"Well, mother, since you do ask so useless and trifling a favour, you have my prornise. It will at least give me an opportunity to repay your money with additions. You are an uncommon kind of creditor, no doubt, but--"
"Away, away, then!" said she, waving her hand. "Think not about the goud--it's a' your ain; but remember your promise, and do not dare to follow me or look after me." So saying, she plunged again into the dell, and descended it with great agility, the icicles and snow-wreaths showering down after her as she disappeared.
Notwithstanding her prohibition, Brown endeavoured to gain some point of the bank from which he might, unseen, gaze down into the glen and with some difficulty (for it must be conceived that the utmost caution was necessary), he succeeded. The spot which he attained for this purpose was the point of a projecting rock, which rose precipitously from among the trees. By kneeling down among the snow, and stretching his head cautiously forward, he could observe what was going on in the bottom of the dell. He saw, as he expected, his companions of the last night, now joined by two or three others. They had cleared away the snow from the foot of the rock, and dug a deep pit, which was designed to serve the purpose of a grave. Around this they now stood, and lowered into it something wrapped in a naval cloak, which Brown instantly concluded to be the dead body of the man he had seen expire. They then stood silent for half a minute, as if under some touch of feeling for the loss of their companion. But if they experienced such, they did not long remain under its influence, for all hands went presently to work to fill up the grave; and Brown, perceiving that the task would be soon ended, thought it best to take the gipsy-woman's hint, and walk as fast as possible until he should gain the shelter of the plantation.
Having arrived under cover of the trees, his first thought was of the gipsy's purse. He had accepted it without hesitation, though with something like a feeling of degradation, arising from the character of the person by whom he was thus accommodated. But it relieved him from a serious though temporary' embarrassment. His money, excepting a very few shillings, was in his portmanteau, and that was in possession of Meg's friends. Some time was necessary to write to his agent, or even to apply to his good host at Charlies-hope, who would gladly have supplied him. In the meantime, he resolved to avail himself of Meg's subsidy, confident he should have a speedy opportunity of replacing it with a handsome gratuity. "It can be but a trifling sum," he said to himself, "and I dare say the good lady may have a share of my bank-notes to make amends."
With these reflections he opened the leathem purse, expecting to find at most three or four guineas. But how much was he surprised to discover that it contained, besides a considerable quantity of gold pieces, of different coinages and various countries, the joint amount of which could not be short of a hundred pounds, several valuable rings and ornaments set with jewels, and, as appeared from the slight inspection he had time to give them, of very considerable value.
Brown was equally astonished and embarrassed by the circumstances in which he found himself, possesses, as he now appeared to be, of property to a much greater amount than his own, but which had been obtained in all probability by the same nefarious means through which he had himself been plundered. His first thought was to inquire after the nearest justice of peace, and to place in his hands the treasure of which he had thus unexpectedly become the depositary, telling, at the same time, his own remarkable story. But a moment's consideration brought several objections to this mode of procedure. In the first place, by observing this course, he should break his promise of silence, and might probably by that means involve the safety, perhaps the life, of this woman, who had risked her own to preserve his, and who had voluntarily endowed him with this treasure,--a generosity which might thus become the means of her ruin. This was not to be thought of. Besides, he was a stranger, and, for a time at least, unprovided with means of establishing his own character and credit to the satisfaction of a stupid or obstinate country magistrate.--"I will think over. . ,the matter more maturely," he said; "Perhaps there may be a regiment quartered at the county town, in which 'case my knowledge of the service, and acquaintance with many officers of the army, cannot fail to establish my situation and character by evidence which a civil judge could not sufficiently estimate.--And then I shall have the commanding officer's assistance in; managing matters so as to screen--this unhappy madwoman, whose mistake or prejudice has been so fortunate for me. A civil magistrate might think himself obliged to send out warrants for her at once, and the consequence in case of her being taken is pretty evident. No, she has been upon honour with me if she were the devil, and I will be equally upon honour with her--she shall have the privilege of a court-martial, where the point of honour can qualify strict law. Besides I may see her at this place, Kipple-Couple--what did she call it?--and then I can make restitution to her, and e'en let the law claim its own when it can secure her. In the meanwhile, however, I cut rather an awkward figure for one who has the honour to bear his Majesty's commission, being little better than the receiver of stolen goods."
With these reflections, Brown took from the gipsy's treasure three or four guineas, for the purpose of his immediate expenses, and tying up the rest in the purse which contained them, resolved not again to open it, until he could either restore it to her by whom it was given, or put it into the hands of some public functionary. He next thought of the cutlass, and his first impulse was to leave it in the plantation. But when he considered the risk of meeting with these ruffians, he could not resolve on parting with his arms. His walking-dress, though plain, had so much of a military character as suited not amiss with his having such a weapon. Besides, though the custom of wearing swords by persons out of uniform had been gradually becoming antiquated, it was not yet so totally forgotten as to occasion any particular remark towards those who chose to adhere to it. Retaining, therefore, his weapon of defence, and placing the purse of the gipsy in a private pocket, our traveller strode gallantly on through the wood in search of the promised high road.
All school-days' friendship, childhood innocence, We, Hermia, like two artificial gods, Have with our needles created both one flower, Both on one sampler, sitting on one cushion, Both warbling of one song, both in one key, As if our hands, our sides, voices, and minds, Had been incorporate. A Midsummer Nights Dream.