“There was racing and chasing o’er Cannobie Lee.”
When Edward Walcott awoke the next morning from his deep slumber, his first consciousness was of a heavy weight upon his mind, the cause of which he was unable immediately to recollect. One by one, however, by means of the association of ideas, the events of the preceding night came back to his memory; though those of latest occurrence were dim as dreams. But one circumstance was only too well remembered — the discovery of Ellen Langton. By a strong effort he next attained to an uncertain recollection of a scene of madness and violence, followed, as he at first thought, by a duel. A little further reflection, however, informed him that this event was yet among the things of futurity; but he could by no means recall the appointed time or place. As he had not the slightest intention (praiseworthy and prudent as it would unquestionably have been) to give up the chance of avenging Ellen’s wrongs and his own, he immediately arose, and began to dress, meaning to learn from Hugh Crombie those particulars which his own memory had not retained. His chief apprehension was, that the appointed time had already elapsed; for the early Sunbeams of a glorious morning were now peeping into his chamber.
More than once, during the progress of dressing, he was inclined to believe that the duel had actually taken place, and been fatal to him, and that he was now in those regions to which, his conscience told him, such an event would be likely to send him. This idea resulted from his bodily sensations, which were in the highest degree uncomfortable. He was tormented by a raging thirst, that seemed to have absorbed all the moisture of his throat and stomach; and, in his present agitation, a cup of icy water would have been his first wish, had all the treasures of earth and sea been at his command. His head, too, throbbed almost to bursting; and the whirl of his brain at every movement promised little accuracy in the aim of his pistol, when he should meet the angler. These feelings, together with the deep degradation of his mind, made him resolve that no circumstances should again draw him into an excess of wine. In the mean time, his head was, perhaps, still too much confused to allow him fully to realize his unpleasant situation.
Before Edward was prepared to leave his chamber, the door was opened by one of the college bed-makers, who, perceiving that he was nearly dressed, entered, and began to set the apartment in order. There were two of these officials pertaining to Harley College; each of them being (and, for obvious reasons, this was an indispensable qualification) a model of perfect ugliness in her own way. One was a tall, raw-boned, huge-jointed, double-fisted giantess, admirably fitted to sustain the part of Glumdalia, in the tragedy of “Tom Thumb.” Her features were as excellent as her form, appearing to have been rough-hewn with a broadaxe, and left unpolished. The other was a short, squat figure, about two thirds the height, and three times the circumference, of ordinary females. Her hair was gray, her complexion of a deep yellow; and her most remarkable feature was a short snub nose, just discernible amid the broad immensity of her face. This latter lady was she who now entered Edward’s chamber. Notwithstanding her deficiency in personal attractions, she was rather a favorite of the students, being good-natured, anxious for their comfort, and, when duly encouraged, very communicative. Edward perceived, as soon as she appeared, that she only waited his assistance in order to disburden herself of some extraordinary information; and, more from compassion than curiosity, he began to question her.
“Well, Dolly, what news this morning?”
“Why, let me see — oh, yes! It had almost slipped my memory,” replied the bed-maker. “Poor Widow Butler died last night, after her long sickness. Poor woman! I remember her forty years ago, or so — as rosy a lass as you could set eyes on.”
“Ah! has she gone?” said Edward, recollecting the sick woman of the cottage which he had entered with Ellen and Fanshawe. “Was she not out of her right mind, Dolly?”
“Yes, this seven years,” she answered. “They say she came to her senses a bit, when Dr. Melmoth visited her yesterday, but was raving mad when she died. Ah, that son of hers! — if he is yet alive. Well, well!”
“She had a son, then?” inquired Edward.
“Yes, such as he was. The Lord preserve me from such a one!” said Dolly. “It was thought he went off with Hugh Crombie, that keeps the tavern now. That was fifteen years ago.”
“And have they heard nothing of him since?” asked Edward.
“Nothing good — nothing good,” said the bed-maker.
“Stories did travel up the valley now and then; but for five years there has been no word of him. They say Merchant Langton, Ellen’s father, met him in foreign parts, and would have made a man of him; but there was too much of the wicked one in him for that. Well, poor woman! I wonder who’ll preach her funeral sermon.”
“Dr. Melmoth, probably,” observed the student.
“No, no! The doctor will never finish his journey in time. And who knows but his own funeral will be the end of it,” said Dolly, with a sagacious shake of her head.
“Dr. Melmoth gone a journey!” repeated Edward. “What do you mean? For what purpose?”
“For a good purpose enough, I may say,” replied she. “To search out Miss Ellen, that was run away with last night.”
“In the Devil’s name, woman, of what are you speaking?” shouted Edward, seizing the affrighted bed-maker forcibly by the arm.
Poor Dolly had chosen this circuitous method of communicating her intelligence, because she was well aware that, if she first told of Ellen’s flight, she should find no ear for her account of the Widow Butler’s death. She had not calculated, however, that the news would produce so violent an effect upon her auditor; and her voice faltered as she recounted what she knew of the affair. She had hardly concluded, before Edward — who, as she proceeded, had been making hasty preparations — rushed from his chamber, and took the way towards Hugh Crombie’s inn. He had no difficulty in finding the landlord, who had already occupied his accustomed seat, and was smoking his accustomed pipe, under the elm-tree.
“Well, Master Walcott, you have come to take a stomach-reliever this morning, I suppose,” said Hugh, taking the pipe from his mouth. “What shall it be? — a bumper of wine with an egg? or a glass of smooth, old, oily brandy, such as Dame Crombie and I keep for our own drinking? Come, that will do it, I know.”
“No, no! neither,” replied Edward, shuddering involuntarily at the bare mention of wine and strong drink. “You know well, Hugh Crombie, the errand on which I come.”
“Well, perhaps I do,” said the landlord. “You come to order me to saddle my best horse. You are for a ride, this fine morning.”
“True; and I must learn of you in what direction to turn my horse’s head,” replied Edward Walcott.
“I understand you,” said Hugh, nodding and smiling. “And now, Master Edward, I really have taken a strong liking to you; and, if you please to hearken to it, you shall have some of my best advice.”
“Speak,” said the young man, expecting to be told in what direction to pursue the chase.
“I advise you, then,” continued Hugh Crombie, in a tone in which some real feeling mingled with assumed carelessness — “I advise you to forget that you have ever known this girl, that she has ever existed; for she is as much lost to you as if she never had been born, or as if the grave had covered her. Come, come, man, toss off a quart of my old wine, and kept up a merry heart. This has been my way in many a heavier sorrow than ever you have felt; and you see I am alive and merry yet.” But Hugh’s merriment had failed him just as he was making his boast of it; for Edward saw a tear in the corner of his eye.
“Forget her? Never, never!” said the student, while his heart sank within him at the hopelessness of pursuit which Hugh’s words implied. “I will follow her to the ends of the earth.”
“Then so much the worse for you and for my poor nag, on whose back you shall be in three minutes,” rejoined the landlord. “I have spoken to you as I would to my own son, if I had such an incumbrance. — Here, you ragamuffin; saddle the gray, and lead him round to the door.”
“The gray? I will ride the black,” said Edward. “I know your best horse as well as you do yourself, Hugh.”
“There is no black horse in my stable. I have parted with him to an old comrade of mine,” answered the landlord, with a wink of acknowledgment to what he saw were Edward’s suspicions. “The gray is a stout nag, and will carry you a round pace, though not so fast as to bring you up with them you seek. I reserved him for you, and put Mr. Fanshawe off with the old white, on which I travelled hitherward a year or two since.”
“Fanshawe! Has he, then, the start of me?” asked Edward.
“He rode off about twenty minutes ago,” replied Hugh; “but you will overtake him within ten miles, at farthest. But, if mortal man could recover the girl, that fellow would do it, even if he had no better nag than a broomstick, like the witches of old times.”
“Did he obtain any information from you as to the course?” inquired the student.
“I could give him only this much,” said Hugh, pointing down the road in the direction of the town. “My old comrade trusts no man further than is needful, and I ask no unnecessary questions.”
The hostler now led up to the door the horse which Edward was to ride. The young man mounted with all expedition; but, as he was about to apply the spurs, his thirst, which the bed-maker’s intelligence had caused him to forget, returned most powerfully upon him.
“For Heaven’s sake, Hugh, a mug of your sharpest cider; and let it be a large one!” he exclaimed. “My tongue rattles in my mouth like”—
“Like the bones in a dice-box,” said the landlord, finishing the comparison, and hastening to obey Edward’s directions. Indeed, he rather exceeded them, by mingling with the juice of the apple a gill of his old brandy, which his own experience told him would at that time have a most desirable effect upon the young man’s internal system.
“It is powerful stuff, mine host; and I feel like a new man already,” observed Edward, after draining the mug to the bottom.
“He is a fine lad, and sits his horse most gallantly,” said Hugh Crombie to himself as the student rode off. “I heartily wish him success. I wish to Heaven my conscience had suffered me to betray the plot before it was too late. Well, well, a man must keep his mite of honesty.”
The morning was now one of the most bright and glorious that ever shone for mortals; and, under other circumstances, Edward’s bosom would have been as light, and his spirit would have sung as cheerfully, as one of the many birds that warbled around him. The raindrops of the preceding night hung like glittering diamonds on every leaf of every tree, shaken, and rendered more brilliant, by occasional sighs of wind, that removed from the traveller the superfluous heat of an unclouded sun. In spite of the adventure, so mysterious and vexatious, in which he was engaged, Edward’s elastic spirit (assisted, perhaps, by the brandy he had unwittingly swallowed) rose higher as he rode on; and he soon found himself endeavoring to accommodate the tune of one of Hugh Crombie’s ballads to the motion of the horse. Nor did this reviving cheerfulness argue anything against his unwavering faith, and pure and fervent love for Ellen Langton. A sorrowful and repining disposition is not the necessary accompaniment of a “leal and loving heart”; and Edward’s spirits were cheered, not by forgetfulness, but by hope, which would not permit him to doubt of the ultimate success of his pursuit. The uncertainty itself, and the probable danger of the expedition, were not without their charm to a youthful and adventurous spirit. In fact, Edward would not have been altogether satisfied to recover the errant damsel, without first doing battle in her behalf.
He had proceeded but a few miles before he came in sight of Fanshawe, who had been accommodated by the landlord with a horse much inferior to his own. The speed to which he had been put had almost exhausted the poor animal, whose best pace was now but little beyond a walk. Edward drew his bridle as he came up with Fanshawe.
“I have been anxious to apologize,” he said to him, “for the hasty and unjust expressions of which I made use last evening. May I hope that, in consideration of my mental distraction and the causes of it, you will forget what has passed?”
“I had already forgotten it,” replied Fanshawe, freely offering his hand. “I saw your disturbed state of feeling, and it would have been unjust both to you and to myself to remember the errors it occasioned.”
“A wild expedition this,” observed Edward, after shaking warmly the offered hand. “Unless we obtain some further information at the town, we shall hardly know which way to continue the pursuit.”
“We can scarcely fail, I think, of lighting upon some trace of them,” said Fanshawe. “Their flight must have commenced after the storm subsided, which would give them but a few hours the start of us. May I beg,” he continued, nothing the superior condition of his rival’s horse, “that you will not attempt to accommodate your pace to mine?”
Edward bowed, and rode on, wondering at the change which a few months had wrought in Fanshawe’s character. On this occasion, especially, the energy of his mind had communicated itself to his frame. The color was strong and high in his cheek; and his whole appearance was that of a gallant and manly youth, whom a lady might love, or a foe might fear. Edward had not been so slow as his mistress in discovering the student’s affection; and he could not but acknowledge in his heart that he was a rival not to be despised, and might yet be a successful one, if, by his means, Ellen Langton were restored to her friends. This consideration caused him to spur forward with increased ardor; but all his speed could not divest him of the idea that Fanshawe would finally overtake him, and attain the object of their mutual pursuit. There was certainly no apparent ground for this imagination: for every step of his horse increased the advantage which Edward had gained, and he soon lost sight of his rival.
Shortly after overtaking Fanshawe, the young man passed the lonely cottage formerly the residence of the Widow Butler, who now lay dead within. He was at first inclined to alight, and make inquiries respecting the fugitives; for he observed through the windows the faces of several persons, whom curiosity, or some better feeling, had led to the house of mourning. Recollecting, however, that this portion of the road must have been passed by the angler and Ellen at too early an hour to attract notice, he forbore to waste time by a fruitless delay.
Edward proceeded on his journey, meeting with no other noticeable event, till, arriving at the summit of a hill, he beheld, a few hundred yards before him, the Rev. Dr. Melmoth. The worthy president was toiling onward at a rate unexampled in the history either of himself or his steed; the excellence of the latter consisting in sure-footedness rather than rapidity. The rider looked round, seemingly in some apprehension at the sound of hoof-tramps behind him, but was unable to conceal his satisfaction on recognizing Edward Walcott.
In the whole course of his life, Dr. Melmoth had never been placed in circumstances so embarrassing as the present. He was altogether a child in the ways of the world, having spent his youth and early manhood in abstracted study, and his maturity in the solitude of these hills. The expedition, therefore, on which fate had now thrust him, was an entire deviation from the quiet pathway of all his former years; and he felt like one who sets forth over the broad ocean without chart or compass. The affair would undoubtedly have been perplexing to a man of far more experience than he; but the doctor pictured to himself a thousand difficulties and dangers, which, except in his imagination, had no existence. The perturbation of his spirit had compelled him, more than once since his departure, to regret that he had not invited Mrs. Melmoth to a share in the adventure; this being an occasion where her firmness, decision, and confident sagacity — which made her a sort of domestic hedgehog — would have been peculiarly appropriate. In the absence of such a counsellor, even Edward Walcott — young as he was, and indiscreet as the doctor thought him — was a substitute not to be despised; and it was singular and rather ludicrous to observe how the gray-haired man unconsciously became as a child to the beardless youth. He addressed Edward with an assumption of dignity, through which his pleasure at the meeting was very obvious.
“Young gentleman, this is not well,” he said. “By what authority have you absented yourself from the walls of Alma Mater during term-time?”
“I conceived that it was unnecessary to ask leave at such a conjuncture, and when the head of the institution was himself in the saddle,” replied Edward.
“It was a fault, it was a fault,” said Dr. Melmoth, shaking his head; “but, in consideration of the motive, I may pass it over. And now, my dear Edward, I advise that we continue our journey together, as your youth and inexperience will stand in need of the wisdom of my gray head. Nay, I pray you lay not the lash to your steed. You have ridden fast and far; and a slower pace is requisite for a season.”
And, in order to keep up with his young companion, the doctor smote his own gray nag; which unhappy beast, wondering what strange concatenation of events had procured him such treatment, endeavored to obey his master’s wishes. Edward had sufficient compassion for Dr. Melmoth (especially as his own horse now exhibited signs of weariness) to moderate his pace to one attainable by the former.
“Alas, youth! these are strange times,” observed the president, “when a doctor of divinity and an under-graduate set forth, like a knight-errant and his squire, in search of a stray damsel. Methinks I am an epitome of the church militant, or a new species of polemical divinity. Pray Heaven, however, there be no encounter in store for us; for I utterly forgot to provide myself with weapons.”
“I took some thought for that matter, reverend knight,” replied Edward, whose imagination was highly tickled by Dr. Melmoth’s chivalrous comparison.
“Ay, I see that you have girded on a sword,” said the divine. “But wherewith shall I defend myself, my hand being empty, except of this golden headed staff, the gift of Mr. Langton?”
“One of these, if you will accept it,” answered Edward, exhibiting a brace of pistols, “will serve to begin the conflict, before you join the battle hand to hand.”
“Nay, I shall find little safety in meddling with that deadly instrument, since I know not accurately from which end proceeds the bullet,” said Dr. Melmoth. “But were it not better, seeing we are so well provided with artillery, to betake ourselves, in the event of an encounter, to some stone-wall or other place of strength?”
“If I may presume to advise,” said the squire, “you, as being most valiant and experienced, should ride forward, lance in hand (your long staff serving for a lance), while I annoy the enemy from afar.”
“Like Teucer behind the shield of Ajax,” interrupted Dr. Melmoth, “or David with his stone and sling. No, no, young man! I have left unfinished in my study a learned treatise, important not only to the present age, but to posterity, for whose sakes I must take heed to my safety. — But, lo! who ride yonder?” he exclaimed, in manifest alarm, pointing to some horsemen upon the brow of a hill at a short distance before them.
“Fear not, gallant leader,” said Edward Walcott, who had already discovered the objects of the doctor’s terror. “They are men of peace, as we shall shortly see. The foremost is somewhere near your own years, and rides like a grave, substantial citizen — though what he does here, I know not. Behind come two servants, men likewise of sober age and pacific appearance.”
“Truly your eyes are better than mine own. Of a verity, you are in the right,” acquiesced Dr. Melmoth, recovering his usual quantum of intrepidity. “We will ride forward courageously, as those who, in a just cause, fear neither death nor bonds.”
The reverend knight-errant and his squire, at the time of discovering the three horsemen, were within a very short distance of the town, which was, however, concealed from their view by the hill that the strangers were descending. The road from Harley College, through almost its whole extent, had been rough and wild, and the country thin of population; but now, standing frequent, amid fertile fields on each side of the way, were neat little cottages, from which groups of white-headed children rushed forth to gaze upon the travellers. The three strangers, as well as the doctor and Edward, were surrounded, as they approached each other, by a crowd of this kind, plying their little bare legs most pertinaciously in order to keep pace with the horses.
As Edward gained a nearer view of the foremost rider, his grave aspect and stately demeanor struck him with involuntary respect. There were deep lines of thought across his brow; and his calm yet bright gray eye betokened a steadfast soul. There was also an air of conscious importance, even in the manner in which the stranger sat his horse, which a man’s good opinion of himself, unassisted by the concurrence of the world in general, seldom bestows. The two servants rode at a respectable distance in the rear; and the heavy portmanteaus at their backs intimated that the party had journeyed from afar. Dr. Melmoth endeavored to assume the dignity that became him as the head of Harley College; and with a gentle stroke of his staff upon his wearied steed and a grave nod to the principal stranger, was about to commence the ascent of the hill at the foot of which they were. The gentleman, however, made a halt.
“Dr. Melmoth, am I so fortunate as to meet you?” he exclaimed in accents expressive of as much surprise and pleasure as were consistent with his staid demeanor. “Have you, then, forgotten your old friend?”
“Mr. Langton! Can it be?” said the doctor, after looking him in the face a moment. “Yes, it is my old friend indeed: welcome, welcome! though you come at an unfortunate time.”
“What say you? How is my child? Ellen, I trust, is well?” cried Mr. Langton, a father’s anxiety overcoming the coldness and reserve that were natural to him, or that long habit had made a second nature.
“She is well in health. She was so, at least, last night,” replied Dr. Melmoth unable to meet the eye of his friend. “But — but I have been a careless shepherd; and the lamb has strayed from the fold while I slept.”
Edward Walcott, who was a deeply interested observer of this scene, had anticipated that a burst of passionate grief would follow the disclosure. He was, however, altogether mistaken. There was a momentary convulsion of Mr. Langton’s strong features, as quick to come and go as a flash of lightning; and then his countenance was as composed — though, perhaps, a little sterner — as before. He seemed about to inquire into the particulars of what so nearly concerned him, but changed his purpose on observing the crowd of children, who, with one or two of their parents, were endeavoring to catch the words, that passed between the doctor and himself.
“I will turn back with you to the village,” he said in a steady voice; “and at your leisure I shall desire to hear the particulars of this unfortunate affair.”
He wheeled his horse accordingly, and, side by side with Dr. Melmoth, began to ascend the hill. On reaching the summit, the little country town lay before them, presenting a cheerful and busy spectacle. It consisted of one long, regular street, extending parallel to, and at a short distance from, the river; which here, enlarged by a junction with another stream, became navigable, not indeed for vessels of burden, but for rafts of lumber and boats of considerable size. The houses, with peaked roofs and jutting stories, stood at wide intervals along the street; and the commercial character of the place was manifested by the shop door and windows that occupied the front of almost every dwelling. One or two mansions, however, surrounded by trees, and standing back at a haughty distance from the road, were evidently the abodes of the aristocracy of the village. It was not difficult to distinguish the owners of these — self-important personages, with canes and well-powdered periwigs — among the crowd of meaner men who bestowed their attention upon Dr. Melmoth and his friend as they rode by. The town being the nearest mart of a large extent of back country, there are many rough farmers and woodsmen, to whom the cavalcade was an object of curiosity and admiration. The former feeling, indeed, was general throughout the village. The shop-keepers left their customers, and looked forth from the doors; the female portion of the community thrust their heads from the windows; and the people in the street formed a lane through which, with all eyes concentrated upon them, the party rode onward to the tavern. The general aptitude that pervades the populace of a small country town to meddle with affairs not legitimately concerning them was increased, on this occasion, by the sudden return of Mr. Langton after passing through the village. Many conjectures were afloat respecting the cause of this retrograde movement; and, by degrees, something like the truth, though much distorted, spread generally among the crowd, communicated, probably, from Mr. Langton’s servants. Edward Walcott, incensed at the uncourteous curiosity of which he, as well as his companions, was the object, felt a frequent impulse (though, fortunately for himself, resisted) to make use of his riding-switch in clearing a passage.
On arriving at the tavern, Dr. Melmoth recounted to his friend the little he knew beyond the bare fact of Ellen’s disappearance. Had Edward Walcott been called to their conference, he might, by disclosing the adventure of the angler, have thrown a portion of light upon the affair; but, since his first introduction, the cold and stately merchant had honored him with no sort of notice.
Edward, on his part, was not well pleased at the sudden appearance of Ellen’s father, and was little inclined to cooperate in any measures that he might adopt for her recovery. It was his wish to pursue the chase on his own responsibility, and as his own wisdom dictated: he chose to be an independent ally, rather than a subordinate assistant. But, as a step preliminary to his proceedings of every other kind, he found it absolutely necessary, having journeyed far, and fasting, to call upon the landlord for a supply of food. The viands that were set before him were homely but abundant; nor were Edward’s griefs and perplexities so absorbing as to overcome the appetite of youth and health.
Dr. Melmoth and Mr. Langton, after a short private conversation, had summoned the landlord, in the hope of obtaining some clew to the development of the mystery. But no young lady, nor any stranger answering to the description the doctor had received from Hugh Crombie (which was indeed a false one), had been seen to pass through the village since daybreak. Here, therefore, the friends were entirely at a loss in what direction to continue the pursuit. The village was the focus of several roads, diverging to widely distant portions of the country; and which of these the fugitives had taken, it was impossible to determine. One point, however, might be considered certain — that the village was the first stage of their flight; for it commanded the only outlet from the valley, except a rugged path among the hills, utterly impassable by horse. In this dilemma, expresses were sent by each of the different roads; and poor Ellen’s imprudence — the tale nowise decreasing as it rolled along — became known to a wide extent of country. Having thus done everything in his power to recover his daughter, the merchant exhibited a composure which Dr. Melmoth admired, but could not equal. His own mind, however, was in a far more comfortable state than when the responsibility of the pursuit had rested upon himself.
Edward Walcott, in the mean time, had employed but a very few moments in satisfying his hunger; after which his active intellect alternately formed and relinquished a thousand plans for the recovery of Ellen. Fanshawe’s observation, that her flight must have commenced after the subsiding of the storm, recurred to him. On inquiry, he was informed that the violence of the rain had continued, with a few momentary intermissions, till near daylight. The fugitives must, therefore, have passed through the village long after its inhabitants were abroad; and how, without the gift of invisibility, they had contrived to elude notice, Edward could not conceive.
“Fifty years ago,” thought Edward, “my sweet Ellen would have been deemed a witch for this trackless journey. Truly, I could wish I were a wizard, that I might bestride a broomstick, and follow her.”
While the young man, involved in these perplexing thoughts, looked forth from the open window of the apartment, his attention was drawn to an individual, evidently of a different, though not of a higher, class than the countrymen among whom he stood. Edward now recollected that he had noticed his rough dark face among the most earnest of those who had watched the arrival of the party. He had then taken him for one of the boatmen, of whom there were many in the village, and who had much of a sailor-like dress and appearance. A second and more attentive observation, however, convinced Edward that this man’s life had not been spent upon fresh water; and, had any stronger evidence than the nameless marks which the ocean impresses upon its sons been necessary, it would have been found in his mode of locomotion. While Edward was observing him, he beat slowly up to one of Mr. Langton’s servants who was standing near the door of the inn. He seemed to question the man with affected carelessness; but his countenance was dark and perplexed when he turned to mingle again with the crowd. Edward lost no time in ascertaining from the servant the nature of his inquiries. They had related to the elopement of Mr. Langton’s daughter, which was, indeed, the prevailing, if not the sole, subject of conversation in the village.
The grounds for supposing that this man was in any way connected with the angler were, perhaps, very slight; yet, in the perplexity of the whole affair, they induced Edward to resolve to get at the heart of his mystery. To attain this end, he took the most direct method — by applying to the man himself.
He had now retired apart from the throng and bustle of the village, and was seated upon a condemned boat, that was drawn up to rot upon the banks of the river. His arms were folded, and his hat drawn over his brows. The lower part of his face, which alone was visible, evinced gloom and depression, as did also the deep sighs, which, because he thought no one was near him, he did not attempt to restrain.
“Friend, I must speak with you,” said Edward Walcott, laying his hand upon his shoulder, after contemplating the man a moment, himself unseen.
He started at once from his abstraction and his seat, apparently expecting violence, and prepared to resist it; but, perceiving the youthful and solitary intruder upon his privacy, he composed his features with much quickness.
“What would you with me?” he asked.
“They tarry long — or you have kept a careless watch,” said Edward, speaking at a venture.
For a moment, there seemed a probability of obtaining such a reply to this observation as the youth had intended to elicit. If any trust could be put in the language of the stranger’s countenance, a set of words different from those to which he subsequently gave utterance had risen to his lips. But he seemed naturally slow of speech; and this defect was now, as is frequently the case, advantageous in giving him space for reflection.
“Look you, youngster: crack no jokes on me,” he at length said, contemptuously. “Away! back whence you came, or”— And he slightly waved a small rattan that he held in his right hand.
Edward’s eyes sparkled, and his color rose. “You must change this tone, fellow, and that speedily,” he observed. “I order you to lower your hand, and answer the questions that I shall put to you.”
The man gazed dubiously at him, but finally adopted a more conciliatory mode of speech.
“Well, master; and what is your business with me?” he inquired. “I am a boatman out of employ. Any commands in my line?”
“Pshaw! I know you, my good friend, and you cannot deceive me,” replied Edward Walcott. “We are private here,” he continued, looking around. “I have no desire or intention to do you harm; and, if you act according to my directions, you shall have no cause to repent it.”
“And what if I refuse to put myself under your orders?” inquired the man. “You are but a young captain for such an old hulk as mine.”
“The ill consequences of a refusal would all be on your own side,” replied Edward. “I shall, in that case, deliver you up to justice: if I have not the means of capturing you myself,” he continued, observing the seaman’s eye to wander rather scornfully over his youthful and slender figure, “there are hundreds within call whom it will be in vain to resist. Besides, it requires little strength to use this,” he added, laying his hand on a pistol.
“If that were all, I could suit you there, my lad,” muttered the stranger. He continued aloud, “Well, what is your will with me? D——d ungenteel treatment this! But put your questions; and, to oblige you, I may answer them — if so be that I know anything of the matter.”
“You will do wisely,” observed the young man. “And now to business. What reason have you to suppose that the persons for whom you watch are not already beyond the village?” The seaman paused long before he answered, and gazed earnestly at Edward, apparently endeavoring to ascertain from his countenance the amount of his knowledge. This he probably overrated, but, nevertheless, hazarded a falsehood.
“I doubt not they passed before midnight,” he said. “I warrant you they are many a league towards the sea-coast, ere this.”
“You have kept watch, then, since midnight?” asked Edward.
“Ay, that have I! And a dark and rough one it was,” answered the stranger.
“And you are certain that, if they passed at all, it must have been before that hour?”
“I kept my walk across the road till the village was all astir,” said the seaman. “They could not have missed me. So, you see, your best way is to give chase; for they have a long start of you, and you have no time to lose.”
“Your information is sufficient, my good friend,” said Edward, with a smile. “I have reason to know that they did not commence their flight before midnight. You have made it evident that they have not passed since: ergo, they have not passed at all — an indisputable syllogism. And now will I retrace my footsteps.”
“Stay, young man,” said the stranger, placing himself full in Edward’s way as he was about to hasten to the inn. “You have drawn me in to betray my comrade; but, before you leave this place, you must answer a question or two of mine. Do you mean to take the law with you? or will you right your wrongs, if you have any, with your own right hand?”
“It is my intention to take the latter method. But, if I choose the former, what then?” demanded Edward. “Nay, nothing: only you or I might not have gone hence alive,” replied the stranger. “But as you say he shall have fair play”—
“On my word, friend,” interrupted the young man, “I fear your intelligence has come too late to do either good or harm. Look towards the inn: my companions are getting to horse, and, my life on it, they know whither to ride.”
So saying, he hastened away, followed by the stranger. It was indeed evident that news of some kind or other had reached the village. The people were gathered in groups, conversing eagerly; and the pale cheeks, uplifted eyebrows, and outspread hands of some of the female sex filled Edward’s mind with undefined but intolerable apprehensions. He forced his way to Dr. Melmoth, who had just mounted, and, seizing his bridle, peremptorily demanded if he knew aught of Ellen Langton.
Last updated Monday, December 22, 2014 at 10:51