SECURE as I tried to feel in
my change of costume, my cropped
hair, and my whiskerless cheeks,
I kept well away from the coach-window,
when the dinner at the inn was
over and the passengers were
called to take their places again.
Thus far--thanks to the strength
of my grasp on his neck, which
had left him too weak to be an
outside passenger--Screw had
certainly not seen me; and, if
I played my cards properly, there
was no reason why he should see
me before we got to our destination.
Throughout the rest of the
journey I observed the strictest
caution, and fortune seconded
my efforts. It was dark when
we got to Shrewsbury. On leaving
the coach I was enabled, under
cover of the night, to keep a
sharp watch on the proceedings
of Screw and his Bow Street ally.
They did not put up at the hotel,
but walked away to a public house.
There, my clerical character
obliged me to leave them at the
I returned to the hotel, to
make inquiries about conveyances.
The answers informed me that
Crickgelly was a little fishing-village,
and that there was no coach direct
to it, but that two coaches running
to two small Welsh towns situated
at nearly equal distances from
my destination, on either side
of it, would pass through Shrewsbury
the next morning. The waiter
added, that I could book a place--conditionally--by
either of these vehicles; and
that, as they were always well-filled,
I had better be quick in making
my choice between them. Matters
had now arrived at such a pass,
that nothing was left for me
but to trust to chance. If I
waited till the morning to see
whether Screw and the Bow Street
runner traveled in my direction,
and to find out, in case they
did, which coach they took, I
should be running the risk of
losing a place for myself, and
so delaying my journey for another
day. This was not to be thought
of. I told the waiter to book
me a place in which coach he
pleased. The two were called
respectively The Humming Bee,
and The Red Cross Knight. The
waiter chose the latter.
Sleep was not much in my way
that night. I rose almost as
early as Boots himself--breakfasted--then
sat at the coffee-room window
looking out anxiously for the
Nobody seemed to agree which
would pass first. Each of the
inn servants of whom I inquired
made it a matter of partisanship,
and backed his favorite coach
with the most consummate assurance.
At last, I heard the guard's
horn and the clatter of the horses'
hoofs. Up drove a coach--I looked
out cautiously--it was the Humming
Bee. Three outside places were
vacant; one behind the coachman;
two on the dickey. The first
was taken immediately by a farmer,
the second---to my unspeakable
disgust and terror--was secured
by the inevitable Bow Street
runner; who, as soon as h e was
up, helped the weakly Screw into
the third place, by his side.
They were going to Crickgelly;
not a doubt of it, now.
I grew mad with impatience
for the arrival of the Red Cross
Knight. Half-an-hour passed--forty
minutes--and then I heard another
horn and another clatter--and
the Red Cross Knight rattled
up to the hotel door at full
speed. What if there should be
no vacant place for me! I ran
to the door with a sinking heart.
Outside, the coach was declared
to be full.
"There is one inside place," said
the waiter, "if you don't mind
Before he could say the rest,
I was occupying that one inside
place. I remember nothing of
the journey from the time we
left the hotel door, except that
it was fearfully long. At some
hour of the day with which I
was not acquainted (for my watch
had stopped for want of winding
up), I was set down in a clean
little street of a prim little
town (the name of which I never
thought of asking), and was told
that the coach never went any
No post-chaise was to be had.
With incredible difficulty I
got first a gig, then a man to
drive it; and, last, a pony to
draw it. We hobbled away crazily
from the inn door. I thought
of Screw and the Bow Street runner
approaching Crickgelly, from
their point of the compass, perhaps
at the full speed of a good post-chaise--I
thought of that, and would have
given all the money in my pocket
for two hours' use of a fast
Judging by the time we occupied
in making the journey, and a
little also by my own impatience,
I should say that Crickgelly
must have been at least twenty
miles distant from the town where
I took the gig. The sun was setting,
when we first heard, through
the evening stillness, the sound
of the surf on the seashore.
The twilight was falling as we
entered the little fishing village,
and let our unfortunate pony
stop, for the last time, at a
small inn door.
The first question I asked
of the landlord was, whether
two gentlemen (friends of mine,
of course, whom I expected to
meet) had driven into Crickgelly,
a little while before me. The
reply was in the negative; and
the sense of relief it produced
seemed to rest me at once, body
and mind, after my long and anxious
journey. Either I had beaten
the spies on the road, or they
were not bound to Crickgelly.
Any way, I had first possession
of the field of action. I paid
the man who had driven me, and
asked my way to Zion Place. My
directions were simple--I had
only to go through the village,
and I should find Zion Place
at the other end of it.
The village had a very strong
smell, and a curious habit of
building boats in the street
between intervals of detached
cottages; a helpless, muddy,
fishy little place. I walked
through it rapidly; turned inland
a few hundred yards; ascended
some rising ground; and discerned,
in the dim twilight, four small
lonesome villas standing in pairs,
with a shed and a saw-pit on
one side, and a few shells of
unfinished houses on the other.
Some madly speculative builder
was evidently trying to turn
Crickgelly into a watering-place.
I made out Number Two, and
discovered the bell-handle with
difficulty, it was growing so
dark. A servant-maid--corporeally
enormous; but, as I soon found,
in a totally undeveloped state,
mentally--opened the door.
"Does Miss Giles live here?" I
"Don't see no visitors," answered
the large maiden. "'T'other one
tried it and had to go away.
You go, too."
"'T'othor one?" I repeated. "Another
visitor? And when did he call?"
an hour ago."
nobody with him?"
see no visitors. He went. You
go, too "
Just as she
repeated that exasperating
formula of words, a door opened
at the end of the passage. My
voice had evidently reached the
ears of somebody in the back
parlor. Who the person was I
could not see, but I heard the
rustle of a woman's dress. My
situation was growing desperate,
my suspicions were aroused--I
determined to risk everything--and
I called softly in the direction
of the open door, "Alicia!"
A voice answered, "Good heavens!
Frank?" It was her voice.
She had recognized mine. I pushed
past the big servant; in two
steps I was at the end of the
passage; in one more I was in
the back parlor.
She was there, standing alone
by the side of a table. Seeing
my changed costume and altered
face, she turned deadly pale,
and stretched her hand behind
her mechanically, as if to take
hold of a chair. I caught her
in my arms; but I was afraid
to kiss her--she trembled so
when I only touched her.
"Frank!" she said, drawing
her head back. "What is it? How
did you find out? For mercy's
sake what does it mean?"
love, that I've come to take
care of you for
the rest of your life and mine,
if you will only let me. Don't
tremble--there's nothing to be
afraid of! Only compose yourself,
and I'll tell you why I am here
in this strange disguise. Come,
come, Alicia!--don't look like
that at me. You called me Frank
just now, for the first time.
Would you have done that, if
you had disliked me or forgotten
I saw her color beginning to
come back--the old bright glow
returning to the dear dusky cheeks.
If I had not seen them so near
me, I might have exercised some
self-control--as it was, I lost
my presence of mind entirely,
and kissed her.
She drew herself away half-frightened,
offended, and, apparently, not
very likely to faint--which was
more than I could have said of
her when I first entered the
room. Before she had time to
reflect on the peril and awkwardness
of our position, I pressed the
first necessary questions on
her rapidly, one after the other.
"Where is Mrs. Baggs?" I
Mrs. Baggs was the housekeeper.
to the closed folding-doors. "In
the front parlor; asleep on
"Have you any
suspicion who the stranger
was who called more
than an hour ago?"
servant told him we saw no
visitors, and he went
away, without leaving his name."
"Have you heard
from your father?"
She began to turn pale again,
but controlled herself bravely,
and answered in a whisper:
had a short note from him this
morning. It was
not dated; and it only said circumstances
had happened which obliged him
to leave home suddenly, and that
we were to wait here till be
wrote again, most likely in a
"Now, Alicia," I said, as lightly
as I could, "I have the highest
possible opinion of your courage,
good-sense, and self-control;
and I shall expect you to keep
up your reputation in my eyes,
while you are listening to what
I have to tell you."
Saying these words, I took
her by the hand and made her
sit close by me; then, breaking
it to her as gently and gradually
as possible, I told her all that
had happened at the red-brick
house since the evening when
she left the dinner-table, and
we exchanged our parting look
at the dining-room door.
It was almost as great a trial
to me to speak as it was to her
to hear. She suffered so violently,
felt such evident misery of shame
and terror, while I was relating
the strange events which had
occurred in her absence, that
I once or twice stopped in alarm,
and almost repented my boldness
in telling her the truth. However,
fair-dealing with her, cruel
as it might seem at the time,
was the best and safest course
for the future. How could I expect
her to put all her trust in me
if I began by deceiving her--if
I fell into prevarications and
excuses at the very outset of
our renewal of intercourse? I
went on desperately to the end,
taking a hopeful view of the
most hopeless circumstances,
and making my narrative as mercifully
short as possible.
When I had done, the poor girl,
in the extremity of her forlornness
and distress, forgot all the
little maidenly conventionalities
and young-lady-like restraints
of everyday life--and, in a burst
of natural grief and honest confiding
helplessness, hid her face on
my bosom, and cried there as
if she were a child again, and
I was the mother to whom she
had been used to look for comfort.
I made no attempt to stop her
tears--they were the safest and
best vent for the violent agitation
under which she was suffering.
I said nothing; words, at such
a ti me as that, would only have
aggravated her distress. All
the questions I had to ask; all
the proposals I had to make,
must, I felt, be put off--no
matter at what risk--until some
later and clamer hour. There
we sat together, with one long
unsnuffed candle lighting us
smokily; with the discordantly-grotesque
sound of the housekeeper's snoring
in the front room, mingling with
the sobs of the weeping girl
on my bosom. No other noise,
great or small, inside the house
or out of it, was audible. The
summer night looked black and
cloudy through the little back
I was not much easier in my
mind, now that the trial of breaking
my bad news to Alicia was over.
That stranger who had called
at the house an hour before me,
weighed on my spirits. It could
not have been Doctor Dulcifer.
He would have gained admission.
Could it be the Bow Street runner,
or Screw? I had lost sight of
them, it is true; but had they
lost sight of me?
Alicia's grief gradually exhausted
itself. She feebly raised her
head, and, turning it away from
me, hid her face. I saw that
she was not fit for talking yet,
and begged her to go upstairs
to the drawing-room and lie down
a little. She looked apprehensively
toward the folding-doors that
shut us off from the front parlor.
"Leave Mrs. Baggs to me," I
said. "I want to have a few words
with her; and, as soon as you
are gone, I'll make noise enough
here to wake her."
Alicia looked at me inquiringly
and amazedly. I did not speak
again. Time was now of terrible
importance to us--I gently led
her to the door.