First he told of the trouble they had to get his Lordship started in the chaise; and how he had dropped a rouleau of gold on the threshold, and the passage and doorstep had been strewn with guinea-pieces. At this old Jonathan looked at Mr. Archer. Next the visitor turned to news of a more thrilling character: how the down mail had been stopped again near Grantham by three men on horseback--a white and two bays; how they had handkerchiefs on their faces; how Tom the guard's blunderbuss missed fire, but he swore he had winged one of them with a pistol; and how they had got clean away with seventy pounds in money, some valuable papers, and a watch or two.
'Brave! brave!' cried Jonathan in ecstasy. 'Seventy pounds! O, it's brave!'
'Well, I don't see the great bravery,' observed the ostler, misapprehending him. 'Three men, and you may call that three to one. I'll call it brave when some one stops the mail single- handed; that's a risk.'
'And why should they hesitate?' inquired Mr. Archer. 'The poor souls who are fallen to such a way of life, pray what have they to lose? If they get the money, well; but if a ball should put them from their troubles, why, so better.'
'Well, sir,' said the ostler, 'I believe you'll find they won't agree with you. They count on a good fling, you see; or who would risk it?--And here's my best respects to you, Miss Nance.'
'And I forgot the part of cowardice,' resumed Mr. Archer. 'All men fear.'
'O, surely not!' cried Nance.
'All men,' reiterated Mr. Archer.
'Ay, that's a true word,' observed Old Cumberland, 'and a thief, anyway, for it's a coward's trade.'
'But these fellows, now,' said Jonathan, with a curious, appealing manner--'these fellows with their seventy pounds! Perhaps, Mr. Archer, they were no true thieves after all, but just people who had been robbed and tried to get their own again. What was that you said, about all England and the taxes? One takes, another gives; why, that's almost fair. If I've been rooked and robbed, and the coat taken off my back, I call it almost fair to take another's.'
'Ask Old Cumberland,' observed the ostler; 'you ask Old Cumberland, Miss Nance!' and he bestowed a wink upon his favoured fair one.
'Why that?' asked Jonathan.
'He had his coat taken--ay, and his shirt too,' returned the ostler.
'Is that so?' cried Jonathan eagerly. 'Was you robbed too?'
'That was I,' replied Cumberland, 'with a warrant! I was a well- to-do man when I was young.'
'Ay! See that!' says Jonathan. 'And you don't long for a revenge?'
'Eh! Not me!' answered the beggar. 'It's too long ago. But if you'll give me another mug of your good ale, my pretty lady, I won't say no to that.'
'And shalt have! And shalt have!' cried Jonathan. 'Or brandy even, if you like it better.'
And as Cumberland did like it better, and the ostler chimed in, the party pledged each other in a dram of brandy before separating.
As for Nance, she slipped forth into the ruins, partly to avoid the ostler's gallantries, partly to lament over the defects of Mr. Archer. Plainly, he was no hero. She pitied him; she began to feel a protecting interest mingle with and almost supersede her admiration, and was at the same time disappointed and yet drawn to him. She was, indeed, conscious of such unshaken fortitude in her own heart, that she was almost tempted by an occasion to be bold for two. She saw herself, in a brave attitude, shielding her imperfect hero from the world; and she saw, like a piece of heaven, his gratitude for her protection.
CHAPTER V--LIFE IN THE CASTLE
From that day forth the life of these three persons in the ruin ran very smoothly. Mr. Archer now sat by the fire with a book, and now passed whole days abroad, returning late, dead weary. His manner was a mask; but it was half transparent; through the even tenor of his gravity and courtesy profound revolutions of feeling were betrayed, seasons of numb despair, of restlessness, of aching temper. For days he would say nothing beyond his usual courtesies and solemn compliments; and then, all of a sudden, some fine evening beside the kitchen fire, he would fall into a vein of elegant gossip, tell of strange and interesting events, the secrets of families, brave deeds of war, the miraculous discovery of crime, the visitations of the dead.