Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter XXV.

Falsehood in him was not the useless lie

Of boasting pride or laughing vanity:

It was the gainful, the persuading art, etc.

CRABBE.

On with the horses — off to Canterbury,

Tramp, tramp o’er pebble, and splash, splash thro’ puddle;

Hurrah! how swiftly speeds the post so merry!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“Here laws are all inviolate: none lay

Traps for the traveller; every highway’s clear;

Here —” he was interrupted by a knife,

With “D—— your eyes! your money or your life!”

Don Juan.

Misfortunes are like the creations of Cadmus — they destroy one another! Roused from the torpor of mind occasioned by the loss of her lover at the sudden illness of the squire, Lucy had no thought for herself, no thought for any one, for anything but her father, till long after the earth had closed over his remains. The very activity of the latter grief was less dangerous than the quiet of the former; and when the first keenness of sorrow passed away, and her mind gradually and mechanically returned to the remembrance of Clifford, it was with an intensity less strong, and less fatal to her health and happiness than before. She thought it unnatural and criminal to allow anything else to grieve her, while she had so sacred a grief as that of her loss; and her mind, once aroused into resistance to passion, betrayed a native strength little to have been expected from her apparent character. Sir William Brandon lost no time in returning to town after the burial of his brother. He insisted upon taking his niece with him; and, though with real reluctance, she yielded to his wishes, and accompanied him. By the squire’s will, indeed, Sir William was appointed guardian to Lucy, and she yet wanted more than a year of her majority. Brandon, with a delicacy very uncommon to him where women (for he was a confirmed woman-hater) were concerned, provided everything that he thought could in any way conduce to her comfort. He ordered it to be understood in his establishment that she was its mistress. He arranged and furnished, according to what he imagined to be her taste, a suite of apartments for her sole accommodation; a separate carriage and servants were appropriated to her use; and he sought, by perpetual presents of books or flowers or music, to occupy her thoughts, and atone for the solitude to which his professional duties obliged him so constantly to consign her. These attentions, which showed this strange man in a new light, seemed to bring out many little latent amiabilities, which were usually imbedded in the callosities of his rocky nature; and, even despite her causes for grief and the deep melancholy which consumed her, Lucy was touched with gratitude at kindness doubly soothing in one who, however urbane and polished, was by no means addicted to the little attentions that are considered so gratifying by women, and yet for which they so often despise, while they like, him who affords them. There was much in Brandon that wound itself insensibly around the heart. To one more experienced than Lucy, this involuntary attraction might not have been incompatible with suspicion, and could scarcely have been associated with esteem; and yet for all who knew him intimately, even for the penetrating and selfish Mauleverer, the attraction existed. Unprincipled, crafty, hypocritical, even base when it suited his purpose; secretly sneering at the dupes he made, and knowing no code save that of interest and ambition; viewing men only as machines, and opinions only as ladders — there was yet a tone of powerful feeling sometimes elicited from a heart that could at the same moment have sacrificed a whole people to the pettiest personal object: and sometimes with Lucy the eloquence or irony of his conversation deepened into a melancholy, a half-suppressed gentleness of sentiment, that accorded with the state of her own mind and interested her kind feelings powerfully in his. It was these peculiarities in his converse which made Lucy love to hear him; and she gradually learned to anticipate with a gloomy pleasure the hour in which, after the occupations of the day, he was accustomed to join her.

“You look unwell, uncle, to-night,” she said, when one evening he entered the room with looks more fatigued than usual; and rising, she leaned tenderly over him, and kissed his forehead.

“Ay!” said Brandon, utterly unwon by, and even unheeding, the caress, “our way of life soon passes into the sear and yellow leaf; and when Macbeth grieved that he might not look to have that which should accompany old age, he had grown doting, and grieved for what was worthless.”

“Nay, uncle, ‘honour, love, obedience, troops of friends,’ these surely were worth the sighing for?”

“Pooh! not worth a single sigh! The foolish wishes we form in youth have something noble and something bodily in them; but those of age are utter shadows, and the shadows of pygmies! Why, what is honour, after all? What is this good name among men? Only a sort of heathenish idol, set up to be adored by one set of fools and scorned by another. Do you not observe, Lucy, that the man you hear most praised by the party you meet today is most abused by that which you meet tomorrow? Public men are only praised by their party; and their party, sweet Lucy, are such base minions that it moves one’s spleen to think one is so little as to be useful to them. Thus a good name is only the good name of a sect, and the members of that sect are only marvellous proper knaves.”

“But posterity does justice to those who really deserve fame.”

“Posterity! Can you believe that a man who knows what life is cares for the penny whistles of grown children after his death? Posterity, Lucy — no! Posterity is but the same perpetuity of fools and rascals; and even were justice desirable at their hands, they could not deal it. Do men agree whether Charles Stuart was a liar or a martyr? For how many ages have we believed Nero a monster! A writer now asks, as if demonstrating a problem, what real historian could doubt that Nero was a paragon? The patriarchs of Scripture have been declared by modern philosophy to be a series of astronomical hieroglyphs; and, with greater show of truth, we are assured that the patriot Tell never existed! Posterity! the word has gulled men enough without my adding to the number. I, who loathe the living, can scarcely venerate the unborn. Lucy, believe me that no man can mix largely with men in political life, and not despise everything that in youth he adored! Age leaves us only one feeling — contempt!”

“Are you belied, then?” said Lucy, pointing to a newspaper, the organ of the party opposed to Brandon: “are you belied when you are here called ‘ambitious’? When they call you ‘selfish’ and ‘grasping,’ I know they wrong you; but I confess that I have thought you ambitious; yet can he who despises men desire their good opinion?”

“Their good opinion!” repeated Brandon, mockingly: “do we want the bray of the asses we ride? No!” he resumed, after a pause. “It is power, not honour; it is the hope of elevating oneself in every respect, in the world without as well as in the world of one’s own mind: it is this hope which makes me labour where I might rest, and will continue the labour to my grave. Lucy,” continued Brandon, fixing his keen eyes on his niece, “have you no ambition — have power and pomp and place no charm for your mind?”

“None!” said Lucy, quietly and simply.

“Indeed! yet there are times when I have thought I recognized my blood in your veins. You are sprung from a once noble, but a fallen race. Are you ever susceptible to the weakness of ancestral pride?”

“You say,” answered Lucy, “that we should care not for those who live after us; much less, I imagine, should we care for those who have lived ages before!”

“Prettily answered,” said Brandon, smiling. “I will tell you at one time or another what effect that weakness you despise already once had, long after your age, upon me. You are early wise on some points; profit by my experience, and be so on all.”

“That is to say, in despising all men and all things!” said Lucy, also smiling.

“Well, never mind my creed — you may be wise after your own; but trust one, dearest Lucy, who loves you purely and disinterestedly, and who has weighed with scales balanced to a hair all the advantages to be gleaned from an earth in which I verily think the harvest was gathered before we were put into it — trust me, Lucy, and never think love, that maiden’s dream, so valuable as rank and power: pause well before you yield to the former; accept the latter the moment they are offered you. Love puts you at the feet of another, and that other a tyrant; rank puts others at your feet, and all those thus subjected are your slaves!”

Lucy moved her chair so that the new position concealed her face, and did not answer; and Brandon, in an altered tone, continued —

“Would you think, Lucy, that I once was fool enough to imagine that love was a blessing, and to be eagerly sought for? I gave up my hopes, my chances of wealth, of distinction — all that had burned from the years of boyhood into my very heart. I chose poverty, obscurity, humiliation; but I chose also love. What was my reward? Lucy Brandon, I was deceived — deceived!”

Brandon paused; and Lucy took his hand affectionately, but did not break the silence. Brandon resumed:—

“Yes, I was deceived! But I in my turn had a revenge, and a fitting revenge; for it was not the revenge of hatred, but” (and the speaker laughed sardonically) “of contempt. Enough of this, Lucy! What I wished to say to you is this — grown men and women know more of the truth of things than ye young persons think for. Love is a mere bauble, and no human being ever exchanged for it one solid advantage without repentance. Believe this; and if rank ever puts itself under those pretty feet, be sure not to spurn the footstool.”

So saying, with a slight laugh, Brandon lighted his chamber candle, and left the room for the night.

As soon as the lawyer reached his own apartment, he indited to Lord Mauleverer the following epistle:

“Why, dear Mauleverer, do you not come to town? I want you, your party wants you; perhaps the K— g wants you; and certainly, if you are serious about my niece, the care of your own love-suit should induce you yourself to want to come hither. I have paved the way for you; and I think, with a little management, you may anticipate a speedy success. But Lucy is a strange girl; and, perhaps, after all, though you ought to be on the spot, you had better leave her as much as possible in my hands. I know human nature, Mauleverer, and that knowledge is the engine by which I will work your triumph. As for the young lover, I am not quite sure whether it be not better for our sake that Lucy should have experienced a disappointment on that score; for when a woman has once loved, and the love is utterly hopeless, she puts all vague ideas of other lovers altogether out of her head; she becomes contented with a husband whom she can esteem! Sweet canter! But you, Mauleverer, want Lucy to love you! And so she will — after you have married her! She will love you partly from the advantages she derives from you, partly from familiarity (to say nothing of your good qualities). For my part, I think domesticity goes so far that I believe a woman always inclined to be affectionate to a man whom she has once seen in his nightcap. However, you should come to town; my poor brother’s recent death allows us to see no one — the coast will be clear from rivals; grief has softened my niece’s heart; in a word, you could not have a better opportunity. Come!

“By the way, you say one of the reasons which made you think ill of this Captain Clifford was your impression that in the figure of one of his comrades you recognized something that appeared to you to resemble one of the fellows who robbed you a few months ago. I understand that at this moment the police are in active pursuit of three most accomplished robbers; nor should I be at all surprised if in this very Clifford were to be found the leader of the gang, namely, the notorious Lovett. I hear that the said leader is a clever and a handsome fellow, of a gentlemanlike address, and that his general associates are two men of the exact stamp of the worthies you have so amusingly described to me. I heard this yesterday from Nabbem, the police-officer with whom I once scraped acquaintance on a trial; and in my grudge against your rival, I hinted at my suspicion that he, Captain Clifford, might not impossibly prove this Rinaldo Rinaldini of the roads. Nabbem caught at my hint at once; so that, if it be founded on a true guess, I may flatter my conscience as well as my friendship by the hope that I have had some hand in hanging this Adonis of my niece’s. Whether my guess be true or not, Nabbem says he is sure of this Lovett; for one of his gang has promised to betray him. Hang these aspiring dogs! I thought treachery was confined to politics; and that thought makes me turn to public matters, in which all people are turning with the most edifying celerity. . . . ”

Sir William Brandon’s epistle found Mauleverer in a fitting mood for Lucy and for London. Our worthy peer had been not a little chagrined by Lucy’s sudden departure from Bath; and while in doubt whether or not to follow her, the papers had informed him of the squire’s death. Mauleverer, being then fully aware of the impossibility of immediately urging his suit, endeavoured, like the true philosopher he was, to reconcile himself to his hope deferred. Few people were more easily susceptible of consolation than Lord Mauleverer. He found an agreeable lady, of a face more unfaded than her reputation, to whom he intrusted the care of relieving his leisure moments from ennui; and being a lively woman, the confidante discharged the trust with great satisfaction to Lord Mauleverer, for the space of a fortnight, so that he naturally began to feel his love for Lucy gradually wearing away, by absence and other ties; but just as the triumph of time over passion was growing decisive, the lady left Bath in company with a tall guardsman, and Mauleverer received Brandon’s letter. These two events recalled our excellent lover to a sense of his allegiance; and there being now at Bath no particular attraction to counterbalance the ardour of his affection, Lord Mauleverer ordered the horses to his carriage, and attended only by his valet, set out for London.

Nothing, perhaps, could convey a better portrait of the world’s spoiled darling than a sight of Lord Mauleverer’s thin, fastidious features, peering forth through the closed window of his luxurious travelling-chariot; the rest of the outer man being carefully enveloped in furs, half-a-dozen novels strewing the seat of the carriage, and a lean French dog, exceedingly like its master, sniffing in vain for the fresh air, which, to the imagination of Mauleverer, was peopled with all sorts of asthmas and catarrhs! Mauleverer got out of his carriage at Salisbury, to stretch his limbs, and to amuse himself with a cutlet. Our nobleman was well known on the roads; and as nobody could be more affable, he was equally popular. The officious landlord bustled into the room, to wait himself upon his lordship and to tell all the news of the place.

“Well, Mr. Cheerly,” said Mauleverer, bestowing a penetrating glance on his cutlet, “the bad times, I see, have not ruined your cook.”

“Indeed, my lord, your lordship is very good, and the times, indeed, are very bad — very bad indeed. Is there enough gravy? Perhaps your lordship will try the pickled onions?”

“The what? Onions! — oh! ah! nothing can be better; but I never touch them. So, are the roads good?”

“Your lordship has, I hope, found them good to Salisbury?”

“Ah! I believe so. Oh! to be sure, excellent to Salisbury. But how are they to London? We have had wet weather lately, I think!”

“No, my lord. Here the weather has been dry as a bone.”

“Or a cutlet!” muttered Mauleverer; and the host continued —

“As for the roads themselves, my lord, so far as the roads are concerned, they are pretty good, my lord; but I can’t say as how there is not something about them that might be mended.”

“By no means improbable! You mean the inns and the turnpikes?” rejoined Mauleverer.

“Your lordship is pleased to be facetious; no! I meant something worse than them.”

“What! the cooks?”

“No, my lord, the highwaymen!”

“The highwaymen! indeed?” said Mauleverer, anxiously; for he had with him a case of diamonds, which at that time were on grand occasions often the ornaments of a gentleman’s dress, in the shape of buttons, buckles, etc. He had also a tolerably large sum of ready money about him — a blessing he had lately begun to find very rare. “By the way, the rascals robbed me before on this very road. My pistols shall be loaded this time. Mr. Cheerly, you had better order the horses; one may as well escape the nightfall.”

“Certainly, my lord, certainly. — Jem, the horses immediately! — Your lordship will have another cutlet?”

“Not a morsel!”

“A tart?”

“A dev —! not for the world!”

“Bring the cheese, John!”

“Much obliged to you, Mr. Cheerly, but I have dined; and if I have not done justice to your good cheer, thank yourself and the highwaymen. Where do these highwaymen attack one?”

“Why, my lord, the neighbourhood of Reading is, I believe, the worst part; but they are very troublesome all the way to Salthill.”

“Damnation! the very neighbourhood in which the knaves robbed me before! You may well call them troublesome! Why the deuce don’t the police clear the country of such a movable species of trouble?”

“Indeed, my lord, I don’t know; but they say as how Captain Lovett, the famous robber, be one of the set; and nobody can catch him, I fear!”

“Because, I suppose, the dog has the sense to bribe as well as bully. What is the general number of these ruffians?”

“Why, my lord, sometimes one, sometimes two, but seldom more than three.”

Mauleverer drew himself up. “My dear diamonds and my pretty purse!” thought he; “I may save you yet!”

“Have you been long plagued with the fellows?” he asked, after a pause, as he was paying his bill.

“Why, my lord, we have and we have not. I fancy as how they have a sort of a haunt near Reading, for sometimes they are intolerable just about there, and sometimes they are quiet for months together! For instance, my lord, we thought them all gone some time ago; but lately they have regularly stopped every one, though I hear as how they have cleared no great booty as yet.”

Here the waiter announced the horses, and Mauleverer slowly re-entered his carriage, among the bows and smiles of the charmed spirits of the hostelry.

During the daylight Mauleverer, who was naturally of a gallant and fearless temper, thought no more of the highwaymen — a species of danger so common at that time that men almost considered it disgraceful to suffer the dread of it to be a cause of delay on the road. Travellers seldom deemed it best to lose time in order to save money; and they carried with them a stout heart and a brace of pistols, instead of sleeping all night on the road. Mauleverer, rather a preux chevalier, was precisely of this order of wayfarers; and a night at an inn, when it was possible to avoid it, was to him, as to most rich Englishmen, a tedious torture zealously to be shunned. It never, therefore, entered into the head of our excellent nobleman, despite his experience, that his diamonds and his purse might be saved from all danger if he would consent to deposit them, with his own person, at some place of hospitable reception; nor, indeed, was it till he was within a stage of Reading, and the twilight had entirely closed in, that he troubled his head much on the matter. But while the horses were putting to, he summoned the postboys to him; and after regarding their countenances with the eye of a man accustomed to read physiognomies, he thus eloquently addressed them —

“Gentlemen, I am informed that there is some danger of being robbed between this town and Salthill. Now, I beg to inform you that I think it next to impossible for four horses, properly directed, to be stopped by less than four men. To that number I shall probably yield; to a less number I shall most assuredly give nothing but bullets. You understand me?”

The post-boys grinned, touched their hats; and Mauleverer slowly continued —

“If, therefore — mark me! — one, two, or three men stop your horses, and I find that the use of your whips and spurs are ineffectual in releasing the animals from the hold of the robbers, I intend with these pistols — you observe them! —— to shoot at the gentlemen who detain you; but as, though I am generally a dead shot, my eyesight wavers a little in the dark, I think it very possible that I may have the misfortune to shoot you, gentlemen, instead of the robbers! You see the rascals will be close by you, sufficiently so to put you in jeopardy, unless indeed you knock them down with the but-end of your whips. I merely mention this, that you may be prepared. Should such a mistake occur, you need not be uneasy beforehand, for I will take every possible care of your widows; should it not, and should we reach Salthill in safety, I intend to testify my sense of the excellence of your driving by a present of ten guineas apiece! Gentlemen, I have done with you. I give you my honour that I am serious in what I have said to you. Do me the favour to mount.”

Mauleverer then called his favourite servant, who sat in the dickey in front (rumble-tumbles not being then in use). “Smoothson,” said he, “the last time we were attacked on this very road, you behaved damnably. See that you do better this time, or it may be the worse for you. You have pistols to-night about you, eh? Well, that’s right! And you are sure they’re loaded? Very well! Now, then, if we are stopped, don’t lose a moment. Jump down, and fire one of your pistols at the first robber. Keep the other for a sure aim. One shot is to intimidate, the second to slay. You comprehend? My pistols are in excellent order, I suppose. Lend me the ramrod. So, so! No trick this time!”

“They would kill a fly, my lord, provided your lordship fired straight upon it.”

“I do not doubt you,” said Mauleverer; “light the lanterns, and tell the postboys to drive on.”

It was a frosty and tolerably clear night. The dusk of the twilight had melted away beneath the moon which had just risen, and the hoary rime glittered from the bushes and the sward, breaking into a thousand diamonds as it caught the rays of the stars. On went the horses briskly, their breath steaming against the fresh air, and their hoofs sounding cheerily on the hard ground. The rapid motion of the carriage, the bracing coolness of the night, and the excitement occasioned by anxiety and the forethought of danger, all conspired to stir the languid blood of Lord Mauleverer into a vigorous and exhilarated sensation, natural in youth to his character, but utterly contrary to the nature he had imbibed from the customs of his manhood.

He felt his pistols, and his hands trembled a little as he did so — not the least from fear, but from that restlessness and eagerness peculiar to nervous persons placed in a new situation.

“In this country,” said he to himself, “I have been only once robbed in the course of my life. It was then a little my fault; for before I took to my pistols, I should have been certain they were loaded. To-night I shall be sure to avoid a similar blunder; and my pistols have an eloquence in their barrels which is exceedingly moving. Humph, another milestone! These fellows drive well; but we are entering a pretty-looking spot for Messieurs the disciples of Robin Hood!”

It was, indeed, a picturesque spot by which the carriage was now rapidly whirling. A few miles from Maidenhead, on the Henley Road, our readers will probably remember a small tract of forest-like land, lying on either side of the road. To the left the green waste bears away among the trees and bushes; and one skilled in the country may pass from that spot, through a landscape as little tenanted as green Sherwood was formerly, into the chains of wild common and deep beech-woods which border a certain portion of Oxfordshire, and contrast so beautifully the general characteristics of that county.

At the time we speak of, the country was even far wilder than it is now; and just on that point where the Henley and the Reading roads unite was a spot (communicating then with the waste land we have described), than which, perhaps, few places could be more adapted to the purposes of such true men as have recourse to the primary law of nature. Certain it was that at this part of the road Mauleverer looked more anxiously from his window than he had hitherto done, and apparently the increased earnestness of his survey was not altogether without meeting its reward.

About a hundred yards to the left, three dark objects were just discernible in the shade; a moment more, and the objects emerging grew into the forms of three men, well mounted, and riding at a brisk trot.

“Only three!” thought Mauleverer, “that is well;” and leaning from the front window with a pistol in either hand, Mauleverer cried out to the postboys in a stern tone, “Drive on, and recollect what I told you! — Remember!” he added to his servant. The postboys scarcely looked round; but their spurs were buried in their horses, and the animals flew on like lightning.

The three strangers made a halt, as if in conference; their decision was prompt. Two wheeled round from their comrade, and darted at full gallop by the carriage. Mauleverer’s pistol was already protruded from the front window, when to his astonishment, and to the utter baffling of his ingenious admonition to his drivers, he beheld the two postboys knocked from their horses one after the other with a celerity that scarcely allowed him an exclamation; and before he had recovered his self-possession, the horses taking fright (and their fright being skilfully taken advantage of by the highwaymen), the carriage was fairly whirled into a ditch on the right side of the road, and upset. Meanwhile Smoothson had leaped from his station in the front; and having fired, though without effect, at the third robber, who approached menacingly towards him, he gained the time to open the carriage door and extricate his master.

The moment Mauleverer found himself on terra firma, he prepared his courage for offensive measures; and he and Smoothson, standing side by side in front of the unfortunate vehicle, presented no unformidable aspect to the enemy. The two robbers who had so decisively rid themselves of the postboys acted with no less determination towards the horses. One of them dismounted, cut the traces, and suffered the plunging quadrupeds to go whither they listed. This measure was not, however, allowed to be taken with impunity; a ball from Mauleverer’s pistol passed through the hat of the highwayman with an aim so slightly erring that it whizzed among the locks of the astounded hero with a sound that sent a terror to his heart, no less from a love of his head than from anxiety for his hair. The shock staggered him for a moment; and a second shot from the hands of Mauleverer would have probably finished his earthly career, had not the third robber, who had hitherto remained almost inactive, thrown himself from his horse, which, tutored to such docility, remained perfectly still, and advancing with a bold step and a levelled pistol towards Mauleverer and his servant, said in a resolute voice, “Gentlemen, it is useless to struggle; we are well armed, and resolved on effecting our purpose. Your persons shall be safe if you lay down your arms, and also such part of your property as you may particularly wish to retain; but if you resist, I cannot answer for your lives!”

Mauleverer had listened patiently to this speech in order that he might have more time for adjusting his aim. His reply was a bullet, which grazed the side of the speaker and tore away the skin, without inflicting any more dangerous wound. Muttering a curse upon the error of his aim, and resolute to the last when his blood was once up, Mauleverer backed one pace, drew his sword, and threw himself into the attitude of a champion well skilled in the use of the instrument he wore.

But that incomparable personage was in a fair way of ascertaining what happiness in the world to come is reserved for a man who has spared no pains to make himself comfortable in this. For the two first and most active robbers having finished the achievement of the horses, now approached Mauleverer; and the taller of them, still indignant at the late peril to his hair, cried out in a stentorian voice —

“By Jove! you old fool, if you don’t throw down your toasting-fork, I’ll be the death of you!”

The speaker suited the action to the word by cocking an immense pistol. Mauleverer stood his ground; but Smoothson retreated, and stumbling against the wheel of the carriage, fell backward; the next instant, the second highwayman had possessed himself of the valet’s pistols, and, quietly seated on the fallen man’s stomach, amused himself by inspecting the contents of the domestic’s pockets. Mauleverer was now alone; and his stubbornness so enraged the tall bully that his hand was already on his trigger, when the third robber, whose side Mauleverer’s bullet had grazed, thrust himself between the two.

“Hold, Ned!” said he, pushing back his comrade’s pistol. “And you, my lord, whose rashness ought to cost you your life, learn that men can rob generously.” So saying, with one dexterous stroke from the robber’s riding-whip, Mauleverer’s sword flew upwards, and alighted at the distance of ten yards from its owner.

“Approach now,” said the victor to his comrades. “Rifle the carriage, and with all despatch!”

The tall highwayman hastened to execute this order; and the lesser one having satisfactorily finished the inquisition into Mr. Smoothson’s pockets, drew forth from his own pouch a tolerably thick rope; with this he tied the hands of the prostrate valet, moralizing as he wound the rope round and round the wrists of the fallen man, in the following edifying strain:—

“Lie still, sir — lie still, I beseech you! All wise men are fatalists; and no proverb is more pithy than that which says, ‘What can’t be cured must be endured.’ Lie still, I tell you! Little, perhaps, do you think that you are performing one of the noblest functions of humanity; yes, sir, you are filling the pockets of the destitute; and by my present action I am securing you from any weakness of the flesh likely to impede so praiseworthy an end, and so hazard the excellence of your action. There, sir, your hands are tight — lie still and reflect.”

As he said this, with three gentle applications of his feet, the moralist rolled Mr. Smoothson into the ditch, and hastened to join his lengthy comrade in his pleasing occupation.

In the interim Mauleverer and the third robber (who, in the true spirit of government, remained dignified and inactive while his followers plundered what he certainly designed to share, if not to monopolize) stood within a few feet of each other, face to face.

Mauleverer had now convinced himself that all endeavour to save his property was hopeless, and he had also the consolation of thinking he had done his best to defend it. He therefore bade all his thoughts return to the care of his person. He adjusted his fur collar around his neck with great sang froid, drew on his gloves, and, patting his terrified poodle, who sat shivering on its haunches with one paw raised and nervously trembling, he said —

“You, sir, seem to be a civil person, and I really should have felt quite sorry if I had had the misfortune to wound you. You are not hurt, I trust. Pray, if I may inquire, how am I to proceed? My carriage is in the ditch, and my horses by this time are probably at the end of the world.”

“As for that matter,” said the robber, whose face, like those of his comrades, was closely masked in the approved fashion of highwaymen of that day, “I believe you will have to walk to Maidenhead — it is not far, and the night is fine!”

“A very trifling hardship, indeed!” said Mauleverer, ironically; but his new acquaintance made no reply, nor did he appear at all desirous of entering into any further conversation with Mauleverer.

The earl, therefore, after watching the operations of the other robbers for some moments, turned on his heel, and remained humming an opera tune with dignified indifference until the pair had finished rifling the carriage, and seizing Mauleverer, proceeded to rifle him.

With a curled lip and a raised brow, that supreme personage suffered himself to be, as the taller robber expressed it, “cleaned out.” His watch, his rings, his purse, and his snuff-box, all went. It was long since the rascals had captured such a booty.

They had scarcely finished when the postboys, who had now begun to look about them, uttered a simultaneous cry, and at some distance a wagon was seen heavily approaching. Mauleverer really wanted his money, to say nothing of his diamonds; and so soon as he perceived assistance at hand, a new hope darted within him. His sword still lay on the ground; he sprang towards it, seized it, uttered a shout for help, and threw himself fiercely on the highwayman who had disarmed him; but the robber, warding off the blade with his whip, retreated to his saddle, which he managed, despite of Mauleverer’s lunges, to regain with impunity.

The other two had already mounted, and within a minute afterwards not a vestige of the trio was visible. “This is what may fairly be called single blessedness!” said Mauleverer, as, dropping his useless sword, he thrust his hands into his pockets.

Leaving our peerless peer to find his way to Maidenhead on foot, accompanied (to say nothing of the poodle) by one wagoner, two postboys, and the released Mr. Smoothson, all four charming him with their condolences, we follow with our story the steps of the three alieni appetentes.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/b/bulwer-lytton/edward/clifford/chapter25.html

Last updated Wednesday, March 12, 2014 at 13:31