Stubbs indeed! Surely, there must be something in names? On finishing this series of reflections, the young courtier drew bridle, and halted for the purpose of listening. He could hear voices behind—at the inn—a chorus of rough voices in loud vociferation. Prudent on their part, I should say. If he has kept on, as he started he will be miles off by this.
2nd White Gauntlet
I wish I could. Sister wrote me about them, not long since. Only one of them—the captain I suppose—came near the coach. The others stood by, but said not a word. How very funny of the fellows to act so!
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Well, if it be my ill-fortune to encounter robbers, I hope it may also be my good fortune to find them equally well-mannered. It would only help to give light to the rascals; and enable them all the more easily to strip me of my trappings. Notwithstanding his apparent indifference to an encounter with robbers, which these reflections might indicate, the young traveller was not without some apprehension. At the time, the roads of England were infested with highwaymen, and footpads. Robberies were incidents of daily occurrence—even on the very skirts of the metropolis; and on the highways, and byeways, the demand for your purse was almost as common as the modern solicitation for alms.
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Some were even courteous. In truth, many of them were men who, by the tyrannous exactions of the Sovereign, had been beggared in fortune, and forced to adopt this illegal mode of replenishing their exchequers. They were not all ruffians by instinct. It was not without a feeling of nervousness, that Walter Wade scanned the long slope of road extending towards the crest of Red Hill—at the bottom of which he had now arrived. It was on this very hill—as stated in the correspondence of his sister—that the coach had been stopped, and the lady rifled of her rings.
It was a mere track, just wide enough for wheels—bordered by a beechen forest, through which the path wound upward; the trees standing close along each side, and in some places forming arcades over it. The young traveller once more reined up, and listened.
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The voices from the inn no longer reached his ear—not even in distant murmuring. He would have preferred hearing them. He almost wished that the pursuit had been continued. Little as he might have relished the companionship of Captain Scarthe, or Cornet Stubbs, it would have been preferable to falling into that of a party of highwaymen or footpads.
He bent forward to catch any sound that might come from the road before him. He could hear none—at least, none of a character to make him uneasy. The soft monotone of the goatsucker fell upon his ear, mingled with the sharper note of the partridge, calling her young across the stubble. He heard, also, the distant barking of the watch-dog, and the sheep-bell tinkling in the fold; but these sounds, though characteristic of tranquil country life—and sweet to his ear, so long hindered from hearing them—were not inconsistent with the presence either of footpad or highwayman; who, lurking concealed among the trees, need not interrupt their utterance.
Walter Wade was far from being of a timid disposition; but no youth of eighteen could be accused of cowardice, simply because he did not desire an encounter with robbers. It did not, therefore, prove poltroonery on his part, when, proceeding along the road, his heart beat slightly with apprehension,—no more, when on perceiving the figure of a horseman dimly outlined under the shadow of the trees, he suddenly came to a halt, and hesitated to advance. The horseman was about a score of paces from where he had stopped—moving neither one way nor the other, but motionless in the middle of the road.
A robber would not take stand so conspicuously. Reassured, the young traveller determined to advance. A man of such mien, as he who bestrode the black steed—and actuated by such a sentiment, as that he had so boldly announced—could scarcely be a disreputable person—much less a highwayman?
Walter did not wrong him by the suspicion.
If you are my only pursuer, I fancy I shall incur no danger, in permitting you to overtake me? Come on, young sir! Perhaps on these roads it may be safer for both of us, if we ride in company? Thus frankly solicited, the young courtier hesitated no longer; but, pricking his horse with the spur, rode briskly forward. Half way up, the road swerved towards the south-west.
For a short distance the track was clear of trees, so that the moonlight fell full upon it. Here the two travellers, for the first time, obtained a distinct view of one another. The stranger—who still retained his incognito —merely glanced towards his companion; and, seemingly satisfied with a slight inspection, allowed his eyes to wander elsewhere. Perhaps during his halt before the hostelry, he had made a more elaborate examination of the young courtier. Walter, on the other hand, had at the Inn caught only a glimpse of the black horseman.
Now, though out of courtesy, looking furtively and askaunce, he proceeded to examine him more minutely. The personal appearance of the latter was striking enough to court examination. Walter Wade was impressed with it—even to admiration. He saw beside him, not a youth like himself, but a man in the full prime and vigour of manhood—perhaps over thirty years of age. He saw a figure of medium size, and perfect shape—its members knitted together, with a terseness that indicated true strength.
He saw shoulders of elegant tuornure ; a breast of swelling prominence; a full round throat, with jaws that by their breadth proclaimed firmness and decision.
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He saw dark brown hair, curling around a countenance, that in youth might have appeared under a fairer complexion, but was now slightly bronzed, as if stained with the tan of travel. He saw eyes of dark hazel hue—in the moonlight shining softly and mildly as those of a dove. In short the young courtier saw by his side a man that reminded him of a hero of Middle Age romance—one about whom he had been lately reading; and whose character had made a deep impression upon his youthful fancy.
The dress of the cavalier was in perfect keeping with his fine figure and face. It was simple, although of costly material. Cloak, doublet, and trunks were of silk velvet of dark maroon colour. The boots were of the finest Spanish leather, and his hat a beaver—the brim in clasp coquettishly turned up, with a jewelled front holding a black ostrich feather that swept backward to his shoulder. A scarlet sash of China crape, looped around the waist—an embroidered shoulder-belt crossing the breast, from which dangled a rapier in richly-chased sheath; buff-coloured gloves, with gauntlets attached; cuffs of white lawn covering the sleeves of his doublet; and broad collar of the same extending almost to his shoulders.
Fancy all these articles of costly fabric, fitted in the fashion of the time to a faultless manly figure, and you have a portrait of the cavalier whose appearance had won the admiration of Walter Wade. The horse was in keeping with the rider—a steed of large size and perfect proportions—such as an ancient paladin might have chosen to carry him upon a crusade. He was of the true colour—a deep pure black, all except his muzzle where the velvet-like epidermis was tinged with yellowish red, presenting the hue of umber.
Had his tail been suffered to droop, its tip would have touched the ground; but even while going into a walk it swung diagonally outward, oscillating at each step.
en.tanynowirixy.tk When in the gallop, it floated upon the air spread and horizontal. The spotted skin of a South American jaguar, with housings of scarlet cloth, caparisoned the saddle; over the pommel of which hung a pair of holsters, screened by the thick glossy fur of the North American beaver. The bit was a powerful mameluke—about that time introduced from the Spanish peninsula—which, clanking between the teeth of the horse, constantly kept his mouth in a state of foam.
This beautiful steed had a name. Walter had heard it pronounced. As the young courtier rode up, the horse was standing—his muzzle almost in contact with the road—and pawing the dust with impatience. The short gallop had roused his fiery spirit. To tranquillise it, his rider was caressing him—as he drew his gloved hand over the smooth skin of the neck, talking to him, as if he had been a comrade, and repeating his name. After exchanging salutations, the two horse men rode side by side for some moments, without vouchsafing further speech.
It was the silence consequent upon such an informal introduction. The rider of the black steed was the first to break it. When, may I ask? You forget, young sir, having given your name in my hearing? The son of Sir Marmaduke Wade has no need to conceal his name. It is one to be proud of. And for what reason? Pardon my freedom in asking the question. But in truth, sir, I am ignorant of it.
I only know that my father has written to the king, asking permission for me to return home; that the king has granted it—though, I have reason to think, with an ill grace: since his Majesty appeared angry with me at parting; or, perhaps, I should say, angry with my father. The intelligence thus communicated by the ci-devant courtier, instead of eliciting any expression of regret from his companion, seemed rather to gratify him. This, will secure him. Walter partially overheard the soliloquised phrases, but without comprehending their import.
No doubt, Master Walter, he has acted for your best interests; though it may be rather unpleasant for you, to exchange the gay pleasures of a royal palace for a quiet life in the country. The maids of honour are very interesting, are they not? I have understood that our French queen affects being surrounded by beauties.