While this was passing, the two girls continued their flight toward Dublin city. They had not long passed Ashwoode and Nicholas Blarden, when Mary's strength entirely failed, and she was forced first to moderate her pace to a walk, and finally to stop altogether and seat herself upon the bank which sloped abruptly down to the road.
Flora, said she, faintly. I am quite exhaustedmy strength is entirely gone; I must perforce rest myself and take breath here for a few minutes, and then, with God's help, I shall again have power to proceed.
Do so, my lady, said Flora, taking her stand beside her mistress, and I'll watch and listen here by you. Hish! don't I hear the sound of a car on the road before us?
So, indeed, it seemed, and at no great distance too. The road, however, just where they had placed themselves, made a sweep which concealed the vehicle, whatever it might be, effectually from their sight. The girl clambered to the top of the bank, and thence commanding a view of that part of the highway which beneath was hidden from sight, she beheld, two or three hundred yards in advance of them, a horse and cart, the driver of which was seated upon the shaft, slowly wending along in the direction of the city.
My lady, said she, descending from her post of observation, if you have strength to run on for only a few perches more of the road, we'll be up with a car, and get a lift into town without any more trouble; try it, my lady.
Accordingly they again set forth, and after a few minutes' further exertion, they came up with the vehicle and accosted the driver, a countryman, with a short pipe in his mouth, who, with folded arms, sat listlessly upon the shaft.
Honest man, God bless you, and give us a bit of a lift, said Flora Guy; we've come a long way and very fast, and we are fairly tired to death.
The countryman drew the halter which he held, and uttering an unspellable sound, addressed to his horse, succeeded in bringing him and the vehicle to a standstill.
Never say it twiste, said he; get up, and welcome. Wait a bit, till I give the straw a turn for yees; not for it; step on the wheel; don't be in dread, he won't move.
So saying, he assisted Mary Ashwoode into the rude vehicle, and not without wondering cariosity, for the hand which she extended to him was white and slender, and glittered in the moonlight with jewelled rings. Flora Guy followed; but before the cart was again in motion, they distinctly heard the far-off clatter of galloping hoofs upon the road. Their fears too truly accounted for these sounds.
Merciful God! we are pursued, said Mary Ashwoode; and then turning to the driver, she continued, with an agony of imploring terror as you look for pity at the dreadful hour when all shall need it, do not betray us. If it be as I suspect, we are pursuedpursued with an evila dreadful purpose. I had rather die a thousand deaths than fall into the hands of those who are approaching.
Never fear, interrupted the man; lie down flat both of you in the cart and I'll hide younever fear.
They obeyed his directions, and he spread over their prostrate bodies a covering of straw; not quite so thick, however, as their fears would have desired; and thus screened, they awaited the approach of those whom they rightly conjectured to be in hot pursuit of them. The man resumed his seat upon the shaft, and once more the cart was in motion.
Meanwhile, the sharp and rapid clang of the hoofs approached, and before the horsemen had reached them, the voice of Nicholas Blarden was shouting
Holloaholloa, honest fellowsaw you two young women on the road?
There was scarcely time allowed for an answer, when the thundering clang of the iron hoofs resounded beside the conveyance in which the fugitives were lying, and the horsemen both, with a sudden and violent exertion, brought their beasts to a halt, and so abruptly, that although thrown back upon their haunches, the horses slid on for several yards upon the hard road, by the mere impetus of their former speed, knocking showers of fire flakes from the stones.
I say, repeated Blarden, did two girls pass you on the roaddid you see them?
Divil a sign of a girl I see, replied the man, carelessly;
p.304and to their infinite relief, the two fugitives heard their pursuer, with a muttered curse, plunge forward upon his way. This relief, however, was but momentary, for checking his horse again, Blarden returned.
I say, my good chap, I passed you before to-night, not ten minutes since, on my way out of town, not half-a-mile from this spotthe girls were running this way, and if they're between this and the gatethey must have passed you.
Devil a girl I seen thisOh, begorra! you're right, sure enough, said the driver what the devil was I thinkin' abouttwo girlsone of them tall and slim, with rings on her fingers and the other a short, active bit of a colleen?
Ayayay, cried Blarden.
Sure enough they did overtake me, said the man, shortly after I passed two gentlemenI suppose you are one of themand the little one axed me the direction of Harold's-crossand when I showed it to them, bedad they both made no more bones about it, but across the ditch with them, an' away over the fieldsthey're half-way there by this timeit was jist down there by the broken bridgethey were quare-looking girls.
It would be dd odd if they were notthey're both mad, replied Blarden; thank you for your hint.
And so saying, as he turned his horse's head in the direction indicated, he chucked a crown piece into the cart. As the conveyance proceeded, they heard the driver soliloquizing with evident satisfaction
Bedad, they'll have a plisint serenade through the fields, the two of them, observed he, standing upon the shafts, and watching the progress of the two horsementhere they go, begorraover the ditch with them. Oh, by the hokey, the sarvint boy's downthe heart's blood iv a tossan' oh, bloody wars! see the skelp iv the whip the big chap gives himthere they go again down the slopenow for itover the gripe with themwell done, bedad, and into the green lanedevil take the bushes, I can't see another sight iv them. Young women, he continued, again assuming his sitting position, and replacing his pipe in the corner of his mouth all's safe nowthey're clean out of sightyou may get up, miss.
Accordingly, Mary Ashwoode and Flora Guy raised themselves.
Here, said the latter, extending her hand toward the driver, here's the silver he threw to you.
I wisht I could airn as much every day as aisily, said the man, securing his prize; that chap has raal villiany in
p.305his face; he looks so like ould Nick, I'm half afeard to take his money; the crass of Christ about us, I never seen such a face.
You're an honest boy at any rate, said Flora Guy, you brought us safe through the danger.
An' why wouldn't Iwhat else 'id I do? rejoined the countryman; it wasn't for to sell you I was goin'.
You have earned my gratitude for ever, said Mary Ashwoode; my thanks, my prayers; you have saved me; your generosity, and humanity, and pity, have delivered me from the deadliest peril that ever yet overtook living creature. God bless you for it.
She removed a ring from her finger, and added Take this; nay, do not refuse so poor an acknowledgment for services inestimable.
No, miss, no, rejoined the countryman, warmly, I'll not take it; I'll not have it; do you think I could do anything else but what I did, and you putting yourself into my hands the way you did, and trusting to me, and laving yourselves in my power intirely? I'm not a Turk, nor an unnatural Jew; may the devil have me, body and soul, the hour I take money, or money's worth, for doin' the like.
Seeing the man thus resolved, she forbore to irritate him by further pressing the jewel on his acceptance, and he, probably to put an end to the controversy, began to shake and chuck the rope halter with extraordinary vehemence, and at the same time with the heel of his brogue, to stimulate the lagging jade, accompanying the application with a sustained hissing; the combined effect of all which was to cause the animal to break into a kind of hobbling canter; and so they rumbled and clattered over the stony road, until at length their charioteer checked the progress of his vehicle before the hospitable door-way of The Bleeding Horse the little inn to which, in the commencement of these records, we have already introduced the reader.
Hould that, if you plase, said he, placing the end of the halter in Flora Guy's hand, an' don't let him loose, or he'll be makin' for the grass and have you upset in the ditch. I'll not be a minute in here; and maybe the young lady and yourself 'id take a drop of something; the evenin's mighty chill entirely.
They both, of course, declined the hospitable proposal, and their conductor, leaving them on the cart, entered the little hostelry; outside the door were two or three cars and horses, whose owners were boosing within; and feeling some return of confidence in the consciousness that they were in the neighbourhood of persons who could, and probably would, protect
p.306them, should occasion arise, Mary Ashwoode, with her light mantle drawn around her, and the hood over her head, sat along with her faithful companion, awaiting his return, under the embowering shadow of the old trees.
Flora, I am sorely perplexed; I know not whither to go when we have reached the city, said Mary, addressing her companion in a low tone. I have but one female relative residing in Dublin, and she would believe, and think, and do, just as any brother might wish to make her. Oh, woeful hour! that it should ever come to thisthat I should fear to trust another because she is my own brother's friend.
She had hardly ceased to speak when a small man, with his cocked hat set somewhat rakishly on one side, stepped forth from the little inn door; he had just lighted his pipe, and was inhaling its smoke with anxious attention lest the spark which he cherished should expire before the ignition of the weed became sufficiently general; his walk was therefore slow and interrupted; the top of his finger tenderly moved the kindling tobacco, and his two eyes squinted with intense absorption at the bowl of the pipe; by the time he had reached the back of the cart in which Mary Ashwoode and her attendant were seated, his labours were crowned by complete success, as was attested by the dense volumes of smoke which at regular intervals he puffed forth. He carried a cutting-whip under his arm, and was directing his steps toward a horse which, with its bridle thrown over a gate-post, was patiently awaiting his return. As he passed the rude vehicle in which the two fugitives were couched, he happened to pause for a moment, and Mary thought she recognized the figure before her as that of an old acquaintance.
Is that LarryLarry Toole? inquired she.
It's myself, sure enough, rejoined that identical personage; an' who are youa woman, to be sure, who else 'id be axin' for me?
Larry, don't you know me? said she.
Divil a taste, replied he. I only see you're a female av coorse, why wouldn't you, for, by the piper that played before Moses, I'm never out of one romance till I'm into another.
Larry, said she, lowering her voice, it is Miss Ashwoode who speaks to you.
Don't be funnin' me, can't you? rejoined Larry, rather pettishly. I've got enough iv the thricks iv women latterly; an' too much. I'm a raal marthyr to famale mineuvers; there's a bump on my head as big as a goose's egg, glory be to God! an' my bones is fairly aching with what I've gone through by raison iv confidin' myself to the mercy of women. Oh thunder
p.307I tell you, Larry, repeated Mary, I am, indeed, Miss Ashwoode.
No, but who are you, in earnest? urged Larry Toole; can't you put me out iv pain at wonst; upon my sowl I don't know you from Moses this blessed minute.
Well, Larry, although you cannot recognize my voice, said she, turning back her hood so as to reveal her pale features in the moonlight, you have not forgotten my face.
Oh, blessed hour! Miss Mary, exclaimed Larry, in unfeigned amazement, while he hurriedly thrust his pipe into his pocket, and respectfully doffed his hat.
Hush, hush, said Mary, with a gesture of caution. Put on your hat, too; I wish to escape observation; put it on, Larry; it is my wish.
Larry reluctantly complied.
Can you tell me where in town my uncle O'Leary is to be found? inquired she, eagerly.
Bedad, Miss Mary, he isn't in town at all, replied the man; they say he married a widdy lady about ten days ago; at any rate he's gone out of town more than a week; I didn't hear where.
I know not whither to turn for help or counsel, Flora, said she, despairingly, my best friend is gone.
Well, said Larrywho, though entirely ignorant of the exact nature of the young lady's fears, had yet quite sufficient shrewdness to perceive that she was, indeed, involved in some emergency of extraordinary difficulty and peril well, miss, maybe if you'd take a fool's advice for once, it might turn out best, said Larry. There's an ould gentleman that knows all about your family; he was out at the manor, and had a long discoorse, himself and Sir RichardGod rest hima short time before the ould masther died; the gentleman's name is Audley; and, though he never seen you but once, he wishes you well, and 'id go a long way to sarve you; an' above all, he's a raal rock iv sinse. I'm not bad myself, but, begorra, I'm nothin' but a fool beside him; now do you, Miss Mary, and the young girl that's along with you, jist come in here; you can have a snug little room to yourselves, and I'll go into town and have the ould gentleman out with you before you know what you're about, or where you are; he'll ax no more than the wind iv the word to bring him here in a brace iv shakes; and my name's not Larry if he don't give you suparior advice.
A slight thing determines a mind perplexed and desponding; and Mary Ashwoode, feeling that whatever objection might well be started against the plan proposed by Larry Toole, yet felt that, were it rejected, she had none better to follow in its stead; anything rather than run the risk of
p.308being placed again in her brother's keeping; there was no time for deliberation, and therefore she at once adopted the suggestion. Larry, accordingly, conducted them into the little inn, and consigned them to the care of a haggard, slovenly girl, who, upon a hint from that gentleman, conducted them to a little chamber, up a flight of stairs, looking out upon the back yard, where, with a candle and a scanty fire, she left the two anxious fugitives; and, as she descended, they heard the clank of the iron shoes, as Larry spurred his horse into a hard gallop, speeding like the wind upon his mission.
The receding sounds of his rapid progress had, however, hardly ceased to be heard, when the fears and anxieties which had been for a moment forgotten, returned with heavier pressure upon the poor girl's heart, and she every moment expected to hear the dreaded voices of her pursuers in the passage beneath, or to see their faces entering at the door. Thus restlessly and fearfully she awaited the return of her courier.