Paul Clifford, by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Chapter XXXI.

Many things fall between the cup and the lip!

Your man does please me

With his conceit.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

Comes Chanon Hugh accoutred as you see

Disguised!

And thus am I to gull the constable?

Now have among you for a man at arms.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

High-constable was more, though

He laid Dick Tator by the heels.

BEN JONSON— Tale of a Tub.

Meanwhile Clifford strode rapidly through the streets which surrounded the judge’s house, and turning to an obscurer quartier of the town, entered a gloomy lane or alley. Here he was abruptly accosted by a man wrapped in a shaggy great-coat, of somewhat a suspicious appearance.

“Aha, Captain!” said he, “you are beyond your time, but all ‘s well!”

Attempting, with indifferent success, the easy self-possession which generally marked his address to his companions, Clifford, repeating the stranger’s words, replied —

“All’s well! What! are the prisoners released?”

“No, faith!” answered the man, with a rough laugh, “not yet; but all in good time. It is a little too much to expect the justices to do our work, though, by the Lord Harry, we often do theirs!”

“What then?” asked Clifford, impatiently.

“Why, the poor fellows had been carried to the town of ——— and brought before the queer cuffin (Magistrate) ere I arrived, though I set off the moment you told me, and did the journey in four hours. The examination lasted all yesterday, and they were remanded till today — let’s see, it is not yet noon; we may be there before it’s over.”

“And this is what you call well!” said Clifford, angrily. “No, Captain, don’t be glimflashy! You have not heard all yet! It seems that the only thing buffed hard against them was by a stout grazier, who was cried ‘Stand!’ to, some fifty miles off the town; so the queer coffin thinks of sending the poor fellows to the jail of the county where they did the business!”

“Ah! that may leave some hopes for them! We must look sharp to their journey; if they once get to prison, their only chances are the file and the bribe. Unhappily, neither of them is so lucky as myself at that trade!”

“No, indeed, there is not a stone-wall in England that the great Captain Lovett could not creep through, I’ll swear!” said the admiring satellite.

“Saddle the horses and load the pistols! I will join you in ten minutes. Have my farmer’s dress ready, the false hair, etc. Choose your own trim. Make haste; the Three Feathers is the house of meeting.”

“And in ten minutes only, Captain?”

“Punctually!”

The stranger turned a corner and was out of sight. Clifford, muttering, “Yes, I was the cause of their apprehension; it was I who was sought; it is but fair that I should strike a blow for their escape before I attempt my own,” continued his course till he came to the door of a public-house. The sign of a seaman swung aloft, portraying the jolly tar with a fine pewter pot in his hand, considerably huger than his own circumference. An immense pug sat at the door, lolling its tongue out, as if, having stuffed itself to the tongue, it was forced to turn that useful member out of its proper place. The shutters were half closed, but the sounds of coarse merriment issued jovially forth.

Clifford disconcerted the pug; and crossing the threshold, cried in aloud tone, “Janseen!”

“Here!” answered a gruff voice; and Clifford, passing on, came to a small parlour adjoining the tap. There, seated by a round oak table, he found mine host — a red, fierce, weather-beaten, but bloated-looking personage, like Dick Hatteraick in a dropsy.

“How now, Captain!” cried he, in a gutteral accent, and interlarding his discourse with certain Dutch graces, which with our reader’s leave we will omit, as being unable to spell them; “how now! — not gone yet!”

“No! I start for the coast tomorrow; business keeps me today. I came to ask if Mellon may be fully depended on?”

“Ay, honest to the back-bone.”

“And you are sure that in spite of my late delays he will not have left the village?”

“Sure! What else can I be? Don’t I know Jack Mellon these twenty years! He would lie like a log in a calm for ten months together, without moving a hair’s-breadth, if he was under orders.”

“And his vessel is swift and well manned, in case of an officer’s chase?”

“The ‘Black Molly’ swift? Ask your grandmother. The ‘Black Molly’ would outstrip a shark.”

“Then good-by, Janseen; there is something to keep your pipe alight. We shall not meet within the three seas again, I think. England is as much too hot for me as Holland for you!”

“You are a capital fellow!” cried mine host, shaking Clifford by the hand; “and when the lads come to know their loss, they will know they have lost the bravest and truest gill that ever took to the toby; so good-by, and be d —— d to you!”

With this valedictory benediction mine host released Clifford; and the robber hastened to his appointment at the Three Feathers.

He found all prepared. He hastily put on his disguise; and his follower led out his horse — a noble animal of the grand Irish breed, of remarkable strength and bone, and save only that it was somewhat sharp in the quarters (a fault which they who look for speed as well as grace will easily forgive), of most unequalled beauty in its symmetry and proportions.

Well did the courser know, and proudly did it render obeisance to, its master; snorting impatiently and rearing from the hand of the attendant robber, the sagacious animal freed itself of the rein, and as it tossed its long mane in the breeze of the fresh air, came trotting to the place where Clifford stood.

“So ho, Robin! so ho! What, thou chafest that I have left thy fellow behind at the Red Cave! Him we may never see more. But while I have life, I will not leave thee, Robin!” With these words the robber fondly stroked the shining neck of his favourite steed; and as the animal returned the caress by rubbing its head against the hands and the athletic breast of its master, Clifford felt at his heart somewhat of that old racy stir of the blood which had been once to him the chief charm of his criminal profession, and which in the late change of his feelings he had almost forgotten.

“Well, Robin, well,” he renewed, as he kissed the face of his steed — “well, we will have some days like our old ones yet; thou shalt say, Ha! ha! to the trumpet, and bear thy master along on more glorious enterprises than he has yet thanked thee for sharing. Thou wilt now be my only familiar, my only friend, Robin; we two shall be strangers in a foreign land. But thou wilt make thyself welcome easier than thy lord, Robin; and thou wilt forget the old days and thine old comrades and thine old loves, when — Ha!” and Clifford turned abruptly to his attendant, who addressed him; “It is late, you say. True! Look you, it will be unwise for us both to quit London together. You know the sixth milestone; join me there, and we can proceed in company!”

Not unwilling to linger for a parting cup, the comrade assented to the prudence of the plan proposed; and after one or two additional words of caution and advice, Clifford mounted and rode from the yard of the inn. As he passed through the tall wooden gates into the street, the imperfect gleam of the wintry sun falling over himself and his steed, it was scarcely possible, even in spite of his disguise and rude garb, to conceive a more gallant and striking specimen of the lawless and daring tribe to which he belonged; the height, strength, beauty, and exquisite grooming visible in the steed; the sparkling eye, the bold profile, the sinewy chest, the graceful limbs, and the careless and practised horsemanship of the rider.

Looking after his chief with a long and an admiring gaze, the robber said to the hostler of the inn, an aged and withered man, who had seen nine generations of highwaymen rise and vanish —

“There, Joe, when did you ever look on a hero like that? The bravest heart, the frankest hand, the best judge of a horse, and the handsomest man that ever did honour to Hounslow!”

“For all that,” returned the hostler, shaking his palsied head, and turning back to the tap-room — “for all that, master, his time be up. Mark my whids, Captain Lovett will not be over the year — no, nor mayhap the month!”

“Why, you old rascal, what makes you so wise? You will not peach, I suppose!”

“I peach! Devil a bit! But there never was the gemman of the road, great or small, knowing or stupid, as outlived his seventh year. And this will be the captain’s seventh, come the 21st of next month; but he be a fine chap, and I’ll go to his hanging!”

“Fish!” said the robber, peevishly — he himself was verging towards the end of his sixth year — “pish!”

“Mind, I tells it you, master; and somehow or other I thinks — and I has experience in these things — by the fey, of his eye and the drop of his lip, that the captain’s time will be up today!”

[Fey — A word difficult to translate; but the closest interpretation of which is, perhaps, “the ill omen.”]

Here the robber lost all patience, and pushing the hoary boder of evil against the wall, he turned on his heel, and sought some more agreeable companion to share his stirrup-cup.

It was in the morning of the day following that in which the above conversations occurred, that the sagacious Augustus Tomlinson and the valorous Edward Pepper, handcuffed and fettered, were jogging along the road in a postchaise, with Mr. Nabbem squeezed in by the side of the former, and two other gentlemen in Mr. Nabbem’s confidence mounted on the box of the chaise, and interfering sadly, as Long Ned growlingly remarked, with “the beauty of the prospect.”

“Ah, well!” quoth Nabbem, unavoidably thrusting his elbow into Tomlinson’s side, while he drew out his snuffbox, and helped himself largely to the intoxicating dust; “you had best prepare yourself, Mr. Pepper, for a change of prospects. I believes as how there is little to please you in guod [prison].”

“Nothing makes men so facetious as misfortune to others!” said Augustus, moralizing, and turning himself, as well as he was able, in order to deliver his body from the pointed elbow of Mr. Nabbem. “When a man is down in the world, all the bystanders, very dull fellows before, suddenly become wits!”

“You reflects on I,” said Mr. Nabbem. “Well, it does not sinnify a pin; for directly we does our duty, you chaps become howdaciously ungrateful!”

“Ungrateful!” said Pepper; “what a plague have we got to be grateful for? I suppose you think we ought to tell you you are the best friend we have, because you have scrouged us, neck and crop, into this horrible hole, like turkeys fatted for Christmas. ‘Sdeath! one’s hair is flatted down like a pancake; and as for one’s legs, you had better cut them off at once than tuck them up in a place a foot square — to say nothing of these blackguardly irons!”

“The only irons pardonable in your eyes, Ned,” said Tomlinson, “are the curling-irons, eh?”

“Now, if this is not too much!” cried Nabbem, crossly; “you objects to go in a cart like the rest of your profession; and when I puts myself out of the way to obleedgie you with a shay, you slangs I for it!”

“Peace, good Nabbem!” said Augustus, with a sage’s dignity; “you must allow a little bad humour in men so unhappily situated as we are.”

The soft answer turneth away wrath. Tomlinson’s answer softened Nabbem; and by way of conciliation, he held his snuff-box to the nose of his unfortunate prisoner. Shutting his eyes, Tomlinson long and earnestly sniffed up the luxury, and as soon as, with his own kerchief of spotted yellow, the officer had wiped from the proboscis some lingering grains, Tomlinson thus spoke:

“You see us now, Mr. Nabbem, in a state of broken-down opposition; but our spirits are not broken too. In our time we have had something to do with the administration; and our comfort at present is the comfort of fallen ministers!”

“Oho! you were in the Methodist line before you took to the road?” said Nabbem.

“Not so!” answered Augustus, gravely. “We were the Methodists of politics, not of the church; namely, we lived upon our flock without a legal authority to do so, and that which the law withheld from us our wits gave. But tell me, Mr. Nabbem, are you addicted to politics?”

“Why, they says I be,” said Mr. Nabbem, with a grin; “and for my part, I thinks all who sarves the king should stand up for him, and take care of their little families!”

“You speak what others think!” answered Tomlinson, smiling also. “And I will now, since you like politics, point out to you what I dare say you have not observed before.”

“What be that?” said Nabbem.

“A wonderful likeness between the life of the gentlemen adorning his Majesty’s senate and the life of the gentlemen whom you are conducting to his Majesty’s jail.”

The Libellous Parallel of Augustus Tomlinson.

“We enter our career, Mr. Nabbem, as your embryo ministers enter parliament — by bribery and corruption. There is this difference, indeed, between the two cases: we are enticed to enter by the bribery and corruptions of others; they enter spontaneously by dint of their own. At first, deluded by romantic visions, we like the glory of our career better than the profit, and in our youthful generosity we profess to attack the rich solely from consideration for the poor! By and by, as we grow more hardened, we laugh at these boyish dreams — peasant or prince fares equally at our impartial hands; we grasp at the bucket, but we scorn not the thimbleful; we use the word ‘glory’ only as a trap for proselytes and apprentices; our fingers, like an office-door, are open for all that can possibly come into them; we consider the wealthy as our salary, the poor as our perquisites. What is this, but a picture of your member of parliament ripening into a minister, your patriot mellowing into your placeman? And mark me, Mr. Nabbem! is not the very language of both as similar as the deeds? What is the phrase either of us loves to employ? ‘To deliver.’ What? ‘The Public.’ And do not both invariably deliver it of the same thing — namely, its purse? Do we want an excuse for sharing the gold of our neighbours, or abusing them if they resist? Is not our mutual, our pithiest plea, ‘Distress’? True, your patriot calls it ‘distress of the country;’ but does he ever, a whit more than we do, mean any distress but his own? When we are brought low, and our coats are shabby, do we not both shake our heads and talk of ‘reform’? And when, oh! when we are up in the world, do we not both kick ‘reform’ to the devil? How often your parliament man ‘vacates his seat,’ only for the purpose of resuming it with a weightier purse! How often, dear Ned, have our seats been vacated for the same end! Sometimes, indeed, he really finishes his career by accepting the Hundreds — it is by ‘accepting the hundreds’ that ours may be finished too! [Ned drew a long sigh.] Note us now, Mr. Nabbem, in the zenith of our prosperity — we have filled our pockets, we have become great in the mouths of our party. Our pals admire us, and our blowens adore. What do we in this short-lived summer? Save and be thrifty? Ah, no! we must give our dinners, and make light of our lush. We sport horses on the race-course, and look big at the multitude we have bubbled. Is not this your minister come into office? Does not this remind you of his equipage, his palace, his plate? In both cases lightly won, lavishly wasted; and the public, whose cash we have fingered, may at least have the pleasure of gaping at the figure we make with it! This, then, is our harvest of happiness; our foes, our friends, are ready to eat us with envy — yet what is so little enviable as our station? Have we not both our common vexations and our mutual disquietudes? Do we not both bribe [Nabbem shook his head and buttoned his waistcoat] our enemies, cajole our partisans, bully our dependants, and quarrel with our only friends — namely, ourselves? Is not the secret question with each, ‘It is all confoundedly fine; but how long will it last?’ Now, Mr. Nabbem, note me — reverse the portrait: we are fallen, our career is over — the road is shut to us, and new plunderers are robbing the carriages that once we robbed. Is not this the lot of — No, no! I deceive myself! Your ministers, your jobmen, for the most part milk the popular cow while there’s a drop in the udder. Your chancellor declines on a pension; your minister attenuates on a grant; the feet of your great rogues may be gone from the treasury benches, but they have their little fingers in the treasury. Their past services are remembered by his Majesty; ours only noted by the Recorder. They save themselves, for they hang by one another; we go to the devil, for we hang by ourselves. We have our little day of the public, and all is over; but it is never over with them. We both hunt the same fox; but we are your fair riders, they are your knowing ones — we take the leap, and our necks are broken; they sneak through the gates, and keep it up to the last!”

As he concluded, Tomlinson’s head dropped on his bosom, and it was easy to see that painful comparisons, mingled perhaps with secret murmurs at the injustice of fortune, were rankling in his breast. Long Ned sat in gloomy silence; and even the hard heart of the severe Mr. Nabbem was softened by the affecting parallel to which he had listened. They had proceeded without speaking for two or three miles, when Long Ned, fixing his eyes on Tomlinson, exclaimed —

“Do you know, Tomlinson, I think it was a burning shame in Lovett to suffer us to be carried off like muttons, without attempting to rescue us by the way! It is all his fault that we are here; for it was he whom Nabbem wanted, not us.”

“Very true,” said the cunning policeman; “and if I were you, Mr. Pepper, hang me if I would not behave like a man of spirit, and show as little consarn for him as he shows for you! Why, Lord now, I doesn’t want to ‘tice you; but this I does know, the justices are very anxious to catch Lovett; and one who gives him up, and says a word or two about his c’racter, so as to make conviction sartain, may himself be sartain of a free pardon for all little sprees and so forth!”

“Ah!” said Long Ned, with a sigh, “that is all very well, Mr. Nabbem, but I’ll go to the crap like a gentleman, and not peach of my comrades; and now I think of it, Lovett could scarcely have assisted us. One man alone, even Lovett, clever as he is, could not have forced us out of the clutches of you and your myrmidons, Mr. Nabbem! And when we were once at ——— they took excellent care of us. But tell me now, my dear Nabbem,” and Long Ned’s voice wheedled itself into something like softness — “tell me, do you think the grazier will buff it home?”

“No doubt of that,” said the unmoved Nabbem. Long Ned’s face fell. “And what if he does?” said he; “they can but transport us!”

“Don’t desave yourself, Master Pepper!” said Nabbem: “you’re too old a hand for the herring-pond. They’re resolved to make gallows apples of all such numprels [Nonpareils] as you!”

Ned cast a sullen look at the officer.

“A pretty comforter you are!” said he. “I have been in a post chaise with a pleasanter fellow, I’ll swear! You may call me an apple if you will, but, I take it, I am not an apple you’d like to see peeled.”

With this pugilistic and menacing pun, the lengthy hero relapsed into meditative silence.

Our travellers were now entering a road skirted on one side by a common of some extent, and on the other by a thick hedgerow, which through its breaks gave occasional glimpses of woodland and fallow, interspersed with cross-roads and tiny brooklets.

“There goes a jolly fellow!” said Nabbem, pointing to an athletic-looking man, riding before the carriage, dressed in a farmer’s garb, and mounted on a large and powerful horse of the Irish breed. “I dare say he is well acquainted with your grazier, Mr. Tomlinson; he looks mortal like one of the same kidney; and here comes another chap” (as the stranger, was joined by a short, stout, ruddy man in a carter’s frock, riding on a horse less showy than his comrade’s, but of the lengthy, reedy, lank, yet muscular race, which a knowing jockey would like to bet on). “Now that’s what I calls a comely lad!” continued Nabbem, pointing to the latter horseman; “none of your thin-faced, dark, strapping fellows like that Captain Lovett, as the blowens raves about, but a nice, tight little body, with a face like a carrot! That’s a beauty for my money! Honesty’s stamped on his face, Mr. Tomlinson! I dare says” (and the officer grinned, for he had been a lad of the cross in his own day) — “I dare says, poor innocent booby, he knows none of the ways of Lunnun town; and if he has not as merry a life as some folks, mayhap he may have a longer. But a merry one forever for such lads as us, Mr. Pepper! I say, has you heard as how Bill Fang went to Scratchland [Scotland] and was stretched for smashing queer screens [that is, hung for uttering forged notes]? He died ‘nation game; for when his father, who was a gray-headed parson, came to see him after the sentence, he says to the governor, say he, ‘Give us a tip, old ’un, to pay the expenses, and die dacently.’ The parson forks him out ten shiners, preaching all the while like winkey. Bob drops one of the guineas between his fingers, and says, ‘Holla, dad, you have only tipped us nine of the yellow boys! Just now you said as how it was ten!’ On this the parish-bull, who was as poor as if he had been a mouse of the church instead of the curate, lugs out another; and Bob, turning round to the jailer, cries, ‘Flung the governor out of a guinea, by God! —[Fact]— Now, that’s what I calls keeping it up to the last!”

Mr. Nabbem had scarcely finished this anecdote, when the farmer-like stranger, who had kept up by the side of the chaise, suddenly rode to the window, and touching his hat, said in a Norfolk accent —

“Were the gentlemen we met on the road belonging to your party? They were asking after a chaise and pair.”

“No!” said Nabbem, “there be no gentlemen as belongs to our party!” So saying, he tipped a knowing wink at the farmer, and glanced over his shoulder at the prisoners.

“What! you are going all alone?” said the farmer.

“Ay, to be sure,” answered Nabbem; “not much danger, I think, in the daytime, with the sun out as big as a sixpence, which is as big as ever I see’d him in this country!”

At that moment the shorter stranger, whose appearance had attracted the praise of Mr. Nabbem (that personage was himself very short and ruddy), and who had hitherto been riding close to the post-horses, and talking to the officers on the box, suddenly threw himself from his steed, and in the same instant that he arrested the horses of the chaise, struck the postilion to the ground with a short heavy bludgeon which he drew from his frock. A whistle was heard and answered, as if by a signal: three fellows, armed with bludgeons, leaped from the hedge; and in the interim the pretended farmer, dismounting, flung open the door of the chaise, and seizing Mr. Nabbem by the collar, swung him to the ground with a celerity that became the circular rotundity of the policeman’s figure rather than the deliberate gravity of his dignified office.

Rapid and instantaneous as had been this work, it was not without a check. Although the policemen had not dreamed of a rescue in the very face of the day and on the high-road, their profession was not that which suffered them easily to be surprised. The two guardians of the dicky leaped nimbly to the ground; but before they had time to use their firearms, two of the new aggressors, who had appeared from the hedge, closed upon them, and bore them to the ground. While this scuffle took place, the farmer had disarmed the prostrate Nabbem, and giving him in charge to the remaining confederate, extricated Tomlinson and his comrade from the chaise.

“Hist!” said he in a whisper, “beware my name; my disguise hides me at present. Lean on me — only through the hedge; a cart waits there, and you are safe!”

With these broken words he assisted the robbers as well as he could, in spite of their manacles, through the same part of the hedge from which the three allies had sprung. They were already through the barrier — only the long legs of Ned Pepper lingered behind — when at the far end of the road, which was perfectly straight, a gentleman’s carriage became visible. A strong hand from the interior of the hedge, seizing Pepper, dragged him through; and Clifford — for the reader need not be told who was the farmer, perceiving the approaching reinforcement, shouted at once for flight. The robber who had guarded Nabbem, and who indeed was no other than Old Bags, slow as he habitually was, lost not an instant in providing for himself; before you could say “Laudamus,” he was on the other side of the hedge. The two men engaged with the police-officers were not capable of an equal celerity; but Clifford, throwing himself into the contest and engaging the policemen, gave the robbers the opportunity of escape. They scrambled through the fence; the officers, tough fellows and keen, clinging lustily to them, till one was felled by Clifford, and the other, catching against a stump, was forced to relinquish his hold; he then sprang back into the road and prepared for Clifford, who now, however, occupied himself rather in fugitive than warlike measures. Meanwhile, the moment the other rescuers had passed the Rubicon of the hedge, their flight, and that of the gentlemen who had passed before them, commenced. On this mystic side of the hedge was a cross-road, striking at once through an intricate and wooded part of the country, which allowed speedy and ample opportunities of dispersion. Here a light cart, drawn by two swift horses in a tandem fashion, awaited the fugitives. Long Ned and Augustus were stowed down at the bottom of this vehicle; three fellows filed away at their irons, and a fourth, who had hitherto remained inglorious with the cart, gave the lash — and he gave it handsomely — to the coursers. Away rattled the equipage; and thus was achieved a flight still memorable in the annals of the elect, and long quoted as one of the boldest and most daring exploits that illicit enterprise ever accomplished.

Clifford and his equestrian comrade only remained in the field, or rather the road. The former sprang at once on his horse; the latter was not long in following the example. But the policeman, who, it has been said, baffled in detaining the fugitives of the hedge, had leaped back into the road, was not idle in the meanwhile. When he saw Clifford about to mount, instead of attempting to seize the enemy, he recurred to his pistol, which in the late struggle hand to hand he had been unable to use, and taking sure aim at Clifford, whom he judged at once to be the leader of the rescue, he lodged a ball in the right side of the robber at the very moment he had set spurs in his horse and turned to fly. Clifford’s head drooped to the saddle-bow. Fiercely the horse sprang on. The robber endeavoured, despite his reeling senses, to retain his seat; once he raised his head, once he nerved his slackened and listless limbs, and then, with a faint groan, he fell to the earth. The horse bounded but one step more, and, true to the tutorship it had received, stopped abruptly. Clifford raised himself with great difficulty on one arm; with the other hand he drew forth a pistol. He pointed it deliberately towards the officer that wounded him. The man stood motionless, cowering and spellbound, beneath the dilating eye of the robber. It was but for a moment that the man had cause for dread; for muttering between his ground teeth, “Why waste it on an enemy?” Clifford turned the muzzle towards the head of the unconscious steed, which seemed sorrowfully and wistfully to incline towards him. “Thou,” he said, “whom I have fed and loved, shalt never know hardship from another!” and with a merciful cruelty he dragged himself one pace nearer to his beloved steed, uttered a well-known word, which brought the docile creature to his side, and placing the muzzle of the pistol close to his ear, he fired, and fell back senseless at the exertion. The animal staggered, and dropped down dead.

Meanwhile Clifford’s comrade, profiting by the surprise and sudden panic of the officer, was already out of reach, and darting across the common, he and his ragged courser speedily vanished.

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