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a new edition of the narrative with a voice like a fieldpreacher when the mail stage drove into the village street. It had travelled all night, and must have shifted horses at Kimballton at three in the morning.
“Now we shall hear all the particulars,” shouted the crowd.
The coach rumbled up to the piazza of the tavern, followed by a thousand people; for if any man had been minding his own business till then, he now left it at sixes and sevens to hear the news. The pedler, foremost in the race, discovered two passengers, both of whom had been startled from a comfortable nap to find themselves in the centre of a mob. Every man assailed them with separate questions all propounded at once. The couple were struck speechless, though one was a lawyer and the other a young lady.
“Mr. Higginbotham! Mr. Higginbotham! Tell us the particulars about old Mr. Higginbotham !” bawled the mob. “ What is the coroner's verdict ? Are the murderers apprehended? Is Mr. Higginbotham's niece come out of her fainting fits? Mr. Higginbotham ! Mr. Higginbotham !"
The coachman said not a word, except to swear awfully at the ostler for not bringing him a fresh team of horses. The lawyer inside had generally his wits about him even when asleep; the first thing he did, after learning the cause of the excitement, was to produce a large red pocket-book. Meanwhile, Dominicus Pike, being an extremely polite young man, and also suspecting that a female tongue would tell the story as glibly as a lawyer's, had handed the lady out of the coach. She was a fine, smart girl, now wide awake and bright as a button, and had such a sweet, pretty mouth, that Dominicus would almost as lieves have heard a love-tale from it as a tale of murder.
Gentlemen and ladies," said the lawyer to the shopkeepers, the mill-men, and the factory girls, “I can assure you that some unaccountable mistake, or more probably, a wilful falsehood, maliciously contrived to injure Mr. Higginbotham's credit, has excited this singular uproar. We passed through Kimballton at three o'clock this morning, and most certainly should have been informed of the murder, had any been perpetrated. But I have proof nearly as strong as Mr. Higginbotham's own oral testimony in the negative. Here is a note relating to a suit of his in the Connecticut courts, which was delivered me from that gentleman himself. I find it dated at ten o'clock last evening."
So saying the lawyer exhibited the date and signature of the note, which irrefragably proved, either that this perverse Mr. Higginbotham was alive when he wrote it, or—as some deemed the more probable case of two doubtful ones—that he was so absorbed in worldly business as to continue to transact it even after his death. But unexpected evidence was forthcoming. The young lady, after listening to the pedler's explanations, merely seized a moment to smooth her gown and put her curls in order, and then appeared at the tavern door, making a modest signal to be heard.
“Good people,” said she, “I am Mr. Higginbotham's niece."
A wondering murmur passed through the crowd beholding her so rosy and bright, the same unhappy niece whom they had supposed, on the authority of the Parker's Falls Gazette, to be lying at death's door in a fainting fit. But some shrewd fellow had doubted all along whether a young lady would be quite so desperate at the hanging of a rich old uncle.
“You see," continued Miss Higginbotham, with a smile, “that this strange story is quite unfounded, as to myself ; and I believe I may affirm it to be equally so in regard to my dear uncle Higginbotham. He has the kindness to give me a home in his house, though I contribute to my
support by teaching a school. I left Kimballton this morning to spend the vacation of commencement week with a friend, about 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 curtsied at the close of her speech, which was so sensible, and well-worded, and delivered with such grace and propriety, that everybody thought her fit to be Preceptress of the best Academy in the State. 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 mill-men resolved to bestow public honours 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 select-men, by the advice of the lawyer, spoke of prosecuting him for a misdemeanour in circulating unfounded reports, to the great disturbance of the peace of the commonwealth. Nothing saved Dominicus 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 drove out of town under a discharge of artillery from the school-boys, who found plenty of ammunition in the neighbouring clay-pits and mud-holes. As he turned his head, to exchange a farewell glance with Mr. Higginbotham's niece, 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 had almost a mind to ride back and supplicate for the threatened ablution at the town pump, for, though not meant in kindness, it would 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 excited. The handbills of the select-men 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-bag and life, on learning the catastrophe of Mr. Higginbotham. The pedler meditated with much fervour 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 him out of the most direct road from 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. Ha nothing occurred to corroborate the story of the first traveller it might 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 incidents it was added that the rumour tallied 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 nightfalls, 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 inquiry along the road, the pedler further learned that Mr.