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"What can he mean by this?" said Mr. Snodgrass, when the horse had executed this manoeuvre for the twentieth time. "I don't know," replied Mr. Tupman; "it looks very like shying, don't it?" Mr. Snodgrass was about to reply, when he was interrupted by a shout from Mr. Pickwick.
"Woo!" said that gentleman, "I have dropped my whip."
"Winkle," cried Mr. Snodgrass, as the equestrian came troting up on the tall horse, with his hat over his ears, and shaking all over, as if he would shake to pieces, with the violence of the exercise. "Pick up the whip, there's a good fellow." Mr. Winkle pulled at the bridle of the tall horse till he was black in the face; and having at length succeeded in stopping him, dismounted, handed the whip to Mr. Pickwick, and grasping the reins, prepared to remount.
Now whether the tall horse, in the natural playfulness of his disposition, was desirous of having a little innocent recreation with Mr. Winkle, or whether it occurred to him that he could perform the journey as much to his own satisfaction without a rider as with one, are points upon which, of course, we can arrive at no definitive and distinct conclusion. By whatever motives the animal was actuated, certain it is that Mr. Winkle had no sooner touched the reins, than he slipped them over his head, and darted backwards to their full length. "Poor fellow," said Mr. Winkle, soothingly,-" poor fellow -good old horse." The "poor fellow" was proof against flattery: the more Mr. Winkle tried to get near him, the more he sidled away; and, notwithstanding all kinds of coaxing and wheedling, there were Mr. Winkle and the horse going round and round each other for ten minutes, at the end of which time each was at precisely the same distance from the other as when they first commenced an unsatisfactory sort of thing under any circumstances, but particularly so in a lonely road, where no assistance can be procured.
"What am I to do?" shouted Mr. Winkle, after the dodging had been prolonged for a considerable time. "What am I to do! I can't get on him?"
"You had better lead him till we come to a turnpike," replied Mr. Pickwick from the chaise.
"But he won't come," roared Mr. Winkle. and hold him."
Mr. Pickwick was the very personation of kindness and humanity he threw the reins on the horse's back; and having
descended from his seat, carefully drew the chaise into the hedge, lest any thing should come along the road, and stepped back to the assistance of his distressed companion, leaving Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass in the vehicle.
The horse no sooner beheld Mr. Pickwick advancing towards him, with the chaise whip in his hand, than he exchanged the rotary motion in which he had previously indulged, for a retrograde movement of so very determined a character that it at once drew Mr. Winkle, who was still at the end of the bridle, at a rather quicker rate than fast walking, in the direction from which they had just come. Mr. Pickwick ran to his assistance; but the faster Mr. Pickwick ran forward, the faster the horse ran backward. There was a great scraping of feet, and kicking up of the dust; and at last Mr. Winkle, his arms being nearly pulled out of their sockets, fairly let go his hold. The horse paused, stared, shook his head, turned round, and quietly trotted home to Rochester, leaving Mr. Winkle and Mr. Pickwick gazing on each other with countenances of blank dismay. A rattling noise at a little distance attracted their attention. They looked up.
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the agonized Mr. Pickwick, "there's the other horse running away!"
It was but too true. The animal was startled by the noise, and the reins were on his back. The result may be guessed. He tore off with the four-wheeled chaise behind him, and Mr. Tupman and Mr. Snodgrass in the four-wheeled chaise. The heat was a short one. Mr. Tupman threw himself into the hedge, Mr. Snodgrass followed his example, the horse dashed the four-wheeled chaise against a wooden bridge, separated the wheels from the body, and the bin from the perch; and finally stood stock still, to gaze upon the ruin he had made.
The first care of the two unspilt friends was to extricate their unfortunate companions from their bed of quickset-a process which gave them the unspeakable satisfaction of discovering that they had sustained no injury, beyond sundry rents in their garments, and various lacerations from the brambles. The next thing to be done was to unharness the horse. This complicated process having been effected, the party walked slowly forward, leading the horse among them, and abandoning the chaise to its fate.
LXVIII. THE HIGHWAYMEN.
WHEN the moon rose that night, there was one spot upon which she palely broke, about ten miles distant from Warlock, which the forewarned traveller would not have been eager to pass, but which might not have afforded a bad study to such artists as have caught from the savage painter of the Apennines a love for the wild and adventurous. Dark trees, scattered far and wild over a broken, but verdant sward, made the background; the moon glimmered through the boughs as she came slowly forth from her pavilion of cloud, and poured a broader beam on two figures just advanced beyond the trees. More plainly brought into light by her rays than his companion, here a horseman, clad in a short coat that barely covered the crupper of his steed, was looking to the priming of a large pistol, which he had just taken from his holster. A slouched hat, and a mask of black crape, conspired with the action to throw a natural supposition on the intention of the rider. His horse, a beautiful dark gray, stood quite motionless, with arched neck, and its short ears quickly moving to and fro, demonstrative of that sagacious and anticipative attention which characterizes the noblest of all tamed animals you would not have perceived the impatience of the steed, but for the white foam that gathered round the bit, and for an occasional and unfrequent toss of the head. Behind this horseman, and partially thrown into the dark shadow of the trees, another man, similarly clad, was busied in tightening the girths of a horse, of great strength and size. As he did so, he hummed, with no unmusical murmur, the air of a popular drinking song.
Sdeath, Ned," said his comrade, who had for some time been plunged in a silent reverie" Sdeath! why can you not stifle your love for the fine arts, at a moment like this? hum of thine grows louder every moment, at last I expect it will burst out into a full roar; recollect we are not at gentleman George's now !"
"The more's the pity, Augustus," answered Ned, who was rather a grumbler, as, having finished his groomlike operation, he now slowly mounted. "Curse it, Oliver (1) looks out as broadly as if he were going to blab. For my part, I love a dark night, with a star here and there winking at us, as much as to say, 'I see you, my boys, but I won't say a word about it,' and a small pattering, drizzling, mizzling rain that pre
(1) Oliver, the moon.
vents Little John's hoofs from being heard, and covers one's retreat, as it were. Besides, when one is a little wet, it is always necessary to drink the more, to keep the cold from one's stomach, when one gets home."
Or, in other words," said Augustus, who loved a maxim from his very heart, "6 a light wet cherishes a heavy wet!" "Good!" said Ned, yawning; "hang it, I wish the captain would come. Do you know what o'clock it is ?—Not far short of eleven, I suppose?"
"About that!-Hist, is that a carriage ?-No-it is only a sudden rise in the wind. No!-some one is coming, see my horse's ears! Keep watch!"
The robbers became silent, the sound of distant hoofs was indistinctly heard, and, as it came nearer, there was a crash of boughs, as if a hedge had been ridden through; presently the moon gleamed picturesquely on the figure of a horseman, approaching through the copse in the rear of the robbers. Now he was half seen among the sinuosities of his forest-path; now in full sight, now altogether hid; then his horse neighed impatiently; now he again came in sight, and in a moment more, he had joined the pair! The new comer was of a tall and sinewy frame, and in the first bloom of manhood. A frock of dark green, edged with a narrow silver lace, and buttoned from the throat to the middle, gave due effect to an upright mien, a broad chest, and a slender, but rounded waist, that stood in no need of the compression of the tailor. A short riding-cloak, clasped across the throat with a silver buckle, hung picturesquely over one shoulder, while his lower limbs were cased in military boots, which, though they rose above the knee, were evidently neither heavy nor embarrassing to the vigorous sinews of the horseman. The caparisons of the steed-the bit, the bridle, the saddle, the holster-were according to the most approved fashion of the day; and the steed itself was in the highest condition, and of remarkable beauty. The horseman's air was erect and bold; and a small, but coal-black moustachio heightened the resolute expression of his short, curved lip; and, from beneath the large hat which overhung his brow, his long locks escaped, and waved darkly in the keen night air. Altogether, horseman and horse exhibited a gallant, and even chivalrous appearance, which the hour and the scene heightened to a dramatic and romantic effect.
"How are you, my merry men
? "" were the salutations ex
"What news?" said Ned.
"Brave news! look to it. My lord and his carriage will be by in ten minutes at most."
"Have you got any thing more out of the parson I frightened so gloriously?" asked Augustus.
"No; more of that hereafter. Now for our new prey!" "Are you sure our noble friend will be so soon at hand?" said Tomlinson, patting his steed, that now pawed in excited hilarity.
"Sure! I saw him change horses; I was in the stableyard, at the time; he got out for half an hour, to eat, I fancy; —be sure that I played him a trick in the mean while."
"What force?" asked Ned.
"Self and servant."
"Ay, I forget them. Never mind, you must frighten
"Forwards!" cried Ned, as his horse sprang from his armed heel.
"One moment," said Lovett; "I must put on my mask-Soho-Robin, sobo! Now for it-forwards!"
As the trees rapidly disappeared behind them, the riders entered, at a hand-gallop, on a broad track of waste land, interspersed with dykes and occasionally fences of hurdles, over which their horses bounded like quadrupeds well accustomed to such exploits.
So briskly leaped the heart of the leader of the three, that, as they now came in view of the main road, and the distant wheel of a carriage whirred on the ear, he threw up his right hand with a joyous gesture, and burst into a boyish exclamation of hilarity and delight.
"Whist, captain!" said Ned, checking his own spirits with a mock air of gravity, "let us conduct ourselves like gentlemen; it is only your low fellows who get into such confoundedly high spirits; men of the world, like us, should do every thing as if their hearts were broken."
"Melancholy ever cronies with sublimity, and courage is sublime," said Augustus, with the pomp of a maxim-maker.
"Now for the hedge!" cried Lovett, unheeding his comrades, and his horse sprang into the road.
The three men now were drawn up quite still and motion