VIEW THE MOBILE VERSION of www.childrenstories.ca Informational Site Network Informational
Privacy
Home - Stories - Categories - Books - Search

Featured Stories

The Little Robber Girl
The Boy Who Cried Wolf

Categories

A FAIRY-TALE

Aesop

ALPHABET RHYMES

AMERICAN INDIAN STORIES

AMUSING ALPHABETS

Animal Sketches And Stories

ANIMAL STORIES

ARBOR DAY

BIRD DAY

Blondine Bonne Biche and Beau Minon

Bohemian Story

BRER RABBIT and HIS NEIGHBORS

CATS

CHINESE MOTHER-GOOSE RHYMES

CHRISTMAS DAY

COLUMBUS DAY

CUSTOM RHYMES

Didactic Stories

Everyday Verses

EVIL SPIRITS

FABLES

FABLES FOR CHILDREN

FABLES FROM INDIA

FATHER PLAYS AND MOTHER PLAYS

FIRST STORIES FOR VERY LITTLE FOLK

For Classes Ii. And Iii.

For Classes Iv. And V.

For Kindergarten And Class I.

FUN FOR VERY LITTLE FOLK

GERMAN

Good Little Henry

HALLOWEEN

Happy Days

INDEPENDENCE DAY

JAPANESE AND OTHER ORIENTAL TALES]

Jean De La Fontaine

King Alexander's Adventures

KINGS AND WARRIORS

LABOR DAY

LAND AND WATER FAIRIES

Lessons From Nature

LINCOLN'S BIRTHDAY

LITTLE STORIES that GROW BIG

Love Lyrics

Lyrics

MAY DAY

MEMORIAL DAY

Modern

MODERN FABLES

MODERN FAIRY TALES

MOTHER GOOSE CONTINUED

MOTHER GOOSE JINGLES

MOTHER GOOSE SONGS AND STORIES

MOTHERS' DAY

Myths And Legends

NATURE SONGS

NEGLECT THE FIRE

NUMBER RHYMES

NURSERY GAMES

NURSERY-SONGS.

NURSEY STORIES

OLD-FASHIONED STORIES

ON POPULAR EDUCATION

OURSON

Perseus

PLACES AND FAMILIES

Poems Of Nature

Polish Story

Popular

PROVERB RHYMES

RESURRECTION DAY (EASTER)

RHYMES CONCERNING "MOTHER"

RIDDLE RHYMES

RIDING SONGS for FATHER'S KNEE

ROMANCES OF THE MIDDLE AGES

SAINT VALENTINE'S DAY

Selections From The Bible

Servian Story

SLEEPY-TIME SONGS AND STORIES

Some Children's Poets

Songs Of Life

STORIES BY FAVORITE AMERICAN WRITERS

STORIES FOR CHILDREN

STORIES for LITTLE BOYS

STORIES FROM BOTANY

STORIES FROM GREAT BRITAIN

STORIES FROM IRELAND

STORIES FROM PHYSICS

STORIES FROM SCANDINAVIA

STORIES FROM ZOOLOGY

STORIES _for_ LITTLE GIRLS

SUPERSITITIONS

THANKSGIVING DAY

The Argonauts

THE CANDLE

THE DAYS OF THE WEEK

THE DECEMBRISTS

The King Of The Golden River; Or, The Black Brothers

The Little Grey Mouse

THE OLD FAIRY TALES

The Princess Rosette

THE THREE HERMITS

THE TWO OLD MEN

Theseus

Traditional

UNCLES AND AUNTS AND OTHER RELATIVES

VERSES ABOUT FAIRIES

WASHINGTON'S BIRTHDAY

WHAT MEN LIVE BY

WHERE LOVE IS, THERE GOD IS ALSO

MINIONS OF THE MOON

from Stories By English Authors: England





Our story is of the time when George III was king, and our scene of
action lies only at an old farm-house six miles or so from Finchley
--a quaint, ramshackle, commodious, old-fashioned, thatched farm-house
that we see only in pictures now, and which has long since been
improved off the face of the earth.

It was a farm estate that was flourishing bravely in those dear
disreputable days when the people paid fivepence a pound for bread,
and only dared curse Protection in their hearts; when few throve
and many starved, and younger sons of gentry, without interest at
court or Parliament, either cut the country which served them so
badly, or took to business on the king's highway and served the
country badly in return.

The Maythorpe Farm belonged to the Pemberthys, and had descended
from father to son from days lying too far back to reckon up just
now; and a rare, exclusive, conservative, bad-tempered, long-headed
race the Pemberthys had always borne the reputation of being,
feathering their own nests well, and dying in them fat and prosperous.

There were a good many Pembcrthys scattered about the home and
midland counties, but it was generally understood in the family
that the head of the clan, as it were, lived at Maythorpe Farm,
near Finchley, and here the Pemberthys would forgather on any
great occasion, such as a marriage, a funeral, or a christening,
the funeral taking precedence for numbers. There had been a grand
funeral at Maythorpe Farm only a few days before our story opens,
for Reuben Pemberthy had been consigned to his fathers at the early
age of forty-nine. Reuben Pemberthy had left one son behind him,
also named Reuben, a stalwart, heavy-browed, good-looking young
fellow, who, at two and twenty, was quite as well able to manage
the farm and everybody on it as his father had been before him.
He had got rid of all his relatives save two six days after his
father's funeral; and those two were stopping by general consent,
because it was signed, sealed, and delivered by those whom it
most concerned, that the younger woman, his cousin, pretty Sophie
Tarne, was to be married before the year was out to the present
Reuben Pemberthy, who had wooed her and won her consent when he
went down to her mother's house at King's Norton for a few days'
trip last summer. Being a steady, handsome fellow, who made love
in downright earnest, he impressed Sophie's eighteen years, and
was somewhat timidly but graciously accepted as an affianced suitor.
It was thought at King's Norton that Mrs. Tarne had done a better
stroke of business in the first year of her widowhood than her
late husband had done--always an unlucky wretch, Timothy--in the
whole course of his life. And now Sophie Tarne and her mother were
staying for a few days longer at Maythorpe Farm after the funeral.

Mrs. Tarne, having been a real Pemberthy before her unfortunate
marriage with the improvident draper of King's Norton, was quite
one of the family, and seemed more at home at Finchley than was
the new widow, Mrs. Pemberthy, a poor, unlucky lady, a victim to
a chronic state of twittering and jingling and twitching, but one
who, despite her shivers, had made the late Reuben a good wife,
and was a fair housekeeper even now, although superintending
housekeeping in jumps, like a a palsy-stricken kangaroo.

So Sophie and her bustling mother were of material assistance
to Mrs. Pemberthy; and the presence of Sophie in that house of
mourning--where the mourning had been speedily got over and business
had begun again with commendable celerity--was a considerable source
of comfort to young Reuben, when he had leisure after business hours
which was not always the case, to resume those tender relations
which had borne to him last autumn such happy fruit of promise.

Though there was not much work to do at the farm in the winter-time,
when the nights were long and the days short, yet Reuben Pemberthy
was generally busy in one way or another; and on the particular
day on which our story opens Reuben was away at High Barnet.

It had been a dull, dark day, followed by a dull, dark night.
The farm servants had gone to their homes, save the few that were
attached to the premises, such as scullery-maids and dairymaids;
and Mrs. Pemberthy, Mrs. Tarne, and her daughter Sophie were waiting
early supper for Reuben, and wondering what kept him so long from
his home and his sweetheart.

Mrs. Tarne, accustomed, mayhap, to the roar and bustle of King's
Norton, found the farm at Finchley a trifle dull and lonely,--not
that in a few days after a funeral she could expect any excessive
display of life or frivolity,--and, oppressed a bit that evening,
was a trifle nervous as to the whereabouts of her future son-in-law,
who had faithfully promised to be home a clear hour and a half
before the present time, and whose word might be always taken to
be as good as his bond. Mrs. Tarne was the most restless of the
three women. Good Mrs. Pemberthy, though physically shaken, was
not likely to be nervous concerning her son, and, indeed, was at
any time only fidgety over her own special complaints--a remarkable
trait of character deserving of passing comment here.

Sophie was not of a nervous temperament; indeed, for her eighteen
years, was apparently a little too cool and methodical; and she
was not flurried that evening over the delay in the arrival home
of Reuben Pemberthy. She was not imaginative like her mother, and
did not associate delay with the dangers of a dark night, though
the nights _were_ full of danger in the good old times of the
third George. She went to the door to look out, after her mother had
tripped there for the seventh or eighth time, not for appearances'
sake, for she was above that, but to keep her mother company, and
to suggest that these frequent excursions to the front door would
end in a bad cold.

"I can't help fearing that something has happened to Reu," said
the mother; "he is always so true to time."

"There are so many things to keep a man late, mother."

"Not to keep Reuben. If he said what hour he'd be back--he 's like
his father, my poor brother--he'd do it to the minute, even if
there weren't any reason for his hurry."

"Which there is," said Sophie, archly.

"Which there is, Sophie. And why you are so quiet over this I don't
know. I am sure when poor Mr. Tarne was out late--and he was often
very, very late, and the Lord knows where he'd been, either!--I
couldn't keep a limb of me still till he came home again. I was
as bad as your aunt indoors there till I was sure he was safe and
sound."

"But he always came home safe and sound, mother."

"Nearly always. I mind the time once, though--bless us and save
us, what a gust!" she cried, as the wind came swooping down the
hill at them, swirling past them into the dark passage and puffing
the lights out in the big pantry beyond, where the maids began to
scream. "I hope he hasn't been blown off his horse."

"Not very likely that," said Sophie, "and Reuben the best horseman
in the county. But come in out of the gale, mother; the sleet cuts
like a knife too, and he will not come home any the sooner for your
letting the wind into the house. And--why, here he comes after
all. Hark!"

There was a rattling of horses' hoofs on the frost-bound road; it was
a long way in the distance, but it was the unmistakable signal of
a well-mounted traveller approaching--of more than one well-mounted
traveller, it became quickly apparent, the clattering was so loud
and incessant and manifold.

"Soldiers!" said Sophie. "What can bring them this way?"

"It's the farmers coming the same way as Reuben for protection's
sake these winter nights, child."

"Protection?"

"Haven't you heard of the highwaymen about, and how a single
traveller is never safe in these parts? Or a double one either--or--"

"Perhaps these are highwaymen."

"Oh, good gracious! Let us get indoors and bar up," cried Mrs.
Tarne, wholly forgetful of Reuben Pemberthy's safety after this
suggestion. "Yes, it's as likely to be highwaymen as soldiers."

It was more likely. It was pretty conclusive that the odds were
in favour of highwaymen when, five minutes afterward, eight mounted
men rode up to the Maythorpe farm-house, dismounted with considerable
noise and bustle, and commenced at the stout oaken door with the
butt-ends of their riding-whips, hammering away incessantly and
shouting out much strong language in their vehemence. This, being
fortunately bawled forth all at once was incomprehensible to the
dwellers within doors, now all scared together and no longer cool
and self-possessed.

"Robbers!" said Mrs. Tarne.

"We've never been molested before, at least not for twenty years
or more," said Mrs. Pemberthy; "and then I mind--"

"Is it likely to be any of Reuben's friends?" asked Sophie, timidly.

"Oh no; Reuben has no bellowing crowd like that for friends. Ask
who is there--somebody."

But nobody would go to the door save Sophie Tarne herself. The
maids were huddled in a heap together in a corner of the dairy,
and refused to budge an inch, and Mrs. Tarne was shaking more than
Mrs. Pemberthy.

Sophie, with the colour gone from her face, went boldly back to the
door, where the hammering on the panels continued and would have
split anything of a less tough fibre than the English oak of which
they were constructed.

"Who is there? What do you want?" she gave out in a shrill falsetto;
but no one heard her till the questions were repeated about an
octave and a half higher.

"Hold hard, Stango; there's a woman calling to us. Stop your row,
will you?"

A sudden cessation of the battering ensued, and some one was heard
going rapidly backward over cobblestones amid the laughter of the
rest, who had dismounted and were standing outside in the cold,
with their hands upon their horses' bridles.

"Who is there?" asked Sophie Tarne again.

"Travellers in need of assistance, and who--" began a polite and
even musical voice, which was interrupted by a hoarse voice:

"Open in the king's name, will you?"

"Open in the fiend's name, won't you?" called out a third and hoarser
voice; "or we'll fire through the windows and burn the place down.'

"What do you want?"

"Silence!" shouted the first one again; "let me explain, you dogs,
before you bark again."

There was a pause, and the polite gentleman began again in his
mellifluous voice:

"We are travellers belated. We require corn for our horses, food
for ourselves. There is no occasion for alarm; my friends are
noisy, but harmless, I assure you, and the favour of admittance
and entertainment here will be duly appreciated. To refuse your
hospitality--the hospitality of a Pemberthy--is only to expose
yourselves to considerable inconvenience, I fear."

"Spoken like a book, Captain."

"And, as we intend to come in at all risks," added a deeper voice,
"it will be better for you not to try and keep us out, d' ye hear?
D' ye--Captain, if you shake me by the collar again I'll put a
bullet through you. I--"

"Silence! Let the worthy folks inside consider the position for
five minutes."

Not a minute longer, if they don't want the place burned about
their ears, mind you," cried a voice that had not spoken yet.

"Who are you?" asked Sophie, still inclined to parley.

"Travellers, I have told you."

"Thieves, cutthroats, and murderers--eight of us--knights of the
road, gentlemen of the highway, and not to be trifled with when
half starved and hard driven," cried the hoarse man. "There, will
that satisfy you, wench? Will you let us in or not? It's easy enough
for us to smash in the windows and get in that way, isn't it?"

Yes, it was very easy.

"Wait five minutes, please," said Sophie.

She went back to the parlour and to the two shivering women and the
crowd of maids, who had crept from the dairy to the farm parlour,
having greater faith in numbers now.

"They had better come in, aunt, especially as we are quite helpless
to keep them out. I could fire that gun," Sophie said, pointing to
an unwieldy old blunderbuss slung by straps to the ceiling, " and
I know it's loaded. But I'm afraid it wouldn't be of much use."

"It might make them angry," said Mrs. Pemberthy.

"It would only kill one at the best," remarked Mrs. Tarne, with a
heavy sigh.

"And the rest of the men would kill us, the brutes," said Mrs.
Pemberthy. "Yes, they'd better come in."

"Lord have mercy upon us," said Mrs. Tarne.

"There's no help for it," said Mrs. Pemberthy. "Even Reuben would
not have dared to keep them out. I mind now their coming like this
twenty years agone. It was--"

"I will see to them," said Sophie, who had become in her young,
brave strength quite the mistress of the ceremonies. "Leave the
rest to me."

"And if you can persuade them to go away--" began Mrs. Tarne; but
her daughter had already disappeared, and was parleying through
the keyhole with the strangers without.

"Such hospitality as we can offer, gentlemen, shall be at your
service, providing always that you treat us with the respect due
to gentlewomen and your hosts."

"Trust to that," was the reply. "I will answer for myself and my
companions, Mistress Pemberthy."

"You give me your word of honour?"

"My word of honour," he repeated; "our words of honour, and speaking
for all my good friends present; is it not so, men?"

"Ay, ay--that 's right," chorused the good friends; and then Sophie
Tarne, not without an extra plunging of the heart beneath her white
crossover, unlocked the stout oaken door and let in her unwelcome
visitors.

Seven out of the eight seemed to tumble in all at once, pushing
against one another in their eagerness to enter, laughing, shouting,
and stamping with the heels of their jack-boots on the bright red
pantiles of the hall. The eighth intruder followed --a tall, thin
man, pale-faced and stern and young, with a heavy horseman's cloak
falling from his shoulders, the front of which was gathered up
across his arms. A handsome and yet worn face --the face of one who
had seen better days and kown brighter times--a picturesque kind
of vagabond, take him in the candle-light. He raised his hat and
bowed low to Sophie Tarne, not offering to shake hands as the rest
of them had done who where crowding around her; then he seemed to
stand suddenly between them and their salutations, and to brush
them unceremoniously aside.

"You see to those horses, Stango and Grapp," he said, singling out
the most obtrusive and the most black-muzzled of his gang. "Mistress
Pemberthy will perhaps kindly trust us for a while with the keys
of the stables and corn-bins."

"They are here," said Sophie, detaching them from a bunch of keys
which, in true housewifely fashion, hung from her girdle. "The farm
servants are away in the village, or they should help you, sir."

"We are in the habit of helping ourselves-very much," said one of
the highwaymen, drily. "Pray don't apologise on that score, mistress."

Two of the men departed; five of them stalked into the farm parlour,
flourishing their big hats and executing clumsy scrapings with
their feet while bowing in mock fashion to the two nervous widows,
who sat in one corner regarding them askance: the leader of these
lawless ones dropped his cloak from his shoulders, left it trailing
on the pantile floor, and made a rapid signal with his hand to
Sophie to pause an instant before she entered the room.

"Treat them with fair words, and not too much strong waters," he
said, quickly; "we have a long ride before us."

He said it like a warning, and Sophie nodded as though she took
his advice and was not ungrateful for it. Then they both went into
the parlour and joined the company; and the maid-servant, becoming
used to the position or making the best of it, began to bustle
about and wait upon their visitors, who had already drawn up their
seats to the supper-table, which had been spread with good things two
hours ago anticipative of the return Reuben Pemberthy to Maythorpe.

It was an odd supper-party at which Sophie Tarne presided, the
highwaymen insisting, with much clamour and some emphatic oaths,
that they would have no old women like Mrs. Tarne and Mrs. Pemberthy
at the head of the table. Sophie was a pretty wench, and so must
do the honours of the feast.

"The young girl's health, gentlemen, with three times three, and may
her husband be a match for her in good looks," cried one admiring
knight of the road; and then the toast was drunk. The ale flowed
freely, and there was much laughter and loud jesting.

The man whom they called "Guy" and "Captain" sat by Sophie's side.
He ate very little, and kept a watchful eye upon his men after
Stango and his companion had come in from the stable and completed
the number. He exchanged at first but few words with Sophie, though
he surveyed her with a grave attention that brought the colour to
her cheeks. He was a man upon guard. Presently he said:

"You bear your position well. You are not alarmed at these wild
fellows?"

"No--not now. I don't think they would hurt me. Besides--"

"Besides--what? "he asked, as she paused.

"I have your word for them."

"Yes," he answered; "but it is only a highwayman's word."

"I can trust it"

"These men can be demons when they like, Mistress Pemberthy."

Sophie did not think it worth while to inform the gentleman that
her name was not Pemberthy; it could not possibly matter to him,
and there was a difficulty in explaining the relationship she bore
to the family.

"Why are you with such men as these?" she asked, wonderingly.

"Where should I be? Where can I be else?" he asked, lightly now;
but it was with a forced lightness of demeanour, or Sophie Tarne
was very much deceived.

"Helping your king, not warring against him and his laws," said
Sophie, very quickly.

"I owe no allegiance to King George. I have always been a ne'er-do-well,
despised and scouted by a hard father and a villainous brother or
two, and life with these good fellows here is, after all, to my
mind. There's independence in it, and I prefer to be independent;
and danger, and I like danger. A wronged man wrongs others in his
turn, mistress; and it is my turn now."

"Two wrongs cannot make a right."

"Oh, I do not attempt the impossible, Mistress Pemberthy."

"What will be the end of this--to you?"

"The gallows--if I cannot get my pistol out in time."

He laughed lightly and naturally enough as Sophie shrank in terror
from him. One could see he was a desperate man enough, despite his
better manners; probably as great an outcast as the rest of them,
and as little to be trusted.

"That is a dreadful end to look forward to," she said.

"I don't look forward. What is the use--when _that_ is the
prospect?"

"Your father--your brothers--"

"Would be glad that the end came soon," he concluded. "They are
waiting for it patiently. They have prophesied it for the last
five years."

"They know then?"

"Oh yes; I have taken care that they should know," he answered,
laughing defiantly again.

"And your mother--does she know?"

He paused, and looked at her very hard.

"God forbid."


"She is--"

"She is in heaven, where nothing is known of what goes on upon
earth."

"How can you tell that?"

"There would be no peace in heaven otherwise, Mistress Pemberthy;
only great grief, intense shame, misery, despair, madness, at the
true knowledge of us all," he said, passionately. "On earth we men
are hypocrites and liars, devils and slaves."

"Not all men," said Sophie, thinking of Reu Pemberthy.

"I have met none other. Perhaps I have sought none other--all my
own fault, they will tell you where my father is; where," he added,
bitterly, "they are worse than I am, and yet, oh, so respectable."

"You turned highwayman to--to--"

"To spite them, say. It is very near the truth."

"It will be a poor excuse to the mother, when you see her again."

"Eh?"

But Sophie had no time to continue so abstruse a subject with this
misanthropical freebooter. She clapped her hand to her side and
gave a little squeak of astonishment.

"What is the matter?" asked Captain Guy.

"My keys! They have taken my keys."

And, sure enough, while Sophie Tarne had been talking to the captain,
some one had severed the keys from her girdle and made off with
them, and there was only a clean-cut black ribbon dangling at her
waist instead.

"That villain Stango," exclaimed the captain "I saw him pass a
minute ago. He leaned over and whispered to you, Kits. You remember?"

"Stango?" said Kits, with far too innocent an expression to be
genuine.

"Yes, Stango; you know he did."

"I dare say he did. I don't gainsay it, Captain, but I don't know
where he has gone."

"But _I_will know," cried the captain, striking his hand upon
the table and making every glass and plate jump thereon. "I will
have no tricks played here without my consent. Am I your master,
or are you all mine?"

And here, we regret to say, Captain Guy swore a good deal, and
became perfectly unheroic and inelegant and unromantic. But his
oaths had more effect upon his unruly followers than his protests,
and they sat looking at him in a half-sullen, half-shamefaced
manner, and would have probably succumbed to his influence had not
attention been diverted and aroused by the reappearance of Stango,
who staggered in with four or five great black bottles heaped high
in his arms. A tremendous shout of applause and delight heralded
his return to the parlour.

"We have been treated scurvily, my men," cried Stango, "exceedingly
scurvily; the best and strongest stuff in the cellar has been kept
back from us. It's excellent--I've been tasting it first, lest you
should all be poisoned; and there's more where this come from--oceans
more of it!"

"Hurrah for Stango!"

The captain's voice was heard once more above the uproar, but it
was only for a minute longer. There was a rush of six men toward
Stango; a shouting, scrambling, fighting for the spirits which he
had discovered; a crash of one black bottle to the floor, with the
spirit streaming over the polished boards, and the unceremonious
tilting over of the upper part of the supper-table in the ruffians'
wild eagerness for drink.

"To horse, to horse, men! Have you forgotten how far we have to
go?" cried the captain.

But they had forgotten everything, and did not heed him. They were
drinking strong waters, and were heedless of the hour and the risks
they ran by a protracted stay there. In ten minutes from that time
Saturnalia had set in, and pandemonium seemed to have unloosed
its choicest specimens They sang, they danced, they raved, they
blasphemed, they crowed like cocks, they fired pistols at the
chimney ornaments, they chased the maidservants from one room
to another, they whirled round the room with Mrs. Tarne and Mrs.
Pemberthy, they would have made a plunge at Sophie Tarne for partner
had not the captain, very white and stern now, stood close to her
side with a pistol at full cock in his right hand.

"I shall shoot the first man down who touches you," he said, between
his set teeth.

"I will get away from them soon. For heaven's sake--for mine--do
not add to the horror of this night, sir," implored Sophie.

He paused.

"I beg your pardon," he said, in a low tone of voice, "but--but I
am powerless to help you unless I quell these wolves at once. They
are going off for more drink."

"What is to be done?"

"Can you sing, Mistress Pemberthy?"

"Yes, a little; at least, they say so," she said, blushing at her
own self-encomium.

"Sing something--to gain time. I will slip away while you are singing,
and get the horses round to the front door. Do not be afraid."

"Gentlemen," he cried, in a loud voice, and bringing the handle
of his pistol smartly on the head of the man nearest to him to
emphasise his discourse, "Mistress Pemberthy will oblige the company
with a song. Order and attention for the lady!"

"A song! a song!" exclaimed the highwaymen, clapping their hands
and stamping their heels upon the floor. And then, amid the pause
which followed, Sophie Tarne began a plaintive little ballad in a
sweet, tremulous voice, which gathered strength as she proceeded,

It was a strange scene awaiting the return of Reuben Pemberthy,
whose tall form stood in the doorway before Sophie had finished her
sweet, simple rendering of an old English ballad. Reuben's round
blue eyes were distended with surprise, and his mouth, generally
very set and close, like the mouth of a steel purse, was on this
especial occasion, and for a while, wide open. Sophie Tarne singing
her best to amuse this vile and disorderly crew, who sat or stood
around the room half drunk, and with glasses in their hands, pipes
in their mouths, and the formidable, old-fashioned horse-pistols
in their pockets!

And who was the handsome man, with the long, black, flowing hair,
and a pale face, standing by Sophie's side--his Sophie--in a suit
of soiled brocade and tarnished lace, with a Ramilie cocked hat
under his arm and a pistol in his hand? The leader of these robbers,
the very man who had stopped him on the king's highway three hours
ago and taken every stiver which he had brought away from Barnet;
who had, with the help of these other scoundrels getting mad drunk
on his brandy, taken away his horse and left him bound to a gate
by the roadside because he would not be quietly robbed, but must
make a fuss over it and fight and kick in a most unbecoming fashion,
and without any regard for the numbers by whom he had been assailed.

"I did not think you could sing like that," said the captain,
quietly and in a low voice, when Sophie had finished her song, and
a great shout of approval was echoing throughout the farm and many
hundred yards beyond it.

"You have not got the horses ready," said Sophie, becoming aware
that he was still at her side. "You said--you promised--"

"I could not leave you while you were singing Did you know that
was my mother's song?"

"How should I know that?"

"No--no. But how strange--how--ah! there is your brother at the
door. I have had the honour of meeting Master Pemberthy of Finchley
earlier this evening, I think. A brave young gentleman; you should
be proud of him."

"My bro--oh! it is Reu. O Reu, Reu, where have you been? Why did
you not come before to help us--to tell us what to do?" And Sophie
Tarne ran to him and put her arms round his neck and burst into
tears. It was not a wise step on Sophie's part, but it was the
reaction at the sight of her sweetheart, at the glimpse, as it
were, of deliverance.

"There, there, don't cry, Sophie; keep a stout heart!" he whispered.
"If these villains have robbed us, they will not be triumphant
long. It will be my turn to crow presently."

"I--I don't understand."

"I can't explain now. Keep a good face--ply them with more
drink--watch me. Well, my friends," he said, in a loud voice, "you
have stolen a march upon me this time; but I've got home, you see,
in time to welcome you to Maythorpe and share in your festivity. I'm
a Pemberthy, and not likely to cry over spilled milk. More liquor
for the gentlemen, you wenches, and be quick with it. Captain, here's
to you and your companions, and next time you catch a Pemberthy.
thy, treat him more gently in return for a welcome here. More
liquor, girls; the gentlemen are thirsty after their long ride."

Reuben drank to the healths of the gentlemen by whom he was
surrounded; he was very much at home in his own house, very cool
and undismayed, having recovered from his surprise at finding
an evening party being celebrated there. The highwaymen were too
much excited to see anything remarkable in the effusion of Reuben
Pemberthy's greeting; these were lawless times, when farmers and
highwaymen were often in accord, dealt in one another's horses,
and drove various bargains at odd seasons and in odd corners of
the market-places; and Reuben Pemberthy was not unknown to them,
though they had treated him with scant respect upon a lonely country
road, and when they were impressed by the fact that he was riding
homeward with well-lined pockets after a day's huckstering. They
cheered Mr. Pemberthy's sentiments, all but the captain, who regarded
him very critically, although bowing very low while his health was
drunk.

"My cousin and my future bride, gentlemen will sing you another
song; and I don't mind following suit myself, just to show there is
no ill feeling between us; and our worthy captain, he will oblige
after me, I am sure. It may be a good many years before we meet
again."

"It may," said the captain, laconically.

"I--I cannot sing any more, Reuben," cried Sophie.

"Try, Sophie, for all our sakes; our home's sake--the home they
would strip, or burn to the ground, if they had only the chance."

"Why do you wish to keep them here?" Sophie whispered back to him.

"I was released by a troop of soldiers who were coming in this
direction," he said, hurriedly. They have gone on toward Finchley
in search of these robbers, but, failing to find them, they will
return here as my guests till morning. That was their promise."

"Oh!"

Sophie could not say more. Reuben had left her side, and was talking
and laughing with Stango as though he loved him.

"Your sweetheart, then, this cock o' the game?" said the captain
to Sophie, as he approached her once more.

"Yes."

"'I had need wish you much joy, for I see but little toward it,'
as the poet says," he remarked, bluntly. "He will not make you a
good husband."

"You cannot say that."

"It's a hard face that will look into yours, mistress, and when
trouble comes, it will not look pleasantly. You are going to sing
again? I am glad."

"You promised to go away--long since."

"I did. But the host has returned, and I distrust him. I am waiting
now to see the end of it."

"No--no--I hope not. Pray go, sir."

"Is there danger?"

"Yes."

"I thought so. I am fond of danger, I have told you. It braces me
up; it--why are you so pale?"

"You have been kind to me, and you have saved me from indignity.
Pray take your men away at once."

"They will not go, and I will not desert them."

"For my sake--do!"

"A song! a song! No more love-making tonight, Captain. A song from
the farmer's pretty lass!" cried out the men.

And then Sophie began to sing again, this time a love-song, the
song of a maiden waiting for her soldier boy to come back from
the wars; a maiden waiting for him, listening for him, hearing the
tramp of his regiment on the way toward her. She looked at Captain
Guy as she sang, and with much entreaty in her gaze, and he looked
back at her from under the cock of his hat, which he had pulled over
his brows; then he wavered and stole out of the room. Kits was at
the door, still with his mug of brandy in his hand. Guy seized him
by the ear and took him out with him into the fresh air, where the
white frost was and where the white moon was shining now.

"The soldiers are after us and know where we are, Kits. Pitch that
stuff away."

"Not if--"

"And get the horses ready--quick! I will be with you in a moment."

He walked along the garden path in front of the big old farm, swung
wide the farm gates, and propped them open. Then he went down
on all fours and put his ear to the frost-bound country road and
listened. "Yes," he added, "two miles away, and coming on sharp.
Why not let them come? What does it matter how soon?" He strode
back, however, with quick steps. Five minutes afterward he was at
the door of the farm parlour again, with his cloak over his shoulder
and his riding-whip in his hand.

"Boys, the redcoats are upon us!" he shouted "Each man to his
horse."

"We are betrayed then!"

"We won't go and leave all the good things in this house," cried
Stango. "Why, it's like the Bank of England upstairs, and I have
the keys. I--"

"Stango, I shall certainly put a bullet through your head if you
attempt to do anything more save to thank our worthy hose for his
hospitality and give him up his keys. Do you hear?" he thundered
forth. "Will you hang us all, you fool, by your delay?"

The highwaymen were scurrying out of the room now, a few in too
much haste to thank the givers of the feast, the others bowing and
shaking hands in mock burlesque of their chief. Stango had thrown
down his keys and run for it.

"Sorry we must leave you, Master Pemberthy," said the captain, "but
I certainly have the impression that a troop of horse soldiers
is coming in this direction. Pure fancy, probably; but one cannot
risk anything in these hard times. Your purse, sir, which I took
this afternoon--I shall not require it. Buy Mistress Sophie a
wedding with it. Good-night."

He bowed low, but he did not smile till he met Sophie's frightened
looks; then he bowed still lower, hat in hand, and said good-night
with a funny break in his voice and a longing look in his dark eyes
that Sophie did not readily forget.

It was all like a dream after the highwaymen had put spurs to their
horses and galloped away from Maythorpe Farm.

It will be fifteen years come next winter-time since the "Minions
of the Moon" held high carnival at the farm of Reuben Pemberthy.
Save that the trees about the homestead are full of rustling green
leaves and there is sunshine where the white frost lay, the farm
looks very much the same; the great thatched roof has taken a
darker tinge, and all the gold in it has turned to gray, and the
walls are more weather-beaten than of yore; but it is the old farm
still, standing "foursquare," with the highroad to Finchley winding
over the green hill yonder like a great, white, dusty snake Along
the road comes a horseman at full speed, as though anxious to
find a shelter before nightfall, for the king's highway in this
direction is no safer than it used to be, and people talk of Abershaw
and Barrington, and a man with sixteen strings to his hat, who are
busy in this direction. But the days are long now, and it wants
some hours before sundown, when the traveller leaps from his horse
and stands under the broad eaves of the porch, where the creepers
are growing luxuriantly and are full of fair white flowers.

The traveller is a good horseman, though he has passed the heyday
of his youth. It is not for some three minutes afterward that his
man-servant, hot and blown and powdered thick with dust, comes up
on horseback after him and takes charge of his master's steed. The
master is a man of forty years or more, and looking somewhat older
than his years, his hair being very gray. He stoops a little between
the shoulders too when off his guard, though he can look straight
and stalwart enough when put to it. He is very dark,--a fiercer
sun than that which shines on England has burned him a copper
colour,--and he has a moustache that Munchausen might have envied.

He knocks at the door, and asks if Master Reuben Pemberthy can be
seen at a moment's notice. The maid-servant looks surprised, but
says, "My mistress is within, sir."

"Reuben Pemberthy's wife, that is," he mutters, pulling thoughtfully
at his long moustache; "ah, well, perhaps she will see me."

"What name shall I say?"

"Sir Richard Isshaw; but she will not know the name."

He stands in the hall, looking about him critically; his man-servant,
still mounted, goes slowly back toward the roadway with his master's
horse and his own, where he remains in waiting. Presently, Sir
Richard Isshaw is shown into the farm parlour, very cool and full
of shadow, with great green plants on the broad recesses of the
open window, and bees buzzing about them from the outer world.

A young woman in deep widow's weeds rises as he enters, and makes
him one of those profound courtesies which were considered appropriate
for the fair sex to display to those in rank and honour in the good
old days when George was king, Surely a young woman still, despite
the fifteen years that have passed, with a young supple figure
and a pleasant unlined face. Eighteen years and fifteen only make
thirty-three, and one can scarcely believe in time's inroads looking
upon Sophie Pemberthy. The man cannot. He is surprised and he looks
at her through tears in his dark eyes.

"You asked to see Mr. Reuben Pemberthy," she says, sadly. "You did
not know that--"

"No, I did not know," he says, a little huskily; "I am a stranger
to these parts; I have been long abroad."

"May I inquire the nature of your errand, Sir Richard?" she asks,
in a low voice. "Though I am afraid I cannot be of any service as
regards any business of the farm."

"How is that?" he asks, steadily keeping gaze upon her.

"The farm passes to Mr. Pemberthy's cousin in a few days' time."

"Indeed! Then you--"

He pauses half-way for a reply, but it is long in coming. Only the
humming of the bees disturbs the silence of the room.

"Then you leave here?" he concludes at last.

"Yes. It is only the male Pemberthys who rule," she says.

"Your--your children?"

"My one little boy, my dear Algy, died before his father. It was
a great disappointment to my husband that he should die. We female
Pemberthys" she says, with a sudden real bright little smile that
settles down into sadness again very quickly, "do not count for a
great deal in the family."

"How long has Mr. Pemberthy been dead?"

"Six months."

"You are left poor?" he says, very quickly now.

"I--I don't think you have a right to ask me such a question,
sir."

"I have no right," he replies. "These are foreign manners. Excuse
them, please; don't mind me."

Still he is persistent.

"From son to son's son, and the women left anywhere and anyhow--that
is the Pemberthy law, I expect. I have seen the workings of such a
law before. Not that I ought to complain," he adds, with a forced
laugh,--a laugh that Mrs. Pemberthy seems suddenly to remember,--"for
I have profited thereby."

"Indeed!" says the farmer's widow, for the want of a better answer
at the moment.

"I am a younger son; but all my brothers have been away by wars
or pestilence, and I am "sent" for in hot haste--I, who had shaken
the dust of England from my feet for fifteen years."

"Fifteen years?"

"Almost. Don't you recollect the last time I was in this room?"

"You--in this room, Sir Richard?"

"Yes; try and remember when that was. I only come to look at the
old place and you, just for once, before I go away again. Try and
think, Mistress Pemberthy, as I used to call you"

She looks into the red, sunburnt face, starts, blushes, and looks
away.

"Yes, I remember. You are--"

"Well?"

"Captain Guy!"

"Yes, that is it; Richard Guy Isshaw, younger son, who went wholly
to the bad--who turned highwayman--whom _you_ saved. The only
one out of the eight,--the rest were hanged at Tyburn and Kennington,
poor devils,--and thought I would ride over and thank you, and see
you once more. Your husband would have hanged me, I dare say--but
there, there, peace to his soul."

"Amen," whispers Sophie Pemberthy.

"You saved me; you set me thinking of my young mother, who died
when I was a lad and loved me much too well; and you taught me
there were warm and loving hearts in the world; and when I went
away from here I went away from the old life. I cannot say how that
was; but," shrugging his shoulders, "so it was."

"It was a call," said Sophie, piously.

"A call to arms, for I went to the wars. And what is it now that
brings me back here to thank you--an old, time-worn reprobate,
turned soldier and turned respectable!--what is that?"

"I don't know."

"Another call, depend upon it. A call to Maythorpe, where I expected
to find a fat farmer and his buxom partner and a crowd of laughing
boys and girls; where I hoped I might be of help to some of them,
if help were needed. And," he adds, "I find only you--and you just
the same fair, bright girl I left behind me long ago."

"Oh no."

"It is like a dream; it is very remarkable to me. Yes, it's another
call, Mistress Pemberthy, depend upon it."

And it is not the last call, either. The estate of Richard Isshaw
lies not so many miles from Maythorpe Farm that a good long ride
cannot overcome the distance between them. And the man turned
respectable--the real baronet--is so very much alone and out of
place in his big house that he knows not what to do.

And Mistress Pemberthy is very much alone too, and going out alone
into the world, almost friendless, and with only two hundred pounds
and perhaps the second-best bed--who knows?--as her share of her
late loving, but rather hard and unsympathetic, husband's worldly
goods.

And folks do say, Finchley way, that pretty Mistress Pemberthy
will be Lady Isshaw before the winter sets in, and that it will be
exactly fifteen years since these two first set eyes upon each





Next: THE FOUR-FIFTEEN EXPRESS

Previous: THE BOX TUNNEL



Add to del.icio.us Add to Reddit Add to Digg Add to Del.icio.us Add to Google Add to Twitter Add to Stumble Upon
Add to Informational Site Network
Report
Privacy
SHAREADD TO EBOOK



Viewed: 1332