I was again nearly forgetting myself, affronted at the idea of sixpence being offered to me; but I recovered myself, saying, as I took it, “A poor labouring man, sir.”
“What, with those hands?” said he, looking at them as I took the money; and then looking at my face, he continued, “I think we have met before, my lad—I cannot be sure; you know best—I am a Bow Street magistrate.”
In a moment, I remembered that he was the very magistrate before whom I had twice made my appearance. I coloured deeply, and made no reply.
“Well, my lad, I’m not on my bench now, and this sixpence you have earned honestly. I trust you will continue in the right path. Be careful—I have sharp eyes.” So saying, he rode off.
I never felt more mortified. It was evident that he considered me as one who was acting a part for unworthy purposes; perhaps one of the swell mob or a flash pickpocket rusticating until some hue and cry was over. “Well, well,” thought I, as I took up a lump of dirt and rubbed over my then white hands, “it is my fate to be believed when I deceive, and to be mistrusted when I am acting honestly;” and I returned to the bench for my bundle, which—was gone. I stared with astonishment. “Is it possible?” thought I. “How dishonest people are! Well, I will not carry another for the present. They might as well have left me my stick.” So thinking, and without any great degree of annoyance at the loss, I turned from the bench and walked away, I knew not whither. It was now getting dark, but I quite forgot that it was necessary to look out for a lodging; the fact is, that I had been completely upset by the observations of the magistrate, and the theft of my bundle; and, in a sort of brown study, from which I was occasionally recalled for a moment by stumbling over various obstructions, I continued my walk on the pathway until I was two or three miles away from Brentford. I was within a mile of Hounslow, when I was roused by the groans of some person, and it being now dark I looked round, trying to catch by the ear the direction in which to offer my assistance. They proceeded from the other side of a hedge, and I crawled through, where I found a man lying on the ground, covered with blood about the head, and breathing heavily. I untied his neckcloth, and, as well as I could, examined his condition. I bound his handkerchief round his head, and perceiving that the position in which he was lying was very unfavourable, his head and shoulders being much lower than his body, I was dragging the body round so as to raise those parts, when I heard footsteps and voices. Shortly after, four people burst through the hedge and surrounded me.
“That is him, I’ll swear to it,” cried an immense stout man, seizing me; “that is the other fellow who attacked me, and ran away. He has come to get off his accomplice, and now we’ve just nicked them both.”
“You are very much mistaken,” replied I, “and you have no need to hold me so tight. I heard the man groan, and I came to his assistance.”