"Because in your own bright self, lady, he had the first example; for of all the gay sparks that fluttered about you there was never a one o' them that had to endure such chilling looks and so haughty a bearing as were usually reserved for him."
"Hold thy tongue; thou dost presume too much, methinks, upon thy former freedoms, wench. I like not such unguarded speech."
Bridget was silent at this rebuke; and, whatever was uppermost in her thoughts, no more was said that night.
The following days Ellen was much worse. The disease appeared to be rapidly gaining strength, and the maiden seemed doomed to an early grave.
"And isn't it a silly thing for one like you to die so soon?" said Bridget; "I can ask for you, what I would not have the face to ask for myself."
Ellen smiled. The hectic flush was apparently on her cheek; and the fever that fed it was on her vitals; at least, so said the village chroniclers by whom it was told.
What was the precise nature of the request that Bridget made the next Sunday from her patron saint, we know not; but she seemed mightily occupied therewith; and if ever there was faith in such an intercessor, Bridget felt assured that her patron would intercede on behalf of her mistress, though a heretic and unbeliever. But St Bridget was told, in all likelihood, that Ellen must necessarily be a convert to the true faith should a miracle be wrought in her favour.
The following morning Bridget was early at the bedside of her mistress, with a countenance more than usually indicative of some important communication. But Ellen was the first to break silence.
"I have had a strange dream last night."
"So I guessed," said Bridget, with a face of great importance; "and what said the holy saint, my good kind patron?"
"Bless thy silly face, it was no woman saint that I saw."
Bridget looked sad and chop-fallen at this intimation; she was fearful that her prayers were unheeded.
"There came, as I thought in my dream," said Ellen, "a long-robed priest to my bedside."
"Sure enough, then, St Bridget—blessings on her wherever she be!—sent him."
"Prithee, be quiet, and listen. He stood there, methought, and when I asked him of his errand, he raised his right arm, and I saw that the hand was wanting, being taken off at the wrist. I marvelled exceedingly at this strange apparition; but as I was a-going to question him thereon I awoke. I know not why, but the vision sorely troubled me, especially when again going to sleep, for it was repeated thrice."
"It's a riddle," said Bridget, "and one with a heavy meaning in it, too, if we could find it out."
"Verily, I think so," said Ellen; "for the impress doth not pass away like that from ordinary dreams; but rests with a deep and solemn power upon my spirit, such as I can neither throw off nor patiently endure."
"I'll unriddle it for you, or go a pilgrimage to our Lady at Loretto," said Bridget, determined not to be behindhand in her curiosity. So she set her woman's wits immediately to work; yet she saw her mistress daily losing strength, and no clue was obtained by which to know the interpretation of the vision. She consulted her confessor; but he was equally at a loss with herself, and knew not the nature of the dream, nor its meaning.
One day Mistress Bridget brought in a tall beggar woman, dumb, or pretendedly so, and apparently deaf. She made many signs that the gift of foreknowledge was in her possession, though she seemed herself to have profited little by so dangerous an endowment. Ellen, being persuaded by her maid, craved a specimen of this wonderful art. The hag, a smoke-dried, dirty-looking beldame, with a patch over one eye, and an idiotic expression of face, began to mutter and make an odd noise at the sight of the sick lady. She took a piece of chalk from her handkerchief, and began her work of divination. First she drew a circle on the floor, as a boundary or frame, and within it she put many uncouth and crabbed signs; but their meaning was perfectly unintelligible. Under this she sketched something like unto a sword, then a hideous figure was attached to it, with a soldier's cap on his head. Before him was a heart, that seemed to hang, as it were, on the point of this long sword; which when Ellen saw she changed colour, but attempted to smile; yet she only betrayed her agitation. The dumb operator drew one hand across her own breast, and with the other pointed to the lady; which appeared to Ellen as though intimating that a soldier had won her heart, and that this was the true cause of her illness. Such an interpretation, perchance, was but the conscious monitor speaking from within, as it invested this unmeaning hieroglyphic with the hue and likeness of its own fancies. But more marvellous still was the subsequent proceeding. Having revealed the cause, it seemed as though she were about to point out, obscurely as before, the method and means of cure. When she had drawn the long unshapely representation of a cloak, above it was placed something like unto a human head, without helm or other covering; and to this figure two arms were added; one having a huge hand, displayed proper, as the heralds say, the other arm entirely destitute of this useful appendage. Ellen at once remembered her dream, and watched the process even with more interest than before.
The hand which should have been attached to the wrist was now drawn distinct from the rest, as though grasping a heart wounded by the sword; and doubtless the interpretation, according to Bridget's opinion, was, that the application of a hand, which had been severed from the body, would alone cure the disease under which she pined. The dumb prophetess did not communicate further on the subject; and after having received her bounty, she departed.
"How very strange!" said Ellen.
"Marvellous enough," said the maid; "but St Bridget hath doubtless sent her to your help. Nay, peradventure, it was St Bridget herself! Save us, what a kind, good creature she must be!"
Here she crossed herself with great fervour, forgetting that even a saint among womankind would hardly feign herself dumb.
"There is some mystery about this hand," thought Ellen; but where to seek for a solution was a mystery of equal magnitude with the rest. Bridget was sure, from the disclosures already vouchsafed, that the needful directions would not be withheld.
Ellen felt restless and disturbed for a while after this event; but her sensations were again reverting to their ordinary channel when one morning she awoke in a fearful trepidation. She said that the figure of a human hand was visible, in her slumbers; that it led the way, pointing to an old house like a fortified mansion, with a moat and gatehouse before the main entrance. As she followed, the hand seemed to twine its fingers about her heart, and for that time she felt relieved of her pain. So vividly was the scene impressed upon her imagination that she felt assured she should recognise the building again, and especially the interior, where, in a stately chamber, the miraculous cure was performed. Bridget rubbed her hands, and capered about for joy.
"The name of St Bridget be praised!" said she, and vowed twenty things in a breath; but the principal of these was an embroidered petticoat, which vow she expected her mistress would enable her to fulfil. Indeed, she had long set her mind upon this lustrous piece of attire, and was waiting, somewhat impatiently, the time when it should be allotted to her. So audibly had she made her vow that Ellen was reminded of her pertinacity in still hoarding this precious and coveted piece of finery, which Bridget looked upon as an unwarrantable detention of her perquisites.
The cunning maid having obtained the garment for her patron saint, what harm was there in wearing it, a while at least, for her sake?
Affairs went on for a little time in this dubious state; but the continued and increasing illness of Ellen made it expedient that a change of air should be attempted, and the journey accomplished by short and easy travel. The family coach was brought out, and Mistress Bridget, invested with the dignities of her office, went forth as attendant of the body, and principal conductor of stores and packages.
Journeying southwards at a slow pace, pausing to take a look where there was any object worth the attention, they came one afternoon, about the fourth day from their departure, to Wigan. When they had journeyed thence a mile or so, as they were passing down a jolting road, Bridget, whose curious eye was ever on the look-out, suddenly exclaimed, at the same time pointing through the window—
"I declare if there is not the dummy again yonder!"
Ellen beheld the dumb sibyl, whose predictions were not forgotten. Bridget, by her looks, seemed to ask leave to stop the carriage and hold another conference with the woman; and Ellen, whom illness had rendered somewhat passive in such matters, did not make any opposition. Having accosted this walking oracle, Bridget curtsied with great reverence, peradventure fancying that St Bridget herself might be again embodied before her; but the beldame went straight to the carriage, addressing herself to the invalid within by pointing to her breast, and making divers motions of the like signification, which were not easy to be understood, even by the party for whom they were intended. The prophetess seemed fully to comprehend that her symbolic representations were unintelligible, and no fitting place being at hand whereon they could be readily portrayed, she strove with the greater vehemence to explain her meaning. There appeared a more than ordinary anxiety on her part to communicate something of importance; and the travellers looked as though fully aware of it. Her most unequivocal signs, however, were to this purport—that they should not proceed farther. Ellen, impelled by fear and curiosity, spoke aloud—
"Surely we are not to remain here at the beck of this woman!"
The one-eyed sibyl nodded an affirmative. This, at any rate, helped them to an easier mode of communication, finding that she was not deaf, as they had hitherto supposed.
"And whither shall we proceed?"
The woman here pointed to a narrow lane on the right of the main road they were pursuing.
"Truly that seems but an indifferent path. Wherefore should we turn in thither?" inquired Ellen.
Again the prophetess pointed to her own breast, and then at the bosom of the invalid.
"By this token I understand that in so doing I am to expect some relief."
Again nodded the officious intruder.
"But how shall that relief be obtained?"
The woman here lifted up her hand, again pointing towards the path by which they should proceed.
"Go and see, I suppose thou wouldst say," said Ellen.
Another affirmatory nod was the answer.
"Wilt thou be our guide?"
The person addressed here darted a look at Ellen which seemed to express pleasure at the request, if pleasure it might be called that could irradiate such an aspect. She put out her hand for the customary largess ere setting forward as their guide on the expedition. Some difficulty now arose by reason of the straitness of the path; but their dumb leader hastened up the lane with unusual speed, beckoning that they should follow. From this signal it appeared that there was sufficient room, and the postilion addressed himself to proceed by so unusual a route.
They went forward for about a mile with little difficulty; but a sudden turn, almost at right angles with their course, presented an obstacle which the driver hesitated whether or not to encounter; but it was impossible to return, though they were not without serious fears that the weird woman might lead them on to a situation from which they could not extricate themselves. Still she beckoned them forward, until they emerged into another and a wider road, on which they travelled without further impediment.
Ellen, whose eyes were abundantly occupied, suddenly assumed a look of greater fixedness and intensity. For a while she seemed nearly speechless with amazement. At length she cried—
Bridget looked forth, but saw nothing worthy of remark save an old gatehouse over a dark lazy moat, secured by heavy wooden doors.
This gatehouse was apparently the entrance to a court or quadrangle, enclosed by buildings of wood and plaster of the like antiquity. Their guide stood on the bridge, as though to intimate that their wanderings would here terminate.
"I have seen it before," said Ellen, with great solemnity and emotion. Bridget perhaps fancied her mistress's thoughts were wandering strangely, and was just going to recommend rest and a little of the medicine she carried, when Ellen again spoke, as though sensible of some incoherency in her remark:—"In my dreams, Bridget."
"St Bridget and the Virgin be praised! Is this the house you saw when"——
"The very same. I should know it again; nor should I forget it if I were to live to the age of the patriarchs."
"It's an evident answer to my prayers," said Bridget; and here the devout enthusiast began to recite internally some holy ejaculations, which, if they did not possess any positive efficacy, were at least serviceable in allaying the excitement under which she laboured.
Ellen determined to alight and witness the issue of the adventure; so in due time these forlorn damsels were seen advancing over the bridge unto this enchanted castle.
The beldame knocked loudly at the gate, and immediately she sprang back; but when the travellers again looked round she was gone!
Now were they in a precious dilemma. Two females before a stranger's gate; the warder a-coming, when their business would of necessity be demanded. A tread, every footstep of which might have been passing over them, was close at hand. The bolts shrieked; the gate shook, and a curious face peeped forth to inquire their errand. Bridget, whose ready tongue rarely refused its office, replied—
"Is there a Catholic priest hereabout? for we would fain have a word with one of that persuasion."
The grim warder smiled.
"Ye have not far to go for such an one," said he; "but ye be far-off comers, I reckon, or ye would have known Bryn Hall belike, the dwelling-place of the noble house of Gerard, that hath never been without a priest and an altar therein."
He threw the gate wide open, and invited them to follow; after which he led them through a clumsily-ornamented porch into the great hall, at the end of which was a low gallery, supported by pillars and pilasters richly and profusely carved. From these arches were sprung, and a flight of stairs at one end led to the upper chambers.
Their guide preceded them into a small wainscoted room, fitted up as a study, or perhaps an oratory in those days. A wooden crucifix, with a representation of the Saviour carved in ivory, was placed in a recess, occasionally covered by a green curtain. Shelves laden with books occupied the farther end of the room, and writing materials were laid upon an oak trestle or table, before which sat a tall white-haired personage in a suit of sables, to whose further protection the porter left his charge.
Ellen had suffered herself to be led passive hitherto by her maid; but when she saw that they were now fairly committed to the disposal of the priest, for so he appeared, she felt uneasy and anxious to depart. The room and the whole scene were vividly brought to her recollection; for she fancied that, at one time or another, she had been present in a similar place.
Bridget curtsied to the holy father, who, doubting not that either a case of conscience or a need-be for confession brought these strangers to his presence, began the usual interrogatories.
"Here is a sick person, most reverent sir, who would have the benefit of your prayers," said Bridget. The pale and wasting form that was by her side sufficiently corroborated this reply.
"Daughter, the prayers of the church are for the penitent and believing; hast thou made shrift and a clear confession?"
Bridget was prepared for this question.
"She is not of the faith; but, peradventure, if aid be vouchsafed, she shall be reclaimed."
"If she have faith, I will cure her malady. What sayest thou?" He fixed his clear grey eye upon her, and Ellen felt as though some charm were already at work, and a strange tingling went through her frame. She stammered out something like an assent, when the priest carefully proceeded to unlock a little cabinet, inlaid with ivory and gold, from which he took out a white silk bag that diffused a grateful perfume through the chamber. He offered up a prayer before he unloosed the strings; after which, with great formality and reverence, he drew forth a human hand, dried and preserved, apparently by some mysterious process, in all its substance and proportions. Ellen was dumb with astonishment. Bridget could with difficulty refrain from falling on her knees before this holy relic; and her delight would easily have run over in some form of religious extravagance had it been suffered to have free vent. To this relic, doubtless, had the predictions referred: and she doubted not its power and efficacy.
"This rare and priceless thing," said the priest, "was once the right hand of an English Martyr, Father Arrowsmith by name, put to death for his holy profession. In consideration whereof, it is permitted, by the will of the Supreme, that an honourable testimony be rendered to his fidelity by the miracles that it doth and shall work to the end of time. Rub it thrice on the part affected, and mark the result. If thou receive it with humility and faith, trusting in Heaven, from whence alone the healing virtue doth flow—these holy relics being, as it were, but the appointed channels and conduits of His mercy—thou shall assuredly be healed."
But Ellen was at some loss to know the precise situation of her complaint, until she recollected the picture drawn by the dumb fortune-teller, who described the heart alone as touched by this miraculous hand. Yet, in what manner to make the application was a matter of some difficulty.
Bridget again relieved her from the dilemma.
"If it so please your reverence, the seat of the complaint is not visible. Suffer us to use it privately. We will not carry forth nor misuse this precious keepsake; for I have been brought up in the nurture of the Holy Church, and am well instructed in her ceremonies."
"I fear not for the harm that can happen to it, by reason of ungodly or mischievous devices. If taken away, it would assuredly return hither. Should the lady have some inward ailment, let her lay it as near as may be to the part where she feels afflicted, and keep it there for a space, until she findeth help."
The two visitors were then shown into another chamber; and here Bridget, with great devoutness, and a firm faith in its efficiency, placed the dead cold hand upon her mistress's heart. Ellen shuddered when she felt its death-like touch. It was either fancy, or something more, but she really felt as though a load were suddenly taken away—an oppression, an incubus, that had continually brooded over her, was gone. Surprised, and lightened of her burden, she returned into the oratory, and gave back the relic, along with a liberal offering into the hands of the priest. He said there would scarcely be occasion for a repetition of the act, as it was evident the faith of the recipient had wrought its proper work.
The day by this time being far spent, the priest begged permission to introduce Ellen to Lady Gerard, who, he said, would be much gratified to afford them entertainment, and, if need were, shelter for the night. On hearing the name of her visitor, this kind lady would take no denial, but expressed herself warmly on the folly and imprudence of an invalid being exposed to the night air; and Ellen, delighted with the change she felt, was all compliance and good-nature. After a little hesitation, she suffered her first refusals to be overcome, and the night wore on with pleasant converse. By little and little Lady Gerard gained the confidence of Ellen, who seemed glad that she could now speak freely on the subject nearest to her heart.
"It is marvellous enough," continued Lady Gerard, "that you should have been conducted hither; for in this house there is a magic mirror, which may, peradventure, disclose what shall relieve your anxiety. On being looked into, after suitable preparations, it is said—for I never tried the experiment—to show wondrous images within its charmed surface; and like the glass of Cornelius Agrippa, of which we have a tractate in the library chamber, will show what an absent person is doing, if the party questioning be sincere, and anxious for his welfare."
"I have long wished," said the blushing Ellen, "that I might see him of whom our evening's discourse hath, perchance, been too much conversant. I would not for worlds that he knew of my wish; but if I could see him once more, and know the bearing of his thoughts toward me, I could now, methinks, die content."
"This very night, then, let us consult the oracle," said Lady Gerard; "but there must not be any witness to our exploit; so while away your impatience as best you may until I have made the needful preparations for our adventure."
Ellen could not repress her agitation when, after waiting alone for a little time, her kind hostess came to summon her to the trial. She was conducted up the staircase before mentioned, and through a corridor of some length. The lamp grew pale and sickly in the cold wind of the galleries they trod. Soon, however, they paused before a low door. Lady Gerard pressed her finger on her lip, in token of silence. She then blew out the light, and they were involved in total darkness. Taking hold of Ellen's arm, which trembled excessively within her own, she opened the door, but not a ray was yet visible. She was conducted to a seat, and Lady Gerard whispered that she should be still. Suddenly a light flashed forth on the opposite side, and Ellen saw that it came from a huge antique mirror. A form, in male attire, was there discernible. With a slow and melancholy pace he came forward, and his lips seemed to move. It was—she could not be mistaken—it was her cousin William! She thought he looked pale and agitated. He carried a light which, as it glimmered on his features, showed that they were the index of some internal and conflicting emotion. He sat down. He passed one hand over his brow, and she thought that a sigh laboured from his lips; but as she gazed the light grew dim, and ere long the mirror, ceasing to be illuminated, again left them in total darkness. A few minutes elapsed, which were swollen to long hours in the estimation of the anxious and wondering inquirer. Her companion again whispered that she should await the result in silence. Suddenly the light flashed out as before, and she saw the dumb fortune teller instead of the individual she expected. Her features were more writhen and distorted than ever; and she seemed to mutter, it might be, some malignant spell, some charm, the operation of which was for some unknown and diabolical intent. Ellen shuddered as the weird woman took a paper-roll from her bosom. Unfolding it, there was displayed the figure of her lover, as she supposed, kneeling, while he held out his hands toward the obdurate heart which he in vain attempted to grasp.
"I have wronged him," said Ellen, in a whisper to her companion; "if I interpret these images aright, he now sighs for my favour; and—would that we had known each other ere it was too late!"
"He knows now," said Lady Gerard; and immediately the dumb prophetess was at her side. She threw off a disguise, ingeniously contrived, and Ellen beheld her cousin William! The magic mirror was but an aperture through the wainscot into another apartment, and the plot had been arranged in the first place by Mrs Bridget, who had been confederate with the handsome but somewhat haughty wooer, having for his torment a maiden as haughty and intractable as himself. Thus two loving hearts had nigh been broken for lack of an interpreter. William's absence had taken deeper hold on Ellen's finely-tempered frame than was expected; and it was with sorrow and alarm that he heard of her illness. His distant relative, Lady Gerard, to whom he had retired for a season, spake of the marvellous hand, which, he was sure, being a devout and pious Catholic, would cure any disease incident to the human frame. It was absolutely needful that a cure should be attempted, along with some stratagem, to conquer the yet unbroken obstinacy in which, as with a double panoply, Ellen had arrayed herself. The result of the experiment has been shown. She was united to her cousin ere a few months were old, and the "merrie spring" had melted in the warm lap of summer.
THE LOST FARM;
OR, THE HAUNTED CASKET.
"And when of me his leave he tuik, The tears they wat mine ee, I gave tull him a parting luik, 'My benison gang wi' thee; God speed thee weil, mine ain dear heart, For gane is all my joy; My heart is rent, sith we maun part, My handsome Gilderoy.'
"Of Gilderoy sae 'fraid they were, They bound him mickle strong, Tull Edenburrow they led him thair, And on a gallows hung. They hung him high aboon the rest, He was sae trim a boy; Thair dyed the youth whom I lued best, My handsome Gilderoy."
On the flat, bare, sandy coast, near to Southport, now a modern bathing-place of great resort, described in the first series of this work, might be seen, some few years ago, a ruined barn, cottage, and other farmyard appurtenances, around which the loose and drifting sand was accumulated, covering, at the same time, some acres of scanty pasture, once held under lease and occupation by an honest fisherman, who earned a comfortable, if not an easy subsistence, from his amphibious pursuits. The thatched roofs were broken through—the walls rent and disfigured—all wore the aspect of desolation and decay. Long grass had taken root, flourishing luxuriantly on the summit, though surrounded by a barren wilderness, a wide and almost boundless ocean of sand. The ruin was the only fertile spot in this dreary waste. Though painful and melancholy the aspect, still, as the sea-breeze came softly over, sighing gently on its time-worn furrows, and on the nodding plumes that decorated the crest of this aged and hoary relic of the past, the sensation, though pleasing, became mournful; the heart seemed linked with the unknown, the mysterious events of ages that are for ever gone—feelings that make even a luxury of grief, prompted by that within us, "the joy of sorrow;" something more hallowed, more cherished in the heart's holiest shrine, than all the glare and glitter of enjoyment—the present bliss—which we prize only when it departs.
Many years ago, this humble tenement was the abode of George Grimes, the fisherman to whom we have just alluded. It was a dwelling one story only from the ground, as the general use was in these regions, ere modern edifices, staring forth in red, white, and green—their bold and upstart pretensions outfacing and supplanting the lowly but picturesque abodes of the aboriginal inhabitants—had overtopped and overshadowed these meek, rural, and primitive displays of architectural simplicity.
Grimes, we repeat, was of that amphibious class, common upon every coast, combining the occupations incident to land and water in his own proper person. Half-fisherman, half-farmer, he ploughed the seas with his keel, when upon land his coulter was out of use. He was nigh sixty, and had long settled down into that quiet nap-like sort of existence, when the passions are lulled, scarcely visible, as they creep over the stagnant current of life. He was hale and hard featured; the lines on his visage betokening, if need were, a stern, decisive, and obstinate bent in his disposition, that might have issued in deeds of high and noble daring had its possessor been thrown into circumstances favourable to the display. As matters stood, George was master of his own household. Here none questioned his authority; no profane, irreverent approach ever awakening the dormant energies of his character, or thwarting the current, visible only by opposition.
His wife was a round, brown, heavy-cheeked, dark-eyed dame, with a cap white as the whitest goose of the flock that marched every morning from her barn-doors to the common, where, by some little pool, a scanty and close-bitten herbage formed their daily subsistence. She wore a striped apron; the blue lines would have vied with the best Wigan check for breadth and distinctness. Her good-humoured mouth, reverse from her husband's, was usually puckered up at the corners into an expression of kindness, benignity, and mirth—the contrast greatly aided by proximity; for though George Grimes was benevolent and kind-hearted at the bottom, yet he was by no means apt to let these gentler feelings rise to the surface.
An only daughter was now passing within the precincts of womanhood. Her complexion, red, and—not white, reader—but of that rich, healthy, and wholesome tinge, perfect as an example of the real English brunette. Her face exhibited a beautiful modification of her father's hard and determined expression, blended with her mother's gentleness and placidity. A smile of thrilling sweetness would sometimes pass upon her calm and thoughtful countenance, always beautiful—if such a term can be allowed in speaking of a brown, rosy, plump, and well-conditioned girl, of good stature, whose form had not been squeezed into shape, nor her linsey woolsey flourished into flounce and farthingale. Her hair hung in bright clusters on her brow; fresh from Nature's toilet, their wild untutored elegance was singular and bewitching. Indeed, Katherine, or "Kattern," as she was more generally called, was the cynosure of this clime—a jewel, that needed not the foil of its homely setting; the envy and admiration of the whole neighbourhood—well known at church, and at Ormskirk market, where she attended weekly—at the latter place to dispose of her produce. Here she was the torment of many a rustic, unable to conquer, or even to understand, the power by which his heart was taken captive.
Avarice was the besetting sin of her father. He was always fearful of becoming poor, and "not paying his way," as he called it. Yet was it suspected that George Grimes had a "powerfu'" hoard, concealed both from his family and friends. Money he doated on. It was an undoubted fact that many a shining face went into the coffer of old Grimes that was never again seen performing the common everyday functions of currency and traffic.
He was always a-dreaming, too, that he had found treasure. Often he would spend the greater part of a morning tide in pacing the brink of the boiling waves, hoping to find there some coinage of his brain that had been his dream on the preceding night. Southport then existed not, at least in name. No gay and laughing crowds fluttered on the margin of the deep. No lines of well-trimmed "green-eyed" houses looked on, nor boats with their dancing pennons and bright forms shone gallantly on the waves. All was bleak, bare, and unappropriated. The very air seemed tenantless, save when the solitary gull came sailing on heavily with the approaching tide, screaming over the gorge she beheld rising on the billows. The loud lunge of the sea was interrupted solely by the cry of the fisherman, and the "cockler's" whistle, plying his scanty trade among the shoals and sandbanks about the coast. It is scarcely possible to conceive a situation more desolate and uninviting. Hills of arid sand skirting the beach, without vegetation or enclosure, except where the withered bent and little golden-starred stone-crop gave their own wild and peculiar aspect to the scene. The shore is flat and unbroken to the very horizon, where the tide, retreating to its extreme verge, throws up a dim sparkle in the distance—Nature even here displaying her never-ceasing round of reproduction and decay, of advance and retrocession.
We had almost forgotten that there was another inmate of the household—a tall, thick-browed, high-cheeked menial, whose coarse habiliments displayed a well-proportioned shape, and shoulders of an athletic width. He had been engaged at the farm barely twelve months before the date of our narrative; and, at the first, a more egregious simpleton, as to farming and fishing operations, never drew a net or whistled at the plough-tail. Yet he came well recommended by a Catholic gentleman in the neighbourhood as a stout servant of all work, who would serve Grimes honestly and for moderate wages. He had one excellence or defect, as it might be—that which we impute to one dumb from his birth, but not deaf. He perfectly understood what was spoken, though, to make known his wishes, he was obliged to have recourse to signs or writing. In the former accomplishment he seemed to be well skilled, for he often elucidated his meaning by rude sketches in chalk upon the floor and table. There was a mystery about his appearance he cared not to divulge. His country and connections, too, were equally unknown. By the neighbours it was often suspected that he dealt with the Evil One. The "evil eye" was sometimes attributed to him; and the signs and chalkings were supposed to be mystic emblems of the future, into the hidden secrets of which he had the power of directing his inquiries.
He was apt in learning, and served George Grimes diligently and faithfully. He soon became acquainted with the various duties of the farm; and could unreef a sail or make a net with the best labourer in the parish.
His only companion was Katherine. She taught him to knit, and to make nets; directed him how to find the best peats, and showed him where the rabbits burrowed and the larks and lapwings made their nests. Sometimes the instructress and her pupil would sit on the sandhills, and watch the sun sink down upon the ocean; sometimes they would gather shells, when the day's work was over, and string them in fantastic chaplets, which "Dummy" was very expert in contriving. He could converse with Kattern without difficulty. He had taught her his vocabulary of signs, and the maiden liked to observe his strange remarks and inquiries on passing events.
In the forenoon of a dark, threatening, and squally day, just before high tide, Grimes and his assistant had trudged towards the beach, intending to go out with the boat for a little while. The weather having been stormy of late, supplies were becoming scanty, and he wanted a few fish for their own use. They proposed to take the smaller boat only, hoping to be back with the next flood.
Toiling through the sand-drifts, they came to an opening between the hills, which looked immediately on the beach. The sky was black and heavy on the horizon towards the south-west. Round hard-edged clouds rode on from the main body, like flying squadrons, "grim couriers" of the storm. Here and there, through an opening in the clouds, the sky was of a deep, vivid, and intense blue, contrasting wildly with the rolling forms that tumbled about in turbulent confusion over the whole hemisphere. The sea was rising in breakers over the banks, hillocks of white foam riding on the crest of the billows, while the margin of the waves boiled and frothed like some vast cauldron.
The old man was not in a particularly complaisant mood that day. He was cross and snappish at trifles; irritable and out of humour with himself. As he waded through the narrow defile, the dumb assistant behind him whistled faintly, and perhaps inadvertantly. The fisherman looked back with a furious glance.
"Thou staring buzzard, is't not enough to see sich a bellyful o' wind i' brewing but thou must whistle for more to keep it company? Hang thee for a he-witch; I never hear that accursed piping but the wind follows, like sea-gulls to the garbage."
He had just turned a corner of the hill, when, looking round, he cried in a tone of terror and amazement—
"How now, Dick? Why, the boat is gone! what prank next? Thou careless unthrift, ill-luck follows i' thy wake. She has slipped anchor, and the little Kitty is gone to the Manx herring-boats. I am ruined, thou limb of Old Nick! thou chub! thou"——
Epithets were accumulating with prodigious force, when Dick, half-closing his eyes, pointed to something dark, like a small boat, in the offing.
"What's yon thee'rt pointing at? A porpoise-back, I warrant. Ay, shake thy head, fool; 'twill bring my bonny Kitty back. Why, thou'rt staring like a bit-boomp in a gutter catching frogs!"
Soon, however, the black speck became less ambiguous. George beheld a white stern heaving up and down. He ran forward as if to accelerate her return, crying out to his companion—
"A murrain catch thy tail, thou hast ever a longer sight than beseems thee. But she's coming, sure enough, whatever she be."
The old man gazed in wonder and suspense. He saw a sail unfurl, and the bark—his own little tight, trim vessel—come prancing on the white billows toward the shore. Soon he observed, sitting therein, perfectly at his ease, and unmindful of the near approach to, and the portentous menaces of, the owner, a figure clad in a garment of grey frieze, and a dark hairy cap on his head. One hand grasped the helm, and in the other he held the sheet, while he managed the boat with the most seamanlike skill and composure. His eye was fixed alternately on the shore and on the vane at the masthead as he came dancing through the surf, until he ran right upon the sands, where the boat grounded, and he sprang out upon the beach. The astonishment of Grimes can hardly be conceived when, without once deigning to notice him, away went the stranger, vouchsafing neither thanks nor acknowledgments.
"Holloa, friend!" cried the incensed owner; "your disposition be freer than welcome, methinks. Holloa, I say, whither away so fast?" cried he impatiently, quickening his pace; but the stranger altered not his gait in the least, plodding steadily onwards, without appearing to notice the angry inquiries of his pursuer.
Soon the quick long strides of George Grimes brought him alongside of the person he addressed. Crossing before him, and almost intercepting his progress, he exclaimed—
"How now, friend? I'd be bold to know what thou be'st. I'm mightily beholden to thee for this favour."
A malicious grin quivered on his pale and angry countenance; but the stranger was unmoved. He merely waved his hand, as though kindly admonishing the inquirer to depart and leave him unmolested.
"Nay, good man; I'm not so soon put off. Prithee, save thy wit, for I'm not i' the humour for a jest this morning."
A melancholy smile accompanied the reply.
"Friend," said he, "I am beholden to thee for thy boat; and if thou art seeking conditions for the hire, I am willing to return its equivalent. Will this content thee?"
Here George saw a bit of gold twinkling in the stranger's hand, which, like a beam on the dark waters, cleared his brow immediately.
He doffed his bonnet with great humility; but he was still curious about the matter, and more particularly as to what errand could have been requisite that boisterous morning. He stammered out some inquiry, and the stranger replied—
"Seek not to know; 'tis a doomed thing and accursed. I would have given thrice my revenue long ago, to have been rid o' the pest. But the wave hath swallowed it—for ever, I would earnestly pray; and I am again free!"
Saying this, he passed on, leaving the astonished fisherman gaping mute with wonder, until a projecting sandhill shut him out from their sight. During this interview the dumb assistant was busily engaged with the boat, disposing of the nets and other implements, though at the same time evidently keeping a wary eye towards the stranger.
The little bark was soon afloat, the wind again filled the sails, and shortly she was seen flying over the billows in defiance of "wind, water, and foul weather."
Grimes only purposed to cast the nets a mile or two from shore, for a good haul at that period was easily obtained much nearer the coast than is now practicable, the fish being driven away, as the inhabitants superstitiously but firmly believe, by the quarrels that have taken place amongst the fishermen.
The bark went merrily on, leaping over the waves, with the old mariner at her helm, and his dumb servant by the mainsheet. The wind was blowing more steadily; the short and squally gusts had increased into a roaring gale, driving right ahead from the west. To work, however, they went, when, after a haul or two, the old man being engaged with the tackling, up came something in the net—at least old Grimes saw it glittering amongst the fish when he turned round, and it could have come from none other quarter than the sea.
Grimes drew it forth, and a fair and weighty casket it was, apparently uninjured. It was ornamented in the arabesque or antique fashion, inlaid with great care and skill. He grasped the prize; he poised it, to ascertain its gravity. It seemed to be both heavy and well-filled.
This at last was the treasure he had often dreamt about, and the old man was almost frantic with joy. He hugged the unlooked-for messenger of wealth and good-fortune, and, putting the vessel about, made all sail for land.
Once more anchored as near the beach as the retiring tide would allow, Grimes was too much engaged with his prize to notice that "Dummy" took another route to the farm. Alone with his bundle, and a pelting storm at his heels, the old man came to his dwelling. His early appearance was unexpected, but the women, little used to question his movements, immediately set about preparing for dinner. Depositing the casket, which was locked, in the oaken chest or ark at his bedside, he purposed to break it open when he had procured the means, without harming the exterior.
The storm was rapidly gaining strength; the wind blew a hurricane; the thunder rolled on, louder and more frequent; and the rain came down in torrents. It was not an ordinary tempest, but more like one of those tropical tornadoes, when the elements—fire, air, and water—seem to mingle in universal uproar, fighting and striving for the mastery.
"I think, o' my conscience, this wind is raised by the ould one," said the elder female. Scarcely were the words uttered when the room seemed in a blaze, and a clap of thunder followed: so loud and appalling, that it made the very walls to rock and the whole fabric to reel with the stroke. The fisherman grew pale; the stranger's words rang in his ears. Was it the casket that he had committed to the deep, and of which he spake with such horror and execration? Strange as was the idea, yet he could not get rid of it; there seemed some connection between this fearful agony of nature and the mysterious treasure beneath his roof. The pipe fell from his mouth, and he sat listening, as he fancied, to the awful denunciations mingled with the howling storm, as though he had not power to move or to avert his gaze from the window.
"Bless me, I had forgotten you were by yourself, father," said Katherine. "He will be almost drowned, if he has not ta'en shelter."
"I know not," muttered Grimes; "he left me on the shore. He might ha' been here long since." The rain and wind abated for a brief space, when old Isabel appeared to be listening near the chamber door, where Grimes had left the casket.
"Mercy! what's that, George?"
The fisherman was immediately all eye and ear; his head bent towards the door, which stood ajar.
"Who is there in the chamber?" inquired the old woman. "I hear it again."
"Hear! what?" replied he, in great agitation.
"Something like an' it were a-whispering there," replied the dame.
But a gust of wind again overwhelmed every other sound in its progress. Grimes thought he had heard a whisper that made his blood freeze, and the very flesh to creep over his bones with terror.
But Katherine fearlessly entered; she looked cautiously about, but all was still, and she returned. Ere she closed the door, however, she heard a soft whisper, as though behind her. Naturally courageous, she immediately went back, but all was quiet as before; nor could she find that any person had been concealed in the apartment. She opened the chest where Grimes had stowed his booty, and seeing the casket, she took it up, running hastily into the adjoining room.
"Why, father, what a pretty fairing you have brought me. I'se warrant, now, you would not have told me on't till after the wakes, if I had not seen it."
The old man looked as if he had seen a ghost. The whispers he had heard were, foolishly enough perhaps, connected in his mind with the presence of this mysterious thing.
"Take it back—back, wench, into the chest again. It was not for thee, hussy. A prize I fished up with the nets to-day."
"From the sea. Oh me! it is—it is unholy spoil. It has been dragged from some wreck. Cast it again to the greedy waters. They yield not their prey without a perilous struggle," said the girl.
The fisherman was silent. He looked thoughtful and disturbed, while Katherine went back to put the treasure into its hiding-place.
"I wonder what that whispering could be?" thought the maiden, as she opened the old chest. Ere the lid was pulled down, she cast one look at the beautiful but forbidden intruder, and she was sure—but imagination is a potent wizard, and works marvellously—else she was sure that a slight movement was visible beneath the casket. She flung down the lid in great terror; pale and trembling, she sprang out of the room, and sat down silent and alarmed. Again the mysterious whispers were audible in the momentary pauses of the blast.
"Save us!" said the elder female; "I hear it again."
Bounce flew open the door of the bed-chamber, and—in stalked their dumb assistant, as though he had chosen this mode of ingress, through the window of the sleeping-room, rather than through the house-door.
"Plague take thee! Where hast thou been?" said the old woman, partly relieved from her terrors. Yet was the whispering precisely as incomprehensible as before. The dumb menial that stood before her was obviously incapable even of this act of incipient speech.
"Where hast thou been, Dick?" inquired Grimes, seriously. But the former pointed towards the beach.
"How long hast thou been yonder?—in the chamber, I mean."
Dick here fell into one of his ordinary fits of abstraction, from which neither menace nor entreaty could arouse him. As the old man turned from the window he saw a blaze of light flashing suddenly upon the wall. The yard was filled with smoke. Rushing forth, the inmates found the barn thatch on fire, kindled probably by the lightning. The rain prevented it from extending with much rapidity; and Grimes, mounting on the roof, soon extinguished the burning materials before much damage had been the result. Misfortunes verily seemed to crowd upon each other; and that unlucky casket, doubtless, was the cause. When the old man, with his dame, returned into the house, Katherine was nowhere to be found. The "Dummy," too, was unaccountably absent. Anxious and wondering, they awaited, hoping for their appearance at dinner; but their meal was cheerless and unvisited. Evening came, serene, deceitful as ever—but their child did not return. They went out to make inquiries, but could find no clue to aid them in the search. Katherine had never stayed from home so late. The parents were nigh distracted. There was evidently some connection between the disappearance of their servant and her own absence. Fearful surmises ensued. Suspicion strengthened into certainty. The casket was forgotten in this fearful distress; and, after a fruitless search, they were forced to return.
On the third night after this occurrence, Grimes and his disconsolate helpmate were sitting by the turf embers in moody silence, broken only by irregular whiffs from the pipe—the old man's universal solace. After a longer pull than usual, he abruptly exclaimed—
"Three days, Isabel, and no tidings of the child. Who will comb down my grey hairs now, or read for us in the Book o' nights? We must linger on without help to our grave; none will care to keep us company."
"Woe's me!" cried the dame, and she wept sore; "my poor child! If I but knew what was come to her, I think i' my heart I would be thankfu'. But what can have happen'd her? unless it be Dick indeed; and yet I think the lad was honest, though lungeous at times, and odd-tempered. By next market, surely, we shall ha' tidings fra' some end. But I trow, 'tis that fearsome burden ye brought with you, George, fra' the sea, that has been the cause of a' this trouble."
Grimes started up. He threw the ashes from his pipe, and, without saying a word, went into the bed-chamber. Lifting up the chest-lid, he saw the casket safe, and apparently undisturbed. He drew it fearlessly forth, and vowed that he would throw it into the sea again, without further ado, on the morrow. It felt much lighter, however, than before; but not another night should it pass under his roof; so he threw it beside a turf-heap in the yard. His heart, too, felt lighter as he cast the abominable thing from him; and he was sure it was this mischievous inmate alone that had wrought such woe in his hitherto happy and quiet household.
Morning came; and Grimes, for the first time since his loss, took the boat, committing himself alone with the haunted casket on the sea. It was a lovely morning as ever sun shone upon; the waters were comparatively smooth; and the tide brought one of those refreshing breezes on its bosom, so stimulating and healthful to the invalid.
But Grimes thought not of the brightness or beauty of the morning. With the helm in his hand, one light sail being stretched out to the wind, he was steering through the intricate channel, and amongst the sandbanks which render the coast so dangerous even to those best acquainted with its perils.
He stood out to a considerable distance, intending to have depth and sea-room enough to drown his burden.
The breeze was fair, the sea was bright, and the mariner sailed on. He determined, this time at least, that the casket should be sent far enough out of harm's way.
"If that plaguy thing had been down deep enough before," thought he, "this mischief had not happened." He looked at it, and thought again, "How very sad to part with so beautiful a treasure." He had not observed before that the lid was unlocked. He might as well peep before it should be hidden for ever beneath the dark billows. He lifted up the rim of the coffer cautiously; he trembled as the hinges gave way; and—it was empty!
"I am a fool!" thought he; "a downright fool. An empty box can have nothing to do with"——
But, as if to belie his own conclusions, and to convince him that peril, and misfortune must attend the presence of that mysterious thing, he having just quitted the helm for a more convenient examination, a sudden squall nearly upset the boat. Fortunately she righted, but not before most of the movables were tossed out, including the cause of all his troubles. This at any rate was lucky, and cheaply purchased with the loss and breakage of his marine stores.
The tide was still coming in, though nearly at the height, and Grimes floated merrily to land. After hauling the boat ashore, he stood for a moment looking towards the sea, when he saw, dancing like a spectre on the very edge of the wave that broke in a thousand bubbles at his feet, the identical box he had taken such pains to commit to the safe keeping of that perilous deep. It was evidently pursuing him. He would have fled, but fear had arrested his footsteps. He did not recollect that the box was now empty, and floated from its own buoyancy.
"It will not drown," thought he. After a little reflection he resolved to dispose of it in some other manner.
"It will haunt me as long as it is above ground. I'll bury it." In pursuance of this wholesome resolve, he took it home again. Digging a deep grave in the peat-moss behind this cottage, he thrust in the object of his apprehensions, trusting that he was now safe from its power.
But noises horrid and unaccountable disturbed him. Demons had surely chosen his dwelling for their head-quarters. Nor day nor night could he rest—fancying that a whole legion of them were haunting him. He seemed to be the sport and prey of his own terrors; and with a heavy heart he resolved to quit, though suffering a grievous loss by the removal.
The story of the haunted casket, with many additions and improvements, soon got abroad. No one dared to pass the house after nightfall, and "The Lost Farm" has ever since been tenantless.
Grimes removed to another in a few weeks; but his happiness and his hopes were for ever dissipated by the mysterious intruder. Hearing no tidings from his daughter, he determined, several weeks after the adventure, to sally forth in quest of intelligence.
It was a cold blustery morning when the old man set out on his errand. He was clad in a coarse blue frieze coat, with the usual complement of large white-plated buttons. His head was sheltered by an oil case-covered hat, tied down with a blue and white check handkerchief, and he held a long stick before him at arm's length, on which his sorrowful and drooping frame hung more heavily than usual. He had grown a dozen years older at least in less than as many weeks; and when he came to Church Town, having taken the bypath through the hills, he was fain to rest himself a while at the inn-door. Before it stood several carts on their way towards Preston, whither they were bound for the disposal of their produce on the morrow. Grimes thought he might as well make some inquiries there; Katherine having at times visited that remote town to make purchases. He would have company too if he went with the carts, and a lift now and then if he were tired; so, throwing down his bundle, he entered the house intimating his wish that they should join company.
"To Preston, lad?" said a jolly carter, holding a pewter pot that seemed as if glued to his hard fist. "Rare doings there, old one. What! thee wants to look at the fun, I warrant. Why, the rebels ha' been packed off to Lunnun long sin'; but we han had some on 'em back again; that is, thou sees, their Papist heads were sent back i' pickle into these parts, and one on 'em grins savagely afore the Town Ha'."
Grimes knew little of political niceties, or whether kings de facto or de jure were better entitled to the throne.
The late disturbances had not reached these districts; so that the rebellion of 1745 might as well have happened in Kamtschatka or Japan for any personal knowledge that old Grimes had of the matter.
"Rebels!" said he; "I have heard a somewhat of this business; though I know nothing, and care less about them cannibals."
"Then what be'st thee for in such a hurry to Preston?"
"I had a daughter, but she has left me, the staff and comfort of my old age, when I stood most in need of the prop!" Here the old man drew his hat over his brows, partly turning aside.
"Cheer up, friend," saith another; "thy daughter, maybe, is gone wi' Prince Charlie, when he piped through Preston 'Hie thee, Charlie, hame again!'"
This malicious sally raised a loud laugh; but the old man heard it with great agony and consternation; for though a bow drawn at a venture—a chance expression merely, intended as a clever hit at the women's expense, who had followed in the train of the rebels—Grimes construed the passage literally; and from that time it ran continually in his head, that his daughter's absence would be found to have some connection with these events.
"Hang thy jibes!" said the first speaker, for whom this piece of wit was more especially intended; "hang thee, I'll knock thy neck straight; pepper me but I will!"
This worthy had a wife, who incontinently had contributed to augment the rebel train when the Prince, in far different plight, on the 27th of November 1745, passed through Preston, on his route to London, piping "The king shall have his own again."
A fray was nigh commencing—a circumstance not at all unusual in those turbulent times—but the master of the band speedily interfered, threatening displeasure and a wholesome discipline to his refractory servants.
Grimes accompanied them on their journey, riding, walking, and gossiping, at irregular intervals; during which he learned much news relating to the aspect and circumstances of the time, the names of the leaders, and those attainted and condemned, in this hasty and ill-timed rebellion. A considerable number of Lancashire partisans, officers of the Manchester regiment, commanded by Colonel Townley, had been conveyed to London, and tried for high treason, in July 1746. Some were reprieved and pardoned; others were executed, with all the horrid accompaniments prescribed by the law. The heads of Townley and one Captain Fletcher were placed upon Temple Bar. The heads of seven others, having been preserved in spirits, were at that time ornamenting posterns and public thoroughfares in Manchester, Preston, Wigan, and Carlisle, to the great comfort of the loyal and well-disposed, and the grievous terror of the little children who passed in and out thereat. Others, the noble leaders of this short and ill-acted tragedy for the benefit of the selfish and bigoted Stuarts, suffered death; while others escaped, amongst whom was the titular Earl of Derwentwater, supposed to have been conveyed secretly aboard ship for Scotland.
In these rebellions, it may generally be said, that in the county of Lancaster, Catholics as well as Protestants displayed a firm attachment to the reigning family. Instances of defection were very rare; and, when they occurred, might be imputed to some peculiarity in the situation of the delinquents rather than to party or religious feelings. The romantic attempt of the young Chevalier, as displayed in this rebellion, had in it something imposing to ardent and enthusiastic minds; and those who embraced his cause south of the Tweed were principally young men of warm temperament, whose imaginations were dazzled by the chivalrous character of the enterprise.
About the close of day, the towers of "proud Preston" were seen rising above the broad sweep of the river below Penwortham Bridge. The situation chosen by our ancestors for the erection of "Priest's Town"—so called because the majority of its inhabitants in former times were ecclesiastics—evinces the discriminating eye of a priest, and shows that, whether the religious orders selected a site for an abbey or for a city, they were equally felicitous in their choice. Placed at a convenient distance from the sea, upon the elevated banks of one of the finest rivers in England, with a mild climate and a dry soil, and commanding a rich assemblage of picturesque views, in one of the most interesting portions of Ribblesdale, the spirit of St Wilfred himself, to whom the parish church is dedicated, and who was the most accomplished ecclesiastic of his age, must have animated the mind that fixed upon this spot.
Grimes, adjusting his satchel and other appendages, trudged warily on, according to the directions he had procured from his guides, in respect to lodgings. His route lay up Fishergate; and on his way, near the Town Hall, his progress was interrupted by a dense crowd. The soldiers and local authorities were just conveying a prisoner of some note from the hall of justice to head-quarters at the Bull Inn, under a strong guard.
Grimes, impelled by curiosity, and likewise having an idea that it might be one of the rebels, with whom he still connected the disappearance of his daughter, thrust himself, edgeways, into the crowd; his primitive appearance causing no slight merriment amongst the bystanders.
Guarded by soldiery and a bevy of constables before and behind, came a tall, muscular figure, attired in a ragged suit—probably a disguise, and not of the most reputable or becoming description. He looked haggard and dejected—harassed, in all likelihood, by long watching and fatigue. His hair was intensely black, surmounted by a coarse cap or bonnet, such as the mechanics then wore at their ordinary occupations.
The old man looked steadfastly at the prisoner.
"Surely it cannot be!" said he half-aloud. He pressed into the foremost rank, and near enough to receive a lusty blow from one of the constables; but not before he had, with an exclamation of joy and astonishment, recognised the features of his former servant and dumb inmate at the farm.
Grimes, caring not a whit for the blow, in his ready and imprudent zeal stepped up to the leader of the party, thinking there was doubtless some mistake in the person they had seized, and anxious, too, for an opportunity of speaking with the prisoner anent his errand.
"Stand back!" said the official representative gruffly.
"Friend, I know thy prisoner well. He was lodged and victualled at my house not six weeks agone."
"The —— he was; then we may as well try a hand with thee too," said the constable.
But the simplicity and openness of the old man was his protection; for the constable walked on, without deigning to bend his truncheon to such low and inglorious enterprise.
"But look thee," said the pertinacious and unsuspecting fisherman, "he is my servant; and you are i' the wrong to capture him without my privity."
"And who art thou?" inquired another of these myrmidons of justice, eyeing Grimes and the cut of his habiliments from head to foot. "I do bethink me thou art i' the roll. Thee would make a grim fixture for a pole here hard by." He looked significantly towards the reward of treason hung in front of the Town Hall above them.
"Like enough!" said the other, taking the offender by the collar; who, astonished beyond measure at this proceeding, was unable for a while to give such an account of himself as to satisfy the officers and regain his liberty. The prisoner looked at him, but did not betray the least symptom of acknowledgment.
"Ill-mannered varlet!" thought the old man; "but what can they be a-wanting with our Dummy?"
Still urged on by the crowd, he resolved to see an end of the business; so, pushing with them through the gateway of the inn, he came so near the prisoner as to touch him gently by the sleeve during the press and scuffle in the entry. For a moment—and it was a glance observed by the fisherman alone—the pale features of the unfortunate rebel showed a glimpse of recognition; but immediately they relapsed into their former stern though melancholy expression.
Being much amazed at this conduct, the old man could not forbear exclaiming—
"Varlet!—my daughter—thou"——But the prisoner was out of sight and hearing, and the crowd were driven from the gateway. Grimes heard a few of the bystanders speaking of some great man that was taken, and of the reward that would be obtained for his apprehension; but the old fisherman smiled at their ignorance. He knew better. It was none other than his dumb retainer at the farm; and he set his wits to work—no despicable auxiliaries at a pinch—in order to procure an interview.
In vain he attempted to persuade such of the crowd as would give him a hearing of the real state of the case, and the great injustice of the man's arrest. But they listened to him with impatience and suspicion. The old man was doubtless either crazed or guilty as one of the rebel partisans.
"I tell thee what, old crony; if thou dost not change thy quarters, we will lay thee by the heels i' the cage, presently. Budge! move, quick; or"——Here the speaker, a little authoritative-looking personage, would have made a movement corresponding to the words; but Grimes, perceiving that he was not to be trifled with, unwillingly drew aside out of harm's way.
Hungry, weary, and dispirited, the old man inquired his way to an obscure lodging in one of the wynds near the market. It was a low, dismal-looking tavern, wherein sat two or three unwashed artificers, drinking beer and devouring the news.
"I'm right fain he's taken," said one of the politicians, whose black leathern apron and smutty face betokened his occupation. "There's but old Lovat, they say, now, to chop shorter by a handful of brains. Proud Preston, say I, for ever. Hurra!"
"Ay, and the mayor's wife too, say I; and may she never want a pair of garters to tuck round a rebel's neck!" replied a little giggling, good-humoured fellow, who seemed to imbibe ale as he drew his breath—both being vitally necessary to his existence.
"She's a rare wench, and would sooner see a rebel hanged, than bod her nose at a basin of swig and roasted apples."
"She played the husband's part to some purpose when Charles Edward levied the tribute forsooth, Mr Mayor being gone to look after his children, by Longridge; but old Sam the beadle says he was afeard o' the wild Highlanders, and slunk out of the way."
Whilst this conversation was going on Grimes untied his handkerchief, doffed his stocking boots, and embracing his satchel, drew forth a piece of hard, unsavoury cheese, and some barley-cake, with which he proceeded to entertain, if not satisfy, his stomach. A glass of beer finished this frugal repast, when the old man retired into the shadow of a huge projecting chimney, ruminating on the perplexities by which he was encompassed, and on the possibility of his final extrication. Opposite to him, in the shadow, as if shunning observation, sat another person who appeared wishful to avoid any intercourse with the guests. Grimes stretched his gaunt figure on a bench beside the hearth, as though desirous to let in the dark waters of oblivion upon his spirit.
The hostess was bustling in and out, doubtless impatient at this prolonged stay when the cup was empty; and, in one of these inspectory visits, the old man addressed her, scarcely raising his contemplative gaze from the embers, where he had been poking his eyes out for the last half-hour.
"I want a bed for the night, good dame."
"We have none to spare," said the dissatisfied landlady—"for such guests as thee," perhaps she would have added, but the stranger from the opposite corner interrupted her.
"He shall have mine: I can lie on the squab."
The voice of the speaker was soft and musical, apparently in a disguised tone.
"You're very kind, sir," said the hostess; "but this over-thrifty customer may find other guess places i' the town; unless, indeed, he chooses to pay handsomely for the lodging."
"And then, maybe," said the stranger, "the siller would find out a bed to lie in."
"I could lend him mine, perhaps," returned the accommodating landlady.
"Then here's a crown," said the other, "and let the old man be both fed and bedded. I have money enough; and his purse, I think, is not overstocked with provision, if we may guess by the lining of his wallet."
The dame, growing courteous in an instant, promised as good a bed as King George himself slept in that blessed night. The astonished fisherman could hardly credit his senses. He thanked his stars for this unexpected interposition; nor would he refuse the gift, though from the hands of a stranger.
The latter shortly afterwards retired to rest; and the political weaver and blacksmith, having settled the hanging, drawing, and quartering of the unfortunate prisoner, not without a full and minute-description of this disgusting and barbarous, though to them diverting process, called for a parting cup, to drink confusion to the rebels and a speedy dismissal to the Chevalier.
Old Grimes retired also; and in a low wide room, white-washed and bare-walled, containing a broken chair, two-thirds of a table, and a bed without tester, covered with a thick blue quilt, was deposited the mortal fabric of the weary fisherman.
He could not sleep for a considerable time; the strange events he had witnessed, the excitement he had undergone, together with the rude brawls beneath his window, prevented him from closing his eyes until past midnight. He heard not a few loyal home-made songs, by the red-hot braggarts, pot-valiant and full of "gentle minstrelsie," as they trolled lustily past his lodging. Amongst many others, the following seemed an especial favourite:—
1. "Down wi' the Papists an' a', man, Down wi' the priest and confession; Down wi' the Charlies an' a', man, And up wi' the Duke an' the nation.
2. "There's Townley, an' Fletcher, an' Syddal, And Nairn, wi' his breeks wrang side out, man; Some ran without breeks to their middle, But Charlie ran fastest about, man."
After a while, the sounds began to mingle confusedly with the images floating on his own sensorium. He felt as though unable to separate them: ideal forms took up the real impressions, and arrayed themselves so cunningly withal, that to his mind's eye the image of his daughter seemed to approach. The brawling ceased; the room was lighted up. It was his own chamber, and Katherine sprang towards him, smiling as she was wont, for her usual "Good-night." "God bless thee, my child!" said he, as he threw his arms about her. Starting up, awake, at the sound of his own voice, he found that he had not grasped a shadow; but a being, real and substantial, was in his embrace. Grimes was horribly alarmed.
"Father, it is I," said a soft whisper. It was the voice of his daughter.
"Hush!" said she; "be silent, for your life and mine. You shall know all; but not now. Fear not for me. I'm safe; but I will not leave him—my companion—yonder unfortunate captive. Help me, and I'll contrive his rescue."
"Thy companion, wench! why, how is this? Art"——
"Honest and true, as he is faithful. We may yet be happy as we once were, when this fearful extremity is past. Say no more; we may be overheard. Now aid me; for without our help he is lost! and, oh, refuse not this one, perhaps this last request of thy child!"
She fell upon his neck, and the old man was moved to an unwonted expression of tenderness; for truly his daughter was dearer to him than any earthly object; and still dearer in the moment when the lost one was restored.
"To-morrow night," said the maiden, "bring your boat, with four stout rowers, to the quay at Preston Marsh. Let me see; ay, the moon is near two days old, and the tide will serve from nine till midnight. You know the channel well, and wait there until I come."
"Kattern, thou shall go with me. I'll not leave thee now."
"Nay," said the faithful girl; "I must not; I will not. There is life depending on my endeavours. Father," continued she, throwing her arms round the old man's neck, who now sobbed aloud, "hear me; no power shall force me to leave him now in misery and misfortune. I would move the very stones for his rescue; and cannot I move thee?"
"Well, Kattern, I am a silly and a weak old body, and thou—But thou art disguised. Where didst get that coat? and—I declare—trousers. For shame, wench!"
"Nay, you shall know all, father, when I return; when we have delivered him, and not before."
The old man was too much overjoyed not to promise the requisite attendance.
"My life depends on 't, father; so good-night."
"Stay—stay, wench—a moment!"
But a light step, and the sound of a gently-closing door, announced her departure; and Grimes was forced to remain, where he lay sleepless on his pallet, impatiently awaiting daybreak.
With the first peep of dawn was old Grimes astir; and the lark was but just fluttering from the dew when the quaint, angular form of the mariner was again seen plodding towards the coast.
"Since that plaguy box came into my fingers, I've had neither rest nor luck. I'll ne'er meddle with stray goods again while I live!" and in this comfortable determination he continued, thinking of his bonny Kattern to lighten the toil of his long and lonesome journey.
The same day the sun lighted early on the towers and gables of "Proud Preston." Longridge Fell threw off its wreath of mist; but on the river a long and winding vapour followed its course, everything betokening one of those pure, exhilarating days that so rarely visit our watery and weeping regions.
* * * * *
The mayor was but just awakened; yet Mrs Mayor had long been vigilantly engaged in household and political affairs (for she ruled the civic power in Preston's thrice happy borough), when a stranger came on some business of importance.
"What is your will, my good friend?" inquired the mayoress, taking off a light pair of shagreen-mounted spectacles; for being of that debatable age when time is hardly known by his advances on the person, having just mounted these helps occasionally, as she said, when mending a pen or sewing fine work, she cared not to show that they were in use at other seasons more germane to their purpose.
"I would have a word in private with the mayor."
"Mr Mayor has no words in private that come not through his lady's ear. Once more, your business?"
"I must see him, and alone," said the intruder.
"Must see him?" replied the female diplomatist; "I tell you that you shall not see him before I am acquainted with the cause. I hear your master on the floor above," said she to a servant who had just entered; "tell him he need not hurry down; breakfast is not yet ready."
The servant retired as he was bid; but, having heard more of the foregoing colloquy than his mistress intended, the message, as delivered to his worship, was of an opposite tenor from what he had been charged with. The stranger continued firm in his determination not to divulge his errand; and the anxiety of the ruling power to ascertain his motive would not suffer her to dismiss him.
Great was the disappointment and dark the storm on the lady's brow, when, beslippered and begowned, came in hastily the chief magistrate of this ancient borough.
"A word in your worship's ear," said the stranger; "my time is short and the affair is urgent."
"Speak out; my wife shares the burdens of this office, and, indeed"——
"But, sir, I crave an audience in private. Should you not grant my request, there be other ears shall have the benefit of what is meant for your own."
The magistrate quailed before the terrors of his wife's frown; but however dangerous the duty—and it was fraught with no ordinary peril—still, in his official capacity, he could not refuse to grant the stranger a private interview.
The mayor was a round, full-eyed personage, whose cheek and nose displayed the result of many a libation to the jolly god. Short-legged, short-breathed, and full-paunched, he strode, quick and laborious, like a big-bellied cask set in motion, as if glad to escape, into a small back chamber, furnished with two stools, a desk, and sundry big books—implements in use only as touching his private affairs.
"Now, sir," said his majesty's vicegerent, puffing from unwonted exertion, "it is my lot to fill the civic chair in these troublous times; and truly my portion is not in pleasant places; but I am loyal, sir, loyal. The king has knighted many a servant less worthy than myself; and, but that Mrs Mayor is looking forward to the title, there would be little good-will to the office from 'my lady' that is to be. Now, sir."
The garrulous and ambitious minister of justice here paused, more for lack of breath than words or will to utter them; and the stranger, who had hitherto kept his hat just below his chin, waiting for a pause in this monologue, replied—
"My message respects your prisoner."
"Well, sir, go on. Proceed, sir, I say. What! can't you speak? Why stand there as if stricken dumb in our presence?"
The stranger did proceed the moment that an interval was granted.
"I am brief, your worship."
"Brief—brief—so am I; and my lady—that is, Mrs Mayor—though she likes that I should, in some sort, furnish my tongue to an acquaintance with the speech, so that I often speak of and to her as such, you observe, that when it may seem good unto his Majesty's pleasure, knighting my poor honesty"—here he made a slight obeisance—"the words may fall trippingly off the tongue, as though we were used to the title, and wore our honours like they who be born to them, sir. Proceed, sir. Why stand dilly-dallying here? Am I to wait your pleasure?"
"Mine errand is simply this:—A plot is laid for the escape of your prisoner on his way to London; so that, unless means be taken to hinder it, he will be liberated."
"Escape!—what?—where? We will raise the soldiery. How say you? I will tell my lady instantly. Escape! If he escape I am undone. My knighthood—my knighthood, sir, is lost for ever; and my lady—she will ne'er look kindly on me again."
Here the little man arose, and, in great agitation, would have sought counsel from his wife, but the stranger prevented him.
"This must not be; 'tis for your ear alone. Stay!"
His worship was too much alarmed to resist; and the other led him gently from the door.
"If you will be guided by me you may prevent this untoward event. Let him be conveyed with all speed aboard the king's ship that is in the Irish Channel yonder; so shall you quit your hands of him, and frustrate the plans of his confederates. This must be done secretly, or his friends may get knowledge of the matter, who have had a ship long waiting for him privily on the coast to convey him forthwith to Scotland."
"I will about it directly. Dear me, I have left my glasses. The town-clerk must be apprised. The jailer—ay, good—thinkest thou he had not best be committed to jail?"
"Peradventure it will be prudent to do this. I will bear your orders to the town-clerk for his removal."
"When your worship thinks best; but I would recommend despatch."
"I will about it instantly. There—there—take this. I shall be at the clerk's office myself shortly. Tell Mr Clerk to be discreet until I come."
The little twinkling eyes of the functionary were overflowing at the good fortune which revealed to him alone this vile Popish treason. Thus happily frustrated by himself, it would doubtless be the means of raising him from plebeian ranks to the honours of knighthood, perhaps further. His head grew dizzy at the prospect. He shook the stranger by the hand, who bowed and withdrew.
Soon a little antiquated clerk, with green spectacles mounted in huge black rims, and a skin like unto shrivelled parchment, was seen accompanying the stranger to the inn.
The bolts opened to this demi-official, and they were at once ushered into the prisoner's chamber. He had already arisen, and was pacing the apartment in great haste.
"We come, sir," said the clerk, "to announce your removal; but first we search for plots. This rebel's disguise—where, sayest thou, is it concealed?"
"Upon his person," said the stranger.
"Pray doff that noble suit, sir," said the jocose purveyor of justice.
The prisoner, with an angry scowl, in which both grief and astonishment were mingled, silently obeyed the mandate; and displayed, underneath these coarse habiliments, a complete suit of female apparel—the very clothes worn by Katherine Grimes at the time of her disappearance.
"A well-contrived disguise, sir, truly. I wot you can suddenly change your gender at a pinch," said the clerk, chuckling at his own impertinence. But the prisoner, no longer dumb, as aforetime at the farm, answered, in a voice that awed even this presuming minion, with all the attributes of both law and power at his grasp.
"Why call you me sir, Sir Knave? I own no nicknames, and I answer to none. My title is Derwentwater."
"The titular earl, truly; but now Charles Ratcliffe, since your brother was"——
"Hanged, thou wouldst say," said the unfortunate and attainted peer, interrupting him; "it was his lot, as I pray thine may be, when the king shall have his own again. Silence!" continued he, in a commanding tone, as one accustomed to be obeyed. "I own it was my purpose to escape; but there is treachery in the camp—treachery in our own bosom—treachery"—here he cast a keen glance at the stranger—"ay, where our best feelings were cherished. I have leaned on a spear, and it hath pierced me! deeper than I thought—in this hard and seared heart."
A strong and painful emotion came over his dark features; he clenched his hands; but the stranger betrayed no symptoms of compunction.
"Now, sir, I am ready," said the earl; "make my fetters tight; or perhaps I may be spared that indignity."
But the proud Earl of Derwentwater would not stoop to propitiate.
"Nay, bind them, and I will be prouder of their insignia than of all the honours, all the trappings, that George Guelph can bestow."
"We have orders merely for your safe keeping in the jail," said the clerk; "to which the proper officers will see you conveyed."
He was accordingly removed to the town jail, then situated to the west of Friargate. This building had been formerly a Franciscan convent of Grey Friars, or Friars Minor, built by Edmund, Earl of Lancaster, son of Henry III., in 1221, to which Robert de Holland, who impeached Thomas, Earl of Lancaster, for high treason, contributed largely, and was buried there. In its original state it was a small collegiate building, with a chapel attached to its quadrangular cloisters. By the mutations of time, it became the residence of the Breares of Hammerton, in Bowland; next a house of correction, until the prison at the bottom of Church Street was erected in 1790.
The clerk, being more particular in his inquiries than his worship, addressed the stranger as follows when their mission was ended:—
"Thou hast given good evidence of this plot, and too full of circumstance and confirmation to be disbelieved. The name is Oswald thou sayest, and one of the party who have plotted for his rescue?"
"I have told thee of this before," replied the stranger, sullenly.
"What should prompt thee to betray him?"
"The same that prompts thee to minister to the hangman's trade—gold!"
"Humph!" replied the other drily, wiping his spectacles; "and what will satisfy your craving?"
"Why, thinkest thou that I deserve not a reward for my loyalty and readiness to reveal this plot? I will to London with the prisoner; the king will not fail to grant me great largess for what this proud lack-land calls my treachery."
"Why an it be a noose mayhap: for my part," continued the greedy and disappointed man of law, "I have touched never a doit of the bounty, though I have got many a sound rating, and am harder worked than a galley-slave, without even so much as a 'thank ye' for my pains. The mayor himself, who dreams he shall be knighted, may whistle a duet with 'my lady' as he calls her, as long as a county precept, or ere his title be forthcoming, though it be only a puff of empty breath. There's no luck in being loyal; neither honour nor honesty thrive therein. But 'tis the spoke that's uppermost; and so are we."
"Thinkest thou that I may get no share of the reward for his apprehension?" inquired the avaricious betrayer.
"Yes; Judas's reward, maybe, who sold his Master," said the indomitable clerk, much diverted by his own talents for tormenting. "Hold—I bethink me thou mayest claim the earl's linsey-woolsey gown and petticoats."
A loud laugh proclaimed that he had fully appreciated his own wit; though the stranger made no comments thereon.
"To-night, thou sayest, a boat will be in readiness, one hour before midnight and by the mayor's orders?"
"Yes; arrangements will be made, and soon after daylight we shall have our prisoner safe aboard the king's cruiser," replied the stranger, "for I know her bearing to a league."
"Thou wilt with us then?"
"Why, ay, if they will grant me a free passage. I would fain see him safe at head-quarters."
"I know not but thou art right; though, rest thee satisfied, he shall be sufficiently guarded."
The worthies here separated—one to his indictments and his desk, the other to gloat on the mischief he had either committed or prevented.
About an hour before midnight a heavy jarring sound announced to the prisoner that the time was at hand for his departure.
"Quick—quick, sir," said the jailer; "the mayor and his posse will see you safe aboard."
"The mayor! Wherefore comes he to swell the procession?"
"A prisoner of your rank and influence must be well looked after, I guess. The mayor will see you safely afloat, sir, and then he may go home with a quiet heart. He has had sore misgivings on account of your safety."
The earl accompanied his keeper; a close carriage was at the gate, well guarded. Mr Mayor and his green-eyed clerk took their seats with the prisoner: and the heavy vehicle rumbled dismally through the now deserted streets, wakening many a drowsy burgher as it passed.
They gained the low landing-place without interruption, having taken the precaution to chain the legs and wrists of their prisoner to prevent escape. The mayor and his shadow, the gossiping clerk, stepped out first, the carriage being well guarded on each side. Conducted along a jet or wooden pier, they saw a fishing-boat lying beneath. The waves flapped heavily on her sides, beating to and fro against the pier. Four rowers were leaning silently on their oars, awaiting the arrival of their cargo; their dark, low-crowned hats heaving above the dim light which yet lay upon the water.
The wind howled in the rising sail, and the creaking cordage whistled through the block. The sail was hoisted. The wind was fresh, and the rowers raised their oars. The earl was lifted into the boat by two of the attendants. The jailer next stepped in; three other myrmidons of justice followed.
"You know the offing well, my lads, I guess?" said the jailer.
"Ay, ay, sir," replied several voices.
"Where is the king's cutter?" said he, addressing the stranger, who was already in the boat.
"Lying to, between us and the Peel of Fouldrey," replied he.
"This is a strange boat I think," said the inquisitive jailer.
"We came with fish to market from Church Town," was the reply.
"One of your own men engaged her," said the stranger; "and these have grumbled long and hard enough, that they should have the ill-luck to be pressed into this disagreeable service."
"I would you had laid your paws on some other boat. We shall ha' na' luck after this," said the elder of the seamen. "You may hire another now, and welcome."
But there were none at hand. The jailer, with a hearty curse at his insolence, bade him be silent and push off.
"Hast thou gotten the memorial touching my poor services to the king?" inquired the trenchant mayor.
"Have ye gotten the warrant safe, and the prisoner in close custody?" inquired the clerk.
But the boat pushed from shore, and the answer was scarce heard, mingling with the rush of the waves and the hollow wind, while the trampling of horses and the rumbling of the coach announced the departure of Preston's high and illustrious ruler and his learned clerk: one to dream of swords, knights, and drawing-rooms; the other to soar through those mystic regions, sublime and incomprehensible—the awful, inscrutable forms, fictions, and subtleties of law.
The boat soon gained the mid-channel. The wind was favourable, and the tide, beginning to return, swept them rapidly down the river. The stranger, at whose instigation this plan had been adopted, lay in the little cabin, or rather coop, wrapped in a fisherman's coat, apparently asleep. Derwentwater sought not repose; he sat, moody and silent, in a deep reverie, unconscious or insensible to all but his own dark and untoward fate.
The loud dash and furrowing of the wave, the roar of the wind, and the cry of the boatman as he gave the soundings, were often the only audible sounds. No one was inclined to converse, and the roll and pitching of the boat when they approached the river's mouth made the jailer and his friends still less willing to disturb their comrades.
After nearly four hours the lights of the little fishing hamlet of Lytham were passed, and they were fast entering upon the open sea. The stranger came out of the cabin, stationing himself by the steersman. They were evidently on the look-out for signals. It was not yet daybreak, and the wind was from the north, a bitter and a biting air, that made the jailer's teeth to chatter as he raised himself up to examine their course and situation as well as the darkness would permit.
"How long run we on through these great blubbering waves ere we end our voyage? This night wind is worse than a Robin Hood's thaw."
"We will hoist signals shortly," was the reply; "if the ship is within sight, she will answer and bring to."
"Have ye any prog[iv] aboard?" inquired the officer.
A bottle was handed to him. He drank eagerly of the liquor, and gave the remainder to his assistants.
"I wish with all my heart," said he, "the prisoner were safe out of my custody, and I on my way back. I had as lief trot a hundred miles on land bare-back as sit in this confounded swing for a minute. How my head reels!"
He leaned against one of the benches, to all appearance squeamish and indisposed.
A faint light now flickered on the horizon and disappeared. Again. It seemed to rise above the deep. They were evidently approaching towards it, and the stranger spoke something in a low tone to the steersman.
"Yonder it be, I reckon," said the jailer, lifting up his head on hearing an unusual bustle amongst the crew. "I am fain to see it, for I am waundy qualmish dancing to this up-an'-down tune, wi' nought but the wind for my fiddle."
"And who pays the piper?" asked a wavering voice from below.
"Thee Simon Catterall, bumbailiff, catchpole, thieftaker, and"——
Here a sudden lurch threw the jailer on his beam-ends. A pause was the result, which this worthy official was not inclined to interrupt.
A light hitherto concealed, was now hoisted up to the masthead. This was apparently answered by another signal at no great distance.
"Friends!" said the stranger; "and now hold on to your course."
They had passed the banks and were some leagues from shore. Morning was feebly dawning behind them, when the dark hull of a ship, rapidly enlarging, seemed to rise out, broad and distinct, from the thin mist towards the west. The loud and incessant moan of the waves, the dash and recoil of their huge tops breaking against the sides of the vessel, with voices from on board, were distinctly heard, and immediately the boat was alongside.
The transfer of their cargo was a work of more difficulty, partly owing to the clumsiness and unseamanlike proceedings of the men who had charge of the prisoner, and partly owing to the light being yet too feeble for objects to be distinctly seen. A considerable interval in consequence elapsed ere the jailer, his assistants, and their charge were hoisted on the deck, not of a trim, gallant war-ship, well garrisoned and appointed, but of a lubberly trading vessel, redolent of tar, grease, and fish-odours, bound for merry Scotland.
"Yoh-o-ih! There—helm down—back maintopsail. So, masters, we had nigh slipped hawser and away. Why, here have we been beating about and about for three long nights; by day we durst not be seen in-shore. Yon cruiser overhauls everything from a crab to a crab-louse. What! got part of your company in the gyves! Where is the earl?"
"Here!" said the prisoner, coolly.
"Hold, captain," cried the wondering jailer, "the vessel goes not on her voyage until I and two of my friends here depart with the boat; we go not farther with our prisoner. The remaining two will suffice to see him delivered up at head-quarters. Yet, this cannot be." Here the bewildered officer looked round. "I have a warrant to commit this rebel unto the safe keeping of—ay, the captain of his majesty's cutter, the Dart. But this," surveying the deck with a suspicious glance, "is as frowsy and fusty a piece of ship-timber as ever stowed coals and cods' tails between her hatches. I pray we be not nabbed!" said he in a supplicating tone to his head craftsman.
The prisoner himself seemed as much surprised as any of the group; but the stranger, now addressing him, unravelled the mystery.
"My lord; I am no traitor; though until now labouring under that imputation; but you are amongst friends. Thanks to a woman's wits, we are, despite guards, bolts, and fetters, aboard the vessel which was waiting for us when you were surprised and seized, unfortunately, as we were trying our escape towards the coast. With the aid of my parent, I have been at last successful. You are now free!" It was Katherine who said this.
She changed her hitherto muffled voice as she continued:—"Captain, we have nabbed as cunning a jailer as ever took rogue to board in a stone crib. We will trouble thee to use thy craft; undo these fetters, prithee. He must with you, captain, till you can safely leave him and his companions ashore; but use him well for his vocation's sake. My lord, through weal and woe I have been your counsellor—your friend; but we must now part—'tis fitting we should. While you were in jeopardy, that alone could excuse my flight. Should better times come!"——Her voice faltered; she could not proceed; and old Grimes drew his hat over his face.