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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesJohn Deane Of Nottingham: Historic Adventures By Land And Sea - Chapter 14. Adventures At The Hagg
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John Deane Of Nottingham: Historic Adventures By Land And Sea - Chapter 14. Adventures At The Hagg Post by :Zoderami Category :Long Stories Author :William H. G. Kingston Date :May 2012 Read :2673

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John Deane Of Nottingham: Historic Adventures By Land And Sea - Chapter 14. Adventures At The Hagg

"There is ne'er use fashing yourself, my young friend, about the matter," observed Pearson, in his usual unconcerned manner, "many as pretty a man as yourself has been in a far worse difficulty, and my advice now to you is to make the best of it. I could hide you away among the mountains in the north, where, should every man in Dutch William's army be sent out on the search, they could not find you; but, I'm thinking, a lad of your spirit would not be altogether satisfied with that sort of life. Better far come with me south. There will soon be work for you to do in that quarter, such as will be more suitable to your taste, I'm thinking, than following at the heels of a drove of bullocks. I own a dairy-farm in the fens of Lincolnshire, where I have a wife and daughter, and am known as a steady, quiet-going farmer, who, may be, has a little better notion about horse-flesh than his neighbours, and bestrides occasionally a fleeter steed than most of them. No one would think of looking for me there, nor will they for you, or, if they did, it would be no easy job to find us. For that matter, indeed (your vanity will not be offended, I hope, when I say it), your countenance has so little remarkable about it, and so few people know you, that you might safely go to London without the slightest risk of detection. You should understand that some friends of ours may ask you to undertake a commission of importance in the metropolis, and I would advise you not to refuse it. All your expenses will be paid; and if you prove trustworthy and discreet, it will lead to your further advantage."

"You have proposed so much to me, Master Pearson, that I am rather confused, and must think a little before I reply," answered Jack. "You tell me that information has been laid against me for delivering treasonable letters between persons desirous of overturning the present order of things and of restoring King James to the throne, and that if I am not very careful I shall be taken and imprisoned, and perhaps hung. Now, even though I have really been accused, as you have heard, of treason, I am sure that I can have no difficulty in proving my innocence. I was not aware of the contents of the letters I delivered, and have certainly no wish to overturn the present Government."

"Very possibly, my young friend," remarked Pearson; "but it will avail you nothing to say that you did not know the contents of the letters, or that you did not do this or that. You must confess to having delivered the letters, and you cannot prove that you did not know their contents and are not anxious to support the cause they advocate. Judges and juries require proofs of a man's innocence. Can you give proofs of yours? that is the question, Master Deane. Besides, let me ask you, suppose a certain young lady, who shall be nameless, were to promise you the best reward she can bestow, if you will join heart and hand in the cause her father supports, what reply would you make--eh, my lad?"

"You seem to know every thing, Master Pearson!" exclaimed Jack, somewhat annoyed at his companion's familiarity, and not wishing to give a direct answer. "With regard to the probability of my being unable to prove my innocence of the accusations which may be brought against me, I acknowledge that you are right; but with respect to other matters, it is no man's business to interfere."

"Of course, Master John Deane, you are the best judge in your own affairs. I gave you but the advice of a friend," answered Pearson: "what motive can I have to speak otherwise? But again let me remind you, that if you venture within the lion's jaws it will be no easy matter to get you out again. Be wise, then, put yourself under my guidance, and you will be safe. Go your own gait, and you will find yourself shut up in prison, or, maybe, run your head into the noose. However, an obstinate man is not to be persuaded."

"But I am not an obstinate man," said Jack; "I believe that your advice is kindly intended, and I beg that you will understand I do not reject it. I only ask time to think over the matter, that I may decide what course I should pursue."

It was not without a considerable amount of vexation and disappointment that Deane found himself galloping away to the south, instead of proceeding, as he had hoped, over the border into Scotland. He felt some doubt, also, as to whether he had acted wisely in confiding so completely to Pearson; and he also regretted having allowed himself to be made a tool, as it appeared too evident that he had been, of the Jacobite party. Still he did not blame Mr Harwood, and thought that probably some of the other gentlemen whom he had visited were the cause of the accusation being brought against him. Though Pearson pressed him to proceed south, he did not object to the proposal Jack made of visiting Harwood Grange on his way.

"It is the best thing you can do," he observed. "You can then in person deliver the letters you have received, and he may better be able to explain matters to you than I am, and he will also advise what steps to take that you may clear yourself from the accusation which has been brought against you."

Jack's heart beat at the thought of the proposed visit. The inconvenience and disappointment which he had gone through, seemed as nothing when he contemplated again seeing Alethea. It did not occur to him that he was rushing into a trap in which he was very likely to lose his liberty altogether. They had proceeded about forty or fifty miles to the south, when a horseman was seen approaching them. He drew up as he reached Pearson, and exchanged greetings with him. He then turning round, and allowing Jack to go on out of ear-shot, the two rode alongside each other. In the course of ten minutes or so they again overtook Jack.

"Mr Deane," said Pearson, "I have fortunately met a friend who knows the country well, and will prove a good guide to you. He is willing to return south, that I may ride to the north and make the arrangements which you were to have done with our friend Jock McKillock, for the purchase of the cattle. There is no time to be lost, and I assure you that you may trust my friend as you would me."

Without any further remark, Pearson shook Jack by the hand, and, wheeling round his horse, galloped away to the north, while the stranger rode on alongside Jack. As Jack glanced at his companion, it struck him that he had seen him before, but where, or under what circumstances, he in vain attempted to discover. He was a strongly-built, active-looking man, considerably younger than Pearson, with a determined look and expression in his countenance which Jack did not altogether like. He did not seem either much inclined for conversation, and answered briefly all the questions which Deane put to him.

"I think we have met before," said Jack.

"It's very likely," was the reply; "but you have the advantage of me, if you know where it was, for I see so many people in the course of a day, that it would be a difficult matter for me to recollect those I have met once in a way. I will give you a useful piece of advice, however: remember, the fewer questions you ask, the less likely you will be to have falsehoods told you. You have a long ride before you, and you will be wiser if you save your breath, instead of wasting it in talking."

It is hopeless to enter into conversation with one who is determined not to speak. Jack found this to be the case, his companion generally only answering in monosyllables to all the remarks he made.

When, at length, they stopped at nightfall at a farm-house, similar to those which Pearson had selected on their way north, his companion pursued the same system, exchanging only a few words with the people of the house, and scarcely speaking to him all the evening. As Pearson had done, he visited the stables several times to see that the horses were well cared for, evidently considering it as important as did his friend, that they should be in a fit condition for a hard gallop. They travelled, indeed, a couple of days before Jack discovered the name of his companion. He at length heard him spoken to as Master Burdale.

"Yes, that's my name," he said, when Jack addressed him as such; "I am known here and elsewhere as Ned Burdale, at your service."

Jack at last became heartily tired of his companion's society: at the same time he had to confess to himself that there was nothing particularly with which he could find fault about the man, except his sulky silence. With great satisfaction Deane at length caught sight of the well-remembered patches of woodland scenery by which he knew that he was once more within the ancient boundaries of Sherwood Forest. He now, for the first time, told Ned Burdale of his intention of visiting Harwood Grange.

"My directions were to conduct you to Master Pearson's farm in the fens," said his companion. "I cannot be answerable for your safety if you part company from me."

"I have no desire to do so," said Jack; "but if you will accompany me to the Grange, as soon as I have delivered my message to Mr Harwood, I shall be ready to set forward to the place you speak of."

"Remember, then, it's at your own risk," said his companion. "I have my reasons for not wishing to go there myself, but I will wait for you at a farm which we shall reach in a couple of hours, and from thence you can ride over to the Grange. I would advise you to go there in the evening, to avoid being seen by the people in the neighbourhood. We can send a messenger on before to the Squire, that he may be on the watch for you. Take my advice: don't allow a bright eye and a rosy cheek to detain you there longer than is necessary."

Jack, being unable to suggest any better arrangement, was compelled to be contented with his companion's proposal.

Putting spurs to their horses, they galloped on through the forest. Now they had to pass several miles of cleared country; then again they came to more forest-land. Now they passed over a wild piece of heath; then through dingle and dale, and thick copses, and along the banks of a stream, avoiding the high-road as much as possible, and making their way wherever they could across the country. At length they entered a thicker part of the forest than any they had hitherto passed through.

"We shall soon be at the farm," observed Burdale. "We will take a day's rest then for the sake of our steeds; for though at a push they would have gone twice as far without knocking up, it's as well to give them a holiday where it can be done."

At length a grey-stone tower, with a building attached to it, round which ran a broad balcony, appeared in sight. It had evidently been a hunting-lodge in olden times, and from the balcony ladies fair used to shoot with cross-bow, or, perhaps, in later times with fire-arms, at the deer as they were driven past. An old man and woman, apparently as old as the building itself, came forth at the sound of the horses' hoofs. They looked somewhat askance at Jack, but welcomed Burdale as an acquaintance.

"You can give us shelter for the night, Master Rymer, I hope," he said, jumping from his horse. "Here, I will help look after the steeds, while your dame shows my companion the way into your house."

The old couple continued to cast somewhat doubtful glances at Jack.

"Have no fear," said Burdale; "he is of the right sort, and no risk of his peaching, even if he did find out any thing he should not know."

With this assurance, as soon as Jack dismounted, the old man took his horse, and accompanied Burdale round the tower to the stables. The dame, meantime, beckoned to Jack to follow her. A flight of dilapidated stone steps led them up to the entrance-hall, which occupied the whole of one floor of the tower. A rough stair led to another floor above it; and Jack observed the top of a flight of steps of more pretensions, descending apparently to chambers below.

"Sit down, young sir," said the dame, pointing to an old oak chair. "Thou wilt be hungry after thy long ride; and I will prepare a steak for you and Ned Burdale."

The view from the window of the tower was confined on all sides by the forest, through which, however, here and there glades opened out for some distance, up which, in former days, the deer were accustomed to sweep by, and afford an opportunity to fair dames and lords to exercise their skill with their fowling-pieces. Already the sun was sinking beneath the tops of the trees; and Jack began to fear that he should not have time to reach Harwood Grange before the night altogether closed in. He waited impatiently, therefore, for the return of Burdale, purposing to set off immediately his horse should have had its food and enjoyed a short rest. His companion, however, was longer than he expected, and by the time he arrived the meal prepared by the old dame was almost ready.

"Take my advice," said Burdale: "remain here quietly to-night, and to-morrow you will be able to visit the Grange, and give our horses sufficient time to rest, that we may continue our journey into Lincolnshire. The distance from this to the Grange is far greater than you suppose: you could not reach it till an hour or more after dark, and you would scarcely be able to find your way back through the forest by yourself."

Unwilling as Jack was to give up his purpose of paying a visit to his friends that evening, he was compelled to comply with his companion's wishes, for Burdale gave him to understand very clearly that he had no intention of accompanying him. A substantial meal of venison-steaks, wheaten bread, and oaten cakes, to which Jack was nothing loath to do ample justice, was soon placed on the table.

"Come, Master Rymer, you can find us a flagon of wine, too, and of the best, I know that," said Burdale. "Come, man, rummage out your stores, you used not to be niggard of your liquor."

The old man, after some hesitation, pretended or real, took a bunch of keys, and descended the stairs to the chamber beneath the hall. He soon returned with a flagon of wine, which his guests pronounced to be excellent. Burdale drank freely himself, and pressed Jack to imitate his example. Being generally temperate, Jack found at length that he had taken more wine than was his wont, and began to feel an unusual drowsiness stealing over him. The old couple kept up a conversation with Ned Burdale, seemingly somewhat indifferent of Jack's presence. Now and then they addressed him.

"You belong to these parts, do you?" asked the old man, fixing his keen glance on Jack.

"I was born and bred in Nottingham," answered Jack.

"And never been out here at the Hagg before?"

"No," said Jack, "I never heard of the place before."

"Well, to be sure it's a good long distance from the town, and away from all high-roads. You would have a hard job to find it, even if you were looking for it, I suspect."

"You have a bold heart, I hope," said the old woman, "for those who spend a night in this house require one."

"I am not much given to be afraid," answered Jack, laughing; "but what makes you say that?"

"Why, for a good reason: because the old tower is haunted. We didn't like it when we first came here, but we've got accustomed to it. There was an old family lived here in the time of Charles, the king whose head was cut off, when all the men of the family lost their lives in the Civil Wars, and the ladies died of broken hearts, or something of that sort. At all events, the old tower was left deserted, and for many years no one came to live in it. At length, one family came to try and see how it would suit them, but they very soon gave up; and then another and another rented the farm, and tried to stop in the tower, but they could not stand the sights they saw, or the sounds they heard, and threw it up, one after the other. At last my good man and I came here. We were told before what we were to expect, and so we made up our minds for the worst. Well, the very first night we came, as we were sitting here at supper, just as we may be now, we heard the ghosts of the family to whom the tower had belonged all talking away below us. Sometimes it was an old man's voice, then a young girl's, and then the voice of a strong man of middle age, and then a youth, maybe, like yourself, and young children. It was curious to hear them go on in that way. We could not make out what they said exactly, but there was a change in the tone of their voices, just as clearly as if they had been in the room with us. As to sights, I cannot say that we saw any thing; and I'm not ashamed to confess it, neither my good man nor I felt inclined to go into the chamber below, to have a look at the ghosts. They went on talking for some hours, till we heard them scuffling off to bed, so it seemed, and we therefore followed their example. This went on, as I say, night after night. I need not tell you what we saw when we did see any thing, but I will just advise you to be prepared, should you hear any strange noises; and provided you don't go and interfere with the ghosts, depend upon it they will let you alone."

"Thank you," answered Jack, "for the advice. I never yet have met a ghost, though maybe I shall some day, and if I do I intend to treat it with all due respect."

"You had better treat the ghosts here in that way," observed Burdale, with a peculiar glance at Jack; "I have heard of them before, and I am sure they would not like any one to interfere with them."

"Oh, yes," said the old woman, "we have ghosts inside the house and out of it too. Did you mark that big old oak, as you rode up to the door? They say there's a ghost lives inside it, of some man who was murdered under its branches years gone by. How he do groan at night sometimes! It has been the same ever since we came here. At first I could not sleep for listening to him, and thinking what a pain he was in: just like the pains of souls in purgatory." This remark made Jack suspect that his hosts were Romanists.

He could hear very little more about the ghost in the old oak, but he promised next morning to examine the tree, and ascertain in which part of it the spirit resided.

"You had better let he alone," observed the old man; "these sort of gentry don't like anybody to come and pry after them. That's what I think; and so I have let them alone, and he has never come to do me any harm."

The guide and the two old people talked on for a considerable time; but gradually to Jack's ears their voices grew less and less distinct, till his head dropped on the table, and he fell fast asleep. How long he had been asleep he could not tell, but when he awoke he found himself stretched on a pile of straw in a corner of the great hall, so it appeared to him, but no light was burning, and it was with difficulty he could distinguish objects by means of the streaks of moonlight which came through the chinks of the shutters. He had not been many minutes awake before he heard voices. They were certainly not those of the old people or of Burdale, and they appeared to come from below him. He listened attentively. He had no doubt that they were human voices he heard; in earnest conversation, too. Now high, now low; now the voice was that of a strong, hale man; now that of one shaking with age; now of a bold, eager youth; now several seemed to be speaking together. The tales he had heard that night recurred to his mind. Could it be possible that these were the spirits of the departed owners of the Hagg? Again he listened, to assure himself that he had not been misled by fancy. He sat up and rubbed his eyes--still the voices reached his ears. He was constitutionally brave.

"I will not be mocked by real ghosts or pretended spirits," he said to himself, springing to his feet.

He felt for his weapons. His pistols were in his belt and his knife was by his side. He looked about him, and ascertained the position of the doors in the room.

"I can find my way to the top of the stairs which I saw led down into the vaults below," he said to himself, "and I can easily grope my way down-stairs, and find out what these ghosts really are."

To think was to act with him. The moonlight enabled him to find his way with greater ease even than he had expected, and on reaching the top of the stairs he was more sure than ever that people were talking below. Holding a pistol in one hand, he felt his way with the other, descending the stone steps, careful to make his footing sure before he advanced again. He thus, without breaking his neck, reached the bottom, when not only did he hear the voices more distinctly and catch many of the words which were spoken, but he saw a bright light shining through a chink of a door before him. He approached the door in the hope of being able to see through the chink, but this he found was impossible. As, however, he was pressing against the door, it flew open, and what was his amazement to see between two and three dozen people, either sitting or standing round a long table, with many others, strongly armed, scattered about the vault! The noise made by the door as it flew open was heard by the assembly, and several men sprang forward and seized him ere he could make his retreat.

"An eavesdropper!" exclaimed one.

"We are betrayed!" cried another.

"His mouth must be stopped," muttered a third.

"It would be safer to kill him at once," growled another.

"What has brought you here?" asked a fine, dignified looking man, in a handsome costume of somewhat antique fashion.

"I am a traveller, and put up here on my way to the fens," answered Jack. "I do not wish to injure any one, but hearing voices, and having been told that the house was haunted, I came to see whence they could proceed, not believing that ghosts could make such a racket as disturbed my rest."

"The lad is no spy, or he would not speak as frankly as he does," observed the gentleman.

"I can answer for his honesty," said another person, whom Jack had not hitherto noticed, rising from his seat and advancing towards him. "He is ready to serve in a right cause and be of use to his country."

Jack on looking towards the speaker discovered that he was no other than Mr Harwood.

"Thank you, sir," he said, "for your good opinion of me. I was, in truth, on my way to visit you, to give an account of the mode in which I have executed your commissions, and I'm sure that you will bear witness that I am not addicted to telling falsehoods."

"A brave lad, and worth winning for a good cause!" exclaimed the gentleman who had first spoken. "Mr Harwood having answered for your fidelity, you will be put to no inconvenience about this matter, but as we have affairs of importance to discuss, and the night is drawing on apace, you must go back to your bed, and try to persuade yourself that what you have seen is merely a dream which you are not at liberty to mention to any one."

"Though we have met here, Mr Deane, I shall be glad to see you at the Grange, to speak to you more at large than I can now," said Mr Harwood, as he shook Jack by the hand.

Accompanied by two of the persons present, Jack returned once more to the room above, where, having advised him to go to sleep instead of listening to the voices of the ghosts, they left him. He wisely endeavoured to follow their advice.

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