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SHOOTING A FOX-AM TRIED FOR MURDER-MY FACE SAVES MY NECK.
After I had been about a fortnight at my uncle's house, and really began to feel myself comfortable, notwithstanding I frequently detected the domestics indulging in a sly grin at the expense of my unfortunate features --not at all improved by my four front teeth having been knocked out by the ruffian De Gray, who I think had a spice of his sister's malady in him,-I say after I had been located about a fortnight, I received a letter from my father—the first I had ever received from him, in which with a savage gusto he dwelt upon the thrashing I had received at the “hands of an honourable man, who had rescued his unfortunate sister from my clutches.” He affected not to believe that I was ignorant of the imbecile state of her mind, for I must have been certain that no woman, who had not entirely lost her senses, would receive attentions from the ugliest mortal ever created. He had taken care, he said, that my mother should be fully informed of the career of villany I had entered upon, in order that she might satisfy herself that I was not exactly the innocent young man she delighted to consider me. He had seen the full particulars of the affair in the paper, and in which he put the utmost confidence. He had shown it to my mother, and for my satisfaction he could tell me that she believed every word of it, which had had so serious an effect on her, that she took to her bed at once, and had remained seriously ill ever since. It would be useless for me to come to town thinking to see her, for he was determined I should never darken his door again. I had chosen to seek the favour of a crack-brained old fox hunter, no doubt for what I could wheedle him out of, and there I had better remain, for it was my only dependence, as I should never receive one farthivg more from him, &c. &c. With this fatherly letter he also sent me a copy of a London paper, in which the account of my misfortune had appeared, and which I verily believe had been inserted by himself, as the version given in the country paper in which it first appeared kept pretty closely to the facts ; but in this the whole transaction was made to bear so villanous a character, that I could not be at all surprised at the effect it had had on my mother. In it I was described as the son of a highly respectable solicitor in an extensive practice, who had had erery means thrown in my way of pushing my fortune in the world in an honourable calling, but, owing to a naturally vicious disposition, I had taken to low company, frequenting night houses, &c., and now, to crown all, had succeeded in inducing a young lady of good family, but of unsound mind, to elope with me, not, as it appeared, with an intention of an honourable marriage, but with the most base design; bat being pursued by her father and brother, they fortunately arrired just in time to rescue the young lady from dishonour. The account went on to say that when I found myself disappointed in my diabolical intention I had turned my rage on the brother, upon whom I had committed a dreadful assault, and should no doubt hare killed him had it not been for the interference of the people of the inn; and that when, on the following day, the brother demanded that satisfaction which one gentleman owes to another, I had slank away, and gone to reside in the country until the affair had blown orer.
Being anxious to learn the truth of my mother's illness, and to disabuse her mind as to the circumstances, I wrote to my eldest sister, and explained the affair as it really had happened. In a few days I received an answer, from which I learnt that my mother, although much hart at what she bad read, had not been confined to her bed, nor indeed seriously indisposed. The letter contained a gam o! money, and my mother promised to remit me a similar amount every quarter, out of ber own private income. This was very acceptable to me, for, although I might have had anything I wanted from my uncle, I did not wish to be beholden to him for my pocket money.
My father's malevolence I could have laughed at, but the base perversion of the truth in every line of the newspaper account of my travelling adventure, was a more serious matter, although I was utterly powerless to help myself, or dicabuse the public mind upon the point. The“ Heartless Depravity,” as it was beaded, was so carefully drawn up, that there was no laying hold of the publisher for a libel, if I had even been inclined to figure as a prosecutor in a court of law, which I certainly was not; and when I wrote to the editor of the paper in which the offensive paragraph had appeared, requesting an insertion of the plain facts of the case, the only satisfaction I got was a “Notice to Correspondents:-Job P. is informed that we received the paragraph of which he complains from a highly respectable correspondent, and see no reason to doubt its perfect correctness.” One consolation I had, however, in my misfortunes, that no one in the neighbourhood of my uncle's residence was aware of my identity with the “heartless scoundrel," the“ disgrace of the family," the “sneaking coward," as I had the pleasure of hearing myself called at my uncle's table when the account was read one evening by a prosing old sergeant whom my uncle kept about him, to an assembly of country squires.
For some weeks after my arrival at my uncle's I was too unwell-sore both in body and mind, to leave the house. However, as nothing sublunary is lasting, I gradually recorered my health and spirits, and accompanied him in most of his outdoor amusements; bat my usual ill-luck followed me, or rather I should say accompanied me here, for being out early one morning with a gun, looking out for small birds to have a shot at, I discovered, sneaking out from one of the farm buildings, sly Reynard, who no doubt thought to pass unobserved.
I was too quick for him, however, for I fired and broke both bis hind legs. At the moment I had seized my prize, and was holding it up by the neck, two neighbouring squires, who were on their way to the meet, which was to take place in the neighbourhood, came by on horseback, and I th by the torrent of abuse which they poured upon me, and threats of a horsewhip, that I had been guilty of a great crime in shooting a fox ! and although they afterwards, upon learning who I was, in some sort apologised for their conduct, which they attributed to the heinousness of my offence, I could plainly perceire that I had eternally disgraced myself in their eyes.
This was my first misadventure, to speak of, since I had arrived at my uncle's, for I take no account of breaking crockeryware and glasses, as scarcely a day passed without something of that kind happening; but the killing a fox turned out in the end a more serious annoyance to me than could at first have been imagined, as will be seen in the sequel.
One day, being out with my uncle, in following the hounds we came to a good stiff fence, which the others took with the greatest case, and which, being mounted on one of my uncle's best horses, I felt very strongly inclined to attempt; when, however, I came close to it, my heart failed me, and I endua. voured to check the animal, but too late to prerent it making the spring, although quite time enough to balk it, and the effect was what might have been expected; instead of clearing the fence, it struck its legs against it, and rolled orer on to the other side, breaking its own legs, and so seriously injuring me that I was thought to be dead. I was carried off to the nearest house, and a surgeon sent for, who, upon examining me, found that I had broken an arm, dislocated an ankle, and fractured two ribs.
This kept me a prisoner to the house for two months, and in so far was of benefit to me that it kept me out of mischief-better for me if they had treated me as they did the poor horse that I had maimed, and which they shot on the spot to put it out of its misery, for my life was one continued series of misfor. tunes, which, if they had involved no one else in their consequences, migbt have been bearable; but this was not the case, for they generally caused as much annoyance to somebody else as they did to myself; and in this instance I had caused the loss of my uncle's best horse, and one which he valued even above its worth, from the fact of its having been a gift, while a pony, of an old crony of his, who had since gone the way of all flesh. If the worthy old man had not had one of the best tempers in the world, he would at once have got rid of one who was continually getting him into some scrape.
Having sufficiently recovered to be able to stroll about the grounds in the neighbourhood of the house, although not strong enough to mount a horse (for which, indeed, I felt no inclination), I would sometimes pass an afternoon by the side of a beautiful little trout stream that ran very near; although of course I had my usual luck, it served to pass away the time that I found hang heavy on my hands. At other times I would take a gun, and shoot anything that came in my way (always excepting a fox) from a rook to a rabbit, and if I ever had luck in anything it was in this, which made it a rather favourite amusement with me. This, however, was fated to be the cause of the most serious misfortune that ever I met with, and the recollection of which will haunt me to my grave.
Having been out one day shooting, I had just got so far on my return as the barn near which I had shot the fox, when, turning a sharp corner, I came suddenly upon a couple of rabbits, who were enjoying the warmth of the sun by the side of the barn. Without the least hesitation, my gun was at my shoulder, and discharged at the very moment that one of my uncle's domestics, a young woman who had the care of the dairy department, came out from a doorway in the barn not three yards from me, and whose body received the entire contents of my fowling piece. A heart-piercing scream followed the discharge, and she fell to the ground. Several persons were immediately on the spot, but too late to be of any service she died in less than five minutes !
Stupified with horror, I have but little recollection of what followed, until I found myself placed before a magistrate on a charge of murder. The case was made to appear remarkably clear against me: the report of the gun had been heard, and the girl's shriek, by several witnesses, who had found me on the spot with the gun in my hand; no one else was. near, and the young woman herself had pointed me out as her murderer. Having collected my scattered senses, I endeavoured to explain how the accident had happened, but in so very incoherent a manner that my very confusion was taken as evidence of my guilt. Whilst the inquiry was proceeding, a neighbouring squire, a magistrate also, came in, and on the affair being recounted to him he turned to look at me, and I then saw that he was one of the two who had threatened to horsewhip me for shooting the fox. He immediately recognised me, exclaiming,—" Ah, this is just what might have been expected from such a fellow. Why do you know, (turning to his worthy compeer,) not long since I detected this miscreant in the fact of shooting a fox !”
“ Shoot a fox !” exclaimed the other, horror-struck, and then turning to the clerk continued,-"Dubbins, make out his commitment. I believe the man who would shoot a fox would commit any crime !” and I was at once conveyed to the county gaol!
My uncle, being at a friend's house some miles away, did not hear of it until next day, when he hastened home, and endeavoured to procure my liberation on bail, but the crime was thought of too deep a dye to permit of this, and I lay