To proceed with our tale. Day was now fast breaking; and as the cortege moved away with their prisoner, two horsemen appeared on the cliffs above, and dismounting, watched the party with eager but disappointed looks. They were the old seaman and Edward Barnett, the village landlady’s eccentric nephew.
‘A plague upon my awkward riding,’ said the seaman, ’we are too late! They have taken him, and that rascal too with him! Fool that he was to place any confidence in such a hound.’
‘He had been kind to Tom’s mother,’ said Edward, ’and he supposed that gratitude.’
‘Bah!’ said the sailor; ’when you have buffeted as many of the storms of life as I have, you will learn that gratitude is rarely found on earth—least of all in such a brutified nature as that fellow’s. But why do I blame him? He was but what the law made him. Punished for a venial fault—sent to herd with hardened malefactors, is it wonderful that he should become schooled in crime? And now the law will punish the criminal it made. We can do no good here—we had best proceed to Erith. I have much to say to you, and much to do. But fear not; Hunter shall not perish without an effort, even if I tear him from the gallows.’ So saying, he remounted, and the two slowly pursued their way towards Erith.
The beginning of retribution.
The seaman and his young companion were seated together in a little room overlooking the sea, on the evening succeeding the events we have related. It was one of those calm, lovely evenings when summer, seeming loth to give over her reign to the approaching fall, exerts herself to display her utmost beauty, and withholds her scorching heat. The declining sun gave a rose colored tint to the landscape, and the vessels passing to or from the modern Babylon added animation to the scene. The mariner was gazing at the distant horizon, lost in thought. That memories of other days were recalled to his mind, was evident from the working of his features; that it required a strong effort to restrain his emotion, was perceivable from the compression of his lips. There was a massive grandeur in his aspect as he sat, well befitting the scene. His young companion had his thoughts also, and they were not the usual ones of his age. The meeting with the seaman and subsequent events had roused him from his usual listless, wayward fancies, and he was going back in memory to past scenes—shadowy and indistinct—but all in some way mixed with the locket he wore suspended, unseen, around his neck. That the time had now arrived when he was to receive an explanation of the past, he felt sure; for his aunt had often told him that when Walter arrived he should know all: and from the seaman’s manner he conjectured that the long wished for hour was come.
‘Edward,’ said the mariner, ’I wish you to tell me all that you recollect—not of your life at your aunt’s, but before that.’