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NEW MONTHLY MAGAZINE,
HILARY ST. IVES.
BY WILLIAM HARRISON AINSWORTH.
Book the first.
LOST ON A HEATH.
ONE evening, at the latter end of April, a few years ago, just as it was becoming dusk, a young man, extremely well favoured and well proportioned, took his way on foot across an extensive heath in one of our southern counties.
Hilary St. Ives-for so was he named-might be about one or two and twenty. Rather dark, perhaps, but strikingly handsome. Features regular and well cut; complexion olive; locks jet black; eyes dark and shaded by long eyelashes that tempered their fire; beard black and of a silken texture. Altogether, as fine a young man as you could desire to see. A Tweed walking suit and round felt hat constituted his costume. Across his broad shoulders were strapped a knapsack and a waterproof coat, and he carried a stout stick in his hand.
Our young traveller was bound for the village of Wootton, which was situated at the further side of the heath, where he had learnt there was a good inn, at which he proposed to rest for the night. He had walked far that day, and having dined early and somewhat sparingly, was quite ready for supper. In fact, the keen air and exercise made him feel ravenously hungry.
As far as he could judge-for he was a stranger to the country -three miles still lay between him and the desired haven. Nothing to so stout a pedestrian as he. But if the distance could be shortened so much the better. He would be sooner at the inn, and supper would be sooner set before him.
*All rights reserved. Feb.-VOL. CXLIV. NO. DLXXVIII.
After looking in the direction where he supposed Wootton lay, and studying, as far as he was able, the intervening ground, he came to the conclusion that a considerable angle might be cut off by quitting the high road, and crossing the heath as a crow would wing its flight over it. All very well in the day-time, but the shades of night were gathering rapidly, and the gloom was increased by a mist that arose from an adjacent marsh.
Hilary, however, had no misgivings-no idea of the risk he might run. He was not aware that between him and Wootton lay a deep and dangerous morass, which could only be safely traversed by one familiar with the locality.
Wootton Heath, though partially reclaimed, still comprehended many miles of wholly uncultivated land. Being undrained, some portions of the waste were marshy, and about half a mile to the left of the road, along which our young traveller was wending his way, lay the extensive morass to which we have just adverted.
On the other side the heath was less swampy, and being covered by a short thymy turf, was well adapted to sheep pasture. When enlivened by sunshine, the wide expanse, purpled by heather, embellished by fern and clusters of tall gorse, with here and there a grey old thorn or a holly, presented a charming picture. The limits of the heath were marked on the right by a broad belt of firs overtopped by the white spire of a newly built church. On the left the boundary was undefined, the village of Wootton being invisible. Three or four little knolls or hillocks rising in the midst of the waste were crowned with clumps of pines, and contributed to the beauty of the landscape.
Before quitting the high road Hilary looked around in quest of some one to direct him to Wootton. Not a human being was in sight. Not a sound was heard, except the bleating of sheep and the distant barking of a watch-dog. The heath was perfectly solitary. However, our young traveller did not hesitate; but striking off on the left, where, as we have explained, the danger lay, he speeded over the elastic turf.
In this manner he had soon accomplished nearly half a mile, without encountering any obstacle, except such as was presented by clumps of gorse, intermingled with briers, and was congratu lating himself on his cleverness, when the swampy nature of the ground brought him to a sudden stand-still.
Not a minute too soon. Had he taken many steps farther, he would have been engulphed in the treacherous morass. He understood his danger, and perceiving that the quagmire must be impassable, and not liking to skirt it, he turned back, as much provoked with himself as he had previously been well satisfied.
He endeavoured to regain the high road, which he had so imprudently quitted, but bewildered by the gloom-for it was now
quite dark-he failed in discovering it, and after wandering about for nearly half an hour, again found himself on the verge of the morass.
This was indeed vexatious. But confident that by pursuing a straight course he must eventually reach the road, he turned back at once. Unluckily, his course was not straight. Without being aware of it, he deviated from the direct line, and to his infinite surprise and mortification, found himself, for the third time, on the borders of the morass.
He was now quite confounded, and began to think he must be condemned to move in a magic circle.
Another half hour found him only more hopelessly involved. By no efforts could he discover the road, though he appeared to have no difficulty in finding the morass. Uneasy thoughts beset him. He shuddered at the idea of passing the night on the dark and dreary heath. But he soon took heart. Though constantly baffled, he would not succumb, until forced to do so by sheer exhaustion.
Vainly did he attempt to extricate himself from the magic circle. As surely as he went on, so surely did he come back to the inevitable point. At last, he was brought to a halt. Carefully as he proceeded, he contrived to roll down a hollow, and when he recovered from the fall he sat down on the brink of the pit to reflect; the bitterness of his reflections being aggravated by the tantalising picture summoned up by his fancy of the snug parlour at the inn, with the hot supper in preparation.
Heavens! how hungry he felt. Springing to his feet he set off again, but presently got entangled in a thick cluster of
But help was now at hand. While he was struggling out of the gorse, voices reached his ears, and he instantly hastened in the direction whence the sounds proceeded, shouting lustily as he
Instead of responding to his outcries, the interlocutors became suddenly mute, and the darkness did not permit him to distinguish them.
After a moment's pause, he called out again. This time, a gruff voice demanded who he was, and what he wanted? Hilary replied that he was a traveller, who had lost his way on the heath, and pressing on as he spoke, soon descried two sturdylooking vagabonds, who were standing in a more open spot, tranquilly awaiting his approach. The fellows were roughly clad, and had the appearance of gipsies, and their looks and deportment inspired Hilary with distrust. On their part, the gipsies eyed him narrowly.
As he came up, the surly fellow who had first addressed him,
asked if he wanted to be smothered in the bog, that he ventured near it on so dark a night.
"I have no such desire," replied Hilary. "Like a fool I must needs quit the high road, and I have paid the penalty for my folly by being kept wandering about on the brink of the marsh for two hours at least."
"Ho! ho!" laughed the gipsy. "Pleasant pastime on a dark night. You may thank your stars it's no worse. It's easier to get into a bog than to get out of it, as many a poor devil has found to his cost."
"I want to go to Wootton!" cried Hilary, who did not like this jesting; "will you show me the way?"
"The nearest way lies straight on," said the man.
"Why that will take me to the marsh!" cried Hilary.
"To be sure it will!" exclaimed the other gipsy, with a coarse laugh. "Seth Cooper is gammoning you. You must go round about, if you want to get safely to Wootton."
"Why need you trouble yourself about him, Reuben!" cried Seth Cooper. What is it to you if he should be drownded." "Not much, certainly. Still”
"Will half a crown tempt you to show me the road?" interrupted Hilary.
I should say not," returned Seth Cooper. "Do you rate your life at only half a crown's valley ?"
"Make it half a crown a-piece," quoth Reuben, who seemed of milder mood than his companion, "and we'll consider about it." "Well," cried the young man, "put me in the right way to Wootton, and you shall have what you ask."
"Money down, or we don't budge," cried Seth Cooper. "No," rejoined Hilary, in a determined tone. "Bring me to the high road, and I'll pay you. But not a stiver till then."
Seth made some growling observations, but his companion signified his assent to the young man's proposal, and the pair at once moved off, bearing towards the right. Hilary, who had now quite recovered his energies, followed them.
After trudging along in silence for a few minutes, Reuben hung back, and in a more civil tone than he had previously adopted, inquired of Hilary if he had travelled far that day?
"Farther than you would like to travel on foot, I reckon," replied the young man.
"Then you must have had a long tramp," returned Reuben, laughing. Many's the time I've done my forty miles, and been none the worse for it."
"But you warn't incommoded with a heavy knapsack," remarked Seth Cooper, turning round. "Why don't you offer to it for the gemman?"
"Come, no nonsense!" cried Hilary, sternly. "Leave my knapsack alone. You'd best."
"Why, what's the matter?" rejoined Seth. "Do you think we want to rob you-eh?"
"You would find it no easy job if you made the attempt. Move on, I say, and keep well in front."
But instead of complying, both men stopped.
"It seems you don't like our company, master," remarked Reuben. "That being the case, you'd better go on alone."
"You made a bargain with me, and I expect you to fulfil your part of it, as I mean to fulfil mine," said Hilary, in a bold, authoritative tone. "I insist upon your conducting me to the high road."
"First tell us what you've got in that ere knapsack,” remarked Seth. "We should like to know."
"Would you? Then I don't intend to gratify your curiosity. I would fain believe you to be honest men."
"Why, what else do you take us for?" cried Seth, fiercely. "Out with it. Let's know your mind."
His manner clearly intimated violence, but his comrade dragged him off, and they went on as before. The high road was not far distant, and on reaching it, they both faced about.
"That's the way to Wootton," said Reuben. "We'll now wish you good night."
"Not afore he has settled with us," cried Seth.
While Hilary was searching for the money, Seth rushed suddenly upon him, and seizing him by the throat, with a choking gripe, bore him to the ground. Hilary struggled desperately, and would have freed himself, if Reuben had not come to his comrade's assistance.
Seth then possessed himself of the stick, and beat the luckless young man with it about the head till he rendered him insensible.
The two ruffians next proceeded to despoil their victim, took off his knapsack, and were proceeding to empty his pockets and pluck the guard-chain from his neck, when the noise of wheels alarmed them.
A dog-cart was coming on at a quick pace, and its lamp, together with the light of the cigars they were smoking, showed there were two persons in the vehicle. These persons appeared to be known to Reuben, for he remarked to his comrade, who was still kneeling upon his victim's chest,
"It's old Radcliffe, of Hazlemere, and his nevey, young Oswald Woodcot. We must be off. But first let us drag the poor devil out of the road. He'll be run over."
"Never mind if he is," rejoined Seth Cooper. "If I'd had my own way, we should have done the job where we met him, and