Full Text Archive logoFull Text Archive — Books, poems, drama…

Gallantry by James Branch Cabell

Part 2 out of 6

Adobe PDF icon
Download this document as a .pdf
File size: 0.6 MB
What's this? light bulb idea Many people prefer to read off-line or to print out text and read from the real printed page. Others want to carry documents around with them on their mobile phones and read while they are on the move. We have created .pdf files of all out documents to accommodate all these groups of people. We recommend that you download .pdfs onto your mobile phone when it is connected to a WiFi connection for reading off-line.

"I had not dreamed--" she commenced.

"Behold," said Mr. Erwyn, bitterly, "how rightly is my presumption
punished. For I, with a fop's audacity, had thought my love for you of
sufficient moment to have been long since observed; and, strong in my
conceit, had scorned a pleasing declaration made up of faint phrases and
whining ballad-endings. I spoke as my heart prompted me; but the heart has
proven a poor counsellor, dear lady, and now am I rewarded. For you had
not even known of my passion, and that which my presumption had taken for
a reciprocal tenderness proves in the ultimate but a kindly aspiration to
further my union with another."

"D'ye love me, toad?" said Lady Allonby, and very softly.

"Indeed," said Mr. Erwyn, "I have loved you all my life, first with a
boyish inclination that I scarce knew was love, and, after your marriage
with an honorable man had severed us, as I thought, irrevocably, with such
lore as an ingenuous person may bear a woman whom both circumstances and
the respect in which he holds her have placed beyond his reach,--a love
that might not be spoken, but of which I had considered you could never be
ignorant."

"Mr. Erwyn," said she, "at least I have not been ignorant--"

"They had each one of them some feature that reminded me of you. That was
the truth of it, a truth so patent that we will not discuss it. Instead,
dear madam, do you for the moment grant a losing gamester the right to rail
at adverse fate! for I shall trouble you no more. Since your widowhood I
have pursued you with attentions which, I now perceive, must at many times
have proven distasteful. But my adoration had blinded me; and I shall
trouble you no more. I have been too serious, I did not know that our
affair was but a comedy of the eternal duel between man and woman; nor am
I sorry, dear opponent, that you have conquered. For how valorously you
fought! Eh, let it be! for you have triumphed in this duel, O puissant
lady, and I yield the victor--a devoted and, it may be, a rather heavy
heart; and I shall trouble you no more."

"Ah, sir," said Lady Allonby, "you are aware that once--"

"Indeed," said Mr. Erwyn, "'twas the sand on which I builded. But I am
wiser now, and I perceive that the feeling you entertain toward me is but
the pallid shadow of a youthful inclination. I shall not presume upon it.
Oh, I am somewhat proud, dear Anastasia; I have freely given you my heart,
such as it is; and were you minded to accept it, even at the eleventh hour,
through friendship or through pity only, I would refuse. For my love of you
has been the one pure and quite unselfish, emotion of my life, and I may
not barter it for an affection of lesser magnitude either in kind or in
degree. And so, farewell!"

"Yet hold, dear sir--" said Lady Allonby. "Lord, but will you never let me
have the woman's privilege of talking!"

"Nay, but I am, as ever, at your service," said Mr. Erwyn, and he paused in
transit for the door.

"--since, as this betokens--"

"'Tis a tasteful handkerchief," said Mr. Erwyn--"but somewhat moist!"

"And--my eyes?"

"Red," said Mr. Erwyn.

"I have been weeping, toad, with my head on the pin-cushion, and the maid
trying to tipsify me with brandy."

"Why?" said Mr. Erwyn.

"I thought you were to marry Dorothy."

Mr. Erwyn resumed his seat. "You objected?" he said.

"I think, old monster," Lady Allonby replied, "that I would entertain the
same objection to seeing any woman thus sacrificed--"

"Well?" said Mr. Erwyn.

"--except--"

"Incomparable Anastasia!" said Mr. Erwyn.

IV

Afterward these two sat long in the twilight, talking very little, and with
their eyes rarely meeting, although their hands met frequently at quite
irrelevant intervals. Just the graze of a butterfly to make it certain that
the other was there: but all the while they both regarded the tiny fire
which had set each content of the room a-dancing in the companionable
darkness. For each, I take it, preferred to think of the other as being
still the naive young person each remembered; and the firelight made such
thinking easier.

"D'ye remember--?" was woven like a refrain through their placid duo....

It was, one estimates, their highest hour. Frivolous and trivial persons
you might have called them and have justified the accusation; but even to
the fop and the coquette was granted an hour wherein all human happenings
seemed to be ordered by supernal wisdom lovingly. Very soon they would
forget this hour; meanwhile there was a wonderful sense of dreams come
true.

III

THE CASUAL HONEYMOON

_As Played at Tunbridge Wells, April 1, 1750_

"_But this is the most cruel thing, to marry one does not know how, nor
why, nor wherefore.--Gad, I never liked anybody less in my life. Poor
woman!--Gad, I'm sorry for her, too; for I have no reason to hate her
neither; but I wish we could keep it secret! why, I don't believe any of
this company would speak of it._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

CAPTAIN AUDAINE, of a pompous and handsome person, and loves Miss Allonby.

LORD HUMPHREY DEGGE, younger son to the Marquis of Venour, makes love to
Miss Allonby.

GERALD ALLONBY, brother to Miss Allonby, a true raw Squire.

MR. ERWYN, betrothed to Lady Allonby.

VANRINGHAM, an impudent tragedian of the Globe Company.

QUARMBY, Vanringham's associate.

Miss ALLONBY, an heiress, of a petulant humor, in love with Audaine.

MARCHIONESS OF FALMOUTH, an impertinent affected dowager, and grandmother
to Miss Allonby.

LADY ALLONBY, step-mother to Miss Allonby and Gerald.

POSTILIONS, SERVANTS, Etc.

SCENE

Tunbridge Wells, thence shifting to Chetwode Lodge, Mr. Babington-Herle's
house, on Rusthall Common, within two miles of the town.

THE CASUAL HONEYMOON

_PROEM:--Introductive of Captain Francis Audaine_

It appears convenient here to pursue Miss Allonby on her stroll about the
Pantiles in company with Captain Audaine. The latter has been at pains to
record the events of the afternoon and evening, so that I give you his own
account of them, though I abridge in consideration of his leisured style.
Pompous and verbose I grant the Captain, even in curtailment; but you are
to remember these were the faults of his age, ingrained and defiant of
deletion; and should you elect to peruse his memoirs [Footnote: There
appears to have been no American edition since that, in 1836, printed in
Philadelphia, "for Thomas Wardle, No. 15 Minor Street." In England the
memoirs of Lord Garendon are to all appearance equally hard to come by,
and seem to have been out of print since 1907.] you will find that I have
considerately spared you a majority of the digressions to which the future
Earl of Garendon was lamentably addicted.

For the purpose of my tale you are to view him as Tunbridge did at this
particular time: as a handsome and formal person, twenty-eight years old
or thereabouts, of whom nobody knew anything quite definite--beyond the
genealogic inference to be drawn from a smatch of the brogue--save that
after a correspondence of gallantries, of some three weeks' duration, he
was the manifest slave of Miss Dorothy Allonby, and had already fought
three duels behind Ormerod House,--with Will Pratchet, Lord Humphrey Degge,
and Sir Eugene Harrabie, respectively, each one of whom was a declared
suitor for her hand.

And with this prelude I begin on my transcription.

I

Miss Allonby (says Captain Audaine) was that afternoon in a mighty cruel
humor. Though I had omitted no reasonable method to convince her of the
immensity of my passion, 'twas without the twitch of an eyelash she endured
the volley of my sighs and the fusillade of my respectful protestations;
and candor compels me to admit that toward the end her silvery laughter
disrupted the periods of a most elegant and sensible peroration. And when
the affair was concluded, and for the seventh time I had implored her to
make me the happiest of men, the rogue merely observed: "But I don't want
to marry you. Why on earth should I?"

"For the sake of peace," I replied, "and in self-protection, since as long
as you stay obdurate I shall continue to importune, and by and by I shall
pester you to death."

"Indeed, I think it more than probable," she returned; "for you dog me
like a bailiff. I am cordially a-weary, Captain Audaine, of your incessant
persecutions; and, after all, marrying you is perhaps the civilest way to
be rid of both them and you."

But by this I held each velvet-soft and tiny hand. "Nay," I dissented; "the
subject is somewhat too sacred for jest. I am no modish lover, dearest and
best of creatures, to regard marriage as the thrifty purchase of an estate,
and the lady as so much bed-furniture thrown in with the mansion. I love
you with completeness: and give me leave to assure you, madam, with a
freedom which I think permissible on so serious an occasion that, even as
beautiful as you are, I could never be contented with your person without
your heart."

She sat with eyes downcast, all one blush. Miss Dorothy Allonby was in the
bloom of nineteen, and shone with every charm peculiar to her sex. But I
have no mind to weary you with poetical rhodomontades till, as most lovers
do, I have proven her a paragon and myself an imbecile: it suffices to say
that her face, and shape, and mien, and wit, alike astounded and engaged
all those who had the happiness to know her; and had long ago rendered her
the object of my entire adoration and the target of my daily rhapsodies.
Now I viewed her with a dissension of the liveliest hopes and fears; for
she had hesitated, and had by this hesitation conceded my addresses to be
not irretrievably repugnant; and within the instant I knew that any life
undevoted to her service and protection could be but a lingering disease.

But by and by, "You shall have your answer this evening," she said, and so
left me.

I fathomed the meaning of "this evening" well enough. For my adored Dorothy
was all romance, and by preference granted me rendezvous in the back
garden, where she would tantalize me nightly, from her balcony, after the
example of the Veronese lady in Shakespeare's spirited tragedy, which she
prodigiously admired. As concerns myself, a reasonable liking for romance
had been of late somewhat tempered by the inclemency of the weather and
the obvious unfriendliness of the dog; but there is no resisting a lady's
commands; and clear or foul, you might at any twilight's death have found
me under her window, where a host of lyric phrases asserted the devotion
which a cold in the head confirmed.

This night was black as a coal-pit. Strolling beneath the casement, well
wrapt in my cloak (for it drizzled), I meditated impartially upon the
perfections of my dear mistress and the tyrannic despotism of love. Being
the source of our existence, 'tis not unreasonably, perhaps, that this
passion assumes the proprietorship of our destinies and exacts of all
mankind a common tribute. To-night, at least, I viewed the world as a brave
pavilion, lighted by the stars and swept by the clean winds of heaven,
wherein we enacted varied roles with God as audience; where, in turn, we
strutted or cringed about the stage, where, in turn, we were beset and
rent by an infinity of passions; but where every man must play the part
of lover. That passion alone, I said, is universal; it set wise Solomon
a-jigging in criminal byways, and sinewy Hercules himself was no stranger
to its inquietudes and joys. And I cried aloud with the Roman, _Parce
precor!_ and afterward upon high Heaven to make me a little worthier of
Dorothy.

II

Engrossed in meditations such as these, I was fetched earthward by the
clicking of a lock, and, turning, saw the door beneath her balcony unclose
and afford egress to a slender and hooded figure. My amazement was
considerable and my felicity beyond rhetoric.

"Dorothy--!" I whispered.

"Come!" was her response; and her finger-tips rested upon my arm the while
that she guided me toward the gateway opening into Jervis Lane. I followed
with a trepidation you may not easily conceive; nor was this diminished
when I found awaiting us a post-chaise, into which my angel hastily
tripped.

I babbled I know not what inarticulate nonsense. But, "Heavens!" she
retorted, "d'ye mean to keep the parson waiting all night?"

This was her answer, then. Well, 'twas more than I could have hoped for,
though to a man of any sensibility this summary disposal of our love-affair
could not but vaguely smack of the distasteful. Say what you will, every
gentleman has about him somewhere a tincture of that venerable and artless
age when wives were taken by capture and were retained by force; he
prefers to have the lady hold off until the very last; and properly, her
tongue must sound defiance long after melting eyes have signalled that the
traitorous heart of her, like an anatomical Tarpeia, is ready to betray the
citadel and yield the treasury of her charms.

Nevertheless, I stepped into the vehicle. The postilion was off in
a twinkling, as the saying is, over the roughest road in England.
Conversation was impossible, for Dorothy and I were jostling like two pills
in a box; and as the first observation I attempted resulted in a badly
bitten tongue, I prudently held my peace.

This endured for, perhaps, a quarter of an hour, at the end of which period
the post-chaise on a sudden stopped, and I assisted my companion to alight.
Before us was a villa of considerable dimension, and situate, so far as I
could immediately detect, in the midst of a vast and desolate moor; there
was no trace of human habitation within the radius of the eye; and the
house itself presented not a glimpse of tenancy or illumination.

"O Lord, madam--" I began.

"Hasten!" spoke a voice from within the Parsonage. And Dorothy drew me
toward a side door, overhung with ivy, where, sure enough, a dim light
burned, 'Twas but a solitary candle stuck upon a dresser at the remoter end
of a large and low-ceiled apartment; and in this flickering obscurity we
found a tremulous parson in full canonicals, who had united our hands and
gabbled half-way through the marriage service before I had the slightest
notion of what was befalling me.

And such is the unreasonable disposition of mankind that the attainment
of my most ardent desires aroused a feeling not altogether unakin to
irritation. This skulking celerity, this hole-and-corner business, I
thought, was in ill-accord with the respect due to a sacrament; and I could
have wished my marriage to have borne a less striking resemblance to the
conference of three thieves in a cellar. But 'twas over in two twos. Within
scantier time than it takes to tell of it, Francis and Dorothy were made
one, and I had turned to salute my wife.

She gave a shriek of intolerable anguish. "Heavens!" said she, "I have
married the wrong man!"

III

Without delay I snatched up the guttering candle and held it to my wife's
countenance. You can conceive that 'twas with no pleasurable emotion
I discovered I had inadvertently espoused the Dowager Marchioness of
Falmouth, my adored Dorothy's grandmother; and in frankness I can't deny
that the lady seemed equally dissatisfied: words failed us; and the newly
wedded couple stared at each other in silence.

"Captain Audaine," said she, at last, "the situation is awkward."

"Sure, madam," I returned, "and that is the precise thought which has just
occurred to me."

"And I am of the opinion," she continued, "that you owe me some sort of
explanation. For I had planned to elope with Mr. Vanringham--"

"Do I understand your Ladyship to allude to Mr. Francis Vanringham, the
play-actor, at present the talk of Tunbridge?"

She bowed a grave response.

"This is surprising news," said I. "And grant me leave to tell you that a
woman of mature years, possessed of an abundant fortune and unassailable
gentility, does not by ordinary sneak out of the kitchen door to meet a
raddle-faced actor in the middle of the night. 'Tis, indeed, a circumstance
to stagger human credulity. Oh, believe me, madam, for a virtuous woman the
back garden is not a fitting approach to the altar, nor is a comedian an
appropriate companion there at eleven o'clock in the evening."

"Hey, my fine fellow," says my wife, "and what were you doing in the back
garden?"

"Among all true lovers," I returned, "it is an immemorial custom to prowl
like sentinels beneath the windows of the beauteous adored. And I,
madam, had the temerity to aspire toward an honorable union with your
granddaughter."

She wrung her withered hands. "That any reputable woman should have
nocturnal appointments with gentlemen in the back garden, and beguile her
own grandmother into an odious marriage! I protest, Captain Audaine, the
degenerate world of to-day is no longer a suitable residence for a lady!"

"Look you, sir, this is a cruel bad business," the Parson here put in.
He was pacing the apartment in an altercation of dubiety and amaze. "Mr.
Vanringham will be vexed."

"You will pardon me," I retorted, "if I lack pity to waste upon your Mr.
Vanringham. At present I devote all funds of compassion to my own affairs.
Am I, indeed, to understand that this lady and I are legally married?"

He rubbed his chin. "By the Lord Harry," says he, "'tis a case that lacks
precedents! But the coincidence of the Christian names is devilish awkward;
the service takes no cognizance of surnames; and I have merely united a
Francis and a Dorothy."

"O Lord, Mr. What-d'ye-call-um," said I, "then there is but one remedy and
that is an immediate divorce."

My wife shrieked. "Have you no sense of decency, Captain Audaine? Never has
there been a divorce in my family. And shall I be the first to drag that
honored name into a public court,--to have my reputation worried at the bar
by a parcel of sniggering lawyers, while the town wits buzz about it like
flies around carrion? I pray you, do not suggest any such hideous thing."

"Here's the other Francis," says the Parson, at this point. And it was,--a
raffish, handsome, slender, red-haired fellow, somewhat suggestive of the
royal duke, yet rather more like a sneak-thief, and with a whiff somewhere
of the dancing-master. At first glance you recognized in the actor a
personage, for he compelled the eye with a monstrous vividness of color and
gesture. To-night he had missed his lady at their rendezvous, owing to my
premature appearance, and had followed us post-haste.

"My Castalio!" she screamed. "My Beaugard!" [Footnote: I never saw the
rascal act, thank Heaven, since in that event, report assures me, I might
conceivably have accredited him with the possession of some meritorious
qualities, however trivial; but, it appears, these two above-mentioned
roles were the especial puppetry in which Mr. Vanringham was most
successful in wringing tears and laughter from the injudicious.--F.A.] She
ran to him, and with disjointed talk and quavering utterance disclosed the
present lamentable posture of affairs.

And I found the tableau they presented singular. My wife had been a toast,
they tell me, in Queen Anne's time, and even now the lean and restless
gentlewoman showed as the abandoned house of youth and wit and beauty, with
here and there a trace of the old occupancy; always her furtive eyes shone
with a cold and shifting glitter, as though a frightened imp peeped through
a mask of Hecuba; and in every movement there was an ineffable touch of
something loosely hinged and fantastic. In a word, the Marchioness was
not unconscionably sane, and was known far and wide as a gallant woman
resolutely oblivious to the batterings of time, and so avid of flattery
that she was ready to smile on any man who durst give the lie to her
looking-glass. Demented landlady of her heart, she would sublet that
antiquated chamber to the first adventurer who came prepared to pay his
scot in the false coin of compliment; and 'twas not difficult to comprehend
how this young Thespian had acquired its tenancy.

But now the face of Mr. Vanringham was attenuated by her revelations, and
the wried mouth of Mr. Vanringham suggested that the party be seated, in
order to consider more at ease the unfortunate _contretemps_. Fresh lights
were kindled, as one and all were past fear of discovery by this; and we
four assembled about a table which occupied the centre of the apartment.

IV

"The situation," Mr. Vanringham, began, "may reasonably be described as
desperate. Here we sit, four ruined beings. For Dr. Quarmby has betrayed
an unoffending couple into involuntary matrimony, an act of which his
Bishop can scarcely fail to take official notice; Captain Audaine and
the Marchioness are entrapped into a loveless marriage, than which there
mayn't be a greater misery in life; and my own future, I needn't add, is
irrevocably blighted by the loss of my respected Dorothy, without whom
continued animation must necessarily be a hideous and hollow mockery. Yet
there occurs to me a panacea for these disasters."

"Then, indeed, Mr. Vanringham," said I, "there is one of us who will be
uncommonly glad to know the name of it."

He faced me with a kind of compassion in his wide-set brown eyes, "You,
sir, have caused a sweet and innocent lady to marry you against her
will--Oho, beyond doubt, your intentions were immaculate; but the outcome
remains in its stark enormity, and the hand of an inquisitive child is not
ordinarily salved by its previous ignorance as to the corrosive properties
of fire. You have betrayed confiding womanhood, an act abhorrent to
all notions of gentility. There is but one conclusive proof of your
repentance.--Need I mention that I allude to self-destruction?"

"O Lord, sir," I observed, "suicide is a deadly sin, and I would not
willingly insult any gentlewoman by evincing so marked a desire for the
devil's company in preference to hers."

"Your argument is sophistry," he returned, "since 'tis your death alone
that can endear you to your bride. Death is the ultimate and skilled
assayer of alloyed humanity: and by his art our gross constituents--our
foibles, our pettinesses, nay, our very crimes--are precipitated into the
coffin, the while that his crucible sets free the volatile pure essence,
and shows as undefiled by all life's accidents that part of divinity which
harbors in the vilest bosom. This only is remembered: this only mounts,
like an ethereal spirit, to hallow the finished-with blunderer's renown,
and reverently to enshrine his body's resting-place. Ah, no, Captain
Audaine! death alone may canonize the husband. Once you're dead, your wife
will adore you; once you're dead, your wife and I have before us an open
road to connubial felicity, a road which, living, you sadly encumber; and
only when he has delivered your funeral oration may Dr. Quarmby be exempt
from apprehension lest his part in your marriage ceremony bring about his
defrockment. I urge the greatest good for the greatest number, Captain;
living, you plunge all four of us into suffering; whereas the nobility of
an immediate _felo-de-se_ will in common decency exalt your soul to Heaven
accompanied and endorsed by the fervent prayers of three grateful hearts."

"And by the Lord Harry," says the Parson, "while no clergyman extant has
a more cordial aversion to suicide, I cannot understand why a prolonged
existence should tempt you. You love Miss Dorothy Allonby, as all Tunbridge
knows; and to a person of sensibility, what can be more awkward than
to have thrust upon him grandfathership of the adored one? You must in
this position necessarily be exposed to the committal of a thousand
_gaucheries_; and if you insist upon your irreligious project of procuring
a divorce, what, I ask, can be your standing with the lady? Can she smile
upon the suit of an individual who has publicly cast aside the sworn love
and obedience of the being to whom she owes her very existence? or will
any clergyman in England participate in the union of a woman to her
ex-grandfather? Nay, believe me, sir, 'tis less the selfishness than the
folly of your clinging to this vale of tears which I deplore. And I protest
that this rope"--he fished up a coil from the corner--"appears to have
been deposited here by a benign and all-seeing Providence to Suggest
the manifold advantages of hanging yourself as compared with the untidy
operation of cutting one's throat."

"And conceive, sir," says my wife, "what must be the universal grief
for the bridegroom so untimelily taken off in the primal crescence of
his honeymoon! Your funeral will be unparalleled both for sympathy and
splendor; all Tunbridge will attend in tears; and 'twill afford me a
melancholy but sincere pleasure to extend to you the hospitality of the
Allonby mausoleum, which many connoisseurs have accounted the finest in the
three kingdoms."

"I must venture," said I, "to terminate this very singular conversation.
You have, one and all, set forth the advantages of my immediate demise;
your logic is unassailable and has proven suicide my plain duty; and my
rebuttal is confined to the statement that I will see every one of you
damned before I'll do it."

Mr. Francis Vanringham rose with a little bow. "You have insulted both
womanhood and the Established Church by the spitting out of that ribald
oath; and me you have with equal levity wronged by the theft of my
affianced bride. I am only a play-actor, but in inflicting an insult a
gentleman must either lift his inferior to his own station or else forfeit
his gentility. I wear a sword, Captain Audaine. Heyho, will you grant me
the usual satisfaction?"

"My fascinating comedian," said I, "if 'tis a fight you are desirous of,
I can assure you that in my present state I would cross swords with a
costermonger, or the devil, or the Archbishop of Canterbury, with equal
impartiality. But scarcely in the view of a lady, and, therefore, as you
boast the greater influence in that quarter, will you kindly advise the
withdrawal of yonder unexpected addition to my family?"

"There's an inner room," says he, pointing to the door behind me; and I
held it open as my wife swept through.

"You are the epitome of selfishness," she flung out, in passing; "for had
you possessed an ounce of gallantry, you would long ago have freed me from
this odious marriage."

"Sure, madam," I returned, with a _congee_; "and is it not rather a
compliment that I so willingly forfeit a superlunar bliss in order to
retain the pleasure of your society?"

She sniffed, and I closed the door; and within the moment the two men fell
upon me, from the rear, and presently had me trussed like a fowl and bound
with that abominable Parson's coil of rope.

V

"Believe me," says Mr. Vanringham, now seated upon the table and indolently
dangling his heels,--the ecclesiastical monstrosity, having locked the
door upon Mrs. Audaine, had occupied a chair and was composedly smoking
a churchwarden,--"believe me, I lament the necessity of this uncouth
proceeding. But heyho! man is a selfish animal. You take me, sir, my
affection for yonder venerable lady does not keep me awake o' nights; yet
is a rich marriage the only method to amend my threadbare fortunes, so that
I cheerfully avail myself of her credulity. By God!" cried he, with a quick
raising of the voice, "to-morrow I had been a landed gentleman but for you,
you blundering omadhaun! And is a shabby merry-andrew from the devil knows
where to pop in and spoil the prettiest plot was ever hatched?"

'Twas like a flare of lightning, this sudden outburst of malignity; for
you saw in it, quintessentialized, the man's stark and venomous hatred of
a world which had ill-used him; and 'twas over with too as quickly as the
lightning, yielding to the pleasantest smile imaginable. Meanwhile you are
to picture me, and my emotions, as I lay beneath his oscillating toes,
entirely helpless. "'Twas not that I lacked the courage to fight you," he
continues, "nor the skill, either. But there is always the possibility
that by some awkward thrust or other you might deprive the stage of a
distinguished ornament; and as a sincere admirer of my genius, I must,
in decency, avoid such risks. 'Twas necessary to me, of course, that you
be got out of this world speedily, since a further continuance of your
blunderings would interfere with my plans for the future; having gone thus
far, I cannot reasonably be expected to cede my interest in the Marchioness
and her estate. Accordingly I decide upon the handiest method and tip the
wink to Quarmby here; the lady quits the apartment in order to afford us
opportunity to settle our pretensions, with cutlery as arbiter; and she
will return to find your perforated carcass artistically displayed in
yonder extremity of the room. Slain in an affair of honor, my dear Captain!
The disputed damsel will think none the worse of me, a man of demonstrated
valor and affection; Quarmby and I'll bury you in the cellar; and being
freed from her recent and unfortunate alliance, my esteemed Dorothy will
seek consolation in the embraces of a more acceptable spouse. Confess, sir,
is it not a scheme of Arcadian simplicity?"

'Twas the most extraordinary sensation to note the utterly urbane and
cheerful countenance with which Mr. Vanringham disclosed the meditated
atrocity. This unprincipled young man was about to run me through with no
more compunction than a naturalist in the act of pinning a new beetle among
his collection may momentarily be aware of.

Then my quickened faculties were stirred on a sudden, and for the first
time I opened my mouth. Whatever claim I had upon Vanringham, there was no
need to advance it now.

"You were about to say--?" he queried.

"I was about to relieve a certain surplusage of emotion," I retorted, "by
observing that I regret to find you, sir, a chattering, lean-witted fool--a
vain and improvident fool!"

"Harsh words, my Captain," says he, with lifted eyebrows.

"O Lord, sir, but not of an undeserved asperity!" I returned, "D'ye think
the Marchioness, her flighty head crammed with scraps of idiotic romance,
would elope without regard for the canons of romance? Not so; depend upon
it, a letter was left upon her pin-cushion announcing her removal with
you, and in the most approved heroic style arraigning the obduracy of her
unsympathetic grandchildren. D'ye think Gerald Allonby will not follow
her? Sure, and he will; and the proof is," I added, "that you may hear his
horses yonder on the heath, as I heard them some moments ago."

Vanringham leaped to the floor and stood thus, all tension. He raised
clenched, quivering hands toward the ceiling. "O King of Jesters!" he
cried, in horrid blasphemy; and then again, "O King of Jesters!"

And by this time men were shouting without, and at the door there was a
prodigious and augmenting hammering. And the Parson wrung his hands and
began to shake like a dish of jelly in a thunder-storm.

"Captain Audaine," Mr. Vanringham resumed, with more tranquillity, "you are
correct. Clidamira and Parthenissa would never have fled into the night
without leaving a note upon the pin-cushion. The folly I kindled in your
wife's addled pate has proven my ruin. Remains to make the best of Hobson's
choice." He unlocked the door. "Gentlemen, gentlemen!" says he, with
deprecating hand, "surely this disturbance is somewhat _outre_, a trifle
misplaced, upon the threshold of a bridal-chamber?"

Then Gerald Allonby thrust into the room, followed by Lord Humphrey Degge,
[Footnote: I must in this place entreat my reader's profound discredit of
any aspersions I may rashly seem to cast upon this honest gentleman, whose
friendship I to-day esteem as invaluable; but I wrote, as always, _currente
calamo_, and the above was penned in an amorous misery, _sub Venire_, be
it remembered; and in such cases a wrong bias is easily hung upon the
mind.--F.A.] my abhorred rival for Dorothy's affection, and two attendants.

"My grandmother!" shrieks Gerald. "Villain, what have you done with my
grandmother?"

"The query were more fitly put," Vanringham retorts, "to the lady's
husband." And he waves his hand toward me.

Thereupon the new-comers unbound me with various exclamations of wonder.
"And now," I observed, "I would suggest that you bestow upon Mr. Vanringham
and yonder blot upon the Church of England the bonds from which I have been
recently manumitted, or, at the very least, keep a vigilant watch upon
those more than suspicious characters, the while that I narrate the
surprising events of this evening."

VI

Subsequently I made a clean breast of affairs to Gerald and Lord Humphrey
Degge. They heard me with attentive, even sympathetic, countenances; but by
and by the face of Lord Humphrey brightened as he saw a not unformidable
rival thus jockeyed from the field; and when I had ended, Gerald rose and
with an oath struck his open palm upon the table.

"This is the most fortunate coincidence," he swears, "that I have ever
known of. I come prepared to find my grandmother the wife of a beggarly
play-actor, and I discover that, to the contrary, she has contracted an
alliance with a gentleman for whom I entertain sincere affection."

"Surely," I cried, aghast, "you cannot deliberate acceptance of this
iniquitous and inadvertent match!"

"What is your meaning, Captain Audaine?" says the boy, sharply. "What other
course is possible?"'

"O Lord!" said I, "after to-night's imbroglio I have nothing to observe
concerning the possibility of anything; but if this marriage prove a legal
one, I am most indissuadably resolved to rectify matters without delay in
the divorce court."

Now Gerald's brows were uglily compressed. "A divorce," said he, with an
extreme of deliberation, "means the airing of to-night's doings in the
open. I take it, 'tis the duty of a man of honor to preserve the reputation
of his grandmother stainless; whether she be a housemaid or the Queen
of Portugal, her frailties are equally entitled to endurance, her
eccentricities to toleration: can a gentleman, then, sanction any
proceeding of a nature calculated to make his grandmother the
laughing-stock of England? The point is a nice one."

"For, conceive," said Lord Humphrey, with the most knavish grin I ever knew
a human countenance to pollute itself with, "that the entire matter will be
convoyed by the short-hand writers to the public press, and after this will
be hawked about the streets; and that the venders will yell particulars of
your grandmother's folly under your very windows; and that you must hear
them in impotence, and that for some months the three kingdoms will hear of
nothing else. Gad, I quite feel for you, my dear."

"I have fallen into a nest of madmen," I cried. "You know, both of you, how
profoundly I adore Mr. Gerald's sister, the accomplished and bewitching
Miss Allonby; and in any event, I demand of you, as rational beings, is
it equitable that I be fettered for life to an old woman's apron-strings
because a doctor of divinity is parsimonious of his candles?"

But Gerald had drawn with a flourish. "You have repudiated my kinswoman,"
says he, "and you cannot deny me the customary satisfaction. Harkee, my
fine fellow, Dorothy will marry my friend Lord Humphrey if she will be
advised by me; or if she prefer it, she may marry the Man in the Iron Mask
or the piper that played before Moses, so far as I am concerned: but as for
you, I hereby offer you your choice between quitting this apartment as my
grandfather or as a corpse."

"I won't fight you!" I shouted. "Keep the boy off, Degge!" But when the
infuriate lad rushed upon me, I was forced, in self-protection, to draw,
and after a brief engagement to knock his sword across the room.

"Gerald," I pleaded, "for the love of reason, consider! I cannot fight you.
Heaven knows this tragic farce hath robbed me of all pretension toward your
sister, and that I am just now but little better than a madman; yet 'tis
her blood which exhilarates your veins, and with such dear and precious
fluid I cannot willingly imbrue my hands. Nay, you are no swordsman,
lad,--keep off!"

And there I had blundered irretrievably.

"No swordsman! By God, I fling the words in your face, Frank Audaine! must
I send the candlestick after them?" And within the instant he had caught
up his weapon and had hurled himself upon me, in an abandoned fury. I had
not moved. The boy spitted himself upon my sword and fell with a horrid
gasping.

"You will bear me witness, Lord Humphrey," said I, "that the quarrel was
not of my provokement."

But at this juncture the outer door reopened and Dorothy tripped into the
room, preceding Lady Allonby and Mr. George Erwyn. They had followed in the
family coach to dissuade the Marchioness from her contemplated match by
force or by argument, as the cat might jump; and so it came about that my
dear mistress and I stared at each other across her brother's lifeless
body.

And 'twas in this poignant moment I first saw her truly. In a storm you
have doubtless had some utterly familiar scene leap from the darkness,
under the lash of lightning, and be for the instant made visible and
strange; and I beheld her with much that awful clarity. Formerly 'twas her
beauty had ensnared me, and this I now perceived to be a fortuitous and
happy medley of color and glow and curve, indeed, yet nothing more. 'Twas
the woman I loved, not her trappings; and her eyes were no more part of her
than were the jewels in her ears. But the sweet mirth of her, the brave
heart, the clean soul, the girl herself, how good and generous and kind
and tender,--'twas this that I now beheld, and knew that this, too, was
lost;--and, in beholding, the little love of yesterday fled whimpering
before the sacred passion which had possessed my being. And I began to
laugh.

"My dear," said I, "'twas to-night that you promised me your answer, and
to-night you observe in me alike your grandfather and your brother's
murderer."

VII

Lady Allonby fell to wringing her hands, but Dorothy had knelt beside the
prostrate form and was inspecting the ravages of my fratricidal sword. "Oh,
fy! fy!" says she immediately, and wrinkles her saucy nose; "had none of
you the sense to perceive that Gerald was tipsy? And as for the wound, 'tis
only a scratch here on the left shoulder. Get water, somebody." And her
command being obeyed, she cleansed the hurt composedly and bandaged it with
the ruffle of her petticoat.

Meanwhile we hulking men stood thick about her, fidgeting and foolishly
gaping like a basket of fish; and presently a sibilance of relief went
about our circle as Gerald opened his eyes. "Sister," says he, with a
profoundly tragic face, "remember--remember that I perished to preserve the
honor of our family."

"To preserve a fiddlestick!" said my adored Dorothy. And, rising, she
confronted me, a tinted statuette of decision. "Now, Frank," says she, "I
would like to know the meaning of this nonsense."

And thereupon, for the second time, I recounted the dreadful and huddled
action of the night.

When I had ended, "The first thing," says she, "is to let Grandmother out
of that room. And the second is to show me the Parson." This was done; the
Dowager entered in an extremity of sulkiness, and the Parson, on being
pointed out, lowered his eyes and intensified his complexion.

"As I anticipated," says my charmer, "you are, one and all, a parcel of
credulous infants. 'Tis a parson, indeed, but merely the parson out of
Vanbrugh's _Relapse_; only last Friday, sir, we heartily commended your
fine performance. Why, Frank, the man is one of the play-actors."

"I fancy," Mr. Vanringham here interpolates, "that I owe the assembled
company some modicum of explanation. 'Tis true that at the beginning of
our friendship I had contemplated matrimony with our amiable Marchioness,
but, I confess, 'twas the lady's property rather than her person which was
the allure. And reflection dissuaded me; a legal union left me, a young
and not unhandsome man, irrevocably fettered to an old woman; whereas a
mock-marriage afforded an eternal option to compound the match--for a
consideration--with the lady's relatives, to whom, I had instinctively
divined, her alliance with me would prove distasteful. Accordingly I
had availed myself of my colleague's skill [Footnote: I witnessed this
same Quarmby's hanging in 1754, and for a burglary, I think, with an
extraordinary relish.--F.A.] in the portrayal of clerical parts rather than
resort to any parson whose authority was unrestricted by the footlights.
And accordingly--"

"And accordingly my marriage," I interrupted, "is not binding?"

"I can assure you," he replied, "that you might trade your lawful right in
the lady for a twopenny whistle and not lose by the bargain."

"And what about my marriage?" says the Marchioness--"the marriage which was
never to be legalized?--'twas merely that you might sell me afterward, like
so much mutton, was it, you jumping-jack--!"

But I spare you her ensuing gloss upon this text.

The man heard her through, without a muscle twitching. "It is more than
probable," he conceded, "that I have merited each and every fate your
Ladyship is pleased to invoke. Indeed, I consider the extent of your
distresses to be equaled only by that of your vocabulary. Yet by ordinary
the heart of woman is not obdurate, and upon one lady here I have some
claim--"

Dorothy had drawn away from him, with an odd and frightened cry. "Not upon
me, sir! I never saw you except across the footlights. You know I never saw
you except across the footlights, Mr. Vanringham!"

Fixedly he regarded her, with a curious yet not unpleasing smile. "I am
the more unfortunate," he said, at last. "Nay, 'twas to Lady Allonby I
addressed my appeal."

The person he named had been whispering with George Erwyn, but now she
turned toward the actor. "Heavens!" said Lady Allonby, "to think I should
be able to repay you this soon! La, of course, you are at liberty, Mr.
Vanringham, and we may treat the whole series of events as a frolic
suited to the day. For I am under obligations to you, and, besides, your
punishment would breed a scandal, and, above all, anything is preferable to
being talked about in the wrong way."

Having reasons of my own, I was elated by the upshot of this rather
remarkable affair. Yet in justice to my own perspicacity, I must declare
that it occurred to me, at this very time, that Mr. Vanringham had proven
himself not entirely worthy of unlimited confidence, I reflected, however,
that I had my instructions, and that, if a bad king may prove a good
husband, a knave may surely carry a letter with fidelity, the more so if it
be to his interest to do it.

VIII

I rode back to Tunbridge in the coach, with Dorothy at my side and with
Gerald recumbent upon the front seat,--where, after ten minutes' driving
the boy very philanthropically fell asleep.

"And you have not," I immediately asserted--"after all, you have not given
me the answer which was to-night to decide whether I be of all mankind the
most fortunate or the most miserable. And 'tis nearing twelve."

"What choice have I?" she murmured; "after to-night is it not doubly
apparent that you need some one to take care of you? And, besides, this is
your eighth proposal, and the ninth I had always rather meant to accept,
because I have been in love with you for two whole weeks."

My heart stood still. And shall I confess that for an instant my wits,
too, paused to play the gourmet with my emotions? She sat beside me in the
darkness, you understand, waiting, mine to touch. And everywhere the world
was filled with beautiful, kind people, and overhead God smiled down upon
His world, and a careless seraph had left open the door of Heaven, so that
quite a deal of its splendor flooded the world about us. And the snoring
of Gerald was now inaudible because of a stately music which was playing
somewhere.

"Frank--!" she breathed. And I noted that her voice was no less tender than
her lips.

IV

THE RHYME TO PORRINGER

_As Played at Tunbridge Wells, April 2, 1750_

"_Ye gods, why are not hearts first paired above,
But still some interfere in others' love,
Ere each for each by certain marks are known?
You mould them up in haste, and drop them down,
And while we seek what carelessly you sort,
You sit in state, and make our pains your sport._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

CAPTAIN AUDAINE, an ingenious, well-accomplished gentleman.
LORD HUMPHREY DEGGE, an airy young gentleman, loves Miss Allonby for her
money.
VANRINGHAM, emissary and confederate of Audaine.
MISS ALLONBY, a young lady of wit and fortune.

ATTENDANTS to Lord Humphrey, Etc.

SCENE

Tunbridge Wells, first in and about Lord Humphrey's lodgings, then shifting
to a drawing-room in Lady Allonby's villa.

THE RHYME TO PORRINGER

PROEM:--_Merely to Serve as Intermezzo_

Next morning Captain Audaine was closeted with Mr. Vanringham in the
latter's apartments at the _Three Gudgeons_. I abridge the Captain's
relation of their interview, and merely tell you that it ended in the
actor's looking up, with a puzzled face, from a certain document.

"You might have let me have a whiff of this," Mr. Vanringham began. "You
might have breathed, say, a syllable or two last night--"

"I had my instructions, sir, but yesterday," replied the Captain; "and
surely, Mr. Vanringham, to have presumed last night upon my possession of
this paper, so far as to have demanded any favor of you, were unreasonable,
even had it not savored of cowardice. For, as it has been very finely
observed, it is the nicest part of commerce in the world, that of doing and
receiving benefits. O Lord, sir! there are so many thousand circumstances,
with respect to time, person, and place, which either heighten or allay the
value of the obligation--"

"I take your point," said the other, with some haste, "and concede that you
are, beyond any reasonable doubt, in the right. Within the hour I am off."

"Then all is well," said Captain Audaine.

But he was wrong in this opinion, so wrong that I confute him by subjoining
his own account of what befell, somewhat later in the day.

I

'Twas hard upon ten in the evening (the Captain estimates) when I left
Lady Culcheth's, [Footnote: Sir Henry Muskerry's daughter, of whom I have
already spoken, and by common consent an estimable lady and a person of
fine wit; but my infatuation for Lady Betty had by this time, after three
nights with her, been puffed out; and this fortunate extinction, through
the affair of the broken snuffbox, had left me now entirely indifferent to
all her raptures, panegyrics, and premeditated artlessnesses.--F. A.] and I
protest that at the time there was not a happier man in all Tunbridge than
Francis Audaine.

"You haven't the king?" Miss Allonby was saying, as I made my adieus to the
company. "Then I play queen, knave, and ace, which gives me the game, Lord
Humphrey."

And afterward she shuffled the cards and flashed across the room a glance
whose brilliance shamed the tawdry candles about her, and, as you can
readily conceive, roused a prodigious trepidation in my adoring breast.

"Dorothy!--O Dorothy!" I said over and over again when I had reached the
street; and so went homeward with constant repetitions of her dear name.

I suppose it was an idiotic piece of business; but you are to remember
that I loved her with an entire heart, and that, as yet, I could scarcely
believe the confession of a reciprocal attachment, which I had wrung from
her overnight, to the accompaniment of Gerald's snoring, had been other
than an unusually delectable and audacious dream upon the part of Frank
Audaine.

I found it, then, as I went homeward, a heady joy to ponder on her
loveliness. Oh, the wonder of her voice, that is a love-song! cried my
heart. Oh, the candid eyes of her, more beautiful than the June heavens,
more blue than the very bluest speedwell-flower! Oh, the tilt of her tiny
chin, and the incredible gold of her hair, and the quite unbelievable
pink-and-white of her little flower-soft face! And, oh, the scrap of
crimson that is her mouth.

In a word, my pulses throbbed with a sort of divine insanity, and Frank
Audaine was as much out of his senses as any madman now in Bedlam, and as
deliriously perturbed as any lover is by ordinary when he meditates upon
the object of his affections.

But there was other work than sonneting afoot that night, and shortly I
set about it. Yet such was my felicity that I went to my nocturnal labors
singing. Yes, it rang in my ears, somehow, that silly old Scotch song, and
under my breath I hummed odd snatches of it as I went about the night's
business.

Sang I:

"Ken ye the rhyme to porringer?
Ken ye the rhyme to porringer?
King James the Seventh had ae daughter,
And he gave her to an Oranger.

"Ken ye how he requited him?
Ken ye how he requited him?
The dog has into England come,
And ta'en the crown in spite of him!

"The rogue he salna keep it lang,
To budge we'll make him fain again;
We'll hang him high upon a tree,
And King James shall hae his ain again!"

II

Well! matters went smoothly enough at the start. With a diamond Vanringham
dexterously cut out a pane of glass, so that we had little difficulty in
opening the window; and I climbed into a room black as a pocket, leaving
him without to act as a sentinel, since, so far as I could detect, the
house was now untenanted.

But some twenty minutes later, when I had finally succeeded in forcing the
escritoire I found in the back room upon the second story, I heard the
street door unclose. And I had my candle extinguished in that self same
instant. You can conceive that 'twas with no pleasurable anticipation I
peered into the hall, for I was fairly trapped. I saw some five or six men
of an ugly aspect, who carried among them a burden, the nature of which I
could not determine in the uncertain light. But I heaved a sigh of relief
as they bore their cargo past me, to the front room, (which opened on the
one I occupied), without apparent recognition of my presence.

"Now," thinks I, "is the time for my departure." And having already
selected the papers I had need of from the rifled desk, I was about to run
for it, when I heard a well-known voice.

"Rat the parson!" it cried; "he should have been here an hour ago. Here's
the door left open for him, endangering the whole venture, and whey-face
han't plucked up heart to come! Do some of you rogues fetch him without
delay; and do all of you meet me to-morrow at the _Mitre_, to be paid in
full for this business, before reporting to his Grace."

"Here," thinks I, "is beyond doubt a romance." And as the men tumbled
down-stairs and into the street, I resolved to see the adventure through,
by the light of those candles which were now burning in the next room.

I waited for perhaps ten minutes, during which period I was aware of divers
movements near at hand; and, judging that in any case there was but one
man's anger to be apprehended, I crept toward the intervening door and
found it luckily ajar.

So I peered through the crack into the adjoining room, and there, as I had
anticipated, discovered Lord Humphrey Degge, whom I had last seen at Lady
Culcheth's wrangling over a game of _ecarte_ with the fairest antagonist
the universe could afford.

Just now my Lord was in a state of high emotion, and the cause of it was
evident when I perceived his ruffians had borne into the house a swooning
lady, whom merciful unconsciousness had rendered oblivious to her present
surroundings, and whose wrists his Lordship was vigorously slapping in the
intervals between his frequent applications to her nostrils of a flask,
which, as I more lately learned, contained sal volatile.

Here was an unlucky turn, since I had no desire to announce my whereabouts,
my business in the house being of a sort that necessitated secrecy;
whereas, upon the other hand, I could not but misdoubt my Lord's intention
toward the unknown fair was of discreditable kinship, and such as a
gentleman might not countenance with self-esteem.

Accordingly I devoted the moments during which the lady was recovering
from her swoon, to serious reflection concerning the course that I should
preferably adopt. But now, Miss came to, and, as is the custom of all
females similarly situated, rubbed her eyes and said, "Where am I?"

And when she rose from the divan I saw that 'twas my adored Dorothy.

"In the presence of your infatuated slave," says my Lord. "Ah, divine Miss
Allonby--!"

But being now aware of her deplorable circumstances, she began to weep,
and, in spite of the amorous rhetoric with which his Lordship was prompt to
comfort her, rebuked him for unmanly conduct, with sublimity and fire, and
depicted the horrors of her present predicament in terms that were both
just and elegant.

From their disjointed talk I soon determined that, Lord Humphrey's suit
being rejected by my angel, he had laid a trap for her (by bribing her
coachman, as I subsequently learned), and had so far succeeded in his
nefarious scheme that she, on leaving Lady Culcheth's, had been driven
to this house, in the conviction she rode homeward; and this course my
Lord endeavored to justify, with a certain eloquence, and attributed the
irregularity of his behavior solely to the colossal vehemence of his
affection.

His oratory, however, was of little avail, for Dorothy told him plainly
that she had rather hear the protestations of a toad than listen to his far
more nauseous flattery; and bade him at once restore her to her natural
guardians.

"_Ma charmante_," said he, "to-morrow your good step-mother may, if you
will, share with your husband the privilege of saluting Lady Humphrey
Degge; but as for Miss Allonby, I question if in the future her dearest
friends are likely to see much of her."

"What do you mean?" cries she.

"That the parson will be here directly," said he.

"Infamous!" she observes; "and is the world run mad, that these extempore
weddings should be foisted upon every woman in the Allonby connection!"

"Ah, but, my dear," he answered airily, "'twas those two fiascos which
begot my notion, and yet hearten me. For in every approved romance the
third adventurer gets the victory; so that I am, I take it, predestinate to
win where Vanringham and Rokesle failed."

She did not chop logic with him, but instead retorted in a more primitive
fashion by beginning to scream at the top of her voice.

I doubt if any man of honor was ever placed under a more great embarrass.
Yonder was the object of my devotion, exposed to all the diabolical
machinations of a heartless villain; and here was I concealed in my Lord's
bedroom, his desk broken open, and his papers in my pocket. To remain quiet
was impossible, since 'twas to expose her to a fate worse than death; yet
to reveal myself was to confess Frank Audaine a thief, and to lose her
perhaps beyond redemption.

Then I thought of the mask which I had brought in case of emergency; and,
clapping it on, resolved to brazen out the affair. Meanwhile I saw all
notions of gallantry turned topsy-turvy, for my Lord was laughing quietly,
while my adored Dorothy called aloud upon the name of her Maker.

"The neighborhood is not unaccustomed to such sounds," said he, "and I
hardly think we need fear any interruption. I must tell you, my dear
creature, you have, by an evil chance, arrived in a most evil locality, for
this quarter of the town is the devil's own country, and he is scarcely
like to make you free of it."

"O Lord, sir!" said I, and pushed the door wide open, "surely you forget
that the devil is a gentleman?"

III

Had I dropped a hand-grenade into the apartment the astonishment of its
occupants would not have been excessive. My Lord's face, as he clapped
his hand to his sword, was neither tranquil nor altogether agreeable to
contemplate; but as for Dorothy, she gave a frightened little cry, and ran
toward the masked intruder with a piteous confidence which wrung my heart.

"The devil!" says my Lord.

"Not precisely," I amended, and bowed in my best manner, "though 'tis
undeniable I come to act as his representative."

"Oh, joy to your success!" his Lordship sneered.

"Harkee, sir," said I, "as you, with perfect justice, have stated, this is
the devil's stronghold, and hereabouts his will is paramount; and, as I
have had the honor to add, the devil is a gentleman. Sure, and as such, he
cannot be expected to countenance your present behavior? Nay, never fear!
Lucifer, already up to the ears in the affairs of this mundane sphere,
lacks leisure to express his disapproval in sulphuric person. He tenders
his apologies, sir, and sends in his stead your servant, with whose
capabilities he is indifferently acquainted."

"To drop this mummery," says Lord Humphrey, "what are you doing in my
lodgings?"

"O Lord, sir!" I responded, "I came thither, I confess, without invitation.
And with equal candor I will admit that my present need is of your
Lordship's banknotes and jewels, and such-like trifles, rather than--you
force me, sir, to say it,--rather than of your company."

Thus speaking, I drew and placed myself on guard, while my Lord gasped.

"You're the most impudent rogue," says he, after he had recovered himself a
little, "that I have had the privilege of meeting--"

"Your Lordship is all kindness," I protested.

"--but your impudence is worth the price of whatever you may have pilfered.
Go, my good man--or devil, if you so prefer to style yourself! Tell Lucifer
that he is well served; and obligingly return to the infernal regions
without delay. For, as you have doubtless learned, Miss and I have many
private matters to discuss. And, gad, Mr. Moloch, [Footnote: A deity of,
I believe, Ammonitish origin. His traditional character as represented
by our immortal Milton is both taking to the fancy and finely romantic;
and is, I am informed, no less remarkable for many happy turns of speech
than for conformity throughout to the most famous legends of Talmudic
fabrication.--F.A.] pleasant as is your conversation, you must acknowledge
I can't allow evil spirits about the house without getting it an ill
reputation. So pardon me if I exorcise you with this."

He spoke boldly, and, as he ended, tossed me a purse. I let it lie where it
fell, for I had by no means ended my argument.

"Yet, sir," said I, "my errand, which began with the acquisition of your
pins, studs and other jewelry, now reaches toward treasure far more
precious--"

"Enough!" he cried, impatiently, "Begone! and do you render thanks--that my
present business is so urgent as to prevent my furnishing the rope which
will one day adorn your neck."

"That's as may be," quoth I; "and, indeed, I doubt if I could abide
drowning, for 'tis a damp, unwholesome, and very permanent sort of death.
But my fixed purpose, to cut short all debate, is to escort Miss Allonby
homeward."

"Come," sneers my Lord,--"come, Mr. Moloch, I have borne with your
insolence for a quarter of an hour--"

"Twenty minutes," said I, after consulting my watch.

"--but I mean to put up with it no longer; and in consequence I take the
boorish liberty of suggesting that this is none of your affair."

"Good sir," I conceded, "your Lordship speaks with considerable justice,
and we must leave the final decision to Miss here."

I bowed toward her. In her face there was a curious bewilderment that
made me fear lest, for all my mask, for all my unnatural intonations, and
for all the room's half-light, my worshipped mistress had come near to
recognizing this caught thief.

"Miss Allonby," said I, in a falsetto voice which trembled, "since I am
unknown to you, may I trust you will permit me to present myself? My
name--though, indeed, I have a multitude of names--is for the occasion
Frederick Thomasson. With my father's appellation and estates I cannot
accommodate you, for the reason that a mystery attaches to his identity.
As for my mother, let it suffice to say that she was a vivacious brunette
of a large acquaintance, and generally known to the public as Black Moll
O'Reilly. I began life as a pickpocket. Since then I have so far improved
my natural gifts that the police are flattering enough to value my person
at several hundred pounds. My rank in society, as you perceive, is not
exalted; yet, if my luck by any chance should fail, I do not question that
I shall, upon some subsequent Friday, move in loftier circles than any
nobleman who happens at the time to be on Tyburn Hill.--So much for my poor
self. And since by this late hour Lady Allonby is beyond doubt beginning to
grow uneasy, let us have done with further exposition, and remember that
'tis high time you selected an escort to her residence. May I implore that
you choose between the son of the Marquis of Venour and Black Molly's
bastard?"

She looked us over,--first one, then the other. More lately she laughed;
and if I had never seen her before, I could have found it in my heart to
love her for the sweet insolence of her demeanor.

"After all," said my adored Dorothy, "I prefer the rogue who when he goes
about his knaveries has at least the decency to wear a mask."

"That, my Lord," said I, "is fairly conclusive; and so we will be
journeying."

"Over my dead body!" says he.

"Sure, and what's beneath the feet," I protested, "is equally beneath
consideration."

The witticism stung him like a wasp, and, with an oath, he drew, as I was
heartily glad to observe, for I cannot help thinking that when it comes to
the last pinch, and one gentleman is excessively annoyed by the existence
of another, steel is your only arbiter, and charitable allowances for the
dead make the one rational peroration. So we crossed blades; and, pursuing
my usual tactics, I began upon a flow of words, which course, as I have
learned by old experience, is apt to disconcert an adversary far more than
any trick of the sword can do.

I pressed him sorely, and he continued to give way, but clearly for
tactical purposes, and without permitting the bright flash of steel that
protected him to swerve an instant from the proper line.

"Miss Allonby," said I, growing impatient, "have you never seen a venomous
insect pinned to the wall? In that case, I pray you to attend more closely.
For one has only to parry--thus! And to thrust--in this fashion! And
behold, the thing is done!"

In fact, having been run through the chest, my Lord was for the moment
affixed to the panelling at the extreme end of the apartment, where he
writhed, much in the manner of a cockchafer which mischievous urchins have
pinned to a card,--his mien and his gesticulations, however, being rather
more suggestive of the torments of the damned, as they are so strikingly
depicted by the Italian Dante. [Footnote: I allude, of course, to the
famous Florentine, who excels no less in his detailed depictions of
infernal anguish than in his eloquent portrayal of the graduated and
equitable emoluments of an eternal glorification.--F.A.] He tumbled in a
heap, though, when I sheathed my sword and bowed toward my charmer.

"Miss Allonby," said I, "thus quickly ends this evil quarter of an hour;
and with, equal expedition, I think, should we be leaving this evil quarter
of the town."

She had watched the combat with staring and frightened eyes. Now she had
drawn nearer, and she looked curiously at her over-presumptuous lover where
he had fallen.

"Have you killed him?" she asked, in a hushed voice.

"O Lord, no!" I protested. "The life of a peer's son is too valuable a
matter; he will be little the worse for it in a week."

"The dog!" cries she, overcome with pardonable indignation at the affront
which the misguided nobleman had put upon her; and afterward, with a
ferocity the more astounding in an individual whose demeanor was by
ordinary of an aspect so amiable and so engaging, she said, "Oh, the lewd
thieving dog!"

"My adorable Miss Allonby," said I, "do not, I pray you, thus slander the
canine species! Meanwhile, permit me to remind you that 'tis inexpedient
to loiter in these parts, for the parson will presently be at hand; and if
it be to inter rather than to marry Lord Humphrey--well, after all, the
peerage is a populous estate! But, either way, time presses."

"Come!" said she, and took my arm; and together we went down-stairs and
into the street.

IV

On the way homeward she spoke never a word. Vanringham had made a hasty
flitting when my Lord's people arrived, so that we saw nothing of him. But
when we had come safely to Lady Allonby's villa, Dorothy began to laugh.

"Captain Audaine," says she, in a wearied and scornful voice, "I know that
the hour is very late, yet there are certain matters to be settled between
as which will, I think, scarcely admit of delay. I pray you, then, grant me
ten minutes' conversation."

She had known me all along, you see. Trust the dullest woman to play
Oedipus when love sets the riddle. So there was nothing to do save clap my
mask into my pocket and follow her, sheepishly enough, toward one of the
salons, where at Dorothy's solicitation a gaping footman made a light for
us.

She left me there to kick my heels through a solitude of some moments'
extent. But in a while my dear mistress came into the room, with her arms
full of trinkets and knick-knacks, which she flung upon a table.

"Here's your ring, Captain Audaine," says she, and drew it from her finger.
"I did not wear it long, did I? And here's the miniature you gave me, too.
I used to kiss it every night, you know. And here's a flower you dropped at
Lady Pevensey's. I picked it up--oh, very secretly!--because you had worn
it, you understand. And here's--"

But at this point she fairly broke down; and she cast her round white arms
about the heap of trinkets, and strained them close to her, and bowed her
imperious golden head above them in anguish.

"Oh, how I loved you--how I loved you!" she sobbed. "And all the while you
were only a common thief!"

"Dorothy--!" I pleaded.

"You shame me--you shame me past utterance!" she cried, in a storm of
mingled tears and laughter. "Here's this bold Captain Audaine, who comes to
Tunbridge from nobody knows where, and wins a maid's love, and proves in
the end a beggarly house-breaker! Mr. Garrick might make a mirthful comedy
of this, might he not?" Then she rose to her feet very stiffly. "Take your
gifts, Mr. Thief," says she, pointing,--"take them. And for God's sake let
me not see you again!"

So I was forced to make a clean breast of it.

"Dorothy," said I, "ken ye the rhyme to porringer?" But she only stared at
me through unshed tears.

Presently, though, I hummed over the old song:

"Ken ye the rhyme to porringer?
Ken ye the rhyme to porringer?
King James the Seventh had ae daughter,
And he gave her to an Oranger.

"And the Oranger filched his crown," said I, "and drove King James--God
bless him!--out of his kingdom. This was a while and a half ago, my dear;
but Dutch William left the stolen crown to Anne, and Anne, in turn, left it
to German George. So that now the Elector of Hanover reigns at St. James's,
while the true King's son must skulk in France, with never a roof to
shelter him. And there are certain gentlemen, Dorothy, who do not consider
that this is right."

"You are a Jacobite?" said she. "Well! and what have your politics to do
with the matter?"

"Simply that Lord Humphrey is not of my way of thinking, my dearest dear.
Lord Humphrey--pah!--this Degge is Ormskirk's spy, I tell you! He followed
Vanringham to Tunbridge on account of our business. And to-day, when
Vanringham set out for Avignon, he was stopped a mile from the Wells by
some six of Lord Humphrey's fellows, disguised as highwaymen, and all his
papers were stolen. Oho, but Lord Humphrey is a thrifty fellow: so when
Ormskirk puts six bandits at his disposal he employs them in double infamy,
to steal you as well as Vanringham's despatches. To-morrow they would have
been in Ormskirk's hands. And then--" I paused to allow myself a whistle.

She came a little toward me, in the prettiest possible glow of
bewilderment, "I do not understand," she murmured. "Oh, Frank, Frank, for
the love of God, beware of trusting Vanringham in anything! And you are not
a thief, after all? Are you really not named Thomasson?"

"I am most assuredly not Frederick Thomasson," said I, "nor do I know if
any such person exists, for I never heard the name before to-night. Yet, in
spite of this, I am an unmitigated thief. Why, d'ye not understand? What
Vanringham carried was a petition from some two hundred Scotch and English
gentlemen that our gracious Prince Charlie be pleased to come over and
take back his own from the Elector. 'Twas rebellion, flat rebellion, and
the very highest treason! Had Ormskirk seen the paper, within a month our
heads had all been blackening over Temple Bar. So I stole it,--I, Francis
Audaine, stole it in the King's cause, God bless him! 'Twas burglary, no
less, but it saved two hundred lives, my own included; and I look to be a
deal older than I am before I regret the deed with any sincerity."

Afterward I showed her the papers, and then burned them one by one over a
candle. She said nothing. So by and by I turned toward her with a little
bow.

"Madam," said I, "you have forced my secret from me. I know that your
family is staunch on the Whig side; and yet, ere the thief goes, may he not
trust you will ne'er betray him?"

And now she came to me, all penitence and dimples.

"But it was you who said you were a thief," my dear mistress pointed out.

"O Lord, madam!" said I, "'twas very necessary that Degge should think me
so. A house-breaker they would have only hanged, but a Jacobite they would
have hanged and quartered afterward."

"Ah, Frank, do not speak of such fearful matters, but forgive me
instantly!" she wailed.

And I was about to do so in what I considered the most agreeable and
appropriate manner when the madcap broke away from me, and sprang upon a
footstool and waved her fan defiantly.

"Down with the Elector!" she cried, in her high, sweet voice. "Long live
King James!"

And then, with a most lovely wildness of mien, she began to sing:

"Ken ye the rhyme to porringer?
Ken ye the rhyme to porringer?
King James the Seventh had ae daughter--"

until I interrupted her. For, "Extraordinary creature!" I pleaded, "you
will rouse the house."

"I don't care! I intend to be a Jacobite if you are one!"

"Eh, well," said I, "Frank Audaine is not the man to coerce his wife in a
political matter. Nevertheless, I know of a certain Jacobite who is not
unlikely to have a bad time of it if by any chance Lord Humphrey recognized
him to-night. Nay, Miss, you may live to be a widow yet."

"But he didn't recognize you. And if he did"--she snapped her
fingers,--"why, we'll fight him again, you and I. Won't we, my dear? For
he stole our secret, you know. And he stole me, too. Very pretty behavior,
wasn't it?" And here Miss, Allonby stamped the tiniest, the most
infinitesimal of red-heeled slippers.

"The rogue he didna keep me lang,
To budge we made him fain again--

"that's you, Frank, and your great, long sword. And now:

"We'll hang him high, upon a tree,
And King Frank shall hae his ain again!"

Afterward my adored Dorothy jumped from the footstool, and came toward me,
lifting up the crimson trifle that she calls her mouth, "So take your own,
my king," she breathed, with a wonderful gesture of surrender.

And a gentleman could do no less.

V

ACTORS ALL

_As Played at Tunbridge Wells, April 3, 1750_

"_I am thinking if some little, filching, inquisitive poet should get my
story, and represent it to the stage, what those ladies who are never
precise but at a play would say of me now,--that I were a confident, coming
piece, I warrant, and they would damn the poor poet for libelling the
sex._"

DRAMATIS PERSONAE

DUKE OF ORMSKIRK.

COLONEL DENSTROUDE, }
SIR GRESLEY CARNE, } Gentlemen of the town.
MR. BABINGTON-HERLE, }

VANRINGHAM, a play-actor and a Jacobite emissary.

MR. LANGTON, secretary to Ormskirk.

MISS ALLONBY, an heiress, loves Captain Audaine.

LOTTRUM, maid to Miss Allonby.

BENYON, MINCHIN, and OTHER SERVANTS to Ormskirk.

SCENE

Tunbridge Wells, shifting from Ormskirk's lodgings at the _Mitre_ to
Vanringham's apartments in the _Three Gudgeons_.

ACTORS ALL

_PROEM.--To Explain Why the Heroine of This Comedy Must Wear Her Best_

I quit pilfering from the writings of Francis Audaine, since in the
happenings which now concern us he plays but a subsidiary part. The Captain
had an utter faith in decorum, and therefore it was, as he records, an
earth-staggering shock when the following day, on the Pantiles, in full
sight of the best company at the Wells, Captain Audaine was apprehended. He
met disaster like an old acquaintance, and hummed a scrap of song--"_O, gin
I were a bonny bird_,"--and shrugged; but when Miss Allonby, with whom he
had been chatting, swayed and fell, the Captain caught her in his arms, and
standing thus, turned angrily upon the emissaries of the law.

"Look you, you rascals," said he, "you have spoiled a lady's afternoon with
your foolish warrant!"

He then relinquished the unconscious girl to her brother's keeping,
tenderly kissed one insensate hand, and afterward strolled off to jail
_en route_ for a perfunctory trial and a subsequent traffic with the
executioner that Audaine did not care to think of.

Tunbridge buzzed like a fly-trap with the ensuing rumors. The Captain
was at the head of a most heinous Jacobitical uprising. The great Duke
of Ormskirk was come hastily from London on the business. Highlanders
were swarming over the Border, ten thousand French troops had landed at
Pevensey, commanded by the Chevalier St. George in person, and twenty
thousand friars and pilgrims from Coruna had sailed for Milford Haven,
under the admiralty of young Henry Stuart. The King was locked in the
Tower; the King had been assassinated that morning by a Spanish monk, with
horse-pistols and a cast in his left eye; and the King and the Countess of
Yarmouth had escaped three days ago, in disguise, and were now on their way
to Hanover.

These were the reports which went about Tunbridge, while Dorothy Allonby
wept a little and presently called for cold water and a powder-puff, and
afterward for a sedan chair.

I

Miss Allonby found my Lord Duke of Ormskirk deep in an infinity of papers.
But at her entrance he rose and with a sign dismissed his secretary.

It appears appropriate here to afford you some notion of Ormskirk's
exterior. I pilfer from Loewe's memoir of him, where Horace Calverley, who
first saw Ormskirk at about this time, is quoted:

"His Grace was in blue-and-silver, which became him, though he is somewhat
stomachy for such conspicuous colors. A handsome man, I would have said,
honest but not particularly intelligent.... Walpole, in a fit of spleen,
once called him 'a porcelain sphinx,' and the phrase sticks; but,
indeed, there is more of the china-doll about him. He possesses the
same too-perfect complexion, his blue eyes have the same spick-and-span
vacuity; and the fact that the right orb is a trifle larger than its fellow
gives his countenance, in repose, much the same expression of placid
astonishment.... Very plump, very sleepy-looking, immaculate as a cat, you
would never have accorded him a second glance: covert whisperings that the
stout gentleman yonder is the great Duke of Ormskirk have, I think, taxed
human belief more than once during these ten years past."

They said of Ormskirk that he manifested a certain excitement on the
day after Culloden, when he had seventy-two prisoners shot _en masse_,
[Footnote: But for all that, when, near Rossinish (see Loewe), he captured
Flora Macdonald and her ostensibly female companion, Ormskirk flatly
declined to recognize Prince Charles. "They may well call you the
Pretender, madam," he observed to "Bettie Burke,"--"since as concerns my
party you are the most desirable Pretender we could possibly imagine." And
thereupon he gave the Prince a pass out of Scotland.] but this was doubted;
and in any event, such _battues_ being comparatively rare, he by ordinary
appeared to regard the universe with a composed and feline indifference.

II

"Child, child!" Ormskirk began, and made a tiny gesture of deprecation, "I
perceive you are about to appeal to my better nature, and so I warn you in
advance that the idiotic business has worked me into a temper absolutely
ogreish."

"The Jacobite conspiracy, you mean?" said Miss Allonby. "Oh, I suppose
so. I am not particularly interested in such matters, though; I came, you
understand, for a warrant, or an order, or whatever you call it, for them
to let Frank out of that horrid filthy gaol."

The Duke's face was gravely humorous as he gazed at her for a moment or two
in silence, "You know quite well," he said at last, "that I can give you
nothing of the sort."

Miss Allonby said: "Upon my word, I never heard of such nonsense! How else
is he to take me to Lady Mackworth's ball to-night?"

"It is deplorable," his Grace of Ormskirk conceded, "that Captain Audaine
should be thus snatched from circles which he, no doubt, adorns. Still, I
fear you must look for another escort; and frankly, child, if you will be
advised by me, you will permit us to follow out our present intentions and
take off his head--not a great deprivation when you consider he has so
plainly demonstrated its contents to be of such inferior quality."

She had drawn close to him, with widening, pitiable eyes. "You mean, then,"
she demanded, "that Frank's very life is in danger?"

"This is unfair," the Duke complained. "You are about to go into hysterics
forthwith and thus bully me into letting the man escape. You are a minx.
You presume upon the fact that in the autumn I am to wed your kinswoman and
bosom companion, and that my affection for her is widely known to go well
past the frontier of common-sense; and also upon the fact that Marian will
give me the devil if I don't do exactly as you ask. I consider you to abuse
your power unconscionably, I consider you to be a second Delilah. However,
since you insist upon it, this Captain Audaine must, of course, be spared
the fate he very richly merits."

Miss Allonby had seated herself beside a table and was pensively looking
up at him. "Naturally," she said, "Marian and I, between us, will badger
you into saving Frank. I shall not worry, therefore, and I must trust to
Providence, I suppose, to arrange matters so that the poor boy will not
catch his death of cold in your leaky gaol yonder. And now I would like to
be informed of what he has been most unjustly accused."

"His crime," the Duke retorted, "is the not unusual one of being a fool.
Oh, I am candid! All Jacobites are fools. We gave the Stuarts a fair trial,
Heaven knows, and nobody but a fool would want them back."

"I am not here to discuss politics," a dignified Miss Allonby stated, "but
simply to find out in what way Frank has been slandered."

Ormskirk lifted one eyebrow. "It is not altogether a matter of politics.
Rather, as I see it, it is a matter of common-sense. Under the Stuarts
England was a prostitute among the nations, lackey in turn to Spain and
France and Italy; under the Guelph the Three-per-cents. are to-day at par.
The question as to which is preferable thus resolves itself into a choice
between common-sense and bedlamite folly. But, unhappily, you cannot argue
with a Jacobite: only four years ago Cumberland and Hawley and I rode from
Aberdeen to the Highlands and left all the intervening country bare as the
palm of your hand; I forget how many Jacobites we killed, but evidently not
enough to convince the others. Very well: we intend to have no more such
nonsense, and we must settle this particular affair by the simple device
of hanging or beheading every man-Jack concerned in it." He spoke without
vehemence--rather regretfully than otherwise.

Miss Allonby was patient, yet resolute to keep to the one really important
point. "But what has Frank been accused of doing when it never even entered
his head?"

"He has been conspiring," said the Duke, "and with conspicuous clumsiness.
It appears, child, that it was their common idiocy which of late brought
together some two hundred gentlemen in Lancashire. Being every one of them
most unmitigated fools, they desired that sot at Avignon to come over once
more and 'take back his own,' as the saying is. He would not stir without
definite assurances. So these men drew up a petition pledging their all to
the Chevalier's cause and--God help us!--signed it. I protest," the Duke
sighed, "I cannot understand these people! A couple of penstrokes, you
observe, and there is your life at the mercy of chance, at the disposal of
a puff of wind or the first blunderer who stumbles on the paper."

"Doubtless that is entirely true," said Miss Allonby, "but what about
Frank?"

Ormskirk shrugged his shoulders and began to laugh. "You are an
incomparable actress, you rogue you. But let us be candid, for all that,
since as it happens Lord Humphrey is not the only person in my employ. What
occurred last night I now partly know, and in part guess, Degge played a
bold game, and your Captain gambled even more impudently,--only the stakes,
as it to-day transpires, were of somewhat less importance than either of
them surmised. For years Mr. Vanringham has been a Jacobite emissary; now
he tires of it; and so he devoted the entire morning, yesterday to making a
copy of this absurd petition."

"I do not understand," said Miss Allonby; and in appearance, at least, she
was no whit disconcerted.

"He carried only the copy. You burned only the copy. Mr. Vanringham, it
develops, knew well enough what that bungling Degge had been deputed to
do, and he preferred to treat directly with Lord Humphrey's principal. Mr.
Vanringham is an intelligent fellow. I dare make this assertion, because
I am fresh from an interview with Mr. Vanringham," his Grace of Ormskirk
ended, and allowed himself a reminiscent chuckle.

She had risen. "O ungenerous! this Vanringham has been bribed!"

"I pray you," said the Duke, "give vent to no such scandal. Vanringham's
life would not be worth a farthing if he had done such a thing, and he
knows it. Nay, I have planned it more neatly. To-night Mr. Vanringham will
be arrested--merely on suspicion, mind you,--and all his papers will be
brought to me; and it is possible that among them we may find the petition.
And it is possible that, somehow, when he is tried with the others, Mr.
Vanringham alone may be acquitted. And it is possible that an aunt--in
Wales, say,--may die about this time and leave him a legacy of some five
thousand pounds. Oh, yes, all this is quite possible," said the Duke;
"but should we therefore shriek _Bribery_? For my own part, I esteem Mr.
Vanringham, as the one sensible man in the two hundred."

"He has turned King's evidence," she said, "and his papers will be brought
to you--" Miss Allonby paused. "All his papers!" said Miss Allonby.

"And very curious they will prove, no doubt," said his Grace. "So many
love-sick misses write to actors. I can assure you, child, I look
forward with a deal of interest to my inspection of Mr. Vanringham's
correspondence."

"Eh?--Oh, yes!" Miss Allonby assented--"all his papers! Yes, they should be
diverting, I must be going home though, to make ready for Lady Mackworth's
ball. And if I have nobody to dance with me, I shall know quite well whose
fault it is. How soon will Frank be freed, you odious tyrant?"

"My child, but in these matters we are all slaves to red tape! I can
promise you, however, that your Captain will be released from prison before
this month is out, so you are not to worry."

III

When she had left him the Duke sat for a while in meditation.

"That is an admirable girl, I would I could oblige her in the matter and
let this Audaine live. But such folly is out of the question. The man is
the heart of the conspiracy.

"No, Captain Audaine, I am afraid we must have that handsome head of yours,
and set your spirit free before this month is out. And your head also, Mr.
Vanringham, when we are done with using your evidence. This affair must be
the last; hitherto we have tried leniency, and it has failed; now we will
try extermination. Not one of these men must escape.

"I shall have trouble with Marian, since the two girls are inseparable.
Yes, this Audaine will cause me some trouble with Marian. I heartily wish
the fellow had never been born."

Ormskirk took a miniature from his pocket and sat thus in the dusk
regarding it. It was the portrait of a young girl with hazel eyes and
abundant hair the color of a dead oak-leaf. And now his sleepy face was
curiously moved.

"I shall have to lie to you. And you will believe me, for you are not
disastrously clever. But I wish it were not necessary, my dear. I wish it
were possible to make you understand that my concern is to save England
rather than a twopenny captain. As it is, I shall lie to you, and you will
believe. And Dorothy will get over it in time, as one gets over everything
in time. But I wish it were not necessary, sweetheart.

"I wish.... I wish that I were not so happy when I think of you. I become
so happy that I grow afraid. It is not right that anyone should be so
happy.

"Bah! I am probably falling into my dotage."

Ormskirk struck upon the gong. "And now, Mr. Langton, let us get back to
business."

IV

Later in the afternoon Miss Allonby demanded of her maid if Gerald Allonby
were within, and received a negative response. "Nothing could be better,"
said Miss Allonby. "You know that new suit of Master Gerald's, Lottrum--the
pink-and-silver? Very well; then you will do thus, and thus, and thus--"
And she poured forth a series of directions that astonished her maid not a
little.

"Law you now!" said Lottrum, "whatever--?"

"If you ask me any questions," said Dorothy, "I will discharge you on the
spot. And if you betray me, I shall probably kill you."

Lottrum said, "O Gemini!" and did as her mistress ordered.

Miss Allonby made a handsome boy, and such was her one comfort. Her mirror
showed an epicene denizen of romance,--Rosalind or Bellario, a frail
and lovely travesty of boyhood; but it is likely that the girl's heart
showed stark terror. Here was imminent no jaunt into Arden, but into the
gross jaws of even bodily destruction. Here was probable dishonor, a
guaranteeable death. She could fence well enough, thanks to many bouts with
Gerald; but when the foils were unbuttoned, there was a difference which
the girl could appreciate.

"In consequence," said Dorothy, "I had better hurry before I am still more
afraid."

V

So there came that evening, after dusk, to Mr. Francis Vanringham's
apartments, at the _Three Gudgeons_, a young spark in pink-and-silver. He
appeared startled at the sight of so much company, recovered his composure
with a gulp, and presented himself to the assembled gentlemen as Mr.
Osric Allonby, unexpectedly summoned from Cambridge, and in search of
his brother, Squire Gerald. At his step-mother's villa they had imagined
Gerald might be spending the evening with Mr. Vanringham. Mr. Osric
Allonby apologized for the intrusion; was their humble servant; and with a
profusion of _congees_ made as though to withdraw.

Mr. Vanringham lounged forward. The comedian had a vogue among the younger
men, since at all games of chance they found him untiring and tolerably
honest; and his apartments were, in effect, a gambling parlor.

Vanringham now took the boy's hand very genially. "You have somewhat the
look of your sister," he observed, after a prolonged appraisal; "though, in
nature, 'tis not expected of us trousered folk to be so beautiful. And by
your leave, you'll not quit us thus unceremoniously, Master Osric. I am by
way of being a friend of your brother's, and 'tis more than possible that
he may during the evening honor us with his presence. Will you not linger
awhile on the off-chance?" And Osric Allonby admitted he had no other
engagements.

He was in due form made known to the three gentlemen--Colonel Denstroude,
[Footnote: He and Vanringham had just been reconciled by Molly Yates'
elopement with Tom Stoach, the Colonel's footman. Garendon has a curious
anecdote concerning this lady, apropos of his notorious duel with
Denstroude, in '61.] Mr. Babington-Herle, and Sir Gresley Carne--who sat
over a bowl of punch. Sir Gresley was then permitted to conclude the
narrative which Mr. Allonby's entrance had interrupted: the evening
previous, being a little tipsy, Sir Gresley had strolled about Tunbridge in
search of recreation and, with perhaps excessive playfulness, had slapped
a passer-by, broken the fellow's nose, and gouged both thumbs into the
rascal's eyes. The young baronet conceded the introduction of these London
pastimes into the rural quiet of Tunbridge to have been an error in taste,
especially as the man proved upon inquiry to be a respectable haberdasher
and the sole dependence of four children; and having thus unfortunately
blinded the little tradesman, Sir Gresley wished to ask of the assembled
company what in their opinion was a reasonable reparation. "For I sincerely
regret the entire affair," Sir Gresley concluded, "and am desirous to
follow a course approvable by all men of honor."

"Heyho!" said Mr. Vanringham, "I'm afraid the rape of both eyes was a
trifle extreme; for by ordinary a haberdasher is neither a potato nor an
Argus, and, remembering that, even the high frivolity of brandy-and-water
should have respected his limitations."

The hands of Mr. Allonby had screened his face during the recital, "Oh, the
poor man!" he said, "I cannot bear--" And then, with swift alteration,
he tossed back his head, and laughed. "Are we gentlemen to be denied all
amusement? Sir Gresley acted quite within his privilege, and in terming him
severe you have lied, Mr. Vanringham. I repeat, sir, you have lied!"

Vanringham was on his feet within the instant, but Colonel Denstroude, who
sat beside him, laid a heavy hand upon Vanringham's arm. "'Oons, man," says
the Colonel, "infanticide is a crime."

The actor shrugged his shoulders, "Doubtless you are in the right, Mr.
Allonby," he said; "though, as you were of course going on to remark, you
express yourself somewhat obscurely. Your meaning, I take it, is that I
mayn't criticise the doings, of my guests? I stand corrected, and concede
Sir Gresley acted with commendable moderation, and that Cambridge is,
beyond question, the paramount expositor of morals and manners."

The lad stared about him: with a bewildered face. "La, will he not fight me
now?" he demanded of Colonel Denstroude,--"now, after I have called him a
liar?"

"My dear," the Colonel retorted, "he may possibly deprive you of your
nursing-bottle, or he may even birch you, but he will most assuredly not
fight you, so long as I have any say in the affair. I' cod, we are all
friends here, I hope. D'ye think Mr. Vanringham has so often enacted
Richard III. that to strangle infants is habitual with him? Fight you,
indeed! 'Sdeath and devils!" roared the Colonel, "I will cut the throat of
any man who dares to speak of fighting in this amicable company! Gi'me some
more punch," said the Colonel.

And thereupon in silence Mr. Allonby resumed his seat.

Now, to relieve the somewhat awkward tension, Mr. Vanringham cried: "So
being neighborly again, let us think no more of the recent difference in
opinion. Pay your damned haberdasher what you like, Gresley; or, rather,
let Osric here fix the remuneration. I confess to all and sundry," he
added, with a smile, "that I daren't say another word in the matter.
Frankly, I'm afraid of this youngster. He breathes fire like AEtna."

"He is a lad of spirit," said Mr. Babington-Herle, with an extreme
sobriety. "He's a lad eshtrornary spirit. Let's have game hazard."

"Agreed, good sir," said Vanringham, "and I warn you, you will find me a
daring antagonist. I had to-day an extraordinary--the usual prejudice,
my dear Herle, is, I believe, somewhat inclined to that pronunciation of
the word,--the most extraordinary windfall. I am rich, and I protest King
Croesus himself sha'n't intimidate me to-night. Come!" he cried, and he
drew from his pocket a plump purse and emptied its contents upon the table;
"come, lay your wager!"

"Hell and furies," the Colonel groaned, "there's that tomfool boy again!
Gi'me some more punch."

For Osric Allonby had risen to his feet and had swept the littered gold
and notes toward him. He stood thus, his pink-tipped fingers caressing
the money, while his eyes fixed those of Mr. Vanringham. "And the chief
priests," observed Osric Allonby, "took the silver pieces and said, 'It is
not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of
blood.' Are they, then, fit to be touched by gentlemen, Mr.--ah, but I
forget your given name?"

Vanringham, too, had risen, his face changed. "My sponsors in baptism were
pleased to christen me Francis."

"I entreat your pardon," the boy drawled, "but I have the oddest fancies.
I had thought it was Judas." And so they stood, warily regarding each the
other, very much as strange dogs are wont to do at meeting.

"Boy is drunk," Mr. Babington-Herle explained at large, "and presents to
pitying eye of disinterested spectator most deplorable results incidental
to combination of immaturity and brandy. As to money, now, in Suetonius--"
And he launched upon a hiccough-punctuated anecdote of Vespasian, which to
record here is not convenient. "And moral of it is," Mr. Babington-Herle
perorated, "that all money is always fine thing to have. _Non olet!_
Classical scholar, by Jove! Now let's have game hazard."

Meanwhile those two had stood like statues. Vanringham seemed
half-frightened, half persuaded that this unaccountable boy spoke at
random. Talk, either way, the actor knew, was dangerous....

"I ask your forgiveness, gentlemen," said Francis Vanringham, "but I'm
suddenly ill. If you'll permit me to retire--"

"Not at all," said. Mr. Babington-Herle; "late in evening, as it is. We
will go,--Colonel and old Carne and I will go kill watchman. Persevorate
him, by Jove,--like sieve."

"I thank you," said Mr. Vanringham, withdrawing up the stairway toward his
bedroom. "I thank you. Mr. Allonby," he called, in a firmer tone, "you and
I have had some words together and you were the aggressor. Oho, I think we
may pass it over. I think--"

Below, the four gentlemen were unhooking their swords from the wall. Mr.
Allonby now smiled with cherubic sweetness. "I, too," said he, "think that
all our differences might be arranged by ten minutes' private talk." He
came back, came up the stairs. "You had left your sword," he said to Mr.
Vanringham, "but I fetched it, you see."

Vanringham stared, his lips working oddly. "I am no Siegfried," said he,
"and ordinarily my bedfellow is not cold and--deplorable defect in such
capacity!--somewhat unsympathetic steel."

"But you forget," the boy urged, "that the room is public. And see, the
hilt is set with jewels. Ah, Mr. Vanringham, let us beware how we lead
others into temptation--" The door closed behind them.

VI

Said Mr. Babington-Herle, judicially, "That's eshtrornary boy--most
eshtrornary boy, and precisely unlike brother."

"You must remember," the Colonel pointed out, "that since his marriage
Gerald is a reformed man; he has quite given up punks and hazard, they say,
for beer and cattle-raising."

"Well, but it is a sad thing to have a spirited tall rogue turn pimp to
balls and rams, and Mrs. Lascelles will be inconsolable," Sir Gresley
considered.--"Hey, what's that? Did you not hear a noise up-stairs?"

"I do not think," said the Colonel, "that Mallison finds her so.--Yes,
i'cod! I suppose that tipsy boy has turned over a table."

"But you astound me," Sir Gresley interrupted. "The constant Mallison, of
all persons!"

"Nevertheless, my dear, they assure me that he has made over to her the
heart and lodgings until lately occupied by Mrs. Roydon--Oh, the devil!"
cried Colonel Denstroude, "they are fighting above!"

"Good for Frank!" observed Mr. Babington-Herle. "Hip-hip! Stick young
rascal! Persevorate him, by Jove!"

But the other men had run hastily up the stairway and were battering at
the door of Vanringham's chamber. "Locked!" said the Colonel. "Oh, the
unutterable cur! Open, open, I tell you, Vanringham! By God, I'll have your
blood for this if you have hurt the boy!"

"Break in the door!" said a voice from below. The Colonel paused in his
objurgations, and found that the Duke of Ormskirk, followed by four
attendants, had entered the hallway of the _Three Gudgeons_. "Benyon," said
the Duke, more sharply, and wheeled upon his men, "you have had my orders,
I believe. Break in yonder door!"

This was done. They found Mr. Francis Vanringham upon the hearthrug a
tousled heap of flesh and finery, insensible, with his mouth gaping,
in a great puddle of blood. To the rear of the room was a boy in
pink-and-silver, beside the writing-desk he had just got into with the
co-operation of a poker. Hugged to his breast he held a brown despatch-box.

Ormskirk strode toward the boy and with an inhalation paused. The Duke
stood tense for a moment. Then silently he knelt beside the prostrate actor
and inspected Vanringham's injury. "You have killed him," the Duke said at
last.

"I think so," said the boy. "But 'twas in fair fight."

The Duke rose. "Benyon," he rapped out, "do you and Minchin take this body
to the room below. Let a surgeon be sent for. Bring word if he find any
sign of life. Gentlemen, I must ask you to avoid the chamber. This is a
state matter. I am responsible for yonder person."

"Then your Grace is responsible for perfectly irresponsible young villain!"
said Mr. Babington-Herle. "He's murderer Frank Vanringham, of poor dear
Frank, like a brother to me, by Jove! Hang him high's Haman, your Grace,
and then we'll have another bottle."

"Colonel Denstroude," said the Duke, "I will ask you to assist your friend
in retiring. The stairs are steep, and his conviviality, I fear, has by a
pint or so exceeded his capacity. And in fine--I wish you a good-evening,
gentlemen."

VII

Ormskirk closed the door; then he turned, "I lack words," the Duke said.

Book of the day: