From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 119-166.
AINSWORTH, WILLIAM HARRISON, an English novelist; born at Manchester, 4, 1805; died at Reigate, January 3, 1882. He was the son of a solicitor, and was designed for the legal profession, but while quite young embraced the profession of literature and acquired great notoriety as a writer of sensational novels founded mainly upon historical or semi-historical themes. He was for some time the editor of “Bentley’s Miscellany,” and about 1842 started “Ainsworth’s Magazine,” a periodical which he conducted for many years, and in which most of his writings originally appeared. Among the best-known of his tales, which gained a great though not a wholly reputable popularity, are: “Sir John Chiverton,” (1825), which was praised by Sir Walter Scott; “Rookwood,” “Crichton,” “Jack Sheppard,” “The Tower of London,” “Old St. Paul’s,” “Windsor Castle,” “St. James’s Palace,” “The Lancashire Witches,” “The Star Chamber,” “The Flitch of Bacon,” “The Spanish Match,” “John Law, the Projector,” “Constable de Bourbon,” “Old Court,” “Merrie England,” “Hilary St. Ives,” “Myddleton Pomfret,” and “The Leaguer of Latham,” the last being issued in 1876; so that Mr. Ainsworth’s career as a popular novelist extended over more than half a century, and the works of few of his contemporaries enjoyed so wide a popularity among the less cultivated class of readers.
MONDAY, the 12th of February, 1554, the fatal day destined to terminate Jane’s earthly sufferings, at length arrived. Excepting a couple of hours which she allowed to rest, at the urgent entreaty of her companion, she had passed the whole night in prayer. Angela kept watch over the lovely sleeper, and the effect produced by the contemplation of her features during this her last slumber was never afterwards effaced. The repose of an infant could not be more calm and holy. A celestial smile irradiated her countenance; her lips moved as if in prayer; and if good angels are ever permitted to visit 120 the dreams of those they love on earth, they hovered that night over the couch of Jane. Thinking it cruelty to disturb her from such a blissful state, Angela let an hour pass beyond the appointed time. But observing a change come over her countenance — seeing her bosom heave, and tears gather beneath her eyelashes, she touched her, and Jane instantly arose.
“Is if four o’clock?” she inquired.
“It has just struck five, madam,” replied Angela. “I have disobeyed you for the first and last time. But you seemed so happy, that I could not find in my heart to waken you.”
“I was happy,” replied Jane, “for I dreamed that all was over — without pain to me — and that my soul was borne to regions of celestial bliss by a troop of angels who had hovered above the scaffold.
“It will be so, madam,” replied Angela, fervently. “You will quit this earth immediately for heaven, where you will rejoin your husband in everlasting happiness.”
“I trust so,” replied Jane, in an altered tone; “but in that blessed place I searched in vain for him. Angela, you let me sleep too long, or not long enough.”
“Your pardon, dearest madam,” cried the other fearfully.
“Nay, you have given me no offence,” returned Jane, kindly. What I meant was that I had not time to find my husband.”
“Oh, you will find him, dearest madam,” returned Angela, “doubt it not. Your prayers would wash out his offences, even if his own could not.”
“I trust so,” replied Jane. “And I will now pray for him, and do you pray, too.”
Jane then retired to the recess, and in the gloom, for it was yet dark, continued her devotions until the clock struck seven. She then arose, and assisted by Angela, attired herself with great care.
“I pay more attention to the decoration of my body now I am about to part with it,” she observed, than I would do if it was to serve me longer. So joyful is the occasion to me, that were I to consult my own feelings, I would put on my richest apparel, to indicate my contentment of heart. I will not, however, so brave my fate, but array myself in these weeds.” And she put on a gown of black velvet, without ornament of any kind; tying round her slender throat (so soon, alas! to be severed) a simple white falling collar. Her hair was left purposely 121 unbraided, and was confined by a caul of black velvet. As Angela performed those sad services she sobbed audibly.
“Nay, cheer thee, child,” observed Jane. “When I was clothed in the robes of royalty, and had the crown placed upon my brow, — nay, when arrayed on my wedding day, — I felt not half so joyful as now.”
“Ah! Madam!” exclaimed Angela, in a paroxysm of grief, “my condition is more pitiable than yours. You go to certain happiness. But I lose you.”
“Only for a while, dear Angela,” returned Jane. “Comfort yourself with that thought. Let my fate be a warning to you. Be not dazzled by ambition. Had I not once yielded, I had never thus perished. Discharge your duty strictly to your eternal and your temporal ruler, and rest assured we shall meet again, — never to part.”
“Your counsel shall be graven on my heart, madam,” returned Angela. “And oh! may my end be as happy as yours!”
“Heaven grant it!” ejaculated Jane, fervently. “And now,” she added, as her toilette was ended, “I am ready to die.”
“Will you not take some refreshment, madam?” asked Angela.
“No,” replied Jane. “I have done with the body!”
The morning was damp and dark. A thaw came on a little before daybreak, and a drizzling shower of rain fell. This was succeeded by a thick mist, and the whole of the fortress was for a while enveloped in vapor. It brought to Jane’s mind the day on which she was taken to trial. But a moral gloom likewise overspread the fortress. Every one within it, save her few enemies (and they were few indeed), lamented Jane’s approaching fate. Her youth, her innocence, her piety, touched the sternest breast, and moved the pity even of her persecutors. All felt that morning as if some dire calamity was at hand, and instead of looking forward to the execution as an exciting spectacle (for so such revolting exhibitions were then considered), they wished it over. Many a prayer was breathed for the speedy release of the sufferer — many a sigh heaved — many a groan uttered: and if ever soul was wafted to heaven by the fervent wishes of those on earth, Jane’s was so.
It was late before there were any signs of stir and bustle within the fortress. Even the soldiers gathered together reluctantly — and those who conversed spoke in whispers. Dudley, 122 who it has been stated was imprisoned in the Beauchamp Tower, had passed the greater part of the night in devotion. But towards morning, he became restless and uneasy, and unable to compose himself, resorted to the customary employment of captives in such cases, and with a nail which he had found carved his wife’s name in two places on the walls of his prison. These inscriptions still remain.
At nine o’clock the bell of the chapel began to toll, and an escort of halberdiers and arquebusiers drew up before the Beauchamp Tower while Sir Thomas Brydges and Feckenham entered the chamber of the prisoner, who received them with an unmoved countenance.
“Before you set out upon a journey from which you will never return, my lord,” said Feckenham, “I would ask you for the last time, if any change has taken place in your religious sentiments — and whether you are yet alive to the welfare of your soul?”
“Why not promise me pardon if I will recant on the scaffold, and silence me as you silenced the duke my father, by the axe!” replied Dudley, sternly. “No sir, I will have naught to do with your false and idolatrous creed. I shall die a firm believer in the gospel, and trust to be saved by it.”
“Then perish, body and soul,” replied Feckenham, harshly. “Sir Thomas Brydges, I commit him to your hands.”
“Am I to be allowed no parting with my wife?” demanded Dudley, anxiously.
“You have parted with her forever, — heretic and unbeliever!” rejoined Feckenham.
“That speech will haunt your deathbed, sir,” retorted, Dudley, sternly. And he turned to the lieutenant, and signified that he was ready.
The first object that met Dudley’s gaze, as he issued from his prison, was the scaffold on the green. He looked at if for a moment wistfully.
“It is for Lady Jane,” observed the Lieutenant.
“I know it,” replied Dudley, in a voice of intense emotion. “I thank you for letting me die first.”
“You must thank the queen, my lord,” returned Brydges. “It was her order.”
“Shall you see my wife, sir?” demanded Dudley, anxiously.
The lieutenant answered in the affirmative.
“Tell her I will be with her on the scaffold,” said Dudley.123
As he was about to set forward, a young man pushed through the lines of halberdiers, and threw himself at his feet. It was Cholmondeley. Dudley instantly raised and embraced him. “At least I see one whom I love,” he cried.
“My lord, this interruption must not be,” observed the lieutenant. “If you do not retire,” he added, to Cholmondeley, “I shall place you in arrest.”
“Farewell, my dear lord,” cried the weeping esquire — “farewell!”
“Farewell forever!” returned Dudley, as Cholmondeley was forced back by the guard.
The escort then moved forward, and the lieutenant accompanied the prisoner to the gateway of the Middle Tower, where he delivered him to the sheriffs and their officers, who were waiting there for him with a Franciscan friar, and then returned to fulfil his more painful duty. A vast crowd was collected on Tower Hill, and the strongest commiseration was expressed for Dudley, as he was led to the scaffold, on which Mauger had already taken his station.
On quitting the Beauchamp Tower, Feckenham proceeded to Jane’s prison. He found her on her knees, but she immediately arose.
“Is it time?” she asked.
“It is, madam, to repent,” replied Feckenham, sternly. “A few minutes are all that now remain to you of life — nay, at this moment, perhaps, your husband is called before his Eternal Judge. There is yet time. Do not perish like him in your sins.”
“Heaven have mercy upon him!” cried Jane, falling on her knees.
And notwithstanding the importunities of the confessor, she continued in fervent prayer, till the appearance of Sir Thomas Brydges. She instantly understood why he came, and rising, prepared for departure. Almost blinded by tears, Angela rendered her the last services she required. This done, the lieutenant, who was likewise greatly affected, begged some slight remembrance of her.
“I have nothing to give you but this book of prayers, sir,” she answered — “but you shall have that, when I have done with it, and may it profit you.”
“You will receive it only to cast it into the flames, my son,” remarked Feckenham.124
“On the contrary, I shall treasure it like a priceless gem,” replied Brydges.
“You will find a prayer written in it in my own hand,” said Jane. And again I say, may it profit you.”
Brydges then passed through the door, and Jane followed him. A band of halberdiers were without. At the sight of her, a deep and general sympathy was manifested; not an eye was dry; and tears trickled down cheeks unaccustomed to such moisture. The melancholy train proceeded at a slow pace. Jane fixed her eyes upon the prayer book, which she read aloud to drown the importunities of the confessor, who walked on her right, while Angela kept near her on the other side. And so they reached the green.
By this time, the fog had cleared off, and the rain had ceased; but the atmosphere was humid, and the day lowering and gloomy. Very few spectators were assembled — for it required firm nerves to witness such a tragedy. A flock of carrion crows and ravens, attracted by their fearful instinct, wheeled around overhead, or settled on the branches of the bare and leafless trees, and by their croaking added to the dismal character of the scene. The bell continued tolling all the time.
The sole person on the scaffold was Wolfytt. He was occupied in scattering straw near the block. Among the bystanders was Sorrocold leaning on his staff; and as Jane for a moment raised her eyes as she passed along, she perceived Roger Ascham. Her old preceptor had obeyed her, and she repaid him with a look of gratitude.
By the lieutenant’s directions she was conducted for a short time into the Beauchamp Tower, and here Feckenham continued his persecutions, until a deep groan arose among those without, and an officer abruptly entered the room.
“Madam,” said Sir John Brydges, after the newcomer had delivered his message, “we must set forth.”
Jane made a motion of assent, and the party issued from the Beauchamp Tower, in front of which a band of halberdiers was drawn up. A wide open space was kept clear around the scaffold. Jane seemed unconscious of all that was passing. Preceded by the lieutenant, who took his way towards the north of the scaffold, and attended on either side by Feckenham and Angela as before, she kept her eyes steadily fixed on her prayer book.125
Arrived within a short distance of the fatal spot, she was startled by a scream from Angela, and looking up, beheld four soldiers carrying a litter covered with a cloth, and advancing towards her. She knew it was the body of her husband, and unprepared for so terrible an encounter, uttered a cry of horror. The bearers of the litter passed on and entered the porch of the chapel.
While this took place, Mauger, who had limped back as fast as he could after his bloody work on Tower Hill — only tarrying a moment to change his axe — ascended the steps of the scaffold, and ordered Wolfytt to get down. Sir Thomas Brydges, who was greatly shocked at what had just occurred, and would have prevented it if it had been possible, returned to Jane and offered her his assistance. But she did not require it. The force of the shock had passed away, and she firmly mounted the scaffold.
When she was seen there, a groan of compassion arose from the spectators, and prayers were audibly uttered. She then advanced to the rail, and, in a clear distinct voice, spoke as follows: —
“I pray you all to bear me witness that I die a true Christian woman, and that I look to be saved by no other means except the mercy of God, and the merits of the blood of his only Son Jesus Christ. I confess when I knew the word of God I neglected it, and loved myself and the world, and therefore this punishment is a just return for my sins. But I thank God of his goodness that he has given me a time and respite to repent. And now, good people, while I am alive, I pray you assist me with your prayers.”
Many fervent responses followed, and several of the bystanders imitated Jane’s example, as, on the conclusion of her speech, she fell on her knees and recited the Miserere.
At its close, Feckenham said in a loud voice, “I ask you, madam, for the last time, will you repent?”
“I pray you, sir, to desist,” replied Jane, meekly. “I am now at peace with all the world, and would die so.”
She then arose, and giving the prayer book to Angela, said, “When all is over, deliver this to the lieutenant. These,” she added, taking off her gloves and collar, “I give to you.”
“And to me,” cried Mauger, advancing and prostrating himself before her according to custom, “you give grace.”126
“And also my head,” replied Jane. “I forgive thee heartily, fellow. Thou art my best friend.”
“What ails you, madam?” remarked the lieutenant, observing Jane suddenly start and tremble.
“Not much,” she replied, “but I thought I saw my husband pale and bleeding.”
“Where?” demanded the lieutenant, recalling Dudley’s speech.
“There, near the block,” replied Jane, “I see the figure still. But it must be mere phantasy.”
Whatever his thoughts were, the lieutenant made no reply; and Jane turned to Angela, who now began, with trembling hands, to remove her attire, and was trying to take off her velvet robe, when Mauger offered to assist her, but was instantly repulsed.
He then withdrew and stationing himself by the block, assumed his hideous black mask, and shouldered the ax.
Partially disrobed, Jane bowed her head, while Angela tied a kerchief over her eyes, and turned her long tresses over her head to be out of the way. Unable to control herself, she then turned aside, and wept aloud. Jane moved forward in search of the block, but fearful of making a false step, felt for it with her hand, and cried, “What shall I do? Where is it? Where is it?”
Sir Thomas Brydges took her hand and guided her to it. At this awful moment, there was a slight movement in the crowd, some of whom pressed nearer the scaffold, and amongst others Sorrocold and Wolfytt. The latter caught hold of the boards to obtain a better view. Angela placed her hands before her eyes and would have suspended her being, if she could; and even Feckenham veiled his countenance with his robe. Sir Thomas Brydges gazed firmly on.
By this time, Jane had placed her head on the block, and her last words were, “Lord, into thy hands I commend my spirit!”
The axe then fell, and one of the fairest and wisest heads that ever sat on human shoulders fell likewise.
AUGUST had now arrived, but the distemper knew no cessation. On the contrary, it manifestly increased in violence and malignity. The deaths rose a thousand in each week, and in 127 the last week in this fatal month amounted to upwards of sixty thousand!
But, terrible as this was, the pestilence had not yet reached its height. Hopes were entertained that when the weather became cooler, its fury would abate; but these anticipations were fearfully disappointed. The bills of mortality rose the first week in September to seven thousand, and though they slightly decreased during the second week — awakening a momentary hope — on the third they advanced to twelve thousand! In less than ten days, upwards of two thousand persons perished in the parish of Aldgate alone; while Whitechapel suffered equally severely. Out of the hundred parishes in and about the city, one only, that of Saint John the Evangelist in Watling Street, remained uninfected, and this merely because there was scarcely a soul left within it, the greater part of the inhabitants having quitted their houses, and fled into the country.
The deepest despair now seized upon all the survivors. Scarcely a family but had lost half of its number — many, more than half — while those who were left felt assured that their turn would speedily arrive. Even the reckless were appalled, and abandoned their evil courses. Not only were the dead lying in the passages and alleys, but even in the main thoroughfares, and none would remove them. The awful prediction of Solomon Eagle that “grass would grow in the streets, and that the living should not be able to bury the dead,” had come to pass. London had become one vast lazar-house, and seemed in a fair way of becoming a mighty sepulchre.
During all this time, Saint Paul’s continued to be used as a pesthouse, but it was not so crowded as heretofore, because, as not one in fifty of the infected recovered when placed under medical care, it was not thought worth while to remove them from their own abodes. The number of attendants, too, had diminished. Some had died, but the greater part had abandoned their offices from a fear of sharing the fate of their patients. . . .
On the tenth of September, which was afterwards accounted the most fatal day of this fatal month, a young man of a very dejected appearance, and wearing the traces of severe suffering in his countenance, entered the west end of London, and took his way slowly towards the city. He had passed Saint Giles’ without seeing a single living creature, or the sign of one in any of the houses. The broad thoroughfare was completely grown 128 over with grass, and the habitations had the most melancholy and deserted air imaginable. Some doors and windows were wide open, discovering rooms with goods and furniture scattered about, having been left in this state by their inmates; but most part of them were closely fastened up.
As he proceeded along Holborn, the ravages of the scourge were yet more apparent. Every house, on either side of the way, had a red cross, with the fatal inscription above it, upon the door. Here and there, a watchman might be seen, looking more like a phantom than a living thing. Formerly, the dead were conveyed away at night, but now the carts went about in the daytime. On reaching Saint Andrew’s, Holborn, several persons were seen wheeling hand barrows filled with corpses, scarcely covered with clothing, and revealing the blue and white stripes of the pestilence, towards a cart which was standing near the church gates. The driver of the vehicle, a tall, cadaverous-looking man, was ringing his bell, and jesting with another person, whom the young man recognized, with a shudder, as Chowles. The coffin-maker also recognized him at the same moment, and called to him, but the other paid no attention to the summons and passed on.
Crossing Holborn Bridge, he toiled faintly up the opposite hill, for he was evidently suffering from extreme debility, and on gaining the summit was obliged to support himself against a wall for a few minutes, before he could proceed. The same frightful evidences of the ravages of the pestilence were observable here, as elsewhere. The houses were all marked with the fatal cross, and shut up. Another dead-cart was heard rumbling along, accompanied by the harsh cries of the driver and the doleful ringing of the bell. The next moment the loathly vehicle was seen coming along the Old Bailey. It paused before a house, from which four bodies were brought, and then passed on towards Smithfield. Watching its progress with fearful curiosity, the young man noted how often it paused to increase its load. His thoughts, colored by the scene, were of the saddest and dreariest complexion. All around wore the aspect of death. The few figures in sight seemed staggering towards the grave, and the houses appeared to be plague-stricken like the inhabitants. The heat was intolerably oppressive, and the air tainted with noisome exhalations. Ever and anon, a window would be opened, and a ghastly face thrust from it, while a piercing shriek, or lamentable cry, was uttered. No business seemed 129 going on — there was no passengers — no vehicles in the streets. The mighty city was completely laid prostrate. . . .
Arrived in Great Knightrider Street, he was greatly shocked at finding the door of the doctor’s habitation fastened, nor could he make any one hear, though he knocked loudly and repeatedly against it. The shutters of the lower windows were closed, and the place looked completely deserted. All the adjoining houses were shut up, and not a living being could be discerned in the street from whom information could be obtained relative to the physician. Here, as elsewhere, the pavement was overgrown with grass, and the very houses had a strange and melancholy look, as if sharing in the general desolation. On looking down a narrow street leading to the river, Leonard perceived a flock of poultry scratching among the staves in search of food, and instinctively calling them, they flew towards him, as if delighted at the unwonted sound of a human voice. These, and a half-starved cat, were the only things living that he could perceive. At the further end of the street he caught sight of the river, speeding in its course towards the bridge, and scarcely knowing whither he was going, sauntered to its edge. The tide had just turned, and the stream was sparkling in the sunshine, but no craft could be discovered upon its bosom; and except a few barges moored to its sides, all vestiges of the numberless vessels with which it was once crowded were gone. Its quays were completely deserted. Boxes and bales of goods lay untouched on the wharves; the cheering cries with which the workmen formerly animated their labor were hushed. There was no sound of creaking cords, no rattle of heavy chains — none of the busy hum ordinarily attending the discharge of freight from a vessel, or the packing of goods and stores on board. All traffic was at an end; and this scene, usually one of the liveliest possible, was now forlorn and desolate. On the opposite shore of the river it appeared to be the same — indeed, the borough of Southwark was now suffering the utmost rigor of the scourge, and except for the rows of houses on its banks, and the noble bridge by which it was spanned, the Thames appeared as undisturbed as it must have been before the great city was built upon its banks.
The apprentice viewed this scene with a singular kind of interest. He had become so accustomed to melancholy sights, that his feelings had lost their acuteness, and the contemplation 130 of the deserted buildings and neglected wharves around him harmonized with his own gloomy thoughts. Pursuing his walk along the side of the river, he was checked by a horrible smell, and looking downward, he perceived a carcass in the last stage of decomposition lying in the mud. It had been washed ashore by the tide, and a large bird of prey was contending for the possession of it with a legion of water rats. Sickened by the sight, he turned up a narrow thoroughfare near Baynard’s Castle, and crossing Thames Street, was about to ascend Addle Hill, when he perceived a man wheeling a hand-barrow, containing a couple of corpses, in the direction of the river, with the intention, doubtless, of throwing them into it, as the readiest means of disposing of them. Both bodies were stripped of their clothing, and the blue tint of the nails, as well as the blotches with which they were covered, left no doubt as to the disease of which they had died. Averting his gaze from the spectacle, Leonard turned off on the right along Carter Lane, and threading a short passage, approached the southern boundary of the cathedral; and proceeding towards the great door opposite him, passed through it. The mighty lazar-house was less crowded than he expected to find it, but its terrible condition far exceeded his worst conceptions. Not more than half the pallets were occupied; but as the sick were in a great measure left to themselves, the utmost disorder prevailed. A troop of lazars, with sheets folded around them, glided, like phantoms, along Paul’s Walk, and mimicked in a ghastly manner the air and deportment of the gallants who had formerly thronged the place. No attempt being made to maintain silence, the noise was perfectly stunning; some of the sick were shrieking — some laughing in a wild unearthly manner — some praying — some uttering loud execrations — others groaning and lamenting. The holy building seemed to have become the abode of evil and tormented spirits. Many dead were lying in the beds — the few attendants who were present not caring to remove them; and Leonard had little doubt that before another sun went down the whole of the ghastly assemblage before him would share their fate. If the habitations he had recently gazed upon had appeared plague-stricken, the sacred structure in which he was now standing seemed yet more horribly contaminated. Ill-kept and ill-ventilated, the air was loaded with noxious effluvia, while the various abominations that met the eye at every turn would have been sufficient 131 to produce the distemper in any one who had come in contact with them. They were, however, utterly disregarded by the miserable sufferers and their attendants. The magnificent painted windows were dimmed by a thick clammy steam, which could scarcely be washed off — while the carved oak screens, the sculptured tombs, the pillars, the walls, and the flagged floors were covered with impurities.
ARRIVED at the brow of the hill, whence such a beautiful view of the country surrounding the metropolis is obtained, Turpin turned for an instant to reconnoitre his pursuers. Coates and Titus he utterly disregarded; but Paterson was a more formidable foe, and he well knew that he had to deal with a man of experience and resolution. It was then, for the first time, that the thoughts of executing his extraordinary ride to York first flashed across him; his bosom throbbed high with rapture, and he involuntarily exclaimed aloud, as he raised himself in the saddle, “By God! I will do it!”
He took one last look at the great Babel that lay buried in a world of trees beneath him; and as his quick eye ranged over the magnificent prospect, lit up by that gorgeous sunset, he could not help thinking of Tom King’s last words. “Poor fellow!” thought Dick, “he said truly. He will never see another sunset.” Aroused by the approaching clatter of his pursuers, Dick struck into a lane which lies on the right of the road, now called Shoot-up-hill Lane, and set off at a good pace in the direction of Hampstead.
“Now,” cried Paterson, “put your tits to it, my boys. We must not lose sight of him for a second in these lanes.”
Accordingly, as Turpin was by no means desirous of inconveniencing his mare in this early stage of the business, and as the ground was still upon an ascent, the parties preserved their relative distances.
At length, after various twistings and turnings in that deep and devious lane; after scaring one or two farmers, and riding over a brood or two of ducks; dipping into the verdant valley 132 of West End, and ascending another hill, Turpin burst upon the gorsy, sandy, and beautiful heath of Hampstead. Shaping his course to the left, Dick then made for the lower part of the heath, and skirted a part that leads towards North End, passing the furze-crowned summit, which is now crested by a clump of lofty pines.
It was here that the chase first assumed a character of interest. Being open ground, the pursued and pursuers were in full view of each other; and as Dick rode swiftly across the heath, with the shouting trio hard at his heels, the scene had a very animated appearance. He crossed the hill — the Hendon road — passed Crackskull Common — and dashed along the crossroad to Highgate.
Hitherto no advantage had been gained by the pursuers; they had not lost ground, but still they had not gained an inch, and much spurring was requires to maintain their position. As they approached Highgate, Dick slackened his pace, and the other party redoubled their efforts. To avoid the town, Dick struck into a narrow path at the right, and rode easily down the hill.
His pursuers were now within a hundred yards, and shouted to him to stand. Pointing to a gate which seemed to bar their further progress, Dick unhesitatingly charged it, clearing it in beautiful style. Not so with Coates’ party; and the time they lost in unfastening the gate, which none of them chose to leap, enabled Dick to put additional space betwixt them. It did not, however, appear to be his intention altogether to outstrip his pursuers; the chase seemed to give him excitement, which he was willing to prolong, as much as was consistent with his safety. Scudding rapidly past Highgate, like a swift-sailing schooner, with three lumbering Indiamen in her wake, Dick now took the lead along a narrow lane that threads the fields in the direction of Hornsey. The shouts of his followers had brought others to join them, and as he neared Crouch End, traversing the land which takes its name from Du Val, and in which a house, frequented by that gayest of robbers, stands, or stood, “A highwayman! a highwayman!” rang in his ears, in a discordant chorus of many voices.
The whole neighborhood was alarmed by the cries, and by the tramp of horses; the men of Hornsey rushed into the road to seize the fugitive; and women held up their babes to catch a glimpse of the flying cavalcade, which seemed to gain number 133 and animation as it advanced. Suddenly three horsemen appear in the road; they hear the uproar and the din. “A highwayman! a highwayman!” cry the voices: “stop him, stop him!” But it is no such easy matter. With a pistol in each hand, and his bridle in his teeth, Turpin passed boldly on. His fierce looks — his furious steed — the impetus with which he pressed forward, bore down all before him. The horsemen gave way, and only swerved to swell the list of his pursuers.
“We have him now! we have him now!” cried Paterson, exultingly. “Shout for your lives. The turnpike man will hear us. Shout again — again! The fellow has heard it. The gate is shut. We have him. Ha! ha!”
The old Hornsey toll bar was a high gate with chevaux-de-frise in the upper rail. It may be so still. The gate was swung into its lock, and like a tiger in his lair, the prompt custodian of the turnpike trusts, ensconced within his doorway, held himself in readiness to spring upon the runaway. But Dick kept steadily on. He coolly calculated the height of the gate; he looked to the right and to the left; nothing better offered; he spoke a few words of encouragement to Bess; gently patted her neck; then struck spurs into her sides, and cleared the spikes by an inch. Out rushed the amazed turnpike man, thus unmercifully bilked, and was nearly trampled to death under the feet of Paterson’s horse.
“Open the gate, fellow, and be expeditious,” shouted the chief constable.
“Not I,” said the man, sturdily, “unless I get my dues, I’ve been done once already. But strike me stupid if I’m done a second time.”
“Don’t you perceive that’s a highwayman? Don’t you know that I’m chief constable of Westminster?” said Paterson, showing his staff. “How dare you oppose me in the discharge of my duty?”
“That may be, or it may not be,” said the man, doggedly. “But you don’t pass, unless I gets the blunt, and that’s the long and short of it.”
Amidst a storm of oaths Coates flung down a crown piece, and the gate was thrown open.
Turpin took advantage of this delay to breathe his mare; and, striking into a by-lane at Duckett’s Green, entered easily along in the direction of Tottenham. Little repose was allowed him. Yelling like a pack of hounds in full cry, his pursuers 134 were again at his heels. He had now to run the gantlet of the long straggling town of Tottenham, and various were the devices of the populace to entrap him. The whole place was up in arms, shouting, screaming, running, dancing, and hurling every possible description of missile at the horse and her rider. Dick merrily responded to their clamor as he flew past, and laughed at the brickbats that were showered thick as hail, and quite as harmlessly, around him.
A few more miles’ hard riding tired the volunteers, and before the chase reached Edmonton most of them were “nowhere.” Here fresh relays were gathered, and a strong field was again mustered. John Gilpin himself could not have excited more astonishment among the good folks of Edmonton, than did our highwayman as he galloped through their town. Unlike the men of Tottenham, the mob received him with acclamations, thinking, no doubt, that, like “the citizen of famous London Town,” he rode for a wager. Presently, however, borne on the wings of the blast, came the cries of “Turpin! Dick Turpin!” and the hurrahs were changed to hootings; but such was the rate at which our highwayman rode, that no serious opposition could be offered to him.
A man in a donkey cart, unable to get out of the way, drew himself up in the middle of the road. Turpin treated him as he had done the dub at the knapping jigger, and cleared the driver and his little wain with ease. This was a capital stroke, and well adapted to please the multitude, who are ever taken with a brilliant action. “Hark away, Dick!” resounded on all hands, while hisses were as liberally bestowed upon his pursuers.
Away they fly past scattered cottages, swiftly and skimmingly, like eagles on the wing, along the Enfield highway. All were well mounted, and the horses, now thoroughly warmed, had got into their paces, and did their work beautifully. None of Coates’ party lost ground; but they maintained it at the expense of their steeds, which were streaming like water carts, while Black Bess had scarcely turned a hair.
Turpin, the reader already knows, was a crack rider; he was the crack rider of England of his time, and, perhaps, of any time. The craft and mastery of jockeyship was not then so well understood in the eighteenth as it is in the nineteenth 135 century; men treated their horses differently; and few rode then as well as many ride now, when every youngster takes to the field as naturally as if he had been bred a Guacho. Dick Turpin was a glorious exception to the rule, and anticipated a later age. He rode wonderfully lightly, yet sat his saddle to perfection; distributing the weight so exquisitely, that his horse scarcely felt his presence; he yielded to every movement made by the animal, and became, as it were, part and parcel of itself; he took care Bess should be neither strained nor wrung. Freely, and as lightly as a feather, was she borne along; beautiful was it to see her action: to watch her style and temper of covering the ground; and many a first-rate Meltonian might have got a wrinkle from Turpin’s seat and conduct.
We have before stated that it was not Dick’s object to ride away from his pursuers; he could have done that at any moment. He liked the fun of the chase, and would have been sorry to put a period to his own excitement. Confident in his mare, he just kept her at such speed as should put his pursuers so completely to it, without in the slightest degree inconveniencing himself. Some judgment of the speed at which they went may be formed when we state that little better than an hour had elapsed, and nearly twenty miles had been ridden over. “Not bad travelling that,” methinks we hear the reader exclaim.
“By the mother that bore me,” said Titus, as they went along in this slapping style — Titus, by the bye, rode a big, Roman-nosed, powerful horse, well adapted to his weight, but which required a plentiful exercise both of leg and arm to call forth all his action, and keep his rider alongside his companions — “by the mother that bore me,” said he, almost thumping the wind out of his flea-bitten Bucephalus with his calves, after the Irish fashion, “if the fellow is n’t lighting his pipe! I saw the sparks fly on each side of him, and there he goes like a smoky chimney on a frosty morning! See, he turns his impudent phiz, with the pipe in his mouth! Are we to stand that, Mr. Coates?”
“Wait awhile, sir; wait awhile,” said Coates, “we’ll smoke him by and by.”
Pæans have been sung in honor of the Peons of the Pampas by the Headlong Sir Francis; but what the gallant major extols so loudly in the South American horsemen, viz., the lighting of a cigar when in mid career, was accomplished with equal ease by our English highwayman a hundred years ago, 136 nor was it esteemed by him any extravagant feat either. Flint, steel, and tinder were bestowed within Dick’s ample pouch; the short pipe was at hand; and within a few seconds there was a stream of vapor exhaling from his lips, like the smoke from a steamboat shooting down the river, and tracking his still rapid course through the air.
“I’ll let ’em see what I think of ’em!” said Dick, coolly, as he turned his head.
It was now gray twilight. The mists of coming night were weaving a thin curtain over the rich surrounding landscape. All the sounds and hum of that delicious hour were heard, broken only by the regular clatter of the horses’ hoofs. Tired of shouting, the chasers now kept on their way in deep silence. Each man held his breath, and plunged his spurs rowel-deep into his horse; but the animals were already at the top of their speed, and incapable of greater exertion. Paterson, who was a hard rider, and perhaps a thought better mounted, kept the lead. The rest followed as they might.
Had it been undisturbed by the rush of the cavalcade, the scene would have been still and soothing. Overhead, a cloud of rooks were winging their garrulous flight to the ancestral avenue of an ancient mansion to the right; the bat was on the wing; the distant lowing of a herd of kine saluted the ear at intervals; the blithe whistle of the rustic herdsman, and the merry chime of wagon bells, rang pleasantly from afar. But these cheerful sounds, which make the still twilight hour delightful, were lost in the tramp of the horsemen, now three abreast. The hind fled to the hedge for shelter; and the wagoner pricked up his ears, and fancied he heard the distant rumbling of an earthquake.
On rushed the pack, whipping, spurring, tugging for very life. Again they gave voice, in hopes the wagoner might succeed in stopping the fugitive. But Dick was already by his side. “Harkee, my tulip,” cried he, taking the pipe from his mouth as he passed, “tell my friends behind they will hear of me at York.”
“What did he say?” asked Paterson, coming up the next moment.
“That you’ll find him at York,” replied the wagoner.
“At York!” echoed Coates, in amaze.
Turpin was now out of sight; and although our trio flogged with might and main, they could never catch a glimpse 137 of him until, within a short distance of Ware, they beheld him at the door of a little public house, standing with his bridle in his hand, coolly quaffing a tankard of ale. No sooner were they in sight than Dick vaulted into the saddle, and rode off.
“Devil seize you, sir! why did n’t you stop him?” exclaimed Paterson, as he rode up. “My horse is dead lame. I cannot go any further. Do you know what a prize you have missed? Do you know who that was?”
“No, sir, I don’t,” said the publican. “But I know he gave his mare more ale than he took himself, and he has given me a guinea instead of a shilling. He’s a regular good ’un.”
“A good ’un!” said Paterson; “it was Turpin, the notorious highwayman. We are in pursuit of him. Have you any horses? Our cattle are all blown.”
“You’ll find the posthouse in the town, gentlemen. I’m sorry I can’t accommodate you. But I keeps no stabling. I wish you a very good evening, sir.” Saying which the publican retreated to his domicile.
“That’s a flash crib, I’ll be bound,” said Paterson. “I’ll chalk you down, my friend, you may rely upon it. Thus far we’re done, Mr. Coates. But curse me if I give it in. I’ll follow him to the world’s end first.”
“Right, sir; right,” said the attorney. “A very proper spirit, Mr. Constable. You would be guilty of neglecting your duty were you to act otherwise. You must recollect my father, Mr. Paterson; Christopher, or Kit Coates; a name as well known at the Old Bailey as Jonathan Wild’s. You recollect him — eh?”
“Perfectly well, sir,” replied the chief constable.
“The greatest thief taker, though I say it,” continued Coates, “on record. I inherit all his zeal — all his ardor. Come along, sir. We shall have a fine moon in an hour — bright as day. To the posthouse! to the posthouse!”
Accordingly to the posthouse they went; and, with as little delay as circumstances admitted, fresh hacks being procured, accompanied by a postilion, the party again pursued their onward course, encouraged to believe they were still in the right scent.
Night had now spread her mantle over the earth; still it was not wholly dark. A few stars were twinkling in the deep, cloudless heavens, and a pearly radiance in the eastern horizon heralded the rising of the orb of night. A gentle breeze was stirring; the dews of evening had already fallen; and the air 138 felt bland and dry. It was just the night one would have chosen for a ride, if one ever rode by choice at such an hour; and to Turpin, whose chief excursions were conducted by night, it appeared little less than heavenly.
Full of ardor and excitement, determined to execute what he had mentally undertaken, Turpin held on to his solitary course. Everything was favorable to his project: the roads were in admirable condition, his mare was in like order; she was inured to hard work, had rested sufficiently in town to recover from the fatigue of her recent journey, and had never been in more perfect training. “She has now got her wind in her,” said Dick; “I’ll see what she can do — hark away, lass, hark away! I wish they could see her now,” added he, as he felt her almost fly away with him.
Encouraged by her master’s voice and hand, Black Bess started forward at a pace which few horses could have equalled, and scarcely any have sustained so long. Even Dick, accustomed as he was to her magnificent action, felt electrified at the speed with which he was borne along. “Bravo! bravo!” shouted he; “hark away, Bess!”
The deep and solemn woods through which they were rushing rang with his shouts and the sharp rattle of Bess’ hoofs; and thus he held his way, while, in the words of the ballad: —
Black Bess being undoubtedly the heroine of Book Four of this romance, we may, perhaps, be pardoned for her expatiating a little in this place upon her birth, parentage, breeding, appearance, and attractions. And first as to her pedigree; for in the horse, unlike the human species, nature has strongly impressed the noble or ignoble caste. He is the real aristocrat, and the pure blood that flows in the veins of the gallant steed will infallibly be transmitted, if his mate be suitable, throughout all his line. Bess was no cocktail. She was thoroughbred; she boasted blood in every bright and branching vein.139
As to her pedigree. Her sire was a desert Arab, renowned in his day, and brought to this country by a wealthy traveller; her dam was an English racer, coal black as her child. Bess united all the fire and gentleness, the strength and hardihood, the abstinence and endurance of fatigue of the one, with the spirit and extraordinary fleetness of the other. How Turpin became possessed of her is of little consequence. We never heard that he paid a heavy price for her, though we doubt if any sum would have induced him to part with her. In color, she was perfectly black, with a skin smooth on the surface as polished jet; not a single white hair could be detected in her satin coat. In make, she was magnificent. Every point was perfect, beautiful, compact; modelled, in little, for strength and speed. Arched was her neck, as that of the swan; clean and fine were her lower limbs, as those of the gazelle; round and sound as a drum was her carcass, and as broad as a cloth-yard shaft her width of chest. Hers were the “pulchræ clunes, breve caput, artuaque cervix,” of the Roman bard. There was no redundancy of flesh, ’t is true; her flanks might, to please some tastes, have been rounder, and her shoulder fuller; but look at the nerve and sinew, palpable through the veined limbs! She was built more for strength than beauty, and yet she was beautiful. Look at that elegant little head; those thin tapering ears, closely placed together; that broad snorting nostril, which seems to snuff the gale with disdain; that eye, glowing and large as the diamond of Giamschid! Is she not beautiful? Behold her paces! how gracefully she moves! She is off! — no eagle on the wing could skim the air more swiftly. Is she not superb? As to her temper, the lamb is not more gentle. A child might guide her.
But hark back to Turpin. We left him rattling along in superb style, and in the highest possible glee. He could not, in fact, be otherwise than exhilarated, nothing being so wildly intoxicating as a mad gallop. We seem to start out of ourselves — to be endued, for the time, with new energies. Our thoughts take wings rapid as our steed. We feel as if his fleetness and boundless impulses were for the moment our own. We laugh; we exult; we shout for very joy. We cry out 140 with Mephistopheles, but in anything but a sardonic mood. “What I enjoy with spirit, is it the less my own on that account? If I can pay for six horses, are not their powers mine? I drive along, and am a proper man, as if I had four and twenty legs!” These were Turpin’s sentiments precisely. Give him four legs and a wide plain, and he needed no Mephistopheles to bid him ride to perdition as fast as his nag could carry him. Away, away! — the road is level, the path is clear. Press on, thou gallant steed, no obstacle is in thy way! — and, lo! the moon breaks forth! Her silvery light is thrown over the woody landscapes. Dark shadows are cast athwart the road, and the flying figures of thy rider and thyself are traced, like giant phantoms in the dust!
Away, away! our breath is gone, in keeping up with this tremendous run. Yet Dick Turpin has not lost his wind, for we hear his cheering cry — hark! he sings. . . . .
“Egad,” soliloquized Dick, as he concluded his song, looking up at the moon. “Old Noll’s no bad fellow either. I would n’t be without his white face to-night for a trifle. He’s as good as a lamp to guide one, and let Bess only hold on as she goes now, and I’ll do it with ease. Softly, wench, softly; dost not see it’s a hill we’re rising. The devil’s in the mare, she cares for nothing.” And as they ascended the hill, Dick’s voice once more awoke the echoes of night. . . . .
“Well,” mused Turpin, “I suppose one day it will be with me like the rest of ’em, and that I shall dance a along lavolta to the music of the four whistling winds, as my betters have done before me; but I trust, whenever the chanter culls and last-speech scribblers get hold of me, they’ll at least put no cursed nonsense into my mouth, but make me speak, as I have ever felt, like a man who never feared death, or turned his back upon his friend. In the mean time I’ll give them something to talk about. This ride of mine shall ring in their ears long after I’m done for — put to be with a mattock, and tucked up with a spade.
“And when I am gone, boys, each huntsman shall say,
None rode like Dick Turpin so far in a day.”
And thou, too, brave Bess! thy name shall be linked with mine, and we’ll go down to posterity together; and what,” added he, despondingly, “if it should be too much for thee? what if — but no matter. Better die now, while I am with 141 thee, than fall into the knacker’s hands. Better die with all thy honors upon thy head, than drag out thy old age at the sand cart. Hark forward, lass — hark forward!”
By what peculiar instance is it that this noble animal, the horse, will at once perceive the slightest change in his rider’s physical temperament, and allow himself so to be influenced by it, that, according as his master’s spirits fluctuate, will his own energies rise and fall, wavering
“From walk to trot, from canter to full speed”?
How it is, we ask of those more intimately acquainted with the metaphysics of the Huoyhnymn than we pretend to be? Do the saddle or the rein convey, like metallic tractors, vibrations of the spirit betwixt the two? We know not; but this much is certain, that no servant partakes so much of the character of his master as the horse. The steed we are wont to ride becomes a portion of ourselves. He thinks and feels with us. As we are lively he is sprightly; as we are depressed, his courage droops. In proof of this, let the reader see what horses some men make — make we say, because in such hands their character is wholly altered. Partaking, in a measure, of the courage and the firmness of the hand that guides them, and of the resolution of the frame that sways them — what their rider wills they do, or strive to do. When that governing power is relaxed, their energies are relaxed likewise; and their fine sensibilities supply them with an instant knowledge of the disposition and capacity of the rider. A gift of the gods is the gallant steed, which like any other faculty we possess; to use or to abuse — to command or to neglect — rests with ourselves; he is the best general test of our own self-government.
Black Bess’ action amply verified what we have just asserted; for during Turpin’s momentary despondency, her pace was perceptibly diminished, and her force retarded; but as he revived, she rallied instantly, and, seized apparently with a kindred enthusiasm, snorted joyously, as she recovered her speed. Now was it that the child of the desert showed herself the undoubted offspring of the hardy loins from whence she sprung. Full fifty miles had she sped, yet she showed no symptom of distress. If possible, she appeared fresher than when she started. She had breathed; her limbs were suppler; her action was freer, easier, lighter. Her sire, who, upon his trackless wilds, could have outstripped the pestilent simoom, 142 and with throat unslaked, and hunger unappeased, could thrice have seen the scorching sun go down, had not greater powers of endurance. His vigor was her heritage. Her dam, who upon the velvet sod was of almost unapproachable swiftness, and who had often brought her owner golden assurances of her worth, could scarce have kept pace with her, and would have sunk under a third of her fatigue. But Bess was a paragon. We ne’er shall look upon her like again, unless we can prevail upon some Bedouin chief to present us with a brood mare, and then the racing world shall see what a breed we will introduce into this country. Eclipse, Childers, or Hambletonian shall be nothing to our colts, and even the railroad slow travelling compared with the speed of our new nags!
But to return to Bess, or rather to go along with her, for there is no halting now; we are going at the rate of twenty knots and hour — sailing before the wind; and the reader must either keep pace with us, or drop astern. Bess is now in her speed, and Dick happy. Happy! he is enraptured — maddened — furious — intoxicated as with wine. Pshaw! wine could never throw him into such a burning delirium. Its choicest juices have no inspiration like this. Its fumes are slow and heady. This is ethereal, transporting. His blood spins through his veins; winds round his heart; mounts to his brain. Away! away! He is wild with joy. Hall, cot, tree, tower, glade, mead, waste, or woodland are seen, passed, left behind, and vanish as in a dream. Motion is scarcely perceptible — it is impetus! volition! The horse and her rider are driven forward, as it were, by self-accelerated speed. A hamlet is visible in the moonlight. It is scarcely discovered ere the flints sparkle beneath the mare’s hoofs. A moment’s clatter upon the stones, and it is left behind. Again, it is the silent, smiling country. Now they are buried in the darkness of woods; now sweeping along on the wide plain; now clearing the unopened toll bar, now trampling over the hollow-sounding bridge, their shadows momently reflected in the placid mirror of the stream; now scaling the hillside a thought more slowly; now plunging, as the horses of Phœbus into the ocean, down its precipitous sides.
The limits of two shires are already past. They are within the confines of a third. They have entered the merry county of Huntingdon; they have surmounted the gentle hill that slips into Godmanchester. They are by the banks of the rapid Ouse. 143 The bridge is past; and as Turpin rode through the deserted streets of Huntingdon, he heard the eleventh hour given from the iron tongue of St. Mary’s spire. In four hours (it was about seven when he started), Dick had accomplished full sixty miles!
A few reeling topers in the streets saw the horseman flit past, and one or two windows were thrown open; but Peeping Tom of Coventry would have had small chance of beholding the unveiled beauties of Queen Godiva had she ridden at the rate of Dick Turpin. He was gone, like a meteor, almost as soon as he appeared.
Huntingdon is left behind, and he is once more surrounded by dew-gemmed hedges and silent slumbering trees. Broad meadows, or pasture land, with drowsy cattle, or low bleating sheep, lie on either side. But what to Turpin, at that moment, is nature, animate or inanimate? He thinks only of his mare — his future fame. None are by to see him ride; no stimulating plaudits ring in his ears; no thousand hands are clapping; no thousand voices huzzaing; no handkerchiefs are waved; no necks strained; no bright eyes rain influence upon him; no eagle orbs watch his motions; no bells are rung; no cup awaits his achievement; no sweepstakes — no plate. But his will be renown — everlasting renown; his will be fame which will not die with him — which will keep his reputation, albeit a tarnished one, still in the mouths of men. He wants all these adventitious excitements, but he has that within which is a greater excitement than all these. He is conscious that he is doing a deed to live by. If not riding for life, he is riding for immortality; and as the hero may perchance feel (for even a highwayman may feel like a hero) when he willingly throws away his existence in the hope of earning a glorious name, Turpin cared not what might befall himself, so he could proudly signalize himself as the first of his land,
“And witch the world with noble horsemanship!”
What need had he of spectators? The eye of posterity was upon him; he felt the influence of that Argus glance which has made many a poor wight spur on his Pegasus with not half so good a chance of reaching the goal as Dick Turpin. Multitudes, yet unborn, he knew would hear and laud his deeds. He trembled with excitement, and Bess trembled under him. But the emotion was transient — on, on they fly! The torrent leaping from the crag — the bolt from the bow — the air-cleaving eagle — thoughts themselves are scarce more winged in their flight!
The night had hitherto been balmy and beautiful, with a bright array of stars, and a golden harvest moon, which seemed to diffuse even warmth with its radiance; but now Turpin was approaching the region of fog and fen, and he began to feel the influence of that dank atmosphere. The intersecting dikes, yawners, gullies, or whatever they are called, began to send forth their steaming vapors, and chilled the soft and wholesome air, obscuring the void, and in some instances, as it were, choking up the road itself with vapor. But fog or fen was the same to Bess; her hoofs rattled merrily along the road, and she burst from a cloud, like Eöus at the break of dawn.
It chanced, as he issued from a fog of this kind, that Turpin burst upon the York stage-coach. It was no uncommon thing for the coach to be stopped; and so furious was the career of our highwayman, that the man involuntarily drew up his horses. Turpin had also to draw in the rein, a task of no little difficulty, as charging a huge lumbering coach, with its full complement of passengers, was more than even Bess could accomplish. The moon shone brightly on Turpin and his mare. He was unmasked, and his features were distinctly visible. An exclamation was uttered by a gentleman on the box, who it appeared instantly recognized him.
“Pull up — draw your horses across the road!” cried the gentleman; “that’s Dick Turpin, the highwayman. His capture would be worth three hundred pounds to you,” added he, addressing the coachman, “and is of equal importance to me. Stand!” shouted he, presenting a cocked pistol.
This resolution of the gentleman was not apparently agreeable, either to the coachman or the majority of the passengers, the name of Turpin acting like magic upon them. One man jumped off behind, and was with difficulty afterwards recovered, having tumbled into a deep ditch at the roadside. An old gentleman with a cotton nightcap, who had popped out his head to swear at the coachman, drew it suddenly back. A faint scream in a female key issued from within, and there was a considerable hubbub on the roof. Amongst other ominous sounds, the guard was heard to click his long horse-pistols. “Stop the York four-day stage!” said he, forcing his smoky voice through a world of throat-embracing shawl; “the fastest coach in the 145 kingdom: vos ever sich atrocity heard of? I say Joe, keep them ere leaders steady; we shall all be in the ditch. Don’t you see where the hind wheels are? Who — whoop, I say.”
The gentleman on the box now discharged his pistol, and the confusion within was redoubled. The white nightcap was popped out like a rabbit’s head, and as quickly popped back on hearing the highwayman’s voice. Owing to the plunging of the horses, the gentleman had missed his aim.
Prepared for such emergencies as the present, and seldom at any time taken aback, Dick received the fire without flinching. He then lashed the horses out of his course, and rode up, pistol in hand, to the gentleman who had fired.
“Major Mowbray,’ said he, in a stern tone, “I know you. I meant not either to assault you or these gentlemen. Yet you have attempted my life, sir, a second time. But you are now in my power, and by hell! if you do not answer the questions I put to you, nothing earthly shall save you.”
“If you ask aught I may not answer, fire!” said the major; “I will never ask life from such as you.”
“Have you seen aught of Sir Luke Rookwood?” asked Dick.
“The villain you mean is not yet secured,” replied the major, “but we have seen traces of him. ’Tis with the view of procuring more efficient assistance that I ride to town.”
“They have not met then since?” said Dick, carelessly.
“Met! whom do you mean?”
“Your sister and Sir Luke,” said Dick.
“My sister met him!” cried the major, angrily; “think you he dare show himself at Rookwood?”
“Ho! ho!” laughed Dick; “she is at Rookwood, then? A thousand thanks, major. Good night to you, gentlemen.”
“Take that with you, and remember the guard,” cried the fellow, who, unable to take aim from where he sat, had crept along the coach roof, and discharged thence one of his large horse pistols at what he took to be the highwayman’s head, but which, luckily for Dick, was his hat, which he had raised to salute the passengers.
“Remember you?” said Dick, coolly replacing his perforated beaver on his brow; “you may rely upon it, my fine fellow, I’ll not forget you the next time we meet.”
And off he went like the breath of the whirlwind.
We will now make inquiries after Mr. Coates, and his party, of whom both we and Dick Turpin have for some time lost sight. With unabated ardor the vindictive man of law and his myrmidons pressed forward. A tacit compact seemed to have been entered into between the highwayman and his pursuers, that he was to fly while they were to follow. Like bloodhounds, they kept steadily upon his trail; nor were they so far behind as Dick imagined. At each posthouse they passed they obtained fresh horses, and, while these were saddled, a postboy was dispatched en courier to order relays at the next station. In this manner they proceeded after the first stoppage without interruption. Horses were in waiting for them, as they, “bloody with spurring, fiery hot with haste,” and their jaded hacks arrived. Turpin had been heard or seen in all quarters. Turnpike men, wagoners, carters, trampers, all had seen him. Besides, strange as it may sound, they placed some faith in his word. York they believed would be his destination.
At length the coach which Dick had encountered hove in sight. There was another stoppage and another hubbub. The old gentleman’s nightcap was again manifested, and suffered a sudden occultation, as upon the former occasion. The postboy, who was in advance, had halted, and given up his horse to Major Mowbray, who exchanged his seat on the box for one on the saddle, deeming it more expedient, after his interview with Turpin, to return to Rookwood, rather than to proceed to town. The postboy was placed behind Coates, as being the lightest weight; and, thus reënforced, the party pushed forward as rapidly as heretofore.
Eighty and odd miles had now been traversed — the boundary of another county, Northampton passed; yet no rest nor respite had Dick Turpin or his unflinching mare enjoyed. But here he deemed it fitting to make a brief halt.
Bordering the beautiful domains of Burleigh House, stood a little retired hostelry of some antiquity, which bore the great Lord Treasurer’s arms. With this house Dick was not altogether unacquainted. The lad who acted as hostler was known to him. It was now midnight, but a bright and beaming night. To the door of the stable then did he ride, and knocked in 147 a peculiar manner. Reconnoitering Dick through a broken pane of glass in the lintel, and apparently satisfied with his scrutiny, the lad thrust forth a head of hair as full of straw as Mad Tom’s is represented upon the stage. A chuckle of welcome followed his sleepy salutation. “Glad to see you, Captain Turpin,” said he; “can I do anything for you?”
“Get me a couple of bottles of brandy and a beefsteak,” said Dick.
“As to the brandy, you can have that in a jiffy; but the steak, Lord love ye, the old ’ooman won’t stand it at this time; but there’s a cold round, — mayhap a slice of them might do, or a knuckle of ham?”
“D——n your knuckles, Ralph,” cried Dick; “have you any raw meat in the house?”
“Raw meat?” echoed Ralph, in surprise. “Oh, yes, there’s a rare rump of beef. You can have a cut off that, if you like.”
“That’s the thing I want,” said Dick, ungirthing his mare. “Give me the scraper. There, I can get a wisp of straw from your head. Now run and get the brandy. Better bring three bottles. Uncork ’em, and let me have half a pail of water to mix with the spirit.”
“A pailful of brandy and water to wash down a raw steak! My eyes!” exclaimed Ralph, opening wide his sleepy peepers, adding, as he went about the execution of his task, “I always thought them Rum-padders, as they call themselves, rum fellows, but now I’m sartin on it.”
The most sedulous groom could not have bestowed more attention upon the horse of his heart than Dick Turpin now paid to his mare. He scraped, chafed, and dried her, sounded each muscle, traced each sinew, pulled her ears, examined the state of her feet, and, ascertaining that her “withers were unwrung,” finally washed her from head to foot in the diluted spirit, not, however, before he had conveyed a thimbleful of the liquid to his own parched throat, and replenished what Falstaff calls a “pocket pistol,” which he had about him. While Ralph was engaged in rubbing her down after her bath, Dick occupied himself, not in dressing the raw steak in the manner the stableboy had anticipated, but in rolling it round the bit of his bridle.
“She will go as long as there’s breath in her body,” said he, putting the flesh covered iron within her mouth.
The saddle being once more replaced, after champing a 148 moment or two at the bit, Bess began to snort and paw the earth, as if impatient of the delay; and, acquainted as he was with her indomitable spirit and power, her condition was a surprise even to Dick himself. Her vigor seemed inexhaustible, her vivacity was not a whit diminished, but, as she was led into the open space, her step became as light and free as when she started on her ride, and her sense of sound as quick as ever. Suddenly she pricked her ears, and uttered a low neigh. A dull tramp was audible.
“Ha!” exclaimed Dick, springing into his saddle, “they come.”
“Who come, captain?” asked Ralph.
“The road takes a turn here, don’t it?” asked Dick — “sweeps round to the right by the plantations in the hollow?”
“Ay, ay, captain,” answered Ralph; “it’s plain you knows the ground.”
What lies behind yon shed?”
“A stiff fence, captain — a reg’lar rasper. Beyond that a hillside steep as a house: no oss as ever shoed can go down it.”
“Indeed!” laughed Dick.
A loud halloo from Major Mowbray, who seemed advancing upon the wings of the wind, told Dick that he was discovered. The major was a superb horseman, and took the lead of his party. Striking his spurs deeply into his horse, and giving him bridle enough, the major seemed to shoot forward like a shell through the air. The Burleigh Arms retired some hundred yards from the road, the space in front being occupied by a neat garden with low clipped hedges. No tall timber intervened between Dick and his pursuers, so that the motions of both parties were visible to each other. Dick saw in an instant that if he now started he should come into collision with the major exactly at the angle of the road, and he was by no means desirous of hazarding such a rencontre. He looked wistfully back at the double fence.
“Come into the stable. Quick, captain, quick!” exclaimed Ralph.
“The stable?” echoed Dick, hesitating.
“Ay, the stable; it’s your only chance. Don’t you see he’s turned the corner, and they are all coming. Quick, sir, quick!”149
Dick, lowering his head, rode into the tenement, the door of which was most unceremoniously slapped in the major’s face, and bolted on the other side.
“Villain!” cried Major Mowbray, thundering at the door, “come forth. You are now fairly trapped at last — caught like the woodcock, in your own springs. We have you. Open the door, I say, and save us the trouble of forcing it. You cannot escape us. We will burn the building down but we will have you.”
“What do you want, measter?” cried Ralph, from the lintel, whence he reconnoitered the major, and kept the door fast. “You’re clean mistaken. There be no one here.”
“We’ll soon see that,” said Paterson, who had now arrived; and leaping from his horse, the chief constable took a short run, to give himself impetus, and with his foot burst down the door. This being accomplished, in dashed the major and Paterson, but the stable was vacant. A door was open at the back; they rushed to it. The sharply sloping sides of a hill slipped abruptly downwards, within a yard of the door. It was a perilous descent to the horseman, yet the print of a horse’s heels was visible in the dislodged turf and scattered soil.
“Confusion!” cried the major, “he has escaped us.”
“He is yonder,” said Paterson, pointing out Turpin moving swiftly through the steaming meadow. “See, he makes again for the road — he clears the fence. A regular throw he has given us, by the Lord!”
“Nobly done, by Heaven!” cried the major. “With all his faults, I honor the fellow’s courage, and admire his prowess. He’s already ridden to-night as I believe never man rode before. I would not have ventured to slide down that wall, for it’s nothing else, with the enemy at my heels. What say you, gentlemen, have you had enough? Shall we let him go, or ——”
“As far as chase goes, I don’t care if we bring the matter to a conclusion,” said Titus. “I don’t think, as it is, that I shall have a sate to sit on this week to come. I’ve lost leather most confoundedly.”
“What says Mr. Coates?” asked Paterson. “I look to him.”
“Then mount and off,” cried Coates. “Public duty requires that we should take him.”150
“And private pique,” returned the major. “No matter! The end is the same. Justice shall be satisfied. To your steeds, my merry men all. Hark, and away.”
Once more upon the move, Titus forgot his distress, and addressed himself to the attorney, by whose side he rode.
“What place is that we’re coming to?” asked he, pointing to a cluster of moonlit spires belonging to a town they were rapidly approaching.
“Stamford,” replied Coates.
“Stamford!” exclaimed Titus; “by the powers! then we’ve ridden a matter of ninety miles. Why, the great deeds of Redmond O’Hanlon were nothing to this! I’ll remember it to my dying day, and with reason,” added he, uneasily, shifting his position on the saddle.
Dick Turpin, meanwhile, held bravely to his course. Bess was neither strained by her gliding passage down the slippery hillside, nor shaken by larking the fence in the meadow. As Dick said, “It took a devilish deal to take it out of her.” On regaining the highroad she resumed her old pace, and once more they were distancing Time’s swift chariot in its whirling passage o’er the earth. Stamford, and the tongue of Lincoln’s fenny shire, upon which it is situated, are passed almost in a breath. Rutland is won and passed, and Lincolnshire once more entered. The road now verged within a bowshot of that sporting Athens (Corinth, perhaps, we should say), Melton Mowbray. Melton was then unknown to fame, but, as if inspired by that furor venaticus which now inspires all who come within twenty miles of this Charybdis of the chase, Bess here let out in a style with which it would have puzzled the best Leicestershire squire’s best prad to have kept pace. The spirit she imbibed through the pores of her skin, and the juices of the meat she had champed, seemed to have communicated preternatural excitement to her. Her pace was absolutely terrific. Her eyeballs were dilated, and glowed like flaming carbuncles; while her widely distended nostrils seemed, in the cold moonshine, to snort forth smoke, as from a hidden fire. Fain would Turpin have controlled her; but, without bringing into play all his tremendous nerve, no check could be given her headlong course, and for once, and the only time in her submissive career, 151 Bess resolved to have her own way — and she had it. Like a sensible fellow, Dick conceded the point. There was something even of conjugal philosophy in his self-communion upon the occasion. “E’en let her take her own way, and be hanged to her, for an obstinate, sell-willed jade as she is,” said he, “now her back is up there’ll be no stopping her, I’m sure: she rattles away like a woman’s tongue, and when that once begins, we all know what chance the curb has. Best to let her have it out, or rather to lend her a lift. ’Twill be over the sooner. Tantivy, lass! tantivy! I know which of us will tire first.”
We have before said that the vehement excitement of continued swift riding produces a paroxysm in the sensorium amounting to delirium. Dick’s blood was again on fire. He was first giddy, as after a deep draught of kindling spirit; this passed off, but the spirit was still in his veins — the estro was working in his brain. All his ardor, his eagerness, his fury, returned. He rode like one insane, and his course partook of his frenzy. She bounded; she leaped; she tore up the ground beneath her; while Dick gave vent to his exultation in one wild, prolonged halloo. More than half his race is run. He has triumphed over every difficulty. He will have no further occasion to halt. Bess carries her forage along with her. The course is straightforward — success seems certain — the goal already reached — the path of glory won. Another wild halloo, to which the echoing woods reply, and away!
Away! away! thou matchless steed! yet brace fast thy sinews — hold, hold, thy breath, for, alas, the goal is not yet attained!
As the eddying currents sweep over its plains in howling bleak December, the horse and her rider passed over what remained of Lincolnshire. Grantham is gone, and they are now more slowly looking up the ascent of Gonerby Hill, a path well known to Turpin; where often, in bygone nights, many a purse had changed its owner. With that feeling of independence and exhilaration which every one feels, we believe, on having 152 climbed the hillside, Turpin turned to gaze around. There was triumph in his eye. But the triumph was checked as his glance fell upon a gibbet near him to the right, on the round point of hill which is a landmark to the wide vale of Belvoir. Pressed as he was for time, Dick immediately struck out of the road and approached the spot where it stood. Two scarecrow objects, covered with rags and rusty links of chains, depended from the tree. A night crow screaming around the carcasses added to the hideous effect of the scene. Nothing but the living highwayman and his skeleton brethren were visible upon the solitary spot. Around him was the lonesome waste of hill, o’erlooking the moonlit valley: beneath his feet, a patch of bare and lightning-blasted sod; above, the wan declining moon and skies, flaked with ghostly clouds: before him, the bleached bodies of the murderers, for such they were.
“Will this be my lot, I marvel?” said Dick, looking upwards, with an involuntary shudder.
“Ay, marry will it,” rejoined a crouching figure, suddenly springing from beside a tuft of briers that skirted the blasted ground.
Dick started in his saddle, while Bess reared and plunged at the sight of this unexpected apparition.
“What ho! thou devil’s dam, Barbara, is it thou?” exclaimed Dick, reassured upon discovering it was the gypsy queen, and no specter whom he beheld. “Stand still, Bess — stand, lass. What dost thou here, mother of darkness? Art gathering mandrakes for thy poisonous messes, or pilfering flesh from the dead? Meddle not with their bones, or I will drive thee hence. What dost thou here, I say, old dam of the gibbet?”
“I came to die here,” replied Barbara, in a feeble tone; and, throwing back her hood, she displayed features well-nigh as ghastly as those of the skeletons above her.
“Indeed,” replied Dick. “You’ve made choice of a pleasant spot, it must be owned. But you’ll not die yet.”
“Do you know whose bodies these are?” asked Barbara, pointing upwards.
“Two of your race,” replied Dick; “right brethren of the blade.”
“Two of my sons,” returned Barbara; “my twin children. I cam come to lay my bones beneath their bones: my sepulcher shall be their sepulcher; my body shall feed the fowls of the 153 air as theirs have fed them. And if ghosts can walk, we’ll scour this heath together. I tell you what, Dick Turpin,” said the hag, drawing as near to the highwayman as Bess would permit her; “dead men walk and ride — ay, ride! — there’s a comfort for you. I’ve seen these do it. I have seen them fling off their chains, and dance — ay, dance with me — with their mother. No revels like dead men’s revels, Dick. I shall soon join ’em.”
“You will not lay violent hands upon yourself, mother?” said Dick, with difficulty mastering his terror.
“No,” replied Barbara, in an altered tone. “But I will let nature do her task. Would she could do it more quickly. Such a life as mine won’t go out without a long struggle. What have I to live for now? All are gone — she and her child! But what is this to you? You have no child; and if you had, you could not feel like a father. No matter. I rave. Listen to me. I have crawled hither to die. ’T is five days since I beheld you, and during that time food has not passed these lips, nor aught of moisture, save Heaven’s dew, cooled this parched throat, nor shall they to the last. That time cannot be far off; and now can you not guess how I mean to die? Begone, and leave me, your presence troubles me. I would breathe my last breath alone, with none to witness the parting pang.”
“I will not trouble you longer, mother,” said Dick, turning his mare; “nor will I ask your blessing.”
“My blessing!” scornfully ejaculated Barbara. “You shall have it if you will, but you will find it a curse. Stay! a thought strikes me. Whither are you going?”
“To seek Sir Luke Rookwood,” replied Dick; “know you aught of him?”
“Sir Luke Rookwood! You seek him, and would find him?” screamed Barbara.
“I would,” said Dick.
“And you will find him,” said Barbara; “and that erelong. I shall ne’er again behold him. Would I could. I have a message for him — one of life and death. Will you convey it to him?”
“I will,” said the highwayman.
“Swear by those bones to do so,” cried Barbara, pointing with her skinny fingers to the gibbet; “that you will do my bidding.”154
“I swear,” cried Dick.
“Fail not, or we will haunt thee to thy life’s end,” cried Barbara; adding, as she handed a sealed package to the highwayman, “Give this to Sir Luke — to him alone. I would have sent it to him by other hands ere this, but my people have deserted me — have pillaged my stores — have rifled me of all, save this. Give this, I say, to Sir Luke, with your own hands. You have sworn it, and will obey. Give it to him, and bid him think of Sibyl as he opens it. But this must not be till Eleanor is in his power; and she must be present when the seal is broken. It relates to both. Dare not to tamper with it, or my curse shall pursue you. That packet is guarded with a triple spell, which to you were fatal. Obey me, and my dying breath shall bless thee.”
“Never fear,” said Dick, taking the packet; “I’ll not disappoint you, mother, depend upon it.”
“Hence!” cried the crone; and as she watched Dick’s figure lessening upon the waste, and at length beheld him finally disappear down the hillside, she sank to the ground, her frail strength being entirely exhausted. “Body and soul may now part in peace,” gasped she. “All I live for is accomplished.” And ere one hour had elapsed, the night crow was perched upon her still breathing frame.
Long pondering upon this singular interview, Dick pursued his way. At length he thought fit to examine the packet with which the old gypsy had intrusted him.
“It feels like a casket,” thought he. “It can’t be gold. But then it may be jewels, though they don’t rattle, and it ain’t quite heavy enough. What can it be? I should like to know. There is some mystery, that’s certain, about it; but I will not break the seal, not I. As to her spell, that I don’t value a rush; but I’ve sworn to give it to Sir Luke, and deliver her message, and I’ll keep my word if I can. He shall have it.” Saying which he replaced it in his pocket.
Time presses. We may not linger in our course. We must fly on before our flying highwayman. Full forty miles shall we pass over in a breath. Two more hours have elapsed, and he still urges his headlong career, with heart resolute as ever, and purpose yet unchanged. Fair Newark and the dashing 155 Trent, “most loved of England’s streams,” are gathered to his laurels. Broad Notts, and its heavy paths and sweeping glades; its waste (forest no more) of Sherwood past; bold Robin Hood and his merry men, his Marian and his moonlight rides, recalled, forgotten, left behind. Hurrah! hurrah! That wild halloo, that wavering arm, that enlivening shout — what means it? He is once more upon Yorkshire ground; his horse’s hoof beats once more the soil of that noble shire. So transported was Dick that he could almost have flung himself from the saddle to kiss the dust beneath his feet. Thrice fifty miles has he run, nor has the morn yet dawned upon his labors. Hurrah! the end draws nigh; the goal is in view. Halloo! halloo! on!
Bawtrey is past. He takes the lower road by Thorne and Selby. He is skirting the waters of the deep-channeled Don.
Bess now began to manifest some slight symptoms of distress. There was a strain in the carriage of her throat, a dullness in her eyes, a laxity in her ear, and a slight stagger in her gait, which Turpin noticed with apprehension. Still she went on, though not at the same gallant pace as heretofore. But, as the tired bird still battles with the blast upon the ocean, as the swimmer still stems the stream, though spent, on went she; nor did Turpin dare to check her, fearing that, if she stopped, she might lose her force, or, if she fell, she would rise no more.
It was now that gray and grimly hour ere one flicker of orange or rose has gemmed the east, and when unwearying nature herself seems to snatch brief repose. In the roar of restless cities, this is the only time when the strife is hushed. Midnight is awake — alive; the streets ring with laughter and with rattling wheels. At the third hour, a dead, deep silence prevails; the loud-voiced streets grow dumb. They are deserted of all, save the few guardians of the night and the skulking robber. But even far removed from the haunts of men and hum of towns it is the same. “Nature’s best nurse” seems to weigh nature down, and stillness reigns throughout. Our feelings are in a great measure, influenced by the hour. Exposed to the raw, crude atmosphere, which has neither the nipping, wholesome shrewdness of morn, nor the profound chillness of night, the frame vainly struggles against the dull, miserable sensations engendered by the damps, and at once communicates them to the spirits. Hope forsakes us. We are weary, exhausted. Our energy is dispirited. Sleep does “not 156 weigh our eyelids down.” We stare upon the vacancy. We conjure up a thousand restless, disheartening images. We abandon projects we have formed, and which, viewed through this medium, appear fantastical, chimerical, absurd. We want rest, refreshment, energy.
We will not say that Turpin had all these misgivings. But he had to struggle hard with himself to set sleep and exhaustion at defiance.
The moon had set. The stars,
Pinnacled deep in the intense inane,
had all — save one, the herald of dawn — withdrawn their luster. A dull mist lay on the stream, and the air became piercing cold. Turpin’s chilled fingers could scarcely grasp the slackening rein, while his eyes, irritated by the keen atmosphere, hardly enabled him to distinguish surrounding objects, or even to guide his steed. It was owing, probably, to this latter circumstance, that Bess floundered and fell, throwing her master over her head.
Turpin instantly recovered himself. His first thought was for his horse. But Bess was instantly upon her legs — covered with dust and foam, sides and cheeks — and with her large eyes glaring wildly, almost piteously, upon her master.
“Art hurt, lass?” asked Dick, as she shook herself, and slightly shivered. And he proceeded to the horseman’s scrutiny. “Nothing but a shake; though that dull eye — those quivering flanks ——” added he, looking earnestly at her. “She won’t go much further, and I must give it up — what! give up the race just when it’s won? No, that can’t be. Ha! well thought on. I’ve a bottle of a liquid given me by an old fellow, who was a knowing cove and famous jockey in his day, which he swore would make a horse go as long as he’d a leg to carry him, and bade me keep it for some great occasion. I’ve never used it: but I’ll try it now. It should be in this pocket. Ah! Bess, wench, I fear I’m using thee, after all, as Sir Luke did his mistress, that I thought so like thee. No matter! It will be a glorious end.”
Raising her head upon his shoulder, Dick poured the contents of the bottle down the throat of his mare. Nor had he to wait long before its invigorating effects were instantaneous. The fire was kindled in the glassy orb; her crest was once more erected; her flank ceased to quiver; and she neighed loud and joyously.157
“Egad, the old fellow was right,”’ cried Dick. “The drink has worked wonders. What the devil could it have been? It smells like spirit,” added he, examining the bottle. “I wish I’d left a taste fro myself. But here’s that will do as well.” And he drained his flask of the last drop of brandy.
Dick’s limbs were now become so excessively stiff that it was with difficulty he could remount his horse. But this necessary preliminary being achieved by the help of a stile, he found no difficulty in resuming his accustomed position upon the saddle. We know not whether there was any likeness between our Turpin and that modern Hercules of the sporting world, Mr. Osbaldeston. Far be it from us to institute any comparison, though we cannot help thinking that, in one particular, he resembled that famous “copper-bottomed” squire. This we will leave to our reader’s discrimination. Dick bore his fatigues wonderfully. He suffered somewhat of that martyrdom which, according to Tom Moore, occurs “to weavers and M. P.’s from sitting too long;” but again on his courser’s back, he cared not for anything.
Once more, at a gallant pace he traversed the banks of the Don, skirting the fields of flax that bound its sides, and hurried far more swiftly than its current to its confluence with the Aire.
Snaith was past. He was on the road to Selby when dawn first began to break. Here and there a twitter was heard in the hedge; a hare ran across his path, gray-looking as the morning’s self; and the mists began to rise from the earth. A bar of gold was drawn against the east, like the roof of a gorgeous palace. But the mists were heavy in this world of rivers, and their tributary streams. The Ouse was before him, the Trent and Aire behind; the Don and Derwent on either hand, all in their way to commingle their currents ere they formed the giant Humber. Amid a region so prodigal of water, no wonder the dews fell thick as rain. Here and there the ground was clear; but then again came a volley of vapor, dim and palpable as smoke.
While involved in one of these fogs, Turpin became aware of another horseman by his side. It was impossible to discern the features of the rider, but his figure in the mist seemed gigantic; neither was the color of his steed distinguishable. Nothing was visible except the meager-looking phantomlike outline of a horse and his rider, and, as the unknown rode upon the turf that edged the way, even the sound of his horse’s hoofs was scarce audible. Turpin gazed, not without superstitious awe. 158 Once or twice he essayed to address the strange horseman, but his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. He fancied he discovered in the mist-exaggerated lineaments of the stranger a wild and fantastic resemblance to his friend Tom King. “It must be Tom,” thought Turpin; “he is come to warn me of my approaching end. I will speak to him.”
But terror o’ermastered his speech. He could not force out a word, and thus side by side they rode in silence. Quaking with fears he would scarcely acknowledge to himself, Dick watched every motion of his companion. He was still, stern, specterlike, erect; and looked for all the world like a demon on his phantom steed. His courser seemed, in the indistinct outline, to be huge and boy, and, as he snorted furiously in the fog, Dick’s heated imagination supplied his breath with a due proportion of flame. Not a word was spoken — not a sound heard, save the sullen dead beat of his hoof upon the grass. It was intolerable to ride thus cheek by jowl with a goblin. Dick could stand it no longer. He put spurs to his horse, and endeavored to escape. But it might not be. The stranger, apparently without effort, was still by his side, and Bess’ feet, in her master’s apprehensions, were nailed to the ground. By and by, however, the atmosphere became clearer. Bright quivering beams burst through the vaporous shroud, and then it was that Dick discovered that the apparition of Tom King was no other than Luke Rookwood. He was mounted on his old horse, Rook, and looked grim and haggard as a ghost vanishing at the crowing of the cock.
“Sir Luke Rookwood, by this light!” exclaimed Dick, in astonishment. “Why, I took you for ——”
“The devil, no doubt,” returned Luke, smiling sternly, “and were sorry to find yourself so hard pressed. Don’t disquiet yourself; I am still flesh and blood.”
“Had I taken you for one of mortal mold,” said Dick, “you should have soon seen where I’d have put you in the race. That confounded fog deceived me, and Bess acted the fool as well as myself. However, now I know you, Sir Luke, you must spur alongside, for the hawks are on the wing; and though I’ve much to say, I’ve not a second to lose.” And Dick briefly detailed the particulars of his ride, concluding with his recontre with Barbara. “Here’s the packet,” said he, “just as I got it. You must keep it till the proper moment. And here,” added he, fumbling in his pocket for another paper, 159 “is the marriage document. You are now your father’s lawful son, let who will say you nay. Take it and welcome. If you are ever master of Miss Mowbray’s hand, you will not forget Dick Turpin.”
“I will not,” said Luke, eagerly grasping the certificate, “but she never may be mine.”
“You have her oath?”
“What more is needed?”
“That will follow.”
“It shall follow,” replied Sir Luke, wildly. “You are right. She is my affianced bride — affianced before hell, if not before heaven. I have sealed the contract with blood — with Sibyl’s blood — and it shall be fulfilled. I have her oath — her oath — ha, ha! Though I perish in the attempt, I will wrest her from Ranulph’s grasp. She shall never be his. I would stab her first. Twice have I failed in my endeavors to bear her off. I am from Rockwood even now. To-morrow night I shall renew the attack. Will you assist me?”
“To-morrow night!” interrupted Dick.
“Nay, I should say to-night. A new day has already dawned,” replied Luke.
“I will; she is at Rookwood?”
“She languishes there at present, attended by her mother and her lover. The hall is watched and guarded. Ranulph is ever on the alert. But we will storm their garrison. I have a spy within its walls — a gypsy girl, faithful to my interests. From here I have learnt that there is a plot to wed Eleanor to Ranulph, and that the marriage is to take place privately to-morrow. This must be prevented.”
“It must. But why not boldly appear in person at the hall and claim her?”
“Why not? I am a proscribed felon. A price is set upon my head. I am hunted through the country — driven to concealment, and dare not show myself for fear of capture. What could I do now? They would load me with fetters, bury me in a dungeon, and wed Eleanor to Ranulph. What would my rights avail? What would her oath signify to them? No; she must be mine by fore. His she shall never be. Again, I ask you, will you aid me?”
“I have said — I will. Where is Alan Rookwood?”16
“Concealed within the hut on Thorne Waste. You know it — it was one of your haunts.”
“I know it well,” said Dick, “and Conkey Jem, its keeper, into the bargain: he is a knowing file. I’ll join you at the hut at midnight, if all goes well. We’ll bring off the wench, in spite of them all — just the thing I like. But in case of a breakdown on my part, suppose you take charge of my purse in the meantime.”
Luke would have declined this offer.
“Pshaw!” said Dick. “Who knows what may happen? and it’s not ill lined, either. You’ll find an odd hundred or so in that silken bag — it’s not often your highwayman gives away a purse. Take it, man — we’ll settle all to-night; and if I don’t come, keep it — it will help you to your bride. And now off with you to the hut, for you are only hindering me. Adieu! My love to old Alan. We’ll do the trick to-night. Away with you to the hut. Keep yourself snug there till midnight, and we’ll ride over to Rookwood.”
“At midnight,” replied Sir Luke, wheeling off, “I shall expect you.”
“’Ware hawks!” hallooed Dick.
But Luke had vanished. In another instant Dick was scouring the plain as rapidly as ever. In the mean time, as Dick has casually alluded to the hawks, it may not be amiss to inquire how they had flown throughout the night, and whether they were still in chase of their quarry.
With the exception of Titus, who was completely done up at Grantham, “having got,” as he said, “a complete bellyful of it,” they were still on the wing, and resolved sooner or later to pounce upon their prey, pursuing the same system as heretofore in regard to the post horses. Major Mowbray and Paterson took the lead, but the irascible and invincible attorney was not far in their rear, his wrath having been by no means allayed by the fatigue he had undergone. At Bawtrey they held a council of war for a few minutes, being doubtful which course he had taken. Their incertitude was relieved by a foot traveler, who had heard Dick’s loud halloo on passing the boundary of Nottinghamshire, and had seen him take the lower road. They struck, therefore, into the path to Thorne, at a hazard, and were soon satisfied they were right. Furiously did they now spur on. They reached Selby, changed horses at the inn in front of the venerable cathedral church, and learned 161 from the postboy that a toil-worn horseman, on a jaded steed, had ridden through the town about five minutes before them, and could not be more than a quarter of a mile in advance. “His horse was so dead beat,” said the lad, “that I’m sure he cannot have got far; and, if you look sharp, I’ll be bound you’ll overtake him before he reaches Cawood Ferry.”
Mr. Coates was transported. “We’ll lodge him snug in York Castle before an hour, Paterson,” cried he, rubbing his hands.
“I hope so, sir,” said the chief constable, “but I begin to have some qualms.”
“Now, gentleman,” shouted the postboy, “come along. I’ll soon bring you to him.”
The sun had just o’ertopped the “high eastern hill,” as Turpin reached the Ferry of Cawood, and his beams were reflected upon the deep and sluggish waters of the Ouse. Wearily had he dragged his course thither — wearily and slow. The powers of his gallant steed were spent, and he could scarcely keep her from sinking. It was now midway ’twixt the hours of five and six. Nine miles only lay before him, and that thought again revived him. He reached the water’s edge, and hailed the ferryboat, which was then on the other side of the river. At that instant a loud shout smote his ear; it was the halloo of his pursuers. Despair was in his look. He shouted to the boatman, and bade him pull fast. The man obeyed; but he had to breast a strong stream, and had a lazy bark and heavy sculls to contend with. He had scarcely left the shore, when another shout was raised from the pursuers.
The tramp of their steeds grew louder and louder.
The boat had scarcely reached the middle of the stream. His captors were at hand. Quietly did he walk down the bank, and as cautiously enter the water. There was a plunge, and steed and rider were swimming down the river.
Major Mowbray was at the brink of the stream. He hesitated an instant, and stemmed the tide. Seized, as it were, by a mania for equestrian distinction, Mr. Coates braved the torrent. Not so Paterson. He very coolly took out his bulldogs, and, watching Turpin, cast up in his own mind the pros and cons of shooting him as he was crossing. “I could certainly 162 hit him,” thought, or said, the constable; “but what of that? A dead highwayman is worth nothing — alive; he weighs 300l. I won’t shoot him, but I’ll make a pretense.” And he fired accordingly.
The shot skimmed over the water, but did not, as it was intended, do much mischief. It, however, occasioned a mishap, which had nearly proved fatal to our aquatic attorney. Alarmed at the report of the pistol, in the nervous agitation of the moment Coates drew in his rein so tightly that his steed instantly sank. A moment or two afterwards he rose, shaking his ears, and floundering heavily towards the shore; and such was the chilling effect of this sudden immersion, that Mr. Coates now thought much more of saving himself than of capturing Turpin. Dick, meanwhile, had reached the opposite bank, and, refreshed by her bath, Bess scrambled up the sides of the stream, and speedily regained the road. “I shall do it yet,” shouted Dick; “that stream has saved her. Hark away, lass! Hark away!”
Bess heard the cheering cry, and she answered to the call. She roused all her energies; strained every sinew; and put forth all her remaining strength. Once more, on wings of swiftness, she bore him away from his pursuers, and Major Mowbray, who had now gained the shore, and made certain of securing him, beheld him spring, like a wounded hare, from beneath his very hand.
“It cannot hold out,” said the major; “it is but an expiring flash; that gallant steed must soon drop.”
“She be regularly booked, that’s certain,” said the postboy. “We shall find her on the road.”
Contrary to all expectations, however, Bess held on, and set pursuit at defiance. Her pace was swift as when she started. But it was unconscious and mechanical action. It wanted the ease, the lightness, the life, of her former riding. She seemed screwed up to a task which she must execute. There was no flogging, no gory heel; but the heart was throbbing, tugging at the sides within. Her spirit spurred her onwards. Her eye was glazing; her chest heaving; her flank quivering; her crest fallen again. Yet she held on. “She is dying, by God!” said Dick. “I feel it ——” No, she held on.
Fulford is past. The towers and pinnacles of York burst upon him in all the freshness, the beauty, and the glory of a bright, clear, autumnal morn. The ancient city seemed to 163 smile a welcome — a greeting. The noble Minster and its serene and massive pinnacles, crocketed, lantern-like, and beautiful; Saint Mary’s lofty spire, All-Hallows Tower, the massive moldering walls of the adjacent postern, the grim castle, and Clifford’s neighboring keep — all beamed upon him, “like a bright-eyed face, that laughs out openly.”
“It is done — it is won,” cried Dick. “Hurrah, hurrah!” And the sunny air was cleft with his shouts.
Bess was not insensible to her master’s exultation. She neighed feebly in answer to his call, and reeled forwards, It was a piteous sight to see her, — to mark her staring, protruding eyeball, — her shaking flanks; but, while life and limb held her together, she held on.
Another mile is past. York is near.
“Hurrah!” shouted Dick; but his voice was hushed. Bess tottered — fell. There was a dreadful gasp — a parting moan — a snort; her eyes gazed, for an instant, upon her master, with a dying glare; then grew glassy, rayless, fixed. A shiver ran through her frame. Her heart had burst.
Dick’s eyes were blinded as with rain. His triumph, though achieved, was forgotten — his own safety was disregarded. He stood weeping, and swearing, like one beside himself.
“And art thou gone, Bess!” cried he, in a voice of agony, lifting up his courser’s head, and kissing her lips, covered with blood-flecked foam. “Gone, gone! and I have killed the best steed that was ever crossed! And for what?” added Dick, beating his brow with his clenched hand — “for what? for what?”
At that morning the deep bell of the Minster clock tolled out the hour of six.
“I am answered,” gasped Dick; “it was to hear those strokes!”
Turpin was roused from the state of stupefaction into which he had fallen by a smart slap on the shoulder. Recalled to himself by the blow, he started at once to his feet, while his hands sought his pistols; but he was spared the necessity of using them, by discovering in the intruder the bearded visage of the gypsy Balthazar. The patrico was habited in mendicant weeds, and sustained a large wallet upon his shoulders.
“So it’s all over with the best mare in England, I see,” said Balthazar; “I can guess how it has happened — you are pursued!”164
“I am,” said Dick, roughly.
“Your pursuers are at hand?”
“Within a few hundred yards.”
“Then why stay here? Fly while you can.”
“Never — never,” cried Turpin; I’ll fight it out her by Bess’ side. Poor lass! I’ve killed her — but she has done it — ha! ha! we have won — what!” And his utterance was again choked.
“Hark! I hear the tramp of horses, and shouts,” cried the patrico. “Take this wallet. You will find a change of dress within it. Dart into that thick copse — save yourself.”
“But Bess — I cannot leave her,” exclaimed Dick, with an agonizing look at his horse.
“And what did Bess die for, but to save you?” rejoined the patrico.
“True, true,” said Dick; “but take care of her. Don’t let those dogs of hell meddle with her carcass.”
“Away,” cried the patrico; “leave Bess to me.”
Possessing himself of the wallet, Dick disappeared in the adjoining copse.
He had not been gone many seconds when Major Mowbray rode up.
“Who is this?” exclaimed the major, flinging himself from his horse, seizing the patrico; “this is not Turpin.”
“Certainly not,” replied Balthazar, coolly. “I am not exactly the figure of a highwayman.”
“Where is he? what has become of him?” asked Coates, in despair, as he and Paterson joined the major.
“Escaped, I fear,” replied the major. “Have you seen any one, fellow?” added he, addressing the patrico.
“I have seen no one,” replied Balthazar. “I am only this instant arrived. This dead horse lying in the road attracted my attention.”
“Ha!” exclaimed Paterson, leaping from his steed; “this may be Turpin after all. He has as many disguises as the devil himself, and may have carried goat’s hair in his pocket.” Saying which, he seized the patrico by the beard, and shook it with as little reverence as the Gaul handled the hirsute chin of the Roman senator.
“The devil! hands off!” roared Balthazar. “By Salmon, I won’t stand such usage. Do you think a beard like mine is the growth of a few minutes? Hands off, I say!”165
“Regularly done!” said Paterson, removing his hold of the patrico’s chin, and looking as blank as a cartridge.
“Ay,” exclaimed Coates; “all owing to this worthless piece of carrion. If it were not that I hope to see him dangling from those walls” (pointing towards the castle), “I should wish her master were by her side now. To the dogs with her.” And he was about to spurn the breathless carcass of poor Bess, when a sudden blow, dealt by the patrico’s staff, felled him to the ground.
“I’ll teach you to molest me,” said Balthazar, about to attack Paterson.
“Come, come,” said the discomfited constable, “no more of this. It’s plain we’re in the wrong box. Every bone in my body aches sufficiently without the aid of your cudgel, old fellow. Come, Mr. Coats, take my arm, and let’s be moving. We’ve had an infernal long ride for nothing.”
“Not so,” replied Coates; “I’ve paid pretty dearly for it. However, let us see if we can get any breakfast at the Bowling Green, yonder; though I’ve already had my morning draught,” added the facetious man of law, looking at his dripping apparel.
“Poor Black Bess!” said Major Mowbray, wistfully regarding the body of the mare, as it lay stretched at his feet. “Thou deservedst a better fate and a better master. In thee Dick Turpin has lost his best friend. His exploits will, henceforth, want the coloring of romance, which thy unfailing energies threw over them. Light lie the ground over thee, thou matchless mare!”
To the Bowling Green the party proceeded, leaving the patrico in undisturbed possession of the lifeless body of Black Bess. Major Mowbray ordered a substantial repast to be prepared with all possible expedition.
A countryman in a smock frock was busily engaged at his morning’s meal.
“To see that fellow bolt down his breakfast, one would think he had fasted for a month,” said Coates; “see the wholesome effects of an honest, industrious life, Paterson. I envy him his appetite — I should fall to with more zest were Dick Turpin in his place.”
The countryman looked up. He was an odd-looking fellow, with a terrible squint, and a strange, contorted countenance.
“An ugly dog!” exclaimed Paterson; “what the devil of a twist he has got!”166
“What’s that you says about Dick Taarpin, measter?” asked the countryman, with his mouth half full of bread.
“Have you seen aught of him?” asked Coates.
“Not I,” mumbled the rustic; “but I hears aw the folk hereabouts talk on him. They say as how he sets all the lawyers and constables at defiance, and laughs in his sleeve at their efforts to cotch him — ha, ha! He gets over more ground in a day than they do in a week — ho, ho!”
“That’s all over now,” said Coates, peevishly. “he has cut his own throat — ridden his famous mare to death.”
The countryman almost choked himself, in the attempt to bolt a huge mouthful. “Ay — indeed, measter! How happened that?” asked he, so soon as he recovered speech.
“The fool rode her from London to York last night,” returned Coates; “such a feat was never performed before. What horse could be expected to live through such work as that?”
“Ah, he were a foo’ to attempt that,” observed the countryman; “but you followed belike?”
“And took him arter all, I reckon?” asked the rustic, squinting more horribly than ever.
“No,” returned Coates; “I can’t say we did; but we’ll have him yet. I’m pretty sure he can’t be far off. We may be nearer him than we imagine.”
“Maybe so, measter,’ returned the countryman; “but might I be so bold as to ax how many horses you used i’ the chase — some half dozen, maybe?”
“Half a dozen!” growled Paterson; “we had twenty at the least.”
“And I ONE!” mentally ejaculated Turpin, for he was the countryman.