Wilton, unaccustomed to such encounters, was not very willing to shed blood, and therefore—the chivalrous spirit in his heart leading him at once towards one particular spot in the circle—he struck the man who was brutally pointing his pistol at the girl, a blow of his clenched fist, which hitting him just under the ear, as he turned at the sound of the horse’s feet, laid him in a moment motionless and stunned upon the ground.
The young gentleman, by the same impulse, and almost at the same instant, sprang from his horse, and cast himself between the lady and the assailants; but at that moment the voice of his travelling companion met his ear, exclaiming, in a thundering tone, “That is right! that is right! Now stand upon the defensive till my men come up!”
Wilton did not at all understand what this might mean; but turning to the servants already on the spot, he exclaimed, in a sharp tone, “Stand forward like men, you scoundrels!” and they, seeing some help at hand, advanced a little with a show of courage.
The gentlemen of the King’s Highway, however, had heard the words which Wilton’s companion had shouted to him; and seeing themselves somewhat overmatched in point of numbers already, they did not appear to approve of more men coming up on the other side, before they had taken their departure. There was, consequently, much hurrying to horse. The man who had been knocked down by Wilton was dragged away by the heels, from the spot where he lay somewhat too near to the other party; and the sharp application of the gravel to his face, as one of his companions pulled him along by the legs, proved sufficiently reviving to make him start up, and nearly knock his rescuer down.
Wilton—not moved by the spirit of an ancient Greek—felt no inclination to fight for the dead or the living body of his foe; and the whole party of plunderers were speedily in the saddle and on the retreat, with the exception of the more sedate personage on the bank. He, indeed, was more slow to mount, calling the man who had been knocked down “The Knight of the Bloody Nose” as he passed him; and then with a light laugh springing into the saddle, he followed the rest at an easy canter.
“Ha! ha! ha!” exclaimed Wilton’s companion of the road, laughing, “let me be called the master of stratagems for the rest of my life! Those five fools have suffered themselves to be terrified from their booty, simply by three words from my mouth and their own imaginations.”
“Then you have no men coming up?” said Wilton.
“Not a man,” replied the other: “all my men are busy in my own house at this minute; most likely saying grace over roast pork and humming ale.”