‘No, no! And Mr. Dunborough? Is he behind?’
‘He rode on after them, sir.’
‘Rode on after them?’
‘Yes, sir, he did not stop.’
‘He has gone on—after them?’ Sir George cried.
‘But—’ and with that it flashed on him, and on the servant, and on Mr. Fishwick, who had just jogged up and dismounted, what had happened. The carriage and Julia—Julia still in the hands of her captors—were gone. And with them was gone Mr. Dunborough! Gone far out of hearing; for as the three stood together in the blackness of the trees, unable to see one another’s faces, the night was silent round them. The rattle of wheels, the hoof-beats of horses had died away in the distance.
THE EMPTY POST-CHAISE
It was one of those positions which try a man to the uttermost; and it was to Sir George’s credit that, duped and defeated, astonishingly tricked in the moment of success, and physically shaken by his fall, he neither broke into execrations nor shod unmanly tears. He groaned, it is true, and his arm pressed more heavily on the servant’s shoulder, as he listened and listened in vain for sign or so and of the runaways. But he still commanded himself, and in face of how great a misfortune! A more futile, a more wretched end to an expedition it was impossible to conceive. The villains had out-paced, out-fought, and out-manoeuvred him; and even now were rolling merrily on to Bath, while he, who a few minutes before had held the game in his hands, lay belated here without horses and without hope, in a wretched plight, his every moment embittered by the thought of his mistress’s fate.
In such crises—to give the devil his due—the lessons of the gaming-table, dearly bought as they are, stand a man in stead. Sir George’s fancy pictured Julia a prisoner, trembling and dishevelled, perhaps gagged and bound by the coarse hands of the brutes who had her in their power; and the picture was one to drive a helpless man mad. Had he dwelt on it long and done nothing it must have crazed him. But in his life he had lost and won great sums at a coup, and learned to do the one and the other with the same smile—it was the point of pride, the form of his time and class. While Mr. Fishwick, therefore, wrung his hands and lamented, and the servant swore, Sir George’s heart bled indeed, but it was silently and inwardly; and meanwhile he thought, calculated the odds, and the distance to Bath and the distance to Bristol, noted the time; and finally, and with sudden energy, called on the men to be moving. ‘We must get to Bath,’ he said. ’We will be upsides with the villains yet. But we must get to Bath. What horses have we?’
Mr. Fishwick, who up to this point had played his part like a man, wailed that his horse was dead lame and could not stir a step. The lawyer was sore, stiff, and beyond belief weary; and this last mishap, this terrible buffet from the hand of Fortune, left him cowed and spiritless.