The Braintrees by Anonymous
It was the boast of old Samuel Gough, who, during a period of thirty-two
years, had been landlord of The Chough and Stump,—a little,
old-fashioned house, with carved oaken angels supporting the roof of its
porch,—that, notwithstanding the largest road-side farm-house in the
village had been licensed and beautified; though tiles had been
substituted for its old thatch; a blue sign, with yellow letters, fixed
over its entrance; and a finger-post erected at the top of the lane, about
the middle of which his own tenement stood, directing travellers to The
New Inn,—The Chough and Stump still "bore the bell."
"Richard Cockle," he would often say, "being twenty years butler to old
'Squire Borfield, ha' made friends among the gentlefolks. The petty
sessions is held in his best parlour, now and then; he hath a' got a pair
of post-horses, and tidy tits they be, I must say; his house is made
post-office; and excise-office, to the tail o' that—for this and the
five nearest parishes; he pays for a wine license, and hath two or three
gentlevolks, may be, once a month, for an hour or two; but not much
oftener, as there be few do travel our cross-country road; and he do call
one room in his house a tap:—but for all that, and his powdered head
to boot, gi' me The Chough and Stump still." Gough's boast was not
altogether without warranty: his comfortable, old-fashioned kitchen, with
its bacon-rack, broad hearth, dingy walls, and rude mantel-slab, enriched
with strange hieroglyphical scratches, in which his neighbours traced, or
affected to trace, the names of their grandfathers, was endeared to the
inhabitants of the village;—there were old feelings, and pleasant
associations connected with it Sam Gough was a jolly host, who regaled
himself, among his guests, from morning till night; habitual drinking, for
along time, having rendered him, as Abel Harris, the schoolmaster of the
village, said, "invulnerable to intoxication he not only could, but often
did, sing a good old song, and tell a good old story;—never
repeating either the one or the other on the same day; for he was orderly
in his entertainment, and had his Monday's songs and his Tuesday's songs,
as well as his morning stories and his evening jokes: he never sponged
upon a customer but paid his share of the reckoning to his wife, who
officiated as mistress, while he appeared to be only a constant guest. His
ale was generally clear as amber, sweet as milk, and strong as brandy." In
the tap of The New Inn, which was the name of the rival house, the company
generally consisted of the postilion and ostler of the establishment, a
few out-door servants from some of the neighbouring gentlemen's houses,
and three or four of the gayest, youthful, village bucks: but the elderly
and middle-aged men,—"the substantial," as Abel Harris called them,
usually congregated, to smoke their evening pipes, round the oak in front
of The Chough and Stump, when the weather would permit, or in the kitchen
settle, before a blazing fire of logs and turf, when the rustics sat up
three or four hours after sunset Schoolmaster Abel, although he was one of
the pair of parish constables, patronized The Chough and Stump, and
grumbled mightily at being obliged to pay five shillings for a dinner,
once a year, at the New Inn, with the churchwardens, and other official
persons of the parish; which dinner had been instituted solely for the
benefit of Richard Cockle, and much against the inclination of several of
those, who were almost compelled, on account of their connexion with his
wealthy supporters, to attend it. It was at The Chough and Stump that all
the village news was to be heard; and if one of its customers were not
found at his post, on the settle, at the usual hour, old Gough concluded,
that he was either bad, busy, or gone to the rival tap, to glean gossip
about the great families, from the servants, in order to retail it, the
next night, to the grateful crew at The Chough and Stump.
One winter's evening, although it was neither a Saturday, a holiday, nor a
fast day, the settle was not only completely occupied, but several
occasional visitors to the old kitchen were closely packed along a narrow
bench that ran across the back wall. Many of the poorer inhabitants of the
place were lurking about the porch, and several women, with their check
aprons thrown over their red and almost frost-bitten elbows, stood peeping
in at the window, and eagerly listening to an old dame, who had placed her
ear to a little corner from which the glass had been broken, and
occasionally repeated what she heard passing within.
"I do pity the mother o' the lad, troth do I," said a woman about
twenty-five years of age; "her hath a got but one zon—no more have I—and
truth to speak, I do pity her."
"And well thou may'st, Tabby Mudford," said the old dame; "for constable
Abel hath just a' told thy husband, that the boy's taken off in a cart,
wi' 'Squire Stapleton's coachman a one side o' un, and constable Tucker o'
t'other, hand-cuffed, and leg-fast, to the county gaol."
"Poor Meg Braintree! poor soul!" cried several of the women, on hearing
this, and one or two of them actually began to sob aloud.
"Poor Meg Braintree, forsooth!" exclaimed a little sharpnosed female, with
a high-cauled cap, and leathern stomacher;—"I don't zay no zuch
ztuff—not I," added she, in a shrill, disagreeable voice; "it hath
a' come home to her now; and I said it would, two-and-twenty years agone
come Candlemas, when she scoffed and vlouted poor Phil Govier, and took up
wi' Zaul Braintree, a'ter she'd a' most a' promised, as I have heard tell,
to marry Phil. In my mind, he loved her better, worse luck vor un, poor
vellow, than ever this Zaul Braintree did, and took on zo for two or dree
year a'ter, that there was some that thought he'd never ha' got over 't."
"Vor shame, Aunt Dally," said Tabby Mudford; "Meg Braintree never done you
"I don't know that," replied Dolly.
"It be true, I ha' heard mother zay, you cocked your cap at Zaul,
yourself; as you did to many more, though you never could trap any body to
have'ee, aunt; but I never could believe it."
"The vellow did, once upon a time, look up to me," said Dolly, lifting her
chin, and curling her thin and slightly-bearded lip; "but I scorned'un. I
wouldn't ha' had un if his skin were stuffed wi' gold."
"And yet you do blame Meg vor scorning Phil Govier! Vor my part,—I
were a child, to be zure,—but by what I do recollect of'em, I'd
rather ha' had Zaul, wi'out a zhoe to's, voot, than Philip Govier, if
every hair on the head o' un were strung wi' pearls."
"Don't talk to me, Tab," cried her now incensed aunt, flouncing off; "it
don't become thee. I do zay it ha' come home to her;—her zon be zent
to the county gaol, vor murdering the man whose heart she a'most broke
more than twenty year agone:—get over that if you can. It ha' came
home to her, and I'll bide by it;—wi' her blue clocked ztockings,
and putting up her chit of a daughter to smirk wi' the young 'squire!—I
ha'n't a' got patience wi' zuch pride."
The supervisor, who was going his rounds, and intended to sleep that night
at The Chough and Stump, now rode up, on his sturdy little grey cob; and
before he could alight, some of the loiterers about the porch had, in
part, acquainted him with the cause of their being assembled round the
inn-door. The old man, however, as he said, could make "neither head nor
tail" of what he heard; and hastened, as well as his infirmities would
allow, into the kitchen. The landlord rose on his appearance, and
conducted the spare and paralytic old man, to the post of honour, in the
settle, between his own seat and that of the exciseman,—a
cunning-looking, thick-set, fat, or, to use an expressive West Country
adjective, podgy, little man, between forty and fifty; with a round,
sallow, bloated face, begemmed here and there with groups of pimply
excrescences, resembling the warts that are occasionally seen on the cheek
that is turned to the sun of a wounded pumpkin. One of the exciseman's
eyes glared at his beholder, dull and void of expression, while the other
was almost concealed beneath its lids;—a circumstance occasioned by
an inveterate habit of winking, all his life, at every tenth word, with
the latter; which operation he was totally unable to perform with the
"Here hath been a sad to-do, sir," said Gough, addressing the supervisor,
as soon as the latter was comfortably seated; "a sad to-do, indeed."
"Ah! so I hear, Gough,—so I hear;—but what is it?—No
affray with the excise, I hope."
"No—fear of—that, sir," replied the exciseman, winking, and
puffing the smoke from his lips thrice as he spoke; "we've no enemies
here.—I'll tell you all—about it—sir, when—I have
wetted—my lips." He now raised the jug to his mouth, but before he
had finished his draught, little Tailor Mudford, who sat by his side,
taking advantage of the moment, placed his right elbow on his knee, and
still keeping his pipe between his teeth, leaned forward, and bore away
the glory of the announcement from the exciseman, by stating, that Philip
Govier,'Squire Stapleton's gamekeeper, had been killed; and young Robert
Braintree committed for trial, as the perpetrator of the crime.
"Robert Braintree! Robert Braintree!" calmly repeated the old man;
"Preserve us from evil! Haven't I seen him?"
"To be sure you have, sir," replied Gough; "a tall, straight-limbed chap,
between eighteen and twenty, and as fine a young fellow as ever stood in
shoe-leather. I shouldn't ha' thought it of him."
"I should," said the exciseman; "a down-looking—"
"Ah! I be zorry vor the lad," said Mudford, again interrupting the
exciseman, in the brief interval occupied by a puff and a wink; "nobody
could zay harm o' un, except that his vather made un go out a poaching wi'
un, and so vorth: but a zung in the choir o' Zindays; and' though he never
were asked so to do, often joined in, wi' the rest o' th' neighbours, to
reap a little varmer's bit o' wheat, or mow a tradesman's whoats he ha'
done zo by me, many's the time, wi'out any thing but thanks, and a bit o'
dinner and a drop o' drink, which he never wanted at home. He'd ha' been
the last I should ha' zuzpected."
"But the evidence," said constable and schoolmaster Abel, "the
circumstantial evidence, doth leave no doubt, either in the mind of me, or
the magistrate, of his guilt."
"You be d—d, Yeabel!" cried a bluff old fellow in a corner; "Who be
you, I should like to know?—Marry come up, then! times be come to a
vine pass, I trow, when a pig-vaced bit of a constable, two yards long,
and as thin as a hurdle, do zet hi'zelf up cheek-by-jowl wi' the 'squire!—Who
cares vor thy opinion, dost think?"
"Farmer Salter," responded Abel, with affected humility; "I am educating
your son and heir:—you are a freeholder, and ha' got a vote for the
"I know that well enough, stupid! and zo had my vather avore me, and so
shall my zon a'ter me.—Poor buoay! you ha' often licked un, Yeabel:—may
be you be right—may be you bean't; but this I do know, tho' I ha'n't
a told un zo, that I do vind, upon casting things over, whenzoever I do
gie you a bit ov a clumzy wipe here, at The Chough and Stump, over night
Jack's zure and zartin to get breeched in your school-room the next day:
now that be odd, yean't it, Gough?"
"Farmer Salter," pursued Abel, as Gough nodded in acquiescence, and Salter
chuckled at what he had said; "I repeat, you are a freeholder:—you've
a slip of land between the two 'squires' estates, upon which you and your
forefathers ha' grazed a cow, raised a crop of wheat, hay and potatoes, to
last'ee for the year; and built a small edifice for yourselves, and a sty
for your pigs: you do wear a looped hat at all times, and, on Sundays, a
blue coat, wi' a red collar and cuffs, and crown pieces of the reign of
King Jacobus, for buttons; a flowered and flapped waistcoat; leather
breeches, wi' seven-shilling pieces and silver buckles at the knees; and
half a pack o' cards figured wi' colours in each o' your stockings: you do
strut up to church, just as a 'squire would, and your father did,—whose
finery you ha' saved for such service,—half a century ago:—but
you know nothing either of law or good breeding for all that, fanner
The freeholder was about to bristle up indignantly when Abel concluded,
but Zachary Tickel, the hereditary herbalist, or, as he denominated
himself, apothecary of the village, whose nick-name was "Bitter-Aloes,"—and
there were few of his neighbours who were not as well known by some
equally appropriate baptismal of the laity,—took him by the collar,
and endeavoured to tranquillize, while he forcibly held him on his seat:—meantime,
the supervisor inquired what had induced the constable to suspect Robert
Braintree of the murder.
"Why, zir," said Mudford, cutting in, as a coachman would express it,
before Abel and the exciseman, (each of whom intended to reply,) while the
asthmatic constable was cleansing his throat by two or three hems, and the
exciseman was puffing out a magazine of smoke, which, at that moment, he
had drawn into his mouth, to be retailed and divided into a dozen or
twenty whiffs;—"the vact, zir, is this," said Mudford; "the body
were vound, dead and stiff, this morning, in the copse, t'other zide o'
the hill;—there was a nail or more of znow on the ground, and
vootsteps ov a dog and a man were traced vrom the body to Braintree's
cottage:—the dog's vootsteps were, likely enough, the vootsteps ov
Ponto, a dog belonging to the Braintrees; a zort ov a crossbred pointer,
az ztrong as a bull, and wi' more zense in his tail-end, as the zaying is,
than many men ha' got in their whole bodies, head and all."
"The shoe-marks, permit me to observe," said Abel, "were decidedly made by
the shoes of Bob Braintree:—I've sworn to't, because I compared'em;
and I apprehended him wi' those identical shoes on his feet."
"Now, d'ye hear, volks?—d'ye hear?" exclaimed farmer Salter; "how
Yeabel do belabour us wi' vine dixonary words? 'Apprehended,' and
'identical,' quotha!—Why, I should be azhamed to talk zo-vashion.
'Those identical zhoes!' zays he;—'those!'—Bless us, how vine
we be!—'Those,' vorsooth!—Why doan't the vool zay 'they there
zhoes,' like a man?"
Abel cast a glance of contempt on the freeholder, but did not condescend
to reply. A brief silence ensued, which was broken by the herbalist; who
observed, after throwing himself back in the settle, "Bad bird, bad egg—that's
all I've to zay. I bean't so compassionate, and all that, as zome volk.
How hath Zaul Braintree ha' got his living vor eighteen year past, but by
zmuggilin and poaching, and, may be, worse, vor what I know? Why wen he
discharged by 'Zquire Ztapleton, but vor doing what he shon not do? Didn't
poor Phil Govier, that's lying dead, when he wen under Zaul, detect and
prove to the 'zquire, that instead o' Zaul' s doing his duty, as
game-keeper, he were killing hares upon the zly, and zending'em to market?
And when Phil got Zaul's place, have they ever met without looking at one
another like a couple o' dogs that was longing vor a vight, and yet stood
off, as though they were aveard to pitch into one another? What d'ye think
Braintree hath instilled into Bob, but hatred and malice against Govier?"
"You may talk and talk, old Bitter-Aloes," said Salter; "but vor my part,
though the'zquire believed Govier's story, and turned away Zaul, in a way
enough to nettle a parson, I didn't think it quite as it should be. I ha'
zeen things o' Phil, what I won't tell ov, now he's gone, as I didn't
while he were alive; but if I had to choose, vor all Phil's quiet tongue
and humble looks,—which were all zlyness, in my mind,—gi'e me
Zaul, I zay."
"Well," quoth Gough, "I say nothing—why should I? But Bob was a good
boy; and though he'd noose a hare, or decoy a vlock o' wild ducks, or
stalk a covey, I don't think he'd any harm in him. He'd do what Zaul bid
him, to be zure, but I don't think Zaul would ever tell him to commit
murder; and if I must speak my mind—I don't agree wi' Abel Harris."
"Abel—I must say,"—muttered the exciseman, "the constable, I
mean;—he—he's no conjuror."
"I can't make out," growled Salter, "how he came to be made constable,
zeeing az he's the most uncapable man in the parish. I ha' zeed un run, as
if'twere vor his life, when he thought nobody were nigh, vrom my gander!—Poor
Jack! thoult zuffer, may be, vor this to-morrow;—but I can't help
speaking the truth. Yeabel, doan't thee baste un, or dang me if I doan't
"There is one thing," remarked a spare, but hale-looking man, who sat next
the herbalist, "one thing, or, may be, a thing or two, I'll make bold to
observe, which is, namely, this:—though Zaul Braintree were never
over and above vriendly to I—that be nothing—the man's a man—and
I do zay, the'zquire were a bit too hard upon Zaul, to turn un off wi out
more nor an hour's notice, and not gi'e un a good character:—and
what vor, I wonder?—Because this here Phil Govier, a demure,
down-looking twoad, zaid a' poached a bit! A'ter this, what were Zaul to
do? Wi'out a character, he couldn't get a zarvice, and a poor man bean't
to starve: zo a' poached, and that in downright earnest;—and it
ztrikes I, no blame to un neither."
"Oh! fie! fie!" exclaimed the supervisor; "you should not preach so,
friend; the practice of poaching is highly illegal."
"Highly illegal,—indeed,—John,—that is,—James
Cobb," said the exciseman, in his usual manner; "we must not hear—this
sort of a—thing; must we,—constable?"
"Why, it bean't treason, master exciseman, be it?" asked a tall old
fellow, who stood at the end of the settle.
"Do you hear—that?" said the exciseman, turning to his superior; "do
you hear that?—and he an earth-stopper,—and gets his bread by—the
The supervisor looked aside toward the bottom of the narrow table, and
while the ensuing conversation went on, took a deliberate view of the
earth-stopper's person, apparel, and accoutrements. He was a
squalid-looking figure, with half a week's growth of grey beard on his
chin and cheeks; the edge of a red woollen night-cap, which he wore under
a weather-beaten dog's-hair hat, was strained across his pale, wrinkled
brow; his legs were thin, puny, and bent outward in such a manner, that
they seemed to have been moulded on the carcase of a horse.
"Well," quoth the earth-stopper, in reply to the exciseman's observation,
shouldering his pick-axe and shovel, and lighting the candle in his
lanthorn, as he spoke; "I zuppose a man may move his tongue, if a' be a
yearth-stopper,—or else what be the use o't to un?—I were one
o' the virst to lay hands on young Braintree, and always ha' ztood vorward
on zuch like 'casions; but what o' that? I'd help to take up thee, or thy
betters by the zide o' thee there, if thee wert zuzpected and accused; but
vor all that, I'd speak up my own mind, and zay, I thought thee wert
innocent, iv zo be as I did think thee zo—mind me:—and now you
ha' put me up, I'll go vurther, and ask 'ee, what business had Phil Govier
a' got in the copse that time o' night?"
"Ay, that's true," observed the landlord; "for it be well known the
'squire's strict orders was, that the keepers shouldn't go out o' nights.
'Let the poachers have a little o' their own way,' I have a heard un say;—'I'd
rather lose a few head o' game, than ha' blood shed upon the manor; and
meetings by night, betwixt poachers and keepers, often do end worse than
either one or t'other a' looked for.'"
"It's true az I be here zitting," said Mudford; "that the gamekeeper,—I
mean Phil Govier, of course,—had a' got a hare in one pocket, and a
cock pheasant in t'other;—I zeed'em myself."
"Come, come;—no ill o' the dead, pr'ythee, now," quoth the
"No ill o' the dead!" cried the man who sat next to him; "I do zay yea, iv
it be truth; and moorauver, in my mind, it be better to zay vorty lies,
even, of them that be gone, than to tell one that may do harm to them that
be living. Them wer'n't the virst Phil pocketed, by night or by day, vor
his own profit, as I do think.'T'ant clear to I, that a' didn't play voul
wi' Zaul, long ago;—I wouldn't lie down upon my back and zwear that
a' didn't kill the game what he 'cuzed Zaul o' poaching, and zo got
Braintree out of his place, and popped into't hi'zelf."
"This is going too far, landlord," said the supervisor.
"Do 'ee think so, sir?" asked Gough, with a knowing look, accompanied by a
shake of the head, which finished in an acquiescent nod to the man who sat
next the herbalist.
Mudford asked the constable if Saul had seen his son after the committal
of the latter. Abel replied, that an interview had been permitted by the
magistrate, just previously to Robert's removal; "which interview," added
he, "took place in the presence of myself and colleague."
"And what did 'em zay?" eagerly inquired three or four of the persons
The constable replied, that it would be highly improper for him to divulge
all that took place, even if he were capable of so doing; but there was
much that he did not hear, and more that he had forgotten. One part of the
brief dialogue he perfectly well remembered:—after having whispered
for a short time, the youth said aloud, "But I be innocent, vather; you be
zure I be."—"Well, well!" replied Braintree, in a low, but
nevertheless, audible tone; "zuppose things should go against thee, wou'lt
thee die like a man, Bob?"—"I doan't know, vather,—I be but a
boy! I'll try, iv it do come to that; I hope it won't, though; vor I be
aveard I can't bear it—I can't, truly, vather."
"Zo, thee dost call thyself a buoy, dost?" said Saul; "a vellow here
within a head as high as I be, and gone eighteen these zix weeks!"
"You always tells me I be but a boy."
"Well, and zo I do—thee'rt my boy; but a boy to nobody else.
But I zay, Bob, woul't thee mind now, and speak up to the lord judge just
what I told thee?"
"Yeas, doan't be aveard."
"Ah! but woul't tell't cool and zober-vashion, Bob?"
"Never you vear," replied Robert;—"bless'ee, I shall tell't out to
un, just as iv I were telling out zixpenn'orth o' ha'pence."
"And Bob—" But here Braintree's voice subsided into a whisper again,
and Abel heard no more of that part of the conversation.
The parties in The Chough and Stump kitchen now ceased the regular sort of
discussion which had hitherto been supported, and talked in couples. The
earth-stopper and Abel Harris, by their looks and gestures, seemed to be
maintaining a warm debate; the herbalist crossed over and took a place
next the supervisor, which tailor Mudford relinquished in his favour, and
sat down by the side of farmer Salter. So many persons speaking together,
had not, for some time, been heard in The Chough and Stump; but though his
customers made a great noise, as Gough observed to the exciseman, they
drank but little. This was, indeed, the case; for the interest created by
the subject of their discourse, made them almost forget their cups. Each
of the speakers grew louder in his tone, in order to make himself heard
and understood, amid the "hubbub," by his listening neighbour; and thus
the general noise was increased to such a degree, that the exciseman had
already taken up his empty mug to strike the table, and call "order,"
when, in an instant, every tongue was motionless, and every eye turned
toward the door. A man, on the autumnal side of the prime of life,
exceeding the middle stature, with rather handsome features, had just
entered. He was dressed in a round, grey, frock coat, a deer-skin
waistcoat, corduroy smallclothes, and jean gaiters. His frame was
athletic, but by no means clumsy; he looked calmly about him, or, perhaps,
rather affected to do so; for, as the herbalist afterwards remarked, his
lips appeared as if they had just been blanched with boiling water. A very
large, stout-built, liver-coloured dog, stood before him, wagging his
tail, and looking up in his master's face, as the latter remained, for a
moment, motionless, and with his eyes seeking for a vacant place on the
settle. Every seat had its tenant, and no one moved for the newly-arrived
guest, or spoke either to him or to any other person present.
"Why, volks! you do all zeem dazed ov a zudden!" said the man, ironically;
and then immediately assuming an angry expression of countenance, he
turned to the landlady, who had just entered the kitchen, and, in a sharp,
surly tone, called for "a pint o' drink."
"I ha' been trying to squeeze room for thee, Zaul," said the landlord,
addressing his new guest; "but I can't."
"Don't trouble thyself, Gough," said farmer Salter, from the opposite side
of the settle; "I be vor home, and Braintree can take my corner in a
"Thankye, master Zalter," replied Saul; "but Abel Harris ha' just stepped
out, and, may be, won't come back; zo I'll zit down in his place; and iv
a' do return, 1 can but gie't up to un again; and by that time, you can
vinish your pipe wi' comfort" So saying, Braintree took possession of a
nook in the settle, which Abel had quitted, in consequence of the landlady
having beckoned him out, while Gough was speaking to Saul. Two or three of
the guests attempted to strike out new subjects for conversation, but
their efforts were ineffectual; and when Dame Gough came in, with Saul's
ale, she found her customers, who had lately been so clamorous, silent as
statues. Braintree lifted the cup to his lips, but immediately placed it
on the table again, without swallowing a spoonful.
"Why, what's the matter, Zaul?" said Gough; "have a mad dog bit'ee, that
you do gasp and heave at the liquor so?"
"There were a bit o' hop got in my mouth," replied Saul; "and your yeale
bean't zo good to-night, I think, as'twere;—han't it got a
"No, no, Zaul; your mouth be out o' taste wi' trouble,—that be it;—there's
no fault in the ale. You do want comfort in a closer compass; and if
you'll ha'a drop o' Hollands, my wife will give'ee some and welcome.
Though I don't sell spirits, I can't help Dame Gough's keeping a bottle in
her bureau;—it stops her tooth-ache."
"You be cruel good, master Gough," replied Saul; "and I do thank'ee vor't;
but I don't like to drink in a public-house, wi'out paying my penny for a
"Oh! that be folly," said Gough; "but come; gi'e me your pint o' drink,
and I'll treat you wi' a glass o' Hollands.—Dame, bring in a
Dame Gough bustled out, and soon returned with a small old-fashioned
tea-cup, full of the liquor. Saul took the cup, and so far forgot his
manners, as to swallow the spirits it contained, without a word, or even a
nod, to Gough, or any of his guests. A dead silence succeeded.
"Sharpish weather vor the young wheats," at length observed Salter.
"Main and sharp!" was the reply of the herbalist; and another pause took
"I ha'n't a' zeed Jacob Wall lately;" was the next observation made: it
came from the lips of tailor Mudford, but no one honoured it with a reply.
Braintree now began to feel that he was in an unpleasant situation; and
guessing on what subject the minds of those about him were brooding, he
observed, with a sigh, "A bad job this, o' mine, neighbours!"
"Bad, indeed, Braintree!" replied Gough; "but I hope your son may get over
"Hope, did'ee zay, landlord? why, d'ye think there be any vear on't,
"Excuse me, friend," observed the supervisor; "I am a stranger to you;
but, in my opinion, that is,—speaking candidly,—I'm sorry to
say—remember I've no ill-will toward your son—nor, understand
me, do I wish to bear on a bruised reed; but its folly to buoy a man up
with false hopes;—the case is, if what I've heard be true, most
decisive against the young man."
"And what have'ee heard, old gentleman?—what have'ee heard, zir?"
"That, Saul,"—said the exciseman, "that, it is—needless to
repeat;—but the shoe-marks,—Saul—"
"Well, and what o' them?" interrupted Braintree; "mightn't my zon ha' gone
that way avore Govier were killed? or mightn't he ha' vound un dead, and
come whoam straight, intending to tell the news az zoon az he axed I how
a' should act?"
"True, Zaul, true," replied Salter, who had not yet departed; "it do zeem
ztrange that no vootsteps were vound in the snow 'proaching towards the
"I can easily account for that, I think," said the supervisor, with a
smile of self-complacency: "the snow—"
"But hark to this," cried Saul, again interrupting the old man; "hark to
this:—how be we to know, that they what zaid they vound the body
wer'n't the criminals, eh?"
"Lord bless us and zave us, Zaul!" exclaimed the little tailor, starting
up; "Bless us, Zaul! why, 'twere I, good now, what raised the hue and cry.
I were coming vrom varmer Butt's, vive mile off, where I a' been dree days
at work, making a coat; I'd a' started avore 'twere day, zo as to get to
work about Jack Blake's new suit, what he's a going to be married in o'
Zinday;—and zharp doings it will be to vinish it as'tis:—zo I
took the path through the copse, because it zaves a mile, you do know; and
anan, my little dog, rin into the hazels and back again in a minute,
barking as iv he'd a' zeen a ghost I were a bit vrightened, you may judge,
vor I'd a' got my zilver watch, and half-a-crown, (my dree days' wages,)
wi' ten shillings bezides, what the varmer had paid me vor a pig he bought
o' me last Zinday vort-night, when he comed over to church. Well, and
anan, my little dog, rin into the copse again, and come back growling
worse nor avore. Thirdly and lastly, I patted the back o' un, and away he
rin again, and when he overtook me,—d'ye mind?—by the light'o
the moon, I zeed there were blood upon the nose o' un!—Wi' that, I
and the dog rin vit to break our necks,'till we got whoam. Zo then I
raised the hue and cry, and Phil's body were vound:—but I had no
more hand in the death o' un than you, Zaul. I can handle a reap-hook, or
a needle, wi' one here and there, but I never vired a gun off in my life—wish
I may die if I did!"
"Well, well, Mudford," said Braintree, advancing toward the tailor; "I
didn't know 'twere thee; gi'e us thy hand;—there—we be
vriends, bean't us?"
"I do hope zo, Zaul Braintree," replied the still terrified tailor; "but
"There, do'ee hold your tongue and zit down," interrupted Saul: "I were
wrong; but,—d'ye mind?—Bob be my zon; and if counzel can zave
un, he sha'n't lack; vor I'll zell my zhirt to zee un righted."
Braintree had scarcely reached his seat again, when constable Abel, pale,
almost breathless looking very important, and bearing his staff of office
in his hand, strode into the kitchen, and immediately laid hands on Saul.
"Braintree, thou'rt my prisoner," said he; "aid and assist, if need be—every
body—but especially you,—earth-stopper,—in the King's
Saul was paralysed; he stared vacantly at Abel, and before he could
recover his self-possession, the dexterous constable had handcuffed, and
almost completed the task of tying his right wrist to the left arm of the
"Thy prisoner, Yeabel!" at length uttered Braintree; "thou bee'st joking,
zure!—Dowl ha' me if I can make out—"
"You'll make it out well enough by-and-by, Saul," interrupted Abel, as he
pursued his task of knitting the earth-stopper fast to Saul; "I ha' been
sent for by the 'squire, and I've got his warrant. Master Cockle, of The
New Inn, churchwarden of the present year, ha' been making inquiries; and
things ha come out, Saul, that do look black against thee."
"What be'em, Yeabel?—What be'em, pr'ythee?"
"Why, imprimis," replied the constable, pompously, "it is well
known, Ponto never followed anybody but thee—nothing could make him
do so; and he and Bob never were friends. Surgeon Castle saith, that the
shot went horizontally into Phil Govier's forehead; and as he was not
above five feet six, the gun that killed him must have been fired from the
shoulder of a man as tall as you be:—if Bob had done it, seeing that
he's shorter than Phil were, the shot would ha' gone almost upward; but,
no, they didn't:—lastly, and most formidably, Saul, as the
magistrate saith, the marks in the snow were printed there, by shoes made
right-and-left fashion; and the right-foot shoe being marked o' the
left-foot side, and the left o' t'other,—it don't seem likely they
could ha' been worn by the feet they were made for.—So now you do
know what you've a' got to answer, come along quietly." In a few minutes
The Chough and Stump kitchen was utterly deserted; even Gough himself
followed his customers, who, without exception, accompanied the constable
and his prisoner, to Stapleton Hall, the magistrate's residence. After a
brief examination, Saul was ushered into an apartment, three stories above
the ground floor, called "The Wainscot-room;"—which, on account of
its peculiar situation and construction, although it had once been used
for better purposes, was then appropriated to the reception of those who
happened to be under the ban of the law, previously to their discharge, on
finding "good and sufficient mampernors" for their appearance at the
ensuing assizes or sessions, or their removal to the county gaol,
according to the nature of the offence. For the honour of the village it
is proper to remark, that "The Wainscot-room" was but seldom occupied. It
was there Saul had, only an hour before, taken leave of Robert, who was
now far on his road to an accused felon's cell. Braintree had just been
told by the magistrate that, early on the ensuing morning, he must follow
his son; but he suffered a strong rope to be fastened round his waist, by
a slip-knot, and tied to an iron bar in the chimney, not only without
murmuring or resisting, but actually joking with those who performed the
operation. Although Mr. Stapleton considered that it was impossible for
the prisoner to escape from his temporary prison, yet for better security,
on account of the crime with which Saul was charged, he ordered the
constable to keep watch, either in, or at the door of the room, during the
Before the earth-stopper quitted "The Wainscot-room" to go on his solitary
task, Saul had made him promise to acquaint Martin Stapleton, the
'squire's only son, that he, Braintree, earnestly desired to see the young
gentleman, before he went to bed. The old man so well performed his
promise, and urged Braintree's request to young Stapleton with such
warmth, that in less than an hour Martin entered the room.
"Abel," said he to the constable, as he came in, "you may go down stairs;
I'll remain with Braintree while you get something for supper."
Abel, "nothing loath," tripped down to the hall, and Martin, who was a
fine young man, just verging on manhood, walked up, with a sorrowful
countenance and a heart full of grief, toward the man, under whose humble
roof he had passed some of his happiest hours. Martin's mother died in
giving him birth, and Saul's wife had been his nurse. Although disgraced
by 'Squire Stapleton, Saul Braintree had ever been a favourite companion
of young Martin, not only on account of his intimate acquaintance with
those sports in which Martin delighted, but because Saul had always
testified a fondness for him from his boyhood upward; and, besides these
attractions, the poacher's cottage contained a magnet, in the person of
his pretty daughter, Peggy, which often drew Martin beneath its roof, when
his father thought he was otherwise occupied.
"Well, Master Martin," said Saul, as the young 'squire approached; "here
you be at last! I were vool enow to think, I shouldn't ha' been here vive
minutes avore you'd ha' come, if it were only to zay 'How are'ee, Zaul?'—But
there, why should I grumble? Hit a deer in the shoulder, and then put the
dogs on his scent, and what will the herd do?—Why, vly vrom un, to
be zure, and no vools, neither;—but come, vine preaching doant cure
corns:—virst and voremost—will'ee get me a drop o' brandy,
Master Martin?—I be zo low az the grave, az you may guess; get me a
thimble-vull, and then we'll talk a bit."
"I have brought my shooting-flask, Saul," replied Martin; "there is not
much left in it."
"Ah! this be kind!—this be good of 'ee, Master Martin. What, you
thought how it would be with me? You knowed me long enow, to be zure that
I should want summat to cheer me up, did 'ee? Never mind the cork, Master
Martin," continued Saul, as Martin, with a trembling hand, fruitlessly
endeavoured to extract the cork; "put it betwixt my teeth, and pull; I'll
warrant I do hould vast enow; or knock off the neck o' un against my
handcuffs. What, it bean't your leather vlask, be it? Odd! cut un open wi'
a knife.—I be a choaking for it, Master Martin;—I be, truly."
By this time, Martin had pulled out part of the cork, and thrust the
remainder of it through the neck. He handed the flask to Saul, who gulped
down one half of its contents in a few seconds.
"There is not enough to divide," observed Martin, "you may as well finish
"No, thank'ee, Master Martin," replied Braintree, returning the flask;
"you'll want a drop for yourself, presently."
"Ay! you, Martin!—Look thee, lad,—there be times when the best
ov us would be glad ov it Brandy be a God-send; but we don't use it—that
is, zuch as I be, doan't—as we should. There be times, I tell'ee,
when it be needed."
"That's true enough," said Martin, endeavouring to force a smile; "I have
often been glad of it, after a three hours' tramp through the stubble and
turnips, on a cold day, under a heavy double-barrelled gun, with a belt
brimful of shot, and no birds in my pocket."
"That were for thy body, lad; but thoult want it, anan, for thy soul. I be
gwain to vright—to terrify thee!—Thou'st a tightish heart, and
thou'st need ov it now. Mind me, Martin, I bean't romancing. It ha' been
smooth roads and no turnpikes wi' thee all thy life; there's a bit o'
rough coming, thee doesn't dream of."
"Good God! Braintree! your manner alarms me!—What do you mean?"
"Martin!—I zuppoze thee thinks, I ought to be obliged to thee, vor
coming to me;—vor bringing a man accused as I be, brandy,—but
I bean't. If thee hadst not a' come, I'd ha' brought thee, though a waggon
and zix horses were pulling thee t'other way. There's my hand; I ha' put
it to thee through a hole in the window at whoam, a'ter thou'st a' wished
me good night, and the door were vast;—I do put it out to thee now
through a velon's wristband—wou'st take it?"
"Excuse me, Braintree!—I would do all I could;—I have even
gone beyond the line that a sense of propriety dictates: but you must not
take such advantage of the familiarity which commenced when I was a child,
and has since, through peculiar circumstances, continued;—you must
not, I say, presume upon that, to ask me, to shake hands with a man—"
"Accused ov murder! that's what thee means, yean't it?" asked Saul; and
his brows were knit, and his lips slightly quivered, as he spoke. Martin
"Then I'll tell thee what, lad," pursued Saul, vehemently; "that stomach
o' thine shall come down:—I'll make thee!"
"Braintree," said the young man seriously, but in considerable agitation;
"what do you mean by this?—Are you mad?"
"Noa, noa;—not yet, not yet;—but handy to it—Not mad!"
exclaimed Saul, striking the iron, which bound his wrists, against his
head; "but don't trouble about I, lad; look to thy own wits, young chap."
"Really, Saul, I cannot put up with a continuance of this:—you are
not drunk; I know it by your manner. I have never seen you thus before. I
pity you; and pray to God, that you may obtain a deliverance, by the
verdict of a jury."
"I'll never be tried!" exclaimed Saul in a loud whisper.—"I'll never
be tried! Zaul Braintree ha'n't kept his wits brooding all these years, to
be caught like a quail, and ha' his neck twisted! No, no; they ha' brought
me to the wrong gaol for that; it's like putting a rat in a fishing-net."
"I don't think, Saul, there is any probability of your escaping," said
young Stapleton; "and I advise you not to make the attempt."
"Don't talk to I.—Ha'n't I, when you was a buoy, no bigger round
than my thigh,—ha'n't I heard you read, when you zat a-top o' my
knee, about the mouse gnawing the lion out o' the znare:—han't I?—Ah!
you do recollect, do'ee?"
"I do, I do, too well, Saul," replied Martin, as a tear trickled down his
cheek; "and I am sorry—I am grieved—I feel more than you can
imagine to see you here. But what has the fable to do with you?"
"Every thing—I shall get out—strength can't do it for me, but—"
"Saul Braintree, I now see what you are driving at," said Martin; "but do
not flatter yourself with so vain a hope. You are accused of a crime, of
which, I hope—nay, I think—you will prove yourself guiltless:
but though I am but young, I feel that I ought not, dare not, cannot
interfere between you and the laws of your country. My father—"
"Now, doan't'ee preach; doan't'ee make a zimpleton o' your-zelf, I
tell'ee:—but, can any body hear us?—be the constable nigh?"
eagerly inquired Saul, dropping his voice to a low tone.
"No," said Martin, "you may be sure of that; or I would not have remained,
thus long, exposed to the madness or insolence of your remarks;—I
know not which to call it."
"Why, thou jackanapes!" said Saul, sneeringly, though his eye, at the same
time, glared with an expression of the utmost fury on young Stapleton;
"thou young jackanapes! dost thee tell I about insolence?—Thee shalt
down on thy knees for this."
"Braintree, good night," said Martin, moving toward the door: "I did not
expect this conduct."
"What, thee'rt gwain to leave me, then? Zurely, thee bean't in earnest?"
Martin had, by this time, reached the door, and was evidently determined
on quitting the room. The prisoner, perceiving his intention, immediately
assumed a tone of supplication. "Now, doan't thee go, Master Stapleton,"
said he; "doan't thee!—do come back—do hear me, if it be but
vor a minute. I were wrong, I were, indeed. Doan't thee leave me yet—doan't
thee—doan't thee—doan't thee! Come back, Master Martin;—on
my knees I do but of thee:—do come back—for Peggy's zake."
Martin withdrew his hand from the door and returned. "Saul," said he, as
he approached, "I never felt till now, the truth of what you have often
told me, namely,—that if I encouraged an affection for your
daughter, I should rue it. I do now, most bitterly. Poor—poor
"Ah! poor girl!—Come nearer, Master Martin—poor Peggy!"
"Now, Saul, I'll hear you for one minute only; and this must—this
shall be our last interview—unless—"
"Vor one minute, didst say?" exclaimed Saul triumphantly, as he clutched
the wrist of Martin in his powerful grasp; "thou shalt hear me vor an
hour;—thou sha' not quit me, till thou and I do leave this place,
hand-in-hand, together. Ah! thou mayst struggle; but thou knowest the old
zaying, 'A Braintree's grip is as zafe as a zmith's vice—if thee
wast a horse I'd hold thee."
"Scoundrel! villain!" exclaimed Martin, endeavouring, with all his might,
to release himself; "let go your hold, or I'll—"
"Ah! do—hit me now, do—now I ha' got the handcuffs on; any
child might gi'e Zaul Braintree a zlap o' the face now. Hit me—why
doan't 'ee,—wi' your t'other hand? There's no danger o' my
drashing'ee vor't Hit me—doan't'ee unclench your vist—here's
my head—hit me, Master Martin."
"For heaven's sake, Saul!" exclaimed young Stapleton, "if you ever
esteemed me, let me go!—If you do not, I must alarm the house."
"Oh! if you did, Martin!" replied Saul, "you'd ruin us both. I wouldn't
have'ee do so, vor the hope I've a' got of living a week over the next
zpring assize. If you did 'larm the house, Martin, you'd drop from a young
'zquire into a poacher's zon, and hang your own vather to boot."
"Hang my father!"
"Ah! doan't'ee look round the room that vashion:—you be zure there
be no one listening?"
"Then turn your eyes here, lad:—Meg Braintree was more than your
nurse.—She's your own mother!—Now I'll let go thy wrist; for
I've got a grip at thy heart. There, thee bee'st vree! Why doesn't go?—I
doan't hold thee: go, if thee canst."
"Saul, you surely are not in your senses!"
"May be I bean't, for trouble turns a man's brain;—but you be,
bean't'ee? You can't ha' vorgot how often I ha' pushed Bob off my knee to
put you upon it. Why did I do so?—'cause thee wert my zon, and he
were'Zquire Ztapleton's.—Haven't I hugged thee up to my breast,
until thee'st a' squalled wi' the squeeze, when nobody was by?—I'd a
grudge against the'zquire;—why, thee know'st well enough;—zo I
made Meg, who nursed'ee both, change buoy for buoy. I thought to ha' made
a vine vellow o' my zon at the'zquire's expence, little thinking I should
ever want un to zave my life. I thought, when you was a man, to ha' comed
up to'ee and zaid, 'Zquire, I be your vather,—zo and zo were the
case,—make me comvortable, or I'll be a tell-tale.' That were my
project; to zay nothing of having a bit of revenge upon the'zquire!—Lord,
Lord! how I ha' chuckled to myzelf thinking on't Can any man zay I ever
used Bob like my own zon? Answer me that. D—n un! I always hated un,
vor his vather's zake: though the lad's a good lad, and, if he were mine,
I should love un;—and I do, zometimes, I dunno' why:—but I ha;
drashed un,—and while I were drashing un, I've a'most thought, I
were drashing the vather o' un. But I ha' done un a good turn when he
didn't know it. I ha' kissed un when he were asleep,—a'most upon the
zly, like, even to myzelf. And when he broke his leg, I tended upon un, as
you do know; and he's a' loved me zo, ever zince, that I ha' scores and
scores o' times been zorry for it; for I do hate un because he's the zon
of his vather:—but what be the matter wi' 'ee? What's amiss? Why
d'ye stare and glower zo?"
"Saul Braintree," said Martin, "whether your words are true or not—and
what you mention, I have observed—you have made me the most wretched
being on earth; for whatever comes to pass, I must still suspect—Margaret,
my heart tells me, may be—Oh! that horrid may, which is worse
than certainty—may be—nay, I cannot pronounce it! Oh! Saul! if
I could but believe you—if I could but make up my mind, even to the
worst, it would be a comfort."
"Martin Braintree,—for that be your name," said Saul, "didn't I
warn'ee about Peggy? Didn't I—when I saw you were getting vond of
her—didn't I try to offend'ee, zo az to keep'ee from coming to our
cottage? Didn't I insult'ee?—but you wouldn't take it."
"You did, Saul, grossly insult me; but my love,—perhaps, my accursed
love,—made me overlook it What a gulph of horror is opened before
me! Peggy my sister! and you—you my father!—It cannot—it
is not so, Saul. Unsay what you have said, and I will save you."
"I won't unsay it; it's out now, and I can't help it. If thou still
doubt'st, Martin, go down and ask my wife—ask Meg; if thou still
doubt'st, lad,—ask thy own heart—young as thee bee'st—if
a vather could let a zon be hung for a crime of which thic zon bean't
"And is Robert innocent, then?"
"Ay, lad, as thou art"
"But you—surely, you—"
"Take a drop of brandy, and I'll tell thee all, buoy: thee'rt my own vlesh
and blood, and I'll talk to thee as I would to my own heart. Now, do 'ee
take the flask; halve it, and gi'e me the rest;—or take it all, if
thee dost veel qualmish.—I be zad enough, but don't stint thyself,
The youth swallowed a mouthful of the liquor, and returned it to Saul,
who, after draining the contents, resumed the conversation. "Martin," said
he, "Robert, poor lad, is az innocent az a lamb; and I know it."
"And will you—can you, then, permit him to—"
"Hold thy tongue, buoy, and let me speak. Rob is innocent, but he's James
Ztapleton's zon; and if I were to take his head out of the halter, and put
my own into it, it wouldn't be many miles off self-murder. Rob is
innocent; for he never harmed a worm, except I made un do't; and he can go
up to his God without a blush:—I can't—may be, he couldn't, if
he came to my years; for there's no one do know what may happen to the
best ov us. I be zure I little thought, a score of years ago, when I were
tip-top man here, and had az good a character az any body in the country,
and there wer'n't a bad wish against mortal in my heart, that I should
ever be tied up here, where I be, accused of any crime whatzoever—much
less murder: but you zee I be; and there's no knowing, as I zaid avore,
what any ov us may come to. Bob's zure of peace hereafter; and it be well
vor un. I'd be hung willingly, to-morrow, if I were in the like case; but
I bean't. Oh! Martin, my buoy! I ha' much to answer vor. I be brave,
people zays, and zo I be; but there bean't a man within a days' ride, zo
aveard of death as I be; and I'll tell'ee why:—it's because I ha'
been zuch a viend—zuch a wretch, ov late years.—I wouldn't die
vor all the world. I do want time vor repentance! and I must ha' it at any
price!—Therefore, Bob must die vor me;—and, may be, I does un
a good turn; at least, I do think zo,—by zending un to his grave
avore he hath had temptation to be zinful."
"Your doctrine is most atrocious!" exclaimed Martin. "Oh! why—why
was I reserved for this? From what you say, Saul, I fear—"
"That I killed Phil Govier?"
"I hope not!"
"Hoping's no good:—he hit I over the head with the butt-end of his
gun;—zee, here's the mark;—and when I came to myzelf, he was
gwain to do't again; zo I ztepped back three paces, lifted my piece, and
blew out his brains—bang!—Ay, Martin, it were your vather did
it; and 'Zquire Ztapleton's zon must zuffer vor it I thought I had managed
capitally; but things ha' come out I didn't dream of. Iv I be tried, I may
be vound guilty, and that won't do. Bob's zure to zuffer, poor lad!—But
I must not be tried."
"But how do you make it appear that Robert is guiltless, when the proofs
are so strong against him?"
"Ah! that be my deepness! I hope I zhall be pardoned vor't. Ill tell'ee
just how 'twere. Bob were getting to bed, and he knowed I were gwain
through the village, up the hill, toward the copse t'other zide o' the
Nine Acres:—I'd a' promised a brace o' pheasants to Long Tom, the
mail coachman, the day bevore,—he'd got an order vor'em,—and
in the copse I were zure o' vinding'em, but nowhere else: zo Bob zays to
I, 'Vather,' zays he, 'I wish you'd take my t'other pair o' zhoes and
leave'em at Dick Blake's, as you do go along, and get he to heel-tap'em
for me.' Zo, I zaid I would; and zure enough, I took'em; but Dick were
a-bed when I come by, and I went on, with the zhoes in my pocket, to the
copse. When I got there, I looked about, and Ponto,—you know Ponto—he'll
point up—ay, if'twere a-top of a elm, as well as under his nose in a
stubble,—Ponto stood; and just above my head, on the lowest branch
of a beech, there were perched a cock pheasant wi' two hens,—one o'
each zide o' un—all dree within reach. I hit the cock and one o' the
hens down wi' the barrel o' my gun, and just as I were pouching'em, up
come the keeper. Phil and I, as every one knows, hadn't been good vriends
vor twenty long years. Zummat occurred betwixt us, and Phil was zoon on
the ground under me. I wasn't as cool as I should be over a rasher of
bacon—you may guess; but up he got again, and laid the butt-end of
his piece over my head. I were stunned for a second, but when I came to,
he'd a' got his gun by the muzzle, wi' the butt up over his head, and
aiming at me again. If he'd a hit me, I shouldn't ha' been talking to you
here now; zo I ztepped back, and to zave my own life, did as I told'ee.
When I zeed un draw up his legs, and then quiver all over just avore a'
died, all the blood in my body were turned into cold water. I thought I
should ha' shivered to death; and there I stood, staring at Phil, where a'
laid, as if I were 'mazed!—Just avore this, it begun to znow, and
while I were looking at Phil, it thickened zo, that I were a'most
zole-deep in it; zo then I begun to cast about how I should act, to zave
myzelf vrom zuspicion. While I were thinking, the znow stopped vailing;
and, thinks I, they'll vind out who 'twere by the vootmarks; and if there
were no vootmarks to zuspect any one else, they'd guess 'twere I, vor
vifty reasons: zo I took Bob's zhoes out o' my pocket, put mine in their
place, squeezed my veet into the lad's zhoes as well as I could, walked
straight whoam, and went to bed without a zoul hearing me. I were wicked
enough to put Bob's zhoes close under his bed avore I went to my own; but
I hope even that will be vorgiven me:—zo Bob were taken up, and most
likely will be vound guilty, upon the evidence o' the zhoes. But vor vear
of accidents, Martin, you must contrive to let me out; vor I won't be
tried, d'ye mind? therefore, you must manage zo as I may 'scape, lad; and
once out, I'll war'nt they doan't catch I again."
Martin Stapleton stood, with his eyes earnestly fixed on Saul, for nearly
a minute after the latter had finished his story of the death of Philip
Govier; his faculties were benumbed by what he had heard; and he probably
would have remained much longer motionless and speechless, had not Saul
seized him with both hands, and given him two or three violent shakes.
"Come, come," said he, "doan't go to sleep like a horse, standing up!—This
bean't a time for dozing!—Odd! if I'd a' got poor Bob here, I should
ha' been vree half an hour ago. He'd ha' zet vire to the house, and come
and ha' pulled me out o' the vlames, by this time, if he couldn't gi'e me
my liberty any other way."
"And yet, you, Saul," said Martin reproachfully, "you scruple not
to sacrifice him to save yourself."
"What be that to thee?—He'd do as I tell'ee, because I be his vather—that
is, he thinks zo. I ha' done what I did do, because he yean't my zon;—but
thee bee'st, Martin—thee bee'st—and thee knows
it;—thy heart tells thee I ha'n't been lying to thee:—thee'rt
my zon,—and I do expect that thou'lt do thy duty; thou canst do't,
and no harm come to thee. Bob would risk all vor me, though I ha'n't been
the best o' vathers to un."
"What would you have me do?" asked Martin, rather petulantly. "How shall I
act?—What do you wish of me?"
"Just to let I get t'other zide o' these walls," replied Saul; "I doan't
care how;—I leave that to you;—choose your own way; it doan't
much matter to I,—doan't'ee zee?—zo as I gets out Why, you'd
a' married Peggy, if zo be as I'd ha' let'ee—wouldn't 'ee, now?—in
spite ov old Ztapleton, and the whole vlock of your ztiff-backed aunts—wouldn't'ee,
now? answer me that!"
"I should—I should:—but mention it no more; you make my blood
"Well, then," pursued Saul, heedless of the passionate request of Martin;
"you zee, I'd no vear ov your seducing the girl; and you can't think I
should ha' put up a gate against my daughter's being a young'zquire's wife—if
that young'zquire weren't what he were."
"Talk to me no more on this subject:—I will—I do believe all
you have said; only, I beseech you, don't—don't dwell on this,"
exclaimed Martin, wiping large drops of "the dew of mental anguish" from
"Well, well, Martin! cheer up, lad," said Saul, fondling the youth; "cheer
up, and I won't:—but, I zay, how shall we act?"
"Oh! I know not—In assisting you to escape I become an accessary to
Robert's death;—and if I refuse—"
"You do hang your vather," interrupted Braintree; "an awkward place vor a
body to stand in, Martin;—but blood's thicker than water;—I be
your vather, and he yean't even one o' your kin. I won't dreaten'ee wi'
blabbing and telling who you be, on my trial."
"I care not, Saul, if you did."
"I know,—I know;—but I doan't dreaten 'ee wi't, doan't'ee
mind?—Keep znug, and be a'zquire."
"Indeed, I shall not. I will tell the whole story to-morrow; and if I can
save poor Robert—"
"If't'an't at my expense, do zave un, and I'll thank 'ee; but I think it
yean't possible. As to your up and telling old Ztapleton who you be, that
will be zilly ov'ee;—but it be your business;—I've put'ee into
a good nest, and if you do throw yourzelf out on't,'t'ean't my fault; my
intention were good. Howsomever, Martin, gi'e me dree hours' law; and
doan't give tongue, and zo get a hue and cry a'ter me, avore I can get
At this moment a loud tapping was heard at the door; Martin started, and
exclaimed,—"If that should be my father!"
"Vather, indeed!" said Saul; "you do vorget yourself; you must ha' lost
your wits, to be vrighted zo-vashion; you ha'n't a' fastened the door,
have'ee? and your vather, as you do call un, would hardly be polite enough
to knock. There yean't much ceremony used wi' a prisoner. Why doan't 'ee
zay, 'come in?'" Before Martin could utter the words, the door was opened,
and a fair, curly-headed youth, who was Martin's immediate attendant and
frequent companion, peeped in, and said, in a loud whisper,—"Master
Martin! the 'squire is inquiring for you: where will you please to be?—in
the fen, setting night-lines for eels, or up at Gorbury, seeing the earths
well stopped? The fox-hounds throw off at Budford Copse, to-morrow, you
know;—or shall I say you're here, or where?"
"You need not tell any lies about the matter, Sam, thank you," said
Martin; "I shall be in the parlour almost directly."
"Very well, sir," replied Sam. "I wish you'd been down in the hall just
now, though. Constable Abel has been making a speech about drink being the
beginning of every thing bad; and, if he says true, Abel must be ripe for
mischief, for he got three parts gone before he had done; and he's coming
up stairs with the brass top of his long staff downward.—Eh! Why,
this can't be he, surely, coming at this rate?"
A series of sounds had struck Sam's ear which resembled those of three or
four persons running up stairs in a hurry, and then galloping along the
passage toward the place where he stood. A moment had scarcely elapsed,
from the time he had done speaking, when the door was burst wide open, and
Ponto, the prisoner's dog, dashed into the room. He had been howling round
the house for a considerable time; and probably watched for an opportunity
of stealing in to join his master. He flew toward Saul; gambolled round
him; leaped up to his face, and exhibited, by his looks, his low barks,
and his actions, the joy he felt at being again in the presence of his
As soon as Sam, by the order of Martin, had retired from the door, Saul
pointed to the dog, and, without uttering a word, gazed reproachfully at
"I understand you," said Martin; "but you don't know what I may do yet;
therefore, pray, spare me those looks."
"Wou'lt do't, then—wou'lt do't?" eagerly asked Saul: "Ah! I knew
thee wouldst. Ponto yean't my zon, and yet—but, odd! there bean't a
minute to lose. Abel will be here directly. Ponto, my dog, thou'lt zave us
a mort o' trouble. Tell'ee what, Martin,—only cut the rope, and go
to bed. Never mind the cuffs;—cut the rope vor me, and I be zafe out
wi' your pocket-knife,—make haste," continued Saul, in a hurried
tone, as Martin searched his pockets with a tremulous hand;—"here,
lad, let I veel vor un—here a' is—now cut—cut through:
gi'e me dree hours' law, as I told'ee, and then do as you like.—Why,
lad! thee'lt be a month; I'd ha' cut down an oak by this time."
"What have I done?" exclaimed Martin, as he, at length, separated the
"Done! why, done your duty," was Saul's reply; "kneel down there, Martin,
and take a vather's blessing vor't;—a vather's blessing, lad, let un
be ever zo bad a man, won't do thee hurt." Martin, almost unconsciously,
knelt, and the murderer, placing his hand on the young man's head,
solemnly and most affectionately blessed him.
When Abel entered, Martin had nearly reached the door; he pushed the
constable aside, and rushed out of the room, in a manner that perfectly
amazed the old man. "Well!" said he, as he endeavoured to strut, but in
fact, staggered in rather a ludicrous manner, toward the prisoner;—"if
that's behaviour to a parochial functionary—if any jury will say it
is—I'll resign my staff of office. What do you think, Saul?"
"Bad manners, Yeabel;—bad manners, in my mind," replied Braintree;
"but he be vexed like;—and I'll tell'ee why:—I ha' been trying
to coax un over to help me out o' the house."
"You ha'n't, surely, Saul!"
"I tell'ee I have, then—why not? Wouldn't you? answer me that!—but
the young dog revuzed; zo then I abuzed un, and a' left me in a pet. But,
I zay, Yeabel, you be drunk, or handy to't, bean't'ee?—You shouldn't
do that! It's wrong ov'ee, Yeabel: every man, in my mind, should do his
duty; and you bean't doing yours to get voggy wi' stout October, when
you've a-got a prisoner in hand."
"None of your sneering, Saul; I am compos and capable," said Abel.
"You bean't, Yeabel! upon my life, you bean't!" replied Saul; "you
shouldn't do so—no, truly. Why, now, suppose I were to 'scape."
"Escape!" exclaimed Abel, cocking his hat; "elude my vigilance!—come,
"Why, you'll vall asleep avore half the night be over."
"What! sleep upon my post!—never, Saul,—never."
"You'll prance up and down there all night, I'll war'nt, then, and 20 keep
me from getting a bit of rest:—you be aveard to lie down, ay, or
"I am afraid of nothing and nobody," replied Abel, indignantly; "and you
know it, neighbour Braintree: but no sneering of yours, will tempt me; I'm
up to thee, Saul; so be quiet;—or say your prayers. I'm never so fit
to serve my King and country, or the parochial authorities, as when my
wits are sharpened by an extra cup or two."
"Or dree, I z'pose?" added Saul.—"Poor zoul! thee wants a little
spirit put into thee."
"I want spirit! when did I lack it?" exclaimed Abel.—"Not a man in
the parish ever attempts to raise a hand against me."
"No, truly, Yeabel; I'll zay this vor thee, thou'rt such a weak, harmless,
old body, that a man would as zoon think of wopping his grandmother as
Abel's wrath was now roused, and he began to speechify and swagger. Saul
said no more, but stretched himself upon the mattress which the 'squire
had humanely ordered to be placed on the floor, within reach of his
tether, holding the rope under him, so that, without turning him over, it
was impossible to discover that it had been severed. Just previously to
the constable's entrance, Panto, in obedience to the command of Saul, had
retreated beneath a large oak table, the flap of which altogether
concealed him from observation; and there lay the well-trained animal,
with his head resting on his fore-paws, and his eyes fixed on Saul,
perfectly motionless, and watching for further commands.
About an hour after midnight, when all seemed quiet below-stairs, Saul
turned on his mattress, and beheld Abel still tottering to and fro, like
an invalid grenadier upon guard. He waited for an opportunity, when the
constable's back was toward him, to start up, seize Abel by the throat,
and lay him flat upon the floor. "Yeabel," said he, in a low tone, "I hope
I ha'n't hurt thee much. I be zorry to harm thee at all, old buoy; but
needs must. I be gwain off, Yeabel;—I doan't mean to put the county
to the expense o' prosecuting me,—zo I be gwain.—Doan't be
aveard,—I won't choke thee:—there," added he, relaxing his
powerful gripe; "I'll let thee breathe; but if thee speaks—remember,
Yeabel,—I be a desperate man,—and I must zilence thee:—one
knock o' the head'ud do't; zo keep thy peace, and do as I tells thee
quietly;—I won't have a word, mind me. Take thic thingumbob out o'
thy waistcoat pocket, and unvasten these bracelets thou'st put about my
wrists. Iv thy conscience to thy King and country won't let thee do't
wi'out being put in bodily vear, I'll trouble thee wi' another grip o' the
droat But, I doant wish any thing o' the zort myzelf, unless needs must—Ponto,
Ponto started up and was by his master's side in a moment.
"That infernal dog here too!" ejaculated Abel.
"Ay, zure!—but zilence! It yean't wize vor I to let thee open thy
lips: zo go to work like a dummy. Make haste, and dost hear, Yeabel? put
down the handcuffs quietly. Now doan't tempt me to hurt thee, by making a
vool o' thyzelf. Be ruled, that's a good vellow. I can get off,—doan't'ee
zee?—spite o' the cuffs; but it will be more convenient and
agreeable to leave'em behind." By this time, Abel had set Braintree's arms
completely at liberty.
"Now, Yeabel," continued Saul, still kneeling over the constable,—"now,
old blade, I'll leave thee wi' Ponto; but doan't thee move or call out, if
thee values thy old droat. He'll worry thee like a wolf'ud a wether, if
thee moves or makes as much noise as a mouse: but be quiet—be still,
and he'll ztand over thee and not harm thee vor hours. Thee knowest the
dog; and thee know'st me well enough to be zertain I wouldn't leave thee,
vit to make alarm, if I wer'n't zure o' the dog. I doan't want to hurt
thee, zo I leaves thee wi' un: but, mind—he'll hold thy droat a
little tighter than I did, if thee wags a hair.—Ponto!" added Saul,
turning to the fine animal, who seemed to be listening to what he had
said; "mind un, Ponto!—Steady, good dog!—Soho! and steady! but
To use a sporting phrase, Ponto immediately "stood;" he threw himself into
an attitude that even Saul, as he departed, pronounced to be beautiful.
His eye was keenly fixed upon Abel; the roots of his ears were elevated
and brought forward; one of his fore-legs was held up, and curved so that
the claws nearly touched his body; his tail no longer curled, but stood
out straight on a level with his back; every muscle in his frame seemed,
as it were, to be upon the alert; he appeared on the point of making a
spring forward; but no statue ever stood more motionless on its pedestal,
than Ponto did over the prostrate and terrified constable.
Braintree lost no time after he left the room which had been his temporary
prison: he descended cautiously to the ground-floor, and versed as he had
been in his boyhood, and for several years after time had written man upon
his brow, in the topography of the old Hall, he easily found an outlet,
and escaped without creating any alarm.
In a paddock adjoining the pleasure-grounds of the Hall, he caught a
horse, which had been turned out on account of a sand-crack; twisted a
hazel, from the hedge, into a halter and mouthpiece; leaped the fence;
and, in less than half an hour, by dint of hard galloping across the
country,—clearing every thing as though he was riding a
steeple-chase,—Saul reached his own cottage. Meg and her daughter
were still up, the wife weeping, and the child praying for Saul's safe
deliverance. He beat at the door, and Meg clasped the girl to her breast
and exclaimed, "Oh! what now?—what now? They're surely coming for
thee, Peggy. They'll leave me to murder myself—childless!"
"Open the door, Meg—my own Meg!" said Saul, without; "'tis I, Meg;—thy
Braintree was soon by his own hearth, with his wife and daughter weeping
and hanging round his neck.
"Well, and how is it, Saul?" inquired Meg, as soon as she could find
"Art discharged, father?" said Peggy.
"No, child," replied Saul; "I be 'scaped! I shouldn't ha' zeen thee,
wench, nor thy mother neither, but whoam laid in my road. I be zafe yet
till day-light, if Ponto's as true as I've a' zeen un avore now. But I
shouldn't zay if vor I be zure ov un."
In reply to the inquiries of his wife, Said briefly related the result of
his conversation with Martin, the manner of his escape from old Abel, and
his intention to fly the country for ever, if he could. "Not," added he,
"that I think they could bring aught whoam to me, upon trial; though I
didn't think zo, when I were tied up by a rope to a chimney-bar, in the
Hall; but now it ztrikes I, there wouldn't be much danger ov my getting
acquitted—and vor why?—It's clear the man were killed by one—not
two. Now, if Bob's vound guilty, I must be turned out innocent; and
guilty a' will be vound, or else I've blundered blessedly."
"Heavens above us, Saul! what d'ye mean?" cried Meg. Braintree now frankly
told his wife the circumstances relative to Robert's shoes; and concluded,
with a forced smile, sighing deeply as he spoke,—"And zo, the young
un be nicked for no-man's-land, wi'out a bit of a doubt;—that be
certain, I reckon."
"Oh! Saul!" cried Meg, "Saul Braintree, what hast thee done?—thou
hast murdered thy son!"
"Murdered my viddlestick! He's the'zquire's—Jemmy Ztapleton's buoy;—Martin
"Martin Stapleton, father!" almost shrieked Peggy.
"Ay, wench; and he cut the cord vor me, like a Briton."
"Said! Saul!" replied Meg, "doan't thee smile; my poor heart be bursting.
I never thought I should see this night!"
"Woe's me, mother; I was almost killed wi' trouble before, and now such
news as this!" sobbed Peggy, pressing her hands to her eyes.
"What be the matter, missus?—All's right;—doan't be dashed."
"If thou didst kill Govier, Saul," said Meg, "thou bee'st a vather, vor
all that; and I do pity thee:—thou hast laid a trap vor thy own son.
When thou went'st away a smuggling that time, just after the 'squire had
discharged thee, and when we knowed he was looking out for another nurse—"
"Well, what then?" interrupted Saul.
"Why, Saul, thou didst tempt me to change the children. I promised thee I
would:—I tried, and I couldn't!—Thee thought'st to deceive
'Squire Stapleton, but I deceived thee, Saul. I couldn't send away my own
boy—my virst-born—my darling. If thee wert a mother, thee
wouldst vorgive me. Oh! that I had done as thee told me! Saul, Saul, thee
hast murdered thy child! Bob's thy own vlesh and blood,—and Martin
Stapleton be no kin to thee."
"Oh! mother!" said Peggy, dropping on her knees; "I am almost ashamed to
say how I thank you for those words; they have a'most saved my life;—but
then, my brother—my poor, poor brother!"
"Bob my own vlesh and blood!" said Saul, turning pale as a dying man while
he spoke; "Bob my zon, a'ter all!—Tell'ee he an't! I won't believe
"As I hope to be vorgiven vor all I've done here below, he is;" replied
"Meg, Meg!" said Saul, dropping on a bench, and throwing himself back
against the wall; "you ha' turned me zick as a dog." Margaret and her
daughter now threw themselves about Braintree's neck again, and began to
weep and wail in the most violent and passionate manner: Saul remained
motionless only for a few moments. "Gi'e me air," said he, suddenly
pushing them aside and leaping up; "I be choking! I'd gi'e the world now,
if I had it, that instead o' zhooting Phil, Phil had zhot I!—Deceived!
bevooled! in thic vashion!—Meg, doan't thee bide near me, or I shall
lay hands on thee presently; I do know I shall."
"I don't vear thee, Saul," said Meg; "thee never didst lay a vinger in
wrath on me yet. If thee'rt a' minded to kill me, do't!—I wont vly
vrom the blow.—My Bobby in gaol, accused of murder, and my husband
guilty of doing it!"
"You lie, you vool!" vociferated Saul; "'twere no murder! We vought, hand
to hand, vor life or vor death, and I got the best o't. If I hadn't a'
killed he, he'd ha' killed I; zo how can'ee make it murder?"
"The lord judge will make it out so, I fear," said Peggy; "won't he, think
"No doubt on't; and Saul knows it," replied Meg. "Oh! Bob, my child—my
"Good night, Meg!" interrupted Saul. "I be off;—you do know I can't
abide to hear a woman howl."
"But where art gwain, Saul?"
"No matter;—thou'lt hear time enough o' me:—good night!"
"Nay, but what'll thee do?—Peggy, down on thy knees wi' me, girl,
and beg him to tell us, what we be to do!—Oh! Saul—bide a bit;
I woan't let thee see a tear—look, they be all scorched up.—I
won't vex thee, any way, if thou'lt but bide and Comfort us."
"Doan't cling to me zo," said Saul, struggling to rid himself of the
embraces of his wife and daughter, who clung about his knees;—"it be
no use; let go, or I'll hurt'ee!—There now," continued he, as he
freed himself, "once vor all, good night. It won't do vor I to bide here
Braintree now rushed out of the cottage, leaving his wife and daughter on
their knees: each of them clasped the other to her breast, and listened,
without a sob, until the receding footsteps of Saul were no longer
audible. They then attempted alternately to solace each other; but the
comforter of the moment was so violent in her own sorrow as to increase
that of her whose grief she tried to allay; and thus the hours passed on
with them till dawn. They felt the misery of seeing the sun rise and chase
away the morning mists as usual; the autumnal song-bird,—the robin,—much
loved of men, chirrupped merrily on their cottage-roof as he did a week
before, when they were comparatively happy; and the sleek old cat, brushed
his glossy sides against their garments, as if nothing was the matter.
There are few persons in existence, whose lot it has been to pass a night
of such extreme mental agony, as that was with Margaret Braintree and her
daughter; and yet, strange to say, at six o'clock in the morning, Meg was
raking together the embers of the turf fire, and piling fresh fuel on the
hearth;—the kettle was, soon after, singing merrily above the blaze;
and, before the church bells had chimed seven, Meg and her pretty
daughter, miserable as they were, with swollen eyes and aching hearts, sat
down to that womanly comfort,—a cup,—or as it is still called
in the west—a dish of tea.
We must now return to the Hall, which, before day-break, became a scene of
uproar and alarm. Every body seemed to be in a bustle, but no pursuit was
made, or plan of action determined on. The 'squire had sent for a
neighbouring justice of the peace, who was so far stricken in years, that
it was necessary for one of his own men, assisted by Stapleton's
messenger, to lift him on horse-back, and hold him on the saddle, the
whole distance between his own house and the Hall. The old man, although
of a remarkably irritable disposition, was scarcely wide awake when he
arrived. The 'squire, however, without waiting to inquire whether or no
his auditor was in a proper state to receive his communications, began to
give a minute history of the capture, brief imprisonment, and escape of
Braintree. He had gone as far as Saul's seizing the constable, when old
Justice Borfield, for the first time, interrupted him, by inquiring, with
warmth, what they all meant by using him as they had done? "Here have I
been," added he—"Ay, now, I recollect—Yes—the scoundrels
broke into my bed-room;—so I suppose, at least;—dragged me out
of bed; and when I awoke,—for, odd! sir, and as I'm a gentleman, all
this was hurry-skurry, and passed on like a dream,—but when I awoke,
I found myself in my best wig, on the back of a high-trotting horse; and
lo, and behold! I saw—for my miscreant of a man had fastened on my
spectacles, though, as you see, he forgot my left shoe—I saw one of
them on each side, holding me down to the saddle, by my waistband. I
struggled and exclaimed; but the villains heeded me not!—Now, sir,
what the devil does all this mean? What am I accused of? I insist upon
"My dear neighbour, my very worthy friend Borfield," said Stapleton, "I
need your assistance—your presence—your advice in this
"You're very complimentary, indeed!—What! now you've made a blunder,
you drag me into your counsels to bear half the blame!—Neighbour
Stapleton, I'm a very ill-used man, and I won't put up with it. Talk of
the liberty of the subject, and the power of a justice of the peace!—Why,
I've been treated like a tetotum! At this rate, a magistrate's an old
woman; or worse—worse by this band! Brute force beats the King's
commission! I'm dragged out of my bed at midnight, by lawless ruffians—lifted
into a saddle, when I haven't set foot in stirrup these twenty years—and
brought here, on the back of a rough-trotting galloway, close prisoner, to
sign some documents, I suppose, which wouldn't be legal without the
formality of a second magistrate's name. I'll tell you what, James
Stapleton, I don't like it—If I'm an old man, I'm not a machine.
Your satellites have brought the horse to the brook, but you can't make
him drink. I'll sign nothing; I'll die first:—for I'm hurt and
The old man now grew exhausted, and Stapleton once more attempted to
pacify him. By dint of excuses, and a few flattering compliments on the
freshness and vigour of his intellectual powers, and the value of the
advice of a man who had so much experience, Stapleton, at length,
prevailed upon him to hear the end of his statement relative to Saul's
"Well, well! then order coffee and dry toast," said Borfield; "for if you
need advice, I lack refreshment. Order coffee, and let the toast he cut
thin, and baked by a steady hand—by-the-by, let my own miscreant do
it,—and then we'll see what can be done."
It appeared that Braintree's escape had been discovered sooner than he
expected. The old earth-stopper, on his return from Gorbury, where he had
been following his vocation, saw somebody cross a field, at full speed, on
a horse which he well knew to be Martin Stapleton's pie-bald hunter. He
fancied, too, that the rider bore some resemblance to Braintree. But
whether the man were Braintree or another, it was clear that all was not
right. The earth-stopper, therefore, thought proper to put spurs to his
poney, and, instead of turning down the next lane toward his own cottage,
to push for the main road, and trot up to Stapleton Hall. As he passed the
paddock he looked round it; but saw no horse. When he reached the gate-way
leading to the house, he raised such a clatter, by ringing the bell and
beating against the door, that several of the servants, and Stapleton
himself were soon roused from their beds. Before the earth-stopper was
admitted, Stapleton inquired from the window, what had occurred. "I beg
your honour's pardon," replied the old man; "I reckon I ha' zeed Zaul
Braintree,—or iv 'tean't he, 'tis a man like un,—riding athirt
tailor Mudford's 'tatee-patch, in Misletoe-lane, zaving your worship's
presence, upon a zpringy zwitch-tailed pie-bald, a bloodlike weed ov a
thing, zo var as I could zee; but I'll zwear he were a zwitch-tailed
pie-bald; and the young'zquire's yean't in the paddock."
Stapleton threw on his dressing-coat, and hurried up stairs to the room
where Saul had been confined. The lamp was still burning; and, by its
light, he discovered, at a glance, that the prisoner had effected his
escape. Abel's staff lay upon the mattress, and, at a little distance from
it, Stapleton beheld the constable on the floor, apparently lifeless. "The
villain has murdered him!" thought he; but his fears were instantly
dispelled, and his indignation roused, by a sonorous snore, which
evidently proceeded from the nostrils of Abel.
Stapleton took up the staff of office, and turned the constable over with
it two or three times, before he could wake him. In reply to the questions
put to him by the 'squire, Abel gave a tolerably clear account of what had
taken place: the last thing he recollected was seeing the eyes of Ponto
glaring at him, as he lay on the floor. Search was immediately made for
the dog, but without success: he had either effectually concealed himself
in some part of the house, or made his escape. Abel begged for a warrant
from his worship to apprehend and hang the animal. "He aided and abetted
the prisoner," said he, "in getting his liberty; and I am ready to swear,
and what is more, with your worship's leave, I do insist upon swearing,
that I lay in bodily fear o' the beast. But Ponto," continued he, "was not
the sole and only one that lent the delinquent a helping hand; he hath a
friend in court: the rope was cut for him, that's dear; for he never could
have done it himself. Your worship, this looks awkward against somebody."
The morning dawned through the eastern window of the library, as Stapleton
finished his statement, and old Borfield his second cup of coffee. The
latter now suggested that all the persons in the house should be rigidly
examined, and the depositions of Abel and the earth-stopper formally
prepared. The whole of the household, as well as the two last-mentioned
worthies, were then called in; and after a few questions had been put to
the domestics in a body, it came out, that somebody had heard Sam say,
before he went to bed, that the poacher's dog had burst into the
Wainscot-room when he (Sam) went up to call the young 'squire down to
supper. Sam, upon being questioned, prevaricated and became confused.
Perceiving this, Stapleton inquired for Martin. "He ha'n't left his room
yet, sir," said Sam; "I'll step and call him."
"No, no!" exclaimed Borfield; "by no means: stay you there, and let the
constable go for him."
"I forgot to say," said Abel, "that Master Martin did certainly condescend
to be beadle over the prisoner while I took needful refreshment."
"Then you ought to be whipped for suffering him to do so," quoth Borfield.
"Mr. Stapleton, this begins to be serious," continued he;—Stapleton
turned pale as he proceeded, and now wished he had not sent for his
brother magistrate;—"the youth's your son; but it is our duty, in
such an investigation as this, to pay no respect to persons.—And so,
when you returned," he added, turning to the constable again, "the bird
was flown, was he?"
"I will be judged by any man here, if I said so!" replied Abel. "Saul and
I had some chat after my return; he was there, and, seemingly, safe
enough; but the cord must have been cut by somebody while I was away."
"And who did you find in the room besides Saul?" was the next question put
by old Borfield.
"Sam ran against me, as I went up over the stairs, and the young 'squire
did the like, more disagreeably, just after I had crossed the threshold."
Borfield shook his head, and said to Sam,—"Young man, consider
yourself in custody; and, constable, fetch down Master Martin Stapleton;—it
is strange, amidst all this uproar, he has not made his appearance!"
"Has no one seen him?" inquired Stapleton, in a tone of unusual solemnity:
he looked anxiously round the circle, but no reply was made. "Open that
window," continued he, pointing to one near him, in the recess of which
stood the earth-stopper, who obeyed him, as fast as his stiff joints would
permit A perfect silence reigned through the room for nearly a minute,
after Abel had quitted it, in obedience to Borfield's commands, when the
old earth-stopper said that he heard a tired horse galloping up the
high-road, about a mile distant, and he thought it was the young 'squire's
pie-bald. Upon being asked what induced him to think so, he replied, "Why,
your honour, Master Martin's horse were lame vrom a zand-crack in the near
vore-voot, and the horse I do hear, don't ztrike the ground even; I be
zure he's lame;—and az I do think—"
The earth-stopper would have proceeded, but Abel and Martin now entered
the room. The young man's dress was in disorder; his hair was matted; his
eyes were swollen; and his whole appearance indicated that he had not
passed the night asleep in his bed. "I understand," said he, addressing
himself to Stapleton and Borfield,—"I understand that—"
"You have but one question to answer, Martin," interrupted Stapleton.
"And answer it or not as you think fit," said Borfield; "recollect, young
gentleman, that you are not compelled to implicate yourself:—be
"The caution, sir," said Stapleton, "is kind and well-meant, but, I am
sure, needless. Martin—did you, or did you not, aid Saul Braintree
in his escape?"
Martin was silent.
"Don't press him," said Borfield, forgetting to whom he was speaking; "we
have quite sufficient, without his own acknowledgment, to warrant us in
concluding that he did.—The constable's evidence—"
"Borfield! Borfield!" cried Stapleton, casting on the old man a look of
reproach that silenced him; "let him answer for himself. What say you,
Martin? Acquit yourself, I insist—I entreat!—Did you cut the
rope for Braintree?"
"All that I have to say, sir," replied Martin, firmly,—but his voice
faltered, and he burst into tears, and hid his face in his hands as he
concluded,—"All that I have to say, sir, is, that the man proved to
me he was my own father!"
"Martin, you're mad!" exclaimed Stapleton, starting from his seat.
"Braintree your father!" said Borfield, removing his spectacles, but
speaking in a calm and unconcerned tone; "How's this?—Then where's
Mr. Stapleton's son?"
"In the county gaol, abiding his trial for murder!" replied the young man.
"Martin, your wits are wandering!" almost shrieked old Stapleton; "What do
"It is but too true, sir, I fear.—Meg Braintree changed us when
children at her breast."
"No, zhe didn't, Master Martin," said some one at the lower end of the
room; "No, zhe didn't; worse luck!"
To the amazement of all present, Saul Braintree, who had just entered, now
walked up toward the justices, and stood within three paces of the table,
behind which their chairs were placed. Old Stapleton was still on his
legs; and, with a vacant and almost idiotic stare, turned from Martin, on
whom he had been gazing, to the weather-beaten face of Saul.
"'Tis you ha' done all this mischief,'zquire," pursued Braintree; "Oh! you
used I—but, it doan't matter—Meg, too, to play zuch a trick,
and not tell me o't!—Master Martin, zhe didn't do as I tould her;
but never, avore this night, did I know I'd been made zuch a vool ov!—Your
horse vailed lame as a cat wi' me, coming back; but you'll vorgi'e me, I
do know, vor bringing'ee zuch news. I bean't your vather;—there—there,
it do zeem, he stands:'zquire, this be, truly, your zon; mine be in irons;
but I'll vree un! I'll vree un!" repeated he, raising his voice suddenly
to a high pitch; "he sha'n't bide there long! I be bad enough, vor zure
and zartin; but I can't let un die vor I!—Oh! I be beat out and out!—Tell
ee I can't ztand it; zo, justice, take my convession."
Borfield touched the elbow of Stapleton, who was now totally inattentive
to the scene before him, and affectionately embracing Martin. "Take the
pen, sir," said Borfield; "and, prisoner, reflect a moment on what you are
about to do: you are in a state of great excitation; we are willing to
hear you; but, I repeat,—be cautious!"
"Cautious!—cautious, d'ye zay?—No, I won't! Caution's been the
ruin o' me. Caution doan't zeem to I to be any use in theze parts. I ha'
zeed men wi' no more forecast than chilver hogs, do well all their lives,
and keep out o' harm's way, vlourish-ing like trees:—now I ha' been
as cautious as a cat, and you do zee what I be come to."
"I cannot write, indeed, Mr. Borfield;—I cannot write a word:—you
must excuse me," said Stapleton, throwing down the pen.
"Well, well, then, as we've no clerk, and I have written nothing but my
name these seven years," said Borfield, offering the pen to young
Stapleton, "suppose, Master Martin, you take down the prisoner's
"Pardon me, sir," said Martin; "that I never will do."
"Then we must adjourn the examination for an hour," said Borfield; "let
the prisoner be searched, and conveyed to a place of security. I will
specially swear in the earth-stopper and my man to assist you, Abel; my
man shall remain in the room with you, and the earth-stopper may watch
outside the door: be attentive, earth-stopper."
"And above all things," added Abel, "take care that his dog don't get in."
"Doan't'ee be aveard o' he, Yeabel," said Saul, "I ha' killed un, poor
blade!—It were the last zhot I shall zhoot. He ha' done much
mischief vor I, poor dumb beast, and he might ha' done more vor a worser
man;—vor I reckon I bean't zo bad az zome be, and that's a comvort.—I
knocked up varmer Zalter, and borrowed his double-barrelled gun, to gi'e
the dog his dose. Ponto knowed what a gun were, well enough; but he zeemed
to vancy I were in vun like, when I pointed the muzzle o't to un; vor ay
wagged his tail and looked as pleasant up in my vace, that be dashed iv I
weren't vorced to zhut my eyes avore I could pull the trigger. But, oh!
Master Martin, iv you had but heard his one zhort deep howl, you'd ha'
gone 'mazed—that is—iv you were I. Truly, I do think, I zhould
ha' zhot myzelf iv 'tweren't vor two things:—Virst, I couldn't ha'
vreed poor dear Bob, bless un! iv I had; and next, I'd a' given my word
and hand to varmer Zalter, I wouldn't harm myzelf avore he'd lend me his
Martin now asked his father's permission to offer Saul a little
refreshment; the 'squire immediately acceded to his request, and the
kind-hearted young gentleman whispered Sam, in Saul's hearing, to get a
little brandy from the housekeeper. Braintree, however, much to Martin's
surprise, requested that no liquor might be brought for his use. "Master
Martin," said he, "it yean't wi' me, as'twere last night I be past the
help o' brandy, now:—I be done vor. Ponto's gone, and I zhall zoon
vollow un; he did'nt deserve it,—nor I neither, may be;—but I
zhall ba't though, vor all that But Bob zhall be vreed—no offence,
justices; but, d'ye hear?—Bob zhall be vree! My buoy zhan't never
zuffer vor I. No, no, that wouldn't be like Zaul Braintree;—eh
Master Martin?—would it, neighbours?—My wife zhan't say to I
again, as zhe did, poor zoul, last night, 'Zaul, thee hast murdered my zon—'tean't
pleasant—Your servant, Justice Borfield: you ha' been my ruin,
'zquire Ztapleton; but I doan't bear malice; I do vorgive'ee wi' all my
heart—Will'ee be zo good as to make vriends, zir, and think o' Meg,
if aught zhould happen to me?—will'ee, zir—will'ee—will'ee!"
Saul stretched forth his hand across the table, and Stapleton, apparently
without knowing what he did, or, possibly, actuated by a return of those
kind feelings which he had entertained for Saul, twenty years before, so
far forgot his own character and situation and those of the prisoner, that
he put forth his hand towards that of Braintree; a short but hearty mutual
squeeze ensued, and Braintree immediately left the room, closely followed
by Abel Harris, the earth-stopper, and Justice Borfield's man. He had
scarcely proceeded a dozen steps from the door, when, as if something of
importance had suddenly occurred to him, he turned about, and earnestly
inquired for the young 'squire. Martin was soon by his side. "Master
Martin," said Saul, "there be one thing I've a' got to zay to'ee—"
"Your wife, I suppose, Braintree—"
"No, no, not zhe; I zpoke to 'zquire about zhe:—besides, Bob will be
vree, and won't zee poor Meg lack pine zhe will—but he can't help
"Can I do any thing for you?" inquired Martin.
"Not vor I—not vor I," replied Saul. "I ha' got but a vew words to
zay to thee, lad, and I'll zpeak 'em vreely. Peggy yean't your zister,
now:—when I be gone, iv you can't do her no good, doan't do her no
harm, vor my zake, lad; doan't, pr'ythee now!"
"I never will, you may depend, Saul."
"Then God bless thee, and good bye!—Now, Yeabel!"
Saul now followed Abel into the Wainscot-room again, and resumed his
handcuffs. Old Borfield, who had been roused to unusual energy, and even
displayed a portion of that acuteness, for which he had been famed in the
county twenty or thirty years before, sank into a doze. Long before he
opened his eyes again, Stapleton had received Saul Braintree's confession;
which, coupled with other circumstances, while it convicted Saul, clearly
exculpated his son from any participation in the offence. The father and
son were tried together; the former was found guilty, and the latter
acquitted. Saul, however, evaded the execution of the law: a strong fear
of death came over him, after his conviction; he made a bold attempt to
escape, the particulars of which it would be needless to enumerate;
suffice it to say, that he was not only unsuccessful, but perished in a
most resolute struggle with some of the gaoler's attendants, who
intercepted his progress. Another paragraph will finish our tale.
Old Stapleton, who had long been in a declining state, died within a few
days after Martin came of age: the young 'squire shortly after sold off
his estates, and, as it was confidently said by some, but disbelieved by
others, dwelt happy and contented, as it falls to the lot of most men to
be, in a distant part of England, with his old nurse under his roof;
Robert Braintree, the tenant of a capital farm, within a morning's ride of
his mansion: and pretty Peggy his wife.