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five miles from Parker's Falls. My generous uncle, when he heard me on the stairs, called me to his bedside, and gave me two dollars and fifty cents, to pay my stage fare, and another dollar for my extra expenses. He then laid his pocket book under his pillow, shook hands with me, and advised me to take some biscuit in my bag, instead of breakfasting on the road. I feel confident, therefore, that I left my beloved relative alive, and trust that I shall find him so on my return.'
The young lady courtesied at the close of her speech, which was so sensible, and well worded, and delivered with such grace and propriety, that every body thought her fit to be preceptress of the best academy in the State. But a stranger would have supposed that Mr. Higginbotham was an object of abhorrence at Parker's Falls, and that a thanksgiving had been proclaimed for his murder; so excessive was the wrath of the inhabitants, on learning their mistake. The millmen resolved to bestow public honurs on Dominicus Pike, only hesitating whether to tar and feather him, ride him on a rail, or refresh him with an ablution at the town pump, on the top of which he had declared himself the bearer of the news. The selectmen, by advice of the lawyer, spoke of prosecuting him for a misdemeanor, in circulating unfounded reports, to the great disturbance of the peace of the commonwealth. Nothing saved Domini. cus, either from mob law or a court of justice, but an eloquent appeal made by the young lady in his behalf. Addressing a few words of heartfelt gratitude to his benefactress, he mounted the green cart and rode out
of town, under a discharge of artillery from the school boys, who found plenty of ammunition in the neigh. boring clay pits and mud holes. As he turned his head, to exchange a farewell glance with Mr. Higginbotham's liece, a ball, of the consistence of hasty pudding, hit him slap in the mouth, giving him a most grim aspect. His whole person was so bespattered with the like filthy missiles, that he hud almost a mind to ride back, and supplicate for the threatened ablution at the town pump; for, though not meant in kindness, it would now have been a deed of charity.
However, the sun shone bright on poor Dominicus, and the mud, an emblem of all stains of undeserved opprobrium, was easily brushed off when dry. Being a funny rogue, his heart · soon cheered
up ; nor could he refrain from a hearty laugh at the uproar which his story had excited. The handbills of the selectmen would cause the commitment of all the vagabonds in the State; the paragraph in the Parker's Falls Gazette would be reprinted from Maine to Florida, and perhaps form an item in the London newspapers; and many a miser would tremble for his money bags and life, on learning the catastrophe of Mr. Higginbotham. The pedler meditated with much fervor on the charms of the young schoolmistress, and swore that Daniel Webster never spoke nor looked so like an angel as Miss Higginbotham, while defending him from the wrathful populace at Parker's Falls.
Dominicus was now on the Kimballton turnpike having all along determined to visit that place, though business had drawn hiin out of the most direct rond
fron Morristown. As he approached the scene of the supposed murder, he continued to revolve the circumstances in his mind, and was astonished at the aspect which the whole case assumed.
Had nothing occurred to corroborate the story of the first traveller, it might now have been considered as a hoax; but the yellow man was evidently acquainted either with the report or the fact; and there was a mystery in his dismayed and guilty look on being abruptly questioned. When, to this singular combination of ircidents, it was added that the rumor tallied exactly with Mr. Higginbotham's character and habits of life ; and that he had an orchard, and a St. Michael's pear tree, near which he always passed at nightfall : the circumstantial evidence appeared so strong that Dominicus doubted whether the autograph produced by the lawyer, or even the niece's direct testimony, ought to be equivalent. Making cautious inquiries along the roail, the pedler further learned that Mr. Iligginbotham had in his service an Irishman of doubtful character, whom he had hired without a recommendation, on the score of economy.
“May I be hanged myself,' exclaimed Dominicus Pike aloud, on reaching the top of a lonely hill, if I'll believe old Higginbotham is unhanged, till I see him with my own eyes, and hear it from his own mouth! And as he's a real shaver, I'll have the minister or
some other responsible man, for an indorser.'
It was growing dusk when he reached the tol! house on Kimballton turnpike, aboui a quarter of a mile from the village of this name. His little mare was fast bringing him up with a man on norseback, who trotted through the gate a few rods in advance of him, nodded to the toll gatherer, and kept on towards the village. Dominicus was acquainted with the tollman, and while making change, the usual remarks on the weather passed between them.
* I suppose,' said the pedler, throwing back his whiplash, to bring it down like a feather on the mare's flank, “you have not seen any thing of old Mr. Higginbotham within a day or two?'
• Yes,' answered the toll gatherer. He passed the gate just before you drove up, and yonder he rides now, if you can see him through the dusk. He's been to Woodfield this afternoon, attending a sheriff's sale there. The old man generally shakes hands and has a little chat with me; but to-night, he nodded, – as if to say, “ charge my toll,” — and jogged on; for wherever he goes, he must always be at home by eight o'clock.'
“So they tell me,' said Dominicus.
“I never saw a man look so yellow and thin as the squre does,' continued the toll gatherer. "Says I to myself, to-night, he's more like a ghost or an old mummy than good flesh and blood.'
The pedler strained his eyes through the twilight, and could just discern the horseman now far ahead on the village road. He seemed to recognize the rear of Mr. Higginbotham ; but through the evening shadows, and amid the dust from the horse's feet the figure appeared dim and unsubstantial; as if the shape of the mysterious old man were faintly
moulded of darkness and gray light. Dominicus shivered.
• Mr. Higginbotham has come back from the other world, by way of the Kimballton turnpike,' thought he.
He shook the reins and rode forward, keeping about the same distance in the rear of the gray old shadow, till the latter was concealed by a bend of the road, On reaching this point, the pedler no longer saw the man on horseback, but found himself at the head of the village street, not far from a number of stores and two taverns, clustered round the meeting-house steeple. On his left were a stone wall and a gate, the boundary of a wood lot, beyond which lay an orchard, farther still, a mowing field, and last of all, a house. These were the premises of Mr. Higginbotham, whose dwelling stood beside the old highway, but had been left in the background by the Kimballton turnpike. Dominicus knew the place ; and the little mare stopped short by instinct; for he was not conscious of tightening the reins.
• For the soul of me, I cannot get by this gate !! said he, trembling. I never shall be my own man again, till I see whether Mr. Higginbotham is hanging on the St. Michael's pear tree !'
He leaped from the cart, gave the rein a turn round the gate post, and ran along the green path of the wood lot, as if Old Nick were chasing behind. Just then the village clock tolled eight, and as each deep stroke fell, Dominicus gave a fresh bound anů flew faster than before, till, dim in the solitary centre