Once more, though my whole being revolted at the sight, I must needs turn to look at the thing—the tall, black shaft of the gibbet, and the grisly horror that dangled beneath with its chains and iron bands; and from this, back again to my companion, to find him regarding me with a curiously twisted smile, and a long-barrelled pistol held within a foot of my head.
“Well?” said I, staring.
“Sir,” said he, tapping his boot with his stick,” I must trouble you for the shiner I see a-winking at me from your cravat, likewise your watch and any small change you may have.”
For a moment I hesitated, glancing from his grinning mouth swiftly over the deserted road, and back again.
“Likewise,” said the fellow, “I must ask you to be sharp about it.” It was with singularly clumsy fingers that I drew the watch from my fob and the pin from my cravat, and passed them to him.
“Now your pockets,” he suggested, “turn ’em out.”
This command I reluctantly obeyed, bringing to light my ten guineas, which were as yet intact, and which he pocketed forthwith, and two pennies—which he bade me keep.
“For,” said he, “’t will buy you a draught of ale, sir, and there’s good stuff to be had at ‘The White Hart’ yonder, and there’s nothin’ like a draught of good ale to comfort a man in any such small adversity like this here. As to that knapsack now,” he pursued, eyeing it thoughtfully, “it looks heavy and might hold valleybels, but then, on the other hand, it might not, and those there straps takes time to unbuckle and—” He broke off suddenly, for from somewhere on the hill below us came the unmistakable sound of wheels. Hereupon the fellow very nimbly ran across the road, turned, nodded, and vanished among the trees and underbrush that clothed the steep slope down to the valley below.
I was yet standing there, half stunned by my loss and the suddenness of it all, when a tilbury came slowly round a bend in the road, the driver of which nodded lazily in his seat while his horse, a sorry, jaded animal, plodded wearily up the steep slope of the hill. As he approached I hailed him loudly, upon which he suddenly dived down between his knees and produced a brass-bound blunderbuss.
“What’s to do?” cried he, a thick-set, round-faced fellow, “what’s to do, eh?” and he covered me with the wide mouth of the blunderbuss.
“Thieves!” said I, “I’ve been robbed, and not three minutes since.”
“Ah!” he exclaimed, in a tone of great relief, and with the color returning to his plump cheeks, “is that the way of it?”
“It is,” said I, “and a very bad way; the fellow has left me but twopence in the world.”
“Come,” I went on, “you are armed, I see; the thief took to the brushwood, here, not three minutes ago; we may catch him yet—”