Part 11 out of 11
snapping of a twig, Peter--and I ran out--and--oh, Peter!--that
is all--but you believe--oh!--you believe, don't you, Peter?"
While she spoke, I had slipped the pistol into my pocket, and now
I held out my hands to her, and drew her near, and gazed into the
troubled depths of her eyes.
"Charmian!" said I, "Charmian--I love you! and God forbid that I
should ever doubt you any more."
So, with a sigh, she sank in my embrace, her arms crept about my
neck, and our lips met, and clung together. But even then--while
I looked upon her beauty, while the contact of her lips thrilled
through me--even then, in any mind, I saw the murderous pistol in
her hand--as I had seen it months ago. Indeed, it almost seemed
that she divined my thought, for she drew swiftly back, and
looked up at me with haggard eyes.
"Peter?" she whispered, "what is it--what is it?"
"Oh, Charmian!" said I, over and over again, "I love you--I
love you." And I kissed her appealing eyes, and stayed her
questioning lips with my kisses. "I love you more than my
life--more than honor--more than my soul; and, because I so
love you--to-night you must leave me--"
"Leave you?--ah no, Peter--no--no, I am your wife--I must stay
with you--to suffer and share your troubles and dangers--it is
my right--my privilege. Let us go away together, now--anywhere
--anywhere, only let us be together--my--husband."
"Don't!" I cried, "don't! Do you think it is so easy to remain
here without you--to lose you so soon--so very soon? If I only
loved you a little less! Ah! don't you see--before the week is
out, my description will be all over England; we should be
caught, and you would have to stand beside me in a court of
justice, and face the shame of it--"
"Dear love!--it would be my pride--my pride, Peter, to face them
all--to clasp this dear hand in mine--"
"Never!" I cried, clenching my fists; "never! You must leave me;
no one must know Charmian Brown ever existed--you must go!"
"Hush!" she whispered, clasping me tighter, "listen--some one is
coming!" Away to the right, we could hear the leaves rustling,
as though a strong wind passed through them; a light flickered,
went out, flickered again, and a voice hailed faintly:
"Come," said Charmian, clasping my hand, "let us go and meet him."
"No, Charmian, no--I must see this man--alone. You must leave
here, to-night-now. You can catch the London Mail at the cross
roads. Go to Blackheath--to Sir Richard Anstruther--he is my
friend--tell him everything--"
She was down at my feet, and had caught my hand to her bosom.
"I can't!" she cried, "I can't go--and leave you here alone. I
have loved you so--from the very first, and it seems that each
day my love has grown until it is part of me. Oh, Peter!--don't
send me away from you--it will kill me, I think--"
"Better that than the shame of a prison!" I exclaimed, and, while
I spoke, I lifted her in my arms. "Oh!--I am proud--proud to
have won such a love as yours--let me try to be worthy of it.
Good-by, my beloved!" and so I kissed her, and would have turned
away, but her arms clung about me.
"Oh, Peter!" she sobbed, "if you must go--if you will go, call
me--your wife--just once, Peter."
The hovering light was much nearer now, and the rustle of leaves
louder, as I stooped above her cold hands, and kissed their
"Some day," said I, "some day, if there is a just God in heaven,
we shall meet again; perhaps soon, perhaps late. Until then, let
us dream of that glorious, golden some day, but now--farewell,
oh, beloved wife!"
With a broken cry, she drew my head down upon her breast, and
clasped it there, while her tears mingled with her kisses, and
so--crying my name, she turned, and was lost among the leaves.
HOW I SET OUT TO FACE MY DESTINY
The pallid moon shone down pitilessly upon the dead, white face
that stared up at me through its grime and blood, with the same
half-tolerant, half-amused contempt of me that it had worn in
life; the drawn lips seemed to mock me, and the clenched fists
to defy me still; so that I shivered, and turned to watch the
oncoming light that danced like a will-o'-the-wisp among the
shadows. Presently it stopped, and a voice hailed once more:
"Hallo!" I called back; "this way--this way!" In a little while
I saw the figure of a man whom I at once recognized as the
one-time Postilion, bearing the lanthorn of a chaise, and, as he
approached, it struck me that this meeting was very much like our
first, save for him who lay in the shadows, staring up at me with
"So ho!" exclaimed the Postilion as he came up, raising his
lanthorn that he might view me the better; "it's you again, is
"Yes," I nodded.
"Well, I don't like it," he grumbled, "a-meeting of each other
again like this, in this 'ere ghashly place--no, I don't like it
--too much like last time to be nat'ral, and, as you know, I can't
abide onnat'ralness. If I was to ax you where my master was,
like as not you'd tell me 'e was--"
"Here!" said I, and, moving aside, pointed to the shadow.
The Postilion stepped nearer, lowering his lanthorzs. then
staggered blindly backward.
"Lord!" he whimpered, "Lord love me!" and stood staring, with
"Where is your chaise?"
"Up yonder--yonder--in the lane," he mumbled, his eyes still
"Then help me to carry him there."
"No, no--I dursn't touch it--I can't--not me--not me!"
"I think you will," said I, and took the pistol from my pocket.
"Ain't one enough for to-night?" he muttered; "put it away--I'll
come--I'll do it--put it away." So I dropped the weapon back
into my pocket while the Postilion, shivering violently, stooped
with me above the inanimate figure, and, with our limp burden
between us, we staggered and stumbled up the path, and along the
lane to where stood a light traveling chaise.
"'E ain't likely to come to this time, I'm thinkin'!" said the
Postilion, mopping the sweat from his brow and grinning with
pallid lips, after we had got our burden into the vehicle; "no,
'e ain't likely to wake up no more, nor yet 'curse my 'ead off'
--this side o' Jordan."
"No," I answered, beginning to unwind my neckcloth.
"Nor it ain't no good to go a-bandagin' and a-bindin' of 'im up
--like you did last time."
"No," said I; "no." And stepping into the chaise, I muffled that
disfigured face in my neckcloth; having done which, I closed the
"What now?" inquired the Postilion.
"Now you can drive us to Cranbrook."
"What--be you a-comin' too?"
"Yes," I nodded; "yes, I am coming too."
"Lord love me!" he exclaimed, and a moment later I heard him
chirruping to his horses; the whip cracked and the chaise lurched
forward. Whether he had some wild notion that I might attempt to
descend and make my escape before we reached our destination, I
cannot say, but he drove at a furious pace, taking corners at
reckless speed, so that the chaise lurched and swayed most
violently, and, more than once, I was compelled to hold that
awful figure down upon the seat before me, lest it should slide
to the floor. On we sped, past hedge and tree, by field and
lonely wood. And ever in my ears was the whir of the wheels, the
drumming of hoofs, and the crack of the whip; and ever the
flitting moonbeams danced across that muffled face until it
seemed that the features writhed and gibed at me, beneath the
folds of the neckerchief.
And so at last came lights and houses, and the sound of excited
voices as we pulled up before the Posting House at Cranbrook.
Looking from the window, I saw a ring of faces with eyes that
gleamed in the light of the lanthorns, and every eye was fixed on
me, and every foot gave back a step as I descended from the
chaise. And, while I stood there, the Postilion came with two
white-faced ostlers, who, between them, bore a heavy burden
through the crowd, stumbling awkwardly as they went; and, as
men saw that which they carried, there came a low, deep sound
--wordless, inarticulate, yet full of menace. But, above this
murmur rose a voice, and I saw the Postilion push his way to the
steps of the inn, and turn there, with hands clenched and raised
above his head.
"My master--Sir Maurice Vibart--is killed--shot to death
--murdered down there in the 'aunted 'Oller!" he cried, "and,
if you axes me who done it, I says to you--'e did--so 'elp me
God!" and speaking, he raised his whip and pointed at me.
Once more there rose that inarticulate sound of menace, and once
more all eyes were fixed upon me.
"'E were a fine gen'man!" said a voice.
"Ah! so gay an' light-'earted!" said another.
"Ay, ay--a generous, open open-'anded gen'man!" said a third.
And every moment the murmur swelled, and grew more threatening;
fists were clenched, and sticks flourished, so that, instinctively,
I set my back against the chaise, for it seemed they lacked only
some one to take the initiative ere they fell upon me.
The Postilion saw this too, for, with a shout, he sprang forward,
his whip upraised. But, as he did so; the crowd was burst
asunder, he was caught by a mighty arm, and Black George stood
beside me, his eyes glowing, his fists clenched, and his hair and
"Stand back, you chaps," he growled, "stand back or I'll 'urt
some on ye; be ye all a lot o' dogs to set on an' worry one as is
all alone?" And then, turning to me, "What be the matter wi' the
"Matter?" cried the Postilion; "murder be the matter--my master
be murdered--shot to death--an' there stands the man as done it!"
"Murder?" cried George, in an altered voice; "murder?" Now, as
he spoke, the crowd parted, and four ostlers appeared, bearing a
hurdle between them, and on the hurdle lay a figure, an elegant
figure whose head and face were still muffled in my neckerchief.
I saw George start, and, like a flash, his glance came round to
my bare throat, and dismay was in his eyes.
"Peter?" he murmured; then he laughed suddenly and clapped his
hand down upon my shoulder. "Look 'ee, you chaps," he cried,
facing the crowd, "this is my friend Peter--an honest man an' no
murderer, as 'e will tell ye 'isself--this is my friend as I'd go
bail for wi' my life to be a true man; speak up, Peter, an' tell
'em as you 'm an honest man an' no murderer." But I shook my
"Oh, Peter!" he whispered, "speak! speak!"
"Not here, George," I answered; "it would be of no avail--besides,
I can say nothing to clear myself."
"Nothing, George. This man was shot and killed in the Hollow--I
found him lying dead--I found the empty pistol, and the
Postilion, yonder, found me standing over the body. That is all
I have to tell."
"Peter," said he, speaking hurriedly beneath his breath,
"Oh, Peter!--let's run for it--'twould be main easy for the likes
o' you an' me--"
"No, George," I answered; "it would be worse than useless. But
one thing I do ask of you--you who know me so much better than
most--and it is, that you will bid me good-by, and--take my hand
once more, George here before all these eyes that look upon me as
a murderer, and--"
Before I had finished he had my hand in both of his--nay, had
thrown one great arm protectingly about me.
"Why, Peter--" he began, in a strangely cracked voice, "oh! man
as I love!--never think as I'd believe their lies, an'--Peter
--such fighters as you an' me! a match for double their number
--let's make a bolt for it--ecod! I want to hit somebody.
Never doubt me, Peter--your friend--an' they'd go over like
skittles like skittles, Peter--"
The crowd, which had swelled momentarily, surged, opened, and a
man on horseback pushed his way towards me, a man in some
disorder of dress, as though he had clothed himself in a hurry.
Rough hands were now laid upon me; I saw George's fist raised
threateningly, but caught it in my grasp.
"Good-by," said I, "good-by, George, and don't look so downcast,
man." But we were forced apart, and I was pushed and pulled and
hustled away, through a crowd of faces whose eyes damned me
wherever I looked, along panelled passage ways, and into a long,
dim room, where sat the gentleman I had seen on the horse, busily
tying his cravat, to whom I delivered up the pistol, and answered
divers questions as well as I might, and by whom, after much
jotting of notes and memoranda, I was delivered over to four
burly fellows, who, with deep gravity, and a grip much tighter
than was necessary, once more led me out into the moonlit street,
where were people who pressed forward to stare into my face, and
people who leaned out of windows to stare down upon my head, and
many more who followed at my heels.
And thus, in much estate, I ascended a flight of worn stone steps
into the churchyard, and so--by a way of tombs and graves--came
at last to the great square church-tower, into which I was
incontinently thrust, and there very securely locked up.
THE BOW STREET RUNNERS
It was toward evening of the next day that the door of my prison
was opened, and two men entered. The first was a tall,
cadaverous-looking individual of a melancholy cast of feature,
who, despite the season, was wrapped in a long frieze coat
reaching almost to his heels, from the pocket of which projected
a short staff, or truncheon. He came forward with his hands in
his pockets, and his bony chin on his breast, looking at me under
the brim of a somewhat weather-beaten hat--that is to say, he
looked at my feet and my hands and my throat and my chin, but
never seemed to get any higher.
His companion, on the contrary, bustled forward, and, tapping me
familiarly on the shoulder, looked me over with a bright,
"S'elp me, Jeremy!" said he, addressing his saturnine friend,
"s'elp me, if I ever see a pore misfort'nate cove more to my mind
an' fancy--nice an' tall an' straight-legged--twelve stone if a
pound--a five-foot drop now--or say five foot six, an' 'e'll go
off as sweet as a bird; ah! you'll never feel it, my covey--not a
twinge; a leetle tightish round the windpipe, p'r'aps--but, Lord,
it's soon over. You're lookin' a bit pale round the gills, young
cove, but, Lord! that's only nat'ral too." Here he produced from
the depths of a capacious pocket something that glittered beneath
his agile fingers. "And 'ow might be your general 'ealth, young
cove?" he went on affably, "bobbish, I 'ope--fair an' bobbish?"
As he spoke, with a sudden, dexterous motion, he had snapped
something upon my wrists, so quickly that, at the contact of the
cold steel, I started, and as I did so, something jingled
"There!" he exclaimed, clapping me on the shoulder again, but
at the same time casting a sharp glance at my shackled wrists
--"there--now we're all 'appy an' comfortable! I see as you're a
cove as takes things nice an' quiet, an'--so long as you do--I'm
your friend--Bob's my name, an' bobbish is my natur'. Lord!--the
way I've seen misfort'nate coves take on at sight o' them
'bracelets' is something out-rageous! But you--why, you're a
different kidney--you're my kind, you are what do you say,
"Don't like 'is eye!" growled that individual.
"Don't mind Jeremy," winked the other; "it's just 'is
per-werseness. Lord! 'e is the per-wersest codger you ever see!
Why, 'e finds fault wi' the Pope o' Rome, jest because 'e's in
the 'abit o' lettin' coves kiss 'is toe--I've 'eard Jeremy work
'isself up over the Pope an' a pint o' porter, till you'd 'ave
"Ain't we never a-goin' to start?" inquired Jeremy, staring out
of the window, with his back to us.
"And where," said I, "where might you be taking me?"
"Why, since you ax, my covey, we 'm a-takin' you where you'll be
took good care on, where you'll feed well, and 'ave justice done
on you--trust us for that. Though, to be sure, I'm sorry to take
you from such proper quarters as these 'ere--nice and airy--eh,
"Ah!--an' wi' a fine view o' the graves!" growled Jeremy, leading
the way out.
In the street stood a chaise and four, surrounded by a pushing,
jostling throng of men, women, and children, who, catching sight
of me between the Bow Street Runners, forgot to push and jostle,
and stared at me with every eye and tooth they possessed, until I
was hidden in the chaise.
"Right away!" growled Jeremy, shutting the door with a bang.
"Whoa!" roared a voice, and a great, shaggy golden head was
thrust in at the window, and a hand reached down and grasped
"A pipe an' 'baccy, Peter--from me; a flask o' rum--Simon's best,
from Simon; an' chicken sang-widges, from my Prue." This as he
passed in each article through the window. "An' I were to say,
Peter, as we are all wi' you--ever an' ever, an' I were likewise
to tell 'ee as 'ow Prue'll pray for 'ee oftener than before, an'
--ecod!" he broke off, the tears running down his face, "there
were a lot more, but I've forgot it all, only, Peter, me an'
Simon be goin' to get a lawyer chap for 'ee, an'--oh, man, Peter,
say the word, an' I'll have 'ee out o' this in a twinklin' an'
we'll run for it--"
But, even as I shook my head, the postboy's whip cracked, and the
horses plunged forward.
"Good-by, George!" I cried, "good-by, dear fellow!" and the last
I saw of him was as he stood rubbing his tears away with one fist
and shaking the other after the chaise.
WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF, AMONG OTHER MATTERS, WITH THE BOOTS OF THE
"A bottle o' rum!" said the man Bob, and taking it up, very
abstracted of eye, he removed the cork, sniffed at it, tasted it,
took a gulp, and handed it over to his companion, who also looked
at, sniffed at, and tasted it. "And what d'ye make o' that,
"Tasted better afore now!" growled Jeremy, and immediately took
"Sang-widges, too!" pursued the man Bob, in a ruminating tone,
"an' I always was partial to chicken!" and, forthwith, opening
the dainty parcel, he helped himself, and his companion also.
"What d'ye make o' them, Jeremy?" he inquired, munching.
"I've eat wuss!" rumbled Jeremy, also munching.
"Young cove, they does you credit," said the man Bob, nodding to
me with great urbanity, "great credit--there ain't many
misfort'nates as can per-jooce such sang-widges as them, though,
to be sure, they eats uncommon quick 'old 'ard there, Jeremy--"
But, indeed, the sandwiches were already only a memory, wherefore
his brow grew black, and he glared at the still munching Jeremy,
who met his looks with his usual impenetrable gloom.
"A pipe and 'bacca!" mused the man Bob, after we had ridden some
while in silence, and, with the same serene unconsciousness of
manner, he took the pipe, filled it, lighted it, and puffed with
an air of dreamy content.
"Jeremy is a good-ish sort," he began, with a complacent flourish
of the pipe, "a good-ish sort, but cross-grained--Lord! young
cove, 'is cross-grainedness is ekalled only by 'is per-werseness,
and 'cause why?--'cause 'e don't smoke--(go easy wi' the rum,
Jeremy!) there's nothin' like a pipe o' 'bacca to soothe such
things away (I got my eye on ye, Jeremy!)--no, there's nothin'
like a pipe o' 'bacca. Look at me--I were the per-wersest infant
that ever was, till I took to smokin', and to-day, whatever I am,
I ain't per-werse, nor yet cross-grained, and many a misfort'nate
cove, as is now no more--'as wept over me at partin'--"
"They generally always do!" growled Jeremy, uncorking the
rum-bottle with his teeth.
"No, Jerry, no," returned the other, blowing out a cloud of
smoke; "misfort'nates ain't all the same--(arter you wi' that
bottle!)--you 'ave Cryers, and Laughers, and Pray-ers, and Silent
Ones, and the silent coves is the dangerousest--(arter you wi'
the bottle, Jeremy!)--now you, my covey," he went on, tapping my
hand gently with his pipe-stem, "you ain't exactly talkative, in
fact--not wishin' no offense, I might say as you was inclined to
be one o' the Silent Ones. Not as I 'olds that again' you--far
from it, only you reminds me of a young cove as 'ad the misfort'n
to get 'isself took for forgery, and who--arter me a-talkin' and
a-chattin' to 'im in my pleasant way went and managed to commit
sooicide--under my very nose--which were 'ardly nice, or even
respectable, considerin'--(arter you wi' the bottle, Jeremy!)"
Jeremy growled, held up the bottle to the failing light of
evening, measured its contents with his thumb, and extended it
unwillingly towards his comrade's ready hand; but it never got
there, for, at that instant, the chaise lurched violently--there
was a cry, a splintering of glass, a crash, and I was lying, half
stunned, in a ditch, listening to the chorus of oaths and cries
that rose from the cloud of dust where the frightened horses
reared and plunged.
How long I remained thus I cannot say, but, all at once, I found
myself upon my feet, running down the road, for, hazy though my
mind yet was, I could think only of escape, of liberty, and
freedom--at any price--at any cost. So I ran on down the road,
somewhat unsteadily as yet, because my fall had been a heavy one,
and my brain still reeled. I heard a shout behind me--the sharp
crack of a pistol, and a bullet sang over my head; and then I
knew they were after me, for I could hear the patter of their
feet upon the hard road.
Now, as I ran, my brain cleared, but this only served me to
appreciate the difficulty of eluding men so seasoned and hardy as
my pursuers; moreover, the handcuffs galled my wrists, and the
short connecting chain hampered my movements considerably, and I
saw that, upon this straight level, I must soon be run down, or
shot from behind.
Glancing back, I beheld them some hundred yards, or so, away,
elbows in, heads up, running with that long, free stride that
speaks of endurance. I increased the pace, the ground flew
beneath me, but, when I glanced again, though the man Bob had
dropped back, the saturnine Jeremy ran on, no nearer, but no
farther than before.
Now, as I went, I presently espied that for which I had looked
--a gate set in the midst of the hedge, but it was closed, and
never did a gate, before or since, appear quite so high and
insurmountable; but, with the desperation of despair, I turned,
ran at it, and sprang, swinging my arms above my head as I did
so. My foot grazed the top bar--down I came, slipped, stumbled,
regained my balance, and ran on over the springy turf. I heard a
crash behind me, an oath, a second pistol barked, and immediately
it seemed that a hot iron seared my forearm, and glancing down, I
saw the skin cut and bleeding, but, finding it no worse, breathed
a sigh of thankfulness, and ran on.
By that leap I had probably gained some twenty yards; I would
nurse my strength, therefore. If I could once gain the woods!
How far off were they?--half-a-mile, a mile?--well, I could run
that easily, thanks to my hardy life. Stay! what was that sound
behind me--the fall of flying feet, or the throbbing of my own
heart? I turned my head; the man Jeremy was within twelve yards
of me--lean and spare, his head thrust forward, he ran with the
long, easy stride of a greyhound.
So it was to be a question of endurance? Well, I had caught my
second wind by now. I set my teeth, and, clenching my fists,
lengthened my stride.
And now, indeed, the real struggle began. My pursuer had long
ago abandoned his coat, but his boots were heavier and clumsier
than those I wore; but then, again, my confining shackles seemed
to contract my chest; and the handcuffs galled my wrists cruelly.
On I went, scattering flocks of scampering sheep, past meditative
cows who started up, puffing out snorts of perfume; scrambling
through hedges, over gate and stile and ditch, with eyes upon the
distant woods full of the purple gloom of evening, and, in my
ears, the muffled thud! thud! thud! thud! of the pursuit,
sometimes seeming much nearer, and sometimes much farther off,
but always the same rhythmic, remorseless thud! thud! thud! thud!
On, and ever on, climbing steep uplands, plunging down
precipitous slopes, past brawling brooks and silent pools all red
and gold with sunset, past oak and ash and thorn on and on, with
ever those thudding footfalls close behind. And, as we ran, it
seemed to me that our feet beat out a kind of cadence--his heavy
shoes, and my lighter ones.
Thud! thud!--pad! pad!--thud! thud!--pad! pad! until they would
suddenly become confused, and mingle with each other.
One moment it seemed that I almost loved the fellow, and the next
that I bitterly hated him. Whether I had gained or not, I could
not tell; to look back was to lose ground.
The woods were close now, so close that I fancied I heard the
voice of their myriad leaves calling to me--encouraging me. But
my breath was panting thick and short, my stride was less sure,
my wrists were raw and bleeding, and the ceaseless jingle of my
chain maddened me.
Thud!--thud!--untiring, persistent--thud!--thud!--the pulse at my
temples throbbed in time with it, my breath panted to it. And
surely it was nearer, more distinct--yes, he had gained on me in
the last half-mile--but how much? I cast a look over my
shoulder; it was but a glance, yet I saw that he had lessened the
distance between us by half. His face shone with sweat--his
mouth was a line--his nostrils broad and expanded--his eyes
staring and shot with blood, but he ran on with the same long
easy stride that was slowly but surely wearing me down.
We were descending a long, grassy slope, and I stumbled, more
than once, and rolled in my course, but on came those remorseless
footfalls--thud!--thud!--thud!--thud!--strong and sure as ever.
He was nearing me fast--he was close upon me--closer--within
reach of me. I could hear his whistling breaths, and then, all
at once, I was down on hands and knees; he tried to avoid me
--failed, and, shooting high over me, thudded down upon the grass.
For a moment he lay still, then, with a groan, he rolled over,
and propping himself on his arm, thrust a hand into his bosom;
but I hurled myself upon him, and, after a brief struggle,
twisted the pistol from his grasp, whereupon he groaned again.
"Hurt?" I panted.
"Arm broke, I think," he growled, and forthwith burst out into a
torrent of curses.
"Does it--hurt--so much?" I panted.
"Ah! but it--ain't that," he panted back; "it's me--a-lettin' of
you--work off--a mouldy--old trick on me--like--that there--"
"It was my only chance," said I, sitting down beside him to
regain my wind.
"To think," he growled, "o' me bein' took in by a--"
"But you are a great runner!" said I.
"A great fool, you mean, to be took in by a--"
"You have a long walk back, and your arm will be painful--"
"And serve me right for bein' took in by--"
"If you will lend me your neckerchief, I think I can make your
arm more comfortable," said I. He ceased cursing to stare at me,
slowly and awkwardly unwound the article in question, and passed
it to me. Thereupon, having located the fracture, I contrived a
rough splint with a piece of wood lying near; which done, he
thanked me, in a burst of profanity, and rose.
"I've see worse coves nor you!" said he, "and one good turn
desarvin' another--lie snug all day, and travel by night, and
keep to the byroads--this ain't no common case, there'll be a
thousand pound on your 'ead afore the week's out--so look spry,
my cove!" saying which, he nodded, turned upon his heel, and
strode away, cursing to himself.
Now, presently, as I went, I heard the merry ring and clink of
hammer and anvil, and, guided by the sound, came to a tumbledown
smithy where was a man busily at work, with a shock-headed boy at
the bellows. At sight of me, the smith set down his hammer and
stared openmouthed, as did also the shock-headed boy.
"How long would it take you to file off these shackles?" I
inquired, holding out my hands.
"To--to file 'em off?"
"Why, that--that depends--"
"Then do it--as soon as you can." Upon this, the man turned his
back to me and began rummaging among his tools, with his head
very near that of the shock-headed boy, until, having found a
file suitable to the purpose, he set to work upon my handcuffs.
But he progressed so slowly, for one reason and another, that I
began to grow impatient; moreover, noticing that the shock-headed
boy had disappeared, I bade him desist.
"A cold chisel and hammer will be quickest," said I; "come, cut
me off this chain--here, close up to the rivets." And, when he
had done this, I took his file, and thrusting it beneath my coat,
set off, running my hardest, leaving him to stare after me, with
his eyes and mouth wider than ever.
The sun was down when I reached the woods, and here, in the kind
shadows, I stayed awhile to rest, and rid myself of my handcuffs;
but, when I felt for the file to do so--it was gone.
HOW I CAME TO LONDON
Justly to narrate all that befell me during my flight and journey
to London, would fill many pages, and therefore, as this book of
mine is already of a magnitude far beyond my first expectations,
I shall hurry on to the end of my story.
Acting upon the advice of the saturnine Jeremy, I lay hidden by
day, and traveled by night, avoiding the highway. But in so
doing I became so often involved in the maze of cross-roads,
bylanes, cow-paths, and cart-tracks, that twice the dawn found me
as completely lost as though I had been set down in the midst of
the Sahara. I thus wasted much time, and wandered many miles out
of my way; wherefore, to put an end to these futile ramblings, I
set my face westward, hoping to strike the highroad somewhere
between Tonbridge and Sevenoaks; determined rather to run the
extra chance of capture than follow haphazard these tortuous and
It was, then, upon the third night since my escape that, faint
and spent with hunger, I saw before me the welcome sight of a
finger-post, and hurrying forward, eager to learn my whereabouts,
came full upon a man who sat beneath the finger-post, with a
hunch of bread and meat upon his knee, which he was eating by
means of a clasp-knife.
Now I had tasted nothing save two apples all day, and but little
the day before--thus, at sight of this appetizing food, my hunger
grew, and increased to a violent desire before which prudence
vanished and caution flew away. Therefore I approached the man,
with my eyes upon his bread and meat.
But, as I drew nearer, my attention was attracted by something
white that was nailed up against the finger-post, and I stopped
dead, with my eyes riveted by a word printed in great black
capitals, and stood oblivious alike of the man who had stopped
eating to stare at me, and the bread and meat that he had set
down upon the grass; for what I saw was this:
WHEREAS, PETER SMITH, blacksmith, late of
SISSINGHURST, in the county of Kent,
suspected of the crime of WILFUL MURDER,
did upon the Tenth of August last, make his
escape from his gaolers, upon the Tonbridge
road, somewhere between SISSINGHURST and
PEMBRY; the above REWARD, namely, FIVE HUNDRED
POUNDS, will be paid to such person, or persons
who shall give such INFORMATION as shall lead
to the ARREST, and APPREHENSION of the aforesaid
PETER SMITH. In the furtherance of which, is
hereunto added a just and close description of
the same--VIZ.--He is six foot tall, and a
sizable ROGUE. His hair, black, his eyes dark
and piercing. Clad, when last seen, in a worn
velveteen jacket, kneebreeches buckled at the
knees, gray worsted stockings, and patched shoes.
The coat TORN at the RIGHT shoulder. Upon his
wrists, a pair of steel HANDCUFFS. Last seen
in the vicinity of PEMBRY.
While I yet stared at this, I was conscious that the man had
risen, and now stood at my elbow; also, that in one hand his
carried a short, heavy stick. He stood very still, and with bent
head, apparently absorbed in the printed words before him, but
more than once I saw his eyes gleam in the shadow of his hat-brim,
as they turned to scan me furtively up and down. Yet he did not
speak or move, and there was something threatening, I thought, in
his immobility. Wherefore I, in turn, watched him narrowly from
the corner of my eye, and thus it chanced that our glances met.
"You seem thoughtful?" said I.
"Ah!--I be that."
"And what might you be thinking?"
"Why--since you ax me, I was thinkin' as your eye was mighty
sharp and piercin'."
"Ah!" said I; "and what more?"
"That your coat was tore at the shoulder."
"So it is," I nodded; "well?"
"You likewise wears buckled breeches, and gray worsted
"You are a very observant man!" said I.
"Though, to be sure," said he, shaking his head, "I don't see no
"That is because they are hidden under my sleeves."
"A-h-h!" said he, and I saw the stick quiver in his grip.
"As I said before, you are a very observant man!" said I, watching
"Well, I've got eyes, and can see as much as most folk," he
retorted, and here the stick quivered again.
"Yes," I nodded; "you also possess legs, and can probably walk
"Ah!--and run, too, if need be," he added significantly.
"Then suppose you start."
"Anywhere, so long as you do start."
"Not wi'out you, my buck! I've took a powerful fancy to you, and
that there five hundred pounds"--here his left hand shot out and
grasped my collar--"so s'posin' you come along o' me. And no
tricks, mind--no tricks, or--ah!--would ye?" The heavy stick
whirled up, but, quick as he, I had caught his wrist, and now
presented my pistol full in his face.
"Drop that stick!" said I, pressing the muzzle of the weapon
lightly against his forehead as I spoke. At the touch of the
cold steel his body suddenly stiffened and grew rigid, his eyes
opened in a horrified stare, and the stick clattered down on the
"Talking of fancies," I pursued, "I have a great mind to that
smock-frock of yours, so take it off, and quick about it." In a
fever of haste he tore off the garment in question, and, he
thrusting it eagerly upon me, I folded it over my arm.
"Now," said I, "since you say you can run, supposing you show me
what you can do. This is a good straight lane--off with you and
do your best, and no turning or stopping, mind, for the moon is
very bright, and I am a pretty good shot." Hardly waiting to
hear me out, the fellow set off up the lane, running like the
wind; whereupon, I (waiting only to snatch up his forgotten bread
and meat) took to my heels--down the lane, so that, when I
presently stopped to don the smock-frock, its late possessor had
vanished as though he had never been.
I hurried on, nevertheless, eating greedily as I went, and, after
some while, left the narrow lane behind, and came out on the
broad highway that stretched like a great, white riband, unrolled
beneath the moon. And here was another finger-post with the
"To Sevenoaks, Tonbridge, and the Wells.--To Bromley and London."
And here, also, was another placard, headed by that awful word:
MURDER--which seemed to leap out at me from the rest. And, with
that word, there rushed over me the memory of Charmian as I had
seen her stand--white-lipped, haggard of eye, and--with one hand
hidden in the folds of her gown.
So I turned and strove to flee from this hideous word, and, as I
went, I clenched my fists and cried within myself: "I love her
--love her--no doubt can come between us more--I love her--love
her--love her!" Thus I hurried on along the great highroad, but,
wherever I looked, I saw this most hateful word; it shone out
palely from the shadows; it was scored into the dust at my feet;
even across the splendor of the moon, in jagged characters, I
seemed to read that awful word: MURDER.
And the soft night-wind woke voices to whisper it as I passed;
the somber trees and gloomy hedgerows were full of it; I heard it
in the echo of my step--MURDER! MURDER! It was always there,
whether I walked or ran, in rough and stony places, in the deep,
soft dust, in the dewy, tender grass--it was always there,
whispering at my heels, and refusing to be silenced.
I had gone on, in this way, for an hour or more, avoiding the
middle of the road, because of the brilliance of the moon, when I
overtook something that crawled in the gloom of the hedge, and
approaching, pistol in hand, saw that it was a man.
He was creeping forward slowly and painfully on his hands and
knees, but, all at once, sank down on his face in the grass, only
to rise, groaning, and creep on once more; and, as he went, I
heard him praying:
"Lord, give me strength--O Lord, give me strength. Angela!
Angela! It is so far--so far--" And groaning, he sank down again,
upon his face.
"You are ill!" said I, bending over him.
"I must reach Deptford--she's buried at Deptford, and I shall
die to-night--O Lord, give me strength!" he panted.
"Deptford is miles away," said I.
Now, as I spoke, he lifted himself upon his hands and stared up
at me. I saw a haggard, hairy face, very thin and sunken, but a
fire burned in the eyes, and the eyes seemed, somehow, familiar.
"You!" he cried, and spat up in the air towards me; "devil!" he
cried, "Devil Vibart." I recoiled instinctively before the man's
sudden, wild ferocity, but, propping himself against the bank, he
shook his hand at me, and laughed.
"Devil!" he repeated; "shade!--ghost of a devil!--have you come
back to see me die?"
"Who are you?" I cried, bending to look into the pale, emaciated
face; "who are you?"
"A shadow," he answered, passing a shaking hand up over his face
and brow, "a ghost--a phantom--as you are; but my name was
Strickland once, as yours was Devil Vibart. I am changed of
late--you said so in the Hollow, and--laughed. You don't laugh
now, Devil Vibart, you remember poor John Strickland now."
"You are the Outside Passenger!" I exclaimed, "the madman who
followed and shot at me in a wood--"
"Followed? Yes, I was a shadow that was always behind you
--following and following you, Satan Vibart, tracking and
tracking you to hell and damnation. And you fled here, and you
fled there, but I was always behind you; you hid from me among
lowly folk, but you could not escape the shadow. Many times I
would have killed you--but she was between--the Woman. I came
once to your cottage; it was night, and the door opened beneath
my hand--but your time was not then. But--ha!--I met you among
trees, as I did once before, and I told you my name--as I did
once before, and I spoke of her--of Angela, and cried her name
--and shot you--just here, above the brow; and so you died,
Devil Vibart, as soon I must, for my mission is accomplished--"
"It was you!" I cried, kneeling beside him," it was your hand
that shot Sir Maurice Vibart?"
"Yes," he answered, his voice growing very gentle as he went on,
"for Angela's sake--my dead wife," and, fumbling in his pocket,
he drew out a woman's small, lace-edged handkerchief, and I saw
that it was thickened and black with blood. "This was hers," be
continued, "in her hand, the night she died--I had meant to lay
it on her grave--the blood of atonement--but now--"
A sudden crash in the hedge above; a figure silhouetted against
the sky; a shadowy arm, that, falling, struck the moon out of
heaven, and, in the darkness, I was down upon my knees, and
fingers were upon my throat.
"Oh, Darby!" cried a voice, "I've got him--this way--quick--oh,
Darb--" My fist drove into his ribs; I struggled up under a
rain of blows, and we struck and swayed and staggered and struck
--trampling the groaning wretch who lay dying in the ditch. And
before me was the pale oval of a face, and I smote it twice with
my pistol-butt, and it was gone, and I--was running along the
"Charmian spoke truth! O God, I thank thee!"
I burst through a hedge, running on, and on--careless alike of
being seen, of capture or escape, of prison or freedom, for in my
heart was a great joy.
I was conscious of shouts and cries, but I heeded them no more,
listening only to the song of happiness my heart was singing:
"Charmian spoke truth, her hands are clean. O God, I thank
And, as I went, I presently espied a caravan, and before it a
fire of sticks, above which a man was bending, who, raising his
head, stared at me as I approached. He was a strange-looking
man, who glared at me with one eye and leered jocosely with the
other; and, being spent and short of breath, I stopped, and
wiping the sweat from my eyes I saw that it was blood.
"How--is Lewis?" I panted.
"What," exclaimed the man, drawing nearer, "is it you?--James!
but you're a picter, you are--hallo!" he stopped, as his glance
encountered the steel that glittered upon my wrist; while upon
the silence the shouts swelled, drawing near and nearer.
"So--the Runners is arter you, are they, young feller?"
"Yes," said I; "yes. You have only to cry out, and they will
take me, for I can fight no more, nor run any farther; this knock
on the head has made me very dizzy."
"Then--take a pull at this 'ere," said he, and thrust a flat
bottle into my hand. The fiery spirit burned my throat, but
almost immediately my strength and courage revived.
"Much better," I answered, returning the bottle, "and I thank
"Don't go for to thank _me_, young feller," said he, driving the
cork into the bottle with a blow of his fist, "you thank that
young feller as once done as much for me--at a fair. An' now
--cutaway--run!--the 'edge is good and dark, up yonder--lay low
a bit, and leave these damned Runners to me." I obeyed without
more ado, and, as I ran up the lane, I heard him shouting and
swearing as though engaged in a desperate encounter; and, turning
in the shadow of the hedge, I saw him met by two men, with whom,
still shouting and gesticulating excitedly, he set off, running
--down the lane.
And so I, once more, turned my face London-wards.
The blood still flowed from the cut in my head, getting often
into my eyes, yet I made good progress notwithstanding. But,
little by little, the effect of the spirits wore off, a
drowsiness stole over me, my limbs felt numbed and heavy. And
with this came strange fancies and a dread of the dark.
Sometimes it seemed that odd lights danced before my eyes, like
marsh-fires, and strange, voices gabbled in my ears, furiously
unintelligible, with laughter in a high-pitched key; sometimes I
cast myself down in the dewy grass, only to start up again,
trembling, and run on till I was breathless; but ever I struggled
forward, despite the throbbing of my broken head, and the gnawing
hunger that consumed me.
After a while, a mist came on, a mist that formed itself into
deep valleys, or rose in jagged spires and pinnacles, but
constantly changing; a mist that moved and writhed within itself.
And in this mist were forms, nebulous and indistinct, multitudes
that moved in time with me, and the voices seemed louder than
before, and the laughter much shriller, while repeated over and
over again, I caught that awful word: MURDER, MURDER.
Chief among this host walked one whose head and face were muffled
from my sight, but who watched me, I knew, through the folds,
with eyes that stared fixed and wide.
But now, indeed, the mist seemed to have got into my brain, and
all things were hazy, and my memory of them is dim. Yet I recall
passing Bromley village, and slinking furtively through the
shadows of the deserted High Street, but thereafter all is blank
save a memory of pain and toil and deadly fatigue.
I was stumbling up steps--the steps of a terrace; a great house
lay before me, with lighted windows here and there, but these I
feared, and so came creeping to one that I knew well, and whose
dark panes glittered palely under the dying moon. And now I took
out my clasp-knife, and, fumbling blindly, put back the catch (as
I had often done as a boy), and so, the window opening, I
clambered into the dimness beyond.
Now as I stumbled forward my hand touched something, a long, dark
object that was covered with a cloth, and, hardly knowing what I
did, I drew back this cloth and looked down at that which it had
covered, and sank down upon my knees, groaning. For there,
staring up at me, cold, contemptuous, and set like marble, was
the smiling, dead face of my cousin Maurice.
As I knelt there, I was conscious that the door had opened, that
some one approached, bearing a light, but I did not move or heed.
"Peter?--good God in heaven!--is it Peter?" I looked up and into
the dilated eyes of Sir Richard. "Is it really Peter?" he
"Yes, sir--dying, I think."
"No, no--Peter--dear boy," he stammered. "You didn't know--you
hadn't heard--poor Maurice--murdered--fellow--name of Smith--!"
"Yes, Sir Richard, I know more about it than most. You see, I am
Peter Smith." Sir Richard fell back from me, and I saw the
candle swaying in his grasp.
"You?" he whispered, "you? Oh, Peter!--oh, my boy!"
"But I am innocent--innocent--you believe me--you who were my
earliest friend--my good, kind friend--you believe me?" and I
stretched out my hands appealingly, but, as I did so, the light
fell gleaming upon my shameful wristlets; and, even as we gazed
into each other's eyes, mute and breathless, came the sound of
steps and hushed voices. Sir Richard sprang forward, and,
catching me in a powerful hand, half led, half dragged me behind
a tall leather screen beside the hearth, and thrusting me into a
chair, turned and hurried to meet the intruders.
They were three, as I soon discovered by their voices, one of
which I thought I recognized.
"It's a devilish shame!" the first was saying; "not a soul here
for the funeral but our four selves--I say it's a shame--a
"That, sir, depends entirely on the point of view," answered the
second, a somewhat aggressive voice, and this it was I seemed to
"Point of view, sir? Where, I should like to know, are all those
smiling nonentities--those fawning sycophants who were once so
proud of his patronage, who openly modelled themselves upon him,
whose highest ambition was to be called a friend of the famous
'Buck' Vibart where are they now?"
"Doing the same by the present favorite, as is the nature of
their kind," responded the third; "poor Maurice is already
"The Prince," said the harsh voice, "the Prince would never have
forgiven him for crossing him in the affair of the Lady Sophia
Sefton; the day he ran off with her he was as surely dead--in a
social sense--as he is now in every sense."
Here the mist settled down upon my brain once more, and I heard
nothing but a confused murmur of voices, and it seemed to me that
I was back on the road again, hemmed in by those gibbering
phantoms that spoke so much, and yet said but one word: "Murder."
"Quick--a candle here--a candle--bring a light--" There came a
glare before my smarting eyes, and I struggled up to my feet.
"Why--I have seen this fellow's face somewhere--ah!--yes, at an
inn--a hang-dog rogue--I threatened to pull his nose, I remember,
and--by Heaven!--handcuffs! He has been roughly handled, too!
Gentlemen, I'll lay my life the murderer is found--though how he
should come here of all places--extraordinary. Sir Richard--you
and I, as magistrates--duty--" But the mist was very thick, and
the voices grew confused again; only I knew that hands were upon
me, that I was led into another room, where were lights that
glittered upon the silver, the decanters and glasses of a supper
"Yes," I was saying, slowly and heavily; "yes, I am Peter Smith
--a blacksmith--who escaped from his gaolers on the Tonbridge
Road--but I am innocent--before God--I am innocent. And now--do
with me as you will--for I am--very weary--"
Sir Richard's arm was about me, and his voice sounded in my ears,
but as though a great way off:
"Sirs," said he, "this is my friend--Sir Peter Vibart." There
was a moment's pause, then--a chair fell with a crash, and there
rose a confusion of excited voices which grew suddenly silent,
for the door had opened, and on the threshold stood a woman, tall
and proud and richly dressed, from the little dusty boot that
peeped beneath her habit to the wide-sweeping hat-brim that
shaded the high beauty of her face. And I would have gone to her
but that my strength failed me.
She started, and, turning, uttered a cry, and ran to me.
"Charmian," said I; "oh, Charmian!" And so, with her tender arms
about me, and her kisses on my lips, the mist settled down upon
me, thicker and darker than ever.
IN WHICH THIS HISTORY IS ENDED
A bright room, luxuriously appointed; a great wide bed with
carved posts and embroidered canopy; between the curtained
windows, a tall oak press with grotesque heads carved thereon,
heads that leered and gaped and scowled at me. But the bed and
the room and the oak press were all familiar, and the grotesque
heads had leered and gaped and frowned at me before, and haunted
my boyish dreams many and many a night.
And now I lay between sleeping and waking, staring dreamily at
all these things, till roused by a voice near by, and starting
up, broad awake, beheld Sir Richard.
"Deuce take you, Peter!" he exclaimed; "I say--the devil fly away
with you, my boy!--curse me!--a nice pickle you've made of
yourself, with your infernal Revolutionary notions--your digging
and blacksmithing, your walking-tours--"
"Where is she, Sir Richard?" I broke in; "pray, where is she?"
"She?" he returned, scratching his chin with the corner of a
letter he held; "she?"
"She whom I saw last night--"
"You were asleep last night, and the night before."
"Asleep?--then how long have I been here?"
"Three days, Peter."
"And where is she--surely I have not dreamed it all--where is
"She went away--this morning."
"Gad, Peter!--how should I know?" But, seeing the distress in my
face, he smiled, and tendered me the letter. "She left this 'For
Peter, when he awoke'--and I've been waiting for Peter to wake
all the morning."
Hastily I broke the seal, and, unfolding the paper with tremulous
"DEAREST, NOBLEST, AND MOST DISBELIEVING OF PETERS,
--Oh, did you think you could hide your hateful suspicion from
me--from me who know you so well? I felt it in your kiss, in the
touch of your strong hand, I saw it in your eyes. Even when I
told you the truth, and begged you to believe me, even then, deep
down in your heart you thought it was my hand that had killed Sir
Maurice, and God only knows the despair that filled me as I
turned and left you.
"And so, Peter--perhaps to punish you a little, perhaps because I
cannot bear the noisy world just yet, perhaps because I fear you
a little--I have run away. But I remember also how, believing me
guilty, you loved me still, and gave yourself up, to shield me,
and, dying of hunger and fatigue--came to find me. And so,
Peter, I have not run so very far, nor hidden myself so very
close, and if you understand me as you should your search need
not be so very long. And dear, dear Peter, there is just one
other thing, which I hoped that you would guess, which any other
would have guessed, but which, being a philosopher, you never did
guess. Oh, Peter--I was once, very long ago it seems, Sophia
Charmian Sefton, but I am now, and always was, Your Humble
The letter fell from my fingers, and I remained staring before me
so long that Sir Richard came and laid his hand on my shoulder.
"Oh, boy!" said he, very tenderly; "she has told me all the
story, and I think, Peter, I think it is given to very few men to
win the love of such a woman as this."
"God knows it!" said I.
"And to have married one so very noble and high in all things
--you should be very proud, Peter."
"I am," said I; "oh, I am, sir."
"Even, Peter--even though she be a--virago, this Lady Sophia--or
"I was a great fool in those days," said I, hanging my head, "and
"It was only six months ago, Peter."
"But I am years older today, sir."
"And the husband of the most glorious woman--the most--oh, curse
me, Peter, if you deserve such a goddess!"
"And--she worked for me!" said I; "cooked and served and mended
my clothes--where are they?" I cried, and sprang out of bed.
"What the deuce--"began Sir Richard.
"My clothes," said I, looking vainly about; "my clothes--pray,
Sir Richard, where are they?"
"Every blood-stained rag!" he nodded; "her orders."
"But--what am I to do?"
Sir Richard laughed, and, crossing to the press, opened the door.
"Here are all the things you left behind you when you set out
to--dig, and--egad!--make your fortune. I couldn't let 'em go
with all the rest--so I--er--had 'em brought here, to--er--to
keep them for you--ready for the time when you should grow tired
of digging, and come back to me, and--er--oh, dammit!--you
understand--and Grainger's waiting to see you in the library
--been there hours--so dress yourself. In Heaven's name, dress
yourself!" he cried, and hurried from the room.
It was with a certain satisfaction that I once more donned
buckskin and spurred boots, and noticed moreover how tight my
coat was become across the shoulders; yet I dressed hastily, for
my mind was already on the road, galloping to Charmian.
In the library I found Sir Richard, and Mr. Grainger, who greeted
me with his precise little bow.
"I have to congratulate you, Sir Peter," he began, "not only on
your distinguished marriage, and accession to fortune, but upon
the fact that the--ah--unpleasantness connecting a certain Peter
Smith with your unfortunate cousin's late decease has been
entirely removed by means of the murderer's written confession,
placed in my hands some days ago by the Lady Sophia."
"A written confession--and she brought it to you?"
"Galloped all the way from Tonbridge, by Gad!" nodded Sir
"It seems," pursued Mr. Grainger, "that the--ah man, John
Strickland, by name, lodged with a certain preacher, to whom, in
Lady Vibart's presence, he confessed his crime, and willingly
wrote out a deposition to that effect. It also appears that the
man, sick though he was, wandered from the Preacher's cottage,
and was eventually found upon the road, and now lies in Maidstone
gaol, in a dying condition."
Chancing, presently, to look from the window, I beheld a groom
who led a horse up and down before the door; and the groom was
Adam, and the horse--
I opened the window, and, leaning out, called a name. At the
sound of my voice the man smiled and touched his hat, and the
mare ceased her pawing and chafing, and turned upon me a pair of
great, soft eyes, and snuffed the air, and whinnied. So I leapt
out of the window, and down the steps, and thus it was that I met
"She be in the pink o' condition, sir," said Adam proudly; "Sir
Richard bought 'er--"
"For a song!" added the baronet, who, with Mr. Grainger, had
followed to bid me good-by. "I really got her remarkably cheap,"
he explained, thrusting his fists deep into his pockets, and
frowning down my thanks. But, when I had swung myself into the
saddle, he came and laid his hand upon my knee.
"You are going to--find her, Peter?"
"And you know--where to look?"
"I think so--"
"Because, if you don't--I might--"
"I shall go to a certain cottage," said I tentatively.
"Then you'd better go, boy--the mare's all excitement--good-by,
Peter--and cutting up my gravel most damnably--good-by!" So
saying, he reached up and gripped my hand very hard, and stared
at me also very hard, though the tears stood in his eyes. "I
always felt very fatherly towards you, Peter--and--you won't
forget the lonely old man--come and see me now and then both of
you, for it does get damnably lonely here sometimes, and oh,
curse it! Goodby! dear lad." So he turned, and walked up the
steps into his great, lonely house.
"O Wings! with thy slender grace, and tireless strength, if ever
thou didst gallop before, do thy best to-day! Spurn, spurn the
dust 'neath thy fleet hoofs, stretch thy graceful Arab neck, bear
me gallantly to-day, O Wings, for never shalt thou and I see its
Swift we flew, with the wind before, and the dust behind, past
wayside inns where besmocked figures paused in their grave
discussions to turn and watch us by; past smiling field and
darkling copse; past lonely cottage and village green; through
Sevenoaks and Tonbridge, with never a stop; up Pembry hill, and
down, galloping so lightly, so easily, over that hard, familiar
road, which I had lately tramped with so much toil and pain; and
so, as evening fell, to Sissinghurst.
A dreamy, sleepy place is Sissinghurst at all times, for its few
cottages, like its inn, are very old, and great age begets
dreams. But, when the sun is low, and the shadows creep out,
when the old inn blinks drowsy eyes at the cottages, and they
blink back drowsily at the inn, like the old friends they are;
when distant cows low at gates and fences; when sheep-bells
tinkle faintly; when the weary toiler, seated sideways on his
weary horse, fares, homewards, nodding sleepily with every
plodding hoof-fall, but rousing to give one a drowsy "good
night," then who can resist the somnolent charm of the place,
save only the "Bull" himself, snorting down in lofty contempt--as
rolling of eye, as curly of horn, as stiff as to tail as any
indignant bull ever was, or shall be.
But as I rode, watching the evening deepen about me, soft and
clear rose the merry chime of hammer and anvil, and, turning
aside to the smithy, I paused there, and, stooping my head,
looked in at the door.
"George!" said I. He started erect, and, dropping hammer and
tongs, came out, running, then stopped suddenly, as one abashed.
"Oh, friend!" said I, "don't you know me?"
"Why--Peter--" he stammered, and broke off.
"Have you no greeting for me, George?"
"Ay, ay--I heerd you was free, Peter, and I was glad--glad,
because you was the man as I loved, an' I waited--ay, I've been
waitin' for 'ee to come back. But now you be so changed--so fine
an' grand--an' I be all black wi' soot from the fire--oh, man! ye
bean't my Peter no more--"
"Never say that, George--never say that," I cried, and, leaping
from the saddle, I would have caught his hand in mine, but he
"You be so fine an' grand, Peter, an' I be all sooty from the
fire!" he repeated. "I'd like to just wash my 'ands first."
"Oh, Black George!" said I, "dear George."
"Be you rich now, Peter?"
"Yes, I suppose so."
"A gentleman wi' 'orses an' 'ouses an' servants?"
"Well--what of it?"
"I'd--like to--wash my 'ands first, if so be you don't mind,
"George," said I, "don't be a fool!" Now, as we stood thus,
fronting each other in the doorway, I heard a light step upon the
road behind me, and, turning, beheld Prudence.
"Oh, Prue, George is afraid of my clothes, and won't shake hands
with me!" For a moment she hesitated, looking from one to the
other of us--then, all at once, laughing a little and blushing a
little, she leaned forward and kissed me.
"Why, George!" said she, still blushing, "how fulish you be. Mr.
Peter were as much a gentleman in his leather apron as ever he is
in his fine coat--how fulish you be, George!" So proud George
gave me his hand, all grimy as it was, rejoicing over me because
of my good fortune and mourning over me because my smithing days
"Ye see, Peter, when men 'as worked together--and sorrowed
together--an' fou't together--an' knocked each other down--like
you an' me--it bean't so easy to say 'good-by'--so, if you must
leave us--why--don't let's say it."
"No, George, there shall be no 'good-bys' for either one of us,
and I shall come back--soon. Until then, take my mare--have her
made comfortable for me, and now--good night--good night!"
And so, clasping their loving hands, I turned away, somewhat
hurriedly, and left them.
There was no moon, but the night was luminous with stars, and, as
I strode along, my eyes were often lifted to the "wonder of the
heavens," and I wondered which particular star was Charmian's and
Reaching the Hollow, I paused to glance about me, as I ever did,
before descending that leafy path; and the shadows were very
black and a chill wind stirred among the leaves, so that I
shivered, and wondered, for the first time, if I had come right
--if the cottage had been in Charmian's mind when she wrote.
Then I descended the path, hurrying past a certain dark spot.
And, coming at last within sight of the cottage, I paused again,
and shivered again, for the windows were dark and the door shut.
But the latch yielded readily beneath my hand, so I went in, and
closed and barred the door behind me.
For upon the hearth a fire burned with a dim, red glow that
filled the place with shadows, and the shadows were very deep.
"Charmian!" said I, "oh, Charmian, are you there have I guessed
right?" I heard a rustle close beside me, and, in the gloom,
came a hand to meet and clasp my own; wherefore I stooped and
kissed those slender fingers, drawing her into the fireglow; and
her eyes were hidden by their lashes, and the glow of the fire
seemed reflected in her cheeks.
"The candles were so--bright, Peter," she whispered.
"And so--when I heard you coming--"
"You heard me?"
"I was sitting on the bench outside, Peter."
"And, when you heard me--you put the candles out?"
"They seemed so--very bright, Peter."
"And shut the door?"
"I only--just--closed it, Peter." She was still wrapped in her
cloak, as she had been when I first saw her, wherefore I put back
the hood from her face. And behold! as I did so, her hair fell
down, rippling over my arm, and covering us both in its splendor,
as it had done once before.
"Indeed--you have glorious hair!" said I. "It seems wonderful to
think that you are my wife. I can scarcely believe it--even yet!"
"Why, I had meant you should marry me from the first, Peter."
"Do you think I should ever have come back to this dear solitude
Now, when I would have kissed her, she turned her head aside.
"The Lady Sophia Sefton never did gallop her horse up the steps
of St. Paul's Cathedral."
"Didn't she, Charmian?"
"And she couldn't help her name being bandied from mouth to
mouth, or 'hiccoughed out over slopping wineglasses,' could she?"
"No," said I, frowning; "what a young fool I was!"
"She never was--and never will be--buxom, or strapping--will she?
'buxom' is such a--hateful word, Peter! And you--love her?
--wait, Peter--as much as ever you loved Charmian Brown?"
"Yes," said I; "yes--"
"And--nearly as much as--your dream woman?"
"More--much more, because you are the embodiment of all my
dreams--you always will be Charmian. Because I honor you for
your intellect; and worship you for your gentleness, and spotless
purity; and love you with all my strength for your warm, sweet
womanhood; and because you are so strong, and beautiful, and
"And because, Peter, because I am--just--your loving--Humble
And thus it was I went forth a fool, and toiled and suffered and
loved, and, in the end, got me some little wisdom.
And thus did I, all unworthy as I am, win the heart of a noble
woman whose love I pray will endure, even as mine will, when we
shall have journeyed to the end of this Broad Highway, which is
Life, and into the mystery of the Beyond.