'I don't know, and to say the truth, I don't care,' said Joe. 'Come, father, give me the money, and in the name of patience let me go.'

'There it is, sir,' replied John; 'and take care of it; and mind you don't make too much haste back, but give the mare a long rest.-- Do you mind?'

'Ay, I mind,' returned Joe. 'She'll need it, Heaven knows.'

'And don't you score up too much at the Black Lion,' said John. 'Mind that too.'

'Then why don't you let me have some money of my own?' retorted Joe, sorrowfully; 'why don't you, father? What do you send me into London for, giving me only the right to call for my dinner at the Black Lion, which you're to pay for next time you go, as if I was not to be trusted with a few shillings? Why do you use me like this? It's not right of you. You can't expect me to be quiet under it.'

'Let him have money!' cried John, in a drowsy reverie. 'What does he call money--guineas? Hasn't he got money? Over and above the tolls, hasn't he one and sixpence?'

'One and sixpence!' repeated his son contemptuously.

'Yes, sir,' returned John, 'one and sixpence. When I was your age, I had never seen so much money, in a heap. A shilling of it is in case of accidents--the mare casting a shoe, or the like of that. The other sixpence is to spend in the diversions of London; and the diversion I recommend is going to the top of the Monument, and sitting there. There's no temptation there, sir--no drink--no young women--no bad characters of any sort--nothing but imagination. That's the way I enjoyed myself when I was your age, sir.'

To this, Joe made no answer, but beckoning Hugh, leaped into the saddle and rode away; and a very stalwart, manly horseman he looked, deserving a better charger than it was his fortune to bestride. John stood staring after him, or rather after the grey mare (for he had no eyes for her rider), until man and beast had been out of sight some twenty minutes, when he began to think they were gone, and slowly re-entering the house, fell into a gentle doze.

The unfortunate grey mare, who was the agony of Joe's life, floundered along at her own will and pleasure until the Maypole was no longer visible, and then, contracting her legs into what in a puppet would have been looked upon as a clumsy and awkward imitation of a canter, mended her pace all at once, and did it of her own accord. The acquaintance with her rider's usual mode of proceeding, which suggested this improvement in hers, impelled her likewise to turn up a bye-way, leading--not to London, but through lanes running parallel with the road they had come, and passing within a few hundred yards of the Maypole, which led finally to an inclosure surrounding a large, old, red-brick mansion--the same of which mention was made as the Warren in the first chapter of this history. Coming to a dead stop in a little copse thereabout, she suffered her rider to dismount with right goodwill, and to tie her to the trunk of a tree.

'Stay there, old girl,' said Joe, 'and let us see whether there's any little commission for me to-day.' So saying, he left her to browze upon such stunted grass and weeds as happened to grow within the length of her tether, and passing through a wicket gate, entered the grounds on foot.

The pathway, after a very few minutes' walking, brought him close to the house, towards which, and especially towards one particular window, he directed many covert glances. It was a dreary, silent building, with echoing courtyards, desolated turret-chambers, and whole suites of rooms shut up and mouldering to ruin.

The terrace-garden, dark with the shade of overhanging trees, had an air of melancholy that was quite oppressive. Great iron gates, disused for many years, and red with rust, drooping on their hinges and overgrown with long rank grass, seemed as though they tried to sink into the ground, and hide their fallen state among the friendly weeds. The fantastic monsters on the walls, green with age and damp, and covered here and there with moss, looked grim and desolate.

Charles Dickens
Classic Literature Library
Classic Authors

All Pages of This Book