Chapter XXXII
A Painful Incident

A few hours later, when hunters and watchers had had a little rest, came the rude awakening after the hour of triumph.

Jock Miggs, still trussed and pinioned, had been hauled out of the pound. Master Inch, the beadle, resplendent in gold-laced coat and the majesty of his own importance, had taken the order of ceremony into his own hands.

His Honour, Squire West, would be round at the Court House about noon, and Inch, still smarting under the indignity put upon him through the instrumentality of the highwayman, had devised an additional little plan of revenge.

Sir Humphrey Challoner had emphatically declared that the beadle should be publicly whipped for having dared to lay hands on the Squire of Hartington's person. Master Inch remembered this possible and appalling indignity, which mayhap he would be called upon to suffer, and therefore when the bolts of the pound were first drawn, disclosing the swathed-up bundle of humanity which was supposed to be the highwayman, the beadle shouted in his most stentorian, most pompous tones,--

"To the pond with him!"

The soldiers--most of them lads recruited from the Midland counties, and a pretty rough lot to boot--were only too ready for this additional bit of horseplay.

'Twas fun enough to sit an old scold in the duckingstool, but to carry on the same game with Beau Brocade, the notorious highwayman, who had defied the four counties and set every posse of soldiers by the ears, would be rare sport indeed.

With a shout of joy they seized Jock Miggs by the legs and shoulders, and with much laughter and many a lively sally they carried him to the shallow duck-pond at the further end of the green. Very sadly, and with many an anxious shake of the head, the village folk followed the little procession, which was headed by the Sergeant and pompous Master Inch.

At the moment when the unfortunate shepherd was being swung in mid-air, preparatory to his immersion in the water, one of the soldiers laughingly dragged away the coat which swathed poor Migg's head and shoulders, and was near suffocating him.

"We don't want 'im to drown, do we?" he said, just as his comrades dropped the wretched man straight into the pond.

Immediately there was a loud cry from beadle and spectators,--

"Lud love us all! that bain't Beau Brocade!"

And one timid voice added,--

"Why! 'tis Jock Miggs, the shepherd!"

The beadle nearly had a fit of apoplectic rage. That cursed highwayman surely must be in league with the devil himself. The soldiers were gasping with astonishment, and staring open-mouthed at the dripping figure of Jock Miggs, who with unruffled stolidity was quietly struggling out of the water.

"Lordy! Lordy! these be 'mazing times," he muttered in his vague, fatalistic way as he shook himself dry in the sunshine, after the manner of his own woolly sheep-dog.

"Oho! ho! ha! ha! ha!" came in merry chorus from the crowd of village folk, "look at Jock Miggs, the highwayman!"

The soldiers were absolutely speechless. Master Inch, the beadle, had said emphatically,--

"Damn!"

Truly there was nothing more to be said: those who were inclined to be superstitious felt convinced that the devil himself had had something to do with this amazing substitution.

That it was Beau Brocade who had been capture on the Heath last night none of those who were present at the time doubted for a single instant. To their minds the highwayman had been mysteriously spirited away by the agency of Satan his friend, who had quietly deposited Jock Miggs, the shepherd, in his place.

John Stich, with Mistress Betty beside him, had watched these proceedings from the other end of the green, fully prepared to come to Migg's assistance and to disclose the latter's identity at once if the horse-play became at all too rough. He now pushed his way through the group of soldiers, and good-naturedly taking hold of the bewildered shepherd's arm, he led him to the porch of the Royal George.

"You'd like to wet your gullet after this, eh, Jock?" he said, as he ordered a tankard of steaming ale to be brought forthwith to the dripping man.

The soldiers, somewhat shamefaced, had pressed into the bar-parlour of the inn: presently there would be a few broken heads in the village as a result of the morning's work, but for the moment the yokels had not begun to chaff: 'twas Jock who was the centre of attraction outside in the porch, sitting on a bench and sipping large quantities of hot ale.

"Let's all drink a glass of ale to the health of Jock Miggs, the highwayman!" came in merry accents from one of the gaffers.

"Hurrah for Jock Miggs, the highwayman!" was the universal gleeful chorus.

"By gy! Don't he look formidable!" quoth one of the villagers, pointing at the shepherd's scared figure on the bench.

"Let me perish!" said another in mock alarm, "but I'se mightily afeeared o'him."

Mistress Betty too had mixed with the throng, and was eyeing Jock, with irrepressible laughter dancing in her saucy little face.

"Lud! 'tis that funny bit of sheep's wool!" she said gaily. "Faith! and you do look sadly, Jock Miggs, and no mistake! Have you been in the pond?"

"How did 'e foind that out?" queried Miggs, vaguely. "Aye! they dumped Oi in t'pond, they did . . .and nearly throttled Oi. . .'tis a blamed shame!"

He had sipped huge tankards of hot ale until he felt thoroughly warm, and was steaming now like a great loaf just out of the oven.

"Dumped ye in the pond?" laughed Mistress Betty. "You were no beauty before, Jock Miggs. . . but now . . .Oh! Gemini!. . .Why, what had you done?"

"I'd done nowt!" retorted the bewildered shepherd. "A foine gentleman he took a fancy to me old smock, he did . . .he put a pistol to my head . . .then he give me his own beautiful coat for to make me look decent . . .and I were just puttin' it on when them soldiers fell on me . . .and nigh throttled me, and clapped me in the pound they did . . ."

"Ye seem to have had a rough time o' it, friend Miggs," said John Stich, kindly.

"Aye, that be so!" commented Jock, vaguely. "'Mazing times these be!"

"They mistook you in your fine clothes for Beau Brocade," explained one of the villagers.

"May be so!" quoth Miggs. "I dunno."

But Mistress Betty held up a rosy finger at the unfortunate, and said with grave severity,--

"Ye are not Beau Brocade, Jock Miggs, are ye?"

"I dunno!" replied Jock Miggs with imperturbable vagueness. "I don't rightly know who Oi be! I think them soldiers made a mistake, but I dunno."

He was undoubtedly the hero of the hour, and the rest of his morning was spent in pleasant conviviality with all his friends in the village, until by about noon the worthy shepherd was really hopelessly at sea as to who he really was. At one o'clock he became quite convinced that he was Beau Brocade the highwayman--or at any rate a very dangerous character--and had only escaped hanging through his reputation of supernatural cunning and bravery.

The Sergeant and soldiers were drowning their acute disappointment in the bar-parlour of the Royal George. They certainly were not in luck, for even at the very moment when egged on by the Sergeant they were planning a fresh battue of the Heath, there came into Brassington an advance guard from the Duke of Cumberland, with the news that His Royal Highness would pass through the village with his army corps on his way to the north. The Sergeant was requisitioned to arrange for His Highness's quarters at the Royal George: the men would not be allowed to go hunting after a highwayman, in case their officers had need of them for other purposes.

All thoughts of a fresh hunt after their elusive quarry would therefore have to be abandoned until after the army had passed through Brassington, and Sergeant and soldiers could but hope that they would be left behind, in order that they might make one more gigantic attempt to earn the hundred guineas reward, offered for the capture of Beau Brocade.