Read CHAPTER VI - A DANGEROUS TRIP TO DERBY-TOWN of Dorothy Vernon of Haddon Hall, free online book, by Charles Major, on

The next morning broke brightly, but soon clouds began to gather and a storm seemed imminent. We feared that the gloomy prospect of the sky might keep Dorothy and Madge at home, but long before the appointed hour John and I were at the Royal Arms watching eagerly for the Haddon coach. At the inn we occupied a room from which we could look into the courtyard, and at the window we stood alternating between exaltation and despair.

When my cogitations turned upon myself a palpitating youth of thirty-five, waiting with beating heart for a simple blind girl little more than half my age; and when I remembered how for years I had laughed at the tenderness of the fairest women of the French and Scottish courts I could not help saying to myself, “Poor fool! you have achieved an early second childhood.” But when I recalled Madge in all her beauty, purity, and helplessness, my cynicism left me, and I, who had enjoyed all of life’s ambitious possibilities, calmly reached the conclusion that it is sometimes a blessed privilege to be a fool. While I dwelt on thoughts of Madge, all the latent good within me came uppermost. There is latent good in every man, though it may remain latent all his life. Good resolves, pure thoughts, and noble aspirations new sensations to me, I blush to confess bubbled in my heart, and I made a mental prayer, “If this is folly, may God banish wisdom.” What is there, after all is said, in wisdom, that men should seek it? Has it ever brought happiness to its possessor? I am an old man at this writing. I have tasted all the cups of life, and from the fulness of my experience I tell you that the simple life is the only one wherein happiness is found. When you permit your heart and your mind to grow complex and wise, you make nooks and crannies for wretchedness to lodge in. Innocence is Nature’s wisdom; knowledge is man’s folly.

An hour before noon our patience was rewarded when we saw the Haddon Hall coach drive into the courtyard with Dawson on the box. I tried to make myself believe that I did not wish Lady Crawford were ill. But there is little profit in too close scrutiny of our deep-seated motives, and in this case I found no comfort in self-examination. I really did wish that Aunt Dorothy were ill.

My motive studying, however, was brought to a joyous end when I saw Will Dawson close the coach door after Madge and Dorothy had alighted.

How wondrously beautiful they were! Had we lived in the days when Olympus ruled the world, John surely would have had a god for his rival. Dorothy seemed luminous, so radiant was she with the fire of life. As for Madge, had I beheld a corona hovering over her head I should have thought it in all respects a natural and appropriate phenomenon so fair and saintlike did she appear to me. Her warm white furs and her clinging gown of soft light-colored woollen stuff seemed to be a saint’s robe, and her dainty little hat, fashioned with ermine about the edge of the rim well, that was the corona, and I was ready to worship.

Dorothy, as befitted her, wore a blaze of harmonious colors and looked like the spirit of life and youth. I wish I could cease rhapsodizing over those two girls, but I cannot. You may pass over it as you read, if you do not like it.

“Ye gods! did ever a creature so perfect as she tread the earth?” asked John, meaning, of course, Dorothy.

“No,” answered I, meaning, of course, Madge.

The girls entered the inn, and John and I descended to the tap-room for the purpose of consulting Will Dawson concerning the state of Aunt Dorothy’s health.

When we entered the tap-room Will was standing near the fireplace with a mug of hot punch in his hand. When I touched him, he almost dropped the mug so great was his surprise at seeing me.

“Sir Mal ” he began to say, but I stopped him by a gesture. He instantly recovered his composure and appeared not to recognize me.

I spoke in broken English, for, as you know, I belong more to France than to any other country. “I am Sir Francois de Lorraine,” said I. “I wish to inquire if Lady Crawford is in good health?”

“Her ladyship is ill, sir, I am sorry to say,” responded Will, taking off his hat. “Mistress Vernon and Lady Madge Stanley are at the inn. If you wish to inquire more particularly concerning Lady Crawford’s health, I will ask them if they wish to receive you. They are in the parlor.”

Will was the king of trumps!

“Say to them,” said I, “that Sir Francois de Lorraine mark the name carefully, please and his friend desire to make inquiry concerning Lady Crawford’s health, and would deem it a great honor should the ladies grant them an interview.”

Will’s countenance was as expressionless as the face upon the mug from which he had been drinking. “I shall inform the ladies of your honor’s request.” He thereupon placed the half-emptied mug upon the fire-shelf and left the room.

When Will announced his errand to the girls, Dorothy said in surprise:

“Sir Francois de Lorraine? That is the name of the Grand Duc de Guise, but surely Describe him to me, Will.”

“He is about your height, Mistress Dorothy, and is very handsome,” responded Will.

The latter part of Will’s description placed me under obligation to him to the extent of a gold pound sterling.

“Ah, it is John!” thought Dorothy, forgetting the fact that John was a great deal taller than she, but feeling that Will’s description of “very handsome” could apply to only one man in the world. “He has taken Malcolm’s name.” Then she said, “Bring him to us, Will. But who is the friend? Do you know him? Tell me his appearance.”

“I did not notice the other gentleman,” replied Will, “and I can tell you nothing of him.”

“Will, you are a very stupid man. But bring the gentlemen here.” Dorothy had taken Will into her confidence to the extent of telling him that a gentleman would arrive at the Royal Arms who would inquire for Lady Crawford’s health, and that she, Dorothy, would fully inform the gentleman upon that interesting topic. Will may have had suspicions of his own, but if so, he kept them to himself, and at least did not know that the gentleman whom his mistress expected to see was Sir John Manners. Neither did he suspect that fact. Dawson had never seen Manners, and did not know he was in the neighborhood of Derby. The fact was concealed from Dawson by Dorothy not so much because she doubted him, but for the reason that she wished him to be able truthfully to plead innocence in case trouble should grow out of the Derby-town escapade.

“I wonder why John did not come alone?” thought Dorothy. “This friend of his will be a great hindrance.”

Dorothy ran to the mirror and hurriedly gave a few touches to her hair, pressing it lightly with her soft flexible fingers here, and tucking in a stray curl there, which for beauty’s sake should have been allowed to hang loose. She was standing at the pier-glass trying to see the back of her head when Will knocked to announce our arrival.

“Come,” said Dorothy.

Will opened the door and held it for us to pass in. Madge was seated near the fire. When we entered Dorothy was standing with great dignity in the centre of the floor, not of course intending to make an exhibition of delight over John in the presence of a stranger. But when she saw that I was the stranger, she ran to me with outstretched hands.

“Good morning, Mistress Vernon,” said I, in mock ceremoniousness.

“Oh, Malcolm! Malcolm!” cried Madge, quickly rising from her chair. “You are cruel, Dorothy, to surprise me in this fashion.”

“I, too, am surprised. I did not know that Malcolm was coming,” replied Dorothy, turning to give welcome to John. Then I stepped to Madge’s side and took her hands, but all I could say was “Madge! Madge!” and all she said was “Malcolm! Malcolm!” yet we seemed to understand each other.

John and Dorothy were likewise stricken with a paucity of words, but they also doubtless understood each other. After a moment or two there fell upon me a shower of questions from Dorothy.

“Did you not go to France? How happens it that you are in Derby-town? Where did you meet Sir John? What a delightful surprise you have given us! Nothing was wanting to make us happy but your presence.”

“I am so happy that it frightens me,” said Dorothy in ecstasy. “Trouble will come, I am sure. One extreme always follows another. The pendulum always swings as far back as it goes forward. But we are happy now, aren’t we, Madge? I intend to remain so while I can. The pendulum may swing as far backward as it chooses hereafter. Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof. Sometimes the joy is almost sufficient, isn’t it, Madge?”

“The evil is more than sufficient some days,” answered Madge.

“Come, Madge, don’t be foreboding.”

“Dorothy, I have not met the other gentleman,” said Madge.

“Ah, pardon me. In my surprise I forgot to present you. Lady Madge Stanley, let me present Sir John Manners.”

“Sir John Manners!” cried Madge, taking a step backward. Her surprise was so great that she forgot to acknowledge the introduction. “Dorothy, what means this?” she continued.

“It means,” replied Dorothy, nervously, “that Sir John is my very dear friend. I will explain it to you at another time.”

We stood silently for a few moments, and John said:

“I hope I may find favor in your heart, Lady Madge. I wish to greet you with my sincere homage.”

“Sir John, I am glad to greet you, but I fear the pendulum of which Dorothy spoke will swing very far backward erelong.”

“Let it swing as far back as it chooses,” answered Dorothy, with a toss of her head, “I am ready to buy and to pay for happiness. That seems to be the only means whereby we may have it. I am ready to buy it with pain any day, and am willing to pay upon demand. Pain passes away; joy lasts forever.”

“I know,” said Sir John, addressing Madge, “I know it is not prudent for Malcolm and me to be here to-day; but imprudent things seem to be the most delightful.”

“For men, Sir John,” returned Madge. “Upon women they leave their mark.”

“I fear you are right,” he answered. “I had not thought of my visit in that light. For Mistress Vernon’s sake it is better that I do not remain in Derby.”

“For Mistress Vernon’s sake you shall remain,” cried that impetuous young woman, clutching John’s arm.

After a time, Dorothy wishing to visit one of the shops to make purchases, it was agreed between us that we should all walk out. Neither Dorothy nor Madge had ever before visited Derby-town. John and I had visited the place but once; that was upon the occasion of our first meeting. No one in the town knew us, and we felt safe in venturing forth into the streets. So we helped Dorothy and Madge to don their furs, and out we went happier and more reckless than four people have any good right to be. But before setting out I went to the tap-room and ordered dinner.

I found the host and directed him to prepare a dozen partridges in a pie, a haunch of venison, a few links of German sausage, and a capon. The host informed me that he had in his pantry a barrel of roots called potatoes which had been sent to him by a sea-captain who had recently returned from the new world. He hurried away and brought a potato for inspection. It was of a gray brown color and near the size of an egg. The landlord assured me that it was delicious when baked, and I ordered four, at the cost of a crown each. I understand that my Lord Raleigh claims to have brought the first potatoes and tobacco into England in ’85; but I know that I smoked tobacco in ’66, and I saw potatoes at the Royal Arms in Derby-town in ’67. I also ordered another new dish for our famous dinner. It was a brown beverage called coffee. The berries from which the beverage is made mine host showed to me, and said they had been brought to him by a sea-faring man from Arabia. I ordered a pot of the drink at a cost of three crowns. I have heard it said that coffee was not known in Europe or in England till it was introduced by Rawolf in ’73, but I saw it at the Royal Arms in ’67. In addition to this list, I ordered for our drinking sweet wine from Madeira and red wine from Burgundy. The latter-named wine had begun to grow in favor at the French court when I left France five years before. It was little liked in England. All these dainties were rare at the time of which I write; but they have since grown into considerable use, and I doubt not, as we progress in luxury, they will become common articles of food upon the tables of the rich. Prongs, or forks, as they are called, which by some are used in cutting and eating one’s food at table, I also predict will become implements of daily use. It is really a filthy fashion, which we have, of handling food with our fingers. The Italians have used forks for some time, but our preachers speak against them, saying God has given us our fingers with which to eat, and that it is impious to thwart his purposes by the use of forks. The preachers will probably retard the general use of forks among the common people.

After I had given my order for dinner we started out on our ramble through Derby-town.

Shortly after we left the inn we divided into couples for the ostensible reason that we did not wish to attract too much attention Dorothy and John, Madge and I! Our real reason for separating was but you understand.

Madge’s hand lay like a span of snow upon my arm, and but this time I will restrain my tendency to rhapsodize.

We walked out through those parts of the town which were little used, and Madge talked freely and happily.

She fairly babbled, and to me her voice was like the murmurings of the rivers that flowed out of paradise.

We had agreed with John and Dorothy to meet them at the Royal Arms in one hour, and that time had almost passed when Madge and I turned our faces toward the inn.

When we were within a short distance of our hostelry we saw a crowd gathered around a young man who was standing on a box. He was speaking in a mournful, lugubrious voice and accompanied his words with violent gesticulations. Out of curiosity we stopped to listen, and learned that religion was our orator’s theme.

I turned to a man standing near me and asked:

“Who is the fellow speaking?”

“The pious man is Robert Brown. He is exhorting in the name of the Lord of Hosts.”

“The pious Robert Brown?” I queried, “exhorting in the name of of the Lord of where, did you say?”

“Hosts,” laconically responded my friend, while listening intently to the words of Brown.

“Hosts, say you? Who is he?” I asked of my interesting neighbor. “I know him not.”

“Doubtless you know Him not,” responded the man, evidently annoyed at my interruption and my flippancy.

After a moment or two I, desiring to know more concerning the orator, asked:

“Robert Brown, say you?”

“Even he,” came the response. “It will be good for your soul if you but listen to him in a prayerful mood. He is a young man upon whom the Spirit hath descended plenteously.”

“The Spirit?” I asked.

“Ay,” returned my neighbor.

I could not extract another word from him, so I had the worst of the encounter.

We had been standing there but a short time when the young exhorter descended from his improvised pulpit and passed among the crowd for the purpose of collecting money. His harangue had appeared ridiculous to me, but Madge seemed interested in his discourse. She said:

“He is very earnest, Malcolm,” and at once my heart went out to the young enthusiast upon the box. One kind word from Madge, and I was the fellow’s friend for life. I would have remained his friend had he permitted me that high privilege. But that he would not do. When he came to me, I dropped into his hat a small silver piece which shone brightly among a few black copper coins. My liberal contribution did not induce him to kindness, but, on the contrary, it attracted his attention to the giver. He looked at the silver coin, and then turning his solemn gaze upon me, eyed me insolently from head to foot. While doing so a look of profound disgust spread over his mournful countenance. After a calm survey of my person, which to me was uncomfortably long, he turned to the bystanders, and in the same high-pitched, lugubrious voice which he had used when exhorting, said:

“Brethren, here behold ye the type of anti-Christ,” and he waved his thin hand toward me much to my amusement and annoyance. “Here,” said he, “we find the leading strings to all that is iniquitous vanity. It is betokened in his velvets, satins, and laces. Think ye, young man,” he said, turning to me, “that such vanities are not an abomination in the eyes of the God of Israel?”

“I believe that the God of Israel cares nothing about my apparel,” I replied, more amused than angered. He paid no attention to my remark.

“And this young woman,” he continued, pointing to Madge, “this young woman, daughter of the Roman harlot, no doubt, she also is arrayed in silks, taffetas, and fine cloth. Look ye, friends, upon this abominable collar of Satan; this ruff of fine linen, all smeared in the devil’s own liquor, starch. Her vanity is an offence in the nostrils of God’s people.”

As he spoke he stretched forth his hand and caught in his clawlike grasp the dainty white ruff that encircled Madge’s neck. When I saw his act, my first impulse was to run him through, and I drew my sword half from its scabbard with that purpose. But he was not the sort of a man upon whom I could use my blade. He was hardly more than a boy a wild, half-crazed fanatic, whose reason, if he had ever possessed any, had been lost in the Charybdis of his zeal. He honestly thought it was his duty to insult persons who apparently disagreed with him. Such a method of proselyting is really a powerful means of persuasion among certain classes, and it has always been used by men who have successfully founded permanent religious sects. To plant successfully a religious thought or system requires more violent aggression than to conquer a nation.

Since I could not run the fellow through, I drew back my arm, and striking as lightly as possible, I laid our zealous friend sprawling on his back. Thus had I the honor of knocking down the founder of the Brownists.

If I mistake not, the time will come, if these men are allowed to harangue the populace, when the kings of England will be unable to accomplish the feat of knocking down Brown’s followers. Hérésies, like noxious weeds, grow without cultivation, and thrive best on barren soil. Or shall I say that, like the goodly vine, they bear better fruit when pruned? I cannot fully decide this question for myself; but I admire these sturdy fanatics who so passionately love their own faith, and so bitterly hate all others, and I am almost prepared to say that each new heresy brings to the world a better orthodoxy.

For a little time after my encounter with Brown, all my skill was needed to ward off the frantic hero. He quickly rose to his feet, and, with the help of his friends, seemed determined to spread the gospel by tearing me to pieces. My sword point kept the rabble at a respectful distance for a while, but they crowded closely upon me, and I should have been compelled to kill some of them had I not been reenforced by two men who came to my help and laid about them most joyfully with their quarterstaffs. A few broken heads stemmed for a moment the torrent of religious enthusiasm, and during a pause in the hostilities I hurriedly retreated with Madge, ungratefully leaving my valiant allies to reap the full reward of victory should the fortunes of war favor them.

Madge was terribly frightened, and with her by my side I, of course, would not have remained to fight the redoubtable Bayard himself.

We hurried forward, but before we reached the inn we were overtaken by our allies whom we had abandoned. Our friends were young men. One wore a rich, half-rustic habit, and the other was dressed as a horse boy. Both were intoxicated. I had been thankful for their help; but I did not want their company.

“How now, Cousin Madge?” said our richly dressed ally. “What in the devil’s name has brought you into this street broil?”

“Ah, Cousin James, is it you?” replied the trembling girl.

“Yes, but who is your friend that so cleverly unloaded his quarrel upon us? Hell’s fires! but they were like a swarm of wasps. Who is your friend, Madge?”

“Sir Malcolm Vernon,” replied Madge. “Let me present you, Sir Malcolm, to my cousin, Lord James Stanley.”

I offered my hand to his Lordship, and said:

“I thank you much for your timely help. I should not have deserted you had I not felt that my first duty was to extricate Lady Madge from the disagreeable situation. We must hasten away from here, or the mad rabble will follow us.”

“Right you are, my hearty,” returned Stanley, slapping me on the shoulder. “Of course you had to get the wench away. Where do you go? We will bear you company.”

I longed to pay the fellow for his help by knocking him down; but the possibilities of trouble ahead of us were already too great, and I forced myself to be content with the prowess already achieved.

“But you have not told me what brought you into the broil,” asked his Lordship, as we walked toward the inn.

“Sir Malcolm and I were walking out to see the town and ”

“To see the town? By gad, that’s good, Cousin Madge. How much of it did you see? You are as blind as an owl at noon,” answered his Lordship.

“Alas! I am blind,” returned Madge, clinging closely to me, and shrinking from her cousin’s terrible jest. I could not think of anything sufficiently holy and sacred upon which to vow my vengeance against this fellow, if the time should ever come when I dared take it.

“Are you alone with this this gentleman?” asked his Lordship, grasping Madge by the arm.

“No,” returned Madge, “Dorothy is with us.”

“She is among the shops,” I volunteered reluctantly.

“Dorothy? Dorothy Vernon? By gad, Tod, we are in luck. I must see the wench I am to marry,” said his Lordship, speaking to his companion, the stable boy. “So Dorothy is with you, is she, cousin? I haven’t seen her for years. They say she is a handsome filly now. By gad, she had room to improve, for she was plain enough, to frighten rats away from a barn when I last saw her. We will go to the inn and see for ourselves, won’t we, Tod? Dad’s word won’t satisfy us when it comes to the matter of marrying, will it, Tod?”

Tod was the drunken stable boy who had assisted his Lordship and me in our battle with the Brownists.

I was at a loss what course to pursue. I was forced to submit to this fellow’s company, and to endure patiently his insolence. But John and Dorothy would soon return, and there is no need that I should explain the dangers of the predicament which would then ensue.

When we were within a few yards of the inn door I looked backward and saw Dorothy and John approaching us. I held up my hand warningly. John caught my meaning, and instantly leaving Dorothy’s side, entered an adjacent shop. My movement had attracted Stanley’s attention, and he turned in the direction I had been looking. When he saw Dorothy, he turned again to me and asked:

“Is that Dorothy Vernon?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Look at her, Tod!” exclaimed my lord, “look at her, Tod! The dad was right about her, after all. I thought the old man was hoaxing me when he told me that she was beautiful. Holy Virgin, Tod, did you ever see anything so handsome? I will take her quick enough; I will take her. Dad won’t need to tease me. I’m willing.”

Dorothy approached to within a few yards of us, and my Lord Stanley stepped forward to meet her.

“Ye don’t know me, do ye?” said Stanley.

Dorothy was frightened and quickly stepped to my side.

“I I believe not,” responded Dorothy.

“Lord James Stanley,” murmured Madge, who knew of the approaching Stanley marriage.

“Madge is right,” returned. Stanley, grinning foolishly. “I am your cousin James, but not so much of a cousin that I cannot be more than cousin, heh?” He laughed boisterously, and winking at Tod, thrust his thumb into that worthy’s ribs. “Say, Tod, something more than cousin; that’s the thing, isn’t it, Tod?”

John was standing half-concealed at the door of the shop in which he had sought refuge. Dorothy well knew the peril of the situation, and when I frowned at her warningly, she caught the hint that she should not resent Stanley’s words, however insulting and irritating they might become.

“Let us go to the inn,” said Dorothy.

“That’s the thing to do. Let us go to the inn and have dinner,” said
Stanley. “It’s two hours past dinner time now, and I’m almost famished.
We’ll have a famous dinner. Come, cousin,” said he, addressing Dorothy.
“We’ll have kidneys and tripe and ”

“We do not want dinner,” said Dorothy. “We must return home at once. Sir Malcolm, will you order Dawson to bring out the coach?”

We went to the inn parlor, and I, loath to do so, left the ladies with Stanley and his horse-boy friend while I sought Dawson for the purpose of telling him to fetch the coach with all haste.

“We have not dined,” said the forester.

“We shall not dine,” I answered. “Fetch the coach with all the haste you can make.” The bystanders in the tap-room were listening, and I continued, “A storm is brewing, and we must hasten home.”

True enough, a storm was brewing.

When I left Dawson, I hurriedly found John and told him we were preparing to leave the inn, and that we would expect him to overtake us on the road to Rowsley.

I returned to the ladies in the parlor and found them standing near the window. Stanley had tried to kiss Dorothy, and she had slapped his face. Fortunately he had taken the blow good-humoredly, and was pouring into her unwilling ear a fusillade of boorish compliments when. I entered the parlor.

I said, “The coach is ready.”

The ladies moved toward the door. “I am going to ride with you, my beauty,” said his Lordship.

“That you shall not do,” retorted Dorothy, with blazing eyes.

“That I will do,” he answered. “The roads are free to all, and you cannot keep me from following you.”

Dorothy was aware of her predicament, and I too saw it, but could find no way out of it. I was troubled a moment; but my fear was needless, for Dorothy was equal to the occasion.

“We should like your company, Cousin Stanley,” replied Dorothy, without a trace of anger in her manner, “but we cannot let you ride with us in the face of the storm that is brewing.”

“We won’t mind the storm, will we, Tod? We are going with our cousin.”

“If you insist upon being so kind to us,” said Dorothy, “you may come. But I have changed my mind about dinner. I am very hungry, and we accept your invitation.”

“Now you are coming around nicely,” said Lord James, joyfully. “We like that, don’t we, Tod?”

Tod had been silent under all circumstances.

Dorothy continued: “Madge and I will drive in the coach to one or two of the shops, and we shall return in one hour. Meantime, Cousin Stanley, we wish you to have a fine dinner prepared for us, and we promise to do ample justice to the fare.”

“She’ll never come back,” said silent Tod, without moving a muscle.

“How about it, cousin?” asked Stanley. “Tod says you’ll never come back; he means that you are trying to give us the slip.”

“Never fear, Cousin Stanley,” she returned, “I am too eager for dinner not to come back. If you fail to have a well-loaded table for me, I shall never speak to you again.”

We then went to the coach, and as the ladies entered it Dorothy said aloud to Dawson:

“Drive to Conn’s shop.”

I heard Tod say to his worthy master:

“She’s a slippin’ ye.”

“You’re a fool, Tod. Don’t you see she wants me more than she wants the dinner, and she’s hungry, too.”

“Don’t see,” retorted his laconic friend.

Of course when the coach was well away from the inn, Dawson received new instructions, and took the road to Rowsley. When the ladies had departed, I went to the tap-room with Stanley, and after paying the host for the coffee, the potatoes, and the dinner which alas! we had not tasted, I ordered a great bowl of sack and proceeded to drink with my allies in the hope that I might make them too drunk to follow us. Within half an hour I discovered that I was laboring at a hopeless task. There was great danger that I would be the first to succumb; so I, expressing a wish to sleep off the liquor before the ladies should return, made my escape from the tap-room, mounted my horse, and galloped furiously after Dorothy and Madge. John was riding by the coach when I overtook it.

It was two hours past noon when I came up with John and the girls. Snow had been falling softly earlier in the afternoon, but as the day advanced the storm grew in violence. A cold, bleak wind was blowing from the north, and by reason of the weather and because of the ill condition of the roads, the progress of the coach was so slow that darkness overtook us before we had finished half of our journey to Rowsley. Upon the fall of night the storm increased in violence, and the snow came in piercing, horizontal shafts which stung like the prick of a needle.

At the hour of six I but guessed the time John and I, who were riding at the rear of the coach, heard close on our heels the trampling of horses. I rode forward to Dawson, who was in the coach box, and told him to drive with all the speed he could make. I informed him that some one was following us, and that I feared highwaymen were on our track.

Hardly had I finished speaking to Dawson when I heard the report of a hand-fusil, back of the coach, near the spot where I had left John. I quickly drew my sword, though it was a task of no small labor, owing to the numbness of my fingers. I breathed along the blade to warm it, and then I hastened to John, whom I found in a desperate conflict with three ruffians. No better swordsman than John ever drew blade, and he was holding his ground in the darkness right gallantly. When I rode to his rescue, another hand-fusil was discharged, and then another, and I knew that we need have no more fear from bullets, for the three men had discharged their weapons, and they could not reload while John and I were engaging them. I heard the bullets tell upon the coach, and I heard the girls screaming lustily. I feared they had been wounded, but you may be sure I had no leisure to learn the truth. Three against two was terrible odds in the dark, where brute force and luck go for more than skill. We fought desperately for a while, but in the end we succeeded in beating off the highwaymen. When we had finished with the knaves who had attacked us, we quickly overtook our party. We were calling Dawson to stop when we saw the coach, careening with the slant of the hill, topple over, and fall to the bottom of a little precipice five or six feet in height. We at once dismounted and jumped down the declivity to the coach, which lay on its side, almost covered by drifted snow. The pole had broken in the fall, and the horses were standing on the road. We first saw Dawson. He was swearing like a Dutchman, and when we had dragged him from his snowy grave, we opened the coach door, lifted out the ladies, and seated them upon the uppermost side of the coach. They were only slightly bruised, but what they lacked in bruises they made up in fright. In respect to the latter it were needless for me to attempt a description.

We can laugh about it now and speak lightly concerning the adventure, and, as a matter of truth, the humor of the situation appealed to me even then. But imagine yourself in the predicament, and you will save me the trouble of setting forth its real terrors.

The snow was up to our belts, and we did not at first know how we were to extricate the ladies. John and Dawson, however, climbed to the road, and I carried Dorothy and Madge to the little precipice where the two men at the top lifted them from my arms. The coach was broken, and when I climbed to the road, John, Dawson, and myself held a council of war against the storm. Dawson said we were three good miles from Rowsley, and that he knew of no house nearer than the village at which we could find shelter. We could not stand in the road and freeze, so I got the blankets and robes from the coach and made riding pads for Dorothy and Madge. These we strapped upon the broad backs of the coach horses, and then assisted the ladies to mount. I walked by the side of Madge, and John performed the same agreeable duty for Dorothy. Dawson went ahead of us, riding my horse and leading John’s; and thus we travelled to Rowsley, half dead and nearly frozen, over the longest three miles in the kingdom.

John left us before entering the village, and took the road to Rutland, intending to stop for the night at a cottage two miles distant, upon his father’s estates. I was to follow Sir John when the ladies were safely lodged at The Peacock.

It was agreed between us that nothing should be said concerning the presence of any man save Dawson and myself in our party.

When John left us, I rode to The Peacock with Dorothy and Madge, and while I was bidding them good-by my violent cousin, Sir George, entered the inn. Dorothy ran to her father and briefly related the adventures of the night, dwelling with undeserved emphasis upon the help I had rendered. She told her father the statement was literally true that she had met me at the Royal Arms, where I was stopping, and that she had, through fear of the storm and in dread of highwaymen, asked me to ride beside their coach to Rowsley.

When I saw Sir George enter the room, I expected to have trouble with him; but after he had spoken with Dorothy, much to my surprise, he offered me his hand and said:

“I thank you, Malcolm, for the help you have rendered my girls, and I am glad you have come back to us.”

“I have not come back to you, Sir George,” said I, withholding my hand. “I met Mistress Vernon and Lady Madge at the Royal Arms, and escorted them to Rowsley for reasons which she has just given to you. I was about to depart when you entered.”

“Tut, tut! Malcolm, you will come with us to Haddon Hall.”

“To be ordered away again, Sir George?” I asked.

“I did not order you to go. You left in a childish fit of anger. Why in the devil’s name did you run away so quickly? Could you not have given a man time to cool off? You treated me very badly, Malcolm.”

“Sir George, you certainly know ”

“I know nothing of the sort. Now I want not another word from you. Damme! I say, not another word. If I ever ordered you to leave Haddon Hall, I didn’t know what I was doing,” cried Sir George, heartily.

“But you may again not know,” said I.

“Now, Malcolm, don’t be a greater fool than I was. If I say I did not order you to leave Haddon Hall, can’t you take me at my word? My age and my love for you should induce you to let me ease my conscience, if I can. If the same illusion should ever come over you again that is, if you should ever again imagine that I am ordering you to leave Haddon Hall well, just tell me to go to the devil. I have been punished enough already, man. Come home with us. Here is Dorothy, whom I love better than I love myself. In anger I might say the same thing to her that I said to you, but Nonsense, Malcolm, don’t be a fool. Come home with us. Haddon is your home as freely as it is the home of Dorothy, Madge, and myself.”

The old gentleman’s voice trembled, and I could not withstand the double force of his kindness and my desire. So it came about that when Madge held out her fair hand appealingly to me, and when Dorothy said, “Please come home with us, Cousin Malcolm,” I offered my hand to Sir George, and with feeling said, “Let us make this promise to each other: that nothing hereafter shall come between us.”

“I gladly promise,” responded the generous, impulsive old man. “Dorothy, Madge, and you are all in this world whom I love. Nothing shall make trouble between us. Whatever happens, we will each forgive.”

The old gentleman was in his kindest, softest mood.

“Let us remember the words,” said I.

“I give my hand and my word upon it,” cried Sir George.

How easy it is to stake the future upon a present impulse. But when the time for reckoning comes, when the future becomes the present, it is sometimes hard to pay the priceless present for the squandered past. Next morning we all rode home to Haddon, how sweet the words sound even at this distance of time! and there was rejoicing in the Hall as if the prodigal had returned.

In the evening I came upon Madge unawares. She was softly singing a plaintive little love song. I did not disturb her, and as I stole away again I said to myself, “God is good.” A realization of that great truth had of late been growing upon me. When once we thoroughly learn it, life takes on a different color.