FRIENDS

A LITTLE before noon one gray day in September, 1746, a well-made young
fellow, in appearance and fact a gentleman’s servant, rode up the High
Street of a town in the North of England, and through the passageway of
an inn to the yard. Having entrusted his sorrel nag to an ostler, he
hastened to the kitchen, and proceeded to give orders to the landlady
with an absence of deference which plainly showed that he spoke not for
himself but for his master.

There are still a few English inns not unlike those of that time. This
particular house was of dull red brick, its main part extending along
the street and pierced in the middle by the passageway which led back to
the yard. In the front, the ground floor had four wide windows, and
these were matched by four above, while a fifth was over the passage
entrance. The small panes and stone facings of the windows gave the inn
that look of comfort so characteristic of eighteenth-century houses, and
this was increased by the small dormer casements in the sloping roof.
The passage itself, paved with stones worn comparatively smooth, was
capacious enough to admit a stage-coach or a carrier’s covered wagon. As
you entered it, you saw the yard beyond, which was bounded by a wing of
the main building and by stables, sheds, and sundry out-houses. Half-way
through this passage, you found at your left hand a door, which opened
to a public parlour, wherein meals were served at a common table to
stage-coach passengers and other outside guests. At the right-hand side
of the passage was a wider doorway, giving access to a small entry, from
which you might step forward into the kitchen, or rightward into the
bar, or leftward to a narrow stairway that wound steeply to the floor
above.

The kitchen was not the least attractive of these destinations,—with the
ample fire in its spacious chimney-place, the shine of the pots and pans
on its wall, the blackened beams across its low ceiling, its table
devoted to culinary business, its greater table devoted to gastronomic
business—for all guests of low station, including the servants of those
of higher station, ate in the kitchen,—and the oaken settles and
joint-stools so tempting to the tired, hungry, and thirsty traveller who
might appear in the doorway.

“And lookye, ma’am, you’ll oblige by making haste,” said the gentleman’s
servant, having communicated his orders, “for master is following so
close he may be here in a quarter of an hour. I’ll eat my bite while
he’s on the way; for he’ll be having me wait on him at table, and as
soon as he’s finished his dinner we shall be off again,—there’s eight
bad miles between here and home.”

He went to that end of the long table whereon certain cold viands stood
exposed, while the landlady set the cook and scullery-maid upon
preparations for the meal that had been ordered. She then called a
chambermaid and bade her get the Rose—the best room in the house—ready
for the meal to be served in. By this time the gentleman’s servant had
helped himself to a good slice from the round of cold beef, and a
plentiful supply of bread, had obtained a pot of beer from the tapster,
and was seated in great comfort at the table. The landlady, a fat and
tyrannical-looking creature, turned to him.

“When your master stopped here t’other day, on his way to the South,”
said she, “he had nobody with him but you. But now that he’s coming
home, he orders dinner for two in a private room, and for one in the
kitchen besides yourself. How comes that?”

“Because he’s bringing home the young mistress and her waiting-woman.”

“Young mistress, d’ye say? What, then, has Mr. Foxwell been married? Is
that what he went South for?”

“Oh, God forbid! No, ma’am, ’tis his niece, Miss Foxwell, he’s fetching
home. She’s been reared by an aunt on her mother’s side, but now her
education is finished, and, according to her grandfather’s will, she
comes home to Foxwell Court.”

“Then Foxwell Court was left to her? It seems to me I did hear summat of
that estate going to a gran’daughter.”

“’Twas left to master and her together in some way or other—my master
being the younger son, d’ye see, and she being the orphan of the elder.
They do say master would ’a’ got the most of the property but for the
wicked life he led in London,—I’ve heard he was a terrible gay man afore
he came to the country to live,—but I wasn’t with him in them days, so
can’t speak from my own knowledge.” The youth uttered an unconscious
sigh, doubtless of regret at possibilities he had missed.

“Well, from what I’ve heard now and again of goings on at Foxwell Court
since your master came to live there,” said the landlady, “he didn’t
leave all his gay ways behind him in London; but maybe report is a liar,
as the saying is, Master Caleb.”

“Oh, no doubt there’s summat of drinking, when the master can get
anybody to his mind to drink with—for, between us, Mrs. Betteridge, he
doesn’t run well with the county gentlemen—as how should he, with his
town breeding? And I don’t say there isn’t considerable gaming, and
frolics with the fair sex; but the place has been bachelor’s hall, d’ye
see,—till now the young mistress comes.”

“And now I dare say all those fine doings will have to stop,” said Mrs.
Betteridge; “—the frolics with the fair seck, at least.”

“That’ll be a pity,” said a voice behind her, whereupon the landlady,
turning indignantly, beheld the stout form and complacent ruddy visage
of her husband.

“A pity!” she echoed, in wrath and contempt. “’Tis like you to say it,
Betteridge! I hope the young lady will keep Foxwell Court clean of the
trollops. You’d be up to the same tricks in your own house if all the
maids didn’t scorn you.”

The landlord’s only reply being a placid puff of smoke from his
long-stemmed pipe, his helpmate discharged an ejaculation of disgust and
waddled away. He took her place as catechist of the serving-man, seating
himself on the opposite bench.

“What news on the road, Caleb?”

“Nothing to make a song of, as the saying is. Except at York,—we stayed
the night there. They’ve indicted a great parcel of rebels—seventy-five
all told, I hear.”

“They did better than that in Carlisle last month,—found true bills
against a hundred and nineteen. Their trials will be coming on soon.”

“Ay, before the trials at York, no doubt. Well, all I can say is, ’tis
bad weather for Scotchmen.”

“So many of ’em have come over the border to make their fortunes, ’tis
only fair some of ’em should come over to be hanged. Well, he laughs
best that laughs last. To think what a fright their army gave us last
year,—some of us, that is,—not me. Have you heard if the Pretender has
been caught yet?”

“Not I. Some think he’ll never be caught,—that he’s been picked up by a
vessel on the Scotch coast and got safe away for France.”

“A good riddance, then, say I. I don’t begrudge him his neck, seeing
there’s no fear he’ll ever ockipy the English throne. The British
Constitution is safe. Well, ’tis all over with the Jacobites; no more
‘Charlie over the Water’; they’ll have to make up their minds to drink
to King George for good and all. ’Twill be a bitter pill to swallow, for
some I could mention.”

“You can’t say that of us. My master has always been Hanoverian.”

“Ay, ay, being town bred, and a gentleman of fashion. ’Tis some of our
country gentry I’m thinking of. Well, they are singing small at present.
Lucky for them they didn’t rise and join the Pretender when he invaded
us last year.”

“There were mighty few English in his army, that’s certain.”

“Mighty few. A parcel enlisted at Manchester. And, to be sure, there was
the garrison at Carlisle that declared for him. And some had gone to
Scotland before that to meet him,—madmen, I call them. But he had no
English of any family, barring a few that came with him from France, I
hear:—chips of the old block, they were, dyed-in-the-wool Jacobites,
from the old breed, that lived abroad for their health, eh? Well, ’tis
all over now—all over now.”

Mr. Betteridge looked gratified as he said it, but there was a
suppressed sigh beneath his content. Had he, too, in his day, sometimes
held his glass over a bowl of water in drinking the king’s health?

“Except the hangings and beheadings,” he added, as an afterthought.

Caleb made no reply, being busy with his food lest his master might
arrive before he had satisfied his hunger. The post-chaise which bore
that gentleman was now approaching the town from the South, under the
guidance of a despondent-looking postilion. Within the chaise, beside
the gentleman, sat a young lady, and on the seat improvised on the bar
in front was a lady’s maid. Between the young lady and the gentleman,
who was middle-aged, silence prevailed. They did not look at each other;
and something in the air of both seemed to denote a lack of mutual
sympathy.

When we describe the gentleman as middle-aged, we mean as ages went in
the reign of George II., for it is a vulgar error to suppose that people
generally lived as long in the “good” old days as they do now. Not to
speak of the wars and the hangman, there were bad sanitation and medical
ignorance to shorten the careers of a vast number, and “drink and the
devil did for the rest.” This gentleman in the post-chaise, then, was
not over forty. Drink and the devil had made good headway upon him: one
could see that in his face, which was otherwise a face of good breeding,
wit, and accomplishment; a handsome face, lighted by keen, gray eyes,
but marred by the traces of riotous living and cynical thoughts, and by
a rooted discontent. He was tall and gracefully formed. His dress
betokened fallen fortunes. The worn velvet of his coat and breeches was
faded from a deep colour resembling that of the wine he had too much
indulged in. The embroidery of his satin waistcoat, the lace of his
three-cornered hat, the buckles of his shoes, the handle of his sword,
and the mounting of his pistols, were of silver, but badly tarnished.
His white silk stockings were mended in more places than one; his linen,
however, was immaculate. He wore his own hair, tied behind with a
ribbon.

The young lady beside him was very young, indeed; and very pretty,
indeed, having wide-open blue eyes, a delicately coloured face, a
charming little nose, an equally charming mouth, and a full, shapely
chin. Her look was at once sweet-tempered and high-spirited; for the
time being, it contained something of disapproval and rebellion. As for
this young lady’s clothes, the present historian’s admiration for
handsome dress on women is equalled by his dislike of describing it—or
hearing it described—in detail. Enough to say that her gown of dark
crimson, with its high waist, seemed to belong by nature to the small,
slender, and graceful figure it encased; and was free from the
excess—deplored by good judges then as now—so dear to overdressed
dowdiness. She had, too, the secret still lacked by some of her fair
countryfolk, of poising a hat gracefully, thus not to look top-heavy;
hers was a hat of darker shade than her gown, with a good sweep of brim.

As for the maid, on the seat in front, she, too, was rather a young
thing,—slim and tall, with a wholesome complexion, longish features, and
the artful-artless, variable-vacuous, consequential-conciliating
expression of her tribe. An honest, unlettered, shallow, not ill-meaning
creature; cast by circumstance for a super’s part in the drama of life,
never to be anything more than an accessory.

But the pretty young lady, left to her own thoughts, of what _was_ she
thinking? Did her mind cling regretfully to the life she had just
left?—to the small, well-ordered home of her widowed old aunt; the
decorous society of the staid cathedral town in the South, with its
regular and deliberate gaieties, its exceeding regard for “politeness”?
Or did it concern itself with the home for which she was bound, the
country-house she had not seen since childhood, but which she remembered
vaguely as old and half-ruinous then?—with what manner of life she was
to lead there in the society of this strange, profligate-seeming uncle,
who manifestly did not like her any more than she could find it in her
heart to like him? Or did she have some vague intimation of great things
about to happen unexpectedly?—of matters of deep import to her future
life, destined to result from the chance coming together of certain
people at the inn ahead?

Probably Miss Georgiana Foxwell had no such thought; but ’tis a fact
that at the very time when her post-chaise was coming into sight of the
church-tower of this town, other conveyances were bringing other
travellers to the same town, to the great though unintended influencing
of her destiny. To begin at the top, for that was an age of arbitrary
social distinctions, a private coach, drawn by six horses and followed
by a mounted servant, was lumbering along slowly from the North. Then
from the East cantered two well-fed horses, bearing, as anybody could
see, their owner and his man servant. From the North again, but far
behind and out of ken of the coach-and-six, came three post-horses under
saddle, one of the riders being the custodian and guide. And lastly,
somewhere between the private carriage and the hired horses, but not
within sight of either, a stage-coach ground its way over the rugged
eighteenth-century highway. Of all the vehicles and horses that raised
the dust on English roads that day, only these—with the
post-chaise—concern us.

The first to arrive at the inn, where Caleb had by this time stayed his
stomach and stepped out to look things over in the yard, were the two
well-fed horses. Their owner, a robust, red-faced, round-headed,
important-looking country gentleman of about five and thirty, slid off
his steed with agility, and, leaving the animals to the care of his man,
was met at the entry door by the landlady.

“Welcome, Squire Thornby!—a welcome to your Worship! I hope I see your
Worship very well, sir.”

He took her obsequiousness as his due, and, with no more reciprocation
than a complacent grunt, he bade her lay a cloth in the Rose and let his
man Bartholomew bring to that room a round of cold beef and a quart of
her best ale. With his snub-nosed crimson visage, he looked the part he
had been born to fill in life; and was suitably dressed for it, too, in
his brown wig, green cloth coat, brown waistcoat and breeches, large
riding-boots, and plain, three-cornered hat.

“For I’m in haste to get home,” he added, “where I’ll pay myself for a
cold dinner by a hot supper. So bestir, Mrs. Betteridge, and don’t keep
me waiting.”

“Certainly, your Worship, sir; by all means, Squire Thornby.” And she
called to a chambermaid, “Moll, lay a cloth for the Squire in the
Thistle, and be quick—”

“I said the Rose, Mrs. Betteridge. Didn’t you hear? Thistle be damned!—I
never said Thistle.”

“The Rose, Squire? The Thistle is far the better room—_far_ the better,
your Worship.”

“Lea’ me be the judge o’ that, woman. I’ll dine in the Rose, and there’s
an end.” Whereupon he turned toward the stairs.

“Your pardon, Squire,—I wouldn’t offend your Worship for anything,—but
the Rose is bespoke already for dinner-time, and truly indeed most o’
the quality that stops here prefers the Thistle.”

“But I prefer the Rose, and the quality that stop here may be hanged,
rat ’em.”

“I’m terrible sorry, your Worship. But all’s ready in the Rose for
t’other party, sir; and the gentleman as sent orders was most particular
about having the Rose—though for my part I can’t see why he should want
that room when he might ’a’ had the Thistle, and so I thought to myself
at the time, sir; and when I seed your Worship arrive just now, thinks I
to myself, how lucky it is t’other gentleman bespoke the Rose, because
now there’s the Thistle for his Worship. And sure indeed the cloth’s
laid for t’other party, and their dinner a’most cooked, and we expect
them every minute—”

Beaten down by this torrent of speech, the Squire waved his hand for
silence, and said, with surly resignation: “Oh, well, then, the Thistle.
Who is it has bespoke the Rose, drat ’em?”

“Mr. Foxwell, your Worship, a neighbour of yours, sir, if I may say so.”

The Squire gave a start, and the cloud on his brow deepened. “Foxwell!”
he echoed. “A neighbour of mine!—H’m! Yes, there is a gentleman of that
name living in my part of the county.” With a parenthetic “More’s the
pity!” under his breath, he added, in a kind of dogged, grumbling way,
“What the deuce is he dining here for?”

“Why, sir, he’s been to the South to fetch his niece home to Foxwell
Court, and they’re coming in a po’shay, and stopping here for dinner. He
sent his man Caleb ahead on horseback to order it cooked, so they
shouldn’t be delayed, for they have eight bad miles yet from here to
Foxwell Court.”

“Ecod!” said Squire Thornby, “I have the same bad miles to Thornby
Hall—or five o’ them, at least,—and I ordered a cold dinner so _I_
shouldn’t be delayed. But, damn it, now I come to think on’t, I’ll have
something cooked, so I will! I presume my belly is as much to me as Mr.
Foxwell’s is to him. I don’t see why I should eat cold while he eats
hot. Have you got anything on the fire, Mrs. Betteridge?”

He strode into the kitchen to see for himself, followed by the landlady.

“That chicken is almost done,” said he.

“’Tis what Mr. Foxwell ordered, your Worship.”

“I might ’a’ known it! The leg o’ lamb, too, I suppose. Everything for
Foxwell. Does the man think nobody else has a soul to save?”

“The leg o’ lamb isn’t his, sir. ’Tis roasting so as to be ready against
the stage-coach arrives.”

“Then I’ll have the best cut o’ that. First come, first served:—let the
stage-coach passengers take what’s left. A beggarly lot, or they’d have
coaches o’ their own to ride in. And send up a bottle o’ the best wine
you’ve got in the house. I’ll dine as well as Mr. Foxwell, rat him!”

Leaving Mrs. Betteridge to put his orders into execution, he went out to
the passage and called his man Bartholomew, to whom he communicated his
intentions.

“Very good, your Worship,” said Bartholomew, in the manner of a servant
somewhat privileged. He was a lean, hardy fellow, of his master’s own
age, with a long, astute-looking countenance. “I see Mr. Foxwell’s man
Caleb in the yard, sir.”

“Ay, and Mr. Foxwell himself will be here presently. A sight for sore
eyes, eh? If I’d ’a’ known he was coming here, I’d ’a’ stopped at the
Crown. No, damme if I would, neither! I won’t be kept from going where I
choose by any man, least of all a man I don’t like. What’s Foxwell to
me?”

“It’s small blame to you for not liking him, sir, if you’ll pardon my
saying it, after the way he acted about his gamekeeper trespassing.”

“A damned set of poachers he keeps on that place of his. ’Tis a pity for
the county he ever came into it. The neighbourhood did well enough
without him, I’m sure, all the years he was playing the rake in London
and foreign parts.”

“It makes me sick, if I may say so,” replied the faithful servant, “the
way I hear some folks sing his praises for a fine gentleman:—it does,
indeed.”

“There are some folks who are asses, Bartholomew,” said the Squire,
warmly. “Sing his praises for a fine jackanapes! Fine gentleman, d’ye
say? How can anybody be a fine gentleman on a beggarly three hundred a
year? Why, don’t you know, don’t all the county know, ’twas his poverty
drove him down here to his estate to be a plague among us? Ecod, who are
the rest of us, I wonder, solid country gentlemen of position in the
county, to be come over by this town-bred fop with his Frenchified ways?
Give me a plain, home-bred Englishman, and hang all these conceited pups
that come among us trying to put us down in talk with their London wit
and foreign manners!”

The extraordinary heat manifested by the Squire during this oration was
a warning to his man to desist from the subject, lest he might himself
become the victim of the wrath it engendered. Moreover, the outdoor
passage of an inn was a rather public place for such exhibitions, though
fortunately there was at the time no audience.

“Will you wait for dinner in your room, sir?” suggested Bartholomew,
after a moment’s cooling pause.

“No, I won’t. Tom Thornby won’t beat a retreat, neither, for any man!
I’ll stay till he comes, now that I’m here, and if he tries any of his
London airs on me, I’ll give him as good as he sends.”

Bartholomew was too well acquainted with the obstinacy of this vain,
grown-up child, his master, to oppose; and almost at that moment a
post-chaise turned in from the street, requiring both Thornby and the
man servant to stand close to the wall for safety.

THE landlady came bouncing out, followed by her husband at a more
dignified gait, to receive the newcomers. Indifferent to their
salutations, Mr. Foxwell stepped quickly from the chaise and offered his
hand to his niece, who scarcely more than touched it in alighting. Caleb
meanwhile ran up to assist the maid, but was forestalled by Mr.
Betteridge, who performed the office with a stately gallantry quite
flustering to the young woman, causing her to blush, and her legs, stiff
with the constraint of the journey, to stumble. Miss Foxwell and the
maid followed the landlady immediately to the entry and up the stairs;
but Mr. Foxwell, as he saw Squire Thornby gazing at him in sullen
defiance, stopped to greet that gentleman in the suavest possible
manner.

“Ah, Mr. Thornby, you here?”

“Yes, sir,” replied the Squire, in the shortest of tones, and as if
determined to show himself proof against the other’s urbanity;
“attending to my own business.”

“An unusual circumstance, I suppose,” said Foxwell, pleasantly, “as you
think it worth mentioning. A dull sort of day.”

“I dare say,” was Thornby’s savage reply.

Not the least altering his amiable tone or half-smiling countenance,
Foxwell continued: “Smooth roads—that is to say, for these remote
parts.”

“Sir,” said Thornby, fiercely, conceiving himself and his county alike
disparaged, “I find these parts quite good enough for me.”

“Indeed, I envy you,” said Foxwell, with a slight plaintiveness. “I wish
from my heart I could say I find them good enough for me—since I am
doomed to live in them.”

That anything good enough for Thomas Thornby could not be good enough
for another man was not a proposition soothing to Thomas Thornby’s soul.
Having no fit retort within present grasp of his tongue, however, and
knowing that even if he had one, his adversary would find a better one
to cap it with, the Squire contented himself with a fiery glare and an
inward curse. Then saying abruptly to his servant, “See that my dinner
is served the moment it’s ready, Bartholomew,” he entered the inn and
tramped up the stairs with great weight of heel.

Foxwell laughed scarce audibly, and followed with a step as light as the
other’s was heavy. Emerging from the stair-head to a passage that
divided the rear from the front rooms, he went into one of the latter,
where he found the table set, and his niece and her maid at the window,
looking down at the street. Across the way were a baker’s shop, a
draper’s, a rival inn with gables and a front of timber and plaster; and
so forth. A butcher’s boy with a tray of meat, a townswoman with a child
by the hand, and two dogs tumbling over each other, were the moving
figures in the scene—until a clatter of horses and a rumble of wheels
were heard, and then the maid exclaimed:

“Lor, mistress, what a handsome coach, to be sure! And see the man
servant on the horse behind. People of great fashion, I’ll warrant. And
they’re coming to this very inn!”

Miss Foxwell watched listlessly till the vehicle—the private coach
already mentioned as approaching the town from the North—had disappeared
beneath the window from which she looked.

Foxwell had been standing at the empty fireplace, heedless of what might
be seen in the street. He now spoke, carelessly:

“You saw the amiable gentleman who stood below, Georgiana, and who
passed this door with so fairy-like a tread as I came up?”

“I didn’t observe him,” replied Georgiana. “Somebody passed very
noisily.”

“The same. I thought you might remember him from the days before you
left home. But, to be sure, you were a child then, and he, too, was
younger. He is one of our neighbours, Squire Thornby.”

“I remember the name, but I don’t think I ever knew the gentleman.”

“If you never did, you lost little; and you’ll count it no great
privilege when you do know him,—unless you have a tenderness for
rustical boobies.”

Georgiana making no answer, the maid said to her in a lowered voice,
“Lor, m’lady, your uncle had needs know _you_ better. _I_ saw the
gentleman, and a ojus-looking man servant he had with him. I never could
abide such bumpkin fellows.” The waiting-woman came from the town in
which her mistress had received her education; she had been promoted to
her present post from that of housemaid to Miss Foxwell’s aunt, and
naturally she brought superior notions with her to the North.

Foxwell, wondering why the dinner had not arrived, went impatiently to
the door. Steps were heard ascending the stairs, accompanied by the
voices of women.

“The party from the private coach, being shown to a room,” whispered the
maid to her mistress.

At that moment Foxwell, in the doorway, called out in pleased surprise,
“Why, as I live—certainly it is! Lady Strange, upon my soul!—and Mrs.
Winter! and Rashleigh!—George Rashleigh, or I’m a saint!”

He seized the hand of her whom he called Lady Strange, and kissed it
with a gallant fervour; treated the other lady in like manner, and then
threw his arms around the gentleman who was third and last of the
newcomers (not counting two servants) in an embrace such as was the
fashion at the time.

“Why, upon my honour, ’tis Bob Foxwell,” said Lady Strange.

She was a fair woman in the thirties, of the opulent style of beauty,
being of good height, and having a fine head, and a soft expression
wherein good nature mingled with worldly nonchalance. She was dressed as
a fashionable person of the town would dress for travelling, and her
presence brought to the north country inn something of the atmosphere of
St. James’s. As far as attire and manner went, this was true of her
companions also. The gentleman, whom Foxwell had saluted as Rashleigh,
was a good-looking man of medium age and size, retaining in face and
carriage the air of youth; he was the elegant town gentleman, free from
Foxwell’s discontent, easy-going and affable without apparently caring
much for anything in the world. The second lady, Mrs. Winter, formed a
contrast to Lady Strange: she was slight, though not angular; her eyes
were gray, and her complexion clear, yet the impression she left was
that of a dark beauty; and she had a cold incisiveness of glance.

“And your devoted slave as ever, Lady Strange,” said Foxwell, kissing
that lady’s hand again. “But in heaven’s name, what are you doing in
this part of the world? Come in, that I may see you better. Come, I am
dining in this room.”

They entered the chamber, regardless of the landlady’s eagerness to show
them to a room for their own use. Mrs. Betteridge would thereupon have
ushered their man servant and lady’s maid to the room she had chosen,
but these menials refused to proceed without orders, and so remained
outside Foxwell’s door, laden with small impedimenta of various sizes
and uses, from pistols to scent-bottles.

“One never knows who may turn up,” said Rashleigh. “I was thinking of
you only yesterday, Bob, and wondering if I should ever see you again.”

“And what ill wind for _you_,” asked Foxwell, “blows this good to
me?—for an ill wind it must be to any civilized person that blows him to
these wilds.”

“I have the honour to be escorting these ladies back to London from Lady
Strange’s country-seat by the Tweed, where they have been for the
recovery of their health.”

“And our good looks,—tell the truth, Cousin Rashleigh,” said Lady
Strange. “My dear Foxwell, we have rusticated till we are near dead of
dulness,—is it not so, Isabella?”

“Dead and buried, Diana,” said Mrs. Winter, in a matter-of-fact tone.
“And to think you are still alive, Foxwell? ’Tis so long since you
disappeared from the town, I swear I had forgot you.”

“Cruel Mrs. Winter!” replied Foxwell. “But ’tis not for you to speak of
being dead and buried. You know not what rustication is. You have
passed, I suppose, a month or so out of the world, and are now going
back to it; while I have been a recluse in this county these two years,
and may be so for the rest of my life. The town, as you say, has forgot
me, and God knows whether I shall ever return. See what poverty brings
one to, and take warning.”

The reader is doubtless aware that country-house life did not occupy in
the eighteenth century the place it does to-day in the routine of the
“smart” world. People of fashion had their town houses and their
country-seats then, of course; but many such were wont to pursue more
exclusively the one life or the other,—to be town mice who sometimes
went to the country, or country mice who sometimes came up to town.
Those who preferred the gaiety of the town were more prone to count that
time lost which they had to pass out of it, and to look down upon those
who spent most of their days in the country. When the town mice left
London by choice, it was to take the waters at Bath, or to make the
“grand tour” of the Continent. Week-end house-parties had not come in,
there were no seaside resorts, and the rich did not hie themselves in
August to the moors of Scotland. “Beyond Hyde Park all is desert,” said
the fop in the play; and Robert Foxwell and his friends were so far of
_Sir Fopling’s_ mind; they valued wit, and used “fox-hunter” as a name
of scorn. No wonder, then, that Foxwell declared himself miserable in
his exile.

“’Tis for your sins, Bob,” said Lady Strange. “You were a monstrously
wicked man in London, as I remember.”

Mrs. Betteridge now contrived to insinuate herself into the notice of
Rashleigh, addressing him as “my lord,” and begging to know the wishes
of himself and their ladyships upon the matter of dinner and rooms.

He turned to Lady Strange. “What say you, Cousin Di? I suppose we shall
be driving on as soon as we have dined—”

“You shall dine with me,” broke in Foxwell. “I’ll not lose sight of your
faces. I don’t meet a civilized being once in an age.—You will set more
places, landlady: my friends will dine here.” Without waiting for their
assent, he motioned the landlady out to the passage, and there gave
further orders.

The attention of the three Londoners now fell upon the two figures at
the window. Miss Foxwell, quite ignored by her uncle since the arrival
of his friends, had remained where she was, regarding the newcomers with
a side glance in which there was no great joy at their advent. Now that
she saw their looks directed to her, she turned her face again toward
the street, with a slight blush at the scrutiny.

“What a pretty girl it is at the window,” whispered Lady Strange to her
companions.

“And what is she doing here with Foxwell?” said Mrs. Winter, eying the
young lady critically.

“The dog!—he is to be envied,” said Rashleigh.

Resentfully conscious of the cool gaze upon her, Miss Foxwell whispered
to her maid, “How rudely those people stare at us!”

“They must be very great quality,” replied the maid, reverentially.
“Their waiting-gentleman looks the height of fashion,—but their woman
isn’t no great sights.” Miss Foxwell’s maid had been quick to inspect
the attendants of the travellers, and the lackey had already put himself
on ogling terms with her, a proceeding which the other maid regarded
superciliously.

As soon as Foxwell returned to his friends, Rashleigh called him to
account in an undertone: “I say, Foxwell, if this county produces such
flowers as that at the window, ’tis not so barren a wilderness.”

“That?” said Foxwell, carelessly. “Oh, that’s my niece, Miss Foxwell.
Come here, Georgiana.”

She obeyed without haste, and was introduced. She was not in the mood to
affect for civility’s sake a cordiality she did not feel, nor was she
conciliated by the easy graciousness of Lady Strange, the sharp,
momentary smile of Mrs. Winter, or the unrestrained admiration of Mr.
Rashleigh.

“You are a sweet child,” said Lady Strange, speaking in a sweet tone
herself, “to have such a naughty uncle.”

“I dare say my uncle is not much worse than other people,” said
Georgiana, coolly, with the intention, not of defending her relation,
but of being pert.

“She means you, Cousin Rashleigh,” said Lady Strange, smiling gaily.
“She sees your character in your face.—But, my dear, you can’t have
known much of your uncle in London. I’ll tell you some tales!”

Instead of carrying out her threat immediately, however, the lady turned
her attention to her maid, bidding her put down her burdens and go and
dine in the kitchen.

The man servant and Georgiana’s attendant being dismissed for a like
purpose, Foxwell and Rashleigh, to give the ladies that brief privacy
from masculine eyes which a toilet-marring journey makes welcome, went
down-stairs and paced the yard till dinner was ready.

“So this is the place of your retreat, Bob,” said Rashleigh; “or
hereabouts, I mean.”

“An old house and some beggarly acres eight miles from here. ’Tis my
last ditch. Perhaps I was lucky in having that to fall back into.
Fortune was set upon driving me from the field in London.”

“But you might still have contrived to live there one way or another.
Men do, who have lost their all.”

“By playing the parasite?—begging of people whom I scorn?—laughing at
great men’s stupid jests, or enslaving myself to great ladies’ caprices?
Not I. Neither could I play the common rook where I had once lived the
gentleman. Nor had I any fancy for the debtors’ prison. I might have
turned highwayman, but I am too old and indolent, and the risk is too
great. No; for a gentleman who had made the figure I had, and who could
no more keep up that figure,—curse the cards and the tables, the
mercenary women and the swindling tradesmen!—there was nothing but
self-banishment to the ancestral fields.”

“’Tis a wonder you’ve kept _them_. I should have thought, from your
habits of old, you’d have converted the last inch into the ready by this
time.”

“They are beyond my power to convert. The estate is mine only in part. I
share the possession with that young person you saw up-stairs.”

“The pretty niece?”

Foxwell shrugged his shoulders. “She may be pretty—I really haven’t
concerned myself enough to study her looks. I shall doubtless find her
an intolerable drag upon me. Notwithstanding our relationship, we are
new acquaintances. She is my brother’s orphan—the only child. She was
born at Foxwell Court, the place of my retirement, and she spent her
childhood there. Both her parents died when she was very young; my
father survived them a year, and upon his death she was sent to be
reared by her mother’s elder sister. During all this time,—from before
my brother’s marriage till after this girl left Foxwell Court,—I never
came near the place. Most of the time, indeed, I was abroad, but even
when in England I preferred the South,—and my father perhaps was not
sorry for that, for, to tell the truth, I had never agreed with him and
my brother, and, as the old gentleman loved his peace, he could spare my
presence. After his death and the departure of the girl, Foxwell Court
was shut up for a long while,—that is to say, till I sought refuge there
two years ago. My father left the place to me and my niece, on such
terms that it cannot be divided till she marries, nor my share sold
during my lifetime.”

“You speak of it as a few beggarly acres. Had he nothing else to leave?”

“Not a farthing. Ours was a family of decayed fortune. You are wondering
how in that case I contrived to make the appearance I did in town and on
the Continent. By the bounty of my Uncle Richard—you remember him, of
course: the attorney who made a fortune in speculation. He looked upon
life much as I did, and not with the puritanical eyes of my father and
brother; so he provided for me while he lived, and left me half his
shares when he died,—to prove, I make no doubt, that virtue does not
always pay best. When I had melted his shares into pleasure, I resorted,
as you know, to the cards, and the tables in Covent Gardens, thinking
they might repay in my necessity what I had lost by them in my
prosperity. ’Twas a fool’s hope! For a roof to cover my head, I came
home to Foxwell Court. I have at least enjoyed liberty there. But now
that this niece has finished her education, and comes home in accordance
with my father’s plans, responsibility begins. I was never made to play
the guardian, George. The affectionate, solicitous, didactic uncle is no
part for me. And especially to a minx who has been taught to look upon
the frivolities of the gay world with virtuous horror. We have known
each other but four days, and we hate each other already. She hadn’t
been in my society an hour till I perceived righteous disapproval
written upon her face.”

“Oh, I think you mistake the girl altogether. From the glimpse I had of
her, brief as it was, I could swear she is no prude. There is, indeed, a
delicacy and sensibility in her face, but nothing the least
sanctimonious. She seems to me a young lady of spirit, a little annoyed
about something. No doubt you expected to find such a girl as you
describe, and you behaved accordingly: she was quick to take offence,
and now you mistake her natural resentment for self-righteous rebuke.”

“I know not what my expectations had to do with the matter, but I can
see plainly enough her dislike. And, damme, George, can you imagine what
a restraint upon my conduct the presence of a young unmarried female
will be?”

“Then you have only to get her married off your hands as soon as may
be,” said Rashleigh.

“Her marriage means the division of our estate, and my share then will
not suffice to feed a horse upon. But I won’t balk at that, for the sake
of freedom, if you’ll find me a man willing to take her with the little
she’ll have.”

“I grant, gentlemen of any fashion want a good settlement with their
wives, in this age. But consider her beauty:—that is an item on account
of which I, for one, would vastly abate my demands—if I were fool enough
to marry at all.”

“She wouldn’t have you, fool or no fool. I can see she will be as
fastidious when it comes to mating as if she had ten thousand a year. I
fear this region will not furnish a man to her liking—I can commend her
good taste in that. So heaven knows when I may be rid of her! But enough
of the chit: I’m saddled with her, and there’s an end. You must do
something for me, George,—you and Lady Strange and her friend.”

“Speaking for myself, I’m entirely at your service.”

“You must make me a visit at Foxwell Court,—now. Yes, you must. Your
time is your own, I am sure. It matters not whether you arrive in town
this month or the next. While I have you, I will hold you. When we have
dined, you will drive on with me, not to London, but to Foxwell Court.
You’ll give me a week—nay, a fortnight, at least—of civilized company,
for humanity’s sake.”

“Why,” said Rashleigh, “’tis rather a change of plan—though I see
nothing against it, for my part. If the ladies are willing—”

“They _must_ be willing,” cried Foxwell. “You must persuade them:—if
naught else will do, you must be taken ill and be unable to go on to
London. Egad, I’ll poison you all with the bad wine they keep here, ere
I let you escape me!”

“Nay, let me try persuasion first. I can commend you to them as a host—I
know of old that you’ll stop at nothing that has promise of amusement in
it.”

“I’ll stop at nothing to amuse them as my guests—you may warrant that.
As for my house, you will not find it entirely uninhabitable. Some of
the company I have kept there of late, though it would amuse you well
enough, would scarce be acceptable to my Lady Strange; but fortunately,
in view of my niece’s home-coming, I have issued strict decrees of
banishment,—so we shall find no rustic rake-hells, drinking parsons, or
roaring trollops on the premises. ’Tis in such company I have found
solace in my exile—and I’ll do them the justice to say, they are better
lovers of wit and real mirth than the booby fox-chasing, dog-mongering,
horse-talking, punch-guzzling gentry and their simpering, formal
womankind.”

“You are beginning to practise self-denial, Bob,—driving your boon
companions away,” said Rashleigh, smiling.

“As a gentleman I could not do otherwise, of course. Since Miss must
needs come, they must go. I must learn to seek my amusements, such as
they are, out of the house. But I sha’n’t think of that, or of anything
to come, while you and these ladies are with me. You see I have set my
heart on having you.”

They continued in this strain, walking to and fro between the street end
of the passage and the rear of the inn yard, in which different vehicles
were standing idle, until Caleb appeared with the announcement that
dinner for the whole party was ready. Ascending, they found the ladies
on terms of cool politeness as between Georgiana and the other two.
During the course of the meal, it could be seen that Mrs. Winter had
incurred the greater part of that disfavour which the girl evidently
disdained to conceal. Good cause for this could be found, not only in
the steeliness of nature suggested by the London lady’s voice and look,
but by the great freedom of topic and remark she allowed herself. Time
and again was a hot blush called to Georgiana’s cheek, and she was fain
to fix her eyes upon her plate in indignation at the disregard of her
modesty. That was an age when many young ladies were accustomed to
liberties of speech from their elders in their presence—liberties
nowadays incredible. How they contrived to ignore them while they were
necessarily conscious of them, as it is certain they did, calls for
admiration. Nothing that we know of that most delightful of young women,
Sophia Western, makes us esteem and love her more than the way in which
she endured the coarse talk of her father, never receiving from it the
slightest taint herself, never seeming to notice the outrageous portions
of it. But it was from men only, or chiefly, that tender ears were used
to hearing conversation so free. Had she been subjected to it by one of
her own sex, even Sophia Western would have made the protest of a blush.
Not that Mrs. Winter’s anecdotes and observations were of the crude
plainness of Squire Western’s language. The lady’s tongue was a rapier,
not a bludgeon, and there would have been little if anything to reprove
in the use she made of it on the present occasion, had Georgiana been
absent or ten years older. As it was, besides the offence to her modesty
itself, Georgiana felt that she was being treated with intentional lack
of consideration. She thought the lady guilty of spite as well as
license: she noted, too, and placed to her account against him, the lack
of any protest on her uncle’s part on behalf of her innocence. He
laughed and was merry, in his easy, fine-gentlemanly way; and the young
lady, in her sense of careless outrage, could scarce restrain the tears
of injury, loneliness, and revolt.

It was not till the dinner was nearly over, and a comfortable
disinclination to resume their travels had been created in his friends,
that Foxwell put his invitation before the ladies. At first they
declared such a visit impossible, but as they could mention no respect
wherein the impossibility lay, and as Foxwell knew how to mingle
flattery with appeals to their compassion, they soon yielded.

Poor Georgiana! It may be imagined how far she shared the joy of her
uncle at the prospect of playing hostess to these people, though, as he
had called upon her openly to second his invitation, she had
perfunctorily done so. This matter settled, the rest of the company
became merrier, and Georgiana more miserable, than ever.

Meanwhile, though she knew it not, nor could have dreamt how deeply it
would affect her life, the stage-coach had arrived and left a passenger;
and the two horsemen from the North, guided by the postboy, were even
now riding into the passage beneath the room in which she sat.

SQUIRE THORNBY, in the next room, had finished his dinner before the
Foxwell party had well begun theirs. In the state of his temper he had
attacked the roast lamb with a fierceness that made his usual voracity
seem delicate in comparison. But, indeed, a good appetite had something
to do with his gastronomic energy, for he had ridden that morning from
his own house through this town to an estate some miles eastward, to
look at some hounds that were to be offered for sale, and it was on his
return that he had stopped at the inn. During his meal he sometimes gave
his feelings vent in speech to the sympathizing Bartholomew, who
remained for part of the time in attendance.

“If I ever catch that there gamekeeper of his alone without a gun,” said
Bartholomew, “you shall have your revenge on that score, sir,—if I may
be so bold as to say as much.”

“Oh, rat his gamekeeper!” cried Thornby, petulantly. “You harp and harp
on the gamekeeper!—the rascal cut you out with a girl, didn’t he? When
it comes to that, what the devil do I mind as to the poaching business
and such like? Neighbourly quarrels will arise, upon trespass and
boundaries and so forth. No, ’tis none o’ that, for all the trouble he’s
put me to. I’ll tell the truth, Bartholomew, ’tis the smooth way he has
of taking me down whenever we meet,—waving me back to second place,
like,—coming over me with his damned fine airs and glib speeches. That’s
what rubs me the wrong way. _I_ was the fine gentleman in our
neighbourhood till he came; and now—well, ecod, we shall see, we shall
see!”

This, indeed, was the true secret of the squire’s animosity, as it is of
many a bitter hatred. It is easier for some men to forget a material
injury to their rights or interests than a sentimental hurt to their
vanity, and when they have to expect a repetition of the latter in some
new form at every future encounter, they must be greater philosophers
than Squire Thornby if they do not rage. Indeed, had Foxwell’s offence
not been partly wilful, his superiority in mind and manner would alone
have drawn the Squire’s hate. Thornby’s envy was not of the admiring
sort that would emulate the merits of its object: it was of that
churlish kind which, with no desire to possess those merits for their
own sake, fiercely resents the superiority they imply.

His dinner disposed of, he went down-stairs, treading heavily as he
passed his enemy’s door, which was now closed. Bartholomew had told him
of the company that had arrived, and he could hear their laughter as he
went by. He peered into the kitchen to see what their servants looked
like; and the magnificence of attire of their coachman, valet, and
waiting-woman did not put him into any better humour. He then stepped
into the yard and viewed their coach, and finally took notice of their
horses feeding in the stalls. Seeing nothing he could disparage, he
contented himself with a sniff of scorn at such extravagant fopperies,
and betook himself to the public dining-room to wait while Bartholomew
attended to his own appetite in the kitchen. The Squire had heard the
arrival of the stage-coach some time before, and he now supposed there
might be a congenial passenger or two with whom to exchange news.

He found a single passenger—a slim, discreet-looking man of less than
medium height, with a smallish brown face beginning to wrinkle, a sharp
nose and chin, a curious appearance of huddling himself together so as
not to fill much space, and lead-coloured eyes that lifted their gaze
without haste from their owner’s plate and rested intently for a moment
upon Thornby. The eyes were then deferentially lowered. The man was
decently dressed in brown and gray, and wore a wig of the latter colour.
The Squire set him down as a tradesman in comfortable circumstances, or
perhaps an attorney or attorney’s clerk, and a civil sort of fellow who
knew how to drop his glance in the presence of his betters.

“Good day, friend,” began the Squire. “You arrived by the stage-coach
from the North, I take it.”

“Yes, sir,” replied the other, briefly, but civilly.

“Travelled far?” pursued Thornby.

“From Edinburgh, though not all the way by that coach. And previous
thereto, from Inverness-shire.”

“You’re not a Scotchman, though?”

“Oh, no, sir; not me, sir. Not so bad as that. I was with the Duke’s
army in Scotland.”

“Oh, then, you helped to put down the rebellion?” said the Squire.

“In my humble capacity, sir. I was waiting-gentleman to an officer,
sir.”

(“A mighty worthy fellow,” thought the Squire, while the stranger paused
in his talk to dispose of a large mouthful of meat. “He might pass for a
shopkeeper or a quill-driver, yet he owns at once to being a
servant—though for my part, I don’t see why a gentleman’s valet
shouldn’t rank above a rascal clerk or tradesman any day—he certainly
sees better society.”)

“I did my small share of fighting,” continued the worthy fellow; “was
wounded, sir, which is the reason I’m now going home to London.”

He put back one side of his wig, and disclosed an ear minus a good
portion of its rim. Though he gave no further information on the point,
and showed no sign of deafness, it was to be assumed that some internal
injury had been caused, for it was difficult to see how the mere
mutilation of the ear, damaging as it was to the man’s appearance, could
be held sufficient reason for his retirement from service.

“Your health, sir,” said the man, raising a pot of ale to his lips.

“Thankye,—thankye, my good man,” said the Squire, approvingly.

“You live in these parts, sir, may I be so bold to ask?” said the good
man, with a deferential mildness, having swallowed a great part of the
contents of the pot.

“Yes, certainly. Why d’ye ask?”

“Because in that case you might be able, and so condescending, to direct
me to a person I’m wishing to pay my respects to,—a gentleman of the
name of Foxwell.”

“Foxwell! What do you want of him?”

The abruptness of the Squire’s speech, and the sudden clouding of his
brow, would have attracted anybody’s notice, and were not lost on the
man whose request had caused them.

“Robert Foxwell, Esquire,” added the man, quietly, “who came into this
county from London about two years back, is the particular gentleman I
mean.”

“Ay, there’s only one,” replied the Squire, gloomily, “only one Foxwell
in this county now. He’s the last of the name.”

“Pardon me, sir,” said the other, delicately, “but if I dared take the
liberty, I should judge from your manner that you’re not a friend of
his.”

“By the lord, you’re a good judge!” said Thornby, without hesitation.

“Thank you very humbly, sir. If I might take the further liberty of
asking whether he’s a man of—ah—any considerable wealth to speak of,
nowadays—”

“He’s as poor as a church mouse, and I’m not sorry to say it.”

“I’m rather sorry to hear it,” said the man, looking gravely into his
pot of ale. “Oh, not on his account, sir: on my own. I’m purely selfish
in my sorrow, sir. The truth is, I had something to sell him.”

“Well, friend,” said the Squire, taking a seat near the table’s end
where the traveller was, “if it’s something of any value that you have
to sell, my advice is to look for another customer.”

“The trouble is,” replied the man, musingly, “this that I have to sell
wouldn’t be of any value to anybody but Mr. Foxwell—unless to his
enemies.”

The last words were spoken very softly, as if they represented a
meditative afterthought of no practical utility. The man continued to
keep his eyes lowered from meeting the Squire’s, and a thoughtful pause
ensued.

“Enemies? What the devil—?” said the Squire in his mind. But presently
he broke forth in his blunt manner, “Lookye, my man, you may speak
freely to me if you be so minded. I’m all for plain-dealing, I am. My
name is Thornby,—anybody can tell you how Thomas Thornby, of Thornby
Hall, Justice of the Peace, stands in this county. Anybody can tell you
whether he’s to be trusted or not. What’s all this here about Mr.
Foxwell and his enemies? It concerns me, by the lord, for I’m at least
no friend of his, I can tell you that much and not betray any secrets,
neither.”

“Why, then, sir,” said the other, his face lighting up as though a happy
idea had that instant occurred to him, “you might be a better customer
for what I have to sell than Mr. Foxwell himself.”

“By the lord, I’m able to pay a better price,” said the Squire, with
frank self-gratulation.

“Do you know anything of Mr. Foxwell’s history, sir?” asked the
stranger.

“I know that he was born at Foxwell Court, the old seat of the family in
this country; that he was sent away to school when young, and then to
Oxford, and after that travelled in foreign parts. Fine way to bring up
an Englishman! When he did come back to his own country, he thought best
to live in London, and he never darkened his father’s door in those
days: there wasn’t any love lost between him and his people here in
their lifetime, I’ve heard. Howe’er that be, he wasn’t seen hereabouts,
so I never set eyes on him till he came back to the Foxwell estate to
live, about two years since, after squandering a fortune his uncle left
him—so the story goes. That’s all the history I know of him.”

“I can vouch for the truth of one part, sir,—as to squandering his money
in town. I had hoped perhaps his affairs had improved since he retired
from fashionable life.”

“But what of his history? I’ve told you all I know. What do _you_ know?”

The Squire leaned forward toward the traveller with an almost painful
expression of eagerness on his face.

“Why, sir,” said the other, as if with some reluctance, “as you are good
enough to take an interest, I see no reason why I shouldn’t tell you a
little story. I dare say you remember the affair of Lord Hilby,—him that
was murdered by footpads one night in Covent Garden.”

“I heard of it at the time,” said the Squire, “’twas two or three years
ago.”

“Yes, sir. His lordship had been playing till a late hour in a
gaming-house, you may remember, and had won very heavily. He was walking
away from the house, his pockets full of gold. He was attended by a
servant and a linkboy. It was a very dark night. No doubt, sir, you know
the place,—what they call the piazza in Covent Garden, where the
gaming-houses are.”

“I was there—once,” replied the Squire, with a glum look: no doubt he
had reason to repent the experience.

“Ay, sir, once is enough for many a country gentleman,” said the other,
sympathetically, “though the tables don’t always have the best of it.
There’s been fortunes retrieved there, as well as fortunes lost. And
certainly Lord Hilby had been in wonderful luck that night. Some think
that word of his large winnings had been passed out to a person in the
street, in the short time between his rising from the table and his
leaving the house. Of course everybody in the room knew how great his
winnings were, and saw where he put them. In any case, there was no
chair to be had when he came out, and he started to walk to Pall Mall.
But he hadn’t gone far when suddenly three ruffians sprang up from the
foot of one of the pillars of the colonnade, where they had been
crouching all in a heap. One of them knocked the link out of the boy’s
hand, one attacked the servant with a bludgeon, and the third caught my
lord by the throat and called for his money.”

“’Tis a wicked, dangerous place, London!” observed the Squire, in a low
voice, shaking his head.

“The linkboy ran away, leaving his torch still burning on the ground.
The fellow who had knocked it now joined him that was grappling with his
lordship. All this the servant saw, and then he was felled to the earth,
where he lay stunned for a little while. During that time, it must have
been, the footpads struck my lord dead with a bludgeon.”

Thornby gave a shiver of discomfort.

“When the servant came to,” the narrator continued, “he found that the
footpads had gone; and two gentlemen, who had left the same gaming-house
soon after his master, were now examining him to see if he was alive, by
the light of the torch, which one of them had picked up. They had seen
the scuffle as they were coming from the gaming-house, and had run up
with their swords drawn, making such a noise that maybe the footpads had
imagined them to be a large party. In any case, the footpads had taken
to their heels. The two gentlemen informed the servant they believed his
master to be dead. He joined them in a further examination, and found
that his lordship’s money was gone.”

“Ay, to be sure,” said Thornby. “The rascals got the money before they
ran away.”

“A very natural supposition, sir,—in fact, the only probable one. The
servant came to that at once, and the world accepted it afterwards,—that
the footpads had succeeded in getting the money before the two gentlemen
arrived. But, sir, do you know that in this world ’tis just as often
that the probable supposition isn’t the true one?”

“What d’ye mean?”

“Why, sir, the truth is, as I’m a living man,—and this is entirely
between us for the present, sir,—’tis a secret I’ve kept for a long
time, and if I didn’t feel I could rely on you as a gentleman with a
particular interest in Mr. Foxwell—”

“Certainly you can rely on me,—no fears on that score. But what the
deuce has this to do with Foxwell? Come, out with it, man! I can keep a
secret as well as the best.”

“Well, sir, thanking you kindly for your assurance, the truth is, the
footpads _hadn’t_ got the money before they ran away. At least they
hadn’t got all of it, or so much but that a considerable amount was
left.”

“How, then, if the servant found it was all gone?”

“Simply that those two gentlemen, having suffered heavy losses that
night, being in all likelihood at their wits’ end for a further supply
of the needful, and finding his lordship’s pockets lined with the same,
had succumbed to the temptation of an instant, and transferred the
shiners from his pockets to their own while the servant still lay
senseless on the ground.”

“The devil you say?” exclaimed the Squire.

“A shocking thing, sir, no doubt,—robbery of the dead. It has a
singularly bad sound when put that way, for some reason or other, has it
not? So _ungentlemanly_ a crime, if I may presume to offer an opinion,
sir.”

“A devilish risky one, too, I should say.”

“Why, no, sir, I should think a particularly safe one on this occasion.
The servant and the linkboy could both testify to the attack by the
footpads, and it would be taken as certain—just as everybody did take
it—that the footpads had succeeded in their purpose before they fled.”

“Ay, but the footpads themselves knew they hadn’t. They had only to come
forward and say as much.”

“But by coming forward to say it, sir, they must needs have incriminated
themselves of the murder. No, there was little reason to fear that, I
should consider: as a matter of fact, they never did come forward. Nor I
never heard of their even threatening to do so—in a way of extorting
money, you understand. No, sir, a very safe crime on the part of the two
gentlemen, if I may say so again. And, lookye, sir, how circumstances
alter the appearance of things. Suppose my lord had lost the money in
the gaming-house that night, and these two gentlemen had won it, as
might very easily have happened. There would then have been no crime in
their possessing it, no dishonour, no ungentlemanliness; they would have
had no reason for concealment. But as matters were, if the truth ever
got out, are there any bounds to the horror and ignominy with which the
names of those gentlemen would be held by the great world they moved
in?”

“But if it never got out, then how the devil do you know it? Answer me
that, man?”

“In a moment, sir. I should have thought you would be curious as to who
these gentlemen were?”

“Well, who were they? In course I’m curious.”

“One of them was a certain baronet, since deceased; the other, Robert
Foxwell, Esquire.”

“Eh!”

“Robert Foxwell, Esquire,” repeated the stranger.

Mr. Thornby’s surprise, as depicted on his countenance, was as jubilant
as if he had received sudden news of an unexpected bequest. He rose and
snapped his fingers in the air, and seemed with difficulty to restrain a
shout. But after a moment he sat down again, and eagerly demanded:

“But how do you know it?—how do you know it, man? How are you sure of
it?”

“You shall see in a minute, sir. The baronet had excellent luck with the
money he took, and was able to make as good a figure as ever. But the
adage, sir, in regard to ill-gotten gains, though it failed in his case,
was fulfilled in Mr. Foxwell’s. There _does_ seem to be a partiality
shown in the workings of Providence sometimes. Mr. Foxwell had the worst
of luck, and soon the bailiffs were after him. He was taken to a
sponging-house, and, after trying friend after friend in vain, he saw
imprisonment for debt staring him in the face. I suppose his interest in
the family estate hereabouts was tied up in some way.”

“Ay, he could touch nothing but his share of the income,” said the
Squire.

“And on that, no doubt, he had already raised what he could. A mere drop
in the bucket, I dare say. However it be, he was certainly in a
desperate condition. I don’t know whether you’ve ever seen the inside of
a debtors’ prison, sir,—”

“Ecod, man, not me!”

“Only as a matter of curiosity, sir, I meant. But you’ll take my word
for it, I hope, that ’tis really no place for a gentleman. The fear of
it would drive a man of Mr. Foxwell’s habits, I can well believe, to
desperate measures. Well, sir, what did he do, when he saw everything
failing him, but write a letter to the baronet—he had written three
before, and got no answer—a letter to the baronet, from the
sponging-house, in which he said that if the baronet didn’t come to his
assistance immediately, he’d be damned if he wouldn’t confess all and
let the world know who really got Lord Hilby’s money that night. Yes,
sir, in black and white he wrote those words, which distinctly appear in
the letter,—‘_Confess_ all and let the world know who got Lord Hilby’s
money that night.’ So the baronet obligingly went to his assistance.”

“And how did all this come to _your_ ears?” queried the Squire.

“The baronet threw the letter, as he thought, into the fire. But he had
a faithful servant, who hooked it out, as a matter of habit, read it in
private, and filed it away for future reference. He didn’t see any
occasion to refer to it, the faithful servant didn’t, for a long time.
Meanwhile, Mr. Foxwell, after various ups and downs, finally left
London; and the baronet died. The faithful servant became
waiting-gentleman to a king’s officer, and went through the campaign in
Scotland. Being wounded, and losing his place, he set out to return to
London. He had heard what county Mr. Foxwell had sought retirement in,
and, having to pass through that county on his way South, he thought it
might be worth while to look the gentleman up and see whether he
attached any value to an interesting specimen of his earlier
handwriting.”

“So you are the baronet’s faithful servant?”

“Yes, your honour,—Jeremiah Filson, at your service. And here is the
letter.”

He produced a pocket-book from the breast of his coat, and brought the
document out of a double wrapper of soft paper. Holding it tightly with
both hands, he placed it within reading distance of the Squire, having
first drawn it back with a polite “Your pardon, sir,” when the latter
made an involuntary reach for it.

“His hand, sure enough,” said the Squire, who had sufficient reason in
the correspondence preceding their litigation to know his neighbour’s
penmanship. He first examined the signature, “R. Foxwell,” and then
carefully read the note—dashed off with a scratchy pen and complete
disregard for appearance—from beginning to end. The sheet was slightly
burnt at one side, and had in all respects the evidence of genuineness.

“Lookye, Jeremiah Filson,” said the Squire at last, as he eyed the
letter covetously, “Foxwell can’t for his life give you twenty pounds
ready money for that piece of paper. In any case you may be sure I can
outbid him. Don’t you approach him at all, that’s my advice. ’Twould be
time lost, if you expect to get anything worth while; and, besides that,
he’s a shrewd fellow, is Mr. Foxwell, and he might bubble you out of the
letter before ever you knew what you were at. You’d best deal with me,
you had. Understand, I wouldn’t make any harmful use of it, though I do
dislike the man. But I have the fancy to crow over him a little, d’ye
see,—that’s all,—nothing harmful. Now what—”

At this critical moment the pair were interrupted by Bartholomew looking
in and announcing that the horses were ready. Thornby bade him shut the
door, wait outside, and be damned. The first and second of these items
being complied with, the Squire entered into negotiations with Mr.
Filson for the possession of the letter. That gentleman, having
carefully put away the document in its former resting-place, seemed in
no hurry to come to terms. He listened to the Squire with sedate
civility, but was adamant upon the point of a good round sum in ready
money. The end of their talk was that Filson agreed to call at Thornby
Hall the next day, and not to dispose of the letter in the meantime. The
Squire did not tell the man that Mr. Foxwell was even then under the
same roof with them. If Filson found this out before Foxwell’s
departure, a meeting might occur, though it was scarce likely that
Foxwell would give opportunity for it at the inn. In any case, the
Squire would have a chance to outbid his enemy. Having elicited the
further promise that Filson would not at any time tell Foxwell that he,
the Squire, was dealing for the letter, or knew of its existence, he
took his leave.

Mr. Filson heard the Squire’s horses clatter out of the passage, and
break into a trot in the High Street. As the sound died away, he drank
the last of his ale, and indulged in a comfortable smile.

“A mighty fortunate meeting,” he mused. “This booby will buy the letter
at my own price. He would give his brains, if he had any, for the means
of getting the upper hand of his enemy. And a perfectly safe man to deal
with, too. As for Foxwell, I could never be sure but he would cut my
throat if I went to him with the letter. Now that difficulty is
removed,—’tis certainly the hand of Providence.”

He yawned profoundly, and then resumed:

“I may find this Justice of the Peace a convenient friend if I have
occasion to tarry in this neighbourhood. But I’ll get his money for the
letter first: otherwise he might make his friendship a part of the
price. A fool would have gone farther at this first interview,—but
you’re no fool, Jeremiah; no, sir, a fool is what you certainly are
not.”

He rang the bell and asked to be shown to a bedroom, saying he had not
slept the previous night. Being informed by the landlady that a room
would be ready in ten minutes, he strolled out to the yard to pass the
intervening time there. He had taken a turn or two, when out from the
kitchen came a young woman who seemed to be in a huff. She was very red
in the face, and talked ostensibly to herself, but really for the
benefit of all who might hear.

“The conversation of that London maid is truly scangelous!” quoth she.

“Eh, my dear,” said Mr. Filson, stopping in front of her, “has anybody
been scandalizing those pretty ears of yours?”

Prudence—for it was Miss Foxwell’s maid—took note of the stranger with
much artless affectation of surprise, exclaiming:

“Upon my word, sir—!” But before she got any further, she saw reason for
real wonder. “Eh! speaking of ears, what has happened to yours?”

“Honourably sacrificed in war, miss,” replied Filson, readily; “slashed
by a Jacobite officer at the battle of Culloden, four or five months
ago.”

“Oh, how barbarious!” cried Prudence. “How could he ever have the heart
to do such a thing?”

“Oh, I gave him as good as I got. If you happen to see a handsome young
gentleman with his beauty improved by a mark like a heart on a
playing-card, under his right eye, you may know that he owes that
decoration to me. I did it with a bayonet, miss, and a very pretty job I
made of it.”

“Lor, I’m not like ever to see any Jacobite officer.”

“Don’t be too sure. My gentleman is probably somewhere in this
neighbourhood. So keep your pretty eyes open, my dear. His name is
Everell—Charles Everell—so I was told by a prisoner we took, who had
seen our little exchange of compliments: though ’tis scarce like he’ll
be travelling under his real name just at present.”

“Ay, for I hear they’re going to hang all the Jacobites they catch.”

“So they are, except the great ones, and them they behead. They’ve
already begun the good work in London, both ways. Whether this gentleman
is high enough to be honoured with the axe, or whether his case will be
served by a halter, I know not. He was in the Pretender’s body-guard, at
any rate.”

“But how do you know he’s in this neighbourhood?”

“Because, sweetheart, I saw him yesterday on the road the first time
since Culloden fight. Before I had a chance to lay information against
him, he had given me the slip. I spent the whole night in trying to get
on his track, at inns and other houses. I think he may still be in these
parts, and if I can manage it he shall meet his just deserts.”

“How monstrous bitter you are against him, to be sure!”

“No. I’m not bitter, my dear. ’Tis only patriotism—loyalty;—’tis our
duty, you know, to bring any of these rebels to justice when Providence
puts it in our way. And then I’m a persistent man, too; when I once get
on the scent of a thing, I can’t stop till I’ve run it down. And so,
pretty miss,” he added, playfully, “if you happen to see such a
gentleman, within the next day or two,—young and good-looking, and most
likely travelling with a friend of about the same age, who’s also a
handsome young man but summat heavier built,—why, if you see such a
gentleman, with the ace of hearts on his cheek, hold your tongue, and
send word to me in care of this inn—Jeremiah Filson—and I’ll see you get
your share of the reward.”

Mr. Filson smiled tenderly; and then yawned. A moment later the landlady
called from the entry that his room was ready.

“Remember, my dear, the ace of hearts, and Jeremiah Filson,” he said,
with a parting grin and wink, and then followed the chambermaid, whom
the landlady had ordered to show him his room. Prudence, at the entry
door, watched him ascend the stairs till he disappeared at the turn, and
heard him bestow a gallant “my dear” upon the chambermaid as he
continued on his way, whereupon she tossed her head and became suddenly
scornful.

“Poh! Quite a chivalarious gentleman!” said she. “Nasty scrub! He may
whistle for his Jacobite with the ace of hearts on his face, for all the
help he gets from me!” With that, Miss Prudence returned to the kitchen,
but sat aloof from the other servants, who were making merry over their
bread and cheese and beer. The worsting she had got in a passage of
ironical compliments with Lady Strange’s maid, which had driven her from
the company to the yard, was still sore in her mind, so that she sat in
contemptuous silence, torn between the desire to tell the others of the
Jacobite-hunting guest and the satisfaction of keeping them deprived of
subject-matter so interesting. She flattered herself that she was the
only person in the house whom Mr. Filson had taken into his confidence;
and this was true, though on his arrival he had looked into all the
public parts of the inn and questioned the landlord as to the guests
up-stairs. His disclosure to her had followed naturally upon her notice
of his ear.

Filson, being ushered into one of the back chambers, bade the maid have
his portmanteau brought up from the public room. He then took off his
shoes and threw himself on the bed. The boy who carried up the
portmanteau, two minutes later, found him snoring.

Mr. Filson had not been asleep five minutes, when three horsemen—the
three that have been mentioned more than once hitherto in the course of
this history—turned in from the street, and came to a stop at the door
to the public room. Two of the riders slid from their saddles, and the
third,—the postboy in charge,—after dropping two cloak-bags beside the
door, proceeded with the horses to the yard. The two gentlemen—for
gentlemen they were, as was plain from every appearance, though their
clothes had seen considerable service—stood for a moment glancing
around. They were young and well favoured; both of average height; one
stoutly made, the other of a slighter build. The slender fellow had a
small red scar, which indeed was rather like a heart in shape, on his
right cheek; but it did not apparently spoil the beauty of his face.

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