Ledfoot’s Plot

“A gentleman by the name of Ledfoot, sir, would like to speak with you, if you please,” said my old housekeeper, one afternoon, standing with the dining-room door in her hand.

“ Ledfoot?” I repeated. “Don’t know the name. Ask him in.”

A middle-aged man of ruddy and cheerful countenance, with plentiful light hair,—except on a very marked bald patch, smooth and shiny, on the top of his head,—a good deal of sandy beard, shot with gray, and restless little gray eyes, set deep in under a fat forehead fringed with very prominent eyebrows, was shown into the room.

“I have ventured to call,” he began, oddly screwing up his left eye into a smile, whilst the rest of his face was inscrutably passive, “in search of apartments.”

“My good sir,” said I, “I don’t let lodgings, and there are but two houses, besides this, in Clumpington big enough to afford you accommodation, and I am certain neither of their owners would entertain the question.”

Besides, I was quite amazed to think of any one wanting lodgings in Clumpington,—a little lonely Hampshire hamlet on a large expanse of heath, whither it had occurred to no one hitherto to come in search of change. We have not twenty houses in the village, not a single shop (for we get all our necessaries from the neighboring town of Clayington), no lawyer, no doctor (thank goodness, the place is too healthy to keep one), and a parson only once a fortnight. There is nothing to see but undulating miles of purple heather and golden-blossomed gorse, and the clump of firs which gives its name to the place.

“I hope I have not made a mistake,” the gentleman continued, “but an acquaintance of mine in London—Mr. Hickey, a house agent—told me he thought you could accommodate me.”

Then I remembered how,—some twelve months back, when my old friend and schoolfellow, Maurice Hickey, left Clumpington after a fortnight’s visit, abusing the dulness of the place and my obstinacy in choosing to live a life of retirement in a big house alone with a very old housekeeper,—he had threatened to make it his business to find some one to enliven my solitude, for a part of the year, at all events. I know at the time I strenuously objected to let lodgings, but Maurice would have it that a suitable companion would cheer me up, and do the empty rooms a deal of good; “always provided,” as he thoughtfully added, “that there was to be found in the wide world another such an old mope as myself to volunteer for six months’ solitary confinement.” I recollected that, half in earnest, I had told Maurice Hickey he could send me a companion if he liked; for, in truth, I had been very lonely since the death of my wife; and my dark, empty rooms were thegraves of dead memories, and the burial-places of much sunshine which had died out of my life.

I was rather favorably impressed with Mr. Ledfoot. Perhaps that air of overpowering candor which a very widely open white waistcoat lends to a stout person with a happy face, as if to express that the secrets of his breast are all bared to public inspection, had a good deal to do with it; in addition to which he wore the frankest shirt-front I ever saw. At all events, I expressed my readiness to see what could be done for a friend of Mr. Hickey’s, though as to terms, I knew no more than the man in the moon what to ask. This matter, however, was soon settled, by my visitor handing me a note from Maurice Hickey, in which I found everything arranged about terms on a scale I certainly thought exorbitant, but which seemed satisfactory enough to my prospective lodger.

“Then I may consider the matter settled?” said Mr. Ledfoot, with undisguised pleasure.

For my part I thought so, and said so, provided the rooms suited when he had seen them; but beyond inquiring if he could have a bedroom with shutters to it, and a four-post bedstead, he seemed to care very little about the rest. Satisfied on this point, he refused even to look at the apartments. “Shutters and a four-poster were indispensable requisites for his purpose.” This looked odd to me. What purpose could he have which they could answer?

I hoped he was not a whimsical old gentleman, that would turn out a bore. But no, as I looked at him, he was beaming and happy, and the candor of his waistcoat completely reassuring. He had, too, a merry way of continually closing his left eye when he was talking and pleased, which prepossessed me much in his favor. So leaving word with Mrs. French, the housekeeper, to get the rooms ready, I drove Mr. Ledfoot in my cart to the railway station at Clayington to fetch his luggage. This consisted of a large, secretive-looking black box, and a wicker cage of live birds of many sorts. He was very fond of birds, he explained. If so, he didn’t show his taste in their selection, I thought; for they were a very seedy lot of birds,—a dowdy thrush, a blackbird, a bald pigeon, and a rook. Two long poles, with nets attached, for bird-catching, completed the luggage. “Was he going to catch birds then?” “Yes.” “For any scientific purpose?” I inquired. “No,” he said, rather blankly, and without closing his eye; “but he was very fond of birds.” And Mr. Ledfoot colored consciously,— evidently appearing not to want any more questions asked.

I began to hope he was not an untidy old gentleman who intended to make an aviary of his bedroom,— anxious, for that reason, about shutters, to give the birds air while keeping them from flying through the open window. At all events, I became curious to know what my new companion was by profession.

In a few days Mr. Ledfoot fell into what I perceived was to be the normal mode of his life with me. I seldom saw anything of him before lunch. He would have some coffee brought to his door at ten o’clock of a morning, and get down stairs about eleven or so, when he would take a little stroll by himself. Yet, strangely enough, he was always ready for bed at any early hour, though I never remember him sleepy at night-time. In the afternoons he would go out with his nets and spread them on the heath for bird-catching. Now and then he brought home a few birds, when he would let the old tenants of his wicker cage fly, and one evening he bought a dead hawk of a village lad. He was capital company; and when at dinner—for he took his meals with me—was full of jokes and anecdotes, which he told very well,—closing his left eye in ecstasy when he came to the point of the story. He was very communicative, generally speaking, on all subjects but one,—what he wanted with birds; and as he neither ate them, nor sold them, nor kept them, nor gave them away, I was puzzled to imagine.

I should soon have ceased to wonder at what might well enough have been the innocent hobby of any gentleman, if it had not been for my housekeeper, Mrs. French.
One morning, before Mr. Ledfoot was up, the old woman, in not the best of humors, came into the room where I was at breakfast.

“What’s the matter now, Mrs. French?”

“Well, sir, I am not one to complain, as you know, and no doubt it isn’t my place to find fault with a gentleman’s lying in bed till eleven o’clock here of a day, although it certainly does make more work, and dinner very much drove on account of it. I do not complain of that, sir.”

“No?” I said, for it is useless to say more than “yes” and “no” to Mrs. French, when she begins telling me what she does not mind.

“No, sir, but I can’t bear parties who are sly and secret, and underhanded in their ways, and it’s only right you should know it.”

“Yes?”

“Yes, sir. Parties who shut one eye in the day and keep both eyes open at night. That’s what I mean. Parties who never think of going to sleep until all proper folks think it time to wake up, and go and get their work done.”

“Mr. Ledfoot—” I began.

“Never mind who I mean, sir. I name no names, but I have my thoughts, just the same. You wouldn’t yourself like to be disturbed after a hard day’s work, if you slept over a person’s room, by hearing that person gropin’ about all the time, and making sawin’ noises in the dead of night.”

“Nonsense, Mrs. French,” I said, “it must be your fancy. Perhaps Mr. Ledfoot, not being able to sleep, might have walked across the room, or moved a chair or so.”

“Parties would no doubt sleep better at night if they were to get up in the morning instead of the afternoon. But I put it to you, sir, whether walking the room or moving chairs would account for sawdust, let alone feathers on the floor of a party’s room, although very artfully swept up in a corner not to be seen, and no doubt mostly carried away. And it’s not pleasant sleeping over a room where you know there ‘s a candle burning all night which may set your own bedtick in a blaze any moment you happen to drop off to sleep. But artfulness I do detest in parties who won’t burn your candles lest they should be found out, but put out their bedroom candle as soon as they get to their rooms, and use from a private pound of composites of their own that they hide away under the sacking of their bed. Depend upon it, sir, there is something secret going on at nights that wants looking into.”

In a country place where so little is doing, a small marvel is soon magnified into a mystery. Connecting in my mind Mr. Ledfoot’s anxiety about shutters, his queer taste for birds, and the “sawing noises” deposed to by Mrs. French, my curiosity in my lodger revived. When he came down stairs, and had gone out for a stroll, I went up in his room, where my housekeeper triumphantly pointed out a few grains of sawdust, and a feather or two, disfiguring the neatness and cleanliness of her carpet, and produced from their hiding-place the secret pound of candles in evidence of what she said. There was nothing else to minister to curiosity, neither in the closets nor in the presses, nor under the bed, except the heavy and secretive-looking black box which Mrs. French believed, at least, to contain some diabolical engine of destruction to blow up the household.

On Mr. Ledfoot’s return I rallied him on the subject of his sleepless nights. He received my sallies with confusion and evident discomposure, and for the first time I observed a furtive and distrustful look spread over his features, as if he possessed some secret, the discovery of which he very much dreaded. He shut his left eye less than usual that day. For some days after this Mr. Ledfoot was more quiet and reserved in his manner than he had hitherto been, but in the course of a week, during which Mrs. French made no more complaint of “sawing noises,” he had recovered his cheerfulness, and with it the use of his left eye. He then caught more birds, giving the old ones their liberty, and would remain alone in his sitting-room with his birds for hours at a time, with his door fastened. What he did with the birds I could not discover, but I know he was accustomed to write a good deal, for he had a way of tearing up spoilt sheets of paper covered with writing, and throwing them out of window, in little screws, from time to time.

Nearly opposite my house is the small village hostel, called the Clump Inn, an old-fashioned public-house, with an outdoor settle, and a table, on a stump outside, under the sign-board that swings from an aged elm. Now on that settle, for the last few days, a man in velveteen, a stranger to the village, had been sitting off and on several hours a day, and consuming a great deal more beer than I considered good for him. He had on a stiff hat, and was evidently accustomed to wear a stiff stock, which he was perpetually feeling after. When not sitting there, he would relieve himself by taking a turn up and down the road, but always past my house, and looking so eagerly at its windows that I soon became uncomfortably impressed with the notion that he was watching my house. In fact I was certain of it. Said I to myself, This is either another mystery, or the solution of the first. So at last I put on my hat and walked up and down too. On this the man returned to his settle, sat himself down, and tried to look unconscious. I walked up to him, and sat myself down by his side.

“Well, my friend,” I began, “you seem to take a singular interest in looking at my house; perhaps you may be equally interested in seeing its owner. May I ask why you keep walking up and down watching my windows?”

“What I know I know,” replied the man in velveteen, sententiously, “and what I don’t tell anybody they aint likely to be able to tell anybody else,” and he gave me a tumbled card, on which was inscribed

Mr. Twigett,

and then drew himself up on the settle in order that I might be duly impressed with his presence and bearing. He was young, perhaps eight-and-twenty, remarkably self-complacent wore his hair cropped close, which gave him a shrewd appearance; and when he surveyed me with his eyelids half closed, and his mouth pursed up as though to determine whether or no I was a likely sort of person for him to take into his confidence, I thought him anything but prepossessing. Releasing his features, he said after a pause, —

“I should like a word with you.”

“Very good. On what subject?”

He dropped his voice, and in a distinct whisper asked, —

“Do you want a thousand pounds?”

Really Mr. Twigett didn’t appear to me a likely person to go and borrow half-a-crown of. Observing my look of incredulity, he added, in the same tone, —

“I am a detective policeman.”

Well, I was not in want of money, so to say, but there is something tempting about the offer of such a sum; and the question was asked with an amount of assurance that sounded like half the money down.

“Meet me here, in the back parlor, at nine o’clock,” said Mr. Twigett; “and let no one know you have spoken with me. Discretion in these matters is everything.”

“Why not come to my house and tell me what you have to say there?”

“Impossible,” he replied; “we should be blown upon.”

And Mr. Twigett went into the Clump, and called for more beer, which he remained inside to drink. But he walked up and down in front of my house no more that evening.

Well, I thought to myself, my friend Maurice Hickey is a nice person to go and send me down a lodger that the police are after; for I made up my mind directly it was Mr. Ledfoot that was wanted; though what for, and how it could have anything to do with a liking for birds, and shutters, and four-post bedsteads, I couldn’t guess. I resolved to write Maurice, and ask about him, and I did so, then and there.

Mr. Ledfoot was in the best of humors that evening, and told stories and made a number of cheerful little jokes. Indeed, he was so remarkably amiable, that I couldn’t help thinking I should be acting a very base part to join in a plot against him, if such were intended. However, a thousand pounds is a thousand pounds, besides which, as a secondary consideration, justice is a sort of thing not to be trifled with; and if Mr. Ledfoot were really guilty of anything very execrable, perhaps the sooner he was taken away from me, the better. At all events, nine o’clock found me at the Clump parlor.

There was Mr. Twigett, calmly smoking a long clay, moistened with the remainder of the beer he had ordered.

“Well, Mr. Twigett.” I remarked, “you casually mentioned something about a thousand pounds.”

“Hush! Let us first see we are alone,” he said, laying down his pipe, and going into the passage. Satisfied on this, he returned, and bolted the door.

“Has this matter anything to do with Mr. Ledfoot?” I inquired.

By way of reply, Mr. Twigett produced from his pocket a large handbill, and laid it before me. I read as follows: —

V. crownR.

DESCRIPTION OF
JAMES STEPHENS,

Styling himself the Head Centre of all the Fenians of Ireland.

About forty-two years of age, five feet seven inches high, stout make, broad high shoulders, active appearance, fair hair, bald all round top of head, wears all his beard.—which is sandy, slightly tinged with gray, rather long under the chin, but slight round the jaw approaching the ears,—broad forehead, tender eyes, and has a peculiar habit of closing the left eye when speaking, high cheekbones, and rather good countenance, hands and feet remarkably small and well-formed.

The government have offered

ONE THOUSAND POUNDS REWARD

to any person or persons who shall give such information as shall lead to the arrest of the said James Stephens, and

A FURTHER REWARD OF ONE THOUSAND POUNDS

to any person or persons who shall arrest the said James Stephens.
Metropolitan Police Office.


“You don’t mean it, Mr. Twigett!” I exclaimed.

In the centre of the handbill was a photograph, marvellously like Mr. Ledfoot, I could not deny, and the peculiar habit of closing the left eye when speaking was unmistakable, while the description of height and personal appearance tallied exactly.

Only to think that I had been sheltering a notorious Fenian.

“Still,” I said, “ Mr. Twigett, there may be some mistake, because there are, no doubt, many respectable persons who would answer to this description, and, indeed, resemble this photograph, in some measure.”

“Very good, sir; wait a minute. Do you know Mr. Ledfoot’s handwriting?”

Yes; I was tolerably well acquainted with it, having frequently taken his letters to post for him.

“Indeed; and to whom were the letters addressed?”

I could not charge my memory to remember further than that several were to Ireland, at least one to America, and a number to Liverpool.

Mr. Twigett made a note of this.

“Now, sir,” said the detective, “as you know this gentleman’s handwriting, what do you say to this?” And he smoothed out a paper on which he had pasted a number of the bits Mr. Ledfoot had thrown out of window. “Evidently drafts of despatches, sir, and plans of attack.”

A portion of the mosaic of pieces consisted of drawings, but so put together, that I could make nothing of them. They might have been designs for trenches and fortifications, or anything else, as far as I could see from the manner in which they were arranged. The writing, however, with gaps for pieces that could not be found, ran as follows: —

                                                must result in a revolution
      subversion of powers hitherto in operation
            right wing strongest
entail certain defeat                                             Simultaneous effort of all
members                                                                   but strike                boldly.
Freedom of action                                                                   glorious indepen-
dence                                                                           Rising must take place on
the 8th September, 1866.
                                                                                                                        J.S.

These pieces were certainly in Mr. Ledfoot’s writing, and, to me, taken in connection with his remarkable similarity to the description and the photograph on the handbill, told very much against him. It looked very bad, too, about the initials; so that his name was not Ledfoot after all, but plainly James Stephens.

“Then,” I said, “as there seems little room for doubt about the matter, I suppose you wish to arrest Mr. Ledfoot at once and claim the reward?”

“O dear, no, sir; or else I should have done it before this, and not offered you part of the money. I have tracked Mr. Ledfoot, as he calls himself, from Liverpool, and could have easily taken him a fortnight since, but it don’t answer my purpose. He will be worth more money by and by; and besides, my instructions are not to take our man till we catch him in some overt act of rebellion. I require your services to enable me to watch him and keep an eye upon his actions until this ‘rising’ he speaks of takes place. Then we are down on him in force.”

“But,” I inquired, “why is he so fond of birds, and what does he do with them?”

“Bless you, sir, that’s his artfulness to throw you off the scent, and me too. The only birds he wants are the poor geese of Fenian sympathizers, and when he has plucked them he’ll be off to the ‘Continong,’ as they say. Birds are not his game. Perhaps you don’t know that he is busy at work at something or other the whole of the night after you are in bed, and that I watch his light burning through the shutters till morning.”

This, then, corroborated the sawing noise Mrs. French had heard. I mentioned the circumstance to Mr. Twigett, and he was puzzled.

“We must get to the bottom of this, sir,” he remarked. “But the great thing is not to let Ledfoot know he is watched.”

It was agreed that I should wish Mr. Ledfoot “good night” at the usual hour, and ostensibly go to bed; that I should then dress myself and come down stairs softly to admit Mr. Twigett into the garden, where by means of a ladder this indefatigable detective would mount to my lodger’s bedroom window, and cut away a piece of one of the slats of the Venetian shutters so as to enable him to observe the nature of the Fenian’s operations.

With this understanding I left Mr. Twigett for the present, and returned to play a hypocritical part with my lodger. I could hardly bring myself to believe that a middle-aged gentleman so good-tempered, with a passion for dickey-birds, could be the notorious head of the Fenian cause. It was difficult trying to picture such a mild, genial, bald-headed gentleman a rebel against his country. But the evidence against him was very staggering hitherto, and what the night’s observation might bring to light I could not imagine. At any rate, I determined to suspend my judgment till I should see if he were at work at anything clandestine. So I bade Mr. Ledfoot good night, he merrier than his wont,—perhaps Fenian prospects were brightening, I thought,—and awaited Mr. Twigett’s whistle.

He gave the signal at length. I came down and we got out the ladder, muffled its top to prevent noise against the window-sill, and up went the detective. For a long while I was left standing in the damp night air till I got cold and chilly, besides feeling much like a housebreaker surreptitiously breaking into my own house. Mr. Twigett did his work at the shutter, which was but deal, in so noiseless and skilful a manner that I rather doubted if he had not served an apprenticeship to a similar branch of a kindred profession. At last he joined me.

“Just as I thought, sir,” he whispered. “Infernal machine, about half finished. Go up and see for yourself.”

I mounted the ladder, and looking through the hole Mr. Twigett had made,—a very small one, so as not to awaken suspicion in the morning,—I saw with my own eyes Mr. Ledfoot, sure enough, sitting on the floor hard at work with laths of wood and whalebone, fashioning them into a something according to a drawing before him. Traitor though he were, I could not but admire the earnestness and self-absorption of the man in his work, for he was striving away in a profuse perspiration as if his very life depended on it. Not precisely understanding what an infernal machine was like, I had no doubt whatever that what Mr. Ledfoot was making was the framework of one, and trembled to think of having under my roof a being who would actually deny himself of sleep in order to deprive his fellow-creatures of life. It was, alas, too true! It was plain enough now about the “sawing noises,” and also why Mr. Ledfoot was not an early riser. The fondness for birds was less clear, unless on Mr. Twigett’s hypothesis that it was merely a “blind.”

I hardly know now whether I was glad or sorry, all things considered, at the prospect of earning a thousand pounds, but I went to bed, and had troubled dreams of Fenians and money-bags, and Head Centres, with their heads cut off for high treason.

In the morning, beginning to reflect on the size of the object at which Mr. Ledfoot had been at work, I was quite satisfied it would not go into his mysterious black box. Accordingly, during his absence on his morning walk, I instituted a careful search in his bedroom, but could discover no possible sign of the concealment of so bulky a package, although I spent some time in the examination.

I have already stated it was not without doing despite to my own feelings I could be prevailed upon to play the spy on so apparently genial and good-tempered a person. And even now that suspicion seemed confirmed into certainty, the task was an unpleasant one. Whether, however, the prospect of the thousand pounds, or a proper pride at sacrificing my own personal feelings for my country’s welfare, contributed either singly or together to nerve me for the disagreeable duty, I need scarcely say; but this I can aver, that I controlled whatever of personal regret I might experience on the subject with such success that my behavior never gave Mr. Ledfoot the slightest suspicion of being watched. Indeed, Mr. Twigett and I paid several subsequent midnight visits to our friend’s window by means of the ladder, ascertaining that he was not only still hard at work, but had got three large infernal machines of very formidable appearance in a state of forwardness.

On one such occasion we waited for many hours until Mr. Ledfoot put away his work to see where he should conceal it. And we saw that this artful conspirator had constructed a kind of tray beneath the four-poster to hold two of the largest of the frameworks for the infernal machines, which folded flat: whilst to accommodate the third, which was of a different pattern, and would not fold, he had actually cut off and raised three of the flooring boards in order to stow it between the joists. Mr. Twigett would not have these hiding-places disturbed, or even examined, during the daytime. “We don’t touch the eggs, sir, till we are ready to take the nest,” he said; “and there is no need of alarm for your own safety, for he won’t fill his machines with gunpowder at your house, you may depend,—he will only get them in readiness.”
And yet this monster, who was making infernal machines, and plotting nothing less than the overthrow of our Government, could sit and chat, and joke at dinner as coolly, and with as little concern, as if he had nothing on his mind.

The “rising,” which Mr. Twigett told me, “from information he had received,” would be pretty general, was to take place on the 8th September, according to the draft of the despatch so cleverly recovered. On the 7th I met that functionary, who assured me he had taken all necessary precautions, in conjunction with his colleagues, to apprehend the leader of the rebellion at the last moment. For my part I told him I was convinced the plot was ripe, for Mr. Ledfoot had let all his birds fly that morning. Meantime the detective advised me to keep myself calm and collected, and prepared for any emergency.

Endeavoring strictly to follow out this advice, I was scarcely prepared for what fell from Mr. Ledfoot. On that same evening, after dinner, my odd guest surprised me by saying, —
“My dear sir, you have treated me so kindly during my stay, that now it is drawing to a close, may I ask, as an additional favor, that you will devote tomorrow to me?”

I assented with some hesitation.

“I have tomorrow,” he continued, “to put into execution a project which for some time I have been secretly engaged in maturing,—one which will cause, if successful, a revolution in established ideas, but will, nevertheless, give to my countrymen freedom of action and a glorious independence of other powers. Will you drive me tomorrow, at eleven o’clock, to Cop Heath,—witness my victory, and join with me in my triumph?”

This was terrible,—actually asking me to join in treason; but thinking apparent compliance the best policy, I gave a feeble promise.

“You must swear,—“ said Mr. Ledfoot, stopping to cough away some tobacco-smoke which had gone the wrong way.

O yes, I knew. Now for the Fenian oath, of course. I whistled “God save the Queen” softly and reflectively.

“You must swear,”—he proceeded, after a pause, “the most implicit secrecy respecting our proceedings, whether successful or otherwise.”

Ah, no doubt the notes of that patriotic air had convinced Mr. Stephens he had better defer the oath until we reached the ground.

I promised secrecy (this is fair, I believe to an enemy), inly determined to expose him in ten minutes to Mr. Twigett.

“Is all prepared?” I inquired; “is everything arranged, and that sort of thing?”

“Everything is ready,” was the reply.

Everything ready! Why, perhaps the gunpowder was ready in that vicious black box to fill the infernal machines, and blow us all up in our sleep.

Pleasant.

Making some excuse about wanting a little air, I hurried over to the Clump.

“It’s all right, sir,” said Twigett, when I had told him.

“So it may be for you,” I retorted, “but if you slept in the same house with three infernal machines and ‘everything ready,’ you mightn’t fancy so. Hadn’t we better seize them first, to make sure?”

“O dear, no sir, we must not give him the least suspicion. I shall immediately ride to Clayington,—telegraph for police force,—and apply to the Captain of the Twenty-Second Hants for a body of volunteers. We shall then meet you tomorrow, at eleven, on Cop Heath, and take our man. But it bothers me to think about the place,—it’s such an unlikely spot for a ‘rising;’ and goodness only knows where the rebels are to be marched from. But you may rely on me sir, and on my meeting you there with plenty of help.”

On coming back to Mr. Ledfoot, I found that wicked old hypocrite smoking a cheroot and drinking his grog as calmly as though nothing were the matter. Ah, how little he thought his plot was undermined. He went off genially to bed, suspecting nothing.

My rest was of a very disturbed character that night. What with the excitement of having a real Fenian leader in the house, and the expectation of getting a thousand pounds for his apprehension, I slept very little. In the morning I got a reply from Maurice Hickey in answer to my inquiry about Mr. Ledfoot: —


“London, September 7th, ’66.

My Dear Boy :—Been out for a month,—find yours on my return. Never heard of such a person as your Mr. Ledfoot; he is an old impostor. I gave a note to a Mr. John Seager for you a long time back. You can’t mean him? he ‘s one of the jolliest old boys I know. Yours always.

“ Maurice Hickey.”

Then I was not the only person deceived in the old gentleman, that was clear; he had another alias then.

Mr. Ledfoot, alias Seager, alias Stephens, was up wonderfully early for him. He came bustling down stairs at nine o’clock.

“My dear fellow,” he said, “you must lend me that large empty piano-case you have in the hall; and would you mind helping me to get it up stairs yourself before Mrs. French comes this way, for I wouldn’t have her suspect anything for the world?”

We got it upstairs, and with many apologies he shut me out of his room. I heard him shuffling about, and dragging things across the floor, and knew very well he was packing up the infernal machines.

“I dare say you wonder, now, what I have in this case?” said Mr. Ledfoot, when he readmitted me.

“Not so much as you think,” I said to myself. “Nothing that is likely to go off, I trust?” I continued aloud, a little nervously.

“I hope they will,—at the proper time,” he replied, chuckling, his left eye closed very tight.

“What, are they loaded, then?” I asked, somewhat off my guard.

“Hush,” he whispered. “Mum. Here comes Mrs. French.”

Who stood aloof and watched us with arms akimbo and many sarcastic coughs whilst we dragged the thing down the staircase.

After breakfast the cart was got ready, the case loaded thereon, and we were just going to start. As I was taking the reins Mrs. French begged me to speak a word to her before going. On coming into the hall, she said, —

“Excuse me, sir, but I should like to speak a word with you. I have a sort of presentiment that something is going to take place. Supposing anything were to happen to you, sir, which goodness forbid,—although, after what has been going on of late I should scarcely be surprised, though deeply grieved, I’m sure, for I am not blind,—I shall always say I have had a good master in you, sir.” Which was cheering.

As we drove off, all seemed quiet at the Clump. I only hoped Mr. Twigett would be in attendance when we reached our destination.

Mr. Ledfoot throughout the journey was thoughtful and self-contained, as became a leader about to head a desperate, though, no doubt, carefully planned scheme. On arriving at Cop Heath there was no sign of the “rising.” Perhaps the conspirators were lying in ambush among the masses of furze upon the common. A solitary individual, in a stiff hat and black clothes, was walking over the heather, feeling at his neck for an imaginary stock. At first I did not recognize him in his new dress, but as he passed the cart he bestowed on me a long and significant wink. To my delight it was Mr. Twigett.

“Not here,” said Mr. Ledfoot, “we will go a little farther on, please, to that gravel-pit.”

I did not like going far out of the way, but as that intelligent officer evidently had his eye on us, I made no objection, but drove thither, and, dismounting, we unloaded the case, and left the horse to graze about where he would. Still no sign of rebellious forces.

It seemed a very base thing I was doing at the time,—betraying a man who had been in my house so long. I wavered a little as I watched him unpacking the ease. He did n’t look a very dangerous person after all. I wanted to give him one chance.

“Stop, Mr. Ledfoot,” I said; “forego your purpose, and all may yet be well.”

“I am pledged to carry it through,” he said with determination, pulling off the cord from the box.

“Think of the consequences,” I went on. “Defeat is certain.”

“You think so? You don’t mean to say you have discovered my purpose?”

“I have indeed, Mr. Ledfoot,” I continued solemnly, “and my candid advice to you as a friend is—flight; fly instantly, while there is time.”

“My dear fellow, you are right. But how could you have fathomed it? I mean to fly,—I am come here to fly; but don’t be in such a hurry till I have unpacked my wings.”

Mr. Ledfoot opened the lid of the case, and there, sure enough, were a large pair of black canvas wings on a frame of wood and whalebone, with straps complete, together with a monstrous fan-like tail of the same material, all constructed on the model of a bird,— the three infernal machines.

My thousand pounds faded away directly. But how about poor Mr. Twigett? How we had been deceiving one another!

I must have looked very blank at first. I was completely flabbergasted. Then I lay down on the heath, and laughed till my sides ached. Poor Mr. Twigett!

“Don’t laugh at me, there’s a good fellow,” besought Mr. Ledfoot, not knowing I had any one else to laugh at. “Come here and buckle on my wings and my tail. I shall succeed, I assure you. I am sure I shall fly,” he said, almost with tears in his eyes. “It requires but the simultaneous action of all the members of the body exerted on a given surface, to gain equal power with the bird. I don’t expect to go very high at first, but think of the freedom of motion, and the glorious independence of cleaving the air, and the revolution of hitherto existing powers of locomotion.”

Poor Mr. Ledfoot was so much in earnest I could hardly bear to laugh at him, but it was so ludicrous to think of him, at sixteen stone, “cleaving the air.”

I got him up to the top of the gravel-pit, a height of about ten feet, and there buckled on his wings and fixed his tail,—a really ingenious piece of work, contrived with strings to his feet, to enable him to steer it like a rudder to direct its flight. When all was ready he gave a preparatory flap or two of his great canvas wings, and a tentative wag of his huge tail, and then leaped into his native element.

I mean the earth, at the bottom of the gravel-pit, for one poor feeble wave of his wings was all he could accomplish, and down he came plump on his tail, which broke all to pieces beneath his sixteen stone.

He was not much hurt. But when I picked him up, he sat down on the ground, and cried like a child at the failure of his scheme. And in the middle of it there came up the Twenty-Second Hants Volunteers, twenty-seven strong in the band, and nineteen rank and file, with a field piece, several mounted police, and Mr. Twigett.

There was mortification all round, of course.

Mr. Twigett took a deal of pains to persuade poor Mr. Ledfoot that his name was Stephens, and that he was engaged in a treasonable conspiracy against the Crown. But it would not do a bit; and when Mr. Ledfoot really became aware how matters stood, I think he laughed the loudest of all, and forgot the failure of his own project in the discomfiture of Mr. Twigett’s. He freely admitted his name was not Ledfoot but John Seager; that he was a Lancashire gentleman, who had for many years formed the idea of flying, but, fearing the derision of his own friends if it were known, he had hit upon the expedient of changing his name, and coming down to a quiet locality where he could test his invention in peace. He had worked secretly at night with me, and wanted shutters, for the same reason, being very sensitive about being made fun of; and the only use he made of birds was to study the construction of their wings. He apologized most heartily for the fact of his unfortunate likeness to the Fenian Stephens, as well as for the accidental coincidence of his initials being the same, and concluded by inviting the whole party back to Clumpington, to dine at the Clump.

And there, on tables spread out in the road, I think between us we displayed all the eatables and drinkables that all the houses in our village could muster. In fact, everything comestible in Clumpington was consumed that afternoon, besides fresh supplies which we sent for to Clayington. And when everybody’s health was well drunk, and Mr. Twigett, for one, not very far off, it was unanimously resolved, on the proposition of Mr. Ledfoot, accompanied with a peculiar twinkle in closing his left eye, that in the opinion of that assembly, Mr. Twigett had been fully justified in his proceedings, and, indeed, had evinced a nicety of perception remarkable in a detective, more particularly in one so young, in mistaking an abortive attempt to fly for a great Fenian Conspiracy.


Every Saturday, January 4, 1868