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native. Even the women of the house, with whom he was so intimate, did not appear to me, on that account, in the most favourable light; and the man him.. self, his fear of heaven over, appeared sullen, dogged, and thoughtful. He looked out at the weather several times, saying that, as he knew the country, he thought he would be off, notwithstanding the waters.
This, again, did not delight me; for what was to prevent him returning, with some fellow-pedlars, or fellow-thieves, to labour in their vocation ? Any way, there was dilemma, though in the end it was settled that we should have supper first, and Handcock should afterwards seek his fortune abroad, or stay within, as whim or the weather decided. For myself, I postponed the question of going to bed, which was to abide the event of circumstances; and, as my mysterious friend did not choose to face the night abroad, and there was no bed for him within doors, I passed two hours more in uncertainty.
From this I was delivered by an incident, as unexpected by me, as I dare say it will be by the reader. Our supper over, the woman asked the pedlar to sing, to which he said he was not inclined, for he had lost his spirits, though he knew not what was the matter with him. They then asked for one of his merry stories, particularly about the man who was hanged for breaking open his father's shop to rob the till, and firing at his brother, who came to resist it.
For this, he said, he was still less in a humour: it was too shocking; and he fell into a long reverie, which I watched with some anxiety; for I really
began to apprehend the worst of such a man, and swore within myself that I would never make acquaintance with a pedlar again.
In this state of things there had been a silence of several minutes, when Betsy, with a face of alarm, declared she heard somebody opening the little garden gate which led to the house. Her mother said it was only the wind, but the girl was right; for we presently heard footsteps, not of one, or even two men, but seemingly those of a file of soldiers.
On hearing them, Handcock turned deadly pale, and exclaimed, “ By G- this is for me," and he started up to try to escape, which he did as far as the kitchen, the outer door of which was now beset, as well as that of our room. There was violent knocking at both, and the landlady, who, I must again do her the justice to say, preserved her presence of mind, asked firmly what was wanted.
Nothing against yourself,” answered a voice, “but we have a warrant to search
your house; so open the door, or we must break it open."
“ You need not do that,” said the landlady. “ There—you may enter, but do not ill-use us.”
“ Not a bit of it,” said the man who had spoken before, "provided you deliver up Handcock, the pedlar, who we know harbours here, and whom we have a warrant to arrest !”
Saying this, he and four myrmidons began the search, eyeing me with a curiosity I by no means liked.
“ That's not he, Hoskyns,” said the constable, look
ing at the warrant ; “why, everybody knows George Handcock, the pedlar.”
At this moment Handcock, in despair, made a rush from the kitchen, and endeavoured to force through the parlour, but was intercepted by the stout constable, who, aided by his followers, soon subdued, handcuffed, and carried him to a cart which waited for them at the garden gate. The constable, however, came back and demanded his pack, which might contain, he said, much information ; and then, upon my inquiring the crime of which Handcock was accused, he for the first time told us, it was for having, with others, broken open and robbed the Wallingford Bank,
The grief and astonishment of his female friends was seemingly as sincere, as it certainly appeared great, and I entirely abandoned the uncharitable thoughts which, though faintly, and but for a moment, I had entertained of them. The cool-headed Mrs. Snow contented herself with saying,
66 Who would have thought it! God only knows our hearts !" But poor Betsy went into violent hysterics, which lasted long; and on recovering from them her mother put her to bed.
All thought of my own rest was now at an end. I began to think the house I was in ill-fated, and wished to quit it as soon as possible. Indeed, I was not without tremors in regard to myself, for the description of my person, my black stock and knapsack, in the Hue-and-Cry, ran in my head in a manner any thing but pleasant. I scarcely, therefore, waited for the dappled dawn, but paying my bill, which was far
more reasonable than that of the affronted Mr. Chubb, I sallied forth from the West Country Barge and Eel-pie House, to regain the high road to Reading; nor did I slacken my pace, or feel thoroughly comfortable, till the pretty towers and spires of St. Giles, St. Mary, and St. Lawrence, rose to my view.
Such, and often so unfortunate, it is for a man, however innocent, to fall, even unwittingly, into bad company.
The sight of the good town of Reading, and the proof my safety gave me that I was not pursued, made me recover my spirits. Indeed, as I was innocent, it would have been a shame not to have done so, for all nature seemed to breathe happiness, not the less because the beauty of the morning formed a glorious contrast to the desolation of the preceding night.
This variety in the weather, which occurs so often in our variable climate, almost atones for its imperfections; for though sometimes the sky frowns even to fearfulness, no one can answer how long it may
last. Sir William Temple, therefore, was right in resting his defence of our weather, notwithstanding fogs, rain, and darkness, upon the possibility of our passing some part of every day out of doors. How different this from the unremitting heats and rains, and interminable frosts, of many other parts of the world.
I particularly felt this when, remembering the havoc of the night—the marks of which strewed my way for many a mile-I contrasted it with the golden morning in which I now journeyed. With Tamora I exclaimed,
The birds chaunt melody in every bush ;
My fears of pedlar troubles being thus relieved, I never had a happier walk, and called lustily for breakfast when shewn into the gentlemen travellers' room at the notorious Berkshire sign of the Black Bear.
Here, however, my tranquillity was again a little disturbed; for not only, for my sins, was this eternal Hue-and-Cry pasted upon a board, hung up in the room, but I found all the gentlemen travellers, waiters, and two or three attorney's clerks, who generally breakfasted at the house, occupied with the robbery at Wallingford, and the arrest of Handcock, who was then actually under examination in the magistrates' chamber.
Had I known that my quondam friend was to have been moved to Reading, it certainly would not have been the town I should have breakfasted at that morning. However, I had no help for it, and thought myself lucky, whether from pride or convenience, to have taken my knapsack from my shoulders before I entered the place. Putting on, therefore, an unconscious countenance, I sat down quietly to my meal, and listened to the conversation.
The attorney's clerks were all very fluent and garrulous on the subject, and I found had been informed that there was an accomplice of Handcock with him at the Eel-pie House when he was taken, and they blamed the constable for not taking him into custody