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thenceforth set on goading him on and exasperating him to the utmost pitch. She pursued her own course not only without hesitation, she threw herself in his way, crossed his path, and defied him when he was more like a mad animal than a sane human creature.
But Sir William was not left altogether undefended and uncared for. Go when and where he liked, to ale-house or tavern, when he stumbled out of it, he never failed to find one faithful friend, whether the miserable fellow knew it or not. Bill Rogers was a sober lad, though he could indulge at a time in a single glass or a couple of glasses ; but nothing on earth would induce him to drink with his master. He turned away his eyes from Sir William's debasement. He never spoke of it voluntarily. When assailed with gibes and mockery, he said stoutly and loyally all that could be urged in defence of a lapsed sinner. Bill was constantly hovering shamefacedly in Sir William's neighbourhood, ready to offer him his servant's arm if the Squire would accept it, wary to follow and keep him in sight, if he waxed furious at being what he called tracked and
spied upon, to prevent his slipping into pond or ditch, or lying down in the frost or the wet, on the withered or sodden grass, and dying a dog's death.
It was in vain that Sir William stormed and threatened :
"Do you think I wish you to be ruined as fast and sure as myself, Bill? Ain't you a precious sight better chap than your master ? Don't he know it to his cost ? But he ain't such a selfish brute as to wish you to pay the piper, and to have your destruction to answer for, in addition to his own and that of a few more fools. Come along, Bill Rogers, and I'll stand you a treat. We'll swallow something hot and strong. I'll tip you an old soldier's song, and we'll have a rare blow-out, and make a night of it. No, you won't? Then I'll be hanged if you shall play the flying scout at my expense. I give you your leave, lad, from this day, with a month's wages. Who sends you on your dashed prying errands at my heels ? Not Honor ? Much right she has to meddle. Or is it somebody else whose name I'll never speak again with my polluted lips ? She was an angel, Bill; but she wrought my undoing. No, no. That is false as the place I'm bound for. She was as innocent as the babe unborn, only she could not touch pitch and be defiled. It was I who was the beast I have always been.'
One day about this time, Sir William was walking down the middle of Knotley High Street, as if challenging any man to say his gait was disorderly, and his dress slovenly, when he felt a clap on his shoulder. ;
'Hallo! Thwaite,' cried the insolent voice of Major Pollock. “I hear you have come out of your shell, slipped your cable or your moorings, or what shall we call it ? since I saw you last. My dear fellow, I like you a thousand times better for it. I have only one crow to pluck with you. Why will you descend to the gutter, and not go to the bad in good company—that of gentlemen like your—ahem! forefathers ? I assure you that you would find it more agreeable, if you would only try us, and we should make you heartily welcome. Come to my den and have a game at billiards and a glass of beer or grog, if wine don't suit your stomach.'
But Sir William shook him off.
.. I'll see you far enough first, Major Pollock. If I'm going to destruction, and I ain't the one to deny it, it shall be with humble folk, who are as low as I ever was; it shan't be for the entertainment and profit of them that calls themselves gentlemen. Whatever I am or may sink to, me and my mates don't care to earn a penny, with our tongues in our cheeks, from our neighbour's sin and shame.
There was another incident in Sir William Thwaite's history which belonged to this period. Parliament was dissolved, and a general election ensued, bringing political agents and men from a distance, to town and burgh, to contest interests keenly, and canvass hotly for votes in houses which the visitors would not otherwise have entered. By one of those singular chances, which happen at least as frequently in real life as in novels, Will Thwaite's old commanding officer, Colonel Bell, who had returned from India, was nearly related to one of the candidates for the favour of this section of Eastham, and came down with him to Knotley to help his cause.
In examining the lists of voters, the name of Sir William Thwaite, of Whitehills, soon
turned up. Colonel Bell immediately recognised it, and, upon a few inquiries, found that the later career of the young man had been very much what might have been expected from certain early passages in his life.
The officer hinted his acquaintance with the Baronet in his chrysalis condition. Colonel Bell went on to admit that the news of Sir William's accession to the title and estate had reached the soldier through the speaker, that, in fact, he was the Colonel who had given Sir William Thwaite his discharge from her Majesty's service. But being the soul of honour, and a man who did not care to present himself in an undignified light, the gentleman kept to himself the offence and the impending punishment which had immediately preceded the discharge. The inevitable result of his reticence was that he found himself pressed to accompany the candidate, and use the officer's supposed influence with Sir William, who was understood to be indifferent to politics, to vote for the right man.
Colonel Bell yielded against his judgment to the pressure put upon him, and drove in a carriage full of ardent electors, who would take no refusal, to Whitehills.