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that freest denizen of the grove, starting from the ground, as the horsemen galloped on, sprang up the nearest tree, and might be seen angrily gazing at the disturbers of his haunts, beating the branches with his fore-feet, in expression of displeasure; the rabbit darted across their path; the jays flew screaming amongst the foliage; the blue cushat, scared at the clatter of the horses' hoofs, sped on swift wing into quarters secure from their approach; while the party-coloured pies, like curious village gossips, congregated to peer at the strangers, expressing their astonishment by loud and continuous chattering. Though so gentle of ascent as to be almost imperceptible, it was still evident that the path they were pursuing gradually mounted a hill side; and when at length they reached an opening, the view disclosed the eminence they had insensibly won. Pausing for a moment upon the brow of the hill, Luke pointed to a stream that wound through the valley, and, tracing its course, indicated a particular spot amongst the trees. There was no appearance of a dwelling house- -no cottage roof, no white canvass shed, to point out the tents of the wandering tribe whose abode they were seeking. The only circumstance betokening that it had once been the haunt of man, were a few grey monastic ruins, scarce distinguishable from the stony barrier by which they were surrounded; and the sole evidence that it was still frequented by human beings was a thin column of pale blue smoke, that arose in curling wreaths from out the brake; the light coloured vapour beautifully contrasting with the green umbrage whence it issued.
"Our destination is yonder," exclaimed Luke, pointing in the direction of the vapour.
"as well as to per
"I am glad to hear it,” cried Turpin, ceive there is some one awake. That smoke holds out a prospect of breakfast. No smoke without fire, as old Lady Scanmag said; and I'll wager a trifle that fire was not lighted for the fayter fellows to count their fingers by. We shall find three sticks, and a black pot with a kid seething in it, I'll engage. These gipsies have picked out a prettyish spot to quarter in quite picturesque, as one may say—and but for that tell-tale smoke, which looks for all the world like a Dutch skipper blowing his morning cloud, no one need know of their vicinity. A pretty place, upon my soul."
The spot, in sooth, merited Turpin's eulogium. It was a
little valley, in the midst of wooded hills, so secluded, that not a single habitation appeared in view. Clothed with timber to the very summits, excepting on the side where the party stood, which verged upon the declivity, these mountainous ridges presented a broken outline of foliage, variegated with tented masses of bright orange, umber, and deepest green. Four hills hemmed in the valley. Here and there, a grey slab of rock might be discerned amongst the wood, and a mountain-ash figured conspicuously upon a jutting crag immediately below them. Deep sunken in the ravine, and concealed in part from view by the wild herbage and dwarf shrubs, ran a range of precipitous rocks, severed, it would seem, by some diluvial convulsion, from the opposite mountain side, as a corresponding rift was there visible, in which the same dip of strata might be observed, together with certain ribbed cavities, matching huge bolts of rocks which had once locked these stony walls together. Washing this cliff, swept a clear stream, well known and well regarded, as it waxed in width, by the honest brethren of the angle, who seldom, however, tracked it to its rise amongst these hills. The stream found its way into the valley through a chasm far to the left, and rushed thundering down the mountain side, in a boiling cascade. The valley was approached in this direction from Rookwood by an unfrequented carriage road, which Luke had, from prudential reasons, avoided. All seemed consecrated to silence-to solitude to the hush of nature; yet this quiet scene was the chosen retreat of lawless depredators, and had erstwhile been the theatre of feudal oppression. We have said that no habitation was visible; that no dwelling, tenanted by man, could be seen; but following the spur of the farthest mountain hill, some traces of a stone wall might be discovered; and, upon a natural platform of rock, stood a stern square tower, which had once been the donjon of the castle, the lords of which had called the four hills their own. A watch-tower then had crowned each eminence, every vestige of which had, however, long since disappeared. Sequestered in the vale, stood the Priory before alluded to, (a Monastery of Grey Friars, of the Order of St. Francis,) some of the venerable walls of which were still remaining; and if they had not reverted to the bat and owl, as is wont to be the fate of such sacred structures, their cloistered shrines were devoted to beings whose natures partook, in some
measure, of the instincts of those creatures of the nightpeople whose deeds were of darkness, and whose eyes shunned the light. Here the gipsies had pitched their tent; and though the place was often, in part, deserted by the vagrant horde, yet certain of the tribe, who had grown into years (over whom Barbara Lovel held queenly sway), made it their haunt, and were suffered, by the authorities of the neighbourhood, to remain unmolested a lenient piece of policy, which, in our infinite regard for the weal of the tawny tribe, we recommend to the adoption of all other justices and knights of the shire.
Bidding his grandsire have regard to his seat, Luke leaped a high bank; and, followed by Turpin, began to descend the hill. Peter, however, took care to provide for himself. Th descent was so perilous, and the footing so insecure, that he chose rather to trust to such conveyance as nature had furnished him with, than to hazard his neck by any false step of the horse. He contrived, therefore, to slide off from behind, shaping his own course in a more secure direction.
He who has wandered amidst the Alps, must have often had occasion to witness the wonderful sure-footedness of that mountain pilot, the mule. He must have remarked how, with tenacious hoof, he will claw the rock, and drag himself from one impending fragment to another, with perfect security to his rider; how he will breast the roaring currents of air, and stand unshrinking at the verge of almost unfathomable ravines. But it is not so with the horse: fleet on the plain, careful over rugged ground, he is timid and uncertain on the hill side, and the risk incurred by Luke and Turpin, in their descent of the almost perpendicular sides of the cliff, was tremendous. Peter watched them in their descent with some admiration, and with much contempt.
"He will break his neck, of a surety," said he; "but what matters it? as well now as hereafter."
So saying, he approached the verge of the precipice, where he could see them more distinctly.
The passage, along which Luke rode, had never before been traversed by horse's hoof. Cut in the rock, it presented a steep zigzag path amongst the cliffs, without any defence for the foot traveller, except such as was afforded by a casual clinging shrub, and no protection whatever existed for a horseman; the possibility of any one attempting the passage not
having, in all probability, entered into the calculation of those who framed it. Added to this, the steps were of such unequal heights, and withal so narrow, that the danger was proportionately increased.
"Ten thousand devils!" cried Turpin, staring downwards; "is this the best road you have got?"
"You will find one more easy," replied Luke, "if you ride for a quarter of a mile down the wood, and then return by the brook side. You will meet me at the Priory."
No," answered the highwayman boldly; "if you go, I go too. It shall never be said that Dick Turpin was afraid to follow, where another would lead. Proceed."
Luke gave his horse the bridle, and the animal slowly and steadily commenced the descent, fixing his fore-legs upon the steps, and drawing his hinder limbs carefully after him. Here it was that the lightness and steadiness of Turpin's mare was completely shown. No Alpine mule could have borne its rider with more apparent ease and safety. Turpin encouraged her by hand and word; but she needed it not. The sexton saw them; and, tracking their giddy descent, he became more interested than he anticipated. His attention was suddenly
drawn towards Luke.
"He is gone," cried Peter. "He falls he sinksplans are all defeated the last link is snapped. No," added he, recovering his wonted composure, "his end is not so fated." Rook had missed his footing. He rolled stumbling down the precipice a few yards. Luke's fate seemed inevitable. His feet were entangled in the stirrup; he could not free himself. A birch tree, growing in a chink of the precipice, arrested his further fall. But for this timely aid all had been over. Here Luke was enabled to extricate himself from the stirrup, and to regain his feet; seizing the bridle, he dragged his faulty steed back again to the road.
"You have had a narrow escape, by Jove," said Turpin, who had been thunderstruck with the whole proceeding. "Those big cattle are always clumsy; devilish lucky it's no
It was now comparatively smooth travelling; but they had not as yet reached the valley, and it seemed to be Luke's object to take a circuitous path. This was so evident, that Turpin could not help commenting upon it.
Luke evaded the question. said he ; "besides, to tell you them."
"The crag is steep there," the truth, I want to surprise
Ho, ho!" laughed Dick. "Surprise them, eh? What a pity the birch tree was in the way; you would have done it properly then. Egad here's another surprise."
Dick's last exclamation was caused by his having suddenly come upon a wide gully in the rock, through which dashed a headlong torrent, crossed by a single plank.
"You must be mad, to have taken this road," cried Turpin, gazing down into the roaring depths in which the waterfall raged, and measuring the distance of the pass with his eye. So, so, Bess!-Ay, look at it, wench. Curse me, Luke, if I think your horse will do it, and, therefore, turn him loose." But Dick might as well have bidden the cataract to flow backwards. Luke struck his heels into his horse's sides. steed galloped to the brink, snorted, and refused the leap. "I told you so he can't do it," said Turpin. "Well, if you are obstinate, a wilful man must have his way. Stand aside, while I try it for you." Patting Bess, he put her to a gallop. She cleared the gulf bravely, landing her rider safely upon the opposite rock.
"Now then," cried Turpin, from the other side of the chasm.
Luke again urged his steed. Encouraged by what he had seen, this time the horse sprang across without hesitation. The next instant they were in the valley.
For some time they rode along the banks of the stream in silence. A sound at length caught the quick ears of the highwayman.
"Hist!" cried he, ke some one sings. Do you hear it ?” "I do,” replied Luke, the blood rushing to his cheeks.
"And could give a guess at the singer, no doubt," said Turpin with a knowing look. "Was it to hear yon woodlark that you nearly broke your own neck, and put mine in jeopardy?"
"Prithee be silent," whispered Luke.
"I am dumb," replied Turpin ; "I like a sweet voice, as well as another."
Clear as the note of a bird, yet melancholy as the distant dole of a vesper bell, arose the sound of that sweet voice, from the