Part 2 out of 3
"Which should you think was the nearest, Mr. Selwyn?" I queried.
Disdaining any reply, Selwyn ran his skiff ashore, and I obediently
followed. Without waiting for my assistance, Lisbeth deftly made
the exchange from one boat to the other, followed more slowly by
"Come, Reginald, " she said, as Selwyn made ready to push off;
we're waiting for you!" The Imp squatted closer to me.
"Reginald Augustus!" said Lisbeth. The Imp shuffled uneasily. "Are
you coming?" inquired Lisbeth.
"I - I'd rather be a pirate with Uncle Dick, please, Auntie Lisbeth,"
he said at last.
"Very well," nodded Lisbeth with an air of finality; "then of course
I must punish you." But her tone was strangely gentle, and as she
turned away I'll swear I saw the ghost of that dimple - yes, I'll
swear it. So we sat very lonely and dejected, the Imp and I,
desperadoes though we were, as we watched Selwyn's boat grow smaller
and smaller until it was lost round a bend in the river.
"'Spect I shall get sent to bed for this," said the Imp after a long
"I think it more than probable, my Imp."
"But then, it was a very fine race - oh, beautiful!" he sighed; "an'
I couldn't desert my ship an' Timothy Bone, an' leave you here all
by your self - now could I, Uncle Dick?"
"Of course not, Imp."
"What are you thinking about, Uncle Dick?" he inquired as I stared,
chin in hand, at nothing in particular.
"I was wondering, Imp, where the River of Dreams was going to lead
me, after all."
"To the Land of Heart's Delight, of course," he answered promptly;
"you said so, you know, an' you never tell lies, Uncle Dick - never,"
The Three Jolly Anglers is an inn of a distinctly jovial aspect,
with its toppling gables, its creaking sign, and its bright lattices,
which, like merry little twinkling eyes, look down upon the eternal
river to-day with the same half-waggish, half-kindly air as they
have done for generations.
Upon its battered sign, if you look closely enough, you may still
see the Three Anglers themselves, somewhat worn and dim with time
and stress of weather, yet preserving their jollity through it all
with an heroic fortitude - as they doubtless will do until they
fade away altogether.
It is an inn with raftered ceilings, and narrow, winding passageways;
an inn with long, low chambers full of unexpected nooks and corners,
with great four-post beds built for tired giants it would seem, and
wide, deep chimneys reminiscent of Gargantuan rounds of beef; an inn
whose very walls seem to exude comfort, as it were - the solid
comfortable comfort of a bygone age.
Of all the many rooms here to be found I love best that which is
called the Sanded Parlour. Never were wainscoted walls of a mellower
tone, never was pewter more gleaming, never were things more bright
and speckless, from the worn, quaint andirons on the hearth to the
brass-bound blunderbuss, with the two ancient fishing-rods above.
At one end of the room was a long, low casement, and here I leaned,
watching the river near-by, and listening to its never-ceasing murmur.
I had dined an hour ago; the beef had been excellent - it always is
at the Three Jolly Anglers - and the ale beyond all criticism; also
my pipe seemed to have an added flavour.
Yet despite all this I did not enjoy that supreme content - that
philosophical calm which such beef and such ale surely warranted.
But then, who ever heard of Love and Philosophy going together?
Away over the uplands a round, harvest moon was beginning to rise,
flecking the shadowy waters with patches of silver, and, borne to
my ears upon the warm, still air, came the throb of distant violins.
This served only to deepen my melancholy, reminding me that somebody
or other was giving a ball to-night; and Lisbeth was there, and Mr.
Selwyn was there, of course, and I - I was here - alone with the
brass-bound blunderbuss, the ancient fishing-rods and the antique
andirons on the hearth; with none to talk to save the moon, and the
jasmine that had crept in at the open casement. And noting the
splendour of the night, I experienced towards Lisbeth a feeling of
pained surprise, that she should prefer the heat and garish glitter
of a ball-room to walking beneath such a moon with me.
Indeed, it was a wondrous night! one of those warm still nights
which seem full of vague and untold possibilities! A night with
magic in the air, when elves and fairies dance within their grassy
rings, or biding amid the shade of trees, peep out at one between
the leaves; or again, some gallant knight on mighty steed may come
pacing slowly from the forest shadows, with the moonlight bright
upon his armour.
Yes, surely there was magic in the air to-right! I half wished
that some enchanter might, by a stroke of his fairy wand, roll
back the years and leave me in the brutal, virile, Good Old Times,
when men wooed and won their loves by might and strength of arm,
and not by gold, as is so often the case in these days of ours. To
be mounted upon my fiery steed, lance in hand and sword on thigh,
riding down the leafy alleys of the woods yonder, led by the
throbbing, sighing melody. To burst upon the astonished dancers
like a thunder-clap; to swing her up to my saddle-bow, and clasped
in each other's arms, to plunge into the green mystery of forest.
My fancies had carried me thus far when I became aware of a small,
furtive figure, dodging from one patch of shadow to another. Leaning
from the window, I made out the form of a somewhat disreputable
urchin, who, dropping upon hands and knees, proceeded to crawl
towards me over the grass with a show of the most elaborate caution.
"Hallo!" I exclaimed, "halt and give the counter-sign!" The urchin
sat up on his heels and stared at me with a pair of very round,
"Please, are you Mr. Uncle Dick?" he inquired.
"Oh," I said, "you come from the Imp, I presume." The boy nodded a
round head, at the same time fumbling with something in his pocket.
"And whom may you be?" I inquired, conversationally.
"I'm Ben, I am."
"The gardener's boy?" Again the round head nodded acquiescence, as
with much writhing and twisting he succeeded in drawing a
heterogeneous collection of articles from his pocket, whence he
selected a very dirty and crumpled piece of paper.
"He wants a ladder so's he can git out, but it's too big fer me to
lift, so he told me to give you this here so's you would come an'
rescue him - please, Mr. Uncle Dick." With which lucid explanation
Ben handed me the crumpled note.
Spreading it out upon the windowsill, I managed to make out as
DEAR UNKEL DICK: I'm riting this with my hart's blood bekors I'm a
prisner in a gloomie dungun. It isn't really my hart's blood it's
only red ink, so don't worry. Aunty lisbath cent me to bed just
after tea bekors she said I'm norty, and when she'd gone Nurse
locked me in so i can't get out and I'm tired of being a prisner,
so please i want you to get the ladda and let me eskape, please
unkel dick, will you.
yours till deth,
Auntie was reading Ivanhoe to us and I've been the Black Knight and
you can be Gurth the swine-herd if you like.
"So that's the way of it?" I said.
"Well! well! such an appeal shall not go unanswered, at least. Wait
there, my trusty Benjamin, and I'll be with you anon." Pausing only
to refill my tobacco-pouch and get my cap, I sallied out into the
fragrant night, and set off along the river, the faithful Benjamin
trotting at my heels.
Very soon we were skirting blooming flower-beds, and crossing trim
lawns, until at length we reached a certain wing of the house from
a window of which a pillow-case was dangling by means of a string.
"That's for provisions!" volunteered Ben; "we pertended he was
starving, so he lets it down an' I fill it with onions out of the
vegetable garden." At this moment the curly head of the Imp
appeared at the window, followed by the major portion of his person.
"Oh, Uncle Dick!" he cried in a loud stage-whisper, "I think you
had better be the Black Knight, 'cause you're so big, you know."
"Imp," I said, "get in at once, do you want to break your neck?"
The Imp obediently wriggled into safety.
"The ladder's in the tool-house, Uncle Dick - Ben'll show you.
Will you get it, please?" he pleaded in a wheedling tone.
"First of all, my Imp, why did your Auntie Lisbeth send you to
bed - had you been a very naughty boy?"
"No-o!" he answered, after a moment's pause, "I don't think I was so
very naughty - I only painted Dorothy like an Indian chief - green,
with red spots, an' she looked fine, you know."
"Green, with red spots!" I repeated.
"Yes; only auntie didn't seem to like it."
"I fear your Auntie Lisbeth lacks an eye for colour."
"Yes, 'fraid so; she sent me to bed for it, you know."
"Still, Imp, under the circumstances I think it would be best if
you got undressed and went to sleep."
"Oh, but I can't, Uncle Dick!"
"Why not, my Imp?"
"'Cause the moon's so very bright, an' everything looks so fine down
there, an' I'm sure there's fairies about - Moon-fairies, you know,
and I'm 'miserable."
"Yes, Auntie Lisbeth never came to kiss me good-night, an' so I
can't go to sleep, Uncle Dick!"
"Why that alters the case, certainly."
"Yes, an' the ladder's in the tool-house."
"Imp," I said, as I turned to follow Benjamin, "oh, you Imp!"
There are few things in this world more difficult to manage than a
common or garden ladder; among other peculiarities it has a most
unpleasant knack of kicking out suddenly just as everything appears
to be going smoothly, which is apt to prove disconcerting to the
novice. However, after sundry mishaps of the kind, I eventually
got it reared up to the window, and a moment afterwards the Imp had
climbed down and stood beside me, drawing the breath of freedom.
As a precautionary measure we proceeded to hide the ladder in a
clump of rhododendrons hard by, and had but just done so when
Benjamin uttered a cry of warning and took to his heels, while the
Imp and I sought shelter behind a friendly tree. And not a whit
too soon, for, scarcely had we done so, when two figures came round
a corner of the house - two figures who walked very slowly and very
"Why it's Betty-the cook, you know-an' Peter!" whispered the Imp.
Almost opposite our hiding-place Betty paused to sigh heavily and
stare up at the moon.
"Oh, Peter!" she murmured, "look at that there orb!"
"Ar!" said Peter, gazing obediently upward.
"Peter, ain't it 'eavenly; don't it stir your very soul?"
"Ar!" said Peter.
"Peter, are you sure you loves me more than that Susan thing at the
doctor's?" A corduroy coat-sleeve crept slowly about Betty's plump
waist, and there came the unmistakable sound of a kiss.
"Really and truly, Peter?"
"Ar!" said Peter, "so 'elp me Sam!" The kissing sound was repeated,
and they walked on once more, only closer than ever now on account
of the corduroy coat-sleeve.
"Those two are in love, you know," nodded the Imp. "Peter says the
cheese-cakes she makes are enough to drive any man into marrying
her, whether he wants to or not, an' I heard Betty telling Jane that
she adored Peter, 'cause he had so much soul! Why is it," he
inquired, thoughtfully, as he watched the two out of sight, "why is
it, Uncle Dick, that people in love always look so silly?"
"Do you think so?" I asked, as I paused to light my pipe.
"'Course I do!" returned the Imp; "what's any one got to put their
arm round girls for, just as if they wanted holding up - I think
it's awfull' silly!"
"Of course it is, Imp - your wisdom is unassailable - still, do you
know, I can understand a man being foolish enough to do it -
"But you never would, Uncle Dick?"
"Alas, Imp!" I said, shaking my head, "Fortune seems to preclude all
chances of it."
"'Course you wouldn't," he exclaimed; "an' Ivanhoe wouldn't - "
"Ah, but he did!" I put in; "have you forgotten Rowena?"
"Oh!" cried the Imp dolefully, "do you really think he ever put his
arm round her?"
"Sure of it," I nodded. The Imp seemed much cast down, and even
"But there was the Black Knight," he said, brightening suddenly -
"Richard of the Lion Heart, you know - he never did!"
"Not while he was fighting, of course, but afterwards, if history
is to be believed, he very frequently did; and we are all alike,
Imp - everybody does sooner or later."
"But why? Why should any one want to put their arm round a girl,
"For the simple reason that the girl is there to put it round, I
suppose. And now, Imp, let us talk of fish."
Instinctively we had wandered towards the river, and now we stood
to watch the broad, silver path made by the moon across the mystery
of its waters.
"I love to see the shine upon the river like that," said the Imp,
dreamily; "Auntie Lisbeth says it's the path that the Moon-fairies
come down by to bring you nice dreams when you've been good. I've
got out of bed lots of times an' watched an' watched, but I've never
seen them come. Do you think there are fairies in the moon, Uncle
"Undoubtedly," I answered; "how else does it keep so bright? I
used to wonder once how they managed to make it shine so."
"It must need lots of rubbing!" said the Imp; "I wonder if they ever
"Of course they do, Imp, and disheartened, too, sometimes, like the
rest of us, and then everything is black, and people wonder where
the moon is. But they are very brave, these Moon-fairies, and they
never quite lose hope, you know; so they presently go back to their
rubbing and polishing, always starting at one edge. And in a little
while we see it begin to shine again, very small and thin at first,
like a - "
"Yes, just like a thumb-nail; and so they go on working and working
at it until it gets as big and round and bright as it is to-night."
Thus we walked together through a fairy world, the Imp and I, while
above the murmur of the waters, above the sighing of the trees, came
the soft, tremulous melody of the violins.
"I do wish I had lived when there were knights like Ivanhoe," burst
out the Imp suddenly; "it must have been fine to knock a man off
his horse with your lance."
"Always supposing he didn't knock you off first, Imp."
"Oh! I should have been the sort of knight that nobody could knock
off, you know. An' I'd have wandered about on my faithful charger,
fighting all sorts of caddish barons, and caitiffs, an' slaying
giants; an' I'd have rescued lovely ladies from castles grim
- though I wouldn't have put my arm round them, of course!"
"Perish the thought, my Imp!"
"Uncle Dick!" he said, insinuatingly, "I do wish you'd be the Black
Knight, an' let me be Ivanhoe."
"But there are no caitiffs and things left for us to fight, Imp,
and no lovely ladies to rescue from castles grim, alas!"
Now we had been walking on, drawn almost imperceptibly by the magic
thread of the melody, which had led us, by devious paths, to a low
stone wall, beyond which we could see the gleam of lighted windows
and the twinkle of fairy-lamps among the trees. And over there,
amid the music and laughter, was Lisbeth in all the glory of her
beauty, happy, of course, and light-hearted; and here, beneath the
moon, was I.
"We could pretend this was a castle grim, you know, Uncle Dick, full
of dungeons an' turrets, an' that we were going to rescue Auntie
"Imp," I said, "that's really a great idea."
"I wish I'd brought my trusty sword," he sighed, searching about
for something to supply its place; "I left it under my pillow, you
Very soon, however, he had procured two sticks, somewhat thin and
wobbly, yet which, by the magic of imagination, became transformed
into formidable, two-edged swords, with one of which he armed me,
the other he flourished above his head.
"Forward, gallant knights!" he cried; "the breach! the breach! On!
on! St. George, for Merrie England!" With the words he clambered
upon the wall and disappeared upon the other side.
For a moment I hesitated, and then, inspired by the music and the
thought of Lisbeth, I followed suit. It was all very mad, of course,
but who cared for sanity on such a night - certainly not I.
"Careful now, Imp!" I cautioned; "if any one should see us they'll
take us for thieves, or lunatics, beyond a doubt."
We found ourselves in an enclosed garden with a walk which led
between rows of fruit trees. Following this, it brought us out
upon a broad stretch of lawn, with here and there a great tree,
and beyond, the gleaming windows of the house. Filled with the
spirit of adventure, we approached, keeping in the shadow as much
as possible, until we could see figures that strolled to and fro
upon the terrace or promenaded the walks below.
The excitement of dodging our way among so many people was intense;
time and again we were only saved from detection by more than one
wandering couple, owing to the fact that all their attention was
centred in themselves. For instance, we were skirmishing round a
clump of laurels, to gain the shadow of the terrace, when we almost
ran into the arms of a pair; but they didn't see us for the very
good reason that she was staring at the moon, and he at her.
"So sweet of you, Archibald!" she was saying.
"What did she call him 'bald for, Uncle Dick?" inquired the Imp in
a loud stage-whisper, as I dragged him down behind the laurels.
'He's not a bit bald, you know! An' I say, Uncle Dick, did you see
his arm, it was round - "
"Yes - yes!" I nodded.
"Just like Peter's, you know."
"Yes - yes, I saw."
"I wonder why she called him - "
"Hush!" I broke in, "his name is Archibald, I suppose."
"Well, I hope when I grow up nobody will ever call me - "
"Hush!" I said again, "not a word - there's your Auntie Lisbeth!
She was, indeed, standing upon the terrace, within a yard of our
hiding-place, and beside her was Mr. Selwyn.
"Uncle Dick," whispered the irrepressible Imp, "do you think if we
watch long enough that Mr. Selwyn will put his arm round - "
"Shut up!" I whispered savagely. Lisbeth was clad in a long,
trailing gown of dove-coloured silk - one of those close-fitting
garments that make the uninitiated, such as myself, wonder how they
are ever got on. Also, she wore a shawl, which I was sorry for,
because I have always been an admirer of beautiful things, and
Lisbeth's neck and shoulders are glorious. Mr. Selwyn stood beside
her with a plate of ice cream in his hand, which he handed to her,
and they sat down. As I watched her and noticed her weary, bored
air, and how wistfully she gazed up at the silver disc of the moon,
I experienced a feeling of decided satisfaction.
"Yes," said Lisbeth, toying absently with the ice cream, "he painted
Dorothy's face with stripes of red and green enamel, and goodness
only knows how we can ever get it all off!"
Mr. Selwyn was duly shocked and murmured something about 'the
efficacy of turpentine' in such an emergency.
"Of course, I had to punish him," continued Lisbeth, "so I sent him
to bed immediately after tea, and never went to say good-night, or
tuck him up as I usually do, and it has been worrying me all the
Mr. Selwyn was sure that he was all right, and positively certain
that at this moment he was wrapped in balmy slumber. Despite my
warning grasp, the Imp chuckled, but we were saved by the band
striking up. Mr. Selwyn rose, giving his arm to Lisbeth, and they
re-entered the ball-room. One by one the other couples followed
suit until the long terrace was deserted. Now, upon Lisbeth's
deserted chair, showing wonderfully pink in the soft glow of the
Chinese lanterns, was the ice cream.
"Uncle Dick," said the Imp in his thoughtful way, "I think I'll
be a bandit for a bit."
"Anything you like," I answered rashly, "so long as we get away
while we can."
"All right," he whispered, "I won't be a minute," and before I
could stop him he had scrambled down the steps and fallen to upon
the ice cream.
The wonderful celerity with which the Imp wolfed down that ice
cream was positively awe-inspiring. In less time almost than it
takes to tell the plate was empty. Yet scarcely had he swallowed
the last mouthful when he heard Mr. Selwyn's voice close by. In
his haste the Imp dropped his cap, a glaring affair of red and
white, and before he could recover it Lisbeth reappeared, followed
by Mr. Selwyn.
- "It certainly is more pleasant out here!" he was saying.
Lisbeth came straight towards the cap-it was a moral impossibility
that she could fail to see it - yet she sank into her chair without
word or sign. Mr. Selwyn, on the contrary, stood with the empty
ice plate in his hand, staring at it in wide-eyed astonishment.
"It's gone!" he exclaimed.
"Oh!" said Lisbeth.
"Most extraordinary!" Said Mr. Selwyn, fixing his monocle and staring
harder than ever; "I wonder where it can have got to?"
"Perhaps it melted!" Lisbeth suggested, "and I should so have loved
an ice!" she sighed.
"Then, of course, I'll get you another, with pleasure," he said and
hurried off, eyeing the plate dubiously as he went.
No sooner was Lisbeth alone than she kicked aside the train of her
dress and picked up the tell-tale cap.
"Imp!" she whispered, rising to her feet, "Imp, come here at once,
sir!" There was a moment's breathless pause, and then the Imp
squirmed himself into view.
"Hallo, Auntie Lisbeth!" he said, with a cheerfulness wholly assumed.
"Oh!" she cried, distressfully, "whatever does this mean; what are
you doing here? Oh, you naughty boy!"
"Lisbeth," I said, as I rose in my turn and confronted her, "Do not
blame the child - the fault is mine - let me explain; by means of a
ladder - "
"Not here," she whispered, glancing nervously towards the ball-room.
"Then come where I can."
"Not at all; you have only to descend these steps and we can talk
"Ridiculous!" she said, stooping to replace the Imp's cap; but being
thus temptingly within reach, she was next moment beside us in the
"Dick, how could you, how dared you?"
"You see, I had to explain," I answered very humbly; "I really
couldn't allow this poor child to bear the blame of my fault - "
"I'm not a 'poor child,' Uncle Dick," expostulated the Imp; "I'm a
gallant knight and - "
" - The blame of my fault, Lisbeth," I continued, "I alone must face
your just resentment, for - "
"Hush!" she whispered, glancing hastily about.
" - For, by means of a ladder, Lisbeth, a common or garden ladder - "
"Oh, do be quiet!" she said, and laid her hand upon my lips, which
I immediately imprisoned there, but for a moment only; the next it
was snatched away as there came the unmistakable sound of some one
"Come along, Auntie Lisbeth," whispered the Imp, "fear not, we'll
Oh! surely there was magic in the air to-night; for, with a swift,
dexterous movement, Lisbeth had swept her long train across her arm,
and we were running hand in hand, all three of us, running across
lawns and down winding paths between yew hedges, sometimes so close
together that I could feel a tress of her fragrant hair brushing my
face with a touch almost like a caress. Surely, surely, there was
magic in the air to-night!
Suddenly Lisbeth stopped, flushed and panting.
"Well!" she exclaimed, staring from me to the Imp, and back again,
"was ever anything so mad!"
"Everything is mad to-night," I said; "it's the moon!"
"To think of my running away like this with two - two - "
"Interlopers," I suggested.
"I really ought to be very, very angry with you - both of you, she
said, trying to frown.
"No, don't be angry with us, Auntie Lisbeth," pleaded the Imp,
"'cause you are a lovely lady in a castle grim, an' we are two
gallant knights, so we had to come an' rescue you; an' you never came
to kiss me good-night, an' I'm awfull' sorry 'bout painting Dorothy's
face - really!"
"Imp," cried Lisbeth, falling on her knees regardless of her silks
and laces, "Imp, come and kiss me." The Imp drew out a decidedly
grubby handkerchief, and, having rubbed his lips with it, obeyed.
"Now, Uncle Dick!" he said, and offered me the grubby handkerchief.
Lisbeth actually blushed.
"Reginald!" she exclaimed, "whatever put such an idea into your
"Oh! everybody's always kissing somebody you know," he nodded; "an'
it's Uncle Dick's turn now."
Lisbeth rose from her knees and began to pat her rebellious hair
into order. Now, as she raised her arms, her shawl very naturally
slipped to the ground; and standing there, with her eyes laughing
up at me beneath their dark lashes, with the moonlight in her hair,
and gleaming upon the snow of her neck and shoulders, she had never
seemed quite so bewilderingly, temptingly beautiful before.
"Dick," she said, "I must go back at once - before they miss me."
"Go back!" I repeated, "never - that is, not yet."
"But suppose any one saw us!" she said, with a hairpin in her mouth.
"They shan't," I answered; "you will see to that, won't you, Imp?"
"'Course I will, Uncle Dick!"
"Then go you, Sir Knight, and keep faithful ward behind yon apple
tree, and let no base varlet hither come; that is, if you see any
one, be sure to tell me." The Imp saluted and promptly disappeared
behind the apple tree in question, while I stood watching Lisbeth's
dexterous fingers and striving to remember a line from Keats
descriptive of a beautiful woman in the moonlight. Before I could
call it to mind, however, Lisbeth interrupted me.
"Don't you think you might pick up my shawl instead of staring at
me as if I was - "
"The most beautiful woman in the world!" I put in.
- "Who is catching her death of cold," she laughed, yet for all her
light tone her eyes drooped before mine as I obediently wrapped the
shawl about her, in the doing of which, my arm being round her, very
naturally stayed there, and - wonder of wonders, was not repulsed.
And at this very moment, from the shadowy trees behind us, came the
rich, clear song of a nightingale.
Oh! most certainly the air was full of magic to-night!
"Dick," said Lisbeth very softly as the trilling notes died away,
"I thought one could only dream such a night as this is."
"And yet life might hold many such for you and me, if you would only
let it, Lisbeth," I reminded her. She did not answer.
"Not far from the village of Down, in Kent," I began.
"There stands a house," she put in, staring up at the moon with
"A very old house, with twisted Tudor chimneys and pointed gables
- you see I have it all by heart, Dick - a house with wide stairways
and long pannelled chambers - "
"Very empty and desolate at present," I added. "And amongst other
things, there is a rose-garden - they call it My Lady's Garden,
Lisbeth, though no lady has trod its winding paths for years and
years. But I have dreamed, many and many a time, that we stood among
the roses, she and I, upon just such another night as this is. So
I keep the old house ready and the gardens freshly trimmed, ready
for my lady's coming; must I wait much longer, Lisbeth?" As I ended
the nightingale took up the story, pleading my cause for me, filling
the air with a melody now appealing, now commanding, until it
gradually died away in one long note of passionate entreaty.
Lisbeth sighed and turned towards me, but as she did so I felt a tug
at my coat, and, looking round, beheld the Imp.
"Uncle Dick," he said, his eyes studiously averted, doubtless on
account of the position of my arm, "here's Mr. Selwyn!"
With a sudden exclamation Lisbeth started from me and gathered up her
skirts to run.
"Whereaway, my Imp?"
"Coming across the lawn."
"Reginald," I said, solemnly, listen to me; you must sally out upon
him with lance in rest, tell him you are a Knight-errant, wishful
to uphold the glory of that faire ladye, your Auntie Lisbeth, and
whatever happens you must manage to keep him away from here, do you
"Yes, only I do wish I'd brought my trusty sword, you know," he
"Never mind that now, Imp."
"Will Auntie Lisbeth be quite - "
"She will be all right."
"I suppose if you put your arm - "
"Never mind my arm, Imp, go!"
"Then fare thee well!" said he, and with a melodramatic flourish of
his lance, trotted off.
"What did he mean about your arm, Dick?"
"Probably this!" I answered, slipping it around her again.
"But you must get away at once," whispered Lisbeth; "if Mr. Selwyn
should see you - "
"I intend that he shall. Oh, it will be quite simple; while he is
talking to me you can get back to the - "
"Hush!" she whispered, laying her fingers on my lips; "listen!"
"Hallo, Mr. Selwyn!" came in the Imp's familiar tones.
"Why, good Heavens!" exclaimed another voice, much too near to be
pleasant, "what on earth are you doing here - and at this time of
"Looking for base varlets!"
"Don't you know that all little boys - all nice little boys -
should have been in bed hours ago?"
"But I'm not a nice little boy; I'm a Knight-errant; would you like
to get a lance, Mr. Selwyn, an' break it with me to the glory of my
"The question is, what has become of her?" said Mr. Selwyn. We
waited almost breathlessly for the answer.
"Oh! I 'specks she's somewhere looking at the moon; everybody looks
at the moon, you know; Betty does, an' the lady with the man with a
funny name 'bout being bald, an'-"
"I think you had better come up to the house," said Mr. Se1wyn.
"Do you think you could get me an ice cream if I did?" asked the
Imp, persuasively; "nice an' pink, you know, with - "
"An ice!" repeated Mr. Selwyn; "I wonder how many you have had
The time for action was come. "Lisbeth," I said, "we must go; such
happiness as this could not last; how should it? I think it is
given us to dream over in less happy days. For me it will be a
memory to treasure always, and yet there might be one thing more
- a little thing Lisbeth - can you guess?" She did not speak, but
I saw the dimple come and go at the corner of her mouth, so I stooped
and kissed her. For a moment, all too brief, we stood thus, with the
glory of the moonlight about us; then I was hurrying across the lawn
after Selwyn and the Imp.
"Ah, Mr. Selwyn!" I said as I overtook them, "so you have found him,
have you?" Mr. Selwyn turned to regard me, surprise writ large upon
him, from the points of his immaculate, patent-leather shoes, to the
parting of his no less immaculate hair.
"So very good of you," I continued; "you see he is such a difficult
object to recover when once he gets mislaid; really, I'm awfully
obliged." Mr. Selwyn's attitude was politely formal. He bowed.
"What is it to-night," he inquired, "pirates?"
"Hardly so bad as that," I returned; "to-night the air is full of
the clash of armour and the ring of steel; if you do not hear it
that is not our fault."
"An' the woods are full of caddish barons and caitiff knaves, you
know, aren't they, Uncle Dick?"
"Certainly," I nodded, with lance and spear-point twinkling through
the gloom, but in the silver glory of the moon, Mr. Selwyn, walk
errant damozels and ladyes faire, and again, if you don't see them,
the loss is yours." As I spoke, away upon the terrace a grey shadow
paused a moment ere it was swallowed in the brilliance of the
ball-room; seeing which I did not mind the slightly superior smile
that curved Mr. Selwyn's very precise moustache; after all, my
rhapsody had not been altogether thrown away. As I ended, the
opening bars of a waltz floated out to us. Mr. Selwyn glanced back
over his shoulder.
"Ah! I suppose you can find your way out?" he inquired.
"Oh, yes, thanks."
"Then if you will excuse me, I think I'll leave you to - ah - to do
it; the next dance is beginning, and - ah - "
"Certainly," I said, "of course - good-night, and much obliged -
really!" Mr. Selwyn bowed, and, turning away, left us to our own
"I should have liked another ice, Uncle Dick," sighed the Imp,
"Knights never ate ice cream!" I said, as we set off along the
"Uncle Dick," said the Imp suddenly, "do you 'spose Mr. Selwyn wants
to put his arm round Auntie Lis - "
"An' do you 'spose that Auntie Lisbeth wants Mr. Selwyn to - "
"I don't know - of course not - er - kindly shut up, will you, Imp?"
"I only wanted to know, you know," he murmured.
Therewith we walked on in silence and I fell to dreaming of Lisbeth
again, of how she had sighed. of the look in her eves as she turned
to me with her answer trembling on her lips - the answer which the
Imp had inadvertently cut short. In this frame of mind I drew near
to that corner of the garden where she had stood with me, that quiet,
shady corner, which henceforth would remain enshrined within my
memory for her sake which -
I stopped suddenly short at the sight of two figures - one in the cap
and apron of a waiting maid and the other in the gorgeous plush and
cold braid of a footman; and they were standing upon the very spot
where Lisbeth and I had stood, and in almost the exact attitude - it
was desecration. I stood stock still despite the Imp's frantic tugs
at my coat all other feelings swallowed up in one of half-amused
resentment. Thus the resplendent footman happened to turn his head,
presently espied me, and removing his plush-clad arm from the waist
of the trim maid-servant, and doubling his fists, strode towards us
with a truly terrible mien.
"And w'ot might your game be?" he inquired, with that supercilious
air inseparable to plush and gold braid; "oh, I know your kind, I
do - I know yer!"
"Then, fellow," quoth I, "I know not thee, by Thor, I swear it and
Og the Terrible, King of Bashan!"
"'Ogs is it?" said he indignantly, "don't get trying to come over
me with yer 'ogs; no nor yet yer fellers! The question is, wo't are
you 'anging round 'ere for?" Now, possibly deceived by my pacific
attitude, or inspired by the bright eyes of the trim maid-servant,
he seized me, none too gently, by the collar, to the horrified dismay
of the Imp.
"Nay, but I will, give thee moneys - "
"You are a-going to come up to the 'ouse with me, and no blooming
nonsense either; d'ye 'ear ?"
"Then must I needs smite thee for a barbarous (dog - hence - base
slave - begone!" Wherewith I delivered what is technically known in
"sporting" circles as a "right hook in the ear," followed by a "left
swing to the chin," and my assailant immediately disappeared behind
a bush, with a flash of pink silk calves and buckled shoes. Then,
while the trim maidservant filled the air with her lamentations, the
imp and I ran hot-foot for the wall, over which I bundled him neck
and crop, and we set off pellmell along the river-path.
"Oh, Uncle Dick,'' he panted, "how - how fine you are! you knocked
yon footman - I mean varlet - from his saddle like - like anything.
Oh, I do wish you would play like this every night!"
"Heaven forbid!" I exclaimed fervently.
Coming at last to the shrubbery gate, we paused awhile to regain
"Uncle Dick," said the Imp, regarding me with a thoughtful eye, "did
you see his arm - I mean before you smote him 'hip and thigh' ?"
"it was round her waist."
"Imp, it was."
"Just like Peter's?"
"An' the man with the funny name ?"
"An' - an - "
"And mine," I put in, seeing he paused.
"Uncle Dick - why ?"
"Ah! who knows, Imp - perhaps it was the Moon-magic. And now by
my troth! 'tis full time all good knights were snoring, so hey for
bed and the Slumber-world!"
The ladder was dragged from its hiding place, and the Imp, having
mounted, watched me from his window as I returned it to the laurels
for very obvious reasons.
"We didn't see any fairies, did we, Uncle Dick?"
"Well, I think I did, Imp, just for a moment; I may have been
mistaken, of course, but anyhow, it has been a very wonderful night
all the same. And so - God rest you, fair Knight!"
THE EPISODE OF THE INDIAN'S AUNT
The sun blazed down, as any truly self-respecting sun should, on a
fine August afternoon; yet its heat was tempered by a soft, cool
breeze that just stirred the leaves above my head. The river was
busy whispering many things to the reeds, things which, had I been
wise enough to understand, might have helped me to write many
wonderful books, for, as it is so very old, and has both seen and
heard so much, it is naturally very wise. But alas! being ignorant
of the language of rivers, I had to content myself with my own
dreams, and the large, speckled frog, that sat beside me, watching
the flow of the river with his big, gold-rimmed eyes.
He was happy enough I was sure. There was a complacent satisfaction
in every line of his fat, mottled body. And as I watched him my
mind very naturally reverted to the "Pickwick Papers," and I repeated
Mrs. Lyon-Hunter's deathless ode, beginning:
Can I see thee panting, dying,
On a log,
The big, green frog beside me listened with polite attention, but,
on the whole, seemed strangely unmoved. Remembering the book in
my pocket, I took it out; an old book, with battered leathern
covers, which has passed through many hands since it was first
published, more than two hundred years ago.
Indeed it is a wonderful, a most delightful book, known to the
world as "The Compleat Angler," in which, to be sure, one may read
something of fish and fishing, but more about old Izaac's lovable
self, his sunny streams and shady pools, his buxom milkmaids, and
sequestered inns, and his kindly animadversions upon men and things
in general. Yet, as I say, he does occasionally speak of fish and
fishing, and amongst other matters, concerning live frogs as bait,
after describing the properest method of impaling one upon the hook,
he ends with this injunction:
Treat it as though you loved it, that it may live the longer!
Up till now the frog had preserved his polite attentiveness in a
manner highly creditable to his upbringing, but this proved too
much; his over-charged feelings burst from him in a hoarse croak,
and he disappeared into the river with a splash.
"Good-afternoon, Uncle Dick!" said a voice at my elbow, and looking
round, I beheld Dorothy. Beneath one arm she carried the fluffy
kitten, and in the other hand a scrap of paper.
"I promised Reginald to give you this," she continued, "and - oh
yes - I was to say 'Hist!' first."
"Really! And why were you to say 'Hist' ?"
"Oh, because all Indians always say 'Hist!' you know."
"To be sure they do," I answered; "but am I to understand that you
are an Indian?"
"Not ta-day," replied Dorothy, shaking her head. "Last time
Reginald painted me Auntie was awfull' angry - it took her and nurse
ages to get it all off - the war-paint, I mean - so I'm afraid I
can't be an Indian again!"
"That's very unfortunate!" I said.
"Yes, isn't it; but nobody can be an Indian chief without any
war-paint, can they?"
"Certainly not," I answered. "You seem to know a great deal about
"Oh, yes," nodded Dorothy. "Reginald has a book all about Indians
and full of pictures - and here's the letter," she ended, and
slipped it into my hand.
Smoothing out its many folds and creases, I read as follows:
To my pail-face brother:
Ere another moon, Spotted Snaik will be upon the war-path, and red
goar shall flo in buckkit-fulls.
"It sounds dreadful, doesn't it?" said Dorothy, hugging her kitten.
"Horrible!" I returned.
"He got it out of the book, you know," she went on, "but I put in
the part about the buckets - a bucket holds such an awful lot, don't
you think? But there's some more on the other page." Obediently I
turned, and read:
'ere another moon, scalps shall dangel at belt of Spotted Snaik, for
in his futsteps lurk deth, and distruksion. But fear not pail-face,
thou art my brother - fairwell.
"There was lots more, but we couldn't get it in," said Dorothy.
Squeezed up into a corner I found this postscript:
If you will come and be an Indian Cheef unkel dick, I will make you
a spear, and you can be Blood-in-the-Eye. He was a fine chap and
nobody could beat him except Spotted Snaik, will you Unkel dick?
"He wants you to write an answer, and I'm to take it to him," said
"Blood-in-the-Eye!" I repeated; "no, I'm afraid not. I shouldn't
object so much to becoming a red-skin - for a time - but
Blood-in-the-Eye! Really, Dorothy, I'm afraid I couldn't manage
"He was very brave," returned Dorothy, "and awfull' strong, and
could - could 'throw his lance with such unerring aim, as to pin
his foe to the nearest tree - in the twinkle of an eye.' That's in
the book, you know."
"There certainly must be a great deal of satisfaction in pinning
one's foe to a tree," I nodded.
"Y-e-e-s, I suppose so," said Dorothy rather dubiously.
"And where is Spotted Snake - I mean, what is he doing?"
"Oh, he's down by the river with his bow and arrow, scouting for
canoes. It was great fun! He shot at a man in a boat - and nearly
hit him, and the man got very angry indeed, so we had to hide among
the bushes, just like real Indians. Oh, it was fine!"
"But your Auntie Lisbeth said you weren't to play near the river,
you know," I said.
"That's what I told him," returned Dorothy, "but he said that
Indians didn't have any aunts, and then I didn't know what to say.
What do you think about it, Uncle Dick?"
"Well," I answered, "now I come to consider, I can't remember ever
having heard of an Indian's aunt."
"Poor things!" said Dorothy, giving the fluffy kitten a kiss between
"Yes, it's hard on them, perhaps, and yet," I added thoughtfully,
"an aunt is sometimes rather a mixed blessing. Still, whether an
Indian possesses an aunt or not, the fact remains that water has an
unpleasant habit of wetting one, and on the whole, I think I'll go
and see what Spotted Snake is up to."
"Then I think I'll come with you a little way," said Dorothy, as I
rose. "You see, I have to get Louise her afternoon's milk."
"And how is Louise?" I inquired, pulling the fluffy kitten's nearest
"Very well, thank you," answered Dorothy demurely; "but oh dear me!
kittens 'are such a constant source of worry and anxiety!' Auntie
Lisbeth sometimes says that about Reginald and me. I wonder what
she would say if we were kittens!"
"Bye the bye, where is your Auntie Lisbeth?" I asked in a strictly
"Well, she's lying in the old boat."
"In the old boat!" I repeated.
"Yes," nodded Dorothy; "when it's nice and warm and sleepy, like
to-day, she takes a book, and a pillow, and a sunshade, and she goes
and lies in the old boat under the Water-stairs. There, just look
at this naughty Louise!" she broke off, as the kitten scrambled up
to her shoulder and stood there, balancing itself very dextrously
with curious angular movements of its tail; "that's because she
thinks I've forgotten her milk, you know; she's dreadfully impatient,
but I suppose I must humour her this once. Good-afternoon!" And,
having given me her hand in her demure, old-fashioned way, Dorothy
hurried off, the kitten still perched upon her shoulder, its tail
jerking spasmodically with her every step.
In a little while I came in view of the Water~stairs, yet although
I paused more than once to look about me, I saw no sign of the Imp.
Thinking he was most probably 'in ambush' somewhere, I continued
my way, whistling an air out of "The Geisha" to attract his notice.
Ten minutes or more elapsed, however, without any sign of him, and
I was already close to the stairs, when I stopped whistling all
at once, and holding my breath, crept forward on tiptoe.
There before me was the old boat, and in it - her cheek upon a
crimson cushion and the sun making a glory of her tumbled hair - was
Lisbeth - asleep.
Being come as near as I dared for fear of waking her, I sat down,
and lighting my pipe, fell to watching her - the up-curving shadow
of her lashes, the gleam of teeth between the scarlet of her parted
lips, and the soft undulation of her bosom. And from the heavy
braids of her hair my glance wandered down to the little tan shoe
peeping at me beneath her skirt, and I called to mind how Goethe
'A pretty foot is not only a continual joy, but it is the one element
of beauty that defies the assaults of Time,'
Sometimes a butterfly hovered past, a bee filled the air with his
drone, or a bird settled for a moment upon the stairs near-by to
preen a ruffled feather, while soft and drowsy with distance came
the ceaseless roar of the weir.
I do not know how long I had sat thus, supremely content, when I
was suddenly aroused by a rustling close at hand.
I looked up sharply, and beheld a head, a head adorned with sundry
feathers, and a face hideously streaked with red and green paint;
but there was no mistaking those golden curls - it was the Imp!
"Hist!" he repeated, bringing out the word with a prolonged hiss,
and then - before I could even guess at his intention - there was
the swift gleam of a knife, a splash of the severed painter, and
caught by the tide the old boat swung out, and was adrift.
The Imp stood gazing on his handiwork with wide eyes, and then as I
leaped to my feet something in my look seemed to frighten him, for
without a word he turned and fled. But all my attention was centred
in the boat, which was drifting slowly into mid-stream with Lisbeth
still fast asleep. And as I watched its sluggish progress, with a
sudden chill I remembered the weir, which foamed and roared only a
short half-mile away. If the boat once got drawn into that - !
Now, I am quite aware that under these circumstances the right and
proper thing for me to have done, would have been to throw aside my
coat, tear off my boots, etc., and "boldly breast the foamy flood."
But I did neither, for the simple reason that once within the
'foamy flood' aforesaid, there would have been very little chance
of my ever getting out again, for - let me confess the fact with
the blush of shame - I am no swimmer.
Yet I was not idle, far otherwise. Having judged the distance
between the drifting boat and the bank, I began running along,
seeking the thing I wanted. And presently, sure enough, I found
it - a great pollard oak, growing upon the edge of the water,
that identical tree with the 'stickie-out' branches which has
already figured in these narratives as the hiding-place of a certain
pair of silk stockings.
Hastily swinging myself up, I got astride the lowest branch, which
projected out over the water. I had distanced the boat by some
hundred yards, and as I sat there I watched its drift, one minute
full of hope, and the next as miserably uncertain. My obvious
intention was to crawl out upon the branch until it bent with
my weight, and so let myself into, or as near the boat as possible.
It was close now, so close that I could see the gleam of Lisbeth's
hair and the point of the little tan shoe. With my eyes on this, I
writhed my way along the bough, which bent more and more as I neared
the end. Here I hung, swaying up and down and to and fro in a highly
unpleasant manner, while I waited the crucial moment.
Never upon this whole round earth did anything creep as that boat
did. There was a majestic deliberation in its progress that
positively maddened me. I remember to have once read an article
somewhere upon the "Sensibility of Material Things," or something
of the sort, which I had forgotten long since, but as I hung there
suspended between heaven and earth, it came back to me with a rush,
and I was perfectly certain that, recognising my precarious position,
that time-worn, ancient boat checked its speed out of "pure
But all things have an end, and so, little by little the blunt bow
crept nearer until it was in the very shade of my tree. Grasping
the branch, I let myself swing at arm's length; and then I found
that I was at least a foot too near the bank. Edging my way,
therefore, still further along the branch, I kicked out in a
desperate endeavour to reach the boat, and, the bough swaying with
me, caught my toe inside the gunwale, drew it under me, and loosing
my grasp, was sprawling upon my hands and knees, but safe aboard.
To pick myself up was the work of a moment, yet scarcely had I done
so, when Lisbeth opened her eyes, and sitting up, stared about her.
"Why - where am I?" she exclaimed.
"On the river," I answered cheerfully. "Glorious afternoon, Lisbeth,
"How-in-the-world did you get here?" she inquired.
"Well," I answered, "I might say I dropped in as it were." Lisbeth
brushed the hair from her temples, and turned to me with an imperious
"Then please take me back at once," she said.
"I would with pleasure," I returned, "only that you forgot to bring
"Why, then, we are adrift!" she said, staring at me with frightened
eyes, and clasping her hands nervously.
"We are," I nodded; "but, then, it's perfect weather for boating,
Lisbeth!" And I began to look about for something that might serve
as a paddle. But the stretchers had disappeared long since - the
old tub was a sheer hulk, so to speak. An attempt to tear up a floor
board resulted only in a broken nail and bleeding fingers; so I
presently desisted, and rolling up my sleeves endeavoured to paddle
with my hands. But finding this equally futile, I resumed my coat,
and took out pipe and tobacco.
"Oh, Dick! is there nothing you can do?" she asked, with a brave
attempt to steady the quiver in her voice.
"With your permission, I'll smoke, Lisbeth."
"But the weir!" she cried; "have you forgotten the weir?"
"No," I answered, shaking my head; "it has a way of obtruding itself
on one's notice - "
"Oh, it sounds hateful - hateful!" she said with a shiver.
"Like a strong wind among trees!" I nodded, as I filled my pipe.
We were approaching a part of the river where it makes a sharp
bend to the right; and well I knew what lay beyond - the row of
posts, painted white, with the foam and bubble of seething water
below. We should round that bend in about ten minutes, I judged;
long before then we might see a boat, to be sure; if not - well,
if the worst happened, I could but do my best; in the meantime I
would smoke a pipe; but I will admit my fingers trembled as I
struck a match.
"It sounds horribly close!" said Lisbeth.
"Sound is very deceptive, you know," I answered.
"Only last month a boat went over, and the man was drowned!"
"Poor chap!" I said. "Of course it's different at night - the river
is awfully deserted then, you know, and - "
"But it happened in broad day light!" said Lisbeth, almost in a
whisper. She was sitting half turned from me, her gaze fixed on
the bend of the river, and by chance her restless hand had found
and begun to fumble with the severed painter.
So we drifted on, watching the gliding banks, while every moment
the roar of the weir grew louder and more threatening.
"Dick," she said suddenly, "we can never pass that awful place
without oars!" and she began to tie knots in, the rope with fingers
that shook pitifully.
"Oh, I don't know!" I returned, with an assumption of ease I was
very far from feeling; "and then, of course, we are bound to meet
a boat or something - "
"But suppose we don't?"
"Oh, well, we aren't there yet - and er - let's talk of fish."
"Ah, Dick," she cried, "how can you treat the matter so lightly
when we may be tossing down there in that awful water so very
soon! We can never pass that weir without oars, and you know it,
and - and - oh, Dick, why did you do it - how could you have been
so mad ?"
"Do what?" I inquired, staring.
With a sudden gesture she rose to her knees and fronted me.
"This!" she cried, and held up the severed painter. "It has been
cut! Oh, Dick! Dick! how could you be so mad."
"Lisbeth !" I exclaimed, "do you mean to say that you think - "
"I know!" she broke in, and turning away, hid her face in her hands.
We were not so very far from the bend now, and seeing this, a sudden
inspiration came upon me, by means of which I might prove her mind
towards me once and for all; and as she kneeled before me with
averted face, I leaned forward and took her hands in mine.
"Lisbeth," I said, "supposing I did cut the boat adrift like a - a
fool - endangering your life for a mad, thoughtless whim - could
you forgive me?"
For a long moment she remained without answering, then very slowly
she raised her head:
"Oh. Dick!" was all she said, but in her eyes I read the wonder of
"But, Lisbeth," I stammered, "could you still love me - even - even
if, through my folly, the worst should happen and we - we - "
"I don't think I shall be so very much afraid, Dick, if you will
hold me close like this," she whispered.
The voice of the weir had swelled into a roar by now, yet I paid
little heed; for me all fear was swallowed up in a great wondering
Dick," she whispered, "you will hold me tight, you w ill not let me
go when - when - "
"Never," I answered; "nothing could ever take you from me now."
As I spoke I raised my eyes, and glancing about beheld something
which altered the whole aspect of affairs - something which changed
tragedy into comedy all in a moment - a boat was coming slowly
round the bend.
"Lisbeth, look up!" With a sigh she obeyed, her clasp tightening on
mine, and a dreadful expectation in her eyes. Then all at once it
was gone, her pale cheeks grew suddenly scarlet, and she slipped
from my arms; and thereafter I noticed how very carefully her eyes
The boat came slowly into view, impelled by one who rowed with
exactly that amount of splashing which speaks the true-born Cockney.
By dint of much exertion and more splashing, he presently ranged
alongside in answer to my hail.
"Wo't - a haccident then?" he inquired.
"Something of the sort," I nodded. "Will you be so kind as to tow
us to the bank yonder?"
"Hanythink to hoblige!" he grinned, and having made fast the painter,
proceeded to splash us to terra-firma. Which done, he grinned again,
waved his hat, and splashed upon his way. I made the boat secure
and turned to Lisbeth. She was staring away towards the weir.
"Lisbeth," I began.
"I thought just now that - that it was the end!" she said, and
"And at such times," I added, "one sometimes says things one would
not have said under ordinary circumstances. My dear, I quite
understand-quite, and I'll try to forget - you needn't fear."
"Do you think you can?" she asked, turning to look at me.
"I can but try," I answered. Now as I spoke I wasn't sure, but I
thought I saw the pale ghost of the dimple by her mouth.
We walked back side by side along the river-path, very silently,
for the most part, yet more than once I caught her regarding me
covertly and with a puzzled air.
"Well?" I said at last, tentatively.
"I was wondering why you did it, Dick? Oh, ii was mean! cruel!
wicked! How could you ?"
"Oh, well"-and I shrugged my shoulders, anathematising the Imp
mentally the while.
"If I hadn't noticed that the rope was freshly cut, I should have
thought it an accident," she went on."
"Naturally!" I said."
"And then, again, how came you in the boat?""
"To be sure!" I nodded."
Still, I can scarcely believe that you would willfully jeopardise
both our lives - my life!"
"A man who would do such a thing," I exclaimed, carried away by the
heat of the moment, "would be a - a - "
"Yes," said Lisbeth quickly, "he would."
" -And utterly beyond the pale of all forgiveness!"
"Yes," said Lisbeth, "of course."
"And," I was beginning again, but meeting her searching glance,
stopped. "And you forgave me, Lisbeth," I ended.
"Did I?" she said, with raised brows.
"Not that I remember."
"In the boat?"
"I never said so?"
"Not in words, perhaps, but you implied as much." Lisbeth had the
grace to blush.
"Do I understand that I am not forgiven after all?"
"Not until I know why you did such a mad, thoughtless trick," she
answered, with that determined set of her chin which I knew so well.
That I should thus shoulder the responsibility for the Imp's
misdeeds was ridiculous, and wrong as it was unjust, for if ever
boy deserved punishment that boy was the Imp. And yet, probably
because he was the Imp, or because of that school-boy honour which
forbids "sneaking," and which I carried with me still, I held my
peace; seeing which, Lisbeth turned and left me.
I stood where I was, with head bent in an attitude suggestive of
innocence, broken hopes, and gentle resignation, but in vain; she
never once looked back. Still, martyr though I was, the knowledge
that I had immolated myself upon the altar of friendship filled me
with a sense of conscious virtue that I found not ill-pleasing.
Howbeit, seeing I am but human after all, I sat down and re-filling
my pipe, fell once more anathematising the Imp.
A small shape flittered from behind an adjacent tree, and lo! the
subject of my thoughts stood before me.
Imp' I said "come here." He obeyed readily. "When you cut that
rope and set your Auntie Lisbeth adrift, you didn't remember the
man who was drowned in the weir last month, did you?"
"No!" he answered, staring.
"Of course not," I nodded; "but all the same it is not your fault
that your Auntie Lisbeth is not drowned - just as he was,"
"Oh!" exclaimed the Imp, and his beloved bow slipped from his
"Imp," I went on, "it was a wicked thing to cut that rope, a mean,
cruel trick, Don't you think so?"
"I 'specks it was, Uncle Dick."
"Don't you think you ought to be punished?" He nodded. "Very
well," I answered, "I'll punish you myself. Go and cut me a nice,
straight switch," and I handed him my open penknife. Round-eyed,
the Imp obeyed, and for a space there was a prodigious cracking
and snapping of sticks. In a little while he returned with three,
also the blade of my knife was broken, for which he was profusely
"Now," I said as I selected the weapon fittest for the purpose, "I
am going to strike you hard on either hand with this stick that is,
if you think you deserve it."
"Was Aunt Lisbeth nearly drowned - really ?" he inquired.
"Very nearly, and was only saved by a chance."
"All right, Uncle Dick, hit me," he said, and held out his hand.
The stick whizzed and fell - once - twice. I saw his face grow
scarlet and the tears leap to his eyes, but he uttered no sound.
"Did it hurt very much, my Imp?" I inquired, as I tossed the stick
aside. He nodded, not trusting himself to speak, while I turned
to light my pipe, wasting three matches quite fruitlessly.
"Uncle Dick," he burst out at last, struggling manfully against his
sobs, "I - I'm awfull' - sorry - "
"Oh, ifs all right now, Imp. Shake hands!" Joyfully the little,
grimy fingers clasped mine, and from that moment I think there grew
up between us a new understanding.
"Why, Imp, my darling, you're crying!" exclaimed a voice, and with
a rustle of skirts Lisbeth was down before him on her knees.
"I know I am - 'cause I'm awfull' sorry - an' Uncle Dick's whipped
my hands - an' I'm glad!"
"Whipped your hands?' cried Lisbeth, clasping him closer, and
glaring at me, "Whipped your hands - how dare he! What for?"
"'Cause I cut the rope an' let the boat go away with you, an' you
might have been drowned dead in the weir, an' I'm awfull' glad
Uncle Dick whipped me."
"0-h-h!" exclaimed Lisbeth, and it was a very long drawn "oh!" indeed.
"I don't know what made me do it," continued the imp. "I 'specks
it was my new knife - it was so nice an sharp, you know."
"Well, it's all right now, my Imp," I said, fumbling for a match
in a singularly clumsy manner. "If you ask me, I think we are all
better friends than ever - or should be. I know I should be fonder
of your Auntie Lisbeth even than before, and take greater care of
her, if I were you. And - and now take her in to tea, my Imp, and
- and see that she has plenty to eat," and lifting my hat I turned
away. But Lisbeth was beside me, and her hand was on my arm before
I had gone a yard.
"We are having tea in the same old place - under the trees. If you
would care to - to - would you?"
"Yes, do - oh do, Uncle Dick!"cried the Imp. "I'll go and tell Jane
to set a place for you," and he bounded off.
"I didn't hit him very hard," I said, breaking a somewhat awkward
silence; "but you see there are some things a gentleman cannot do.
I think he understands now."
"Oh, Dick!" she said very softly; "and to think I could imagine you
had done such a thing - you; and to think that you should let me
think you had done such a thing - and all to shield that Imp? Oh,
Dick! no wonder he is so fond of you. He never talks of any one but
you - I grow quite jealous sometimes. But, Dick, how did you get
into that boat?"
"By means of a tree with 'stickie-out' branches."
"Do you mean to say - "
"That, as I told you before, I dropped in, as it were."
"But supposing you had slipped?"
"But I didn't."
"And you can't swim a stroke!"
"Not that I know of."
"Oh, Dick! can you ever forgive me?"
"On three conditions."
"First, that you let me remember everything you said to me while we
were drifting down to the river."
"That depends, Dick. And the second?"
"The second lies in the fact that not far from the village of Down,
in Kent, there stands an old house - a quaint old place that is
badly in want of some one to live in it - an old house that is
lonely for a woman's sweet presence and gentle, busy hands, Lisbeth!"
"And the third?" she asked very softly.
"Surely you can guess that?"
"No, I can't, and, besides, there's Dorothy coming - and - oh, Dick!"
"Why, Auntie," exclaimed Dorothy, as she came up, "how red you are!
I knew you'd get sunburned, lying in that old boat without a parasol!
But, then, she will do it, Uncle Dick - oh, she will do it!"
Everybody knew old Jasper Trent, the Crimean Veteran who had helped
to beat the "Roosians and the Proosians," and who, so it was rumored,
had more wounds upon his worn, bent body than there were months in
The whole village was proud of old Jasper, proud of his age, proud
of his wounds, and proud of the medals that shone resplendent upon
his shrunken breast.
Any day he might have been seen hobbling along by the river, or
pottering among the flowers in his little garden, but oftener still
sitting on the bench in the sunshine beside the door of the "Three
Indeed, they made a fitting pair, the worn old soldier and the
ancient inn, alike both long behind the times, dreaming of the past,
rather than the future; which seemed to me like an invisible bond
between them. Thus, when old Jasper fell ill and taking to his bed
had it moved opposite the window where he could lie with his eyes
upon the battered gables of the inn - I for one could understand
The Three Jolly Anglers is indeed ancient, its early records long
since lost beneath the dust of centuries; yet the years have but
served to mellow it. Men have lived and died, nations have waxed
and waned, still it stands, all unchanged beside the river, watching
the Great Tragedy which we call "Life" with that same look of supreme
wisdom, that half-waggish, half-kindly air, which I have already
mentioned once before.
I think such inns as this must extend some subtle influence upon
those who meet regularly within their walls - these Sons of the Soil,
horny-handed, and for the most part grey of head and bent with over
much following of the plough. Quiet of voice are they, and
profoundly sedate of gesture, while upon their wrinkled brows there
sits that spirit of calm content which it is given so few of us to
Chief among these, and held in much respect, was old Jasper Trent.
Within their circle he had been wont to sit ensconced in his
elbow-chair beside the hearth, his by long use and custom, and not
to be usurped; and while the smoke rose slowly from their pipe-bowls,
and the ale foamed in tankards at their elbows, he would recount
some tale of battle and sudden death - now in the freezing trenches
before Sebastopol, now upon the blood-stained heights of Inkermann.
Yet, and I noticed it was always towards the end of his second
tankard, the old man would lose the thread of his story, whatever
it might be, and take up the topic of "The Bye Jarge."
I was at first naturally perplexed as to whom he could mean, until
Mr. Amos Baggett, the landlord, informed me on the Quiet that the
"bye Jarge" was none other than old Jasper's only son - a man now
some forty years of age - who, though promising well in his youth;
had "gone wrong" - and was at that moment serving a long term of
imprisonment for burglary; further, that upon the day of his son's
conviction old Jasper had had a "stroke," and was never quite the
same after, all recollection of the event being completely blotted
from his mind, so that he persisted in thinking and speaking of his
son as still a boy.
"That bye were a wonder!" he would say, looking round with a
kindling eye; "went away to make 'is fortun' 'e did - oh! 'e were a
gen'us were that bye Jarge! You, Amos Baggett, were 'e a gen'us or
were 'e not."
"'E were!" Mr. Baggett would answer, with a slow nod.
"Look'ee, sir, do'ee see that theer clock?" - and he would point
with a bony, tremulous finger - 'stopped it were - got sum'mat wrong
wi' its inn'ards - wouldn't stir a finger - dead it were! But that
bye Jarge 'e see it 'e did - give it a look over 'e did, an' wi' nout
but 'is two 'ands set it a-goin' good as ever: You, Silas Madden, you
remember as 'e done it wi' 'is two 'ands?"
"'Is two 'ands!" Silas would repeat solemnly.
"An' it's gone ever since!" old Jasper would croak triumphantly. "Oh!
'e were a gen'us were my bye Jarge. 'Ell come a-marchin' back to 'is
old feyther, some day, wi' 'is pockets stuffed full o' money an'
bank-notes -I knaw - I knaw, old Jasper bean't a fule."
And herewith, liftng up his old, cracked voice, he would strike up
"The British Grenadiers," in which the rest would presently join
full lustily, waving their long-stemmed pipes in unison.
So the old fellow would sit, singing the praises of his scapegrace
son, while his hearers wou1d nod solemn heads, fostering old
Jasper's innocent delusion for the sake of his white hairs and the
medals upon his breast.
But now, he was down with "the rheumatics," and from what Lisbeth
told me when I met her on her way to and from his cottage, it was
rather more than likely that the high-backed elbow-chair would know
him no more. Upon the old fellow's illness, Lisbeth had promptly
set herself to see that he was made comfortable, for Jasper was a
lonely old man - had installed a competent nurse beside him, and
made it a custom morning and evening to go and see that all was
well. It was for this reason that I sat upon the Shrubbery gate
towards nine o'clock of a certain evening, swinging my legs and
listening for the sound of her step along the path. In the fulness
of time she came, and getting off my perch, I took the heavy basket
from her arm, as was usual.
"Dick," she said as we walked on side by side, "really I'm getting
quite worried about that Imp."
"What has he been up to this time?" I inquired.
"I'm afraid he must be ill."
"He looked anything but ill yesterday," I answered reassuringly.
"Yes, I know he looks healthy enough," said Lisbeth, wrinkling her
brows; "but lately he has developed such an enormous appetite. Oh,
Dick, it's awful!"
"My poor girl," I retorted, shaking my head, "the genus 'Boy' is
distinguished by the two attributes, dirt and appetite. You should
know that by this time. I myself have harrowing recollections of
huge piles of bread and butter, of vast slabs of cake - damp and
'soggy,' and of mysterious hue - of glutinous mixtures purporting
to be 'stick-jaw,' one inch of which was warranted to render coherent
speech impossible for ten minutes at least. And then the joy of
bolting things fiercely in the shade of the pantry, with one's ears
on the stretch for foes! I sometimes find myself sighing over the
remembrance, even in these days. Don't worry about the Imp's
appetite; believe me, it is quite unnecessary."
"Oh, but I can't help it," said Lisbeth; "it seems somehow so - so
weird. For instance, this morning for breakfast he had first his
usual porridge, then five pieces of bread and butter, and after that
a large slice of ham - quite a big piece, Dick! And he ate it all
so quickly. I turned away to ask Jane for the toast, and when I
looked at his plate again it was empty, he had eaten every bit, and
even asked for more. Of course I refused, so he tried to get Dorothy
to give him hers in exchange for a broken pocket-knife. It was just
the same at dinner. He ate the whole leg of a chicken, and after
that a wing, and then some of the breast, and would have gone on
until he had finished everything, I'm sure, if I hadn't stopped him,
though I let him eat as long as I dared. Then at tea he had six
slices of bread and butter, one after the other, not counting toast
and cake. He has been like this for the last two days - and - oh,
yes, cook told me to-night that she found him actually eating dry
bread just before he went up to bed. Dry bread-think of it! Oh,
Dick, what can be the matter with him?"
"It certainly sounds mysterious," I answered, "especially as regards
the dry bread; but that of itself suggests a theory, which, as the
detective says in the story, 'I will not divulge just yet;' only
don't worry, Lisbeth, the Imp is all right."
Being now come to o1d Jasper's cottage, which stands a little apart
from the village in a by-lane, Lisbeth paused and held out her hand
for the basket.
"Don't wait for me to-night," she said, "I ordered Peter to fetch me
in the dog-cart; you see, I may be late."
"Is the old chap so very ill ?"
"Very, very ill, Dick."
"Poor old Jasper!" I exclaimed.
"Poor old Jasper!" she sighed, and her eyes were brimful of
"He is very old and feeble," I said, drawing her close, under
pretence of handing her the basket; "and yet with your gentle hand
to smooth my pillow, and your eyes to look into mine, I could
almost wish - "
"Peter or no Peter, I think I'll wait - unless you really wish me
to say 'good-night' now?" But with a dexterous turn she eluded me,
and waving her hand hurried up the rose-bordered path.
An hour, or even two, does not seem so very long when one's mind
is so full of happy thoughts as mine was. Thus, I was filling my
pipe and looking philosophically about for a likely spot in which
to keep my vigil, when I was aware of a rustling close by, and
as I watched a small figure stepped from the shadow of the hedge
out into the moonlight.
"Hallo, Uncle Dick!" said a voice.
"Imp !" I exclaimed, "what does this mean? You ought to have been
in bed over an hour ago !"
"So I was," be answered with his guileless smile; "only I got up
again, you know."
"So it seems!" I nodded.
"An' I followed you an' Auntie Lisbeth all the way, too."
"Did you, though; by George!"
"Yes, an' I dropped one of the parcels an' lost a sausage, but you
"Lost a sausage!" I repeated, staring.
"Oh, it's all right, you know," he hastened to assure me; "I found
it again, an' it wasn't hurt a bit,"
"Imp," I said sternly, "come here, I want to talk to you."
"Just a minute, Uncle Dick, while I get my parcels. I want you to
help me to carry them, please," and with the words he dived under
the hedge to emerge a moment later with his arms full of unwieldy
packages, which he laid at my feet in a row.
"Why, what on earth have you got there, Imp ?"
"This," he said, pointing to the first, "is jam an' ham an' a
piece of bread; this next one is cakes an' sardines, an' this one
is bread-an'-butter that I saved from my tea."
"Quite a collection !" I nodded. "Suppose you tell me what you
mean to do with them."
"Well, they're for my outlaw. You remember the other day I wanted
to play at being outlaws? Well, two days ago, as I was tracking a
base caitiff through the woods with my trusty bow and arrow, I found
a real outlaw in the old boat-house."
"Ah! and what is he like?" I inquired.
"Oh, just like an outlaw - only funny, you know, an' most awfull'
hungry. Are all outlaws always so very hungry, Uncle Dick?"
"I believe they generally are, Imp. And he looks 'funny,' you say?"
"Yes; I mean his clothes are funny - all over marks like little
crosses, only they aren't crosses."
"Like this ?" I inquired; and picking up a piece of stick I drew a
broad-arrow upon the path.
"Yes, just like that !" cried the Imp in a tone of amazement "How
did you know? You're awfull' clever, Uncle Dick!"
"And he is in the old boat-house, is he?" I said, as I picked up
an armful of packages. "'Lead on, MacDuff!'"
"Mind that parcel, please, Uncle Dick; it's the one I dropped an'
lost the sausage out of - there one trying to escape now!"
Having reduced the recalcitrant sausage to a due sense of law and
order, we proceeded toward the old boat-house - a dismal, dismantled
affair, some half mile or so downstream.
"And what sort of a fellow is your outlaw, Imp?"
"Well, I spected he'd be awfull' fierce an' want to hold me for
ransom, but he didn't; he's quite quiet, for an outlaw, with grey
hair and big eyes, an' eats an awful lot."
"So you saved him your breakfast and dinner, did you?"
"Oh, yes; an' my tea, too. Auntie Lisbeth got awfull' angry 'cause
she said I ate too fast; an' Dorothy was frightened an' wouldn't
sit by me 'cause she was 'fraid I'd burst - so frightfully silly of
"By the way, you didn't tell me what you have there," I said,
pointing to a huge, misshapen, newspaper parcel that he carried
beneath one arm.
"Oh, it's a shirt, an' a coat, an' a pair of trousers of Peter's."
"Did Peter give them to you?"
"'Course not; I took them. You see, my outlaw got tired of being
an outlaw, so he asked me to get him some 'togs,' meaning clothes,
you know, so I went an' looked in the stable an' found these."
"You don't mean to say that you stole them, Imp?"
"'Course not!" he answered reproachfully. "I left Peter sixpence
an' a note to say I would pay him for them when I got my pocket-money,
so help me, Sam!"
"Ah, to be sure!" I nodded. We were close to the old boat-house now,
and upon the Imp's earnest solicitations I handed over my bundles and
hid behind a tree, because, as he pointed out, "his outlaw might
not like me to see him just at first."
Having opened each package with great care and laid out their
contents upon a log near by, the Imp approached the ruined building
with signs of the most elaborate caution, and gave three loud, double
knocks. Now casting my eyes about, I espied a short, heavy stick,
and picking it up, poised it in my hand ready in the event of
The situation was decidedly unpleasant, I confess, for I expected
nothing less then to be engaged in a desperate hand-to-hand struggle
within the next few minutes; therefore, I waited in some suspense,
straining my eyes to wards the shadows with my fingers clasped tight
upon my bludgeon.
Then all at once I saw a shape, ghostly and undefined, flit swiftly
from the gloom of the boat-house, and next moment a convict was
standing beside the Imp, gaunt and tall and wild-looking in the
moonlight. His hideous clothes, stained with mud and the green
slime of his hiding-places, hung upon him in tatters, and his
eyes, deep-sunken in his pallid face, gleamed with an unnatural
brightness as he glanced swiftly about him - a miserable, hunted
creature, worn by fatigue, and pinched with want and suffering.
"Did ye get 'em, sonny?" he inquired, in a hoarse, rasping voice.
"Aye, aye, comrade," returned the Imp; "all's well!"
"Bless ye for that, sonny !" he exclaimed, and with the words he
fell to upon the food devouring each morsel as it was handed to
him with a frightful voracity, while his burning, restless eyes
glared about him, never still for a moment.
Now as I noticed his wasted form and shaking limbs, I knew that
I could master him with one hand. My weapon slipped from my
slackened grasp, but at the sound, slight though it was, he
turned and began to run. He had not gone five yards, however,
when he tripped and fell, and before he could rise I was standing
over him. He lay there at my feet, perfectly still, blinking up
at me with red-rimmed eyes.
"All right, master," he said at last; "you've got me!" But with
the words he suddenly rolled himself towards the river, yet as he
struggled to his knees I pinned him down again.
"Oh, sir! you won't go for to give me up to them?" he panted. "I've
never done you no wrong. For God's sake don't send me back to it
"'Course not," cried the Imp, laying his hand upon my arm; "this is
only Uncle Dick. He won't hurt you, will you, Uncle Dick?"
"That depends," I answered, keeping tight hold of the tattered coat
collar. "Tell me, what brings you hanging round here?"
"Used to live up in these parts once, master."
"Who are you?"
"Convict 49, as broke jail over a week ago an' would ha' died but
for the little 'un there," and he nodded towards the Imp.
The convict, as I say, was a tall, thin fellow, with a cadaverous
face lined with suffering, while the hair at his temples was
prematurely white. And as I looked at him, it occurred to me
that the suffering which had set its mark so deeply upon him was
not altogether the grosser anguish of the body. Now for our
criminal who can still feel morally there is surely hope. I think
so, anyhow! For a long moment there was silence, while I stared
into the haggard face below, and the Imp looked from one to the
other of us, utterly at a loss.
"I wonder if you ever heard tell of 'the bye Jarge,'" I said
The convict started so violently that the jacket tore in my grasp.
"How - how did ye know - ?" he gasped, and stared at me with
"I think I know your father."
"My feyther," he muttered; "old Jasper - 'e ain't dead, then?"
"Not yet," I answered; "come, get up and I'll tell you more while
you eat." Mechanically he obeyed, sitting with his glowing eyes
fixed upon my face the while I told him of old Jasper's lapse of
memory and present illness.
"Then 'e don't remember as I'm a thief an' convict 49, master?"
"No; he thinks and speaks of you always as a boy and a pattern son."
The man uttered a strange cry, and flinging himself upon his knees
buried his face in his hands.
"Come," I said, tapping him on the shoulder; "take off those things,"
and nodding to the Imp, he immediately began unwrapping Peter's
"What, master," cried the convict, starting up, "are you goin' to
let me see 'im afore you give me up?"
"Yes I nodded; "only be quick? In less than live minutes the
tattered prison dress was lying in the bed of the river, and we
were making our way along the path towards old Jasper's cottage.
The convict spoke but once, and that as we reached the cottage
gate: "is he very ill, sir?"
"Very ill," I said. He stood for a moment, inhaling the fragrance
of the roses in great breaths, and staring about him; then with an
abrupt gesture he opened the little gate, and gliding up the path
with his furtive, stealthy footstep knocked at the door. For some
half hour the Imp and I strolled to and fro in the moonlight,
during which he related to me much about his outlaw and the many
"ruses he had employed to get him provision." How upon one
occasion, to escape the watchful eyes of Auntie Lisbeth, he had
been compelled to hide a slice of jam-tart in the trousers-pockets,
to the detriment of each; how Dorothy had watched him everywhere in
the momentary expectation of "something happening;" how Jane and
Peter and cook would stand and stare and shake their heads at him
because he ate such a lot, "an' the worst of it was I was aw full'
hungry all the time, you know, Uncle Dick!" This and much more he
told me as we waited there in the moonlight.
At last the cottage door opened and the convict came out. He did
not join us at once, but remained staring away towards the river,
though I saw him jerk his sleeve across his eyes more than once in
his furtive, stealthy fashion; but when at last he came up to us
his face was firm and resolute.
"Did you see old Jasper?" I asked.
"Yes, sir; I saw him."
"Is he any better?"
"Much better - he died in my arms, sir. An' now I'm ready to go
back, there's a police-station in the village." He stopped suddenly
and turned to stare back at the lighted windows of the cottage,
and when he spoke again his voice sounded hoarser than ever.
"Thought I'd come back from furrin parts, 'e did, wi' my pockets
stuffed full o' gold an' bank-notes. Called me 'is bye Jarge, 'e
did!" and again he brushed his cuff across his eyes.