Let the division I have made in my tales serve, In the mind of the reader, as an imaginary boundary between the past day and the ensuing morning. Let him, in his own fancy also, settle how the soldier watched, slept, dreamt or waked through this interval. Rory did not make his appearance, however; he had left the Public on the preceding evening, having made every necessary arrangement for carrying on the affair he had taken in hand; so that the Englishman, on inquiry, found Rory had departed, being "obleeged to lave the place early on his own business, but sure, his honour could have any accommodation in life he wanted, in the regard of a guide, or the like o' that"
Now, for this Rory had provided also, having arranged with the keepers of the Public, to whom he confided everything connected with the affair, that in case the trooper should ask for a guide, they should recommend him a certain young imp, the son of Rory's cousin, the blacksmith, and one of the most mischievous, knowing and daring young vagabonds in the parish.
To such guidance, therefore, did the Englishman commit himself on this, the third day of his search after the lands of the Peppers, which still remained a Terra Incognita to him; and the boy, being previously tutored upon the duties he was to perform in his new capacity, was not one likely to enlighten him upon the subject. The system of the preceding day was acted upon, except the outing of the horse's shoe; but by-roads and crooked lanes were put in requisition, and every avenue but the one really leading to his object the trooper was made to traverse.
The boy affected simplicity or ignorance, as best suited his purposes, to escape any inconvenient interrogatory or investigation on the part of the stranger, and at last the young guide turned up a small, rugged lane, down whose gentle slope some water was slowly trickling amongst stones and mud. On arriving at its extremity, he proceeded to throw down some sods, and pull away some brambles, which seemed to be placed there as an artificial barrier to an extensive field that lay beyond the lane.
"What are you doing there?" said the soldier.
"Makin' a convenience for your honour to get through the gap," said the boy.
"There is no road there," said the other.
"Oh, no, plaze your honour," said the young rascal, looking up in his face with an affectation of simplicity that might have deceived Machiavel himself. "It's not a road, sir, but a short cut."
"Cut it as short, then, as you can, my boy," said the soldier (the only good thing he ever said in his life); "for your short cuts in this country are the longest I ever knew--I'd rather go a round."
"So we must go round, by the bottom o' this field, sir, and then, over the hill beyant there, we come out an the road,"
"Then there is a road beyond the hill?"
"A fine road, sir," said the boy, who, having cleared a passage for the horseman, proceeded before him at a smart pace, and led him down the slope of the hill to a small valley, intersected by a sluggish stream which ran at Its foot. When the boy arrived at this valley, he stepped briskly across it, though the water splashed up about his feet at every bound he gave, and dashing on through the stream, he arrived at the other side by the time the trooper had reached the nearer one. Here the latter was obliged to pull up, for his horse at the first step sank so deep, that the animal instinctively withdrew his foot from the treacherous morass.
The trooper called after his guide, who was proceeding up the opposite acclivity, and the boy turned round.
"I can't pass this, boy," said the soldier.
The boy faced the hill again, without any reply, and commenced his ascent at a rapid pace.
"Come back, you young scoundrel, or I'll shoot you," said the soldier, drawing his pistol from his holster. The boy still continued his flight, and the trooper fired--but ineffectually--upon which the boy stopped, and after making a contemptuous action at the Englishman, rushed up the acclivity, and was soon beyond the reach of small arms, and shortly after out of sight, having passed the summit of the hill.
The Englishman's vexation was excessive at finding himself thus left in such a helpless situation. For a long time he endeavoured to find a spot in the marsh he might make his crossing good upon, but in vain--and after nearly an hour spent in this useless endeavour, he was forced to turn back and strive to unravel the maze of twisting and twining through which he had been led, for the purpose of getting on some highway, where a chance passenger might direct him in finding his road.
This he failed to accomplish, and darkness at length overtook him, In a wild country to which he was an utter stranger. He still continued, however, cautiously to progress along the road on which be was benighted, and at length the twinkling of a distant light raised some hope of succour in his heart.
Keeping this beacon in view, the benighted traveller made his way as well as he might, until, by favour of the glimmer he so opportunely discovered, be at last found himself in front of the house whence the light proceeded. He knocked at the door, which, after two or three loud summonses, was opened to him, and then, briefly stating the distressing circumstances in which he was placed, he requested shelter for the night.
The domestic who opened the door retired to deliver the stranger's message to the owner of the 'house, who immediately afterwards made his appearance, and with a reserved courtesy, invited the stranger to enter.
"Allow me first to see my horse stabled," said the soldier.
"He shall be cared for," said the other.
"Excuse me, sir," returned the blunt Englishman, "if I wish to see him in his stall. It has been a hard day for the poor brute, 'and I fear one of his hoofs is much injured; how far, I am anxious to see."
"As you please, sir," said the gentleman, who ordered a menial to conduct the stranger to the stable.
There, by the light of a lantern, the soldier examined the extent of injury his charger had sustained, and had good reason to fear that the next day would find him totally unserviceable.
After venting many a hearty curse on Irish roads and Irish guides, be was retiring from the stable when his attention was attracted by a superb white horse, and much as he was engrossed, by his present annoyance, the noble proportions of the animal were too striking to be overlooked. After admiring all his parts, he said to the attendant: "What a beautiful creature this is!"
"Troth, you may say that," was the answer. "What a charger he would make!"
"He must be very fleet?"
"As the win'."
"Whoo!--over the moon, if you axed him."
"That horse must trot at least ten miles the hour."
"Tin! Faix, it wouldn't be convaynient to him to throt undher fourteen;" and with this assurance on the part of the groom, he left the stable.
On being led into the dwelling-house, the stranger found the table spread for supper, and the owner of the mansion, pointing to a chair, invited him to partake of the evening meal.
The reader need scarcely be told that the Invitation came from Gerald Pepper, for I suppose the white horse in the stable has already explained whose house chance had directed the trooper to, though all his endeavours to find it had proved unavailing.
Gerald still maintained the bearing which characterised his first meeting with the Englishman on his threshold--it was that of reserved courtesy. Magdalene, his gentle wife, was seated near the table, with an infant child sleeping upon her lap; her sweet features were strikingly expressive of sadness; and as the stranger entered the apartment, her eyes were raised in one timorous glance upon the man whose terrible mission she was too well aware of, and the long lashes sank downwards again upon the pale cheek, which recent sorrow had robbed of its bloom.
"Come, sir," said Gerald, "after such a day of fatigue as yours has been, some refreshment will be welcome;" and the Englishman presently, by deeds, not words, commenced giving ample evidence of the truth of the observation. As the meal proceeded, he recounted some of the mishaps that had befallen him, all of which Gerald knew before, through Rory Oge, who was in the house at that very moment, though, for obvious reasons, he did not make his appearance, and at last the stranger put the question to his host, if he knew anyone in the neighbourhood called Gerald Pepper.
Magdalene felt her blood run cold, but Gerald quietly replied, there was a person of that name thereabouts.
"Is his property a good one?" said the trooper.
"Very much reduced of late," replied Gerald.
"Ballygarth they call it," said the soldier. "Is that far from here?"
"It would puzzle me to tell you how to go to it from this place," was the answer.
"It is very provoking," said the trooper. "I have been looking for it these three days, and cannot find it, and nobody seems to know where it is."
Magdalene, at these words, felt a momentary relief, yet still she scarcely dared to breathe.
"The truth is," continued the soldier, "that I am entitled, under the king's last commission, to the property, for all Pepper's possessions have been forfeited"
The baby, as it slept in the mother's lap, smiled as its legalised despoiler uttered these last words, and poor Magdalene, smote to the heart by the incident, melted into tears; but by a powerful effort, she repressed any audible evidence of grief, and shading her eyes with her hand, her tears dropped in silence over her sleeping child.
Gerald observed her emotion, and found it difficult to master his own feelings.
"Now it is rather hard," continued the soldier, "that I have been hunting up and down the country for this confounded place, and can't find it. I thought it a fine thing, but I suppose it's nothing to talk of, or somebody would know of it; and more provoking still, we soldiers have yet our hands so full of work, that I only got four days' leave, and tomorrow night I am bound to return to Dublin, or I shall be guilty of a breach of duty; and how I am to return, with my horse in the disabled state in which this detestable country has left him, I cannot conceive."
"You will be hard run to accomplish it," said Gerald.
"Now will you make a bargain with me?" said the soldier.
"Of what nature?" said Gerald.
"There," said the soldier, throwing down on the table a piece of folded parchment - " there is the debenture entitling the holder thereof to the property I have named. Now, I must give up looking for it, for the present, and I am tired of hunting after it, into the bargain; besides, God knows when I may be able to come here again. You are on the spot, and may make use of this instrument, which empowers you to take full possession of the property whatever it may be; to you it may be valuable. At a word, then, if I give you this debenture, will you give me the white horse that is standing in your stable?"
Next to his wife and children, Gerald Pepper loved his white horse; and the favourite animal so suddenly and unexpectedly named startled him, and strange as it may appear, he paused for a moment; but Magdalene, unseen by the soldier, behind whom she was seated, clasped her outstretched hands in the action of supplication to her husband, and met his eye with an imploring look that at once produced his answer.
"Agreed!" said Gerald.
"'Tis a bargain," said the soldier; and he tossed the debenture across the table as the property of the man whom it was intended to leave destitute.
Having thus put his host into possession of his own property, the soldier commenced spending the night pleasantly, and it need not be added that Gerald Pepper was in excellent humour to help him.
As for poor Magdalene, when the bargain was completed, her heart was too full to permit her to remain longer, and hurrying to the apartment where the elder children were sleeping, she kissed them passionately, and throwing herself on her knees between their little beds, wept profusely, as she offered the fervent outpourings of a grateful heart to Heaven, for the ruin so wonderfully averted from their innocent heads.
Stories must come to an end, like everything else of this world, and so my story is ended, as all stories should be, when there is no further vitality left in them; for though some post-mortem experiments are occasionally made by those who expect, by a sort of Galvanic influence, to persuade their readers that the subject is not quite dead yet, the practice is so generally unsuccessful, that I decline becoming an operator in that line; therefore let me hasten to my conclusion.
The next morning the English soldier was in his saddle at an early hour, and be seemed to entertain all the satisfaction of an habitual horseman in feeling the stately tread of the bold steed beneath him. The white horse champed his bit, and by his occasional curvettings, evinced a consciousness that his accustomed rider was not on his back; but the firm seat and masterly hand of the soldier shortly reduced such slight marks of rebellion into obedience, and be soon bade Gerald Pepper farewell.
The parting was rather brief and silent; for to have been other would not have accorded with the habits of the one, nor suited the immediate humour of the other. In answer to the spur of the soldier, the white horse galloped down the avenue of his former master's domain, and left behind him the fields in which be had been bred. Gerald Pepper looked after his noble steed while he remained within sight, and thought no one was witness to the tear he dashed from his eye when he turned to re-enter his house. But there were two who saw and sympathised in the amiable weakness--his gentle Magdalene and the faithful Rory Oge. The latter, springing from behind an angle of the house where he had stood concealed, approached his foster-brother, and said:
"Thrue for you, indeed, Masther Gerald, it is a pity, so it is, and a murther intirely; but sure, there's no help for it; and though the white horse is a loss, there is no denyin it, yet, 'pon 'my conscience, I'm mighty proud this blessed minit to see that fellow lavin' the place!"
Gerald Pepper entertained, throughout his life, an affectionate remembrance of his gallant horse: even more--the stall where he last stood, and the rack and manger where he had last fed under the roof of his master, were held sacred, and were ordered to remain in the state the favourite had left them; and to perpetuate to his descendant the remembrance of the singular event which had preserved to him his estate, the white horse was introduced into his armorial bearings, and is, at this day, one of the heraldic distinctions of the family.