The Messenger made no reply, but sunk again into sullen silence; and Wilton clearly saw that little help, and indeed little advantage, was to be derived from the presence of his self-sufficient attendant, except in as much as the appearance of such a person in his company was likely to produce a moral effect upon those to whom he might be opposed. Messengers of state were in those days very awful people, and employed in general in the arrest of such criminals as were very unlikely to escape the axe if taken. Yet it seldom if ever happened that any resistance was offered to them; and we are told that at the appearance of a single individual of this redoubted species, it often happened three or four traitors, murderers, spies, or pirates, whose fate if taken was perfectly certain, would seem to give up all hope, and surrendering without resistance, would suffer themselves to be led quietly to the shambles.
Thus if Arden did but his mere duty, Wilton knew that the effect of his presence would be great; but as he walked on, he began to entertain new apprehensions. For nearly two miles, no one appeared to guide them to the place of their destination; at length a church, with some cottages gathered round it, announced that they had reached the little hamlet of Cowley, where, as several roads and paths branched off in different directions, he found it advisable to follow the counsel of the landlord, and not go any farther.
He consequently turned back again; but a thin white fog was now beginning to come on—a visitation to which that part of the country near the junction of the Thames and the Medway is very often subject. The cloud rolled forward, and Wilton and the Messenger advanced directly into it; so that at length the hedge could only be distinguished on one side of the road, and beyond it, on either side, nothing could be seen farther than the distance of five or six yards.
The Messenger lingered somewhat behind, muttering, “This is pleasant;” but ere long, as they were approaching the top of a narrow lane which Wilton had before remarked, as they passed, he thought he heard people speaking at a distance, and stopped to listen. The tones were those of a male and a female voice conversing evidently with eagerness, though with slow and measured words and long pauses. Wilton thought that the sound of one voice was familiar to him, though the speaker was at such a distance that he could not catch any of the words.
Not doubting at all, however, that one of the interlocutors was the person who was to guide him on his way, Wilton paused, determined to wait till they came up.
A loud “So be it then!” was at length uttered; and the next moment steps were heard advancing rapidly towards him, and the figure of a man made its appearance through the mist, first like one of the fabled shades upon the dim shores of the gloomy river, but growing into solidity as it came near.