“My cottage is near by, sir, and I should be proud for you to eat supper wi’ me—that is—if you be so minded?”
“Many thanks,” said I, “but I am not so minded, and so, good-by, Tom!” And, with the words, I wrung the soldier’s honest hand in mine, and went upon my way.
“George, Prince of Wales!” said I to myself; “could this be the ‘George’ they had meant? If so, then who and what had they supposed me?” Hereupon, as I walked, I fell into a profound meditation, in which I presently remembered how that Tom Cragg had also mentioned the Prince, giving me to understand that his Highness had actually ordered him (Tom Cragg) to leave London; and why? “Arter that theer kidnappin’, an’ me ‘avin’ laid out Sir Jarsper Trent—accordin’ to yer order.”
Sir Jasper Trent! I stopped stock still in the road. Sir Jasper Trent! At last I remembered the name that had eluded me so persistently. Remembered it? Nay, indeed, it was rather as if the Pugilist had whispered the words into my ear, and I glanced round almost expecting to see him.
“Arter that theer kidnappin’, an’ me ‘avin’ laid out Sir Jarsper Trent—accordin’ to yer orders!”
According to my orders, or rather, the orders of the man for whom he (in common with the two gentlemen at “The Chequers”) had mistaken me. But who was that man? Of him I knew two facts—namely, that he was much like me in person, and had formerly worn, or possibly still wore, whiskers. And beyond these two facts I could get no farther, revolve the matter how I might, so I presently shrugged my shoulders, and banishing it from my thoughts for the time being, set forward at a good pace.
IN WHICH I FIND AN ANSWER TO MY RIDDLE
The sun was already westering when I came to a pump beside the way; and seizing the handle I worked it vigorously, then, placing my hollowed hands beneath the gushing spout, drank and pumped, alternately, until I had quenched my thirst. I now found myself prodigiously hungry, and remembering the bread and cheese in my knapsack, looked about for an inviting spot in which to eat.
On one side of the road was a thick hedge, and, beneath this hedge, a deep, dry, grassy ditch; and here, after first slipping off my knapsack, I sat down, took out the loaf and the cheese, and opening my clasp-knife, prepared to fall to.
At this moment I was interrupted in a rather singular fashion, for hearing a rustling close by, I looked up, and into a face that was protruded through a gap in the hedge above me.
It needed but a glance at the battered hat with its jaunty brim, and great silver buckle, and the haggard, devil-may-care face below, to recognize the individual whom I had seen thrown out of the hedge tavern the morning before.
It was a very thin face, as I have said, pale and hollow-eyed and framed in black curly hair, whose very blackness did but accentuate the extreme pallor of the skin, which was tight, and drawn above the cheek bones and angle of the jaw. Yet, as I looked at this face, worn and cadaverous though it was, in the glance of the hollow eyes, in the line of the clean-cut mouth I saw that mysterious something which marks a man, what we call for want of a better word, a gentleman.