'O, a man of wood,' thought Nance.
'What--what?' said his lordship. 'Who is this?'
'If you please, my lord, I am Holdaway's niece,' replied Nance, with a curtsey.
'Should have been here himself,' observed his lordship. 'Well, you tell Holdaway that I'm aground, not a stiver--not a stiver. I'm running from the beagles--going abroad, tell Holdaway. And he need look for no more wages: glad of 'em myself, if I could get 'em. He can live in the castle if he likes, or go to the devil. O, and here is Mr. Archer; and I recommend him to take him in--a friend of mine--and Mr. Archer will pay, as I wrote. And I regard that in the light of a precious good thing for Holdaway, let me tell you, and a set-off against the wages.'
'But O, my lord!' cried Nance, 'we live upon the wages, and what are we to do without?'
'What am I to do?--what am I to do?' replied Lord Windermoor with some exasperation. 'I have no wages. And there is Mr. Archer. And if Holdaway doesn't like it, he can go to the devil, and you with him!--and you with him!'
'And yet, my lord,' said Mr. Archer, 'these good people will have as keen a sense of loss as you or I; keener, perhaps, since they have done nothing to deserve it.'
'Deserve it?' cried the peer. 'What? What? If a rascally highwayman comes up to me with a confounded pistol, do you say that I've deserved it? How often am I to tell you, sir, that I was cheated--that I was cheated?'
'You are happy in the belief,' returned Mr. Archer gravely.
'Archer, you would be the death of me!' exclaimed his lordship. 'You know you're drunk; you know it, sir; and yet you can't get up a spark of animation.'
'I have drunk fair, my lord,' replied the younger man; 'but I own I am conscious of no exhilaration.'
'If you had as black a look-out as me, sir,' cried the peer, 'you would be very glad of a little innocent exhilaration, let me tell you. I am glad of it--glad of it, and I only wish I was drunker. For let me tell you it's a cruel hard thing upon a man of my time of life and my position, to be brought down to beggary because the world is full of thieves and rascals--thieves and rascals. What? For all I know, you may be a thief and a rascal yourself; and I would fight you for a pinch of snuff--a pinch of snuff,' exclaimed his lordship.
Here Mr. Archer turned to Nance Holdaway with a pleasant smile, so full of sweetness, kindness, and composure that, at one bound, her dreams returned to her. 'My good Miss Holdaway,' said he, 'if you are willing to show me the road, I am even eager to be gone. As for his lordship and myself, compose yourself; there is no fear; this is his lordship's way.'
'What? what?' cried his lordship. 'My way? Ish no such a thing, my way.'
'Come, my lord,' cried Archer; 'you and I very thoroughly understand each other; and let me suggest, it is time that both of us were gone. The mail will soon be due. Here, then, my lord, I take my leave of you, with the most earnest assurance of my gratitude for the past, and a sincere offer of any services I may be able to render in the future.'
'Archer,' exclaimed Lord Windermoor, 'I love you like a son. Le' 's have another bowl.'
'My lord, for both our sakes, you will excuse me,' replied Mr. Archer. 'We both require caution; we must both, for some while at least, avoid the chance of a pursuit.'
'Archer,' quoth his lordship, 'this is a rank ingratishood. What? I'm to go firing away in the dark in the cold po'chaise, and not so much as a game of ecarte possible, unless I stop and play with the postillion, the postillion; and the whole country swarming with thieves and rascals and highwaymen.'
'I beg your lordship's pardon,' put in the landlord, who now appeared in the doorway to announce the chaise, 'but this part of the North Road is known for safety. There has not been a robbery, to call a robbery, this five years' time. Further south, of course, it's nearer London, and another story,' he added.
'Well, then, if that's so,' concluded my lord, 'le' 's have t'other bowl and a pack of cards.'
'My lord, you forget,' said Archer, 'I might still gain; but it is hardly possible for me to lose.'
'Think I'm a sharper?' inquired the peer.