« IndietroContinua »
“ Why, how the woman stares ! To he lost his dinner, but his bed also, on be sure I did. I'm one of your which he always reckoned when inmaster's guests; so, let me in-quick; vited to a party at the captain's. His I'm quite late enough as it is. Do you first impulse was to return home imhear, woman ?-let me in, I say ! ” mediately ; but as this involved the
“ Bless your heart, I daren't do no necessity of a walk of upwards of sneh a thing, for it's directly against four miles—there being no suitable orders. Says my master to me, no later conveyance to be procured at Cavers, ago than yesterday— Betty, says he"- ham-he shrunk with dismay from the
“ I tell you again, woman, I'm one idea. Next he thought of taking his of the party engaged to dine here to- chance of a meal and a bed at the vil. day!” exclaimed Miles, in a loud tone lage alehouse; but as he passed it, the of voice intended to bear down all fumes of mingled gin, beer, and toopposition.
bacco, issuing from the open window I know nothing about that,” re- of the low-roofed parlour, assailed him plied Betty ;“all I know is that master so powerfully, that hot, jaded, and had a large dinner-party yesterday, hungry as he was, he had not the and that this morning all the family heart to venture in. At last he recol. set out for Southampton, where they lected that, about a mile or two furmean to spend the autumn."
ther on, past Caversham Park, there Poor Waddilove looked the very dwelt a rich, elderly, single lady, picture of despair as he heard these whom he had occasionally met at words; and, hastily fumbling about in Captain Capulet's, and who had shown h's pockets, drew forth, after a close no unwillingness to cultivate his ac, search, his friend's note of invitation, quaintance. He had not seen this read it, and found his worst suspicions ancient dame for two years, nor would confirmed. True, he had been inhe have remembered her address vited to a dinner-party at Captain perhaps not even her name—had not Capulet's; but he had mistaken the his memory just now been quickened day, and arrived just twenty-four by his necessities. Hoping that here hours too late!
at length he might get a dinner and a When he had somewhat recovered ride home in the lady's carriage, Wadthe shock of this discovery, he en- dilove trudged on with renewed spirit, treated, in most moving terms, that just halting for a few minutes when he Betty would at least let him in, and reached the great gates of the park, in allow him to rest for a few minutes order to brush the dust from his shoes while he collected his scattered and stockings with some large dockthoughts. But the old woman would leaves that grew under the palings. not hear of such a proposal ; she had By this time the sun had set ;-a received strict orders, she said, to silver mist began to steam up from the “ let no strangers in whatsomever,” broad valley of the Thames, the gnats and it was as much as her place was rose by thousands, forming a sort of worth to act " contrary wise.'
cloud just above the hedges, and the “ But I am no stranger, but, on the humming cockchafer “ made wing contrary, one of your master's oldest for the elms and horse-chestnut trees friends," insisted Miles.
that flung their shadows far beyond “ That's not my look-out," rejoined the footpath, imparting a refreshing the unmoved Betty; “my orders is coolness to Miles's fevered frame, who, positive, to let no strangers in while considering his sedentary habits, held the family's away; and you're a up with remarkable perseverance, in stranger to me, sir- uncommon the hope that he might reach his fair strange, to be sure !” she added in an friend's house before nightfall. But under-tone, at the same time casting he toiled on in vain; for not a single á sly suspicious glance at Waddilove's habitation of any sort was visible, the sullen visage and dust-soiled habili- road—which, so far as he could see, ments; after which she gave a brisk ran straight as an arrow-being bortug at the garden-gate, to assure her. dered on one side by hedges, and on self that it was fast locked, and then the other by the long range of the made the best of her way back into park palings. Here was a dilemma ! the house.
How should he act? Ask his
? Miles was now in a state of very There was not a human being in sight grievous perplexity; for not only had to whom he could apply for informa.
tion. Go back? In that case he letters in the unfurnished front parwould lose his last chance of procuring lour, " This House To LET!" refreshment and a ride home. Go Heart-stricken by this last calamity, forward ? Yes, this was his sole re- Miles slowly and abstractedly set out maining alternative, to which he was on his return to Caversham, determinthe more disposed from the incessant ed no longer to give in to the prejupromptings of the gastric juice, whose dices of his fastidious olfactories, but hints became every moment more sig. halt at the public-house, which he now nificant, till at last he was compelled, regretted having passed with such disas his only means of satisfying huu. dain, make the most of whatever fare ger, to halt and pluck the blackberries might be placed before him, and even that grew thickly in the hedge, and pass the night there--so effectually those well-known Berkshire sloes, from had fatigue and hunger subdued his which so much of our " old crusted sense of gentility. But even this last port wine" is manufactured. Striking sorry resource was denied him; for, on illustration of the caprice of fortune! turning again into the high-road, abA middle-aged epicure standing on sorbed in painful reverie, he took the tiptoe, like a schoolboy, to snatch an wrong direction, so that, instead of reimpromptu meal from some dusty tracing his course back to Caversham, shrubs in a high-road! When Miles he was momently placing himself at a had gathered a handful or more of greater distance from it. He did not this upsophisticated fruit, he sat down discover his error_his notions of locaon a hillock that jutted out on the lity being of a very confused, parsons pathway, to eat, and if possible digest, Adams-like, character-till he found it; but had scarcely finished his meal, himself advanced upwards of a hun, when he was annoyed by an intoler- dred yards upon a large tract of moorable itching in his legs, and hastily. land. He instantly hurried back, but jumping up, found_unhappy wretch! was again doomed to disappointment; --that he had been sitting down upon for, just at the commencement of the an ant's pest!
common, three roads met, and for the While he was brushing off these life of him he could not make out pestilent insects, who evinced a keen which was the one he had just left. sense of injury by stinging him in a As well, however, as he could judge hundred places, a man came jogging by the faint glimmer that still lingered along the road on a cart-horse, and in the west, the three ran in nearly humming the plaintive air of “ Bob parallel lines ; so, concluding that each and Joan.” On enquiring of this warb- would lead to Caversham with but ling clodhopper the nearest way to little difference in point of distance, he Myrtle Lodge-the name of the an- took the central road, and followed its cient spinster's residence- Miles was course for nearly a mile, when, dark, told that he must go straight on for ness coming on, he soon got off the about a quarter of a mile, and then track, and stumbled upon some marshy take the first turning on the right, ground which sucked in his pumps at which was a bypath leading up to the every third or fourth step he took, lodge. Having walked what he con- occasioning him as much annoyance ceived to be this distance, he came, as if he had been walking in damp not to the path in question, but to an weather over a ploughed field. isolated cottage ; and, on making a Waddilove was now quite desperate; second enquiry of a young woman and as he went floundering on, cursing who was standing in the doorway, the inexorable destiny that thus forced received for answer that he had still him, like M. Von Wodenblock in the half a mile further to go! Delightful tale, to “ keep moving" whether he intelligence to a man whose tight shoes would or not, the cramp, brought on are constantly impressing his nervous by fatigue, began to tie double-knots system with an acute consciousness of in the calf of each leg, while his stocorns! Perseverance, however, be mach rumbled so exceedingly, from the the difficulties what they may, never joint effects of hunger and the tart fruit fails to carry its point; and, in the which he had swallowed, as to impress fulness of time, Waddilove reached him with the humiliating conviction the lodge; but what words shall ex. that he was just becoming a~roarer ! press his consternation and disgust Miserable man! His walk to see the when he saw, posted in large printed allied sovereigns was a mere Lounge
compared to this. All sorts of grim and still more from the hang-dog eximaginings beset him. Apoplexy pression of their faces, it was evident haunted him like a spectre ; and the that they were confirmed scapegoats freshening wind, as it swept across the choice samples of a breed such as unsheltered moor, seemed redolent of may be found in almost every country agues and rheumatisms. What enor- village; fellows who get drunk whenmous sin had he committed, that he ever they can; steal whatever they should be thus visited with a severer can lay their hands on ; are at home punishment than if he had been sent in the stocks; familiar with the flavour to pick oakum at the tread-mill! Had of horse-ponds and the sharp discipline he violated all the decencies of social of the cat's-tail ; and want nothing life, or so far sported with the sacred but opportunity to ensure their promointerests of truth as to call Joseph tion to the gallows. Both these vagrant Hume a statesman, then, indeed, he geniuses were attired in a costume might have anticipated a stern retribu- whose uncommon raggedness approach. tive visitation. But he had done no- ed to the picturesque. One wore a thing of the sort ; but, on the contrary, grey beaver hat, and a great-coat which had always strictly fulfilled his duties reached to his ankles, and was patched as a man and a citizen, and held it as in twenty different places; the other an axiom that Joseph was by no means had no hat at all; but then, to make a Solon. And yet here he was-he amends for this defect, liis yellow shirtwhose anti-peripatetic prejudices were tail stuck out behind through a fissure the strongest in his nature, and the in his small clothes, in the gracefullest constant theme of remark among his and most natural manner possible. friends-wandering alone at nightfall As this precious couple drew near on a moor, in silk stockings and pumps, the slumbering Waddilove, whose nap thawing like a prize-ox in the dog. had by this time lasted upwards of an days, and with no chance of bettering hour, a sudden movement that he made his condition until day break, suppos. with his legs, accompanied by a deep ing he should survive till then_or, at groan (as if, in the character of Harleany rate, till the moon should rise, quin, he was just going to take a resupposing that there was a moon! luctant leap head-foremost through a It was a cruel, an unprecedented case, window), attracted their notice, and, and might have given a serious shock hastening up, they gazed for a minute to his faith in a superintending Provi- or so, in expressive silence, on the dence, had not his train of indignant sleeper, who lay on his side with his meditation been seasonably diverted head buried in his arms. by his making a false step, and plump- At length one whispered the other, ing down upon a smooth, dry mound. " I say, Jack, this is a rum go, this is ; Too tired to get up again, and more there's been some of the family at work than half persuaded that it was all over here, I take it." with him, and that he should be found “ No, no," replied his com-rogue, a corpse before the morning, Miles stooping down and gently turning threw himself at full length along this Miles on his back"it's no affair of mound, and in a few minutes was fast that natur; the cove's not been queered, asleep, and wandering through the he's only lushy, and as fast as a church land of dreams; now fancying that he I'm blest if he ain't.” was Captain Barclay, and walking for • Vy, then, I'm a-thinking, Jack," a wager a thousand miles in a thou- resumed the first speaker, laying his sand hours; and now, that he was forefinger beside his nose, “ as it would Harlequin, and, as such, compelled not be but right and proper in us to take only to walk but to frisk through a care of the gemman's watch and seals pantomime, without stopping, for three for him, for it's wery clear as he can't mortal hours !
take care on 'em his-self.” It was now nearly nine o'clock; the “ No more he can't, Bill," replied risen moon shone like a tempered sun, the other, with a grin of intelligence; except when the clouds, driven by a “ he's as helpless as a babby." fresh south-wind, swept across her “ Vy, then, here goes, Jack:"and so orb; and by her light two men might saying, the one scamp knelt down, and be seen making their way over the dexterously drew out Miles's gold common towards the mound whereon watch, with its massive chain and seals; Miles lay sleeping. From their dress, while the other ransacked his breechespockets, whence he presently extract- untoward discoveries; suffice it to ed, with an air of modest triumph, a say, that after firing off volleys of well-stored silk-net purse.
oaths, like minute guns, till he was This done, they next proceeded to nearly black in the face with the effort, make free with Waddilove's hat and he took out his pocket-handkerchief, wig, and would even have reduced him tied it about his bald shiny pate, after to the attractive state of nature in the fashion of an old Irish applewhich Adam was before the Fall, had woman, and then hurried along his not their intentions been frustrated by road, taking those fidgety, petulant, a loud trumpet-like snore from the and irregular steps, which men are sleeper, which startled their delicate wont to take when labouring under nerves to such a degree, that they flew unusual nervous excitement. off across the common, as if, to quote Nearly opposite the cross-road to Byron's well-known words, “the speed Myrtle Lodge, there was a swingof thought were in their limbs." gate, from which ran a winding pub
Miles, mean-time, continued buried lic footpath through Caversham park. in profound repose, but about eleven This park terminated in a stile not far o'clock he awoke, and, starting to his from the entrance to the village, and feet, looked about him with a counte- as it cut off a considerable elbow of vance of as much wonder as Abon the road, Miles, who had missed it on Hassan showed, when he found him- his way out to the Lodge, now deterself sitting up, broad awake, in the mined to avail himself of it, it being a Caliph Haroun's state-bed. He soon, matter of infinite consequence to him however, recovered his self-possession, to reach the public-house, and secure and, being refreshed by his nap, and supper and a bed, before they should goaded to further peripatetic exer- shut up for the night. As he maintions by an appetite of wondrous po- tained a smart pace, and was no longer tency, he gave a preliminary jump or incommoded by the heat, the night so, by way of taking the starch-likestiff- being cool and the wind fresh, he ness out of his knees, and then set out made very satisfactory progress, and on his return to Caversham, no longer had already got as far as the park apprehensive of losing his way, for preserves, which the footpath skirted, the moon shed down a steady radiance descending thence into a gradual on the common, and enabled him to bushy hollow, when he was startled by see that he was only separated from the sound of whispers at no great disthe right track by a patch of marshy tance from him, which was almost imground, on the edge of which rose the mediately followed by the discharge grassy tumulus whereon he had made of a gun. Now, it happened that the his bed.
pacitic Waddilove had the same inJust as he was about to start, feel vincible horror of fire-arms that King ing an uncommon coolness--say, ra- James had of a drawn sword; he ther, a decided chill—in his upper could not even look a gun in the face story, he put his hand to his forehead, without a shudder; judge, then, of his when, to his inexpressible astonish- consternation when he heard this sudment, he discovered that he was minus den discharge, together with a rusthat and wig. How was this ? Was ling among the preserves, as though a there witchcraft in the case? Had gang of poachers were emerging upon Puck or Robin Goodfellow being the footpath! Overmastered by his trying their hands at petty larceny, or apprehensions, and taking for granted some vagabond zephyr taken a fancy that, if he should be seen, he would to the articles in question ? No, no; instantly be shot for a gamekeeper, there had been no agency of this sort and not have the mistake cleared up at work, as the bereaved Waddilove till he lay stretched like a cock partsoon found to his cost, when on feel ridge on the ground, with a score or ing for his watch, in order to see what so of small shot buried in his epigaso'clock it was, he ascertained that this trium, he abruptly quitted the path, too had gone, most likely to keep com- and plunging down into the thick pany with his hat and wig ; and that copse near it, doubled himself up, his purse also had taken the opportu- hedge-hog fashion, heedless of the nity of playing truant! I forbear, brambles and stinging.nettles which from conscious incapacity, to describe gave him any thing but a gracious rethe paroxysms of rage into which ception. Miles was thrown on making these The noise he made, as he went
crashing into the heart of the thicket, and, in the spectral moving shadows caught the quick ears of the poachers, flung by the stirred trees across his who, darting out from the preserves path, beheld the signs of a lurking on the other side of the footpath, enemy. stood looking anxiously about them, It must have been a rare treat to and whispering to each other, as a lover of the grotesque, to have seen though doubtful whether the sound this adipose fugitive scouring along of their gun had started a spy or a in a steeple-chase style, and taking hare. Intense was Miles's agitation big bouncing leaps like a ram, while while he heard these scamps, among the broad flaps of his black coat other equally significant threats, an- streamed in the wind, and his mouth nounce their intention, when once stood ajar like the shell of a dead they got a glimpse of him, to “do for oyster. Wbat cares he for distance him" -"riddle him like a cullender" or difficulty ? The trunk of a fallen -“ bring him down at a long shot”- elm lies across his road; he is over it
pitch him into the Thames, with a in a jiffey; and comes down on the big stone tied about his neck," &c.; other side with all the agility of a and he inwardly vowed that, should dancing-master. Further on, a brawlhe but escape the perils of this memo- ing brooklet threatens to impede his rable night, he would never again progress; in he plunges, halfway up venture so far from home-not even to his knees, and scrambles out again,
ach, much less the accursed refreshed rather than incommoded town-tub—were he to be bribed by by his partial bath. Thus, copse after the daintiest dinner that epicure ever copse, slope after slope, are passed; sat down to. No, he would cut the now he descends into a shady dell; acquaintance of every one who lived now he winds round the brow of a more than a hundred yards from Read- verdant hill, whence he may catch a ing. While he was thus settling the fine view of the park that extends to course of conduct he would adopt, in the bank of the Thames, affording the event of his getting safely out of shelter to large herds of deer, and his present ticklish scrape, the moon magnificently timberedwith giantoaks, became suddenly overcast; whereupon who have bid defiance to the storms the poachers, eager to avail themselves of centuries, and heard the roar of of the favouring gloom to pursue Cromwell's cannon against the walls their vocation in the preserves, and of Reading Abbey ; and now, all satisfied by this time that the noise danger passed, he halts to rest himself they had heard was merely occasioned on the stile which, as I have before by the starting of a hare, withdrew observed, abuts on the main road, just again to the spot which they had so at the entrance of Caversham. lately quitted.
Waddilove reached the village as Miles waited till they had all left the church clock was striking the last the footpath, and were lost to sight chime of midnight. As he passed along in the leafy and tangled preserves, and the main street, its irregular rows of then stealing cautiously back into the houses wore a cold, staring, and even road, like a shy old badger out of his ghastly aspect the imperfect moonhole, he stood listening for a few light, and nothing was audible but seconds, after which he flew at his the rippling of the near Thames utmost speed along the road, with against the arches of the bridge, or outstretched neck, and both hands the occasional growl of some drowsy clapped instinctively upon his hind watch-dog. Under other circumstanquarters, so as to act as a sort of pro- ces, Miles's imagination would have tecting shield in case he should chance been forcibly impressed by the dead to receive an ignominious shot in the solitude of this hushed hamlet through rear. Away, away he flew, insensible which he moved, the only living being, alike to fatigue and hunger, so com- startling the echoes of night by his pletely had fear got the better of every tread; but his late adventures had, other sensation. As the wind rose for the time being, given him quite a and fell, sighing among the pines and surfeit of romance. beeches, and whirling the dead leaves On coming to the public house, he by hundreds into the air, he fancied found, as might have been anticipated, he heard the quick tramp of footsteps that it was shut up, and that not the behind him ; mistook the hooting of slightest glimmer of a light was to be the owl for the yells of his pursuers ;
of the rooms. Determin