susan! why that look? You loved me well—too well. You will not drag me to perdition! You will not appear against me! No, no, no—it is not in your nature—you whom I doted on, whom I loved—whom I—but I repented—I sorrowed—I prayed—prayed! Oh! oh! no prayers would avail. Pray for me, Susan—for ever! Your intercession may avail. It is not too late. I will do justice to all. Bring me pen and ink—paper—I will confess—he shall have all. Where is my sister? I would speak with her—would tell her—tell her. Call Alan Rookwood—I shall die before I can tell it. Come hither,' said he to me. 'There is a dark, dreadful secret on my mind—it must forth. Tell my sister—no, my senses swim—Susan is near me—fury in her eyes—avenging fury—keep her off. What is this white mass in my arms? what do I hold? is it the corpse by my side, as it lay that long, long night? It is—it is. Cold, stiff, stirless as then. White—horribly white—as when the moon, that would not set, showed all its ghastliness. Ah! it moves, embraces me, stifles, suffocates me. Help! remove the pillow. I cannot breathe—I choke—oh!' And now I am coming to the strangest part of my story—and, strange as it may sound, every word is as true as Gospel."
"Ahem!" coughed Small.
"Well, at this moment—this terrible moment—what should I hear but a tap against the wainscot. Holy Virgin! how it startled me. My heart leapt to my mouth in an instant, and then went thump, thump, against my ribs. But I said nothing, though you may be sure I kept my ears wide open—and then presently I heard the tap repeated somewhat louder, and shortly afterwards a third—I should still have said nothing, but Sir Piers heard the knock, and raised himself at the summons, as if it had been the last trumpet. 'Come in,' cried he, in a dying voice; and Heaven forgive me if I confess that I expected a certain person, whose company one would rather dispense with upon such an occasion, to step in. However, though it wasn't the ould gentleman, it was somebody near akin to him; for a door I had never seen, and never even dreamed of, opened in the wall, and in stepped Peter Bradley—ay, you may well stare, gentlemen; but it was Peter, looking as stiff as a crowbar, and as blue as a mattock. Well, he walked straight up to the bed of the dying man, and bent his great, diabolical gray eyes upon him, laughing all the while—yes, laughing—you know the cursed grin he has. To proceed. 'You have called me,' said he to Sir Piers; 'I am here. What would you with me?'—'We are not alone,' groaned the dying man. 'Leave us, Mr. Tyrconnel—leave me for five minutes—only five, mark me.'—'I'll go,' thinks I, 'but I shall never see you again alive.' And true enough it was—I never did see him again with breath in his body. Without more ado, I left him, and I had scarcely reached the corridor when I heard the door bolted behind me. I then stopped to listen: and I'm sure you'll not blame me when I say I clapped my eye to the keyhole; for I suspected something wrong. But, Heaven save us! that crafty gravedigger had taken his precautions too well. I could neither see nor hear anything, except after a few minutes, a wild unearthly screech. And then the door was thrown open, and I, not expecting it, was precipitated head foremost into the room, to the great damage of my nose. When I got up, Peter had vanished, I suppose, as he came; and there was poor Sir Piers leaning back upon the pillow with his hands stretched out as if in supplication, his eyes unclosed and staring, and his limbs stark and stiff!"
A profound silence succeeded this narrative. Mr. Coates would not venture upon a remark. Dr. Small seemed, for some minutes, lost in painful reflection; at length he spoke: "You have described a shocking scene, Mr. Tyrconnel, and in a manner that convinces me of its fidelity. But I trust you will excuse me, as a friend of the late Sir Piers, in requesting you to maintain silence in future on the subject. Its repetition can be productive of no good, and may do infinite harm by giving currency to unpleasant reports, and harrowing the feelings of the survivors. Every one acquainted with Sir Piers's history must be aware, as I dare say you are already, of an occurrence which cast a shade over his early life, blighted his character, and endangered his personal safety. It was a dreadful accusation. But I believe, nay, I am sure, it was unfounded. Dark suspicions attach to a Romish priest of the name of Checkley. He, I believe, is beyond the reach of human justice. Erring Sir Piers was, undoubtedly. But I trust he was more weak than sinful. I have reason to think he was the tool of others, especially of the wretch I have named. And it is easy to perceive how that incomprehensible lunatic, Peter Bradley, has obtained an ascendancy over him. His daughter, you are aware, was Sir Piers's mistress. Our friend is now gone, and with him let us bury his offences, and the remembrance of them. That his soul was heavily laden, would appear from your account of his last moments; yet I fervently trust that his repentance was sincere, in which case there is hope of forgiveness for him. 'At what time soever a sinner shall repent him of his sins, from the bottom of his heart, I will blot out all his wickedness out of my remembrance, saith the Lord.' Heaven's mercy is greater than man's sins. And there is hope of salvation even for Sir Piers."
"I trust so, indeed," said Titus, with emotion; "and as to repeating a syllable of what I have just said, devil a word more will I utter on the subject. My lips shall be shut and sealed, as close as one of Mr. Coates's bonds, for ever and a day: but I thought it just right to make you acquainted with the circumstances. And now, having dismissed the bad for ever, I am ready to speak of Sir Piers's good qualities, and not few they were. What was there becoming a gentleman that he couldn't do, I'd like to know? Couldn't he hunt as well as ever a one in the county? and hadn't he as good a pack of hounds? Couldn't he shoot as well, and fish as well, and drink as well, or better?—only he couldn't carry his wine, which was his misfortune, not his fault. And wasn't he always ready to ask a friend to dinner with him? and didn't he give him a good dinner when he came, barring the cross-cups afterwards? And hadn't he everything agreeable about him, except his wife? which was a great drawback. And with all his peculiarities and humors, wasn't he as kind-hearted a man as needs be? and an Irishman at the core? And so, if he wern't dead, I'd say long life to him! But as he is, here's peace to his memory!"
At this juncture, a knocking was heard at the door, which some one without had vainly tried to open. Titus rose to unclose it, ushering in an individual known at the hall as Jack Palmer.
AN ENGLISH ADVENTURER
Mrs. Peachem. Sure the captain's the finest gentleman on the road.
Jack Palmer was a good-humored, good-looking man, with immense bushy, red whiskers, a freckled, florid complexion, and sandy hair, rather inclined to scantiness towards the scalp of the head, which garnished the nape of his neck with a ruff of crisp little curls, like the ring on a monk's shaven crown. Notwithstanding this tendency to baldness, Jack could not be more than thirty, though his looks were some five years in advance. His face was one of those inexplicable countenances, which appear to be proper to a peculiar class of men—a regular Newmarket physiognomy—compounded chiefly of cunning and assurance; not low cunning, nor vulgar assurance, but crafty sporting subtlety, careless as to results, indifferent to obstacles, ever on the alert for the main chance, game and turf all over, eager, yet easy, keen, yet quiet. He was somewhat showily dressed, in such wise that he looked half like a fine gentleman of that day, half like a jockey of our own. His nether man appeared in well-fitting, well-worn buckskins, and boots with tops, not unconscious of the saddle; while the airy extravagance of his broad-skirted, sky-blue riding coat, the richness of his vest—the pockets of which were beautifully exuberant, according to the mode of 1737—the smart luxuriance of his cravat, and a certain curious taste in the size and style of his buttons, proclaimed that, in his own esteem at least, his person did not appear altogether unworthy of decoration; nor, in justice to Jack, can we allow that he was in error. He was a model of a man for five feet ten; square, compact, capitally built in every particular, excepting that his legs were slightly imbowed, which defect probably arose from his being almost constantly on horseback; a sort of exercise in which Jack greatly delighted, and was accounted a superb rider. It was, indeed, his daring horsemanship, upon one particular occasion, when he had outstripped a whole field, that had procured him the honor of an invitation to Rookwood. Who he was, or whence he came, was a question not easily answered—Jack, himself, evading all solution to the inquiry. Sir Piers never troubled his head about the matter: he was a "deuced good fellow—rode well, and stood on no sort of ceremony;" that was enough for him. Nobody else knew anything about him, save that he was a capital judge of horseflesh, kept a famous black mare, and attended every hunt in the West Riding—that he could sing a good song, was a choice companion, and could drink three bottles without feeling the worse for them.
Sensible of the indecorum that might attach to his appearance, Dr. Small had hastily laid down his pipe, and arranged his wig. But when he saw who was the intruder, with a grunt of defiance he resumed his occupation, without returning the bow of the latter, or bestowing further notice upon him. Nothing discomposed at the churchman's displeasure, Jack greeted Titus cordially, and carelessly saluting Mr. Coates, threw himself into a chair. He next filled a tumbler of claret, and drained it at a draught.
"Have you ridden far, Jack?" asked Titus, noticing the dusty state of Palmer's azure attire.
"Some dozen miles," replied Palmer; "and that, on such a sultry afternoon as the present, makes one feel thirstyish. I'm as dry as a sandbed. Famous wine this—beautiful tipple—better than all your red fustian. Ah, how poor Sir Piers used to like it! Well, that's all over—a glass like this might do him good in his present quarters! I'm afraid I'm intruding. But the fact is, I wanted a little information about the order of the procession, and missing you below, came hither in search of you. You're to be chief mourner, I suppose, Titus—rehearsing your part, eh?"
"Come, come, Jack, no joking," replied Titus; "the subject's too serious. I am to be chief mourner—and I expect you to be a mourner—and everybody else to be mourners. We must all mourn at the proper time. There'll be a power of people at the church."
"There are a power of people here already," returned Jack, "if they all attend."
"And they all will attend, or what is the eating and drinking to go for? I sha'n't leave a soul in the house."
"Excepting one," said Jack, archly. "Lady Rookwood won't attend, I think."
"Ay, excepting her ladyship and her ladyship's abigail. All the rest go with me, and form part of the procession. You go too."
"Of course. At what time do you start?"
"Twelve precisely. As the clock strikes, we set out—all in a line, and a long line we'll make. I'm waiting for that ould coffin-faced rascal, Peter Bradley, to arrange the order."
"How long will it all occupy, think you?" asked Jack, carelessly.
"That I can't say," returned Titus; "possibly an hour, more or less. But we shall start to the minute—that is, if we can get all together, so don't be out of the way. And hark ye, Jack, you must contrive to change your toggery. That sky-blue coat won't do. It's not the thing at all, at all."
"Never fear that," replied Palmer. "But who were those in the carriages?"
"Is it the last carriage you mean? Squire Forester and his sons. They're dining with the other gentlefolk, in the great room up-stairs, to be out of the way. Oh, we'll have a grand berrin'. And, by St. Patrick! I must be looking after it."
"Stay a minute," said Jack; "let's have a cool bottle first. They are all taking care of themselves below, and Peter Bradley has not made his appearance, so you need be in no hurry. I'll go with you presently. Shall I ring for the claret?"
"By all means," replied Titus.
Jack accordingly arose; and a butler answering the summons, a long-necked bottle was soon placed before them.
"You heard of the affray last night, I presume?" said Jack, renewing the conversation.
"With the poachers? To be sure I did. Wasn't I called in to examine Hugh Badger's wounds the first thing this morning; and a deep cut there was, just over the eye, besides other bruises."
"Is the wound dangerous?" inquired Palmer.
"Not exactly mortal, if you mean that," replied the Irishman; "dangerous, certainly."
"Humph!" exclaimed Jack; "they'd a pretty hardish bout of it, I understand. Anything been heard of the body?"
"What body?" inquired Small, who was half-dozing.
"The body of the drowned poacher," replied Jack; "they were off to search for it this morning."
"Found it—not they!" exclaimed Titus. "Ha, ha!—I can't help laughing, for the life and sowl of me; a capital trick he played 'em,—capital—ha, ha! What do you think the fellow did? Ha, ha!—after leading 'em the devil's dance, all around the park, killing a hound as savage as a wolf, and breaking Hugh Badger's head, which is as hard and thick as a butcher's block, what does the fellow do but dive into a pool, with a great rock hanging over it, and make his way to the other side, through a subterranean cavern, which nobody knew anything about, till they came to drag it, thinking him snugly drowned all the while—ha, ha!"
"Ha, ha, ha!" chorused Jack; "bravo! he's a lad of the right sort—ha, ha!"
"He! who?" inquired the attorney.
"Why, the poacher, to be sure," replied Jack; "who else were we talking about?"
"Beg pardon," returned Coates; "I thought you might have heard some intelligence. We've got an eye upon him. We know who it was."
"Indeed!" exclaimed Jack; "and who was it?"
"A fellow known by the name of Luke Bradley."
"Zounds!" cried Titus, "you don't say it was he? Murder in Irish! that bates everything; why, he was Sir Piers's——"
"Natural son," replied the attorney; "he has not been heard of for some time—shockingly incorrigible rascal—impossible to do anything with him."
"You don't say so?" observed Jack. "I've heard Sir Piers speak of the lad; and, by his account, he's as fine a fellow as ever crossed tit's back; only a little wildish and unreasonable, as the best of us may be; wants breaking, that's all. Your skittish colt makes the best horse, and so would he. To speak the truth, I'm glad he escaped."
"So am I," rejoined Titus; "for, in the first place, I've a foolish partiality for poachers, and am sorry when any of 'em come to hurt; and, in the second, I'd be mighty displeased if any ill had happened to one of Sir Piers's flesh and blood, as this young chap appears to be."
"Appears to be!" repeated Palmer; "there's no appearing in the case, I take it. This Bradley's an undoubted offshoot of the old squire. His mother was a servant-maid at the hall, I rather think. You sir," continued he, addressing Coates, "perhaps, can inform us of the real facts of the case."
"She was something better than a servant," replied the attorney, with a slight cough and a knowing wink. "I remember her quite well, though I was but a boy then; a lovely creature, and so taking, I don't wonder that Sir Piers was smitten with her. He was mad after the women in those days, and pretty Sue Bradley above all others. She lived with him quite like his lady."
"So I've heard," returned Jack; "and she remained with him till her death. Let me see, wasn't there something rather odd in the way in which she died, rather suddenish and unexpected,—a noise made about it at the time, eh?"
"Not that I ever heard," replied Coates, shaking his head, and appearing to be afflicted with an instantaneous ignorance; while Titus affected not to hear the remark, but occupied himself with his wine-glass. Small snored audibly. "I was too young, then, to pay any attention to idle rumors," continued Coates. "It's a long time ago. May I ask the reason of your inquiry?"
"Nothing further than simple curiosity," replied Jack, enjoying the consternation of his companions. "It is, as you say, a long while since. But it's singular how that sort of thing is remembered. One would think people had something else to do than talk of one's private affairs for ever. For my part, I despise such tattle. But there are persons in the neighborhood who still say it was an awkward business. Amongst others, I've heard that this very Luke Bradley talks in pretty plain terms about it."
"Does he, indeed?" said Coates. "So much the worse for him. Let me once lay hands upon him, and I'll put a gag in his mouth that shall spoil his talking in the future."
"That's precisely the point I desire to arrive at," replied Jack; "and I advise you by all means to accomplish that, for the sake of the family. Nobody likes his friends to be talked about. So I'd settle the matter amicably, were I you. Just let the fellow go his way; he won't return here again in a hurry, I'll be bound. As to clapping him in quod, he might prattle—turn stag."
"Turn stag!" replied Coates, "what the deuce is that? In my opinion, he has 'turned stag' already. At all events, he'll pay deer for his night's sport, you may depend upon it. What signifies it what he says? Let me lay hands upon him, that's all."
"Well, well," said Jack, "no offence. I only meant to offer a suggestion. I thought the family, young Sir Ranulph, I mean, mightn't like the story to be revived. As to Lady Rookwood, she don't, I suppose, care much about idle reports. Indeed, if I've been rightly informed, she bears this youngster no particular good-will to begin with, and has tried hard to get him out of the country. But, as you say, what does it signify what he says? he can only talk. Sir Piers is dead and gone."
"Humph!" muttered Coates, peevishly.
"But it does seem a little hard, that a lad should swing for killing a bit of venison in his own father's park."
"Which he'd a nat'ral right to do," cried Titus.
"He had no natural right to bruise, violently assault, and endanger the life of his father's, or anybody else's gamekeeper," retorted Coates. "I tell you, sir, he's committed a capital offence, and if he's taken——"
"No chance of that, I hope," interrupted Jack.
"That's a wish I can't help wishing myself," said Titus: "on my conscience, these poachers are fine boys, when all's said and done."
"The finest of all boys," exclaimed Jack, with a kindred enthusiasm, "are those birds of the night, and minions of the moon, whom we call, most unjustly, poachers. They are, after all, only professional sportsmen, making a business of what we make a pleasure; a nightly pursuit of what is to us a daily relaxation; there's the main distinction. As to the rest, it's all in idea; they merely thin an overstocked park, as you would reduce a plethoric patient, doctor; or as you would work a moneyed client, if you got him into Chancery, Mister Attorney. And then how much more scientifically and systematically they set to work than we amateurs do! how noiselessly they bag a hare, smoke a pheasant, or knock a buck down with an air-gun! how independent are they of any license, except that of a good eye, and a swift pair of legs! how unnecessary is it for them to ask permission to shoot over Mr. So-and-so's grounds, or my Lord That's preserves! they are free of every cover, and indifferent to any alteration in the game laws. I've some thoughts, when everything else fails, of taking to poaching myself. In my opinion, a poacher's a highly respectable character. What say you, Mr. Coates?" turning very gravely to that gentleman.
"Such a question, sir," replied Coates, bridling up, "scarcely deserves a serious answer. I make no doubt you will next maintain that a highwayman is a gentleman."
"Most undoubtedly," replied Palmer, in the same grave tone, which might have passed for banter, had Jack ever bantered. "I'll maintain and prove it. I don't see how he can be otherwise. It is as necessary for a man to be a gentleman before he can turn highwayman, as it is for a doctor to have his diploma, or an attorney his certificate. Some of the finest gentlemen of their day, as Captain Lovelace, Hind, Hannum, and Dudley, were eminent on the road, and they set the fashion. Ever since their day a real highwayman would consider himself disgraced, if he did not conduct himself in every way like a gentleman. Of course, there are pretenders in this line, as in everything else. But these are only exceptions, and prove the rule. What are the distinguishing characteristics of a fine gentleman?—perfect knowledge of the world—perfect independence of character—notoriety—command of cash—and inordinate success with the women. You grant all these premises? First, then, it is part of a highwayman's business to be thoroughly acquainted with the world. He is the easiest and pleasantest fellow going. There is Tom King, for example: he is the handsomest man about town, and the best-bred fellow on the road. Then whose inclinations are so uncontrolled as the highwayman's, so long as the mopuses last? who produces so great an effect by so few words?—'STAND AND DELIVER!' is sure to arrest attention. Every one is captivated by an address so taking. As to money, he wins a purse of a hundred guineas as easily as you would the same sum from the faro table. And wherein lies the difference? only in the name of the game. Who so little need of a banker as he? all he has to apprehend is a check—all he has to draw is a trigger. As to the women, they dote upon him: not even your red-coat is so successful. Look at a highwayman mounted on his flying steed, with his pistols in his holsters, and his mask upon his face. What can be a more gallant sight? The clatter of his horse's heels is like music to his ear—he is in full quest—he shouts to the fugitive horseman to stay—the other flies all the faster—what chase can be half so exciting as that? Suppose he overtakes his prey, which ten to one he will, how readily his summons to deliver is obeyed! how satisfactory is the appropriation of a lusty purse or corpulent pocket-book!—getting the brush is nothing to it. How tranquilly he departs, takes off his hat to his accommodating acquaintance, wishes him a pleasant journey, and disappears across the heath! England, sir, has reason to be proud of her highwaymen. They are peculiar to her clime, and are as much before the brigand of Italy, the contrabandist of Spain, or the cut-purse of France—as her sailors are before all the rest of the world. The day will never come, I hope, when we shall degenerate into the footpad, and lose our Night Errantry. Even the French borrow from us—they have only one highwayman of eminence, and he learnt and practised his art in England."
"And who was he, may I ask?" said Coates.
"Claude Du-Val," replied Jack; "and though a Frenchman, he was a deuced fine fellow in his day—quite a tip-top macaroni—he could skip and twirl like a figurant, warble like an opera-singer, and play the flageolet better than any man of his day—he always carried a lute in his pocket, along with his snappers. And then his dress—it was quite beautiful to see how smartly he was rigg'd out, all velvet and lace; and even with his vizard on his face, the ladies used to cry out to see him. Then he took a purse with the air and grace of a receiver-general. All the women adored him—and that, bless their pretty faces! was the best proof of his gentility. I wish he'd not been a Mounseer. The women never mistake. They can always discover the true gentlemen, and they were all, of every degree, from the countess to the kitchen-maid, over head and ears in love with him."
"But he was taken, I suppose?" asked Coates.
"Ay," responded Jack, "the women were his undoing, as they've been many a brave fellow's before, and will be again." Touched by which reflection, Jack became for once in his life sentimental, and sighed. "Poor Du-Val! he was seized at the Hole-in-the-Wall in Chandos-street by the bailiff of Westminster, when dead drunk, his liquor having been drugged by his dells—and was shortly afterwards hanged at Tyburn."
"It was thousand pities," said Mr. Coates, with a sneer, "that so fine a gentleman should come to so ignominious an end!"
"Quite the contrary," returned Jack. "As his biographer, Doctor Pope, properly remarks, 'Who is there worthy of the name of man, that would not prefer such a death before a mean, solitary, inglorious life?' By-the-by, Titus, as we're upon the subject, if you like I'll sing you a song about highwaymen."
"I should like it of all things," replied Titus, who entertained a very favorable opinion of Jack's vocal powers, and was by no means an indifferent performer; "only let it be in a minor key."
Jack required no further encouragement, but disregarding the hints and looks of Coates, sang with much unction the following ballad to a good old tune, then very popular—the merit of which "nobody can deny."
A CHAPTER OF HIGHWAYMEN
Of every rascal of every kind, The most notorious to my mind, Was the Cavalier Captain, gay JEMMY HIND! Which nobody can deny.
But the pleasantest coxcomb among them all For lute, coranto, and madrigal, Was the galliard Frenchman, CLAUDE DU-VAL! Which nobody can deny.
And Tobygloak never a coach could rob, Could lighten a pocket, or empty a fob, With a neater hand than OLD MOB, OLD MOB! Which nobody can deny.
Nor did housebreaker ever deal harder knocks On the stubborn lid of a good strong box, Than that prince of good fellows, TOM COX, TOM COX! Which nobody can deny.
A blither fellow on broad highway, Did never with oath bid traveller stay, Than devil-may-care WILL HOLLOWAY! Which nobody can deny.
And in roguery naught could exceed the tricks Of GETTINGS and GREY, and the five or six Who trod in the steps of bold NEDDY WICKS! Which nobody can deny.
Nor could any so handily break a lock As SHEPPARD, who stood on the Newgate dock, And nicknamed the jailers around him "his flock!" Which nobody can deny.
Nor did highwaymen ever before possess For ease, for security, danger, distress, Such a mare as DICK TURPIN'S Black Bess! Black Bess! Which nobody can deny.
"A capital song, by the powers!" cried Titus, as Jack's ditty came to a close. "But your English robbers are nothing at all, compared with our Tories and Rapparees—nothing at all. They were the raal gentlemen—they were the boys to cut a throat aisily."
"Pshaw!" exclaimed Jack, in disgust, "the gentlemen I speak of never maltreated any one, except in self-defence."
"Maybe not," replied Titus; "I'll not dispute the point—but these Rapparees were true brothers of the blade, and gentlemen every inch. I'll just sing you a song I made about them myself. But meanwhile don't let's forget the bottle—talking's dry work. My service to you, doctor!" added he, winking at the somnolent Small. And tossing off his glass, Titus delivered himself with much joviality of the following ballad; the words of which he adapted to the tune of the Groves of the Pool:
Let the Englishman boast of his Turpins and Sheppards, as cocks of the walk, His Mulsacks, and Cheneys, and Swiftnecks—it's all botheration and talk; Compared with the robbers of Ireland, they don't come within half a mile, There never were yet any rascals like those of my own native isle!
First and foremost comes REDMOND O'HANLON, allowed the first thief of the world, That o'er the broad province of Ulster the Rapparee banner unfurled; Och! he was an elegant fellow, as ever you saw in your life, At fingering the blunderbuss trigger, or handling the throat-cutting knife.
And then such a dare-devil squadron as that which composed REDMOND'S tail! Meel, Mactigh, Jack Reilly, Shan Bernagh, Phil Galloge, and Arthur O'Neal; Shure never were any boys like 'em for rows, agitations, and sprees, Not a rap did they leave in the country, and hence they were called Rapparees.
Next comes POWER, the great Tory of Munster, a gentleman born every inch, And strong JACK MACPHERSON of Leinster, a horse-shoe who broke at a pinch; The last was a fellow so lively, not death e'en his courage could damp, For as he was led to the gallows, he played his own "march to the camp."
PADDY FLEMING, DICK BALF, and MULHONI, I think are the next on my list, All adepts in the beautiful science of giving a pocket a twist; JEMMY CARRICK must follow his leaders, ould PURNEY who put in a huff, By dancing a hornpipe at Tyburn, and bothering the hangman for snuff.
There's PAUL LIDDY, the curly-pate Tory, whose noddle was stuck on a spike, And BILLY DELANEY, the "Songster," we never shall meet with his like; For his neck by a witch was anointed, and warranted safe by her charm, No hemp that was ever yet twisted his wonderful throttle could harm.
And lastly, there's CAHIR NA CAPPUL, the handiest rogue of them all, Who only need whisper a word, and your horse will trot out of his stall; Your tit is not safe in your stable, though you or your groom should be near, And devil a bit in the paddock, if CAHIR gets hould of his ear.
Then success to the Tories of Ireland, the generous, the gallant, the gay! With them the best Rumpads of England are not to be named the same day! And were further proof wanting to show what precedence we take with our prigs, Recollect that our robbers are Tories, while those of your country are Whigs.
"Bravissimo!" cried Jack, drumming upon the table.
"Well," said Coates, "we've had enough about the Irish highwaymen, in all conscience. But there's a rascal on our side of the Channel, whom you have only incidentally mentioned, and who makes more noise than them all put together."
"Who's that?" asked Jack, with some curiosity.
"Dick Turpin," replied the attorney: "he seems to me quite as worthy of mention as any of the Hinds, the Du-Vals, or the O'Hanlons, you have either of you enumerated."
"I did not think of him," replied Palmer, smiling; "though, if I had, he scarcely deserves to be ranked with those illustrious heroes."
"Gads bobs!" cried Titus; "they tell me Turpin keeps the best nag in the United Kingdom, and can ride faster and further in a day than any other man in a week."
"So I've heard," said Palmer, with a glance of satisfaction. "I should like to try a run with him. I warrant me, I'd not be far behind."
"I should like to get a peep at him," quoth Titus.
"So should I," added Coates. "Vastly!"
"You may both of you be gratified, gentlemen," said Palmer. "Talking of Dick Turpin, they say, is like speaking of the devil, he's at your elbow ere the word's well out of your mouth. He may be within hearing at this moment, for anything we know to the contrary."
"Body o' me!" ejaculated Coates, "you don't say so? Turpin in Yorkshire! I thought he confined his exploits to the neighborhood of the metropolis, and made Epping Forest his headquarters."
"So he did," replied Jack, "but the cave is all up now. The whole of the great North Road, from Tottenham Cross to York gates, comes within Dick's present range; and Saint Nicholas only knows in which part of it he is most likely to be found. He shifts his quarters as often and as readily as a Tartar; and he who looks for him may chance to catch a Tartar—ha!—ha!"
"It's a disgrace to the country that such a rascal should remain unhanged," returned Coates, peevishly. "Government ought to look to it. Is the whole kingdom to be kept in a state of agitation by a single highwayman?—Sir Robert Walpole should take the affair into his own hands."
"Fudge!" exclaimed Jack, emptying his glass.
"I have already addressed a letter to the editor of the Common Sense on the subject," said Coates, "in which I have spoken my mind pretty plainly: and I repeat, it is perfectly disgraceful that such a rascal should be suffered to remain at large."
"You don't happen to have that letter by you, I suppose," said Jack, "or I should beg the favor to hear it?—I am not acquainted with the newspaper to which you allude;—I read Fog's Journal."
"So I thought," replied Coates, with a sneer; "that's the reason you are so easily mystified. But luckily I have the paper in my pocket; and you are quite welcome to my opinions. Here it is," added he, drawing forth a newspaper. "I shall waive my preliminary remarks, and come to the point at once."
"By all means," said Jack.
"'I thank God,'" began Coates, in an authoritative tone, "'that I was born in a country that hath formerly emulated the Romans in their public spirit; as is evident from their conquests abroad, and their struggles for liberty at home.'"
"What has all this got to do with Turpin?" interposed Jack.
"You will hear," replied the attorney—"no interruptions if you please. 'But this noble principle,'" continued he, with great emphasis, "'though not utterly lost, I cannot think at present so active as it ought to be in a nation so jealous of her liberty.'"
"Good!" exclaimed Jack. "There is more than 'common sense' in that observation, Mr. Coates."
"'My suspicion,'" proceeded Coates, "'is founded on a late instance. I mean the flagrant, undisturbed success of the notorious TURPIN, who hath robb'd in a manner scarce ever known before for several years, and is grown so insolent and impudent as to threaten particular persons, and become openly dangerous to the lives as well as fortunes of the people of England.'"
"Better and better," shouted Jack, laughing immoderately. "Pray go on, sir."
"'That a fellow,'" continued Coates, "'who is known to be a thief by the whole kingdom, shall for so long a time continue to rob us, and not only rob us, but make a jest of us——'"
"Ha—ha—ha—capital! Excuse me, sir," roared Jack, laughing till the tears ran down his cheeks—"pray, pray, go on."
"I see nothing to laugh at," replied Coates, somewhat offended; "however, I will conclude my letter, since I have begun it—'not only rob us, but make a jest of us, shall defy the laws, and laugh at justice, argues a want of public spirit, which should make every particular member of the community sensible of the public calamity, and ambitious of the honor of extirpating such a notorious highwayman from society, since he owes his long successes to no other cause than his immoderate impudence, and the sloth and pusillanimity of those who ought to bring him to justice.' I will not deny," continued Coates, "that, professing myself, as I do, to be a staunch new Whig, I had not some covert political object in penning this epistle. Nevertheless, setting aside my principles——"
"Right," observed Jack; "you Whigs, new or old, always set aside your principles."
"Setting aside any political feeling I may entertain," continued Coates, disregarding the interruption, "I repeat, I am ambitious of extirpating this modern Cacus—this Autolycus of the eighteenth century."
"And what course do you mean to pursue?" asked Jack, "for I suppose you do not expect to catch this 'ought-to-lick-us,' as you call him, by a line in the newspapers."
"I am in the habit of keeping my own counsel, sir," replied Coates, pettishly; "and to be plain with you, I hope to finger all the reward myself."
"Oons, is there a reward offered for Turpin's apprehension?" asked Titus.
"No less than two hundred pounds," answered Coates, "and that's no trifle, as you will both admit. Have you not seen the king's proclamation, Mr. Palmer?"
"Not I," replied Jack, with affected indifference.
"Nor I," added Titus, with some appearance of curiosity; "do you happen to have that by you too?"
"I always carry it about with me," replied Coates, "that I may refer to it in case of emergency. My father, Christopher, or Kit Coates, as he was familiarly called, was a celebrated thief-taker. He apprehended Spicket, and Child, and half a dozen others, and always kept their descriptions in his pocket. I endeavor to tread in my worthy father's footsteps. I hope to signalize myself by capturing a highwayman. By-the-by," added he, surveying Jack more narrowly, "it occurs to me that Turpin must be rather like you, Mr. Palmer?"
"Like me," said Jack, regarding Coates askance; "like me—how am I to understand you, sir, eh?"
"No offence; none whatever, sir. Ah! stay, you won't object to my comparing the description. That can do no harm. Nobody would take you for a highwayman—nobody whatever—ha! ha! Singular resemblance—he—he. These things do happen sometimes: not very often, though. But here is Turpin's description in the Gazette, June 28th, A.D. 1737:—'It having been represented to the King that Richard Turpin did, on Wednesday, the 4th of May last, rob on his Majesty's highway Vavasour Mowbray, Esq., Major of the 2d troop of Horse Grenadiers'—that Major Mowbray, by-the-by, is a nephew of the late Sir Piers, and cousin of the present baronet—'and commit other notorious felonies and robberies near London, his Majesty is pleased to promise his most gracious pardon to any of his accomplices, and a reward of two hundred pounds to any person or persons who shall discover him, so as he may be apprehended and convicted.'"