'You saw his great diamond, mother?' Nance exclaimed.
'Glass, if the truth was known,' said Mrs. Tucker tersely.
But here she was wrong. It was a genuine stone, only lately come into the gentleman's
Three days later Sheriff Hutton was thrown into an uproar.
Jill Thronton, who helped Mrs. Tucker in the kitchen, had come scurrying down to her
mother's cottage with the incredible news that during the night Nance Tucker had eloped with the
fine stranger at the inn, who had decamped, incidentally, without settling his account. She had
left behind a note telling her parents so, and a note for Tom Driffield, begging his forgiveness, but
saying that she had lost her heart utterly.
On Sunday evening, Jill went on, Jane Croft, a maid at the inn, and a friend of hers, had
come to the farm on the pretext of visiting her. At the first moment they were alone together,
Jane had produced from her blouse a note which she begged Jill to give to Nance secretly as soon
'He's sent you this,' Jane said, pressing into Kill's hand a silver crown piece.
Jill entered excitedly into the plot, and contrived an early opportunity to pass the note to
Nance. After supper, when her work in the kitchen was finished, and she had gone up to her
bedroom, as she was drawing the curtains she had seen a woman in a long hooded black cloak
glide quickly across the farmyard, making for the field behind the long barn.
When Tom Driffield learned that his Nance had forsaken him, he seemed to be broken.
But there was in him a vein of stoicism and presently he told himself that nothing happens
without good reason. So he continued to drive his coach from Edinburgh to London with the care
and skill that he had always employed, maintaining his reputation as the fastest mail on the Great
North Road, and in December he married a Thirsk girl, and made a home for her there.
Nothing was heard of Nance in Sheriff Hutton; no word came from her to her parents. It
was as if she had vanished from the face of the earth.
Then one wet and miserable day in the following March, as Tom was driving his coach
south and was a few miles from York, he saw a woman standing by the roadside with a baby in
her arms. Through illness and exhaustion had much changed her appearance, he recognized her at
once, and reined in his horses.
'Why, Nance,' he exclaimed, jumping down. 'You are ill. There's room in the coach.
Get up and I'll take you to York to a doctor.'
She was almost too weak to speak, but as he lifted her and her baby into the coach she
whispered, 'Dear Tom.'
In York, when he had set down his passengers for the night, he took Nance and her child
to the York Tavern, where the proprietress was a friend of his. While Nance was being put to
bed, he fetched a physician, who, after examining her, took him seriously aside and told him that
neither she nor the child could live long.
That evening he sat by her bedside, hoping to comfort her. He could not reproach her, and
he asked her no questions. If she wished him to know how she had come to this plight she would
be telling him, and this it seemed she wanted to do.
It was a pitiable story. The fine gentleman had proved to be a highwayman; but what was
worse, after they had gone through a marriage ceremony at Northhallerton and the child was
already coming she had discovered that he was married already, and she had left him. Since then
she had been working in service with a family in Oswaldkirk, over by Helmsley, but when the
baby was born they had turned her out. Scarcely knowing what she was doing, she had wandered
over the moors, and had reached the main road shortly before he had come along.
'If ever I set eyes on the scoundrel,' he promised her, 'I'll flog him within an inch of his
She took his hand and smiled at him wanly.
'Dear Tom,' she said, 'if you don't catch him, sooner or later the law will.'
Throughout the night he dozed by her bed, and she was sleeping still when he had to leave
her. Handing a sovereign to the landlady, he said: 'Look after her well. Whatever more you
spend, I will repay you when I return.'
When he came again to York going north, and called at the Tavern, it was to be told that
Nance and her baby had died three days after he had gone.
'Before she died she said to me,' the landlady told him, ''Dear Tom, he never uttered a
word of reproach. Tell him that to repay his kindness, if ever he, or his son, or his grandson, are
ever in any need of help, I will come back to help them.''
'She'll keep her promise,' the landlady said sharply, seeing him smile. 'You see if her
words don't come true.'
During the next two years nothing happened, and hen one day, as sometimes happened,
Tom was given a special commission. He was to take a carriage to Durham and there pick up
four very important passengers and drive them to York.
When he arrived at the Royal County Hotel in Durham, where his passengers were waiting
for him, he found them very impatient to get to their destination as quickly as possible.
'How much will your charge be for the journey?' one of them asked.
'Four guineas, sir,' Tom replied.
'Get us there by eight o'clock this evening and you shall have twenty!' the man declared.
It was a tall order, but it was a challenge. If the weather held, Tom might just do it,
though no other driver on the Road could. So they set out, and Tom whipped up the horses, and
all went well until at half-past six, when they were only seven miles from York, they ran into a
Stopping the carriage, Tom got down and opening the door said to the passengers, 'I'm
sorry, gentlemen, unless the fog clears in the next quarter of an hour it will be impossible to reach
York by eight o'clock.'
'But you are going on, coachman?' the spokesman asked. 'The fog may lift after a mile
'We still shouldn't make it, sir. In normal circumstances I would wait here until the fog
cleared. It's impossible to see more than a yard or two ahead, and it really is folly to go on...'