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The Broad Highway(Book1,Chapter5)

2006-08-28 22:40

  Book One Chapter V. The Bagman

  I was yet standing there, half stunned by my loss and the suddenness of it all, when a tilbury came slowly round a bend in the road, the driver of which nodded lazily in his seat while his horse, a sorry, jaded animal, plodded wearily up the steep slope of the hill. As he approached I hailed him loudly, upon which he suddenly dived down between his knees and produced a brass-bound blunderbuss.

  "What's to do?" cried he, a thick-set, round-faced fellow, "what's to do, eh?" and he covered me with the wide mouth of the blunderbuss.

  "Thieves!" said I, "I've been robbed, and not three minutes since."

  "Ah!" he exclaimed, in a tone of great relief, and with the color returning to his plump cheeks, "is that the way of it?"

  "It is," said I, "and a very bad way; the fellow has left me but twopence in the world."

  "Twopence——ah?"

  "Come," I went on, "you are armed, I see; the thief took to the brushwood, here, not three minutes ago; we may catch him yet——"

  "Catch him?" repeated the fellow, staring.

  "Yes, don't I tell you he has stolen all the money I possess?"

  "Except twopence," said the fellow.

  "Yes——"

  "Well, twopence ain't to be sneezed at, and if I was you——"

  "Come, we're losing time," said I, cutting him short.

  "But——my mare, what about my mare?"

  "She'll stand," I answered; "she's tired enough."

  The Bagman, for such I took him to be, sighed, and, blunderbuss in hand, prepared to alight, but, in the act of doing so, paused:

  "Was the rascal armed?" he inquired, over his shoulder

  "To be sure he was," said I.

  The Bagman got back into his seat and took up the reins.

  "What now?" I inquired.

  "It's this accursed mare of mine," he answered; "she'll bolt again, d'ye see——twice yesterday and once the day before, she bolted, sir, and on a road like this——"

  "Then lend me your blunderbuss."

  "I can't do that," he replied, shaking his head.

  "But why not?" said I impatiently.

  "Because this is a dangerous road, and I don't intend to be left unarmed on a dangerous road; I never have been and I never will, and there's an end of it, d'ye see!"

  "Then do you mean to say that you refuse your aid to a fellow-traveler——that you will sit there and let the rogue get away with all the money I possess in the world——"

  "Oh, no; not on no account; just you get up here beside me and we'll drive to 'The White Hart.' I'm well known at 'The White Hart;' we'll get a few honest fellows at our heels and have this thieving, rascally villain in the twinkling of an——" He stopped suddenly, made a frantic clutch at his blunderbuss, and sat staring. Turning short round, I saw the man in the beaver hat standing within a yard of us, fingering his long pistol and with the same twisted smile upon his lips.

  "I've a mind," said he, nodding his head at the Bagman, "I've a great mind to blow your face off."

  The blunderbuss fell to the roadway, with a clatter.

  "Thievin', rascally villain——was it? Damme! I think I will blow your face off."

  "No——don't do——that," said the Bagman, in a strange, jerky voice, "what 'ud be——the good?"

  "Why, that there poor animal wouldn't have to drag that fat carkiss of yours up and down hills, for one thing."

  "I'll get out and walk."

  "And it might learn ye to keep a civil tongue in your head."

  "I——I didn't mean——any——offence."

  "Then chuck us your purse," growled the other, "and be quick about it." The Bagman obeyed with wonderful celerity, and I heard the purse chink as the footpad dropped it into the pocket of his greatcoat.

  "As for you," said he, turning to me, "you get on your way and never mind me; forget you ever had ten guineas and don't go a-riskin' your vallyble young life; come——up with you!" and he motioned me into the tilbury with his pistol.

  "What about my blunderbuss?" expostulated the Bagman, faintly, as I seated myself beside him, "you'll give me my blunderbuss——cost me five pound it did."

  "More fool you!" said the highwayman, and, picking up the unwieldy weapon, he hove it into the ditch.

  "As to our argyment——regardin' gibbetin', sir," said he, nodding to me, "I'm rayther inclined to think you was in the right on it arter all." Then, turning towards the Bagman: "Drive on, fat-face!" said he, "and sharp's the word." Whereupon the Bagman whipped up his horse and, as the tired animal struggled forward over the crest of the hill, I saw the highwayman still watching us.

  Very soon we came in view of "The White Hart," an inn I remembered to have passed on the right hand side of the road, and scarce were we driven up to the door than down jumped the Bagman, leaving me to follow at my leisure, and running into the tap, forthwith began recounting his loss to all and sundry, so that I soon found we were become the center of a gaping crowd, much to my disgust. Indeed, I would have slipped away, but each time I attempted to do so the Bagman would appeal to me to corroborate some statement.

  "Galloping Dick himself, or I'm a Dutchman!" he cried for the twentieth time; "up he comes, bold as brass, bless you, and a horse-pistol in each hand. 'Hold hard!' says I, and ups with my blunderbuss; you remember as I ups with my blunderbuss?" he inquired, turning to me.

  "Quite well," said I.

  "Ah, but you should have seen the fellow's face, when he saw my blunderbuss ready at my shoulder; green it was——green as grass, for if ever there was death in a man's face, and sudden death at that, there was sudden death in mine, when, all at once, my mare, my accursed mare, jibbed——"

  "Yes, yes?" cried half-a-dozen breathless voices, "what then?"

  "Why, then, gentlemen," said the Bagman, shaking his head and frowning round upon the ring of intent faces, "why then, gentlemen, being a resolute, determined fellow, I did what any other man of spirit would have done——I——"

  "Dropped your blunderbuss," said I.

  "Ay, to be sure I did——"

  "And he pitched it into the ditch," said I.

  "Ay," nodded the Bagman dubiously, while the others crowded nearer.

  "And then he took your money, and called you 'Fool' and 'Fatface,' and so it ended," said I. With which I pushed my way from the circle, and, finding a quiet corner beside the chimney, sat down, and with my last twopence paid for a tankard of ale.

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