He rushed out of the house and up the street. He was pulling wildly at the bell-handle at Mr. Long’s door in Millsom Street before five minutes had passed. He did not wait to make an inquiry of the man, but plunged into the room to the right; the door was slightly ajar, and he saw that the room was lighted.

Mr. Long was seated at the table.

“Heavens!” he cried, “what has happened?”

“Your horse—Sultan—it must be Sultan—he must be saddled—give the order—’tis life or death—nay, more—more!”

Only for a second did Mr. Long look at him. Then he was shouting to his man in the hall orders for the groom.

“Mathews has succeeded,” gasped Dick. “An abduction—Mrs. Abington brought me word of it. But I shall follow them—overtake them—or I shall never return. I swear that—I swear it!”

Mr. Long’s face had become white. He was supporting himself by the back of a chair. His lips moved, but the words did not come. He managed to stagger to a garde-vin that stood in a corner and to take out a decanter of brandy. Dick heard how the tumbler jingled against the mouth of the bottle while some of the brandy was being poured out. Mr. Long offered him a tumbler. He refused it.

“Never fear—never fear—I’ll overtake them!” he cried, while he paced the room. “I knew that I was right to come to you, sir. You love her; and you—you have pistols. He escaped them once—only once.”

“She heard a rumour that an abduction was to be attempted; she told me so here to-day,” said Mr. Long. “She is suspicious; she fancied that you had planned it—she came to warn me. O Dick, you must be in time! By Heaven, sir, you must be in time to save her! If I were ten years younger—only ten years—but I will trust you. Here are the pistols, and you may need to reload them: you must have these bullets. Don’t bring them all back, Dick; but take care of her. Aim at one of the horses. And money—you may need money for the postboys—I have never met any that were not open to bribes. Here’s a purse. If fifty guineas is not enough—— By heavens, the horse is at the door! You have no sword—here is mine! God bless you, my boy—God bless you! I’ll look to the girths. Sultan will do his twenty miles; but spare him on the highway. You will take the short cuts through the Hampton Fields.”

All the time that Mr. Long was speaking, Dick Sheridan was pulling on a pair of riding-boots, with spurs attached, which Mr. Long’s servant had brought into the room.

He examined the priming of the pistols, he pocketed the leathern wallet heavy with guineas, and buckled on the sword. Not a word did he find it necessary to utter; even when he was in the saddle and felt the strong grasp of Mr. Long’s right hand, he did not find words, but he returned the grasp, and looked into Mr. Long’s face. Then he gave Sultan his head, and waved his hand before turning the corner.

The street was flaring with links; chairs by the score were carrying ladies and gentlemen of fashion to their supper-parties and card-parties. The sound of post-horns was heard as the mail-coaches with their splendid teams set out on their night journeys. It did not take Dick long to thread his way among the vehicles, reaching the first slope of the London road without having allowed his horse to break into a gallop. Sultan was quite prepared to charge the hill; he was a thoroughbred Arab, with an indomitable heart in his work. Dick held him in so long as the ground sloped up; but when the summit of the hill was gained, he sent him forward; the animal responded with a will, but Dick kept him at the trot. Not until the Hampton Fields were reached did he put the horse to the gallop. But then, leaping the ditch, he got upon the green turf, and, knowing what was expected of him, the Arab stretched himself out for a race.

The two miles of the cut across the fields was not a great journey, and after a mile’s trot along the highway, up the long hill through the village of Bathford, Dick took to the fields once more. Another flying gallop—ventre à terre—across the Downs, brought him to the Horse Jockey Inn, and Dick thought that a bucket of water would not do Sultan any harm. But he found that he could not pull him up; the horse had his head and seemed determined to keep it. By the time, however, that the vane of Atworth church gave a feeble flash in the moonlight (the moon was in her first quarter and far down in the western sky) the Arab was ready to receive a hint, and Dick brought him to a walk.

He pulled him up at the Three Cups, and awoke the elderly ostler to get a bucket of bran and water, while he himself rubbed the animal down with a damp stable-cloth.

Had the man seen a chaise and four horses going in the direction of London within the half-hour? No, no, he had seen no “shay”; but mayhap that was by reason of having been asleep since supper-time; a tedious night with the master’s heifer—mayhap the young gentleman had heard of the accident to the heifer?—having deprived him of his accustomed slumber. The worst was over with the heifer, Heaven be praised; but still——

The veteran was still gazing at Dick’s half-crown while Sultan was pounding away toward Melksham as fresh as he had been when taken out of his stable, although the nine miles of the journey already passed had occupied just fifty-five minutes.

And now that a long level of highway was in front of him, Dick had time to calculate his chances of overtaking the chaise. He did not know how great was the start which it had on him; but he did not think it likely that Mrs. Abington had taken longer than a quarter of an hour to come to him with the alarm. Ten minutes added to this brought him up to the moment when he had started in pursuit. Twenty-five minutes of a start!

He could not imagine the chaise travelling at the speed that Sultan had maintained. The hills along the road were in favour of a horseman. But then at the end of another seven or eight miles Sultan must be dead-beat, however willing he might be, whereas the chaise would be flying along with four fresh horses in front of it, for Mathews would certainly arrange to have relays of fresh horses at every stage, well knowing that only by this means could he evade the pursuit which he would assume must take place.

Dick perceived that he too must have fresh horses if he meant to overtake the chaise. But being well aware that some of the posting-inns on the London road had as many as a hundred and fifty horses in their stables at one time, he had no fear of a difficulty arising in the matter of getting remounts.

When he thought of Betsy Linley being in the power of that mad ruffian for another hour, he instinctively touched Sultan with the spur; and at the touch the good horse broke into a gallop, and it was in this gallop that he reached Seend Hill and climbed it as though it were level road. It needed a strong pull from Dick to bring him up at the Bear Inn.

Two coaches had just arrived from London, and the passengers were getting all the attendance the place could afford.

Dick found himself standing in the yard with Sultan’s saddle on the ground beside him, while the horse stood steaming in the light that came from the stable lantern. He showed a guinea to an ancient, hurrying groom, and the sight was too much for the man.

Had a chaise with four horses from Bath changed, and how long ago?

Not half an hour ago, if it was Captain Mathews’ shay his honour spoke of. Oh, ay, the captain had changed, and madam would not leave the shay—half an hour ago—barely—more like twenty minutes. A fresh saddle-horse? Ah, his honour must book that at the bar. Why, the London folk would be away in a quarter of an hour—mayhap ten minutes.

Dick rushed to the bar. Twenty people were between him and the landlord, who was responding with a fussy leisure to eighteen out of the twenty.

Dick rushed back to the stable-yard and found the groom still gazing at the guinea. Dick produced a second.

“You know Mr. Long, of Rood Ashton, my man?” he said. “This is Mr. Long’s horse. Look to him and put the saddle on the freshest horse in your stable. Take this guinea and don’t lose a moment. Refuse it, and as surely as you stand there like a fool, I’ll put a bullet through your head.”

“Your honour’s a gentleman,” cried the ostler, making a grasp for that hand which held the guinea as a bribe, and neglecting the one that held the pistol as a menace.

“You shall have the guinea when the horse is saddled,” said Dick. “Lead the way to the stable.”

But the man had had a second for reflection. He felt prepared to control his impulses. He began to scratch his head with the black tip of a forefinger.

“This may cost me my place,” he muttered.

“If you refuse, ’twill certainly cost you your life,” said Dick, grasping his arm. “Lead me to the stable, you rascal, and that at the top of your speed. If you try to trick me, ’twill be the last mistake of your life. Pick up the saddle and earn your guinea.”

The man certainly lost no time in obeying him; he shambled across the yard and through a stable door. Dick heard the sound of halter-rings and the fitful stamp of an iron hoof.

“That’s Hero, the best roadster in the stable,” said the man, pointing to a big roan horse. “But your honour will need to have it out with the master.”

“You’ll get your guinea and your master will get double the hire. Everybody knows Mr. Long,” said Dick.

Being aware of the instinctive cunning of these simple country people, Dick thought it as well to give a brief examination to the animal. So far as he could tell in the glimmer of the stable lantern the horse was a good one—broad-chested and strong.

The man flung on the saddle, and Dick saw that the girths were tight; then with a friendly nod to Sultan, who stood in one of the vacant stalls, he was mounting the roan. He threw the old man his promised guinea, saying:

“If I find that you’ve looked well after the Arab, you shall have another guinea to-morrow.”

The ostler dropped the stable lantern with a crash on the stones.

Dick was on the road once again. He knew that he had lost quite five minutes changing horses: he could only console himself by the reflection that most likely the chaise had taken ten minutes.

He found that the roan required to be ridden. He was a strong horse and had good wind, but he had not the heart of the Arab. It was clear that he did not know all that was demanded of him this night. But when Dick put him at a low hedge he did not refuse it, and on the turf of a long meadow beyond, he showed that he could gallop. For another three miles, partly on the road and partly across country, when any saving of space was possible, horse and man went until they were breasting Roundway Hill.

Dick walked the horse to the top, and then reined in to let him recover his wind before starting on the clear five miles of level road. In a few minutes he had fallen into the steady trot of the old roadster, and Dick felt sure that he could keep it up for the five miles; but at the end of the first mile he began to be aware of a certain unevenness in his trot. The horse responded to the spur, but only for a short time; then he stumbled, nearly throwing his rider on his head. There was no ignoring what had occurred—the horse had “gone lame” and was unfit for his work; and the nearest inn where he could get a new mount was still five miles away.

What did this mean?

Nothing, except that he was beaten. The hour and a quarter that he would take going to that inn would place the chaise which he was pursuing far beyond the possibility of capture.

Dick saw it all clearly the moment that the roan halted and stretched his head forward, breathing hard. Nothing was left for him but to dismount. He was defeated, and life was worth nothing to him now. He dismounted, and examined the horse’s leg. There could be no doubt about the matter now: he was badly lame.

And then Dick did the most foolish and natural thing that a man could do in such circumstances. He went mad for a time, slashing at the weeds on the roadside with his riding-whip, cursing all the earth—the ostler who had given him the horse which went lame—the horse for going lame at the worst time—the fate which had helped him up to a certain point and then deserted him. It did him good to slash and swear for a while; and when he felt better he put his horse’s bridle-rein over his arm and set out upon the journey which was inevitable in the circumstances.

He had not gone more than a hundred yards when he heard the sound of a shot in the distance; then a second—a third.

“Poachers,” he thought, resuming his walk. He was within a mile or two of Roundway Park, and the estate was full of game. He thought no more about the shots until, after he had trudged on for another mile, he saw on the summit of a grassy knoll a couple of men on horseback. The moon had gone down, but the night was beautifully clear, with stars overhead.

He stopped, his first thought being that he might negotiate with one of the men for the loan of his horse. But when he saw that they were making straight for him, he pulled his pistols out of the holsters and put his horse between himself and the fence of the field beyond which was the knoll. The horsemen were highwaymen, he was convinced, and he made up his mind that they should not ride off with the remainder of his guineas, if he could prevent it. He was just in the humour for tackling a pair of rascals; but for that matter, he would not have objected to fight with the honestest men in England.

Before he had more than cocked his pistols the two fellows—he now saw that they wore masks—had leapt their horses over the fence not a dozen yards from where he was standing.

“Well met, my lord!” roared one, drawing a pistol from his holster. “Well met! I’ll trouble your lordship to hand over your purse, also your watch and any trifle of jewelry your lordship——”

“Come and take them,” said Dick.

“And, by the Lord, we accept the invitation!” shouted the second horseman, going forward with a bound toward Dick with his pistol in his hand.

In another moment all was over. Dick slipped under his horse’s nose; at the same instant that the man fired, Dick’s horse lashed out, and Dick, catching at the rein of the man who was riding him down, shot him in the body. The yell that went through the air did not come from this man, however—he was past yelling; it came from his companion, whose leg Dick had heard break like a stick of barley sugar beneath the kick of the roan. The second yell came from half a mile down the road; for, not being able to control his horse, the animal had bolted with him.

Dick knew nothing of this. He had his attention fully occupied at the head of the rearing horse of the man whom he had shot. The horse reared, and when Dick tugged at the reins he plunged forward. A limp arm struck Dick in the face, and he had to be agile to evade the headlong fall of the limp body.

It was a busy half-minute. It was such a whirl of the wheels of chance that Dick Sheridan could scarcely be blamed for standing aghast for quite another half-minute. He was bewildered by the effort of trying to think what had happened. A minute before he had been a man suffering all the pangs of defeat—plunged into those depths of despair which overwhelm a man who needs to ride like a god upon the wings of the wind, but finds himself crippled with a lame horse; whereas now....

He gave a cheer and in a second was on the back of the fine horse—his mane was dripping with the blood of the rider whom he had thrown over his head—and flying along the road at a speed that he had not surpassed even when mounted on Mr. Long’s Sultan. The highwaymen were excellent judges of cattle, he was bound to confess. He galloped like one of Lützow’s wild huntsmen, and in the exhilaration of the moment he shouted with delight—he shouted and cheered until, swinging round a curve in the road, he saw before him Beckhampton Common, with the woods at one side and the long row of poplars at the other. But while the common was still a long way off, and he was flying past a high bank densely planted with small firs, he heard something that caused him to throw all his weight upon the reins, and almost to bring his horse upon his haunches.

What he heard, or fancied he heard, was his name called out by the most musical voice in the world:

“Dick—Dick! you have come!”

The first words struck his ears when he was beneath the high bank; before the last were uttered he was a hundred yards away, tugging at the reins. When he succeeded in bringing his horse to a standstill, he heard in front of him a hailing of voices. Peering forward beyond the shade of the bank on the white road, he saw figures moving—figures with a swaying lantern.

He responded to their hail, and saw them hurrying toward him, their lantern swinging more rapidly.

And then behind him he heard Betsy Linley’s voice crying:

“Dick—Dick, come back to me—come back!”

He swung his horse round with a cry of delight.

There she stood, a white figure at the foot of the firs of a wooded slope—there she stood, waving her white arms to him—waving him back to her.

“Thank God—thank God—thank God!”

He could gasp nothing more as he flung himself from his saddle, and she sprang from the bank into his arms.

“My Betsy—my own dear Betsy!”

“Dick—Dick, you have saved me! Oh, I never doubted it, my Dick!—I knew you would be in time to save me.”

He had thrown the reins on his horse’s neck. But the animal was well trained: he was as faithful to the man who had just dismounted as though he were a highwayman who had left his saddle to plunder a coach. He only turned his head when the figures with the lantern came in sight beyond the curve in the road.

“Who are these—your friends or our enemy?” whispered Dick.

He had hold of her hand, and they were both gazing up the road.

“It can only be he,” she cried. “We were attacked by highwaymen. A horse was shot, and when the wretch was helping the postboys, I escaped from the coach and fled hither. I was hiding among the trees!”

“Stand back among the trees again—only for a moment—only for a moment,” he said in a low voice.

“You will not kill him!” said the girl piteously. “Dick, I could not bear to think of your killing him, wretch though he be.”

“Perhaps I may not. Stand back among the trees.”

“Found—she is found!” came the voice of Mathews on the road. He was running ahead of the postboys with the chaise lantern. Postboys were poor things on their feet.

Dick waited with the firs behind him. He was silent. His features could not be seen—only his figure.

“Sir,” said Mathews, when still a dozen yards away—“sir, you have found the lady—my wife—I thank you.”

Dick struck him full in the face with the steel guard

Dick struck him full in the face with the steel guard.

[page 362 .

“I have found the greatest villain that lives,” cried Dick, stepping into the road. “He shall soon cease to live.”

Back went Mathews with an oath—back half a dozen steps.

The whiz of Dick’s sword through the air was like the sudden sweep of a hailstorm.

Mathews had already drawn his weapon. In a second he had rushed upon Dick. Nothing could have resisted such an attack. Dick made no attempt to resist it. He sprang to one side and so avoided the point of the sword. He took care that Mathews should not have another such chance. The man had barely time to turn and put up his guard before Dick was upon him. With heads bent eagerly forward (the situation was not one for the punctilios of the duello), the men crossed blades—the rasp of steel against steel—the heavy breathing—the quick lunge and the deft response—a little gasp—a flash—more rasping of steel—backward and forward—flat hands in the air—a fierce lunge—a second—a third—fierce—fiercer—fiercest—a whiz and a whirl. Mathews’ sword flashed through the air. The two postboys with the lantern sprang apart to avoid its fall. The next instant Mathews had sprung upon Dick, catching him by the throat, and trying to force him back. Dick tried to shorten his sword, but failed. Mathews made a clutch for the blade, but missed it, and Dick struck him full in the face with the steel guard; a second blow made a gash on his left temple, and the man went down in a heap. He fell neither backward nor forward. His legs seemed to be paralysed, and he went down as though a swordsman had cut him through as one does a sheep.

Dick took the man’s sword—a grinning postboy had picked it up—and snapped it in two across his knee.

“He is not dead—he cannot be dead!” cried Betsy.

“I am sorry to say that he will not die just now—vermin are not so easily killed,” said Dick.

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