« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
“Not to my mind," retorted St. Edmunds, enforcing his opinion by a thrust of his arm, which sent his antagonist staggering some way back upon those behind him.
This little episode produced a momentary diversion, which enabled the Reverend Father to reach the outskirts of the crowd, from whence he could set spurs to his horse without betraying any inordinate precipitation : but when thus foiled in their foremost purpose, the assailants vented their disappointment upon those who had been instrumental to it, and groans, imprecations, and menaces were re-echoed on all sides. In vain did Waddinghead, now aided by some of Sir Charles's labourers and retainers, attempt to explain to the excited strangers the real station and character of the objects of their resentment: all expostulation was useless and indeed unintelligible among the reiterated shouts of :-"Down with the bloody Papists,”-“ Give the death-bed robbers a good ducking !”—and so forth.
We have stated above that our hero was constitutionally averse to seeking out danger, but it was still less in his nature to shun it, when it crossed his path. The stout heart of
his forefathers, which had won their hereditary honours on many a listed field, beat no less freely within him, and if he had shown himself somewhat appalled shortly before at the sight of poor Mabel's impotent death-struggles, his spirit now rose with all the congenial emergency of the conflict. It was not so with Cécile: the hostile cries, the angry countenances, each portentous sign of a contest, in which she could take no part, but which might prove so fatal to others, struck with fearful coldness upon her gentle heart, and when St. Edmunds again joined her, he could well see that her fortitude was fast giving way.
“What are we to do ?” muttered she faintly.
“Do, Miss Basinstoke ?” replied he. “In the first and foremost place, do not be alarmed ; and in the next, do not show the slightest symptom of hesitation or concession. If we move forward at once, they will soon fall back; pray accept my arm and fear nothing.”
This prognostication of the over-confident Viscount was not borne out, for, ere they had advanced many steps, their progress was rudely intercepted by his former antagonist.
“You had better stand back," cried St. Edmunds.
“You had better," was the insolent retort; “I'm a match for you, I should hope.”
This sentiment was at once corroborated by a fresh shout from the bystanders, and by a discharge of stones from the outer circle, one of which struck the keeper on the face.
“You had better take care, my masters, upon my word you had,” exclaimed Waddinghead, raising the gun which the young Lord had handed over to him when the shooting was over. “I have two loaded barrels for you here.”
“By Jove! I had forgotten that,” said St. Edmunds; "that would be no joke, indeed. Show me that gun, Waddinghead.”
The assailants drew back not a little, when they saw the murderous weapon in the hands of their foremost opponent; but they were entirely mistaken as to his purpose, for, after having whispered to Cécile not to be alarmed at the mere report, he dropped her arm for a moment, and then deliberately discharged the two barrels into the air.
“ That will do now, Waddinghead," added
he, returning the gun : "you can use the buttend, if required, as some of these rascals have sticks; and now let us move on."
Though the evening had been a remarkably clear one for the time of year, the shades of twilight were already so darkened, as to render St. Edmund's chivalrous action discernible to those alone who were in his immediate neighbourhood. Thus it was, that while the latter freely responded to the spirit in which it was performed, many of those who were further away, misled by the ominous sound, as well as by the cries of many of the women who, no less sincerely, conceived themselves to be seriously wounded, grew more vociferous than ever for contention and revenge. They pressed furiously forward and, in a moment more, the scuffle began in right earnest. The accession of strength which the party from the Hall had of late received, rendered the contest far less unequal than it would originally have been. Still, it required no small degree of determination on their part to keep the aggressors at bay, and our hero was constrained himself to use his heavy loading-rod very liberally to protect the trembling Cécile from personal molestation.
How much longer the struggle could have continued, we will not undertake to say, but fortunately a diversion was most opportunely offered by the sudden arrival, on the adjoining road, of a barouche and four, from which was seen to issue an elderly gentleman, who was at once pronounced to be a magistrate. This popular surmise turned out to be unusually correct, for the new comer was no other than our esteemed friend Sir Charles Basinstoke himself, who, on his return from Glanford, had been arrested, first, by the report, then by the appearance, of a serious breach of the peace. The person of the worthy Baronet was known to some among the crowd, to whom those of St. Edmunds and Cécile were not equally familiar ; with others, the aristocratic sentiment, which so happily pervades all classes in England, was most favourably impressed by the aspect of the equipage ; and thus it was that, not without some dissenting voices, Sir Charles was generally accepted as a mediator.
“What is it, my boys, what is it? How did it begin ?” exclaimed he, as he made his way towards the centre of the animated assemblage,