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My Lady’s Coach
by [?]

“Tut, tut! Good appetite?”

He had approached, unwound his enormous woollen comforter, and was beginning to bandage me with it, by no means unskilfully. I thought his question a mad one, and no doubt my face, as he peered into it, told him so.

“I mean,” he explained, “will you ever be able to eat a beef-steak again– say, a trifle underdone, with a dozen of oysters for prelude–and drink beer, d’ye think, and enjoy them both?”

“No doubt.”

“And kiss a pretty girl, and be glad to do it?”

“Very likely.”

“And fight?”

He eyed his bandage critically, stepped back upon the road and danced about, stamping with his feet while he cut and thrust at an imaginary enemy. “And fight, hey?”

“I suppose so.”

“Then, bless the lad,” he exclaimed, stopping and looking at me as fierce as a rat, “get on your legs, and don’t sit moping as if life were a spilt posset!”

There was no disobeying this masterful old gentleman, so I made shift to stand up.

“We have but one life to live,” said he.

“I beg your pardon?”

“–In this world. God forgive me, I’d almost forgotten my cloth! We have, I say, only one life to live in this world, and must make the best of it. I tell you so, and I’m a clergyman.”

“Indeed, sir?”

“Damme, yes; and, what’s more, I’ll take odds that I’m not the rector of this very parish.”

By this time, as you will guess, I had no doubt of his madness. To begin with, anyone less like a parson it would be hard to pick in a crowd, and, besides, I remembered some of his language to the highwaymen.

“It ought to be hereabouts,” he went on meditatively. “And if it should turn out to be my parish we must make an effort to get your money back, if only for our credit’s sake, hey?”

“Oh,” said I, suspicious all of a sudden, “if these ruffians are your parishioners and you know them–“

“Know them?” he caught me up. “How the devil should I know them? I’ve never been within a hundred miles of this country in my life.”

“You say ’tis your parish–“

“I don’t. I only say that it may be.”

“But, excuse me, if you’ve never seen it before–“

“I don’t see it now,” he snapped.

“Then excuse me again, but how on earth do you propose–here in the dead of night, on an outlandish moorland, in a country you have never seen–to discover a chest of treasure which seven or eight scoundrelly, able-bodied natives are at this moment making off with and hiding?”

“The problem, my friend, as you state it is too easy; too ridiculously easy. ‘Natives’ you say: I only hope they may be. The difficulty will only begin if we discover them to be strangers to these parts.”

“Have mercy then on my poor dull wits, sir, and take the case at its easiest. We’ll suppose these fellows to be natives. Still, how are you to discover their whereabouts and the whereabouts of my pay-chest?”

“Why, man alive, by the simple expedient of finding a house, knocking at the door, and asking! You don’t suppose, do you, that seven or eight able-bodied men can commit highway robbery upon one of His Majesty’s coaches and their neighbours be none the wiser? I tell you, these rural parishes are the veriest gossip-shops on earth. Go to a city if you want to lose a secret, not to a God-forsaken moor like this around us, where every labourer’s thatch hums with rumour. Moreover, you forget that as a parish priest among this folk–as curator of their souls–I may have unusually good opportunities–” Here he checked himself, while I shrugged my shoulders. “By the way, it may interest you to hear how I came by this benefice. Can you manage to walk? If so, I will tell you on the road, and we shall be losing no time.”