As they approached that house of entertainment they observed that the coach which had left Carlisle that morning was in the act of drawing up at the door. It waited only while three or four passengers alighted, and then drove on and passed them in its journey south.
Five hours hence it would pass the northward coach from Kendal.
When Ralph and Sim dismounted at the Fox and Hounds, at Askham, the landlord came hastily to the door. He was a brawny dalesman, of perhaps thirty. He was approaching the travellers with the customary salutations of a host, when, checking himself, and coming to Ralph, he said in a low tone, “I ask pardon, sir, but is your name Ray?—Captain—hush!” he whispered; and then, becoming suddenly mute, without waiting for a reply to his questions, he handed the horses to a man who came up at the moment, and beckoned Ralph and Sim to follow him, not through the front of the house, but towards the yard that led to the back.
“Don’t you know me?” he said as soon as he had conveyed them, as if by stealth, into a little room detached from the rest of the house.
“Surely it’s Brown? And how are you, my lad?”
“Gayly; and you seem gayly yourself, and not much altered since the great days at Dunbar—only a bit lustier, mayhap, and with something more of beard. I’ll never forget the days I served under you!”
“That’s well, Brown; but why did you bring us round here?” said Ralph.
“Hush!” whispered the landlord. “I’ve a pack of the worst bloodhounds from Carlisle just come. They’re this minute down by the coach. I know the waistrels. They’ve been here before to-day. They’d know you to a certainty, and woe’s me if once the gommarels come abreast of you. It’s like I’d never forgive myself if my old captain came by any ill luck in my house.”
“How long will they stay?” “Until morning, it’s like.”
“How far is it to the next inn?”
“Three miles to Clifton.”
“We shall sleep till daybreak to-morrow, Brown, on the settles you have here. And now, my lad, bloodhounds or none on our trail, bring us something to eat.”
ROBBIE, SPEED ON!
Upon reaching the Woodman at Kendal, Robbie found little reason to doubt that Sim had been there and had gone. A lively young chambermaid, who replied to his questions, told him the story of Sim’s temporary illness and subsequent departure with another man.
“What like of a man was he, lass—him as took off the little fellow?” asked Robbie.
“A very personable sort; maybe as fine a breed as you’d see here and there one,” replied the girl.
“Six foot high haply, and square up on his legs?” asked Robbie, throwing back his body into an upright posture as a supplementary and explanatory gesture.
“Ey, as big as Bully Ned and as straight as Robin the Devil,” said the girl.