ROADS

LEFT alone in the dining-room, Foxwell first indulged in a momentary
smile of satisfaction, as who should say, “For once has circumstance
been kind to me;” and then, setting himself to the task yet remaining,
he opened the library door, and called Everell.

The young man came without delay; looked swiftly around the room, and
then at Foxwell with eyes that said, “She is not here!”

“She has gone to her room,” said Foxwell, very quietly. “I have granted
her request: you are to go free.”

“Go free!”

“At her solicitation, and solely for her sake. For her sake, then, and
for mine, too, if you consider not your own, I beg you will be secret in
your departure—and above all, speedy. You must be especially on your
guard against Jeremiah Filson, who still lodges at the public-house in
the village yonder. Were I in your place, I wouldn’t pass through the
village, I would go to Burndale and take conveyance there. But however
you proceed, though I may seem inhospitable to urge it, you should set
out immediately. You have money, I believe: if not, my purse—though I
could wish it better lined—”

“Nay, a thousand thanks, but I have enough. As to this release, I know
not what to say: I never would have asked it—”

“But you must accept it, for the sake of her who did ask it. I well know
you would have stood to our compact. Stay not for protestations or
thanks: the sooner you are gone, the better for us all.”

“But ’tis not yet ten o’clock.”

“Good heaven, sir, does it not follow that our agreement is annulled by
your release if you accept it?—and your duty to her leaves you no choice
but to accept. Will you stand upon an hour or two, when you’ve had near
full benefit of the bargain for nothing, as it turns out?”

“You are right,” said Everell, with humility. “I will go as soon as I
have said farewell to her.”

“But, my dear sir, that very ordeal is one you must spare her. Do you
not see how the case stands? She was in great terror lest you should be
given up: relieved upon that point, she asks no more. She is content
with having gained your life: in that mood, she is willing to forego
another meeting. It would only start her grief afresh: for that reason,
I advised her to go to her room. As you value her peace, you must depart
without seeing her.”

“Depart without seeing her!” Everell looked wistfully toward the hall,
through which she must have passed to reach her apartments. He fetched a
long and tremulous sigh; then bethought him of the miniature, and,
taking it out, stood gazing on it with moist eyes. He gently kissed it,
and replaced it in his pocket. “Well, sir, heaven knows I wouldn’t cause
her fresh grief. But this I may ask—nay, must know:—when shall I be
permitted to see her again?”

“’Tis not in my power to answer, your own future being unknown to me.
Certainly you mustn’t see her during your present stay in England—which,
if you are wise, you will devote entirely to getting out of England. As
to the future more distant, all depends upon how matters shape
themselves.”

“At least, then, I may hope! She will be true, I know. There will be an
amnesty some day, and I may return to England without danger. In the
meantime, you—and she—may be coming to France. I will write to her from
there.”

“And not till you have arrived there, I trust. Until your safety is
assured, any communication from you must give a new edge to her anxiety.
But I demand no promises.” Foxwell intended to expedite the marriage:
once his purposes were secured, Georgiana’s conduct would be Thornby’s
affair. Now that her consent had been obtained, haste was possible.
Meanwhile, he could intercept any letter that came by regular post.
Therefore, ’twas better not to force Everell to secret means of
correspondence.

“Then, sir,” said Everell, with a wan attempt at a smile, “as you demand
no promises, I will make none. On the hope of meeting her again, in
safer times, I shall live. In that hope, I must go. Tell her—” he paused
a moment, but his thoughts were in a tumult—“Nay, words are too feeble!
I thank her, not for my life, which is hers to use as she will; but for
her love, which gives my life all its value. Adieu, sir!—no more!”

With that, he hastened abruptly, half-blindly, to the hall; and thence
to his chamber, where he donned his sword, hat, cloak, and riding-boots.
He threw his few other belongings into the bag, made sure his money was
safe in pocket, and returned to the hall, thinking to leave by way of
the courtyard and thus soonest gain the road. There was the darkness for
his safety, and the whirl of his thoughts to speed him on to Burndale,
where he could knock up some innkeeper, and take horse for the South at
dawn.

Caleb and another servant, charged by Foxwell to attend the departing
guest to the gate, were at the door. Everell handed each a coin, and the
second man ran ahead to open the gate. Everell was following across the
dark courtyard, when he bethought him of the services of Prudence. He
turned back to the light of the open doorway, selected a gold piece, and
asked Caleb to convey it to the maid.

“If it please your Honour, sir, asking your pardon, may I call Miss
Prudence to receive it herself?” said Caleb; “’twill take but a minute.”

Perceiving that the valet was averse to the trust, Everell acquiesced.
The idea then came to him that he might utilize the brief delay by
writing a message of farewell to Georgiana: there could be no objection
to a few written words of love and faith, which Prudence might deliver
at a suitable time. Everell strode into the dining-room.

Nobody else was there, for Foxwell had returned to the drawing-room to
pen a letter which should accompany Georgiana’s to Thornby. He had begun
to apologize to Rashleigh and Mrs. Winter for the long trial he had put
upon their patience.

“You might at least have left the door ajar, that we could have heard
your fine scenes yonder,” said Mrs. Winter.

“So I might have done, I own,” replied Foxwell.

“Yes; as you didn’t, we thought ourselves justified in listening at the
keyhole.”

“We?” exclaimed Rashleigh, in protest.

“Well, if you didn’t listen, Rashleigh, you certainly didn’t stop my
telling you what I heard.”

“Then you know what has happened?” queried Foxwell.

“I could make a good guess at the general event,” answered the lady.
“The rebel goes free, and pretty Georgiana marries for love.”

“For love!” said Foxwell. “Hardly so, I fear.”

“Certainly. For love of one man, she marries another. ’Tis often
done—especially in France. ’Tis a plan that has its beauties.”

“I’m afraid Georgiana is too English to see its beauties,” said
Rashleigh, as Foxwell sat down to write his letter.

Return we to another writer, in the adjoining room. Everell had found
the book from which Georgiana had been reading to him, which he had
dropped in going to support her when she seemed about to faint. He had
scarce begun to pencil his message on a blank leaf, when Prudence looked
in at the door.

“Oh, ’tis here your honour is, sir; and sure I’m sorry you’re going away
so suddent,” she said, advancing. “When Caleb told me just now, I
couldn’t believe my ears, and I wouldn’t yet, neither, if I didn’t see
your cloak and bag, more’s the pity.”

“Yes, I am going,” said Everell, handing her the reward of merit.

“Oh lor, sir, what princely generosity! I’m sure I aren’t no ways
deserving of such! It reely breaks my heart, begging your Honour’s
pardon, to see how things have come about. After all that’s took place
this past week, to hear of this marriage—’tis enough to make one think
of witchcraft—”

“This marriage? What marriage?—whose?”

“Why, this here marriage, in course. Bean’t that what sends your Honour
away all of a suddent at such a time o’ night?”

“Whose marriage? Speak, Prudence!—in a word, whose?”

“Why, mistress’s marriage, to be sure. Whose else in the world—”

“Mistress’s mar—! What mistress?”

“Mistress Georgiana Foxwell, in course: I don’t own to no other
mistress, I’m sure.” The maid drew back from Everell, wondering if the
loss of his sweetheart had affected his wits.

“Mistress Georgiana! Are you mad, Prudence? What do you mean?”

“Mad, sir? Not me! I scorn the word. ’Tis my betters I takes to be mad,
to go and make a match of it with a gentleman she’s scarce set eyes on,
be he ever so rich.”

“What gentleman do you speak of? Truly I think you _are_ mad.”

“I’m a-speaking of Squire Thornby, sir, who but he? Sure then, haven’t
they told your Honour?”

“Squire Thornby?” repeated Everell, with but vague recollection of the
little he had heard of that person. “A neighbour of Mr. Foxwell’s, isn’t
he?”

“Yes, with a large estate, I’ve heard say. ’Tis all I know of him,
barring they’ve arranged he shall marry my mistress; though that’s quite
enough, heavens knows, and you could have knocked me down with a feather
when I heard as much.”

“But ’tis impossible! They little know her: let them arrange as they
will, she will never consent.”

“Indeed, sir, but that’s the strangest part of it; for didn’t I hear her
consent in this very room, with these ears, not ten minutes ago? ‘Excep’
Squire Thornby’s proposal of marriage,’ them was her uncle’s words, and
she said yes, and Lady Strange is with her now, a-tellin’ how
adventidjus a match ’twill be. And if you think a poor waiting-woman’s
word can’t be took, you’re free to go and ask for yourself.”

“Marry Squire Thornby!—after all that has passed—her grief at my
going—her appeal for my life! It can’t be; I’ll not believe it, unless
she tells me.”

He went swiftly from the room, and ran up the stairs. Before he had time
to reflect upon the impulse he obeyed, he was on the landing outside her
antechamber, calling through the closed door:

“Georgiana!—my love! Come and deny this slander! Come, let me hear the
truth!”

The door opened, and Georgiana appeared, pale and sorrow-stricken. Lady
Strange was at her side, with a gently restraining touch upon her arm.
But Everell seized the girl’s hand and led her down the stairs, partly
as if he claimed her from any other’s possession, and partly that he
might see her face in the better light of the hall below. “Sweet, what
blundering tale is this?” he asked, as they descended;—“of a marriage
with Squire Thornby, and that you have given your consent?”

Georgiana was silent, with averted glance.

“Why don’t you answer?” he said, as they reached the foot of the stairs.

She lifted her eyes to his, but could not bring her lips to frame a
word.

“What!” he exclaimed; “’tis true, then? Oh!”

His cry was like that of sharp pain; he dropped her hand, and walked a
few steps from her. “Who would have believed it?” he said, plaintively;
“I would have staked my soul upon it that you loved me.”

“Loved you!” she said, in a faint whisper.

“But what can it mean, then?” he asked, touched alike by her words and
her look. “Surely you don’t put wealth and convenience before love? Do
you fear I may never come back to you? And to give your consent at such
a time—but ten minutes ago, the maid says! Why, you had just been
pleading for my life.—Ah! now I understand!—blind fool that I’ve been,
not to see at once! forgive me, dearest love! ’Tis your uncle’s doing:
he has sold you my life for your consent to the marriage!” With that,
Everell grasped her hand, and started toward the dining-room.

“Hush, Everell!” said Georgiana, fearful lest all might be undone; “go,
for heaven’s sake, for my sake, ere it be too late!”

Fortunately Caleb had stepped out to the courtyard to gossip with his
fellow servant who had opened the gate, and, as the house door was but
slightly ajar, there were no witnesses to what was passing in the hall,
save Lady Strange and Prudence, who had both followed down the stairs.
Holding back from the dining-room door, Georgiana still begged Everell
to go.

“Go, on those terms?” he said. “Not I! Rather die the worst of deaths.
Let you marry another? I’ll give myself up first!”

“Nay, Everell—my love—I implore—on my knees! Must I plead with you as I
pleaded with my uncle? You should know I cannot endure the thought of
your death. Only that you live, that is enough! Go, I beseech!—let not
my sacrifice be in vain.”

“You sha’n’t make the sacrifice,” he said, fiercely.

“’Tis made already: my uncle has my promise.”

“Your uncle!—where is he?” And Everell strode into the dining-room,
followed by the three women. Before he had time to reach the
drawing-room door, it was opened from the other side, and Everell had no
farther to go to meet Foxwell, who had heard the young man’s loud-spoken
words. At sight of Georgiana, her uncle made an ejaculation, and
advanced toward Everell with a resentful look: he held in one hand a
pen, in the other the letter which the sound of Everell’s voice had
interrupted; and this time both Mrs. Winter and Rashleigh took the
liberty of intruding upon the scene.

“Ah, you come in good time!” cried Everell. “I refuse my liberty at the
price you set. She shall not marry another to save me.”

“’Tis too late, sir,” said Foxwell, with forced quietness; “she has
already bound herself by her promise.”

“Then give her back her promise, as I give myself back to you!”

“Pardon me, but you have no part in the covenant: ’tis between my niece
and myself—your liberty for her promise. Even were she inclined to
cancel the agreement, she cannot do so now: I have given your liberty,
have performed my part: she is bound by her promise.”

“You see ’tis too late, Everell,” said Georgiana, in whom every other
feeling yielded to anxiety for his safety; “you cannot mend matters now.
Save yourself—at least that!—for my sake!”

For a moment her lover was thoughtful. He threw back his cloak at both
shoulders, so that it hung behind him. To enforce her plea, Georgiana
laid her hand upon his arm: she stepped forward so that she now stood
beside him.

“But _I_ am not bound by her promise,” said Everell to Foxwell.

“You are no longer bound by anything, sir, to me,” Foxwell replied. “If
you insist upon staying in this neighbourhood, ’tis at your own peril.
And I warrant you ’twill avail nothing: I shall see that my niece
neither leaves her apartments, nor communicates with any one outside
them, until her marriage; you force me to that use of my authority.”

Before Everell could answer, a voice was heard in the hall doorway
behind him—Caleb’s voice, addressed to Foxwell: “Please, your Honour,
Joseph has the horse ready, sir.”

The word “horse” shot through the confusion of Everell’s thoughts.

“Tell Joseph to wait,” said Foxwell, glancing at the unfinished letter
in his hand. Everell heard Caleb walk away through the hall to the house
door. He knew there was a mounting-block at the side of that door: would
Joseph let the horse wait there, or walk it up and down the courtyard?
“And now again, Mr. Everell,” resumed Foxwell, “I bid you farewell; and
I beg that this leave-taking may be final.”

Everell drew a deep breath; then replied: “I am willing it shall be
final, sir. But one word before I go. I have pondered what you have
said: ’tis clear I am no longer bound to you by any obligation: as for
your niece, I am not bound by her promise.”

“I grant you,” replied Foxwell, “’tis for her alone to keep that.”

“But if I should prevent her keeping it?”

“’Tis not possible; or, if so, not to a man of honour.”

“Why not, pray? I am answerable only for my own promises. She is bound
by hers, and will keep it—if she can. But if I prevent her, by force,
she’ll not be to blame for that. There will be no breach of honour
then.”

“I must end this, sir.—To cross another’s promise is no better than to
break one’s own—”

“Not in this case, sir,” replied Everell, his voice rising in spite of
himself, as his heart rose to the wild attempt he was about to
make—rashness had brought him to this pass, let rashness bring him
out!—“not in this case, for the promise concerns me, yet I was not
consulted in its making—there’s reason for you! As for possibility,
let’s put it to the test! Prevent her? Yes!” He had half-drawn his
sword, but he quickly slid it back; flung his arms around Georgiana’s
waist, and, lifting her high, made a dash for the hall, passing between
Lady Strange and Prudence on the way; ran on out to the courtyard,
where, by a lantern in Joseph’s hand, he saw the horse at the
mounting-block; thanks to which, he gained the saddle in two steps, with
the slight form of Georgiana still in his arms; jerked the bridle from
Joseph’s hold ere the groom or the two other servants knew what was
happening; applied the spurs, and was off at a gallop through the open
gateway before Foxwell had got as far as to the house door in pursuit.

Foxwell had lost no more time through sheer astonishment than most men
would have lost. But, as he started to go after Everell, the maid
Prudence also started, apparently upon the impulse of concern for her
mistress: being nearer the doorway, she arrived first; tripped at the
threshold, and dropped on all fours, filling up the opening so that
Foxwell was delayed for some seconds ere he could pass to the hall. He
had hope that the servants about the house door would stop the fugitive;
but they were taken by surprise, they knew that Everell was to leave,
and they did not know for what purpose the horse had been got ready. So
now the lover, with his prize in his arms, was galloping away in the
darkness. Foxwell ordered two horses saddled, and sent Caleb to listen
as to which direction the fugitive was taking.

FOR the first few moments, Everell left matters to the horse, merely
keeping the rein in hand while he adjusted his burden so that Georgiana
might be as free from discomfort as necessity allowed. He dared not
trust to placing her behind him, as if she had been a consenting partner
in his flight. For the time being, she must remain prisoned between his
arms. He worked his body as far back on the horse as agreed with his
sure control of the animal, thus giving Georgiana the benefit of the
saddle: he could dispense with stirrups. The horse plunged wildly down
the slope, finding the unbarred opening at the bottom rather by its own
sense than by Everell’s guidance.

The sky was black with clouds, but by the time he had thus gained the
road, the young gentleman had become sufficiently used to the darkness
to make out something of his way ahead. He was at an instant’s
hesitation as to which way he should turn. Remembering that Foxwell had
advised him to go by Burndale, and might suppose this advice taken, he
decided for the other—in itself less safe—direction. So he reined his
steed toward the village, as was presently advertised to the listening
Caleb by the thump of hoofs on the bridge. At the entrance to the
village, there was again choice of two ways. The road ahead, passing the
public-house, led to the town at which Everell had first met Georgiana.
As he now recalled, it passed in sight of Thornby Hall. The other road,
turning off at the right and skirting the churchyard, eventually arrived
at the great highway for London some miles farther south than the first
road: so the ale-house keeper had told Everell. For more than one
reason, then, it seemed preferable. The ale-house keeper had not
mentioned, however, that this road was in great part little used and
much neglected; nor did it occur to Everell at the moment that some such
consideration must have made the Foxwells use the other road in
returning from the South.

The young man, then, turned to the right, and, passing the church,
quickly left the village behind. He had not met a soul, nor heard a
human sound: doubtless people kept within doors on account of the
nipping air; as for noise, most of the habitual producers thereof were
probably at the ale-house. Presently the way bent to the left, and
seemed for awhile to run nearly parallel to the other road. Everell felt
Georgiana shiver slightly in his arms. He stopped his horse, and,
hearing no sound as of anybody in pursuit, he undid his cloak and
contrived to wrap it around her. He then set forward again, though at a
less mad pace.

In all this time Georgiana had not uttered a word; nor Everell to her,
his only exclamations having been addressed to the horse. What were her
feelings? We know that she was being carried away by force, in a dress
certainly not designed for travel on a cold and dark night, and without
bag or baggage; carried away on horseback, without her consent, by a
reckless young gentleman whose neck was now doubly in danger—nay, trebly
so, for at that time abduction and horse-stealing were both hanging
matters, no less than treason; carried away by sheer strength of arm,
even as any Sabine or other woman who ever underwent the experience of
marriage by capture; carried away unceremoniously and suddenly—but by
the man she loved! Was she entirely shocked, indignant, and terrified?
Let us leave it to the imagination of other young ladies of her age—and
perhaps of young ladies a few years older. Whatever Georgiana’s feelings
may have been, they were constantly mingled with the questions, “What
next? Where now? What is he going to do?”

Everell was proposing to himself that same riddle. He wondered what he
_was_ going to do. For the present, the only thing was to push on. Not
until a considerable distance lay between him and Foxwell Court would he
dare seek shelter. How long could Georgiana endure the cold and fatigue?
How long could the horse travel? No doubt a stop must needs be made
during the night, at some village inn or farmhouse, where a plausible
story would have to be told in order to account for their situation and
to obtain admittance—a story of the lady being robbed and left for dead
by the roadside, and found there by her present custodian; or some such
tale. Would Georgiana deny his account, and seek to frustrate him, as in
honesty she ought to do? He must prevent that by dire threats, must
enforce her to silence upon penalties of wholesale disaster, so that she
must feel bound by every womanly fear, by conscience itself, to avert
the greater evil of tragedy to all concerned, by obeying his commands.
She must be in terror of him, and of the consequences of resisting his
will. If he frightened and offended her, he must hope to make his peace
and atonement later. Would she really need such thorough intimidation?
would not mere formal compulsion suffice—such as might serve as a
woman’s excuse for not making the protest that strict duty required? He
could not be sure, and he dared not ask her: he resolved to take no
risks; she should have ample reason to feel justified in non-resistance.
But should all his commands and menaces not avail?—would he make good
his threats? He knew not: so far, he could only hope the occasion would
not arise.

So much for his course with regard to Georgiana’s possible opposition.
Wherever they should stop, he would allow her no chance of speaking to
anybody out of his presence: when she slept, not even a maid should have
access to her room, and he himself would rest outside her door, with the
key in his pocket. At the first town they should enter on the morrow, he
would take measures to supply her with the necessaries she now lacked;
he would have to provide a few things for himself also, for he had left
his cloak-bag at Foxwell Court. At the same town, he would abandon the
horse, and hire a post-chaise for the continuance of their journey. His
ultimate aim must be, to reach the small seaport to which Roughwood had
gone before him, and thence be conveyed with Georgiana to France.
Whether circumstances would permit him to make her his wife on their
Southward journey, he could not know; if not, the ceremony should be his
first concern upon setting foot in France.

So the future took general form in his thoughts as he rode. But
meanwhile, only the first step had been made. A thousand difficulties, a
thousand dangers, stood in the way. He saw himself at the beginning of a
long and toilsome business, which would make incessant demands upon his
wit, resolution, and endurance. He could allow himself little time for
rest. All depended upon his retaining the start he had gained; upon his
keeping ever ahead of the pursuit that would be made, and of the news
which, spreading in all directions, would follow close upon his heels.
He now thanked his impulse for having led him into this road. If Foxwell
had set out as soon as horse could be saddled, he must lose much time by
taking the wrong road, which Everell, still hearing nothing behind,
assumed that he would surely do.

But this advantage, if it really existed, might be more than offset ere
all was done. A sudden sharp sense of this caused Everell to urge the
horse to its former pace. The animal responded readily enough; sped most
gallantly for a furlong or so; then, without any warning, stumbled upon
its knees, almost throwing the riders. It rose trembling, and started to
go on—but with a limp that made Everell’s heart sink within him.

“Curse upon the bad road! The horse is lamed—hopelessly! Poor beast!
brave fellow, he would bear us still in spite of his pain! Well, he can
serve us no more to-night! There’s nothing for it but going afoot till I
can get another mount.”

He lifted Georgiana from the saddle, threw his leg over it, and slid
with her to the ground. For a few moments he let her stand, but kept one
arm around her, while he looked up and down the road in search of a
habitation. But the darkness baffled him. He remembered having passed a
few scattered cottages, but the nearest was a good way back. He was
likely to find a house sooner by going ahead, which seemed on other
accounts the better course. As for the poor steed, Everell was first of
a mind to leave it to its will; but he feared it might thus serve to
inform his pursuers of his enforced delay in the neighbourhood, and
cause more particular search to be made near at hand. Retaining the
halter in his grasp, and taking up Georgiana so as to carry her as one
carries a child in long clothes, he started forward. He hoped he might
discover a house before the young lady’s weight became too much for him;
in other case, he must subject her lightly shod feet to contact with the
rough road. Fortunately, he soon beheld a light, which by its steadiness
and position he judged to belong to a house not far ahead, on higher
ground, a little way back from the left-hand side of the road. Everell
stopped, and again set Georgiana on her feet.

“Do you know whose house that is?” he asked, curtly.

“No,” she replied, in the lowest audible voice.

“Good,” said he. “From its situation I think it may be a gentleman’s. At
all events, I intend to borrow a horse there—perhaps a pair of horses,
or—who knows?—a chaise and pair. I shall tell what story I see fit; and
you will say nothing—or at most a mere yes or no to confirm my account.
You are under my compulsion, which I am ready to enforce by desperate
acts. Remember, my life is not worth a farthing, in the eye of the law;
nothing more that I may do can add to the fate I have already incurred;
so if all’s lost I’m determined to stop at nothing. I warn you then,
once and for all, attempt not to thwart me in the slightest matter,
unless you wish to bring down such a catastrophe as you dare not even
imagine. You are not to quit my side unless at my command. It may be,
your face is known to the people we shall see in that house: you must
have been closely observed the day you appeared at church. So I must bid
you take your neckerchief and veil your face with it—I’ll tie it myself
when you have it arranged. And you will on no account remove it—nor the
cloak, either, which hides your figure. For all this concealment and
silence, I shall contrive to account. All depends on whom I have to deal
with yonder; till I see what manner of person, I know not what tale I
must invent. Whatever you find it, you will support it by silence and
obedience. Bear in mind, you are not your own mistress: you are under my
enforcement. If evil come of your obedience, the consequences will be
upon my head; but ’tis nothing to the evil that will come if you
disobey. So beware, then, of causing such disaster as I will not even
speak of!”

He then fastened behind her head the neck-handkerchief, which she had
already begun, with slow and trembling fingers, to adjust over her face.
Taking this compliance as a sign of submission, he next arranged his
cloak more carefully around her, clasped her once more in his arms, and
walked on, leading the horse, till he arrived at a small cottage which
manifestly served as lodge to the house from which the light shone. The
gate was closed, but from between its tall pickets Everell could make
out an avenue of tall trees leading up to the mansion. He knocked and
halloed, and presently a man, half-dressed, carrying a lantern, came out
of the lodge and inspected him through the gate.

It occurred to Everell that he had best speak, at this stage, as if he
were a friend, or at least an acquaintance, of the master of the house:
he was thus more likely to obtain prompt admittance, and, secondly, he
might thus better secure the gatekeeper against betraying him to the
inquiries of pursuers. Upon this later point, moreover, he took a grain
of comfort from the fact that Foxwell was not liked by the gentry in the
neighbourhood.

“Is your master at home?” he said. “We have met with an accident. Pray
do not keep us waiting in the cold—the lady is shivering. We have had to
leave a horse behind, and this one is quite lame. ’Tis lucky we were so
near a friend’s. Come, my good fellow, open quickly!—this lady must be
got indoors—your master is at home, isn’t he?”

“Yes, sir, he’s at home,” said the fellow, and dubiously scratched his
head. “As to opening the gate at this time of night, why, if your Honour
will but let me take your name to master, I make no doubt—”

“Rascal! Dare you think of keeping us here to freeze? Names, say
you?—dog, if you but knew our names!—knew whom you are delaying!—or if
your master knew! Open at once, I command you, and lead us to your
master, or bitterly you’ll rue it!”

The imperiousness of the manner exceeded even that of the words. The
man, convinced that the speaker was some great person whom his master
would be fearful of offending, opened the gate with much bowing and
apology.

“Now shut the gate,” ordered Everell, when he and his company had
entered. “And if any one comes inquiring for a lady and gentleman on
horseback, say you know nothing of them. Remember that. And have the
horse taken care of.”

Emphasizing his commands with a coin, and letting Georgiana walk beside
him, Everell proceeded up the avenue, the gatekeeper leading the horse.
The mansion proved to be a large house in the square-built style
nowadays called Georgian. Arriving before the great central door, the
guide summoned a rustic-looking footman, to whom he resigned the
visitors with a whispered recommendation that caused them to be received
with as much respect as surprise. Their appearance was indeed sufficient
cause for the latter, Everell still having an arm clasped around
Georgiana in her masculine cloak and improvised veil.

They found themselves in a dimly lighted hall, at the farther end of
which was a door matching that by which they had entered. There was the
stairway usual to such houses, beginning along one side of the hall,
crossing at the end, and finishing the ascent along the other side in
the return direction. Having closed the door, the servant asked by what
name he might announce my lord and her ladyship to his master.

“Tell him a gentleman and lady,” said Everell, “who are in great haste,
and will not trouble him long.”

“A gentleman and lady, sir,” repeated the servant, obediently. “Begging
your lordship’s pardon, but master, being in his cups, may wish to
know—I mean to say, master is main hard to draw from his comforts at
this time o’ night—though I dare say when I tell him you be friends of
his—”

“Friends? Certainly—unless I am mistaken as to the house. But that’s
easily set right:—who is your master?”

“Squire Thornby, sir; and this house is Thornby Hall.”

From Everell’s look, the servant concluded that the gentleman probably
_was_ mistaken as to the house.

“But how can that be?” cried Everell. “Thornby Hall is on the other
road.”

“’Tis on both roads, so to speak, sir. The two run near together just
hereaways; the house looks on each. There’s two gates, you know, sir,
and two lodges; the gardener lives in one, and Jenkins in t’other.”

Everell took a moment’s thought. Resolution appeared on his face.

“’Tis just as well,” he said. “Mr. Thornby is known to me by reputation.
Tell him I am here, and must needs beg he will see me without delay.”

This was spoken with such an air that the servant conceived it best to
carry the message at once, without a second attempt to elicit the
speaker’s name. As soon as the man was gone, Everell said to Georgiana:

“I must brave it out with this Squire Thornby, there’s nothing else for
it. We must have horses, and soon: ’twere folly to go on afoot, heaven
knows how far, till we found another house. As well solicit this
gentleman’s help as another’s—’tis all one, he may be no harder to
persuade. He has never seen me, and now he shall not see you. Take good
heed you don’t show your face, nor shift the cloak, nor let your voice
be heard: or ’twill go ill, I promise you.”

Georgiana made no answer, nor gave any sign of existence save to draw a
long breath. Was it of helpless resignation to the compulsion she was
under? was it to brace herself for resistance to that compulsion? or to
steady herself against anxiety as to the outcome? Did she really see
through his show of dark threat? Was her scrupulosity of conscience so
great, that so much intimidation was required to keep her from opposing
her abductor, in the interests alike of her given promise and of
maidenly propriety? Oh, woman, woman!—

The footman returned with word that his master would attend upon the
visitors in a minute; and showed them into a large room, which appeared,
by the candles he lighted, to be devoted to the exercise of his master’s
functions as justice of the peace. Near one end was a large table
whereon were an inkstand, pens, and a few weighty-looking books. The
walls were paneled in oak, and the bare floor was of the same wood.
There were two armchairs drawn up to the table, and two before the
fireplace, while oak settles stood against the wall. The servant fanned
the smouldering fire into a blaze, put on a fresh log, and left the
apartment.

Everell had been looking at a door in the side of the room, near the
table. It was slightly ajar, and its key was in place,—two indications
that it sheltered no secret. As soon as he and Georgiana were alone,
Everell led her hastily to it, and, throwing it open, discovered a large
closet containing a disorderly array of shabby cloaks, wigs, whips, hats
and such, on pegs; and old record books piled in a corner.

“’Tis none so roomy, but ’twill do at a pinch,” said Everell. “I think
it best you should be out of sight altogether, miss. I can tell my story
better. I must command you to enter.” And he gently pushed her into the
closet. “Do not dare to cry out; and when I open the door to fetch you,
be veiled, cloaked, and silent, as you are now. Remember!—or injury will
be done.—Stay, those books will serve you to sit on—you will be tired
standing.” He guided her to the pile of old volumes, and then came out
of the closet, and locked the door. The key, long unused save as a door
handle, turned hardly, and he had difficulty in getting it from the lock
in order to pocket it. As he was in the act of drawing it out, a heavy
step made him glance around. He beheld a robust-looking man with a red
face, who stood regarding him with pugnacious astonishment.

“Your servant, sir,” said Everell, with an easy bow. “Mr. Thornby, I
believe.”

“That’s my name, sir,” said the Squire, bluntly. “Might I ask what
you’re doing at that there closet door, sir?”

“Closet door, sir?” repeated Everell, lightly.

“Only locking it, sir,—that’s all.” And he held up the key as evidence
of the truth of his assertion.

“And perhaps I have a right to know what the devil you’re a-locking it
for? Who asked you for to lock my doors, sir? Ecod, I must say this is
rare manners in a stranger. I don’t remember as how I ever had the
honour of seeing your face afore, sir.”

“’Tis quite true we have never met before, sir. The loss has been mine,”
said Everell, resting upon courtesy till he could see how best to deal
with his man. At the same time, he carelessly pocketed the key.

“Are you trying to put a game on me, sir?” said Thornby, wrathfully.
Though he had evidently been called from his bottle, he was in full
possession both of his legs and of his usual wits. “Look ye, ’tis mighty
suspicious, poking your nose into my closets. I have a shrewd guess what
you came into my house for—passing yourself off as a lord to my fool
servants. And the lady?—I don’t see any lady here!—ecod, perhaps she’s
poking her nose into the silver closet! Hey, Jabez, the plate!” With
that, the Squire started for the door by which he had entered.

“Nay, sir, you wrong us!” cried Everell, striding to intercept him. “The
lady is in that closet—I took the liberty—she desires not to be seen.
Upon my honour, sir, we had no purpose in entering your house but to ask
your aid.”

Thornby, having been stayed by Everell’s first declaration, gazed at the
closet and then at the young gentleman. “But what the devil does the
lady please to hide in a closet for?”

“She desires not to be seen, as I tell you. ’Twas the nearest place of
concealment. I locked the door lest you might open it before I could
explain.”

“And why doesn’t she desire to be seen? ’Tis the first of her sex
afflicted that way, as ever I heard on. Is there aught the matter wi’
her looks? Ecod, what o’ that? There’s a plenty in the same boat amongst
the she-folk hereabouts. There’s only one beauty in these four parishes,
if I be any judge.”

“’Tis for no such reason,” said Everell, with a smile, as he began to
see his way. “Sir, I perceive you’re a blunt, outspoken gentleman, given
to plain dealing yourself, and no doubt preferring it in others. I’m
resolved to throw myself on your confidence, as far as I think safe, and
tell you my story, or as much as I dare. Perhaps then your
fellow-feeling—for your words imply a gallant sense of beauty in the
tender sex—may impel you to assist me.”

“H’m!” ejaculated the Squire, dubiously, though his relaxed countenance
showed him to be decidedly mollified. “Perhaps—and then again, perhaps
not. Let’s hear your story, howsomever. ’Tis all devilish curious—the
lady desiring not to be seen, and the rest of it. Please to take this
here chair.” The Squire moved an armchair from what was evidently the
clerk’s place to where it faced across the table to the seat of
judgment. He then went around and assumed the latter, having meanwhile
rung for a servant. “And just to be on the safe side,” he added, “in
case it _is_ a game you’re a-trying on, I’ll be prepared.” He drew a
bunch of small keys from his pocket, opened a drawer in his side of the
table, and fetched out a pair of pistols, which he laid before him; he
then closed the drawer, all but a few inches. “Yes, sir, I keep ’em
always loaded,” he said, as he looked to the priming. “I’m a blunt,
outspoken man, as you observe, and I take my precautions.”

“I have no right to complain, sir,” said Everell, who sat with his face
to the Squire, and his back to the door of the apartment; “a stranger
intruding at this hour of the night must take what reception he finds.”

“Very well said, sir. And at the same time I’ll show you as I know how
to treat a gentleman, too, in case you be one.—Jabez,” for the servant
had now entered, “tell Bartholomew to fetch a bottle of what I’ve been
drinking. And tell the gentlemen at table—no, they bean’t gentlemen
neither, and damn me if I’ll call ’em so!—tell ’em to make the best of
it without me, I’ll be with ’em when I see fit.—A man is hard put to it
for proper company sometimes, sir,” he explained, when Jabez had gone.
“Though if some beggarly attorney, or worse, can do justice to his
bottle, and tell a good tale or so, talk intelligently of dogs and
horses, and listen with respect to his betters, why, some things may be
winked at.”

It was manifestly Thornby’s wish to postpone matters till the wine came;
so Everell answered in the strain he thought likely to command the
other’s favour. Bartholomew presently appeared with bottle and glasses,
observed the pistols with mild wonder, and retired.

“Now, sir,” said Thornby, “we’ll drink the lady’s health, and then for
your business. Nay, don’t trouble yourself to reach; keep to your own
side of the table.” And the Squire pushed bottle and glass to Everell’s
hands, preferring that these should not come too close to the pistols.
“The lady’s health, as I said. Shall we have her name, sir?”

“Not at present, if you’ll excuse me.”

“As you please. Health of the fair unknown in the closet—eh?”

“The fair unknown in the closet,” said Everell, and the glasses went to
the lips.

“And now, by the Lord,” said the Squire, “you shall return the
compliment. I’ve drunk to your fair companion: you shall drink to a lady
of my proposing.”

“With all my heart,” replied Everell, and dissembled his impatience
while the glasses were filled anew.

“Yes, sir,” said Thornby, “a lady of my proposing: the beauty of the
four parishes—nay, the beauty of the county—damme, I may as well say the
beauty of England! I’ll give her name, too: there’s no reason, as I know
of, for to keep it back. To Miss Georgiana Foxwell!”

“Miss Georgiana Foxwell,” echoed Everell, wondering, as he drank,
whether she could hear herself thus twice honoured in so short a time.

“I suppose you never saw that young lady I proposed, sir,” said Thornby,
as he put down his glass and resumed his seat, for the toasts had been
drunk standing.

“I am a stranger in this part of England, sir,” Everell answered.

“I take you for a town-bred man. Maybe, then, you’ve met an uncle of
hers in London aforetime—one Mr. Robert Foxwell?”

“I _have_ met a Mr. Robert Foxwell—but I cannot truly say I know much of
him.”

“The less the better, if truth must be told; he’s a damned supercilious
fop! A rogue, too. He hates me like poison, but, for all that, he’ll let
me marry his niece.”

“How so, if he hates you?”

“Because,” said Thornby, tapping the drawer of the table with his
fingers, “I have that in my possession which makes him consider my
wishes. Yes, sir,” and he thrust his hand carelessly into the drawer,
till Everell heard a rustle of papers, “I hold the means of keeping Mr.
Robert Foxwell in his place. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s
hear your petition, friend; and you might begin with your name, which I
don’t remember as how you’ve yet mentioned.”

“I would rather finish than begin with it,” said Everell, “if, when
you’ve heard me, you still require it. You may not wish in the future to
admit having helped me: if you remain ignorant of my name, you can never
be sure.”

“’Tis by no means certain that I _shall_ help you,” declared the Squire,
bluntly.

“I have good hopes of you,” said Everell. “Frankly, sir, I am running
away with that lady.” Thornby stared and blinked; finally threw back his
head and laughed loudly. “Oho, that’s how the wind sits, eh? Ecod, I
might ’a’ guessed as much.”

“You are a man of spirit, with an eye for beauty,” Everell went on
rapidly: “therefore you will not blame me. I love her, she loves me; but
her nearest relation wishes her to marry another—one whom she does not
love.”

“Devil take her nearest relation!” said Thornby.

“Amen! He has so worked upon her mind, by threats of ill consequences to
me, as to obtain her consent to marry this other gentleman, much against
the dictates of her heart. She is a lady who, having once given her
promise, would fulfil it: she was thus barred from eloping with me of
her own will. What then was I to do?”

“Ecod, sir,” Thornby replied, heartily, “you was to take matters in
hand, and carry her away, of _your_ own will!”

“Precisely what I have done, sir! I knew I could rely upon your
approval.—Well, sir, I seized her under her guardian’s very nose, set
her upon a horse that stood waiting, mounted behind her, and was away at
a gallop before anybody had the wit to stop me. I made what speed I
could, over roads unknown to me; how far we have ridden, what adventures
we have had, I beg you will excuse me from relating. So far, no pursuit
has come within sight or hearing: though, if her relation was prompt, he
need have lost no time but to saddle his horses. Our own beast, which
kind fortune had placed ready to my hand, at last broke down; but within
a short distance of your gate, which I take as another circumstance of
fortune’s favour.”

“That’s as how it may be,” said the Squire, who had followed the lover’s
recital with lively interest. “But first I’d give something to know who
’tis you’ve—ha, ha!—carried off. Ecod, perhaps ’tisn’t the first time a
woman has been carried off against her will but not against her wish!
Who is it, man?—come, who is the lady?”

“I beg you will not insist upon knowing just now. Doubtless the news
will travel all too soon. Meanwhile I would have your help without a
scruple. Should you be acquainted with her family, you might feel bound
to cross my purpose.”

Thornby, after a moment’s thought, admitted there was something in that.
Still, “I wonder who it can be:—how far do you say you’ve rid?”

“I do not say,” replied Everell, smiling.

“There’s Miss Hollowfield,” mused Thornby, aloud; “her grandfather’d be
opposed to a stripling like you—but nobody’d run away with such a face
as hers. And there’s Miss Marvell—why, I’ll wager ’tis Dick Birch they
want to marry her to. Sukey Marvell, that’s who ’tis.”

“I must not tell,” said Everell, shaking his head.

“Yes, ’tis Sukey,” declared Thornby: “well, she’s not as bad as t’other.
And old Dick Birch, I’ll be glad to see him done out of her!—damned
coxcomb! serves him right for the trick he played me at York races. Oh,
I’ll have the laugh on Dick next time we meet!—I’ll have him here for
some shooting, a-purpose. Ha, ha! These conceited fellows think they can
marry any pretty girl they set their minds on. Well, young sir, I wish
you joy. I’ve owed Dick Birch a grudge these many months.”

“The favour I have to ask,” said Everell, “is the loan of a chaise, with
horses and a man, to the nearest town from which I can travel on by
post.”

“Why, damn me, that’s not so much to ask, neither,” said Thornby, still
vastly good-humoured over the discomfiture of Dick Birch.

“I thank you from my heart. And, as every minute counts, I hope I may be
set on my way as soon as possible.”

“H’m!—many a man, sir, would think twice afore sending out his
horses—but I don’t want to spoil sport. In for a penny, in for a pound.
I’ll give orders; and meanwhile my housekeeper can show Sukey to the
guest-chamber—she may like to make herself trim in front of a glass—you
know the ways o’ that sex—while the horses are being put to.”

“A thousand thanks, but I daren’t allow the lady so far out of my
control. She may be shown to a room, if she will; but the room must have
but one door, and I must wait outside that door. Pray bear in mind, she
is travelling under compulsion.”

“Compulsion!—oh, certainly—ha, ha! I’ll send for Mrs. Jenkins, and for
old Rodge; he shall drive you—’twill need a careful man with the
horses.” Thornby, who had risen from the table, pulled the bell-cord.
“And meanwhile we’ll drink confusion to Dick Birch. Dod, to see him
bubbled out of a bride this way!—it does one’s heart good! But, man,
we’d better let Sukey out o’ that closet, now ’tis all settled. Come,
you’ve got the key: unlock, unlock.”

“But there must be a condition: you’ll not ask the lady to uncover her
face: she must still remain unknown.”

“Oh, be it so: let Sukey remain unknown; it may save me trouble, to be
sure. But let her out, let her out.”

Everell unlocked the door, and, peering in before he opened it wide, saw
that Georgiana was still cloaked and veiled. He led her forth with a
whispered “Remember!—not a word!”

“Your humble servant, ma’am,” said Thornby, bowing with all the elegance
at his command.

Before there was time for either speech or silence, a noise of steps and
voices arose outside the apartment. Thornby turned, with a look of wrath
at the interruption, toward the door. It was flung open, and a man in
cloak and riding-boots walked in, followed by a servant of his own, and
by the footman Jabez.

“To horse, Thornby! we must scour the country!” cried the newcomer as he
hastily approached. His glance now fell upon Everell and Georgiana, and
of a sudden he stopped short, with an ejaculation of surprise.

“What’s the matter, Foxwell?” inquired Thornby. “Why d’ye stare like
that?”

THORNBY’S words indicated surprise at Foxwell’s surprise. Foxwell shot a
keen glance to see if the other’s surprise was genuine. There could be
no doubt of that. This occasioned new surprise in Foxwell.

“Egad, sir,” said he, “I should think I might be pardoned for staring.
How come they to be here? It puzzles me, I own.”

“Who here?” blurted Thornby. “This gentleman and lady, d’ye mean?”

“Ay, the gentleman and lady I’ve been in search of.”

“Why, you don’t desire to stop ’em, do you? What the deuce is little Sue
Marvell to you?—and Dick Birch? Captain Marvell is no friend of yours.
Rather help these young people away, if only for the joke on Dick
Birch.”

“Of what are you talking?” cried Foxwell. “Can it be possible you don’t
know who these young people are?”

“I don’t know much of the gentleman,” Thornby admitted; “but the girl is
Sukey Marvell.”

“Sukey Marvell!—Sukey devil!” exclaimed Foxwell, and, striding up to
Georgiana, he snatched the handkerchief from her face. Everell had left
her standing at the end of the table, himself having moved around to
Thornby’s former place a moment earlier for a purpose of his own.
Checking an impulse to go to Georgiana’s side, he now stood between the
magisterial chair and the table. Despite all that was at stake, he was
amused at the sight of Thornby gazing with mouth wide open at the face
so unexpectedly revealed.

“It seems _you_ find reason to stare now,” said Foxwell to the Squire.
“Egad, Thornby, had they bamboozled you?”

“Mr. Thornby, I hold you to your promise,” Everell put in; “a chaise,
horses, and a man.”

“Chaise, horses, and damnation!” was the reply of Thornby, as he at last
found a voice. “I never knew ’twas _she_ you was a-running away with.
You said ’twas Sukey Marvell.”

“Pardon me, no; _you_ said ’twas Sukey Marvell. And I hold you to your
promise.”

[Illustration: “HE SNATCHED THE HANDKERCHIEF FROM HER FACE.”]

“Hold and be damned!—And Foxwell, you’ve deceived me, too. You said
you’d persuade her to have me.”

“So I have done,” asserted Foxwell, “and she has given her consent.”

“Given her consent? Then _you_ was the relation—and _I’m_ the Dick
Birch! What?—and this here stripling would ’a’ had me help to do myself
out of a bride! Oh, you shall all pay for this among you!”

“Softly, softly, Thornby,” said Foxwell. “She has promised to marry you.
Have you not, miss?”

After a brief hesitation, Georgiana uttered a reluctant “yes.”

“Then you forced the promise from her,” said Thornby.

“She gave it willingly,” returned Foxwell. “Did you not, miss?”

“Yes—willingly,” said Georgiana, in the faintest of voices.

“And yet you ran away with this here other man,” said Thornby.

“I was—carried away,” she replied, in a tone as frail as before.

“And you are still willing to marry Mr. Thornby?” said her uncle.

“Y—yes.”

Thornby’s brow cleared. “Then, ecod, not much harm’s done, after all.
’Tis all well that ends well.”

Everell again put in, addressing Thornby: “She is willing to marry you,
perhaps. But ask her if she will ever love you, man.”

“Eh! Well, what about that? D’ye think you’ll ever love me, miss?”

“No, I do not, sir,” cried Georgiana, suddenly emphatic of voice. “I
shall always love this gentleman! For ever, and ever, and ever!” And she
moved toward the man of her choice.

Her manner of speech, her look of disdain, and Everell’s smile of
triumph were too much for Thornby’s savage vanity. “Then don’t flatter
yourself I’ll marry you,” he answered, with retaliatory scorn. “A
white-faced vixen, when all’s said and done! Mistress of Thornby Hall,
after this night’s business?—dod, I’m warned in time!”

“Oh, say it again!” exclaimed Georgiana, rejoiced.

“I do say it again! Ecod, I know my value!”

“I am freed of my promise!” she cried.

“Ay,” said Thornby, with a swelling wrath which had to be discharged
upon somebody, “and your blundering uncle may go whistle.—You shall
answer for this, Foxwell, d’ye hear? I’ll see to that. ’Tis all along o’
your mismanagement. But I’ll be quits wi’ ye. I’ll make use o’ that
there letter!—rat me but I will!”

“You are quite unreasonable, Thornby,” said Foxwell, patiently, and,
turning to his attendant, “Joseph, wait without.”

Joseph left the room, whereupon Thornby had the grace to order his own
servant to be off; so that the four principals were left alone. Foxwell
made sure that the door was closed against espial, and thrust into the
keyhole a part of the handkerchief he had taken from Georgiana. He then
returned to Thornby, who had meanwhile been fuming and pacing the floor.

“You have cause for anger, I admit,” said Foxwell; “but you are bound to
own I have done my part.”

“Don’t talk to me, sir,” roared Thornby. “I’ll make you smart afore I’ve
done! See if I don’t!”

Foxwell’s own temper gave way. He had been put to much exercise of
self-command this evening, and had scarce yet regained his bodily
composure after his ride. Of a sudden, now, his face darkened. “Then by
heaven I’ll not smart alone! You shall suffer, miss,—and your lover,
too! Let all come out. You say you know little of this young gentleman,
Thornby. Would you know more?—who he is, _what_ he is?”

“Uncle, you will not!” entreated Georgiana. “With my promise I bought
your silence—remember that!—and I have not broken my promise. ’Tis Mr.
Thornby has released me.”

“Very well. Let us stick to promises, by all means! But I have your
Romeo upon other grounds.—Before you as a justice of the peace, Mr.
Thornby, I charge this gentleman with the abduction of my niece.—That,
too, is a hanging matter, miss.”

“Not so, Mr. Thornby,” cried Georgiana; “for, now that I am free, I go
with this gentleman of my own consent. ’Tis not abduction, ’tis on my
part a voluntary flight.”

“You forget you are not yet your own mistress,” said Foxwell. “Besides,
the abduction has been committed. Moreover, Thornby, the gentleman has
appropriated to himself a horse of mine. I demand of you to act upon
these charges.”

Thornby underwent a sudden accession of magisterial dignity. “I know my
office, Mr. Foxwell. Nobody has ever accused me of failing there.
Sir,”—this to Everell,—“when the case is put to me in that form, I must
do as my commission requires. I must needs hold you for a hearing.—I’ll
send for my clerk, Foxwell; I left him at the table, but I dare say he’s
still sober enough for what’s to be done.” Relapsing then into his more
usual puerility, he added, “Dod, such impudent young strangers sha’n’t
carry off our ladies with impunity, neither!”

Georgiana had hastened to Everell’s side. “Oh, save yourself _now_,” she
besought him in a whisper.

“Not without you, sweet.—Gentlemen,” he cried, in time to stop Thornby’s
movement toward the door, “one word. I am in a desperate position.
Abduction, horse-stealing, the other business,—any one of them is the
price of a halter. With but one life to lose, then, what is a crime or
two more? ’Tis but getting the more value for my neck.” He took up the
pistols left on the table by Thornby, who had lost all thought of them
on being convinced of Everell’s honesty. Dexterously cocking them as he
spoke, the young man went on: “If I must die, be sure that one or both
of you shall go before me—’tis fair precedence, _cedant arma togæ_! But
first I will have one more venture for my life—and for my love.” By this
time, he had each of the gentlemen in line with a different pistol. “Mr.
Thornby, move or call out, at your peril. Mr. Foxwell, the same to you;
and this also: I think I can persuade you to withdraw your charges, and,
furthermore, to lend me the horses that brought you and your man to this
place.”

Foxwell’s only weapon at the moment was his sword; he had left his
pistols outside in the holsters, thinking to spend but a minute in
Thornby Hall and foreseeing no need of them there. He perceived from
Everell’s manner of handling the pistols that the young man was of
perfect assurance in their use. The same circumstance found speedy way
to the mind of Thornby, who was unarmed. So the two gentlemen stood as
they were requested. Foxwell, for want of a better temporizing answer,
feigned to yield with a good grace, saying: “You present so strong an
argument, that I know not how to oppose you.”

“I fear if the pistol were my only argument,” said Everell, calmly, “my
victory would end as soon as my back was turned. I will try an argument
that may have more lasting effect. Miss Foxwell, I must bid you pull out
this drawer of the table,—stay where you are, Mr. Thornby!—which the
owner has carelessly left open.” Everell moved a step to the side,
giving Georgiana closer access to the drawer. She obeyed in wonder, for
she had overheard little of the talk while she was in the closet, and
nothing of Thornby’s allusion to that in the drawer which gave the power
of keeping Mr. Robert Foxwell in his place. Everell now told her to
empty the contents of the drawer upon the table, and to spread them out
so that each document might be seen. “Not a step, Mr. Thornby! You, Mr.
Foxwell, come near enough to see if there be anything of interest to
you. That will do—no farther! Look carefully.”

Foxwell’s keen eye had already begun to range the various papers as they
lay separately exposed. Suddenly he uttered a quick “Ah!” and stepped
forward, reaching out. Everell checked him by a sharp “Back!” and a
movement of the pistol; then followed with his glance the line of the
extended arm.

“Miss Foxwell,” said Everell, “be good enough to take up the paper your
uncle reached for. ’Twill be one of those three the shadow falls
athwart,—the shadow of the wine-bottle;—ay, those.—Don’t move, Mr.
Thornby.—Open them out, Georgiana, and hold them where I can see. H’m;
apparently a legal document concerning one William Hardy. The next,
please: ‘a new cure for the glanders.’ The other: a letter signed ‘R.
Foxwell.’—Back, Mr. Foxwell. Is that all you see here of importance to
you?—Mr. Thornby, if you take a step toward the door—! Is that all, Mr.
Foxwell? I will not read it unless I am forced to.”

“That is all,” replied Foxwell, “and ’tis something Mr. Thornby has no
right to possess. I ask you, as a man of honour, to restore it to me.”

“In proper time, sir. Meanwhile, Miss Foxwell, fold the paper as it was,
and place it in my waistcoat pocket.—’Tis well done; though I dare not
thank you, for you do this under compulsion.”

“By the Lord, sir,” Thornby burst out at last, “this here’s robbery,
sir!—rank robbery under arms! You may carry it off for the moment—I’m
not moving, I’m only warning you, for your own good—but this sort of
thing is bound to end in a halter, sir.”

“Possibly; but, as I have said, a crime or two more can make no
difference to a man in my situation. You were kind enough to tell me
that in this drawer was the means of making Mr. Foxwell consider your
wishes. Let us see if it will make him consider mine. Mr. Foxwell,
whatever the document contains, I’m not like to use it against
Georgiana’s kinsman. But if I am taken prisoner here, ’twill no doubt
fall into Mr. Thornby’s hands again. Your interest, then, lies in my
escape.”

“Damn Foxwell’s interest!” broke in Thornby. “I’m the man to bargain
with. If you restore that letter and them pistols—’tis my property, that
letter, for all he says; mine, bought and paid for, as I can prove by
Jeremiah Filson—”

This name, in relation to the letter, was another surprise to Foxwell.
But ere Thornby could proceed farther, Everell commanded silence.

“You are very good, Mr. Thornby, but I will not bargain with you. I will
forego the chaise and horses, release you from your promise,—on
condition of your entering that closet. Come, I mean it. You shall be
let out in good time. ’Tis no such bad place—the lady suffered no harm
there. Into the closet, if you please. I’ll return your pistols—by and
by.” Everell, while speaking, had come around the end of the table, and
was now threatening Thornby with both pistols at close quarters. “Into
the closet, sir! By heaven, don’t try my patience!—a man who may be
hanged three times over doesn’t balk at the chance of a fourth. In, in!”

Slowly retreating from the weapons as they were thrust almost into his
face, Thornby backed into the closet, glaring futile wrath.

“’Tis well,” said Everell; “if you keep silence there, I engage not to
fire through the door.” Having put one pistol in his coat pocket, he
locked the door and repocketed the key. He turned now to Foxwell, who
had been pondering. “I must borrow your horses, sir, to the first
posting-place. I will send them back from there, with these pistols and
this key. You can then release this gentleman, if he be not freed by
other means before that;—he will soon begin to make himself heard. I
think you will now see fit to speed my parting; for, look you, if I am
taken in my flight, Heaven knows whose hands this letter may fall into.”

“And if you are not taken?” inquired Foxwell.

“I will not read it, nor let anybody else read it; and will send it to
you from France as soon as I am married to your niece. Regarding that
matter, I will only say now that I am a man of honour, of good family,
and some fortune.—I must still carry you off, sweet. ’Tis the one safe
course, despite the dangers and discomforts you must share.”

“Better the dangers and discomforts with you, than the anxieties if I
were left behind,” said Georgiana.

“Then, Mr. Foxwell, may I beg you to conduct us to the horses?—your
servant might dispute our taking them.”

Everell had now put the second pistol into the opposite coat pocket,
believing that the letter gave him sufficient control over Foxwell’s
actions. But he kept his hand upon his sword-hilt, intending that
Foxwell should walk in front of him to the horses.

“A moment, pray,” said Foxwell. “Consider the legal position I shall be
left in if I assist you. It does not suit me to fly the country, as it
does you.”

“Who will trouble you on that score? Certainly this booby justice will
not desire to publish a matter in which he makes so poor a figure. He
knows not who I am. In what crime can he then accuse you of aiding me?
The abduction and the horse-stealing you need not pursue—you have signed
no charge, sworn to none.”

“The theft of the letter,” said Foxwell. “If I help you to escape, I
shall be accessory to that.”

“But you say he has no right to its possession. In any case, you can
show him how ridiculous he will appear. I think you run little risk; but
be that as it may, I must think of my own risk. Every moment adds to it;
and to the danger of this letter coming to wrong hands. So, if you
please, to the horses.”

A curious look was on Foxwell’s face. It was true that any struggle with
Everell in the presence of Thornby or his people might result in the
letter’s falling again into that gentleman’s hands. But there was now no
such person to interfere. A quick sword-thrust—which could be justified
as against an escaping rebel—might win the letter in a moment; Foxwell
could destroy it immediately at the fire, and make his peace with
Thornby by releasing him and showing his outrage avenged. No danger,
then, of the letter’s capture in the long journey of a fugitive, or of
Thornby’s attempting retaliation by course of law. It was all seen in an
instant. Foxwell’s sword flashed in the air, and Everell had to spring
aside to save himself.

“Ah, treacherous!” cried the young man, as his own blade leaped out.

Foxwell’s second thrust came with surprising swiftness, but was fairly
met; and the two swords darted and clashed again and again. Georgiana,
with every impulse to rush between the fighters, dared not do so, and
was indeed compelled to move rapidly to keep out of their way, watching
them with fear and horror. While the noise of their quick feet, their
loud breathing and sharp ejaculations, and the clashing steel filled the
apartment, there came from some other part of the house a sound of
half-drunken singing. This was unheeded, even when it was evidently
approaching. Foxwell, perceiving that he had counted too much upon the
suddenness and sureness of his attack, and feeling that he was entitled
to little mercy if he lost, fought with the impetuosity of desperation.
His arm at length grew heavy; and Everell, who on his side used a
concentration of faculties worthy of the issue at stake, found opening
for a lunge that pinked the other’s forearm, causing him to lower his
hand with a cry of chagrin. The next instant the young man struck the
weapon from Foxwell’s weakened grasp, sending it flying to the door;
which at that moment opened, letting in two men who walked arm in arm
and bawled a bacchanalian song.

From their dress and appearance, it was evident that these newcomers
were Mr. Thornby’s table companions, doubtless come in search of him.
One of them, a short, heavy-set person with a wig awry, was plainly very
drunk indeed. The other, a slim, prudent-looking fellow, seemed in good
command of his senses. This man, having nearly tripped over the sword,
picked it up, and looked with astonishment at those in the room.

“Eh!” he exclaimed. “My Jacobite, by all that’s holy! Here’s
providential work! Call your men, Mr. Potkin.”

The stout little man pulled himself together, blinked at Everell, and
then bolted from the room. “The justice’s clerk, gone to bring varlets
of the law,” thought Everell, who stood regaining his breath. Foxwell
withdrew panting to the other side of the table, dropped into Thornby’s
chair, and began pulling up his sleeve to examine his wound. Filson put
himself on guard with the sword before the doorway, with the manifest
intention of disputing Everell’s escape from the room till help should
come. Perhaps the courage of wine, the excitement of beholding his
quarry at last, or the sight of Everell’s winded condition, emboldened
the man: at any rate, he showed resolution, and his manner with the
sword was that of some practice in fencing—not a surprising thing at a
time when gentlemen’s gentlemen imitated the accomplishments of their
masters.

“What! you menace me!” cried Everell; “then be careful of your other
ear, hound!” With this he rushed upon Filson, thrusting along the side
of the latter’s head, and running the point through the wig, though not
touching the ear.

Filson turned pale, but made a pass, which was narrowly avoided. Everell
gave a second lunge, and this time the weapon pierced the somewhat
extended auricular shell.

“Help! help, Mr. Foxwell!” shouted Filson, clapping one hand to the
injured ear, but still wielding his sword against Everell.

“Call for help to those who buy letters from you, cur,” replied Foxwell,
scarce looking up from his task of binding his arm with a handkerchief,
a business performed by his left hand with the aid of his teeth.
Georgiana had looked an offer of assistance, which her uncle had
repelled. Her attention instantly returned to her lover.

On hearing Foxwell’s answer, Filson shrank back; but Everell pressed him
close, parried a desperate lunge, and sent a swift long thrust for the
region of the heart. Filson dropped like a log, and lay as still as one,
a result somewhat unexpected by Everell, to whom the resistance had
seemed only that of the man’s loose coat.

“Come!” cried Everell, and, while Georgiana hastened to his side, he
added to her uncle: “All that I said awhile ago still holds true. I wish
you good night.” He then led Georgiana around the prostrate body of
Filson, and through the doorway. Just outside in the hallway stood
Joseph and the footman, who had been attracted by the noise to peer into
the room, which as yet they dared not re-enter. Everell waved them aside
with his sword, and the lovers quickly passed. The two men, not knowing
what to do, again looked into the room, Joseph expectant of his master’s
orders, and the footman wondering at the disappearance of Thornby.
Nobody else was in the hall, and Everell and Georgiana were in a moment
at the door opposite that by which they had entered the house. It was
not fastened. Throwing it open, Everell found that he was right in what,
from his present knowledge of the roads and gates, he had
assumed,—namely, that Foxwell’s horses were waiting at this entrance.
They were in charge of a boy who evidently belonged to Thornby Hall,
perhaps to the gate-lodge. On the door-step was a lantern.

Everell sheathed his sword, and said, quietly, to the boy: “We are to
use Mr. Foxwell’s horses, my good lad.” He coolly helped Georgiana into
the saddle, mounted the other horse, and bade the boy hand him the
lantern. The lad, ignorant of Foxwell’s purposes and of the fighting in
the house, and obedient by habit, complied. “Now run before, and you
shall receive a crown at the gate,” said Everell, grasping Georgiana’s
rein and his own. He was at the same time wondering to what part of the
house or vicinity the clerk had gone for his forces. He trusted that
Foxwell would now see his interest in passively aiding the flight, and
would find means to keep Joseph and Thornby’s servant from interfering
or giving alarm.

In this he was not deceived. Foxwell saw all chance gone of obtaining
the letter by force of his own; and now feared that, if taken by
Thornby’s men, Everell would rather entrust it to them than suffer
Foxwell to possess it after what had occurred.

Foxwell, therefore, upon noticing the two servants at the doorway,
called Joseph to assist in binding his wound. He then assigned the
footman to the impossible task of prizing open the door of Thornby’s
prison with a poker. This apparent concern for Thornby’s comfort was
partly for the future conciliation of that gentleman; and Foxwell
intended to employ his wound to the same end, on the ground that he had
received it in the Squire’s interest. As he sat thinking the matter out,
and watching Joseph’s bungling attempts to fasten a bandage, Foxwell
heard a loud tramping, as of several heavy feet, in the hall.

“The men whom the clerk went to fetch,” thought he; and, without turning
his head, considered how he might delay them with perfect safety to
himself. But, just as they seemed about to enter the room, there was a
brief pause in their movements; and then they were heard rushing away
and out of the hall. It was as if they had learned at the very threshold
that the person they sought was gone elsewhere. Foxwell turned his eyes
upon the doorway, near which Filson had fallen. To his amazement, the
body of that rascal was not to be seen. This enabled Foxwell to account
for the movements of the justice’s men: the knave had yet life enough to
crawl out and indicate the way the fugitive had taken. The trampling of
the men in the hall, the footman’s noise with the poker, and certain
incoherent words of inquiry and command which Thornby had begun to shout
from his closet, had covered the sound of Filson’s exit.

Meanwhile, Everell and Georgiana had ridden down a driveway of
considerable length, following close upon the heels of the boy, whom the
lantern enabled them to keep in sight. The gate had swung to after
Foxwell’s entrance. As the lad went to open it, and Everell put his hand
in his pocket for the promised crown, there came a noise of men issuing
from the house they had left, followed by a cry: “Stop them! gate, ho!
let nobody pass!”

The boy gave a startled look at the riders, and stood hesitating.
Everell, who had been holding the lantern high so as to see the way,
quickly handed it to Georgiana; drew one of the pistols from his pocket,
pointed it at the lad’s head, and, at the same time offering the crown
piece with his left hand, said: “Lead or silver, which?”

[Illustration: “THE HORSES DASHED FORWARD.”]

The boy, whose mind had probably never worked so rapidly in his life
before, flung the gate open. Men were now heard running toward them from
the top of the driveway. Everell threw the coin at the boy, and the
horses dashed forward. Once in the road, the lovers turned to the right,
thus aiming for the town wherein they had first met. Everell put away
the pistol, but allowed Georgiana, at her own suggestion, to retain
possession of the lantern, that he might be the readier with his
weapons, should occasion arise. Of this there was not much immediate
likelihood, for, now that the gate was passed, Thornby’s men must needs
resort to horses if they meant to give chase.

“Do you ride well, sweet?” Everell called to Georgiana, as they galloped
along the road.

“Well enough,” she replied, as cheerily as she could.

He now observed, for the first time, that she was riding man-fashion;
his cloak, which she still wore, enabling her to do so with less loss in
appearance than addition of safety.

“You will not soon forget the night of your abduction,” said he, gaily.

She reminded him it was no longer an abduction, but a flight on her part
as well as his. And both of them, though they said nothing, wondered
what would be the end of it.