The Runaway Couple
: Dickens Stories About Children Every Child Can Read
THE Boots at the Holly Tree Inn was the young man named Cobbs, who
blacked the shoes, and ran errands, and waited on the people at the inn;
and this is the story that he told, one day.
"Supposing a young gentleman not eight years old was to run away with a
fine young woman of seven, would you consider that a queer start? That
there is a start as I--the Boots at the Holly Tree Inn--have seen with
my own ey
s; and I cleaned the shoes they ran away in, and they was so
little that I couldn't get my hand into 'em.
"Master Harry Walmers' father, he lived at the Elms, away by Shooter's
Hill, six or seven miles from London. He was uncommon proud of Master
Harry, as he was his only child; but he didn't spoil him neither. He was
a gentleman that had a will of his own, and an eye of his own, and that
would be minded. Consequently, though he made quite a companion of the
fine bright boy, still he kept the command over him, and the child was
a child. I was under-gardener there at that time; and one morning
Master Harry, he comes to me and says--
"'Cobbs, how should you spell Norah, if you was asked?' and then begun
cutting it in print, all over the fence.
"He couldn't say he had taken particular notice of children before that;
but really it was pretty to see them two mites a-going about the place
together, deep in love. And the courage of the boy! Bless your soul,
he'd have throwed off his little hat, and tucked up his little sleeves,
and gone in at a lion, he would, if they had happened to meet one and
she had been frightened of him. One day he stops along, with her, where
Boots was hoeing weeds in the gravel, and says--speaking up, 'Cobbs,' he
says, 'I like you.' 'Do you, sir? I'm proud to hear it.' 'Yes, I do,
Cobbs. Why do I like you, do you think, Cobbs?' 'Don't know, Master
Harry, I am sure.' 'Because Norah likes you, Cobbs.' 'Indeed, sir?
That's very gratifying.' 'Gratifying, Cobbs? It's better than millions
of the brightest diamonds to be liked by Norah.' 'Certainly, sir.'
'You're going away, ain't you, Cobbs?' 'Yes, sir.' 'Would you like
another situation, Cobbs?' 'Well, sir, I shouldn't object, if it was a
good 'un.' 'Then, Cobbs,' says he, 'you shall be our head-gardener when
we are married.' And he tucks her, in her little sky-blue mantle, under
his arm, and walks away.
"It was better than a picter, and equal to a play, to see them babies
with their long, bright, curling hair, their sparkling eyes, and their
beautiful light tread, a-rambling about the garden, deep in love. Boots
was of opinion that the birds believed they was birds, and kept up with
'em, singing to please 'em. Sometimes, they would creep under the Tulip
tree, and would sit there with their arms round one another's necks, and
their soft cheeks touching, a-reading about the prince and the dragon,
and the good and bad enchanters, and the king's fair daughter. Sometimes
he would hear them planning about having a house in a forest, keeping
bees and a cow, and living entirely on milk and honey. Once he came upon
them by the pond, and heard Master Harry say, 'Adorable Norah, kiss me,
and say you love me to distraction, or I'll jump in headforemost.' And
Boots made no question he would have done it, if she hadn't done as he
"'Cobbs,' says Master Harry, one evening, when Cobbs was watering the
flowers, 'I am going on a visit, this present mid-summer, to my
grandmamma's at York.'
"'Are you, indeed, sir? I hope you'll have a pleasant time. I am going
into Yorkshire myself when I leave here.'
"'Are you going to your grandmamma's, Cobbs?'
"'No, sir. I haven't got such a thing.'
"'Not as a grandmamma, Cobbs?'
"The boy looked on at the watering of the flowers for a little while and
then said, 'I shall be very glad, indeed, to go, Cobbs--Norah's going.'
"'You'll be all right then, sir,' says Cobbs, 'with your beautiful
sweetheart by your side.'
"'Cobbs,' returned the boy, flushing, 'I never let anybody joke about it
when I can prevent them.'
"'It wasn't a joke, sir,' says Cobbs, with humility--'wasn't so meant.'
"'I am glad of that, Cobbs, because I like you! you know, and you're
going to live with us, Cobbs.
"'What do you think my grandmamma gives me, when I go down there?'
"'I couldn't so much as make a guess, sir.'
"'A Bank of England five-pound note, Cobbs.'[A]
"'Whew!' says Cobbs, 'that's a spanking sum of money, Master Harry.'
"'A person could do a great deal with such a sum of money as that.
Couldn't a person, Cobbs?'
"'I believe you, sir!'
"'Cobbs,' said the boy, 'I'll tell you a secret. At Norah's house they
have been joking her about me, and pretending to laugh at our being
engaged. Pretending to make game of it, Cobbs!'
"'Such, sir,' says Cobbs, 'is the wickedness of human natur'.'
"The boy, looking exactly like his father, stood for a few minutes with
his glowing face towards the sunset, and then departed with, 'Good
night, Cobbs. I'm going in.'
"I was the Boots at the Holly Tree Inn when one summer afternoon the
coach drives up, and out of the coach gets these two children.
"The guard says to our governor, the inn-keeper, 'I don't quite make out
these little passengers, but the young gentleman's words was, that they
were to be brought here.' The young gentleman gets out; hands his lady
out; gives the driver something for himself; says to our governor,
'We're to stop here to-night, please. Sitting-room and two bedrooms will
be required. Chops and cherry-pudding for two!' and tucks her, in her
little sky-blue mantle, under his arm, and walks into the house much
bolder than brass.
"Boots leaves me to judge what the amazement of that establishment was
when those two tiny creatures, all alone by themselves, was marched into
the parlor--much more so when he, who had seen them without their seeing
him, gave the governor his views of the errand they was upon. 'Cobbs,'
says the governor, 'if this is so, I must set off myself to York and
quiet their friends' minds. In which case you must keep your eye upon
'em, and humor 'em, till I come back. But, before I take these measures,
Cobbs, I should wish you to find out from themselves whether your
opinions is correct.' 'Sir, to you,' says Cobbs, 'that shall be done
"So Boots goes up stairs to the parlor, and there he finds Master Harry
on an enormous sofa a-drying the eyes of Miss Norah with his
pocket-hankecher. Their little legs were entirely off the ground of
course, and it really is not possible for Boots to express to me how
small them children looked.
"'It's Cobbs! It's Cobbs!' cries Master Harry, and comes running to him,
and catching hold of his hand. Miss Norah comes running to him on
t'other side, and catching hold of his t'other hand, and they both jump
"'I see you a-getting out, sir,' says Cobbs. 'I thought it was you. I
thought I couldn't be mistaken in your height and figure. What's the
object of your journey, sir? Are you going to be married?'
"'We are going to be married, Cobbs, at Gretna Green,' returned the boy.
'We have run away on purpose. Norah has been in rather low spirits,
Cobbs; but she'll be happy, now we have found you to be our friend.'
"'Thank you, sir, and thank you, miss,' says Cobbs, 'for your good
opinion. Did you bring any luggage with you, sir?'
"If I will believe Boots when he gives me his word and honor upon it,
the lady had got a parasol, a smelling-bottle, a round and a half of
cold buttered toast, eight peppermint drops, and a hair-brush--seemingly
a doll's. The gentleman had got about half a dozen yards of string, a
knife, three or four sheets of writing-paper folded up surprisingly
small, an orange, and a china mug with his name upon it.
"'What may be the exact natur' of your plans, sir?' says Cobbs.
"'To go on,' replied the boy--which the courage of that boy was
something wonderful!--'in the morning, and be married to-morrow.'
"'Just so, sir,' says Cobbs. 'Would it meet your views, sir, if I was to
go with you?'
"When Cobbs said this, they both jumped for joy again, and cried out,
'Oh, yes, yes, Cobbs! Yes!'
"'Well, sir,' says Cobbs. 'If you will excuse my having the freedom to
give an opinion, what I should recommend would be this. I'm acquainted
with a pony, sir, which, put in a phaeton that I could borrow, would
take you and Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr. (myself driving, if you agree), to
the end of your journey in a very short space of time. I am not
altogether sure, sir, that this pony will be at liberty to-morrow, but
even if you had to wait over to-morrow for him, it might be worth your
while. As to the small account for your board here, sir, in case you was
to find yourself running at all short, that don't signify, because I'm a
part proprietor of this inn, and it could stand over.'
"Boots tells me that when they clapped their hands and jumped for joy
again, and called him, 'Good Cobbs!' and 'Dear Cobbs!' and bent across
him to kiss one another in the delight of their trusting hearts, he felt
himself the meanest rascal for deceiving 'em that ever was born.
"'Is there anything you want just at present, sir?' says Cobbs, mortally
ashamed of himself.
"'We would like some cakes after dinner,' answered Master Harry, folding
his arms, putting out one leg, and looking straight at him, 'and two
apples--and jam. With dinner, we should like to have toast and water.
But Norah has always been accustomed to half a glass of currant wine at
dessert. And so have I.'
"'It shall be ordered at the bar, sir,' says Cobbs, and away he went.
"'The way in which the women of that house--without exception--everyone
of 'em--married and single, took to that boy when they heard the story,
Boots considers surprising. It was as much as he could do to keep 'em
from dashing into the room and kissing him. They climbed up all sorts of
places, at the risk of their lives, to look at him through a pane of
glass. They were seven deep at the key-hole. They were out of their
minds about him and his bold spirit.
"In the evening Boots went into the room, to see how the runaway couple
was getting on. The gentleman was on the window-seat, supporting the
lady in his arms. She had tears upon her face, and was lying, very tired
and half-asleep, with her head upon his shoulder.
"'Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr., tired, sir?' says Cobbs.
"'Yes, she is tired, Cobbs; but she is not used to be away from home,
and she has been in low spirits again. Cobbs, do you think you could
bring a biffin, please?'
"'I ask your pardon, sir,' says Cobbs. 'What was it you--'
"'I think a Norfolk biffin[B] would rouse her, Cobbs. She is very fond
"Boots withdrew in search of the required restorative, and, when he
brought it in, the gentleman handed it to the lady, and fed her with a
spoon, and took a little himself. The lady being heavy with sleep, and
rather cross. 'What should you think, sir,' says Cobbs, 'of a chamber
candlestick?' The gentleman approved; the chambermaid went first, up the
great staircase; the lady, in her sky-blue mantle, followed, gallantly
led by the gentleman; the gentleman kissed her at the door, and retired
to his own room, where Boots softly locked him up.
"Boots couldn't but feel what a base deceiver he was when they asked him
at breakfast (they had ordered sweet milk-and-water, and toast and
currant jelly, overnight) about the pony. It really was as much as he
could do, he don't mind confessing to me, to look them two young things
in the face, and think how wicked he had grown up to be. Howsomever, he
went on a-lying like a Trojan, about the pony. He told 'em it did so
unfortunately happen that the pony was half-clipped, you see, and that
he couldn't be taken out in that state for fear that it should strike to
his inside. But that he'd be finished clipping in the course of the day,
and that to-morrow morning at eight o'clock the phaeton would be ready.
Boots' view of the whole case, looking back upon it in my room, is, that
Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr., was beginning to give in. She hadn't had her
hair curled when she went to bed, and she didn't seem quite up to
brushing it herself, and it's getting in her eyes put her out. But
nothing put out Master Harry. He sat behind his breakfast cup, a-tearing
away at the jelly, as if he had been his own father.
"After breakfast Boots is inclined to think that they drawed
soldiers--at least, he knows that many such was found in the fireplace,
all on horseback. In the course of the morning Master Harry rang the
bell--it was surprising how that there boy did carry on--and said in a
sprightly way, 'Cobbs, is there any good walks in this neighborhood?'
"'Yes, sir,' says Cobbs. 'There's Love Lane.'
"'Get out with you, Cobbs!'--that was that there boy's
"'Begging your pardon, sir,' says Cobbs, 'there really is Love Lane. And
a pleasant walk it is, and proud I shall be to show it to yourself and
Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr.'
"'Norah, dear,' said Master Harry, 'this is curious. We really ought to
see Love Lane. Put on your bonnet, my sweetest darling, and we will go
there with Cobbs.'
"Boots leaves me to judge what a beast he felt himself to be, when that
young pair told him, as they all three jogged along together, that they
had made up their minds to give him two thousand guineas a year as
head-gardener, on account of his being so true a friend to 'em. Boots
could have wished at the moment that the earth would have opened and
swallowed him up; he felt so mean with their beaming eyes a-looking at
him, and believing him. Well, sir, he turned the conversation as well as
he could, and he took 'em down Love Lane to the water-meadows, and there
Master Harry would have drowned himself in half a moment more, a-getting
out a water-lily for her--but nothing frightened that boy. Well, sir,
they was tired out. All being so new and strange to 'em, they was tired
as tired could be. And they laid down on a bank of daisies, like the
children in the wood, leastways meadows, and fell asleep.
"Well, sir, they woke up at last, and then one thing was getting pretty
clear to Boots, namely, that Mrs. Harry Walmers', Jr., temper was on the
move. When Master Harry took her round the waist she said he 'teased her
so,' and when he says, 'Norah, my young May Moon, your Harry tease you?'
she tells him, 'Yes; and I want to go home!'
"However, Master Harry he kept up, and his noble heart was as fond as
ever. Mrs. Walmers turned very sleepy about dusk and began to cry.
Therefore, Mrs. Walmers went off to bed as per yesterday; and Master
Harry ditto repeated.
"About eleven or twelve at night comes back the inn-keeper in a chaise,
along with Mr. Walmers and an elderly lady. Mr. Walmers looks amused and
very serious, both at once, and says to our missis, 'We are very much
indebted to you, ma'am, for your kind care of our little children, which
we can never sufficiently acknowledge. Pray, ma'am where is my boy?' Our
missis says, 'Cobbs has the dear children in charge, sir. Cobbs, show
forty!' Then he says to Cobbs, 'Ah, Cobbs! I am glad to see you. I
understand you was here!' And Cobbs says, 'Yes, sir. Your most obedient,
"I may be surprised to hear Boots say it, perhaps, but Boots assures me
that his heart beat like a hammer, going up-stairs. 'I beg your pardon,
sir,' says he, while unlocking the door; 'I hope you are not angry with
Master Harry. For Master Harry is a fine boy, sir, and will do you
credit and honor.' And Boots signifies to me that if the fine boy's
father had contradicted him in the daring state of mind in which he then
was, he thinks he should have 'fetched him a crack,' and taken the
"But Mr. Walmers only says, 'No, Cobbs. No, my good fellow. Thank you!'
And the door being open, goes in.
"Boots goes in too, holding the light, and he sees Mr. Walmers go up to
the bedside, bend gently down, and kiss the little sleeping face. Then
he stands looking at it for a minute, looking wonderfully like it; and
then he gently shakes the little shoulder.
"'Harry, my dear boy! Harry!'
"Master Harry starts up and looks at him. Looks at Cobbs, too. Such is
the honor of that mite that he looks at Cobbs to see whether he has
brought him into trouble.
"'I am not angry, my child. I only want you to dress yourself and come
"Master Harry dresses himself quickly. His breast begins to swell when
he has nearly finished, and it swells more and more as he stands
a-looking at his father; his father standing a-looking at him, the quiet
image of him.
"'Please may I'--the spirit of that little creatur', and the way he kept
his rising tears down!--'Please, dear pa--may I--kiss Norah before I
"'You may, my child.'
"So he takes Master Harry in his hand, and Boots leads the way with the
candle, and they come to that other bedroom; where the elderly lady is
seated by the bed, and poor little Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr., is fast
asleep. There the father lifts the child up to the pillow, and he lays
his little face down for an instant by the little warm face of poor
unconscious little Mrs. Harry Walmers, Jr., and gently draws it to
him--a sight so touching to the chambermaids who are peeping through the
door that one of them calls out, 'It's a shame to part 'em!' But this
chambermaid was always, as Boots informs me, a soft-hearted one. Not
that there was any harm in that girl. Far from it."
[A] For the benefit of some of our young readers, it may be well to
explain that this is about the same as a bill of twenty-five dollars
would be in America.
[B] A biffin is a red apple, growing near Norfolk, and generally eaten
after having been baked.