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precautionary rounds, we will endeavour to describe the exterior of the house they occupied, and then add some other particulars essential to the better understanding of our story.
Some five and twenty years ago there stood on Bexley Heath four large, substantially-built, and somewhat old-fashioned looking Mansions. Each of these were some hundred yards apart, though connected by a line of high wall,—their fronts being open to the Common, and approached by a road which made a considerable circuit from off the main one, leading to London or Dover. From the centre of the connecting walls, a corresponding brick-work ran at right angles for a considerable length, forming the sides of extensive gardens in the rear; at the end of each, a door opened upon a narrow lane, just wide enough to admit carts bringing manure, &c.
But we will contine ourselves just now to the house in which the fore-going conversation took place.
Two handsome rooms flanked the Hall. The principal entrance from the road was of a massive character, the stout oaken door being supported on each side by two rusticated stone pillars, between which thick panes of plate-glass were placed, serving to afford sufficient light within. The frame-work of these side windows were, for greater security, constructed of iron. The ground floor consisted of a noble dining-room, at the back of which stood an apartment used as a Plate and China closet, the precious metals being deposited in an iron safe, the various dinner and tea services arranged on numerous shelves. A spacious Library occupied the other portion of the basement frontage; behind this was the study, or “ sanctum snugorum" of Mr. Thornton the proprietor.
As our story does not require any acquaintance with the first and second floors, we shall proceed to say that the third was divided into sleeping apartments for the domestics, separated in the centre by a passage running the whole length of the building.
We have endeavoured to make our description of the locale as clear as possible, heartily wishing it had been our good fortune to have preserved a “Catalogue of Sale," written by no less celebrated a pen, than the goosequill of that extraordinary, and highly-gifted personage, George Robins, on the occasion of his “ being honoured with the commands of the Executors, and entrusted with the disposal by public competition" of one of these four houses. A reference to his descriptive document would have enabled us at once to delight and enligbten our readers. Scorning to confine himself to a bald outline of the Principal features, the great artist we have named, condescends to delipeate the most minute particulars, devoting his capacious mind to a description of the smallest chambers on each floor, and the “Offices so essential to the comfort of a truly English family," which he, in his considerate kindness, assures us, “ are scattered with a liberal profusion over the back premises. The principal building, though possessing, it must be honestly acknowledged, no particular claims to Architectural distinction, is surmounted with a Classic and appropriate Statue of the Muse Hygeia, and tastefully environed by prolific evergreens, which form an enchanting screen at all seasons of the year, rendering seclusion impervious to the vulgar gaze."
- But to our story.
“Well, thank Goodness, that job's jobbed !” said Hannah, putting down the candle, and seating herself close to the fire, “ What a nasty horrid fog to be sure! I shouldn't like to be out in't for my part. Now I tell 'e what 'tis, Jane, I'm in no mind or humour for work this night, so, while you smart up your cap, I'll read to ye a bit, and that will pass away the time like, 'till we have our bread and cheese; that is if the cuss-nation fog hasn't got into my throat.'
"Ah, do read, Hannah, there's a good soul.”
"Well what will 'e have? you can make your choice," said the Cook taking out a book from the table-drawer. “ Here's The Children in the Wood,' • John Gilpin,' ' Death and the Lady,' Dicky Gossip's Journey to Bath,' Cruel Barbara Allen,' and a mort of things, some droll enough I'm sure, and t'others very deep and moloncholy."
“Don't choose any thing serious, Hannah, at this time of the evening, if you can pick out something funny, so much the better."
" I'll try what this is like, here's some verses about the Death of a Cat, you know I can't abear them animals, and I shouldn't at all mind if the whole biling of 'em was dead and buried. Now let's see, - but snuff the candle, Jane, Oh, my! there's such a letter coming to you, look at the burning heart in the wick,-ah, Jenny, Jenny, what did I say about Henry just now, I wonder ? Hem, a hem! Drat the Fog.
• 'Twas on a lofty vase's side,
The azure flowers that blow,'
- ' that blow,
Gazed on the lake below.' Oh, this will never do, 'tis far aboove me. I don't know what they mean by their pensive Sellimys, not I."
“Do go on, Hannah, I like it uncommon." “Well, I cau't say I do
Her conscious tail her joy declared ;' Oh, I see now, Sellimy's the name of a cat; it must have been one of those outlandish things I have seen in my time.
'- joy declared ; The fair round face, the snowy beard,
The velvet of her paws,' Well that's true enough, some of the creatures do have paws as smooth as any velvet.
Her coat that with ". “Hush, Hannah, a moment! I thought I heard something."
"Nonsense, what could you hear ? if you don't want me to read, say so at once,-Where was I ? Her coat that with the tor ”
“ There, again !-I'm sure I heard it-I did indeed!". And poor Jane dropped her work into her lap, evidently alarmed.
“ Heard what, in the name of goodness ?" demanded Hannah somewhat crabbedly, closing her book, and throwing it on the table so energetically as to make Jane nearly jump off her chair.
“ A sort of low moaning noise; but it was a human creature that made it.”
" Low moaning, indeed, as likely as not one of the sheep off the common, baaing 'cause he can't see the rest of 'em in the fog. I'm surprised Jane you haven't more sense-Lord save us ! that's no sheep. I hear it now, plain enough. Whatever shall us do, Jane? If it's on the outside, outside it may be for me; but if it's in the house, whythere 'tis again as sure as my name's Sanderson. Well, I'm not a bit frightened, nor I won't be frightened. Jane, you stupe, why don't ye get up off your chair? You'll do no good a sitting there the very picture of uneasiness. We'll soon make out where it is and what it is. Lay hold of the candle, and I'll take this," saying which Hannah snatched at the great kitchen poker, and clutching it firmly in both hands continued,
“ Now I should like to see—"
“Oh, don't say that; I don't want to see any thing—and I hope we sha'n't,” and as she spoke the light trembled in her hand.
The women ascended the stairs leading to the Dining room floor, the courageous Hannah in front, whilst the alarmed Jane followed close, holding her candle over the right shoulder of her companion. They glanced round the Hall, examining every nook and corner with the strictest scrutiny; the keys were properly turned in the room doors—the lock, bolts, and chain securely fastened at the principal entrance; just as they had finished their survey, and felt satisfied that all was perfectly safe as far as they had yet ventured, a deep groan struck upon their ears.
“ Have Mercy upon us !” exclaimed Hannah, “ that seemed to come through the street-door key-hole, whoever it was must be close to the house; however I'll soon get rid of the noise I warrant me!" and assuming a hoarse voice and a heavy step, she advanced to the spot from whence the sound appeared to proceed.
“ If you don't go away,” roared Hannah, in as masculine a tone as she could call to her aid, " I'll order one of my man-servants to shoot you. How dare you come here making such a disturbance ?"
“ Have pity on me, for the love of Heaven !" was answered in faint tones. "If you let me lay here I shall die.”
“ You have no business to lie there at all. Here, John, bring the blunderbuss !” again blustered Hannah.
“ It would be a mercy to shoot me," replied the unseen, “ better die at once, than drag on one's wretched life through this dreadful night, benumbed with cold, and starving with hunger almost to death."
“ Why don't you go along to the public house ? you'll find one at the other end of the Heath,” demanded the Cook. : “I can go no further, and even if I had strength to crawl, I couldn't find the road, for the fog is so very thick. I have been wandering in
it for hours,-and since you won't give me any help, I must lay me down and die. The Lord take pity upon me!” and the wretched speaker groaned again.
" Who are you, and what are you?" asked Hannah in her own voice, thrown off her guard at the idea of a fellow-creature enduring such anguish so near her.
“ An old man, who will be for ever grateful for shelter from this dreadful night," and as this was said, the speaker crept so close to one of the side lights that his face nearly touched the glass, as though he was anxious it should be seen, in proof of the assertion regarding his age.
Hannah taking the candle from her terrified fellow-servant peered forward, and beheld a wrinkled countenance, pale as marble, apparently from severe mental and bodily pain, and shrouded by long locks of silver hair, which hung down saturated with moisture,—a soldier's cap covered this venerable head, and a military jacket as much of the figure as was visible through the narrow panes.
“ Poor old creature !" whispered Jane," he does look dreadful bad I declare; but we mustn't think of letting him in, Hannah, you know, after the strict orders master left about opening the doors after dark.”
" Orders, or no orders, I'm not a-going to let a poor dear fellow Christian die like a dog, and perish for want of warmth and victuals, whilst I can save him. You know, Jane, I've often told you my father was a soldier, I've got a soldier's blood in my body, and come what will of it I shall let him in, and take him down to our fire. Lord love 'e, why if he was disposed to be rumbunctious, I could manage him myself. So here goes !" and elevating her voice, she said to the veteran, “ My good man, Master and all the men servants be gone to bed, so if I open the door and let you in, you must promise to be very quiet, and behave yourself decently and properly like, or I shall call up John, or Thomas, or some one or t’other of the half dozen men folk, to turn you out again. D'ye mind what I say, d'ye understand me ?"
“I do, and may the Lord bless you for your goodness! I'll be as quiet as a lamb, and do all you tell me, only let me in quickly for I'm nearly gone."
“Oh, Hannah, Heaven grant you mayn't repent of what you're doing," said Jane, as the kind-hearted Cook proceeded to unfasten the door.
“ 'Tis my own act and deed, Jane, and I'll bear you harmless come what will on't," replied Hannah in a quick and resolute tone.
The last bolt was withdrawn, the hall door swung on its hinges, and in another moment the applicant for admission was within the house, despite the rigid directions of its proprietor.
Hannah lost no time in making all again secure, whilst poor Jane regarded the stranger from head to foot, heartily wishing that he had proved even older and more helpless than he appeared.
A small, compact, and well proportioned figure stood before her, clothed in the regimentals of an Infantry soldier, with a somewhat cumbrous knapsack secured by broad straps to his back, his cross belts and clothes bearing evidence to the humidity of the atmosphere
to which he had been for so many hours exposed. The Soldier met the gaze of Jane with perfect calmness. His face, though certainly seen to great disadvantage at this particular moment; was, even at his advanced period of life, decidedly bandsome. No traces of his
“throat cutting, brain splitting"
profession were observable. It was a manly and truly English countenance, having about the forehead and eyes sufficient indications of firmness and decision, whilst the expression of the mouth and lower portion of the face gave promise of good humour and benevolence.
“Come along, my good soul !” said Hannah, leading the old man to the kitchen. “ There now, take off that great, big, clumbering thing 'at your back, it must be a precious heavt,—now let me wipe off some
of the wet with a towel, and then you shall have share of our supper, and a mug of warm ale, and then, and then,”
And poor Hannah paused, for all at once she began to think she had done wrong in admitting any one to partake of their supper ;-but the consciousness of having fulfilled the dictates of humanity cheered her, and she went on,
“ And then we'll see about finding you a warm corner to sleep in, for you must be pretty well knocked up I should think. Jane, my dear, you lay the cloth, whilst I try to get off some more of the nasty stinking fog that hangs about his jacket.”
“ Thank you a thousand times! but don't give yourself any trouble about me, I'm not used to be waited on by the dear women, and can't bear the notion of your putting yourself out of the way on my account. There was a time when I didn't mind a good soaking, but I s'pose as we grow old we care more for such trifes. Now that'll do nicely, ma'am; why you've made me as dry as a bone. God bless you for it!”
" You're kindly welcome I'm sure. Are you ready, Jane ? that's right. Now sit down ; there's a nice little bit of cold beef, some bread and cheese, and a hearty welcome.-- Would you like a little grating of ginger in your ale? I know 'twill do you good.”
Down they sat, the Soldier being placed nearest the fire, the warmhearted Cook doing all the honours, for Jane seemed still to labour under the effects of fright, and was in reality conjuring up in her imagination the fearful consequences of disobedience, which she felt she must endure, in common with Hannah, if their master should ever learn the events of this night.
The way-worn Soldier heartily enjoyed the meal so unexpectedly placed before him, and thus won the heart of his benefactress.
“ I beg your pardon, ma'am, for what I'm going to say, and hope no offence; but I've drank the best o' Wine in Portingale, and the first-rate Claret and Burgundy to be had for money in France, to say nothing at all about acquedentey, snaps, or pettygous; but of all the liquors I ever tasted, I must say, nothing come up to this! Why it has warmed the very heart in my body, and the marrow of my bones. Your ale is quite a different sort of thing from the rot - " and he checked himself, ere he finished a word which he thought might