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Hubert, throw thine eye
And I will keep him so,
King John Death.
My lord ?
He shall not live.
KING JOHN, Act III., Scene 3.
The singular—the apparently improbable circumstances which form the basis of the ensuing narrative, occurred about fifty years ago. I am not aware of their having been till now brought before the public eye in any other shape than a brief and naked contemporaneous report. I am a curious man, and somewhat successful in hunting after such matters ; but the following are the fruits of a discovery made a few years ago by mere accident. One or two cases are on record, in the criminal annals of this and other countries, in which similar motives induced nearly similar conduct—but infinitely less systematic, mysterious, and atrocious, than what I am at present about to develop.
Shrewsbury clock was tolling twelve, on a fine frosty moonlight night, ushering in the Christmas of 1760, as a wagoner, with a snow-white smock-frock on, and a half-emptied jug of ale in his hand, sallied out of the Hunting Horn inn-one of the chiefest in
Shrewsbury. His wagon' was standing before the door, the covering incrusted with hoar frost, and a noble team of horses attached to the well-laden vehicle were refreshing themselves with hay and water, quietly submitting, the while, to the sibilatory civilities of the hostler. The wagoner watched them with complacency, as he drained his jug; and then lifting up his smock, he extracted a few halfpence from his pocket, and gave them to the hostler.
“ And do you go into the tap, hostler," said he, " and see whether these two partners o' mine are a stirring themselves. Hang me, an I don't think they would sit there till this time to-morrow !" interrupted by a shout of boisterous laughter from the taproom. “I say—within there ! Bill ! Thomas !" cried the wagoner, returning to the room he had just quitted, “what be ye doing in there sotting? Come, come!
ye know as well as l 'tis starting time! Do you hear ? it has just struck twelve by the church clock." “ Then 'tis to-morrow,” quoth one of the wags he was addressing.
“ Come, come, now!" continued the wagoner ;“we've a weary week's drive before us—and you know it as well as I! Are ye moving, eh ?" “Aha, Dick ! isn't this Christmas morning ? Come ! don't ye be sulking on the beginning of this blessed day; but sit ye down a little longer, and drink a merry Christmas to one another !” “No, I won't,” replied the wagoner, resolutely.
“Well, then-an ye must start, do ye drive the wagon slowly-and we'll both be after you before you reach the Baker's Pond. There's some ale a spicing for us, Dick," replied Thomas, smacking his lips enticingly. “No, no, I know my duty-and I'm off," grumbled the wagoner, quitting the room.
He went out, cast his careful eye over the trim of his horses, and had just reached down his whip from the wagon head, when one of his companions touched him upon the elbow, and proffered him a cup of warm spicescented ale. "Come, Dick-come, drink it off," said Bill, coaxingly—a good-natured lad of one or two and twenty, that could say fair things as well as many of his betters; “ come, you won't refuse to drink us a merry Christmas ? This ale is special, man! Won't ye drive on slowly for half an hour, or so--and we'll be with you, as sure as death, by when you reach the Baker's Pond? Come, come, Dick-we'll do, maybe, . more for you at a pinch !" The good-natured wagoner was not proof against fair words and spiced ale. He yielded, took the cup, drained it in a twinkling, shook Bill heartily by the hand, wished him a merry Christmas, and added, “Now don't ye be long a following; for drive slow as I will, you'll have two or three miles to run for it, I know !"
“We'll look to that, Dick-good-by," replied Bill, hurrying inward, while Dick betook himself to his horses' heads, cracked and smacked his whip; his horses pricked up their ears, and away they went.
The ponderous wagon rumbled heavily over the stones of silent Shrewsbury, accompanied by the clattering of sixteen pair of horses' hoofs, and the occasional “Gee-o-a-whoop! Come up! On, Smiler !” of the driver, who was soon out of sight of the jovial Hunting Horn, and fairly started on the broad London road. He walked slowly by the horses' heads for some time, whistling and humming to himself, and every three or four minutes turning back his head towards Shrewsbury, to see whether his companions were yet on the road. He had proceeded, however, very slowest
pace, for more than an hour, without their appearing.
“Now, this is unkind,” quoth the wagoner to himself, as he trudged along; “but did I not say it would be so ? Here are Bill and Tom sitting snugly by the fire-drinking till they be drunken! What shall I do? I must go on! Lord, Lord, how bitter cold it is !" He laid his whip across the shafts of the wagon, and stood still, slapping his hands against his sides for
warmth. By the time he had done, his wagon had proceeded thirty or forty paces ahead of him. Just as he was overtaking it, he passed a milestone ; and, with alarm and surprise, caught a glimpse of the figure of a brawny sailor-looking man, sitting beside it, with a little basket by his side.
“Good-morning! A merry Christmas to you, Master Wagoner! How are you, eh ?" inquired the stranger. “ Pretty well, but desperate late-desperate !" replied the flurried wagoner, passing by the speaker.
“Stop, just stop a minute,” said he : “ have you got anybody in your wagon? Can you make room for me; eh ?”
Lord, sir, no, I'se got three men sleeping there already," replied the poor fellow, his heart beating fast-thinking he had hit upon a good device for terrifying one whom he took to be a highwayman. “ They're all soldiers-all three of them; and I'm giving them a lift for ten miles or so. They've all got their muskets."
"Eh! What? soldiers, did you say?" inquired the man, evidently disconcerted. May I die if I haven't !" replied the wagoner, stoutly.
" What the brings soldiers into these parts, eh ?” “Lord, sir, I don't know. You had better ask them, for they're calling to me. Good-morrowgood-morrow, sir," said the wagoner, and running up to his wagon, he affected to be walking in conversation with some one inside of it. He was very much alarmed at the slight accident just recounted, and was growing more and more uneasy at the prolonged absence of his companions. His head was filled with fears of murder and robbery. Could he doubt that the person he had been speaking to was a highwayman? Often did he look over his shoulder, to see whether the man who had addressed him was following ; but he saw nothing moving on the long line of high road he had passed, and his fears began to abate.
It was now not far from two o'clock, and the morning continued bright and frosty. Like the eye of