HORSES

AFTER a mile or so, the riders slackened speed, and kept an easy pace
thereafter till they were near the town. Two or three times they had
made a momentary halt to listen, but had heard nothing to indicate that
they were followed. Everell had frequently asked Georgiana how she did,
and she had declared, “Very well.” He now inquired whether she could
travel much farther without stopping to rest, and begged her to be
perfectly honest in her reply. She assured him she was equal to a dozen
miles, at least.

“Then it is a question,” said he, “whether we should stay a few hours at
the place we are coming to, or go on to the next town southward. I
conceive we have naught to fear from your uncle. As for Thornby, I know
not. He may desire that nothing of all this shall become known; on the
other hand, his wrath may outweigh his vanity. ’Tis not likely his men
would give chase so far without his commands. The clerk would certainly
go to consult him before ordering a long pursuit, and Thornby’s first
care would be to get himself liberated from the closet. No doubt all
depends on his state of feeling at that moment. Were Jeremiah Filson
still a factor in the case, I should count on pursuit. Men of that
persistent sort, having once set themselves a task, are not to be thrown
off, however slight be the gain or the motive. They know how to make
such as Thornby the servants of their wills. But without Filson’s egging
on, I doubt if Thornby or his clerk will give themselves much trouble
concerning us. Your uncle, I think, will find means to dissuade them. In
any case, we have a fair start, so that if you feel the least fatigue or
discomfort, sweet,—And yet, ’twould go hard to lose all, after coming
off so well hitherto. Certainly Thornby will be in a great fury:—to be
locked in his own closet, after being robbed of you and of his power
over your uncle! At first he will be for revenge at any cost. And who
knows but he may linger in that mind? He may make it a great matter,
inform the sheriff of the county, and raise a general hue and cry. ’Tis
a possibility we must reckon with. Our only security against it is a
long start at the outset. And yet you’ve already undergone too much
to-night. Perhaps two or three hours of rest—But, devil take it, Filson
has been at this town!—’twas here you warned me of him. No doubt he has
left accounts of me. I may be recognized if I show my face at any house.
But, if we pass through the town in this darkness—”

He was going on to consider the alternatives further, but Georgiana,
having waited in vain for a pause, now interrupted with the most
positive assertion that she would not think of stopping at the town they
were about to enter. So they walked their horses through such of its
narrow streets as lay in their route, and were soon upon the open road
again, having encountered no light nor other sign of life. They improved
their speed, and, having passed the spot where Everell had taken leave
of Roughwood a fortnight before,—though its location could not be
certified in the darkness,—arrived at another town of silent streets
wherein no lamp or candle relieved the night. By their own lantern, the
lovers were enabled to inspect the house-fronts, and to select what
appeared to be the chief inn of the place. After much imperative calling
for the landlord, Everell was answered by a half-dressed man, of whom he
demanded accommodations in the tone of authority that had imposed upon
the servants at Thornby Hall. Here, as there, it availed, and, as soon
as the travellers were admitted, Everell curtly explained that the lady
had met with an accident; he added, carelessly, that they had come from
the South.

The half-dressed man proving to be the landlord, Everell bespoke a
chaise and fresh horses for an early hour in the morning; and, as there
was only one sleeping-room available, saw Georgiana conducted thereto;
after which he made his own bed, with the aid of his cloak, on a settle
in the bar-parlour. He passed the night in a half-sleep, ready to take
alarm at any sound of later arrivals. In the morning, when the time set
for departure was near, he summoned a maid and was about to send her to
Georgiana, when that lady herself appeared on the stairs. She was quite
ready to travel, having interviewed the innkeeper’s wife, and acquired a
hat, a mantle, and some other articles, all in a fair state of
preservation, in exchange for one of her rings.

Everell complimented her upon this timely regard for appearances while
travelling by daylight, and declared that no other woman in England
could look as well in the costliest finery as Georgiana did in the
second-hand wardrobe of a country landlady. Georgiana was pleased at
this; but not entirely so, until he added that she should supply herself
in better accordance with her own taste at the first opportunity. He
then handed her into the chaise, entrusted to the landlord the
despatching of the horses and pistols to Foxwell, and gave directions to
the postilion. Hearing these, the innkeeper was much puzzled, for
Everell had designedly given him the impression that the journey of the
couple was Northward. Ere he could scratch a probable solution of the
problem into his head, the chaise was rattling away.

The freshness of the morning had its effect upon the lovers at first;
but Everell soon perceived that Georgiana was pale and languid. He urged
her to try to sleep, and offered his shoulder as a pillow. She, on her
side, observed that his voice was quite hoarse, and insisted upon
arranging his cloak so that he, too, could rest. Presently, in spite of
herself, her eyes closed. He pillowed her head as he had suggested, and
softly kissed her hair. The next fact of which he was distinctly
conscious was that the chaise had stopped before a roadside inn, and the
postilion was telling him that here was a good place at which to
breakfast. Glad to find, on inquiry, how many hours and miles they had
got rid of in sleep, Everell awakened Georgiana, and they were regaled
with bread, cheese, and fried bacon. They were now quite cured of
fatigue, though Everell’s hoarseness was increased.

The journey was resumed. A few towns and many villages were left behind.
Finally, at the end of a stage, Everell thought the time of changing
horses might safely be utilized in visiting some shops near the
posting-inn. When the travellers returned with their purchases, their
new conveyance was ready. They set out immediately, putting off dinner
to the late afternoon rather than make a longer stop at present. As they
drove out of the yard into the street, Georgiana uttered a quick “Oh!”
and drew back from the chaise window, at the same time laying her hand
on Everell’s breast to make him do likewise.

“What’s the matter?” he asked.

“The man on horseback,” she replied; “don’t look out! ’Tis Jeremiah
Filson!”

“Impossible! I left him as good as dead. You are mistaken, sweet. How
could you know him?—you have scarcely seen him.”

“I saw him well enough at Thornby Hall last night; and this I am certain
was he. He was riding up the street; there was another horseman with
him. He looked tired, and the horses seemed fagged. ’Twas he, I could
swear,—the same clothes.”

“Then the dog must have feigned, last night, to save himself from a
_coup de grace_. Did he see us, I wonder?”

“He didn’t appear to. He was looking at the houses, I thought.”

“Looking for the inn, probably. Well, if he stops there, he will inquire
for us. If not, he is close behind us. In either case, he is on our
track. Thank heaven, we are almost out of the town.”—The new postilion,
as soon as the chaise was safe in the street, had whipped up his horses
to a gallop, in order to make the showy start affected by artists in his
craft.—“Filson’s experience last night has given him a respect for my
sword,” Everell went on; “he will not dare come within reach of it
himself. I at least pinked his other ear, as I promised to. He will now
act with caution; will attempt to hunt me down without showing himself,
and, if he finds me tarrying anywhere, will apply to the local
authorities. He will be no less dangerous for proceeding in that way—he
will be the more so, rather. We shall not dare stop long anywhere. We
had best take our meals at solitary country inns, where he cannot come
up unperceived, nor set the authorities upon me without time and
trouble. We must travel night and day till we are safe: to sleep at an
inn would give him his opportunity. I see ’tis possible for you to sleep
as we go. So then, barring accident, we shall doubtless keep our lead to
the end, if he hangs on so far.”

“But if we are delayed at the posting-houses?” said Georgiana.
“Sometimes one cannot get horses immediately.”

“Ay, there is one danger,” Everell replied. “But we must gain such a
distance that we may lose time and yet be away before he can steal upon
us; or at least before he can bring officers about us. We must not tarry
long in a garrison town. Military officers would be too ready to act
upon information in such a case as mine. He cannot get the civil powers
to move so quickly. Well, we must keep our lead. In the country he will
not venture too close upon our heels. We are out of the town, at last. I
wonder if he stopped at that inn.”

Everell thrust his head out of the side window and looked back. Nobody
was following. He then called to the driver, and gave instructions in
regard to the pace of travel, hinting at the reward in store for
obedience. The lad was so compliant, the horses so fresh, that in due
time Everell thought a pause might be made for dinner without much risk
of their being overtaken. At the next suitable house of refreshment he
ordered a halt, somewhat to the disapproval of the postilion, who would
have preferred to stop at an inn of his own suggesting. Everell chose
this, however, because it had as neighbours only two or three brick
houses and a half-dozen thatched cottages, all looking drowsy behind
ragged hedges, while its chief window commanded a view of the road over
which the fugitives had come.

They caused a table to be placed at the window, and there, on a soiled
cloth, were served with boiled eggs, cold bacon, and bread, by the
frowsy woman who had taken the order, set the table, and done the
cooking. But the eggs were fresh, and the bacon good, so that little was
left on the table when the travellers rose from it. The postilion had
evidently found the ale, bread, and cheese better than he had expected;
and the horses apparently had nothing to complain of in their
refreshment. At all events, the journey was resumed in good spirits,
and, as no sign of Filson had appeared upon the stretch of road in
sight, the lovers began to feel more secure. Georgiana now recalled
Filson’s jaded appearance. Perhaps, as on a former occasion, he had
yielded to the dictates of tired nature: perhaps he had thrown over the
pursuit, and was merely bound for London. As for the horseman with him,
that might have been a postboy or a casual fellow traveller. While their
own chaise went rolling along at good speed, the lovers felt hope
increase within them. Nevertheless, they were still determined to go on
by night.

Dusk had risen—or, rather, fallen, to be accurate in spite of the
poets—when they arrived at the place where they would have to obtain the
horses and vehicle for their night journey. It was a small town, with a
High Street enlivened by the humbler inhabitants strolling up and down
in the light from the shop windows. A lamp hung over the entrance to the
principal inn. As soon as the chaise was in the yard, Everell called for
a fresh conveyance.

The landlord was very sorry, but there were no horses. How soon would
there be any? Certainly not that night: he wouldn’t send out tired
cattle, not for love or money. Would there be a stage-coach, or even a
carrier’s wagon? Not before morning. Everell turned to the postilion,
who was now busy with his own fagged horses. No, sir; this was as far as
he dared go: he knew his orders; his cattle were done for, and _he_ was
done for, and he wouldn’t let his beasts go another mile, not for love
or money or the King himself.

“Mind how you speak of the King, booby,” a voice broke in, pertly; and
Everell, looking around, saw three or four trim young fellows at the
taproom door, all in red coats.

“Soldiers in town?” said Everell to the landlord.

“Yes, your Honour; two companies waiting orders. You’d ’a’ had the
pleasure of meeting the officers at dinner if you’d come a little
sooner, but now they be all gone to a ball at a gentleman’s house in the
neighbourhood. Most of them lodge here; but I have a very good room
left, at your Honour’s service.”

“I don’t want a room. I want horses. Where can I get them? Is there no
other place in the town?”

The landlord shook his head sadly; but one of the soldiers said:
“There’s a house across the way, sir,—the Red Swan. I’m not sure you can
get horses there, but ’tis there or nowhere if this house can’t supply
them.”

Everell thanked the man, pressed a shilling into his hand, settled with
his own postilion, and had his luggage carried before himself and
Georgiana to the Red Swan. This was a smaller house than the one they
had left. It had no driveway through the middle; the entrance to the
yard was by a side lane. The travellers, entering by the front door,
found a corridor leading to the bar—and to the landlady. Could one hire
horses and some sort of light vehicle? Yes, to be sure; but not that
night: all the horses and carriages in the town were taking people to
the ball a few miles out. Everell looked blankly at Georgiana. The
landlady could offer his Honour the best rooms in the house. On the
morrow there would be horses a-plenty. They would be returning from the
ball by midnight.

“Ah, then, if we wait till midnight, we may have the first horses that
come in?” said Everell.

The landlady was not sure. She would have to ask John, who was now
driving to the ball. When he returned with his horses, he might be
willing; the cattle would be fresh enough, but John might not be. At
this, Everell spoke so eloquently, despite his hoarseness, of rewards
and of his confidence in the landlady’s ability to influence John if she
would, and Georgiana supported him with such sweetly anxious looks, that
the good woman thought she could almost certainly promise a conveyance
and John’s attendance at midnight or thereabouts. As for the intervening
time, it was decided that Georgiana should lie down dressed, while
Everell should remain on the alert. He saw her to the door of a room at
the head of the stairs, and returned to caution the landlady against
acknowledging their presence to possible inquirers. He relied on the
woman’s good-will and evident belief that they were an eloping pair
fearful only of parental discovery. He then went by a rear door to
stretch his legs in the inn yard, which he thought to find deserted.

The yard was for the most part in darkness, its only light being that of
a lantern hung against the gate-post. To Everell’s surprise, a pair of
horses attached to a post-chaise were feeding under the care of a small
boy. Everell was promptly inquisitive, but the undersized hostler had no
gift of communication, and could say no more than that the chaise had
arrived awhile ago and would be going on pretty soon. Everell returned
to the landlady.

“Oh, ay,” she said, in reply to his remark about the horses. “They
belong to a gentleman with a toothache, who stops only long enough for
supper.”

“You didn’t mention him before.”

“Why, sir, from his coming to this house instead of t’other, and from
his ordering a private room to sup in, I took it he’d rather nothing was
said of his being here. But, come to think of it, he might want to keep
out of sight because of his face being swollen up—’tis all tied round
with a yankerchief. Yet that wouldn’t account for his having his
postilion eat in the same room with him, would it, sir? It looks as how
he was afeard the man would say too much if let eat in the kitching.
Well, I hope as I’ve done him no harm by what I’ve told your Honour.”

“Not in the least. I wish I had his horses. I would even accept his
toothache, if I could have the horses with it.”

He entered the small public parlour, and dropped into a chair at the
head of the long table. He had the room to himself, and could flee to
the darkness of the yard if anybody intruded. Leaning forward with his
elbows on the table, he lapsed into a drowsy state which seemed, in the
circumstances, the state best calculated to cheat the time. He had
remained therein for more than half an hour, when his ears, on the
alert, informed him of a soft step outside the room. He rose, and beheld
Georgiana in the half-open doorway. Finger on lip, she approached and
whispered:

“I have seen him. I think he knows we are here.”

“Who?” asked Everell.

“Filson. I happened to look out of my window—”

“Impossible! He couldn’t have followed so close.”

“He must have gained upon us toward nightfall, and arrived at the inn
across the way a little while ago. I happened to glance out of my window
just now—not putting my head out, but looking through the glass—and I
saw four men standing under the lamp before that inn—the lamp over the
entrance. Three of them were the soldiers we saw in the yard. The other
was Filson. He was talking with the soldiers, and he and they were
looking at this house. I am sure they were telling him we had come
here.”

“Did they see you?”

“I think not. They weren’t looking at my window when I first saw them,
and after that I watched from behind the curtain.”

“Well, then, he knows we are here. The fellow who carried our luggage
across would have told the soldiers we failed to get horses. I should
have taken some pains to cover our track. We are too easily described. I
might have known Filson would inquire before even entering the inn; his
fear of coming suddenly within reach of my sword would make him do that.
Well, the evil is done. What steps will the fellow take?—that is the
question. Fortunately, those soldiers can do nothing without orders, and
their officers have gone to the ball.”

“But hear me through,” said Georgiana. “After they had talked a minute
or so, Filson and one of the soldiers walked up the street, so fast that
I soon lost sight of them. The other two soldiers remained—to watch this
house, perhaps. And then I came to tell you.”

“H’m! Without doubt Filson has gone in quest of somebody in authority.
We must be gone from this house, at all events. Filson may return—who
knows how soon?—may return with a gang of constables or a file of
soldiers. Come, we must leave this inn, at least.”

“But those two are watching: they will see us go.”

“We’ll go through the yard. It opens to a lane, which may have two
entrances—else we must find some back way, or scale a wall, if need be.
Come; I’ll see the landlady as we go.”

“Oh, heaven! In the passage—footsteps—of men!”

Everell listened a moment, his hand on his sword-hilt. “Nay, ’tis all
well. Two men walking from the stairs to the yard: they are a guest and
his postilion. ’Tis a gentleman with a toothache. The landlady has been
telling me of him. I would to heaven—Ah, perhaps—Come, sweet! come!”

Seizing her hand, Everell led her swiftly from the room, along the
passage, and through a back door, to the yard.

The forms of the strange gentleman, the postilion, and the small hostler
were dimly visible at the darker side of the chaise. The postilion was
evidently about to light his lamps. Everell left Georgiana standing in a
shadowed corner by the house door, and advanced to the other gentleman,
keeping as much in the darkness as he. The stranger’s head presented a
very bulky appearance, thanks not only to the handkerchief encircling
it, but also to its being thickly muffled up to the mouth. His hat,
moreover, was drawn down to his eyes. So, indeed, was Everell’s.

“Sir,” began Everell, inwardly cursing the hoarseness that prevented a
more ingratiating tone, “pardon the intrusion of one who means no
offence. ’Tis a matter of life and death that moves me, a stranger, to
address you as I do. There is also a lady whose fortunes are at stake.
’Tis of the first importance that we leave this place immediately. We
have not been able to obtain horses. Seeing you about to depart alone, I
am impelled to throw myself on your generosity. Will you take us as
passengers, to the next town, at least? If you will take the lady in the
chaise, I can sit on the bar in front. The postilion shall be well
rewarded.”

“Why, sir,” replied the other, in a thick voice, the more indistinct
from his much muffled condition, “if you are travelling in my
direction—”

“Southward,” said Everell, eagerly.

“I am sorry, then, for I am going North.”

“North? What ill fortune! For an instant I thought myself happy.
North!—but surely, sir, your necessity for going on at once is not as
great as ours: it cannot be. If you knew the case—the lady is waiting
yonder in the darkness, trembling with anxiety as to our fate. Our whole
future, sir, hangs upon the next few minutes. Dare I ask you—nay, dare I
refrain from asking you—to resign this conveyance to us? There will be
another available at midnight. Your business certainly is not so
urgent.”

“My business, sir, is as urgent as any can be. It has the first claim on
me, much as I would fain serve you. I dare not lose an hour.”

“But, good heaven, sir, have I not told you my affair is one of life or
death?”

“And so is mine,” said the strange gentleman, stepping back to be out of
range of the chaise-lamp, which the postilion had now lighted.

Everell followed into the darker gloom, pleading desperately: “But
consider, sir, my case concerns the happiness of a woman.”

“Mine concerns the safety of a man.”

“Good God!” exclaimed Everell, maddened at the other’s phlegmatic
brevity of speech. “To see these horses ready for the road, to need them
as I do, to know how she must suffer if I—Sir, I entreat you: I must
have these horses: I demand them in the sacred name of love.”

“I require them in the sacred interest of friendship,” was the answer.

“Friendship!” laughed Everell, scornfully. “The love of man and woman—do
you know what that is?”

“None knows better; but at present I serve the friendship of man for
man. One task at a time. Were I not entered upon this, I would do much
to oblige you. I can only wish you better fortune than you expect;
and—good night.” With that the stranger went toward the chaise, all
being now ready for departure.

“Not yet good night, either!” cried Everell, stepping into the other’s
way. “’Tis a rude thing I do, but necessity compels me. If your mission
is all to you, mine is all to me. Let our swords decide for us—I see you
wear one.”

“I wear one,” said the gentleman, patiently, “but I had rather not draw
it now.”

“You had rather be commanded, then,” said Everell, drawing his own. “You
have a toothache, I hear. A gentleman with a toothache ought not to
travel at night. For your own good, I must forbid you.”

“And you have a bad cold, as your voice betrays. A gentleman with a bad
cold ought still less to travel at night.” And the stranger now calmly
drew. “Make way, sir, if you please.”

“Stand back, sir,” replied Everell, “till I call the lady to enter the
chaise.”

The stranger’s retort to this was a sword-thrust at Everell’s groin.
Though the men were in too great darkness to distinguish faces, a
certain sense he had acquired by much training enabled Everell to parry
this attack. When he returned the thrust, his adversary showed an equal
instinct for judging the movements of a barely visible weapon. Several
passes were exchanged, to the great affright of Georgiana, who could
only make out the moving forms in the gloom and hear the clashing of the
steel. She had the presence of mind to close the house door, lest the
sound might bring other spectators. As for the postilion and the boy,
they stood astonished at a safe distance, not daring to raise an alarm
for fear of incurring the vengeance of the combatants. The fight was hot
and equally maintained. Unexpectedly Everell struck his left hand
against the chaise door. For greater safety of movement, he stepped back
a few paces, and so came, without thought, into the lamplight.

The other gentleman, in the act of following, uttered a cry of surprise,
and held his sword motionless. The voice was quite different from that
he had previously used.

“Eh!—who are you?” exclaimed Everell, lowering his own weapon.

The stranger advanced into the light, pulling down his muffler.

“Roughwood!” cried Everell, springing forward to embrace the man he had
just been trying to wound.

“H’sh!” warned the other, cautious as ever.

“Good heaven!—if we had killed each other!”

“We should have been served right for not knowing each other. But till
this moment I didn’t rightly see you. Your husky voice deceived me: I
should never have thought it your voice.”

“’Tis the best voice I can muster at present. But _you_ seem to have two
voices.”

“The other was put on—like the muffler, handkerchief, and toothache. I
was recognized on my way South after leaving you; and now, coming back
through the same country—”

“But why coming back? I supposed you safe in France.”

“I saw her whom I wished to see; but I could not persuade myself to sail
without you, or knowledge of you. As days passed and you arrived not—In
short, I feared your rash resolve had got you into trouble—”

“And you were coming to my aid! Dear Roughwood!”

“But we lose time. You spoke of a lady.”

“You will recognize her,” said Everell, and hastened to conduct
Georgiana into the light. Leaving her and Roughwood to mutual surprise
and explanation, he returned to the bar of the inn, and, having overcome
the landlady’s refusal of payment, possessed himself of his and
Georgiana’s luggage. When he reappeared in the yard, his friend had
already handed the young lady into the chaise, and was giving directions
to the postilion. Everell was for Roughwood’s taking the place beside
Georgiana, but that gentleman cut short all dispute by mounting the bar
in front and allowing Everell ten seconds in which to enter the chaise.
Before less time had passed, Everell was seated at his Georgiana’s side,
her hand was stealing into his, the hostler had closed the door of the
chaise, and the postilion had given the word of starting. He drove
carefully out through the gate with the solitary lamp, slowly on through
the lane to the street, and then for the open road southward, the horses
getting up speed at the crack of the whip.

“And so, Jeremiah Filson,” said Everell, as the lights of the houses
ceased and the night lay blue and misty over the fields, “we have left
you behind once more.”

Thanks to the careful arrangements of Roughwood, no time was lost on the
rest of the journey, day or night, and the lovers never saw Jeremiah
Filson again. A man answering to his description arrived a day late at
the fishing village from which they had set sail; and lingered for a
week or more, questioning the inhabitants, and often, from the highest
cliffs, gazing far out to sea with a puzzled expression. This they
learned from Roughwood’s future wife, when she and her brother came to
them in Paris.

From Prudence, for whom Georgiana sent as soon as she conveniently
could, the lovers—for lovers they remained after marriage and through
life—heard the latest news of Foxwell Court and Thornby Hall. Mr.
Foxwell had come to a better understanding with his neighbour Thornby,
so that the pair now frequently got drunk together at one or the other’s
table; they spent considerable time at cards, with results apparently to
Foxwell’s satisfaction; and it was settled that he should lend the
distinction of his presence to the Squire’s approaching nuptials. For
the Squire, as if to show the depth of disappointed love by an urgent
need of consolation, had suddenly—and successfully—resolved to marry
Sukey Marvell.

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