Part 1 out of 3
My Lady Caprice
by Jeffrey Farnol
I sat fishing. I had not caught anything, of course - I rarely do,
nor am I fond of fishing in the very smallest degree, but I fished
assiduously all the same, because circumstances demanded it.
It had all come about through Lady Warburton, Lisbeth's maternal aunt.
Who Lisbeth is you will learn if you trouble to read these veracious
narratives - suffice it for the present that she has been an orphan
from her youth up, with no living relative save her married sister
Julia and her Aunt (with a capital A) - the Lady Warburton aforesaid.
Lady Warburton is small and somewhat bony, with a sharp chin and a
sharper nose, and invariably uses lorgnette; also, she is possessed
of much worldly goods.
Precisely a week ago Lady Warburton had requested me to call upon
her - had regarded me with a curious exactitude through her
lorgnette, and gently though firmly (Lady Warburton is always firm)
had suggested that Elizabeth, though a dear child, was young and
inclined to be a little self-willed. That she (Lady Warburton) was
of opinion that Elizabeth had mistaken the friendship which had
existed between us so long for something stronger. That although
she (Lady Warburton) quite appreciated the fact that one who wrote
books, and occasionally a play, was not necessarily immoral -
Still I was, of course, a terrible Bohemian, and the air of Bohemia
was not calculated to conduce to that degree of matrimonial harmony
which she (Lady Warburton) as Elizabeth's Aunt, standing to her in
place of a mother, could wish for. That, therefore, under these
circumstances my attentions were - etc., etc.
Here I would say in justice to myself that despite the torrent of
her eloquence I had at first made some attempt at resistance; but
who could hope to contend successfully against a woman possessed
of such an indomitable nose and chin, and one, moreover, who could
level a pair of lorgnette with such deadly precision? Still, had
Lisbeth been beside me things might have been different even then;
but she had gone away into the country - so Lady Warburton had
informed me. Thus alone and at her mercy, she had succeeded in
wringing from me a half promise that I would cease my attentions
for the space of six months, "just to give dear Elizabeth time to
learn her own heart in regard to the matter."
This was last Monday. On the Wednesday following, as I wandered
aimlessly along Piccadilly, at odds with Fortune and myself, but
especially with myself, my eye encountered the Duchess of Chelsea.
The Duchess is familiarly known as the "Conversational Brook" from
the fact that when once she begins she goes on forever. Hence,
being in my then frame of mind, it was with a feeling of rebellion
that I obeyed the summons of her parasol and crossed over to the
"So she's gone away?" was her greeting as I raised my hat - "Lisbeth,"
she nodded, "I happened to hear something about her, you know."
It is strange, perhaps, but the Duchess generally does "happen to
hear" something about everything. "And you actually allowed yourself
to be bullied into making that promise - Dick! Dick! I'm ashamed of
"How was I to help myself?" I began. "You see - "
"Poor boy !" said the Duchess, patting me affectionately with the
handle of her parasol, "it wasn't to be expected, of course. You
see, I know her - many, many years ago I was at school with Agatha
"But she probably didn't use lorgnettes then, and - "
"Her nose was just as sharp though - 'peaky' I used to call it,"
nodded the Duchess. "And she has actually sent Lisbeth away - dear
child - and to such a horrid, quiet little place, too, where she'll
have nobody to talk to but that young Selwyn.
"I beg pardon, Duchess, but - "
"Horace Selwyn, of Selwyn Park - cousin to Lord Selwyn, of
Brankesmere. Agatha has been scheming for it a long time, under
the rose, you know. Of course, it would be a good match, in a way
- wealthy, and all that - but I must say he bores me horribly
- so very serious and precise!"
"Really !"I exclaimed, "do you mean to say - "
"I expect she will have them married before they know it - Agatha's
dreadfully determined. Her character lies in her nose and chin."
"But Lisbeth is not a child - she has a will of her own, and - "
"True," nodded the Duchess, "but is it a match for Agatha's chin?
And then, too, it is rather more than possible that you are become
the object of her bitterest scorn by now.
"But, my dear Duchess - "
"Oh, Agatha is a born diplomat. Of course she has written before
this, and without actually saying it has managed to convey the fact
that you are a monster of perfidy; and Lisbeth, poor child, is
probably crying her eyes out, or imagining she hates you, is ready
to accept the first proposal she receives out of pure pique."
"Great heavens!" I exclaimed, "what on earth can I do?"
"You might go fishing," the Duchess suggested thoughtfully.
"Fishing!" I repeated, " - er, to be sure, but - "
"Riverdale is a very pretty place they tell me," pursued the
Duchess in the same thoughtful tone; "there is a house there, a
fine old place called Fane Court. It stands facing the river,
and adjoins Selwyn Park, I believe."
"Duchess," I exclaimed, as I jotted down the address upon my cuff,
"I owe you a debt of gratitude that I can never - "
"Tut, tut !" said her Grace.
"I think I'll start to-day, and - "
"You really couldn't do better," nodded the duchess.
* * * * *
And so it befell that on this August afternoon I sat in the shade
of the alders fishing, with the smoke of my pipe floating up into
By adroit questioning I had elicited from mine host of the Three
Jolly Anglers the precise whereabouts of Fane Court, the abode of
Lisbeth's sister, and guided by his directions, had chosen this
sequestered spot, where by simply turning my head I could catch a
glimpse of its tall chimneys above the swaying green of the treetops.
It is a fair thing upon a summer's hot afternoon within some shady
bower to lie upon one's back and stare up through a network of
branches into the limitless blue beyond, while the air is full of
the stir of leaves, and the murmur of water among the reeds. Or
propped on lazy elbow, to watch perspiring wretches, short of breath
and purple of visage, urge boats upstream or down, each deluding
himself into the belief that he is enjoying it. Life under such
conditions may seem very fair, as I say; yet I was not happy. The
words of the Duchess seemed everywhere about me.
"You are become the object of her bitterest scorn by now," sobbed
"You are become," etc., etc., moaned the river. It was therefore
with no little trepidation that I looked forward to my meeting with
It was this moment that the bushes parted and a boy appeared. He
was a somewhat diminutive boy, clad in a velvet suit with a lace
collar, both of which were plentifully bespattered with mud. He
carried his shoes and stockings beneath one arm, and in the other
hand swung a hazel branch. He stood with his little brown legs well
apart, regarding me with a critical eye; but when at length he spoke
his attitude was decidedly friendly.
"Hallo," I returned; "and whom may you be?"
"Well," my real name is Reginald Augustus, but they call me
"I can well believe it," I said, eyeing his muddy person.
"If you please, what is an imp?"
"An imp is a sort of an - angel."
"But," he demurred, after a moment's thought, "I haven't got wings
an' things - or a trumpet."
"Your kind never do have wings and trumpets."
"Oh, I see," he said; and sitting down began to wipe the mud from
his legs with his stockings.
"Rather muddy, aren't you?" I hinted. The boy cast a furtive glance
at his draggled person.
"'Fraid I'm a teeny bit wet, too," he said hesitatingly. "You see, I've
been playing at 'Romans" an' I had to wade, you know, because I was
the standard bearer who jumped into the sea waving his sword an'
crying, 'Follow me!' You remember him, don't you? - he's in the
"To be sure," I nodded; "a truly heroic character. But if you were
the Romans, where were the ancient Britons?"
"Oh, they were the reeds, you know; you ought to have seen me
slay them. It was fine; they went down like - like - "
"Corn before a sickle," I suggested.
"Yes, just!" he cried; "the battle raged for hours."
"You must be rather tired."
"'Course not," he answered, with an indignant look. "I'm not a girl
- and I'm nearly nine, too."
"I gather from your tone that you are not partial to the sex - you don't
like girls, eh, Imp?"
"Should think not," he returned; silly things, girls are. There's Dorothy,
you know; we were playing at executions the other day - she was Mary
Queen of Scots an' I was the headsman. I made a lovely axe with wood
and silver paper, you know; and when I cut her head off she cried awfully,
and I only gave her the weeniest little tap - an' they sent me to bed at six
o'clock for it. I believe she cried on purpose - awfully caddish, wasn't it?"
"My dear Imp," said I, "the older you grow, the more the depravity of the
sex will become apparent to you."
"Do you know, I like you," he said, regarding me thoughtfully, "I think
you are fine."
"Now that's very nice of you, Imp; in common with my kind I have a
weakness for flattery-please go on."
"I mean, I think you are jolly."
"As to that," I said, shaking my head and sighing, "appearances are
often very deceptive; at the heart of many a fair blossom there is
a canker worm."
"I'm awfull' fond of worms, too," said the Imp.
"Yes. I got a pocketful yesterday, only Aunty found out an' made me
let them all go again."
"Ah-yes," I said sympathetically; "that was the woman of it."
"I've only got one left now," continued the Imp; and thrusting a
hand into the pocket of his knickerbockers he drew forth six
inches or so of slimy worm and held it out to me upon his small,
"He's nice and fat!" I said.
"Yes," nodded the Imp; "I caught him under the gooseberry bushes;"
and dropping it back into his pocket he proceeded to don his shoes
"Fraid I'm a bit muddy," he said suddenly.
"Oh, you might be worse," I answered reassuringly.
"Do you think they'll notice it?" he inquired, contorting himself
horribly in order to view the small of his back.
"Well," I hesitated, "it all depends, you know."
"I don't mind Dorothy, or Betty the cook, or the governess - it's
Auntie Lisbeth I'm thinking about."
"Auntie - who?" I exclaimed, regardless of grammar.
" Auntie Lisbeth," repeated the Imp.
"What is she like?"
"Oh, she's grown up big, only she's nice. She came to take care of
Dorothy an' me while mother goes away to get nice an strong - oh
Auntie Lisbeth's jolly, you know."
"With black hair and blue eyes?"
The Imp nodded.
"And a dimple at the corner of her mouth?" I went on dreamily - "
a dimple that would lead a man to the - Old Gentleman himself."
"What old gentleman?"
"Oh, a rather disreputable old gentleman," I answered evasively.
"An' do you know my Auntie Lisbeth?"
"I think it extremely probable - in fact, I'm sure of it."
"Then you might end me your handkerchief, please; I tied mine to a
bush for a flag, you know, an' it blew away."
"You'd better come here and I'll give you a rub-down my Imp." He
obeyed, with many profuse expressions of gratitude.
Hay you got any Aunties?" he inquired, as I laboured upon his miry
"No," I answered, shaking my head; "unfortunately mine are all Aunts
and that is vastly different."
"Oh," said the Imp, regarding me with a puzzled expression; "are
they nice - I mean do they ever read to out of the history book, and
help you to sail boats, an' paddle?"
"Paddle?" I repeated
"Yes. My Auntie Lisbeth does. The other day we got up awfull'
early an' went for a walk an' we came to the river, so we took off
our shoes an' stockings an' we paddled; it was ever so jolly, you
know. An' when Auntie wasn't looking I found a frog an' put
it in her stocking."
"Highly strategic, my Imp! Well?"
"It was awful funny," he said, smiling dreamily. "When she went to
put it on she gave a little high-up scream like Dorothy does when I
pinch her a bit - an' then she throwed them both away, 'cause she
was afraid there was frogs in both of them. Then she put on her
shoes without any stockings at all, so I hid them."
"Where?" I cried eagerly.
"Reggie!" called a voice some distance away - a voice I recognised
with a thrill. "Reggie!"
"Imp, would you like half a crown?"
"'Course I would; but you might clean my back, please," and he began
rubbing himself feverishly with his cap, after the fashion of a
"Look here," I said, pulling out the coin, "tell me where you hid
them - quick - and I'll give you this." The Imp held out his hand,
but even as he did so the bushes parted and Lisbeth stood before
us. She gave a little, low cry of surprise at sight of me, and
"You?" she exclaimed.
"Yes," I answered, raising my cap. And there I stopped, trying
frantically to remember the speech I had so carefully prepared - the
greeting which was to have explained my conduct and disarmed her
resentment at the very outset. But rack my brain as I would, I
could think of nothing but the reproach in her eyes - her disdainful
mouth and chin - and that one haunting phrase:
"'I suppose I am become the object of your bitterest scorn by now?'"
I found myself saying.
"My aunt informed me of - of everything, and naturally - "
"Let me explain," I began.
"Really, it is not at all necessary."
"But, Lisbeth, I must - I insist - "
"Reginald," she said, turning toward the Imp, who was still busy
with his cap, "it's nearly tea-time, and - why, whatever have you
been doing to yourself?"
"For the last half hour," I interposed, "we have been exchanging
our opinions on the sex."
"An' talking 'bout worms," added the Imp. "This man is fond of
worms, too, Auntie Lisbeth - I like him."
"Thanks," I said; "but let me beg of you to drop your very distant
mode of address, Call me Uncle Dick,"
"But you're not my Uncle Dick, you know," he demurred.
"Not yet, perhaps; but there's no knowing what may happen some day
if your Auntie thinks us worthy - so take time by the forelock, my
Imp, and call me Uncle Dick."
Whatever Lisbeth might or might not have said was checked by the
patter of footsteps, and a little girl tripped into view, with a
small, fluffy kitten cuddled in her arms.
"Oh, Auntie Lisbeth,"she began, but stopped to stare at me over the
back of the fluffy kitten.
"Hallo, Dorothy!" cried the imp; "this is Uncle Dick. You can come
an' shake hands with him if you like."
"I didn't know I had an Uncle Dick," said Dorothy, hesitating.
"Oh, yes; it's all right," answered the Imp reassuringly. "I found
him, you know, an' he likes worms, too!"
"How do you do, Uncle Dick?" she said in a quaint, old-fashioned
way. "Reginald is always finding things, you know, an' he likes
worms, too!" Dorothy gave me her hand demurely.
>From somewhere near by there came the silvery chime of a bell.
"Why, there's the tea-bell!" exclaimed Lisbeth; "and, Reginald,
you have to change those muddy clothes. Say good-bye to Mr. Brent,
children, and come along."
"Imp," I whispered as the others turned away, "where did you hide
those stockings?" And I slipped the half crown into his ready
"Along the river there's a tree - very big an' awfull' fat, you know,
with a lot of stickie-out branches, an' a hole in its stomach -
they're in there."
"Reginald!" called Lisbeth.
"Up stream or down?"
"That way," he answered, pointing vaguely down stream; and with a
nod that brought the yellow curls over his eyes he scampered off.
"Along the river," I repeated, "in a big, fat tree with a lot of
stickie-out branches!" It sounded a trifle indefinite, I thought
- still I could but try. So having packed up my rod I set out
upon the search.
It was strange, perhaps, but nearly every tree I saw seemed to be
either "big" or "fat" - and all of them had "stickie-out" branches.
Thus the sun was already low in the west, and I was lighting my
fifth pipe when I at length observed the tree in question.
A great pollard oak it was, standing upon the very edge of the
stream, easily distinguishable by its unusual size and the fact
that at some time or another it had been riven by lightning. After
all, the Imp's description had been in the main correct; it was "fat,"
immensely fat: and I hurried joyfully forward.
I was still some way off when I saw the distant flutter of a white
skirt, and - yes, sure enough, there was Lisbeth, walking quickly too,
and she was a great deal nearer the tree than I.
Prompted by a sudden conviction, I dropped my rod and began to run.
Immediately Lisbeth began running, too. I threw away my creel and
sprinted for all I was worth. I had earned some small fame at this
sort of thing in my university days, yet I arrived at the tree with
only a very few yards to spare. Throwing myself upon my knees, I
commenced a feverish search, and presently - more by good fortune
than any thing else - my random fingers encountered a soft, silken
bundle. When Lisbeth came up, flushed and panting, I held them in
"Give them to me!" she cried.
"I'm sorry - "
"Please," she begged.
"I'm very sorry - "
"Mr. Brent." said Lisbeth, drawing her self up, "I'll trouble you
for my - them."
"Pardon me, Lisbeth," I answered, "but if I remember anything of the
law of 'treasure-trove' one of these should go to the Crown, and one
belongs to me.
Lisbeth grew quite angry - one of her few bad traits.
"You will give them up at once - immediately?
"On the contrary," I said very gently, "seeing the Crown can have no
use for one, I shall keep them both to dream over when the nights are
long and lonely."
Lisbeth actually stamped her foot at me, and I tucked "them" into
"How did you know they - they were here?" she inquired after a
"I was directed to a tree with 'stickie-out' branches," I answered.
"Oh, that Imp!" she exclaimed, and stamped her foot again.
"Do you know, I've grown quite attached to that nephew of mine
already?" I said.
"He's not a nephew of yours," cried Lisbeth quite hotly.
"Not legally, perhaps; that is where you might be of such assistance
to us Lisbeth. A boy with only an aunt here and there is unbalanced,
so to speak; be requires the stronger influence of an uncle. Not,"
I continued hastily, "that I would depreciate aunts - by the way, he
has but one, I believe?" Lisbeth nodded coldly.
"Of course," I nodded; "and very lucky in that one - extremely
fortunate. Now, years ago, when I was a boy, I had three, and all
of them blanks, so to speak. I mean none of them ever read to me out
of the history book, or helped me to sail boats, or paddled and lost
their - No, mine used to lecture me about my hair and nails, I
remember, and glare at me over the big tea urn until I choked into
my teacup. A truly desolate childhood mine. I had no big-fisted
uncle to thump me persuasively when I needed it; had fortune granted
me one I might have been a very different man, Lisbeth. You behold
in me a horrible example of what one may become whose boyhood has
been denuded of uncles."
"If you will be so very obliging as to return my - my property."
"My dear Lisbeth," I sighed, "be reasonable; suppose we talk of
something else;" and I attempted, though quite vainly, to direct her
attention to the glories of the sunset.
A fallen tree lay near by, upon which Lisbeth seated herself with a
certain determined set of her little, round chin that I knew well.
"And how long do you intend keeping me here?" she asked in a resigned
"Always, if I had my way."
"Really?" she said, and whole volumes could never describe all the
scorn she managed to put into that single word. "You see," she
continued, "after what Aunt Agatha wrote and told me - "
"Lisbeth," I broke in, "if you'll only - "
"I naturally supposed - "
"If you'll only let me explain - "
"That you would abide by the promise you made her and wait - "
"Until you knew your own heart," I put in. "The question is, how long
will it take you? Probably, if you would allow me to teach you - "
"Your presence here now stamps you as - as horribly deceitful!"
"Undoubtedly," I nodded; "but you see when I was foolish enough to
give that promise your very excellent Aunt made no reference to her
intentions regarding a certain Mr. Selwyn."
"Oh!" exclaimed Lisbeth. And feeling that I had made a point, I
continued with redoubled ardour:
"She gave me to understand that she merely wished you to have time
to know your own heart in the matter!" Now, as I said before, how
long will it take you to find out, Lisbeth?"
She sat chin in hand staring straight before her, and her black
brows were still drawn together in a frown!" But I watched her
mouth - just where the scarlet underlip curved up to meet its fellow.
Lisbeth's mouth is a trifle wide, perhaps, and rather full-lipped,
and somewhere at one corner - I can never be quite certain of its
exact location, because its appearance is, as a rule, so very
meteoric - but somewhere there is a dimple!" Now, if ever there
was an arrant traitor in this world it is that dimple; for let her
expression be ever so guileless, let her wistful eyes be raised with
a look of tears in their blue depths, despite herself that dimple
will spring into life and undo it all in a moment!" So it was now,
even as I watched it quivered round her lips, and feeling herself
betrayed, the frown vanished altogether and she smiled. "And now,
Dick, suppose you give me my - my - "
"Conditionally," I said, sitting down beside her.
The sun had set, and from somewhere among the purple shadows of
the wood the rich, deep notes of a blackbird came to us, with
pauses now and then, filled in with the rustle of leaves and the
distant lowing of cows.
"Not far from the village of Down in Kent," I began dreamily,
"there stands an old house with quaint, high-gabled roofs and
twisted Tudor chimneys!" Many years ago it was the home of fair
ladies and gallant gentlemen, but its glory is long past!" And
yet, Lisbeth, when I think of it at such an hour as this, and with
you beside me, I begin to wonder if we could not manage between
us to bring back the old order of things."
Lisbeth was silent.
It has a wonderful old-fashioned rose garden, and you are fond of
"Yes," she murmured; "I'm very fond of roses."
"They would be in full bloom now," I suggested.
There was another pause, during which the blackbird performed three
or four difficult arias with astonishing ease and precision.
"Aunt Agatha is fond of roses, too!" said Lisbeth at last very
gravely. "Poor, dear Aunt, I wonder what she would say if she could
see us now?"
"Such things are better left to the imagination," I answered!"
"I ought to write and tell her," murmured Lisbeth.
"But you won't do that, of course?"
"No, I won't do that if - "
"If you will give me - them,"
"One," I demurred.
0n one condition then-just once, Lisbeth?"
Her lips were very near, her lashes drooped, and for one delicious
moment she hesitated. Then I felt a little tug at my coat pocket
and springing to he feet she was away with "them" clutched in her
"Trickery!" I cried, and started in pursuit.
There is a path through the woods leading to the Shrubbery at Pane
Court!" Down this she fled, and her laughter came to me on the wind.
I was close upon her when she reached the gate, and darting through,
turned, flushed but triumphant.
"I've won!" she mocked, nodding her head at me.
"Who can cope with the duplicity of a woman?" I retorted! "But,
Lisbeth, you will give me one - just one?"
"It would spoil the pair."
"Oh, very well," I sighed, "good night, Lisbeth," and lifting my
cap I turned away.
There came a ripple of laughter be hind me, something struck me
softly upon the cheek, and stooping, I picked up that which lay
half unrolled at my feet, but when I looked round Lisbeth was gone.
"So presently I thrust "them" into my pocket and walked back slowly
along the river path toward the hospitable shelter of the Three
THE SHERIFF OF NOTTINGHAM
To sit beside a river on a golden afternoon listening to its
whispered melody, while the air about one is fragrant with summer,
and heavy with the drone of unseen wings! - What ordinary mortal
could wish for more? And yet, though conscious of this fair world
about me, I was still uncontent, for my world was incomplete - nay,
lacked its most essential charm, and I sat with my ears on the
stretch, waiting for Lisbeth's chance footstep on the path and the
soft whisper of her skirts.
The French are indeed a great people, for among many other things
they alone have caught that magic sound a woman's garments make as
she walks, and given it to the world in the one word "frou-frou."
0 wondrous word! 0 word sublime! How full art thou of delicate
suggestion! Truly, there can be no sweeter sound to ears masculine
upon a golden summer afternoon - or any other time, for that matter
- than the soft "frou-frou" that tells him SHE is coming.
At this point my thoughts were interrupted by something which hurtled
through the air and splashed into the water at my feet!" Glancing
at this object, I recognised the loud-toned cricket cap affected by
the Imp, and reaching for it, I fished it out on the end of my rod!"
It was a hideous thing of red, white, blue, and green - a really
horrible affair, and therefore much prized by its owner, as I knew.
Behind me the bank rose some four or five feet, crowned with willows
and underbrush, from the other side of which there now came a
prodigious rustling and panting!" Rising to my feet therefore, I
parted the leaves with extreme care, and beheld the Imp himself.
He was armed to the teeth - that is to say, a wooden sword swung at
his thigh, a tin bugle depended from his belt, and he carried a bow
and arrow. Opposite him was another boy, particularly ragged at
knee and elbow, who stood with hands thrust into his pockets and
"Base caitiff, hold!" cried the Imp, fitting an arrow to the
string: "stand an' deliver!" Give me my cap, thou varlet, thou!"
The boy's grin expanded.
"Give me my cap, base slave, or I'll shoot you - by my troth!" As
he spoke the Imp aimed his arrow, whereupon the boy ducked promptly.
"I ain't got yer cap," he grinned from the shelter of his arm. "It's
been an' gone an' throwed itself into the river!" The Imp let fly
his arrow, which was answered by a yell from the Base Varlet.
"Yah!" he cried derisively as the Imp drew his sword with a
melodramatic flourish. "Yah! put down that stick an' I'll fight yer."
The Imp indignantly repudiated his trusty weapon being called "a
stick" - "an' I don't think," he went on, "that Robin Hood ever
fought without his sword!" Let's see what the book says," and he
drew a very crumpled papercovered volume from his pocket, which
he consulted with knitted brows, while the Base Varlet watched him,
"Oh, yes," nodded the Imp; "it's all right!" Listen to this!" and
he read as follows in a stern, deep voice:
"'Then Robin tossed aside his trusty blade, an' laying bare his
knotted arm, approached the dastardly ruffian with many a merry quip
and jest, prepared for the fierce death-grip.'"
Hereupon the Imp laid aside his book and weapons and proceeded to
roll up his sleeve, having done which to his satisfaction, he faced
round upon the Base Varlet.
"Have at ye, dastardly ruffian!" he cried, and therewith ensued a
battle, fierce and fell.
If his antagonist had it in height, the Imp made up for it in weight
- he is a particularly solid Imp - and thus the struggle lasted for
some five minutes without any appreciable advantage to either, when,
in eluding one of the enemy's desperate rushes, the Imp stumbled,
lost his balance, and next moment I had caught him in my arms. For
a space "the enemy" remained panting on the bank above, and then
with another yell turned and darted off among the bushes.
"Hallo, Imp!" I said.
"Hallo, Uncle Dick!" he returned.
"Hurt?" I inquired.
"Wounded a bit in the nose, you know," he answered, mopping that
organ with his handkerchief; "but did you see me punch 'yon varlet'
in the eye?"
"Did you, Imp?"
"I think so, Uncle Dick; only I do wish I'd made him surrender!"
The book says that Robin Hood always made his enemies 'surrender
an' beg their life on trembling knee!' Oh, it must be fine to see
your enemies on their knee!"
"Especially if they tremble," I added.
"Do you s'pose that boy - I mean 'yon base varlet' would have
"Not a doubt of it - if he hadn't happened to push you over the
"Oh!" murmured the Imp rather dubiously.
"By the way," I said as I filled my pipe, "where is your Auntie
"Well, I chased her up the big apple-tree with my bow an' arrow."
"Of course," I nodded!" "Very right and proper!"
"You see," he explained, "I wanted her to be a wild elephant an'
"Extremely disobliging of her!"
"Yes, wasn't it? So when she was right up I took away the ladder
an' hid it."
"Highly strategic, my Imp."
"So then I turned into Robin Hood. I hung my cap on a bush to shoot
at, you know, an' 'the Base Varlet' came up an' ran off with it."
"And there it is," I said, pointing to where it lay!" The Imp
received it with profuse thanks, and having wrung out the water,
clapped it upon his curls and sat down beside me.
"I found another man who wants to be me uncle," he began.
"Yes; but I don't want any more, you know."
"Of course not!" One like me suffices for your every-day needs
- eh, my Imp?"
The Imp nodded. "It was yesterday," he continued. "He came to see
Auntie Lisbeth, an' I found them in the summer-house in the orchard.
An' I heard him say, 'Miss Elizbeth, you're prettier than ever!"
"Did he though, confound him!"
Yes, an then Auntie Lisbeth looked silly, an' then he saw me behind
a tree an' he looked silly, too, Then he said, 'Come here, little
man!' An' I went, you know, though I do hate to be called 'little
man.' Then he said he'd give me a shilling if I'd call him Uncle
"And what did you answer?"
"'Fraid I'm awfull' wicked," sighed the Imp, shaking his head,
"'cause I told him a great big lie."
"Did you, Imp?"
"Yes!" I said I didn't want his shilling, an' I do, you know, most
awfully, to buy a spring pistol with."
"Oh, well, we'll see what can be done about the spring pistol," I
answered. "And so you don't like him, eh?"
"Should think not," returned the Imp promptly!" "He's always so -
so awfull' clean, an' wears a little moustache with teeny sharp
points on it.
"Any one who does that deserves all he gets," I said, shaking my
head. And what is his name?"
"The Honourable Frank Selwyn, an' he lives at Selwyn Park - the
next house to ours."
"Oho!" I exclaimed, and whistled.
"Uncle Dick" said the Imp, breaking in upon a somewhat unpleasant
train of thought conjured up by this intelligence, "will you come
an' be 'Little-John under the merry greenwood tree? Do?"
"Why what do you know about 'the merry greenwood,' Imp?"
"Oh lots!" he answered, hastily pulling out the tattered book.
"This is all about Robin Hood an' Little-John. Ben, the gardener's
boy, lent it to me. Robin Hood was a fine chap an' so was
Little-John an' they used to set ambushes an' capture the Sheriff
of Nottingham an' all sorts of caddish barons, an' tie them to
"My Imp," I said, shaking my head, "the times are sadly changed.
One cannot tie barons - caddish or otherwise - to trees in these
"No, I s'pose not," sighed the Imp dolefully; "but I do wish you
would be Little-John, Uncle Dick."
"Oh, certainly, Imp, if it will make you any happier; though of a
truth, bold Robin," I continued after the manner of the story books,
Little-John hath a mind to bide awhile and commune with himself
here; yet give but one blast upon thy bugle horn and thou shalt find
my arm and quarter-staff ready and willing enough, I'll warrant you!"
"That sounds awfull' fine, Uncle Dick, only - you haven't got a
quarter-staff, you know."
"Yea, 'tis here!" I answered, and detached the lower joint of my
fishing rod. The Imp rose, and folding his arms, surveyed me as
Robin Hood himself might have done - that is to say, with an 'eye
"So be it, my faithful Little-John," quoth he; "meet me at the
Blasted Oak at midnight. An' if I shout for help - I mean blow my
bugle - you'll come an' rescue me, won't you, Uncle Dick?"
"Ay; trust me for that," I answered, all unsuspecting.
"'Tis well!" nodded the Imp; and with a wave of his hand he turned
and scrambling up the bank disappeared. Of the existence of Mr.
Selwyn I was already aware, having been notified in this particular
by the Duchess, as I have told in the foregoing narrative. Now, a
rival in air - in the abstract, so to speak - is one thing, but a
rival who was on a sufficiently intimate footing to deal in personal
compliments, and above all, one who was already approved of and
encouraged by the powers that be, in the person of Lady Warburton
- Lisbeth's formidable aunt - was another consideration altogether.
"Miss Elizabeth. you're prettier than ever!"
Somehow the expression rankled. What right had he to tell her such
things? - and in a summer-house, too; - the insufferable audacity of
A pipe being indispensable to the occasion, I took out my matchbox,
only to find that it contained but a solitary vesta.
The afternoon had been hot and still hitherto, with never so much
as a breath of wind stirring; but no sooner did I prepare to strike
that match than from somewhere - Heaven knows where - there came a
sudden flaw of wind that ruffled the glassy waters of the river and
set every leaf whispering. Waiting until what I took to be a
favourable opportunity, with infinite precaution I struck a light.
It flickered in a sickly fashion for a moment between my sheltering
palms, and immediately expired.
This is but one example of that "Spirit of the Perverse" pervading
all things mundane, which we poor mortals are called upon to bear
as best we may. Therefore I tossed aside the charred match, and
having searched fruitlessly through my pockets for another, waited
philosophically for some "good Samaritan" to come along. The bank
I have mentioned sloped away gently on my left, thus affording an
uninterrupted view of the path.
Now as my eyes followed this winding path I beheld an individual
some distance away who crawled upon his hands and knees, evidently
searching for something. As I watched, he succeeded in raking a
Panama hat from beneath a bush, and having dusted it carefully with
his handkerchief, replaced it upon his head and continued his
With some faint hope that there might be a loose match hiding away
in some corner of my pockets, I went through them again more
carefully, but alas! with no better success; whereupon I gave it
up and turned to glance at the approaching figure. My astonishment
may be readily imagined when I beheld him in precisely the same
attitude as before - that is to say, upon his hands and knees.
I was yet puzzling over this phenomenon when he again raked out
the Panama on the end of the hunting-crop he carried, dusted it as
before, looking about him the while with a bewildered air, and
setting it firmly upon his head, came down the path. He was a tall
young fellow, scrupulously neat and well groomed from the polish of
his brown riding boots to his small, sleek moustache, which was
parted with elaborate care and twisted into two fine points. There
was about his whole person an indefinable air of self-complacent
satisfaction, but he carried his personality in his moustache, so
to speak, which, though small, as I say, and precise to a hair,
yet obtruded itself upon one in a vaguely unpleasant way. Noticing
all this, I thought I might make a very good guess as to his
identity if need were.
All at once, as I watched him - like a bird rising from her nest
- the devoted Panama rose in the air, turned over once or twice
and fluttered (I use the word figuratively) into a bramble bush.
Bad language was writ large in every line of his body as he stood
looking about him, the hunting-crop quivering in his grasp.
It was at this precise juncture that his eye encountered me, and
pausing only to recover his unfortunate headgear, he strode toward
where I sat, "Do you know anything about this?" he inquired in a
somewhat aggressive manner, holding up a length of black thread.
"A piece of ordinary pack-thread," I answered, affecting to examine
it with a critical eye.
"Do you know anything about it?" he said again, evidently in a very
"Sir," I answered, "I do not."
"Because if I thought you did - "
"Sir." I broke in, "you'll excuse me, but that seems a very
remarkable hat of yours.
"I repeat if I thought you did - "
"Of course," I went on, "each to his taste, but personally I prefer
one with less 'gymnastic' and more 'stay -at-home, qualities."
The hunting-crop was raised threateningly.
"Mr. Selwyn?" I inquired in a conversational tone.
The hunting-crop hesitated and was lowered.
"Ah, I thought so," I said, bowing; "permit me to trespass upon
your generosity to the extent of a match - or, say, a couple."
Mr. Selwyn remained staring down at me for a moment, and I saw the
points of his moustache positively curling with indignation. Then,
without deigning a reply, he turned on his heel and strode away.
He had not gone more than thirty or forty paces, however, when I
heard him stop and swear savagely - I did not need to look to learn
the reason - I admit I chuckled. But my merriment was short-lived,
for a moment later came the feeble squeak of a horn followed by a
shout and the Imp's voice upraised in dire distress.
"Little-John! Little-John! to the rescue!" it called.
I hesitated, for I will freely confess that when I had made that
promise to the Imp it was with small expectation that I should be
called upon to fulfil it. Still, a promise is a promise: so I
sighed, and picking up the joint of my fishing rod, clambered up
the bank. Glancing in the direction of the cries, I beheld Robin
Hood struggling in the foe's indignant grasp.
Now, there were but two methods of procedure open to me as I could
see - the serious or the frankly grotesque. Naturally I chose the
latter, and quarter-staff on shoulder, I swaggered down the path
with an air that Little-John himself might well have envied.
"Beshrew me!" I cried, confronting the amazed Mr. Selwyn, "who dares
lay hands on bold Robin Hood? - away, base rogue, hie thee hence or
I am like to fetch thee a dour ding on that pate o' thine!"
Mr. Selwyn loosed the Imp and stared at me in speechless astonishment,
as well he might.
"Look ye, master," I continued, entering into the spirit of the
thing, "no man lays hand on Robin Hood whiles Little-John can twirl
a staff or draw a bow-string - no, by St. Cuthbert!"
The Imp, retired to a safe distance, stood hearkening in a transport
till, bethinking him of his part, he fished out the tattered book
and began surreptitiously turning over the pages; as for Mr. Selwyn,
he only fumbled at his moustache and stared.
"Aye, but I know thee," I went on again, "by thy sly and crafty look,
by thy scallopped cape and chain of office, I know thee for that
same Sheriff of Nottingham that hath sworn to our undoing. Go to!
didst' think to take Robin - in the greenwood? Out upon thee! Thy
years should have taught thee better wisdom. Out upon thee!"
"Now will I feed" - began the Imp, with the book carefully held
behind him, "now will I feed fat mine vengeance - to thy knees for
a scurvy rascal!"
"Aye, by St. Benedict!" I nodded, "twere well he should do penance
on his marrow-bones from hither to Nottingham Town; but as thou art
strong - be merciful, Robin."
Mr. Selwyn still curled the point of his moustache.
"Are you mad," he inquired, "or only drunk?"
"As to that, good master Sheriff, it doth concern thee nothing
- but mark you! 'tis an ill thing to venture within the greenwood
whiles Robin Hood and Little-John he abroad."
Mr. Selwyn shrugged his shoulders and turned to the Imp.
"I am on my way to see your Aunt Elizabeth, and shall make it my
particular care to inform her of your conduct, and to see that you
are properly punished. As for you, sir," he continued, addressing
me, "I shall inform the police that there is a madman at large."
At this double-barrelled threat the Imp was plainly much dismayed,
and coming up beside me, slipped his hand into mine, and I promptly
"Sweet master Sheriff," I said, sweeping off my cap in true outlaw
fashion, "the way is long and something lonely; methinks - we will
therefore e'en accompany you, and may perchance lighten the tedium
with quip and quirk and a merry stave or so."
Seeing the angry rejoinder upon Mr. Selwyn's lips, I burst forth
incontinent into the following ditty, the words extemporised to the
tune of "Bonnie Dundee":
There lived a sheriff in Nottinghamshire,
With a hey derry down and a down;
He was fond of good beef, but was fonder of beer,
With a hey derry down and a down
By the time we reached the Shrubbery gate the imp was in an ecstasy
and Mr. Selwyn once more reduced to speechless indignation and
astonishment. Here our ways diverged, Mr. Selwyn turning toward the
house, while the Imp and I made our way to the orchard at the rear.
"Uncle Dick," he said, halting suddenly, "do you think he will tell
"My dear Imp," I answered, "a man who wears points on his moustache
is capable of anything."
"Then I shall be sent to bed for it, I know I shall!"
"To run into a thread tied across the path must have been very
annoying," I said, shaking my head thoughtfully, "especially with
a brand-new hat!"
"They were only 'ambushes,' you know, Uncle Dick."
"To be sure," I nodded. "Now, observe, my Imp, here is a shilling;
go and buy that spring-pistol you were speaking of, and take your
time about it; I'll see what can be done in the meanwhile."
The Imp was reduced to incoherent thanks.
"That's all right." I said, "but you'd better hurry off."
He obeyed with alacrity, disappearing in the direction of the
village, while I went on toward the orchard to find Lisbeth. And
presently, sure enough, I did find her - that is to say, part of
her, for the foliage of that particular tree happened to be very
thick and I could see nothing of her but a foot.
A positively delicious foot it was, too, small and shapely, that
swung audaciously to and fro; a foot in a ridiculously out-of-place
little patent-leather shoe, with a sheen of slender silken ankle
I approached softly, with the soul of me in my eyes, so to speak,
yet, despite my caution, she seemed to become aware of my presence
in some way - the foot faltered in its swing and vanished as the
leaves were parted and Lisbeth looked down at me.
"Oh, it's you?" she said, and I fancied she seemed quite pleased.
"You'll find a step-ladder somewhere about - it can't be very far."
"Thanks," I answered, "but I don't want one."
"No; but I do; I want to get down. That little wretched Imp hid
the ladder, and I've been here all the afternoon," she wailed.
"But then you refused to be an elephant, you know," I reminded her.
"He shall go to bed for it - directly after tea!" she said.
"Lisbeth," I returned, "I firmly believe your nature to be
altogether too sweet and forgiving - "
"I want to come down !"
"Certainly," I said; "put your left foot in my right hand, take firm
hold of the branch above and let yourself sink gently into my arms."
"Oh!" she exclaimed suddenly, "here's Mr. Selwyn coming," and
following her glance, I saw a distant Panama approaching.
"Lisbeth," said I, "are you anxious to see him?"
"In this ridiculous situation - of course not!"
"Very well then, hide - just sit there and leave matters to me
and - "
"Hush," she whispered, and at that moment Selwyn emerged into full
view. Catching sight of me he stopped in evident surprise.
"I was told I should find Miss Elizabeth here," he said stiffly.
"It would almost appear that you had been misinformed," I answered.
For a moment he seemed undecided what to do. Would he go away? I
wondered. Evidently not, for after glancing about him he sat himself
down upon a rustic seat near-by with a certain resolute air that I
did not like. I must get rid of him at all hazards.
"Sir," said I, "can I trespass on your generosity to the extent of
a match or say a couple?" After a brief hesitation he drew out a
very neat silver match-box, which he handed to me.
"A fine day, sir?" I said, puffing at my pipe.
Mr. Selwyn made no reply.
"I hear that the crops are looking particularly healthy this year,"
I went on.
Mr. Selwyn appeared to be utterly lost in the contemplation of an
"To my mind an old apple tree is singularly picturesque," I began
again, nice nobbly branches, don't you know."
Mr. Selwyn began to fidget.
"And then," I pursued, "they tell me that apples are so good for
Mr. Selwyn shifted his gaze to the toe of his riding boot, and for a
space there was silence, so much so, indeed, that an inquisitive
rabbit crept up and sat down to watch us with much interest, until
- evidently remembering some pressing engagement - he disappeared
with a flash of his white tail.
"Talking of rabbits," said I, "they are quite a pest in Australia,
I believe, and are exterminated by the thousand; I have often
wondered if a syndicate could not be formed to acquire the skins
- this idea, so far as I know, is original, but you are quite
welcome to it if - "
Mr. Selwyn rose abruptly to his feet.
"I once in my boyhood possessed a rabbit - of the lop-eared
variety," I continued, "which overate itself and died. I remember
I attempted to skin it with dire results - "
"Sir." said Mr. Selwyn. "I beg to inform you that I am not
interested in rabbits, lop-eared or otherwise, nor do I propose to
become so; furthermore - "
But at this moment of my triumph, even as he turned to depart,
something small and white fluttered down from the branches above,
and the next moment Selwyn had stooped and picked up a lace
handkerchief. Then, while he stared at it and I at him, there
came a ripple of laughter and Lisbeth peered down at us through
"My handkerchief-thank you," she said, as Selwyn stood somewhat
taken aback by her sudden appearance.
"The trees hereabouts certainly bear very remarkable, not to say
delightful fruit," he said.
"And as you will remember, I was always particularly fond of apple
trees," I interpolated.
"Mr. Selwyn," smiled Lisbeth, "let me introduce you to Mr. Brent."
"Sir," said I, "I am delighted to make your acquaintance; have heard
Her Grace of Chelsea speak of you - her friends are mine, I trust?"
Mr. Selwyn's bow was rather more than distant.
"I have already had the pleasure of meeting this - this very original
gentleman before, and under rather peculiar circumstances, Miss
Elizabeth," he said, and forthwith plunged into an account of the
whole affair of the "ambushes," while Lisbeth, perched upon her lofty
throne, surveyed us with an ever-growing astonishment.
"Whatever does it all mean ?" she inquired as Mr. Selwyn made an end.
"You must know, then," I explained, leaning upon my quarter-staff,
"the Imp took it into his head to become Robin Hood; I was
Little-John, and Mr. Selwyn here was so very obliging as to enact
the role of Sheriff of Nottingham - "
"I beg your pardon," exc1aimed Mr. Selwyn indignantly, turning upon
me with a fiery eye.
"Every one recollects the immortal exploits of Robin and his 'merrie
men,'" I continued, "and you will, of course, remember that they
had a habit of capturing the sheriff and tying him up to trees and
things. Naturally the Imp did not proceed to that extreme. He
contented himself with merely capturing the Sheriff's hat - I think
that you will agree that those 'ambushes' worked line a charm, Mr.
"Miss Elizabeth," he said, disdaining any reply, "I am aware of the
af - affection you lavish upon your nephew; I hope that you will
take measures to restrain him from such pranks - such very
disgraceful pranks - in the future. I myself should suggest a
change of companionship [here he glanced at me] as the most salutary
method. Good-afternoon, Miss Elizabeth." So saying, Mr. Selwyn
raised his hat, bowed stiffly to me, and turning upon an indignant
heel, strode haughtily away.
"Well!" exclaimed Lisbeth, with a look of very real concern.
"Very well, indeed!" I nodded; "we are alone at last."
"Oh, Dick! but to have offended him like this!"
"A highly estimable young gentleman," I said, "though deplorably
lacking in that saving sense of humour which - "
"Aunt Agatha seems to think a great deal of him."
"So I understand," I nodded.
"Only this morning I received a letter from her, in which, among
other things, she pointed out what a very excellent match h
"And what do you think?"
"Oh, I agree with her, of course; his family dates back ages and
ages before the Conqueror, and he has two or three estates besides
Selwyn Park, and one in Scotland."
"Do you know, Lisbeth, that reminds me of another house - not at
all big or splendid, but of great age; a house which stands not far
from the village of Down, in Kent; a house which is going to rack
and ruin for want of a mistress. Sometimes, just as evening comes
on, I think it must dream of the light feet and gentle hands it has
known so many years ago, and feels its loneliness more than ever."
"Poor old house!" said Lisbeth softly.
"Yes, a house is very human, Lisbeth, especially an old one, and
feels the need of that loving care which only a woman can bestow,
just as we do ourselves."
"Dear old house 1" said Lisbeth, more softly than before.
"How much longer must it wait - when will you come and care for it,
She started, and I thought her cheeks seemed a trifle pinker than
usual as her eyes met mine.
"Dick," she said wistfully, "I do wish you would get the ladder;
it's horribly uncomfortable to sit in a tree for hours and - "
"First of all, Lisbeth, you will forgive the Imp - full and freely,
"He shall go to bed without any tea whatever."
"That will be rank cruelty, Lisbeth; remember he is a growing boy."
"And I have been perched up here - between heaven and earth - all
"Then why not come down?" I inquired.
"If you will only get the ladder - "
"If you will just put your right foot in my - "
"I won't!" said Lisbeth.
"As you please," I nodded, and sitting down, mechanically took out
my pipe and began to fill it, while she opened her book, frowning.
And after she had read very studiously for perhaps two minutes,
she drew out and consulted her watch. I did the same.
"A quarter to five!" I said.
Lisbeth glanced down at me with the air of one who is deliberating
upon two courses of action, and when at length she spoke, every
trace of irritation had vanished completely.
"Dick, I'm awfully hungry."
"So am I," I nodded.
"It would be nice to have tea here under the trees, wouldn't it?"
"It would be positively idyllic!" I said.
"Then if you will please find that ladder - "
"If you will promise to forgive the Imp - "
"Certainly not!" she retorted.
"So be it!" I sighed, and sat down again. As I did so she launched
her book at me.
"Beast!" she exclaimed.
"Which means that you are ready to descend?" I inquired, rising and
depositing the maltreated volume side by side with my pipe on a
rustic table near-by; "very good. Place your right foot in - "
"Oh, all right," she said quite pettishly, and next moment I had
her in my arms.
"Dick! put me down-at once!"
"One moment, Lisbeth; that boy is a growing boy - "
"And shall go to bed without any tea!" she broke in.
"Very well, then," I said, and reading the purpose in my eyes, she
attempted, quite vainly, to turn her head aside.
"You will find it quite useless to struggle, Lisbeth," I warned.
"Your only course is to remember that he is a growing boy."
"And you are a brute!" she cried.
"Undoubtedly," I answered, bending my head nearer her petulant lips.
"But think of the Imp in bed, lying there, sleepless, tealess, and
growing all the while as fast as he can."
Lisbeth surrendered, of course, but my triumph was greatly tempered
"You will then forgive him for the 'ambushes' and cherish him with
much tea?" I stipulated, winking away a tress of hair that tickled
"Yes," said Lisbeth.
"And no bed until the usual hour?"
"No," she answered, quite subdued; "and now please do put me down."
So I sighed and perforce obeyed.
She stood for a moment patting her rebellious hair into order with
deft, white fingers, looking up at me meanwhile with a laugh in her
eyes that seemed almost a challenge. I took a hasty step toward
her, but as I did so the Imp hove into view, and the opportunity
"Hallo, Auntie Lisbeth!" he exclaimed, eyeing her wonderingly; then
his glance wandered round as if in quest of something.
"How did she do it, Uncle Dick?" he inquired.
"Do what, my Imp?"
"Why, get out of the tree?" I smiled and looked at Lisbeth.
"Did she climb down?"
"No," said I, shaking my head.
"Did she-jump down?"
"No, she didn't jump down, my Imp."
"Well, did she - did she fly down?"
"No, nor fly down - she just came down."
"Yes, but how did she - "
"Reginald," said Lisbeth, "run and tell the maids to bring tea out
here - for three."
"Three?" echoed the Imp. "But Dorothy has gone out to tea, you
know - is Uncle Dick going to - "
"To be sure, Imp," I nodded.
"Oh, that is fine - hurrah, Little-John!" he cried, and darted off
to ward the house.
"And you, Lisbeth?" I said, imprisoning her hands, "are you glad
Lisbeth did not speak, yet I was satisfied nevertheless.
Fane Court stands bowered in trees, with a wide stretch of the
greenest of green lawns sloping down to the river stairs.
They are quaint old stairs, with a marble rail and carved balusters,
worn and crumbling, yet whose decay is half hid by the kindly green
of lichens and mosses; stairs indeed for an idle fellow to dream
over on a hot summer's afternoon - and they were, moreover, a
favourite haunt of Lisbeth. It was here that I had moored my boat,
therefore and now lay back, pipe in mouth and with a cushion beneath
my head, in that blissful state between Sleeping and waking.
Now, as I lay, from the blue wreaths of my pipe I wove me fair
And lo! the stairs were no longer deserted; there were fine
gentlemen, patched and powdered, in silks and satins, with
shoe-buckles that flashed in the sun; there were dainty ladies in
quilted petticoats and flowered gowns, with most wonderful
coiffures; and there was Lisbeth, fairer and daintier than them
all, and there, too, was I. And behold how demurely she
courtesied and smiled behind her ivory fan! With what a grace I
took a pinch of snuff! With what an air I ogled and bowed with
hand on heart! Then, somehow, it seemed we were alone, she on
the top stair, I on the lower. And standing thus I raised my
arms to her with an appealing gesture. Her eyes looked down into
mine, the patch quivered at the corner of her scarlet mouth, and
there beside it was the dimple. Beneath her petticoat I saw her
foot in a little pink satin shoe come slowly toward me and stop
again. I watched scarce breathing, for it seemed my fate hung in
the balance. Would she come down to Love and me, or -
"Ship ahoy!" cried a voice, and in that moment my dream vanished.
I sighed, and looking round, beheld a head peering eat me over
the balustrade; a head bound up in a bandanna handkerchief of
large pattern and vivid colouring.
"Why, Imp!" I exclaimed. But my surprise abated when he emerged
into full view.
About his waist was a broadbuckled belt, which supported a wooden
cutlass, two or three murderous wooden daggers and a brace of toy
pistols; while upon his legs were a pair of top-boots many sizes
too large for him, so that walking required no little care. Yet on
the whole his appearance was decidedly effective. There could be
no mistake - he was a bloodthirsty pirate!
The imp is an artist to his grimy finger tips.
"Avast, shipmate!" I cried. "How's the wind?"
"Oh, he exclaimed, failing over his boots with eagerness, "do take
me in your boat, an' let's be pirates, will you, Uncle Dick?"
"Well, that depends. Where is your Auntie Lisbeth?"
"Mr. Selwyn is going to row her and Dorothy up the river."
"The deuce he is!"
"Yes, an' they won't take me."
"Why not, my Imp?"
"'Cause they're 'fraid I should upset the boat. So I thought I'd
come ask you to be a pirate, you know. I'll lend you my best
dagger an' one of my pistols. Will you, Uncle Dick?"
"Come aboard, shipmate, if you are for Hispaniola, the Tortugas,
and the Spanish Main," said I, whereupon he scrambled in, losing a
boot overboard in his baste, which necessitated much intricate
angling with the boat-hook ere it was recovered.
"They're Peter's, you know," he explained as he emptied out the
"I took them out of the harness-room; a pirate must have boots,
you know, but I'm afraid Peter'll swear."
"Not a doubt of it when he sees them," I said as we pushed off.
"I wish," he began, looking round thoughtfully after a minute or
so, "I wish we could get a plank or a yardarm from somewhere."
"What for, my Imp?"
"Why, don't you remember, pirates always had a plank for people to
'walk,' you know, an' used to 'swing them up to the yard-arm.'
"You seem to know all about it," I said as I pulled slowly down
"Oh, yes, I read it all in Scarlet Sam, the Scourge of the South
Seas. Scarlet Sam was fine. He used to stride up and down the
quarterdeck an' flourish his cutlass, an' his eyes would roll,
an' he'd foam at the mouth, an - "
"Knock everybody into 'the lee scuppers,'" I put in.
"Yes," cried the Imp in a tone of unfeigned surprise. "How did
you know that, Uncle Dick?"
"Once upon a time," I said, as I swung lazily at the sculls, "I was
a boy myself, and read a lot about a gentleman named 'Beetle-browed
Ben.' I tell you. Imp, he was a terror for foaming and stamping,
if you like, and used to kill three or four people every morning,
just to get an appetite for breakfast." The Imp regarded me with
"How fine!" he breathed, hugging himself in an ecstasy.
"It was," I nodded: "and then he was a very wonderful man in other
ways. You see, he was always getting himse1f shot through the head,
or run through the body, but it never hurt Beetle-browed Ben - not
a bit of it."
"An' did he 'swing people at the yard-arm - with a bitter smile'?"
"Lots of 'em!" I answered.
"An' make them 'walk the plank - with a horrid laugh'?"
"By the hundred!"
"An' 'maroon them on a desolate island - with a low chuckle'?"
"Many a time," I answered; "and generally with chuckle."
"Oh. I should like to read about him!" said the Imp with a deep
sigh; "will you lend me your book about him, Uncle Dick?"
I shook my head. "Unfortunately, that, together with many other
valued possessions, has been ravaged from me by the ruthless maw
of Time," I replied sadly.
The Imp sat plunged in deep thought, trailing his fingers pensively
in the water.
"And so your Auntie Lisbeth is going for a row with Mr. Selwyn, is
she?" I said.
"Yes, an' I told her she could come an' be a pirate with me if she
liked - but she wouldn't."
"Strange!" I murmured.
"Uncle Dick, do you think Auntie Lisbeth is in love with Mr.
"What?" I exclaimed, and stopped rowing.
"I mean, do you think Mr. Selwyn is in love with Auntie Lisbeth?"
"My Imp. I'm afraid he is. Why?"
"Cause cook says he is, an' so does Jane, an' they know all about
love, you know. I've heard them read it out of a book lots an'
lots of times. But I think love is awfull' silly, don't you,
"Occasionally I greatly fear so," I sighed.
"You wouldn't go loving anybody, would you, Uncle Dick?"
"Not if I could help it," I answered, shaking my head; "but I do
love some one, and that's the worst of it,"
"Oh!" exclaimed the Imp, but in a tone more of sorrow than anger.
"Don't be too hard on me, Imp," I said; "your turn may come when
you are older; you may love somebody one of these days."
The Imp frowned and shook his head. "No," he answered sternly;
"when I grow up big I shall keep ferrets. Ben, the gardener's boy,
has one with the littlest, teeniest pink nose you ever saw."
"Certainly a ferret has its advantages, I mused. "A ferret will not
frown upon one one minute and flash a dimple at one the next. And
then, again, a ferret cannot be reasonably supposed to possess an
aunt. There is something to be said for your idea after all, Imp."
"Why, then, let's be pirates, Uncle Dick," he said with an air of
finality. "I think I'll be Scarlet Sam, 'cause I know all about
him, an' you can be Timothy Bone, the boatswain."
"Aye, aye, sir," I responded promptly; "only I say, Imp, don't roll
your eyes so frightfully or you may roll yourself overboard,"
Scorning reply, he drew his cutlass, and setting it between his
teeth in most approved pirate fashion, sat, pistol in hand, frowning
terrifically at creation in general.
"Starboard your helm - starboard!" he cried, removing his weapon for
"Starboard it is!" I answered,
"Clear away for action!" growled the Imp. "Double-shot the
cannonades, and bo'sun, pipe all hands to quarters."
Whereupon I executed a lively imitation of a boatswain's whistle.
Most children are blessed with imagination, but the Imp in this
respect is gifted beyond his years. For him there is no such thing
as "pretence"; he has but to close his eyes a moment to open them
upon a new and a very real world of his own - the golden world of
Romance, wherein so few of us are privileged to walk in these cold
days of common-sense. And yet it is a very fair world peop1ed with
giants and fairies; where castles lift their grim, embattled towers;
where magic woods and forests cast their shade, full of strange
beasts; where knights ride forth with lance in rest and their armour
shining in the sun. And right well we know them. There is Roland,
Sir William Wallace, and Hereward the Wake; Ivanhoe, the Black
Knight, and bold Robin Hood. There is Amyas Leigh, old Salvation
Yeo, and that lovely rascal Long John Silver. And there, too, is
King Arthur, with his Knights of the Round Table - but the throng
is very great, and who could name them all?
So the Imp and I sailed away into this wonderful world of romance
aboard our gallant vessel, which, like any other pirate ship that
ever existed - in books or out of them - "luffed, and filling upon
another tack, stood away in pursuit of the Spanish treasure galleon
in the offing."
What pen could justly describe the fight which followed - how guns
roared and pistols flashed, while the air was full of shouts and
cries and the thundering din of battle; how Scarlet Sam foamed and
stamped and flourished his cutlass; how Timothy Bone piped his
whistle as a bo'sun should? We had already sunk five great galleons
and were hard at work with a sixth, which was evidently in a bad
way, when Scarlet Sam ceased foaming and pointed over my shoulder
with his dripping blade.
"Sail ho!" he cried.
"Where away?" I called back.
"Three points on the weather bow." As he spoke came the sound of
oars, and turning my head, I saw a skiff approaching, sculled by
a man in irreproachable flannels and straw hat.
"Why, it's - it's him!" cried the Imp suddenly. "Heave to, there!"
he bellowed in the voice of Scarlet Sam. "Heave to, or I'll sink
you with a 'murderous broadside!'" Almost with the words, and
before I could prevent him, he gave a sharp tug to the rudder lines;
there was an angry exclamation behind me, a shock, a splintering of
wood, and I found myself face to face with Mr. Selwyn, flushed and
"Damn!" said Mr. Selwyn, and proceeded to fish for his hat with the
shaft of his broken oar.
The Imp sat for a moment half frightened at his handiwork, then rose
to his feet, cutlass in hand, but I punted him gently back into his
seat with my foot.
"Really," I began, "I'm awfully sorry, you know - er - "
"May I inquire," said Mr. Selwyn cuttingly, as he surveyed his
dripping hat - "may I inquire how it all happened?"
"A most deplorable accident, I assure you. If I can tow you back
I shall be delighted, and as for the damage
"The damage is trifling, thanks," he returned icily; "it is the
delay that I find annoying."
"You have my very humblest apologies," I said meekly. "If I can
be of any service - " Mr. Selwyn stopped me with a wave of his
"Thank you, I think I can manage," he said; "but I should rather
like to know how it happened. You are unused to rowing, I presume?"
"Sir," I answered, "it was chiefly owing to the hot-headedness of
Scarlet Sam, the Scourge of the South Seas,"
"I beg your pardon?" said Mr. Selwyn with raised brows.
"Sir," I went on, "at this moment you probably believe yourself to
be Mr. Se1wvn of Selwyn Park. Allow me to dispel that illusion; you
are, on the contrary, Don Pedro Vasquez da Silva, commanding the
Esmeralda galleasse, bound out of Santa Crux. In us you behold
Scarlet Sam and Timothy Bone, of the good ship Black Death, with the
'skull and cross-bones' fluttering at our peak. If you don't see
it, that is not our fault."
Mr. Selwyn stared at me in wide-eyed astonishment, then shrugging
his shoulders, turned his back upon me and paddled away as best he
might. "Well, Imp," I said, "you've done it this time!"
"'Fraid I have," he returned; "but oh! wasn't it grand - and all
that about Don Pedro an' the treasure galleon! I do wish I knew
as much as you do, Uncle Dick. I'd be a real pirate then."
"Heaven forfend!" I exclaimed. So I presently turned and rowed
back upstream, not a little perturbed in my mind as to the outcome
of the adventure.
"Not a word, mind!" I cautioned as I caught sight of a certain
dainty figure watching our approach from the shade of her parasol.
The Imp nodded, sighed, and sheathed his cutlass.
"Well!" said Lisbeth as we glided up to the water-stairs; "I wonder
what mischief you have been after together?"
"We have been floating upon a river of dreams," I answered, rising
and lifting my hat; "we have likewise discoursed of many things.
In the words of the immortal Carroll:
"'Of shoes, and ships, and sealing wax, and cabbages, and - '"
"Pirates!" burst out the Imp.
"This dream river of ours," I went on, quelling him with a glance,
"has carried us to you, which is very right and proper. Dream
rivers always should, more especially when you sit "''Mid sunshine
throned, and all alone.'"
"But I'm not all alone, Dick."
"No; I'm here," said a voice, and Dorothy appeared with her small
and fluffy kitten under her arm as usual. "We are waiting for Mr.
Selwyn, you know. We've waited, oh! a long, long time, but he
hasn't come, and Auntie says he's a beast, and - "
"Dorothy!" exclaimed Lisbeth, frowning.
"Yes, you did, Auntie," sad Dorothy , nodding her head. "I heard
you when Louise ran up a tree and I had to coax her back; and I
have a clean frock on, too, and Louise will be oh so disappointed!"
Here she kissed the fluffy kitten on the nose. "So he is a beast;
don't you think so, Uncle Dick?"
"Such delay is highly reprehensible," I nodded.
"I'm glad you've come, Uncle Dick, and so is Auntie. She was
hoping - "
"That will do, Dorothy!" Lisbeth interrupted.
"I wonder what she was hoping?" I sighed.
"If you say another word, Dorothy, I won't tell you any more about
the Fairy Prince," said Lisbeth.
"Why, then," I continued, seeing the threat had the desired effect,
"since Mr. Selwyn hasn't turned up, perhaps you would care to - "
"Be a pirate?" put in the Imp. "To come for a row with us?" I
"Aboard the good ship Black Death," he went on, "'with the skull
an' cross-bones at our peak."
"Thanks," said Lisbeth, "but really, I don't think I should. What
a horrible name!"
"What's in a name? a boat by any other - " I misquoted. "If you
like, we'll call it the Joyful Hope, bound for the Land of Heart's
Lisbeth shook her head, but I fancied the dimple peeped at me for
"It would be a pity to disappoint Louise," I said, reaching up to
stroke the fluffy kitten.
"Yes," cried Dorothy, "do let's go, Auntie."
"For the sake of Louise," I urged, and held out my arms to her.
Lisbeth was standing on the top stair and I on the lower, in
exactly the same attitudes as I had beheld in my vision. I saw
her foot come slowly toward me and stop again; her red lips
quivered into a smile, and lo, there was the dimple! Dorothy saw
it, too - children are wonderfully quick in such matters - and
next moment was ensconced in the boat, Louise in her lap, and
there was nothing left for Lisbeth but to follow.
The Imp went forward to keep a "lookout," and finding a length of
fishing line, announced his intention of "heaving the lead."
I have upon several occasions ridden with Lisbeth - she is a good
horsewoman - frequently danced with her, but never before had I
been with her in a boat. The novelty of it was therefore decidedly
pleasing, the more so as she sat so close that by furtively reaching
out a foot I could just touch the hem of her dress.
"Uncle Dick," said Dorothy, looking up at me with her big grey eyes,
"where is the Land of Heart's Delight?"
"It lies beyond the River of Dreams," I answered.
"Is it far away?"
I afraid it is Dorothy."
"Oh! - and hard to get to?"
"Yes though it depends altogether upon who is at the helm."
Lisbeth very slowly began to tie a knot in the rudder-line.
"Well, Auntie's steering now. Could she get us there?"
"Yes, she could get us there, if she would."
"Oh!" cried Dorothy, "do - do steer for the Land of Heart's Delight,
Auntie Lisbeth; it sounds so pretty, and I'm sure Louise would like
it ever so much."
But Lisbeth only laughed, and tied another knot in the rudder-line.
"The Land of Heart's Delight!" repeated Dorothy. "It sounds rather
like Auntie's tale of the Fairy Prince. His name was Trueheart."
"And what was Prince Trueheart like?" I inquired.
"Fine!" broke in the Imp. "He used to fight dragons, you know."
"And he lived in a palace of crystal," continued Dorothy, "and he
was so good and kind that the birds used to make friends with him!"
"An' he wore gold armour, an' a big feather in his helmet!"
supplemented the Imp.
"And of course he loved the beautiful princess," I ended.
"Yes," nodded Dorothy; "but how did you know there was a beautiful
"Uncle Dick knows everything, of course," returned the Imp
"Do you think the beautiful princess loved the prince, Dorothy?"
I asked, glancing at Lisbeth's averted face.
"Well," answered Dorothy, pursing her mouth thoughtfully, "I don't
know, Uncle Dick; you see, Auntie hasn't got to that yet, but
everybody loves somebody sometime, you know. Betty - she's our
cook, you know - Betty says all nice tales end up in marrying and
living happy ever after."
"Not a doubt of it," said I, resting on my oars. "What do you think,
Lisbeth?" She leaned back and regarded me demurely beneath her long
lashes for a moment.
"I think," she answered, "that it would be much nicer if you would
go on rowing."
"One more question," I said. "Tell me, has this Prince Trueheart
got a moustache?"
"Like Mr. Selwyn?" cried the Imp; "should think not. The prince
was a fine chap, an' used to kill dragons, you know."
"Ah! I'm glad of that," I murmured, passing my fingers across my
shaven upper lip; "very glad indeed." Lisbeth laughed, but I saw
her colour deepen and she looked away.
"Oh, it must be lovely to kill a dragon!" sighed the Imp.
Now, as he spoke, chancing to look round, I saw in the distance a
man in a boat, who rowed most lustily - and the man wore a Panama.
Hereupon, taking a fresh grip upon my long sculls, I began to row
- to row, indeed, as I had not done for many a year, with a long,
steady stroke that made the skiff fairly leap. Who does not know
that feeling of exhilaration as the blades grip the water and the
gentle lapping at the bow swells into a gurgling song?"
The memorable time when I had "stroked" Cambridge to victory was
nothing to this. Then it was but empty glory that hung in the
balance, while now I settled my feet more firmly, and lengthening
my stroke, pulled with a will. Lisbeth sat up, and I saw her
fingers tighten upon the rudder-lines.
"You asked me to row, you know," I said in response to her look.
"Yo ho!" roared Scarlet Sam in the gruffest of nautical tones.
"By the deep nine, an' the wind's a-lee, so heave, my mariners all
At first we began to gain considerably upon our pursuer, but
presently I saw him turn his head, saw the Panama tossed aside as
Mr. Selwyn settled down to real business - and the struggle began.
Very soon, probably owing to the fixedness of my gaze, or my
unremitting exertion, or both, Lisbeth seemed to become aware of
the situation, and turned to look over her shoulder. I set my teeth
as I waited to meet her indignant look, for I had determined to
continue the struggle, come what might. But when at last she did
confront me her eyes were shining, her cheeks were flushed and there
actually was - the dimple.
"Sit sti1l, children," she said, and that was all; but for one moment
her eyes looked into mine.
The old river has witnessed many a hard-fought race in its time, but
never was there one more hotly contested than this. Never was the
song of the water more pleasant to my ear, never was the spring and
bend of the long sculls more grateful, as the banks swept by faster
and faster. No pirate straining every inch of canvas to escape
well-merited capture, no smuggler fleeing for some sheltered cove,
with the revenue cutter close astern, ever experienced a keener
excitement than did we.
The Imp was in a perfect ecstasy of delight; even Dorothy forgot her
beloved Louise for the time, while Lisbeth leaner toward me, the
tiller-lines over her shoulders, her lips parted and a light in her
eyes I had never seen there before. And yet Selwyn hung fast in our
rear. If he was deficient in a sense of humour, he could certainly
"He was an Oxford Blue," said Lisbeth, speaking almost in a whisper,
"and he has an empty boat!"
I longed to kiss the point of her little tan shoe or the hem of her
dress for those impulsive words, and tried to tell her so with my
eyes - breath was too precious just then. Whether she understood
or not I won't be sure, but I fancy she did from the way her lashes
"Oh, my eyes!" bellowed Scarlet Sam; "keep her to it, quartermaster,
an' take a turn at the mizzen-shrouds!"
When I again glanced at our pursuer I saw that he was gaining. Yes,
there could be no mistake; slowly but surely, try as I would, the
distance between us lessened and lessened, until he was so near that
I could discern the very parting of his back hair. So, perforce,
bowing to the inevitable, I ceased my exertions, contenting myself
with a long, easy stroke. Thus by the time he was alongside I had
in some measure recovered my breath.
"Miss - Eliz - beth," he panted, very hot of face and moist of brow,
"must beg - the - favour - of few words with you."
"With pleasure, Mr. Selwyn," answered Lisbeth, radiant with smiles;
"as many as you wish." Forthwith Mr. Selwyn panted out his
indictment against the desperadoes of the Black Death, while the
Imp glanced apprehensively from him to Lisbeth and stole his hand
furtively into mine.
"I should not have troubled you with this, Miss Elizabeth," Selwyn
ended, "but that I would not have you think me neglectful of an
appointment, especially with you."
"Indeed, Mr. Selwyn, I am very grateful to you for opening my eyes
to such a - a - "
"Very deplorable accident," I put in.
"I - I was perfectly certain," she continued, without so much as
glancing in my direction, "that you would never have kept me waiting
without sufficient reason. And now, Mr. Brent, if you will be so
obliging as to take us to the bank, Mr. Selwyn shall row us back - if
"Delighted!" he murmured.
"I ordered tea served in the orchard at five o'clock," smiled Lizbeth,
"and it is only jest four, so - "
"Which bank would you prefer," I inquired - "The right or the left?"
"The nearest," said Lisbeth.