At first as all the dramatis personae he was in search of came out one after another from that gossip’s tongue, he was amazed and delighted to find that instead of having to search for one of them in one part of England, and another in another, he had got them all ready to his hand. But soon he began to see that they were too near each other, and some of them interwoven, and all the more dangerous to attack.
He saw one thing at a glance. That it would be quite a mistake to settle a plan of action. That is sometimes a great advantage in dealing with the unguarded. But it creates a stiffness. Here all must be supple and fitted with watchful tact to the situation as it rose. Everything would have to be shot flying.
Then as to the immediate situation, Reader, did ever you see a careful setter run suddenly into the middle of a covey who were not on their feet nor close together, but a little dispersed and reposing in high cover in the middle of the day? No human face is ever so intense or human form more rigid. He knows that one bird is three yards from his nose, another the same distance from either ear, and, in short, that they are all about him, and to frighten one is to frighten all.
His tail quivers, and then turns to steel, like his limbs. His eyes glare; his tongue fears to pant; it slips out at one side of his teeth and they close on it. Then slowly, slowly, he goes down, noiseless as a cat, and crouches on the long covert, whether turnips, rape, or clover.
Even so did this designing cur crouch in the Dun Cow.
The loyal quadruped is waiting for his master, and his anxiety is disinterested. The biped cur was waiting for the first streak of dawn to slip away to some more distant and safe hiding-place and sally-port than the Dun Cow, kept by a woman who was devoted to Hope, to Walter, and to Mary, and had all her wits about her—mother-wit included.
Monckton slipped away at the dawn, and was off to Derby to prepare first-rate disguises.
At Derby, going through the local papers, he found lodgings offered at a farm-house to invalids, fresh milk and eggs, home-made bread, etc. The place was within a few miles of Clifford Hall. Monckton thought this would suit him much better than being too near. When his disguises were ready, he hired a horse and dog-cart by the month, and paid a deposit, and drove to the place in question. He put some shadow under his eyes to look more like an invalid. He had got used to his own cadaverous tint, so that seemed insufficient.
The farmer’s wife looked at him, and hesitated.
“Well, sir,” said she, with a blush, “we takes ’em in to cure, not to—”
“Not to bury,” said Monckton. “Don’t you be alarmed. I have got no time to die; I’m too busy. Why, I have been much worse than this. I am convalescent now.”