“Save us!” cries father; “whoever ‘tis, he’s comin’ down th’ lane!” And in a minute’s time the clatter was close on us and someone shouting behind.
“Hurry that crawlin’ worm o’ yourn—or draw aside in God’s name, an’ let me by!” the rider yelled.
“What’s up?” asked my father, quartering as well as he could. “Why! Hullo! Farmer Hugo, be that you?”
“There’s a mad devil o’ a man behind, ridin’ down all he comes across. A’s blazin’ drunk, I reckon—but ‘tisn’ that—’tis the horrible voice that goes wi’ en—Hark! Lord protect us, he’s turn’d into the lane!”
Sure enough, the clatter of a second horse was coming down upon us, out of the night—and with it the most ghastly sounds that ever creamed a man’s flesh. Farmer Hugo pushed past us and sent a shower of mud in our faces as his horse leapt off again, and ’way-to-go down the hill. My father stood up and lashed our old grey with the reins, and down we went too, bumpity-bump for our lives, the poor beast being taken suddenly like one possessed. For the screaming behind was like nothing on earth but the wailing and sobbing of a little child—only tenfold louder. ’Twas just as you’d fancy a baby might wail if his little limbs was being twisted to death.
At the hill’s foot, as you know, a stream crosses the lane—that widens out there a bit, and narrows again as it goes up t’other side of the valley. Knowing we must be overtaken further on—for the screams and clatter seemed at our very backs by this—father jumped out here into the stream and backed the cart well to one side; and not a second too soon.
The next moment, like a wind, this thing went by us in the moonlight— a man upon a black horse that splashed the stream all over us as he dashed through it and up the hill. ’Twas the scarlet dragoon with his ashen face; and behind him, holding to his cross-belt, rode a little shape that tugged and wailed and raved. As I stand here, sir, ’twas the shape of a naked babe!
Well, I won’t go on to tell how my father dropped upon his knees in the water, or how my mother fainted off. The thing was gone, and from that moment for eight years nothing was seen or heard of Sergeant Basket. The fright killed my mother. Before next spring she fell into a decline, and early next fall the old man—for he was an old man now—had to delve her grave. After this he went feebly about his work, but held on, being wishful for me to step into his shoon, which I began to do as soon as I was fourteen, having outgrown the rickets by that time.
But one cool evening in September month, father was up digging in the yard alone: for ’twas a small child’s grave, and in the loosest soil, and I was off on a day’s work, thatching Farmer Tresidder’s stacks. He was digging away slowly when he heard a rattle at the lych-gate, and looking over the edge of the grave, saw in the dusk a man hitching his horse there by the bridle.