Part 3 out of 6
'Well, I've got to take care of the cart and 'orses, I have,' says
he. 'I don't take up with no runagate vagabones, you see, else.'
'I ought to thank you for your touching confidence,' said I,
approaching carelessly nearer as I spoke. 'But I admit the road is
solitary hereabouts, and no doubt an accident soon happens. Little
fear of anything of the kind with you! I like you for it, like
your prudence, like that pastoral shyness of disposition. But why
not put it out of my power to hurt? Why not open the door and
bestow me here in the box, or whatever you please to call it?' And
I laid my hand demonstratively on the body of the cart.
He had been timorous before; but at this, he seemed to lose the
power of speech a moment, and stared at me in a perfect enthusiasm
'Why not?' I continued. 'The idea is good. I should be safe in
there if I were the monster Williams himself. The great thing is
to have me under lock and key. For it does lock; it is locked
now,' said I, trying the door. 'A propos, what have you for a
cargo? It must be precious.'
He found not a word to answer.
Rat-tat-tat, I went upon the door like a well-drilled footman.
'Any one at home?' I said, and stooped to listen.
There came out of the interior a stifled sneeze, the first of an
uncontrollable paroxysm; another followed immediately on the heels
of it; and then the driver turned with an oath, laid the lash upon
the horses with so much energy that they found their heels again,
and the whole equipage fled down the road at a gallop.
At the first sound of the sneeze, I had started back like a man
shot. The next moment, a great light broke on my mind, and I
understood. Here was the secret of Fenn's trade: this was how he
forwarded the escape of prisoners, hawking them by night about the
country in his covered cart. There had been Frenchmen close to me;
he who had just sneezed was my countryman, my comrade, perhaps
already my friend! I took to my heels in pursuit. 'Hold hard!' I
shouted. 'Stop! It's all right! Stop!' But the driver only
turned a white face on me for a moment, and redoubled his efforts,
bending forward, plying his whip and crying to his horses; these
lay themselves down to the gallop and beat the highway with flying
hoofs; and the cart bounded after them among the ruts and fled in a
halo of rain and spattering mud. But a minute since, and it had
been trundling along like a lame cow; and now it was off as though
drawn by Apollo's coursers. There is no telling what a man can do,
until you frighten him!
It was as much as I could do myself, though I ran valiantly, to
maintain my distance; and that (since I knew my countrymen so near)
was become a chief point with me. A hundred yards farther on the
cart whipped out of the high-road into a lane embowered with
leafless trees, and became lost to view. When I saw it next, the
driver had increased his advantage considerably, but all danger was
at an end, and the horses had again declined into a hobbling walk.
Persuaded that they could not escape me, I took my time, and
recovered my breath as I followed them.
Presently the lane twisted at right angles, and showed me a gate
and the beginning of a gravel sweep; and a little after, as I
continued to advance, a red brick house about seventy years old, in
a fine style of architecture, and presenting a front of many
windows to a lawn and garden. Behind, I could see outhouses and
the peaked roofs of stacks; and I judged that a manor-house had in
some way declined to be the residence of a tenant-farmer, careless
alike of appearances and substantial comfort. The marks of neglect
were visible on every side, in flower-bushes straggling beyond the
borders, in the ill-kept turf, and in the broken windows that were
incongruously patched with paper or stuffed with rags. A thicket
of trees, mostly evergreen, fenced the place round and secluded it
from the eyes of prying neighbours. As I came in view of it, on
that melancholy winter's morning, in the deluge of the falling
rain, and with the wind that now rose in occasional gusts and
hooted over the old chimneys, the cart had already drawn up at the
front-door steps, and the driver was already in earnest discourse
with Mr. Burchell Fenn. He was standing with his hands behind his
back--a man of a gross, misbegotten face and body, dewlapped like a
bull and red as a harvest moon; and in his jockey cap, blue coat
and top boots, he had much the air of a good, solid tenant-farmer.
The pair continued to speak as I came up the approach, but received
me at last in a sort of goggling silence. I had my hat in my hand.
'I have the pleasure of addressing Mr. Burchell Fenn?' said I.
'The same, sir,' replied Mr. Fenn, taking off his jockey cap in
answer to my civility, but with the distant look and the tardy
movements of one who continues to think of something else. 'And
who may you be?' he asked.
'I shall tell you afterwards,' said I. 'Suffice it, in the
meantime, that I come on business.'
He seemed to digest my answer laboriously, his mouth gaping, his
little eyes never straying from my face.
'Suffer me to point out to you, sir,' I resumed, 'that this is a
devil of a wet morning; and that the chimney corner, and possibly a
glass of something hot, are clearly indicated.'
Indeed, the rain was now grown to be a deluge; the gutters of the
house roared; the air was filled with the continuous, strident
crash. The stolidity of his face, on which the rain streamed, was
far from reassuring me. On the contrary, I was aware of a distinct
qualm of apprehension, which was not at all lessened by a view of
the driver, craning from his perch to observe us with the
expression of a fascinated bird. So we stood silent, when the
prisoner again began to sneeze from the body of the cart; and at
the sound, prompt as a transformation, the driver had whipped up
his horses and was shambling off round the corner of the house, and
Mr. Fenn, recovering his wits with a gulp, had turned to the door
'Come in, come in, sir,' he said. 'I beg your pardon, sir; the
lock goes a trifle hard.'
Indeed, it took him a surprising time to open the door, which was
not only locked on the outside, but the lock seemed rebellious from
disuse; and when at last he stood back and motioned me to enter
before him, I was greeted on the threshold by that peculiar and
convincing sound of the rain echoing over empty chambers. The
entrance-hall, in which I now found myself, was of a good size and
good proportions; potted plants occupied the corners; the paved
floor was soiled with muddy footprints and encumbered with straw;
on a mahogany hall-table, which was the only furniture, a candle
had been stuck and suffered to burn down--plainly a long while ago,
for the gutterings were green with mould. My mind, under these new
impressions, worked with unusual vivacity. I was here shut off
with Fenn and his hireling in a deserted house, a neglected garden,
and a wood of evergreens: the most eligible theatre for a deed of
darkness. There came to me a vision of two flagstones raised in
the hall-floor, and the driver putting in the rainy afternoon over
my grave, and the prospect displeased me extremely. I felt I had
carried my pleasantry as far as was safe; I must lose no time in
declaring my true character, and I was even choosing the words in
which I was to begin, when the hall-door was slammed-to behind me
with a bang, and I turned, dropping my stick as I did so, in time--
and not any more than time--to save my life.
The surprise of the onslaught and the huge weight of my assailant
gave him the advantage. He had a pistol in his right hand of a
portentous size, which it took me all my strength to keep
deflected. With his left arm he strained me to his bosom, so that
I thought I must be crushed or stifled. His mouth was open, his
face crimson, and he panted aloud with hard animal sounds. The
affair was as brief as it was hot and sudden. The potations which
had swelled and bloated his carcase had already weakened the
springs of energy. One more huge effort, that came near to
overpower me, and in which the pistol happily exploded, and I felt
his grasp slacken and weakness come on his joints; his legs
succumbed under his weight, and he grovelled on his knees on the
stone floor. 'Spare me!' he gasped.
I had not only been abominably frightened; I was shocked besides:
my delicacy was in arms, like a lady to whom violence should have
been offered by a similar monster. I plucked myself from his
horrid contact, I snatched the pistol--even discharged, it was a
formidable weapon--and menaced him with the butt. 'Spare you!' I
cried, 'you beast!'
His voice died in his fat inwards, but his lips still vehemently
framed the same words of supplication. My anger began to pass off,
but not all my repugnance; the picture he made revolted me, and I
was impatient to be spared the further view of it.
'Here,' said I, 'stop this performance: it sickens me. I am not
going to kill you, do you hear? I have need of you.'
A look of relief, that I could almost have called beautiful, dawned
on his countenance. 'Anything--anything you wish,' said he.
Anything is a big word, and his use of it brought me for a moment
to a stand. 'Why, what do you mean?' I asked. 'Do you mean that
you will blow the gaff on the whole business?'
He answered me Yes with eager asseverations.
'I know Monsieur de Saint-Yves is in it; it was through his papers
we traced you,' I said. 'Do you consent to make a clean breast of
'I do--I will!' he cried. 'The 'ole crew of 'em; there's good
names among 'em. I'll be king's evidence.'
'So that all shall hang except yourself? You damned villain!' I
broke out. 'Understand at once that I am no spy or thief-taker. I
am a kinsman of Monsieur de St. Yves--here in his interest. Upon
my word, you have put your foot in it prettily, Mr. Burchell Fenn!
Come, stand up; don't grovel there. Stand up, you lump of
He scrambled to his feet. He was utterly unmanned, or it might
have gone hard with me yet; and I considered him hesitating, as,
indeed, there was cause. The man was a double-dyed traitor: he
had tried to murder me, and I had first baffled his endeavours and
then exposed and insulted him. Was it wise to place myself any
longer at his mercy? With his help I should doubtless travel more
quickly; doubtless also far less agreeably; and there was
everything to show that it would be at a greater risk. In short, I
should have washed my hands of him on the spot, but for the
temptation of the French officers, whom I knew to be so near, and
for whose society I felt so great and natural an impatience. If I
was to see anything of my countrymen, it was clear I had first of
all to make my peace with Mr. Fenn; and that was no easy matter.
To make friends with any one implies concessions on both sides; and
what could I concede? What could I say of him, but that he had
proved himself a villain and a fool, and the worse man?
'Well,' said I, 'here has been rather a poor piece of business,
which I dare say you can have no pleasure in calling to mind; and,
to say truth, I would as readily forget it myself. Suppose we try.
Take back your pistol, which smells very ill; put it in your pocket
or wherever you had it concealed. There! Now let us meet for the
first time.--Give you good morning, Mr. Fenn! I hope you do very
well. I come on the recommendation of my kinsman, the Vicomte de
'Do you mean it?' he cried. 'Do you mean you will pass over our
'Why, certainly!' said I. 'It shows you are a bold fellow, who may
be trusted to forget the business when it comes to the point.
There is nothing against you in the little scrimmage, unless that
your courage is greater than your strength. You are not so young
as you once were, that is all.'
'And I beg of you, sir, don't betray me to the Vis-count,' he
pleaded. 'I'll not deny but what my 'eart failed me a trifle; but
it was only a word, sir, what anybody might have said in the 'eat
of the moment, and over with it.'
'Certainly,' said I. 'That is quite my own opinion.'
'The way I came to be anxious about the Vis-count,' he continued,
'is that I believe he might be induced to form an 'asty judgment.
And the business, in a pecuniary point of view, is all that I could
ask; only trying, sir--very trying. It's making an old man of me
before my time. You might have observed yourself, sir, that I
'aven't got the knees I once 'ad. The knees and the breathing,
there's where it takes me. But I'm very sure, sir, I address a
gentleman as would be the last to make trouble between friends.'
'I am sure you do me no more than justice,' said I; 'and I shall
think it quite unnecessary to dwell on any of these passing
circumstances in my report to the Vicomte.'
'Which you do favour him (if you'll excuse me being so bold as to
mention it) exac'ly!' said he. 'I should have known you anywheres.
May I offer you a pot of 'ome-brewed ale, sir? By your leave!
This way, if you please. I am 'eartily grateful--'eartily pleased
to be of any service to a gentleman like you, sir, which is related
to the Vis-count, and really a fambly of which you might well be
proud! Take care of the step, sir. You have good news of 'is
'ealth, I trust? as well as that of Monseer the Count?'
God forgive me! the horrible fellow was still puffing and panting
with the fury of his assault, and already he had fallen into an
obsequious, wheedling familiarity like that of an old servant,--
already he was flattering me on my family connections!
I followed him through the house into the stable-yard, where I
observed the driver washing the cart in a shed. He must have heard
the explosion of the pistol. He could not choose but hear it: the
thing was shaped like a little blunderbuss, charged to the mouth,
and made a report like a piece of field artillery. He had heard,
he had paid no attention; and now, as we came forth by the back-
door, he raised for a moment a pale and tell-tale face that was as
direct as a confession. The rascal had expected to see Fenn come
forth alone; he was waiting to be called on for that part of
sexton, which I had already allotted to him in fancy.
I need not detain the reader very long with any description of my
visit to the back-kitchen; of how we mulled our ale there, and
mulled it very well; nor of how we sat talking, Fenn like an old,
faithful, affectionate dependant, and I--well! I myself fallen
into a mere admiration of so much impudence, that transcended
words, and had very soon conquered animosity. I took a fancy to
the man, he was so vast a humbug. I began to see a kind of beauty
in him, his aplomb was so majestic. I never knew a rogue to cut so
fat; his villainy was ample, like his belly, and I could scarce
find it in my heart to hold him responsible for either. He was
good enough to drop into the autobiographical; telling me how the
farm, in spite of the war and the high prices, had proved a
disappointment; how there was 'a sight of cold, wet land as you
come along the 'igh-road'; how the winds and rains and the seasons
had been misdirected, it seemed 'o' purpose'; how Mrs. Fenn had
died--'I lost her coming two year agone; a remarkable fine woman,
my old girl, sir! if you'll excuse me,' he added, with a burst of
humility. In short, he gave me an opportunity of studying John
Bull, as I may say, stuffed naked--his greed, his usuriousness, his
hypocrisy, his perfidy of the back-stairs, all swelled to the
superlative--such as was well worth the little disarray and fluster
of our passage in the hall.
CHAPTER XIII--I MEET TWO OF MY COUNTRYMEN
As soon as I judged it safe, and that was not before Burchell Fenn
had talked himself back into his breath and a complete good humour,
I proposed he should introduce me to the French officers,
henceforth to become my fellow-passengers. There were two of them,
it appeared, and my heart beat as I approached the door. The
specimen of Perfidious Albion whom I had just been studying gave me
the stronger zest for my fellow-countrymen. I could have embraced
them; I could have wept on their necks. And all the time I was
going to a disappointment.
It was in a spacious and low room, with an outlook on the court,
that I found them bestowed. In the good days of that house the
apartment had probably served as a library, for there were traces
of shelves along the wainscot. Four or five mattresses lay on the
floor in a corner, with a frowsy heap of bedding; near by was a
basin and a cube of soap; a rude kitchen-table and some deal chairs
stood together at the far end; and the room was illuminated by no
less than four windows, and warmed by a little, crazy, sidelong
grate, propped up with bricks in the vent of a hospitable chimney,
in which a pile of coals smoked prodigiously and gave out a few
starveling flames. An old, frail, white-haired officer sat in one
of the chairs, which he had drawn close to this apology for a fire.
He was wrapped in a camlet cloak, of which the collar was turned
up, his knees touched the bars, his hands were spread in the very
smoke, and yet he shivered for cold. The second--a big, florid,
fine animal of a man, whose every gesture labelled him the cock of
the walk and the admiration of the ladies--had apparently despaired
of the fire, and now strode up and down, sneezing hard, bitterly
blowing his nose, and proffering a continual stream of bluster,
complaint, and barrack-room oaths.
Fenn showed me in with the brief form of introduction: 'Gentlemen
all, this here's another fare!' and was gone again at once. The
old man gave me but the one glance out of lack-lustre eyes; and
even as he looked a shiver took him as sharp as a hiccough. But
the other, who represented to admiration the picture of a Beau in a
Catarrh, stared at me arrogantly.
'And who are you, sir?' he asked.
I made the military salute to my superiors.
'Champdivers, private, Eighth of the Line,' said I.
'Pretty business!' said he. 'And you are going on with us? Three
in a cart, and a great trolloping private at that! And who is to
pay for you, my fine fellow?' he inquired.
'If monsieur comes to that,' I answered civilly, 'who paid for
'Oh, if you choose to play the wit!' said he,--and began to rail at
large upon his destiny, the weather, the cold, the danger and the
expense of the escape, and, above all, the cooking of the accursed
English. It seemed to annoy him particularly that I should have
joined their party. 'If you knew what you were doing, thirty
thousand millions of pigs! you would keep yourself to yourself!
The horses can't drag the cart; the roads are all ruts and swamps.
No longer ago than last night the Colonel and I had to march half
the way--thunder of God!--half the way to the knees in mud--and I
with this infernal cold--and the danger of detection! Happily we
met no one: a desert--a real desert--like the whole abominable
country! Nothing to eat--no, sir, there is nothing to eat but raw
cow and greens boiled in water--nor to drink but Worcestershire
sauce! Now I, with my catarrh, I have no appetite; is it not so?
Well, if I were in France, I should have a good soup with a crust
in it, an omelette, a fowl in rice, a partridge in cabbages--things
to tempt me, thunder of God! But here--day of God!--what a
country! And cold, too! They talk about Russia--this is all the
cold I want! And the people--look at them! What a race! Never
any handsome men; never any fine officers!'--and he looked down
complacently for a moment at his waist--'And the women--what
faggots! No, that is one point clear, I cannot stomach the
There was something in this man so antipathetic to me, as sent the
mustard into my nose. I can never bear your bucks and dandies,
even when they are decent-looking and well dressed; and the Major--
for that was his rank--was the image of a flunkey in good luck.
Even to be in agreement with him, or to seem to be so, was more
than I could make out to endure.
'You could scarce be expected to stomach them,' said I civilly,
'after having just digested your parole.'
He whipped round on his heel and turned on me a countenance which I
dare say he imagined to be awful; but another fit of sneezing cut
him off ere he could come the length of speech.
'I have not tried the dish myself,' I took the opportunity to add.
'It is said to be unpalatable. Did monsieur find it so?'
With surprising vivacity the Colonel woke from his lethargy. He
was between us ere another word could pass.
'Shame, gentlemen!' he said. 'Is this a time for Frenchmen and
fellow-soldiers to fall out? We are in the midst of our enemies; a
quarrel, a loud word, may suffice to plunge us back into
irretrievable distress. Monsieur le Commandant, you have been
gravely offended. I make it my request, I make it my prayer--if
need be, I give you my orders--that the matter shall stand by until
we come safe to France. Then, if you please, I will serve you in
any capacity. And for you, young man, you have shown all the
cruelty and carelessness of youth. This gentleman is your
superior; he is no longer young'--at which word you are to conceive
the Major's face. 'It is admitted he has broken his parole. I
know not his reason, and no more do you. It might be patriotism in
this hour of our country's adversity, it might be humanity,
necessity; you know not what in the least, and you permit yourself
to reflect on his honour. To break parole may be a subject for
pity and not derision. I have broken mine--I, a colonel of the
Empire. And why? I have been years negotiating my exchange, and
it cannot be managed; those who have influence at the Ministry of
War continually rush in before me, and I have to wait, and my
daughter at home is in a decline. I am going to see my daughter at
last, and it is my only concern lest I should have delayed too
long. She is ill, and very ill,--at death's door. Nothing is left
me but my daughter, my Emperor, and my honour; and I give my
honour, blame me for it who dare!'
At this my heart smote me.
'For God's sake,' I cried, 'think no more of what I have said! A
parole? what is a parole against life and death and love? I ask
your pardon; this gentleman's also. As long as I shall be with
you, you shall not have cause to complain of me again. I pray God
you will find your daughter alive and restored.'
'That is past praying for,' said the Colonel; and immediately the
brief fire died out of him, and, returning to the hearth, he
relapsed into his former abstraction.
But I was not so easy to compose. The knowledge of the poor
gentleman's trouble, and the sight of his face, had filled me with
the bitterness of remorse; and I insisted upon shaking hands with
the Major (which he did with a very ill grace), and abounded in
palinodes and apologies.
'After all,' said I, 'who am I to talk? I am in the luck to be a
private soldier; I have no parole to give or to keep; once I am
over the rampart, I am as free as air. I beg you to believe that I
regret from my soul the use of these ungenerous expressions. Allow
me . . . Is there no way in this damned house to attract attention?
Where is this fellow, Fenn?'
I ran to one of the windows and threw it open. Fenn, who was at
the moment passing below in the court, cast up his arms like one in
despair, called to me to keep back, plunged into the house, and
appeared next moment in the doorway of the chamber.
'Oh, sir!' says he, 'keep away from those there windows. A body
might see you from the back lane.'
'It is registered,' said I. 'Henceforward I will be a mouse for
precaution and a ghost for invisibility. But in the meantime, for
God's sake, fetch us a bottle of brandy! Your room is as damp as
the bottom of a well, and these gentlemen are perishing of cold.'
So soon as I had paid him (for everything, I found, must be paid in
advance), I turned my attention to the fire, and whether because I
threw greater energy into the business, or because the coals were
now warmed and the time ripe, I soon started a blaze that made the
chimney roar again. The shine of it, in that dark, rainy day,
seemed to reanimate the Colonel like a blink of sun. With the
outburst of the flames, besides, a draught was established, which
immediately delivered us from the plague of smoke; and by the time
Fenn returned, carrying a bottle under his arm and a single tumbler
in his hand, there was already an air of gaiety in the room that
did the heart good.
I poured out some of the brandy.
'Colonel,' said I, 'I am a young man and a private soldier. I have
not been long in this room, and already I have shown the petulance
that belongs to the one character and the ill manners that you may
look for in the other. Have the humanity to pass these slips over,
and honour me so far as to accept this glass.'
'My lad,' says he, waking up and blinking at me with an air of
suspicion, 'are you sure you can afford it?'
I assured him I could.
'I thank you, then: I am very cold.' He took the glass out, and a
little colour came in his face. 'I thank you again,' said he. 'It
goes to the heart.'
The Major, when I motioned him to help himself, did so with a good
deal of liberality; continued to do so for the rest of the morning,
now with some sort of apology, now with none at all; and the bottle
began to look foolish before dinner was served. It was such a meal
as he had himself predicted: beef, greens, potatoes, mustard in a
teacup, and beer in a brown jug that was all over hounds, horses,
and hunters, with a fox at the fat end and a gigantic John Bull--
for all the world like Fenn--sitting in the midst in a bob-wig and
smoking tobacco. The beer was a good brew, but not good enough for
the Major; he laced it with brandy--for his cold, he said; and in
this curative design the remainder of the bottle ebbed away. He
called my attention repeatedly to the circumstance; helped me
pointedly to the dregs, threw the bottle in the air and played
tricks with it; and at last, having exhausted his ingenuity, and
seeing me remain quite blind to every hint, he ordered and paid for
As for the Colonel, he ate nothing, sat sunk in a muse, and only
awoke occasionally to a sense of where he was, and what he was
supposed to be doing. On each of these occasions he showed a
gratitude and kind courtesy that endeared him to me beyond
expression. 'Champdivers, my lad, your health!' he would say.
'The Major and I had a very arduous march last night, and I
positively thought I should have eaten nothing, but your fortunate
idea of the brandy has made quite a new man of me--quite a new
man.' And he would fall to with a great air of heartiness, cut
himself a mouthful, and, before he had swallowed it, would have
forgotten his dinner, his company, the place where he then was, and
the escape he was engaged on, and become absorbed in the vision of
a sick-room and a dying girl in France. The pathos of this
continual preoccupation, in a man so old, sick, and over-weary, and
whom I looked upon as a mere bundle of dying bones and death-pains,
put me wholly from my victuals: it seemed there was an element of
sin, a kind of rude bravado of youth, in the mere relishing of food
at the same table with this tragic father; and though I was well
enough used to the coarse, plain diet of the English, I ate scarce
more than himself. Dinner was hardly over before he succumbed to a
lethargic sleep; lying on one of the mattresses with his limbs
relaxed, and his breath seemingly suspended--the very image of
This left the Major and myself alone at the table. You must not
suppose our tete-a-tete was long, but it was a lively period while
it lasted. He drank like a fish or an Englishman; shouted, beat
the table, roared out songs, quarrelled, made it up again, and at
last tried to throw the dinner-plates through the window, a feat of
which he was at that time quite incapable. For a party of
fugitives, condemned to the most rigorous discretion, there was
never seen so noisy a carnival; and through it all the Colonel
continued to sleep like a child. Seeing the Major so well
advanced, and no retreat possible, I made a fair wind of a foul
one, keeping his glass full, pushing him with toasts; and sooner
than I could have dared to hope, he became drowsy and incoherent.
With the wrong-headedness of all such sots, he would not be
persuaded to lie down upon one of the mattresses until I had
stretched myself upon another. But the comedy was soon over; soon
he slept the sleep of the just, and snored like a military music;
and I might get up again and face (as best I could) the excessive
tedium of the afternoon.
I had passed the night before in a good bed; I was denied the
resource of slumber; and there was nothing open for me but to pace
the apartment, maintain the fire, and brood on my position. I
compared yesterday and to-day--the safety, comfort, jollity, open-
air exercise and pleasant roadside inns of the one, with the
tedium, anxiety, and discomfort of the other. I remembered that I
was in the hands of Fenn, who could not be more false--though he
might be more vindictive--than I fancied him. I looked forward to
nights of pitching in the covered cart, and days of monotony in I
knew not what hiding-places; and my heart failed me, and I was in
two minds whether to slink off ere it was too late, and return to
my former solitary way of travel. But the Colonel stood in the
path. I had not seen much of him; but already I judged him a man
of a childlike nature--with that sort of innocence and courtesy
that, I think, is only to be found in old soldiers or old priests--
and broken with years and sorrow. I could not turn my back on his
distress; could not leave him alone with the selfish trooper who
snored on the next mattress. 'Champdivers, my lad, your health!'
said a voice in my ear, and stopped me--and there are few things I
am more glad of in the retrospect than that it did.
It must have been about four in the afternoon--at least the rain
had taken off, and the sun was setting with some wintry pomp--when
the current of my reflections was effectually changed by the
arrival of two visitors in a gig. They were farmers of the
neighbourhood, I suppose--big, burly fellows in great-coats and
top-boots, mightily flushed with liquor when they arrived, and,
before they left, inimitably drunk. They stayed long in the
kitchen with Burchell, drinking, shouting, singing, and keeping it
up; and the sound of their merry minstrelsy kept me a kind of
company. The night fell, and the shine of the fire brightened and
blinked on the panelled wall. Our illuminated windows must have
been visible not only from the back lane of which Fenn had spoken,
but from the court where the farmers' gig awaited them. In the far
end of the firelit room lay my companions, the one silent, the
other clamorously noisy, the images of death and drunkenness.
Little wonder if I were tempted to join in the choruses below, and
sometimes could hardly refrain from laughter, and sometimes, I
believe, from tears--so unmitigated was the tedium, so cruel the
suspense, of this period.
At last, about six at night, I should fancy, the noisy minstrels
appeared in the court, headed by Fenn with a lantern, and knocking
together as they came. The visitors clambered noisily into the
gig, one of them shook the reins, and they were snatched out of
sight and hearing with a suddenness that partook of the nature of
prodigy. I am well aware there is a Providence for drunken men,
that holds the reins for them and presides over their troubles;
doubtless he had his work cut out for him with this particular
gigful! Fenn rescued his toes with an ejaculation from under the
departing wheels, and turned at once with uncertain steps and
devious lantern to the far end of the court. There, through the
open doors of a coach-house, the shock-headed lad was already to be
seen drawing forth the covered cart. If I wished any private talk
with our host, it must be now or never.
Accordingly I groped my way downstairs, and came to him as he
looked on at and lighted the harnessing of the horses.
'The hour approaches when we have to part,' said I; 'and I shall be
obliged if you will tell your servant to drop me at the nearest
point for Dunstable. I am determined to go so far with our
friends, Colonel X and Major Y, but my business is peremptory, and
it takes me to the neighbourhood of Dunstable.'
Orders were given to my satisfaction, with an obsequiousness that
seemed only inflamed by his potations.
CHAPTER XIV--TRAVELS OF THE COVERED CART
My companions were aroused with difficulty: the Colonel, poor old
gentleman, to a sort of permanent dream, in which you could say of
him only that he was very deaf and anxiously polite; the Major
still maudlin drunk. We had a dish of tea by the fireside, and
then issued like criminals into the scathing cold of the night.
For the weather had in the meantime changed. Upon the cessation of
the rain, a strict frost had succeeded. The moon, being young, was
already near the zenith when we started, glittered everywhere on
sheets of ice, and sparkled in ten thousand icicles. A more
unpromising night for a journey it was hard to conceive. But in
the course of the afternoon the horses had been well roughed; and
King (for such was the name of the shock-headed lad) was very
positive that he could drive us without misadventure. He was as
good as his word; indeed, despite a gawky air, he was simply
invaluable in his present employment, showing marked sagacity in
all that concerned the care of horses, and guiding us by one short
cut after another for days, and without a fault.
The interior of that engine of torture, the covered cart, was
fitted with a bench, on which we took our places; the door was
shut; in a moment, the night closed upon us solid and stifling; and
we felt that we were being driven carefully out of the courtyard.
Careful was the word all night, and it was an alleviation of our
miseries that we did not often enjoy. In general, as we were
driven the better part of the night and day, often at a pretty
quick pace and always through a labyrinth of the most infamous
country lanes and by-roads, we were so bruised upon the bench, so
dashed against the top and sides of the cart, that we reached the
end of a stage in truly pitiable case, sometimes flung ourselves
down without the formality of eating, made but one sleep of it
until the hour of departure returned, and were only properly
awakened by the first jolt of the renewed journey. There were
interruptions, at times, that we hailed as alleviations. At times
the cart was bogged, once it was upset, and we must alight and lend
the driver the assistance of our arms; at times, too (as on the
occasion when I had first encountered it), the horses gave out, and
we had to trail alongside in mud or frost until the first peep of
daylight, or the approach to a hamlet or a high road, bade us
disappear like ghosts into our prison.
The main roads of England are incomparable for excellence, of a
beautiful smoothness, very ingeniously laid down, and so well kept
that in most weathers you could take your dinner off any part of
them without distaste. On them, to the note of the bugle, the mail
did its sixty miles a day; innumerable chaises whisked after the
bobbing postboys; or some young blood would flit by in a curricle
and tandem, to the vast delight and danger of the lieges. On them,
the slow-pacing waggons made a music of bells, and all day long the
travellers on horse-back and the travellers on foot (like happy Mr.
St. Ives so little a while before!) kept coming and going, and
baiting and gaping at each other, as though a fair were due, and
they were gathering to it from all England. No, nowhere in the
world is travel so great a pleasure as in that country. But
unhappily our one need was to be secret; and all this rapid and
animated picture of the road swept quite apart from us, as we
lumbered up hill and down dale, under hedge and over stone, among
circuitous byways. Only twice did I receive, as it were, a whiff
of the highway. The first reached my ears alone. I might have
been anywhere. I only knew I was walking in the dark night and
among ruts, when I heard very far off, over the silent country that
surrounded us, the guard's horn wailing its signal to the next
post-house for a change of horses. It was like the voice of the
day heard in darkness, a voice of the world heard in prison, the
note of a cock crowing in the mid-seas--in short, I cannot tell you
what it was like, you will have to fancy for yourself--but I could
have wept to hear it. Once we were belated: the cattle could
hardly crawl, the day was at hand, it was a nipping, rigorous
morning, King was lashing his horses, I was giving an arm to the
old Colonel, and the Major was coughing in our rear. I must
suppose that King was a thought careless, being nearly in
desperation about his team, and, in spite of the cold morning,
breathing hot with his exertions. We came, at last, a little
before sunrise to the summit of a hill, and saw the high-road
passing at right angles through an open country of meadows and
hedgerow pollards; and not only the York mail, speeding smoothly at
the gallop of the four horses, but a post-chaise besides, with the
post-boy titupping briskly, and the traveller himself putting his
head out of the window, but whether to breathe the dawn, or the
better to observe the passage of the mail, I do not know. So that
we enjoyed for an instant a picture of free life on the road, in
its most luxurious forms of despatch and comfort. And thereafter,
with a poignant feeling of contrast in our hearts, we must mount
again into our wheeled dungeon.
We came to our stages at all sorts of odd hours, and they were in
all kinds of odd places. I may say at once that my first
experience was my best. Nowhere again were we so well entertained
as at Burchell Fenn's. And this, I suppose, was natural, and
indeed inevitable, in so long and secret a journey. The first
stop, we lay six hours in a barn standing by itself in a poor,
marshy orchard, and packed with hay; to make it more attractive, we
were told it had been the scene of an abominable murder, and was
now haunted. But the day was beginning to break, and our fatigue
was too extreme for visionary terrors. The second or third, we
alighted on a barren heath about midnight, built a fire to warm us
under the shelter of some thorns, supped like beggars on bread and
a piece of cold bacon, and slept like gipsies with our feet to the
fire. In the meanwhile, King was gone with the cart, I know not
where, to get a change of horses, and it was late in the dark
morning when he returned and we were able to resume our journey.
In the middle of another night, we came to a stop by an ancient,
whitewashed cottage of two stories; a privet hedge surrounded it;
the frosty moon shone blankly on the upper windows; but through
those of the kitchen the firelight was seen glinting on the roof
and reflected from the dishes on the wall. Here, after much
hammering on the door, King managed to arouse an old crone from the
chimney-corner chair, where she had been dozing in the watch; and
we were had in, and entertained with a dish of hot tea. This old
lady was an aunt of Burchell Fenn's--and an unwilling partner in
his dangerous trade. Though the house stood solitary, and the hour
was an unlikely one for any passenger upon the road, King and she
conversed in whispers only. There was something dismal, something
of the sick-room, in this perpetual, guarded sibilation. The
apprehensions of our hostess insensibly communicated themselves to
every one present. We ate like mice in a cat's ear; if one of us
jingled a teaspoon, all would start; and when the hour came to take
the road again, we drew a long breath of relief, and climbed to our
places in the covered cart with a positive sense of escape. The
most of our meals, however, were taken boldly at hedgerow
alehouses, usually at untimely hours of the day, when the clients
were in the field or the farmyard at labour. I shall have to tell
presently of our last experience of the sort, and how unfortunately
it miscarried; but as that was the signal for my separation from my
fellow-travellers, I must first finish with them.
I had never any occasion to waver in my first judgment of the
Colonel. The old gentleman seemed to me, and still seems in the
retrospect, the salt of the earth. I had occasion to see him in
the extremes of hardship, hunger and cold; he was dying, and he
looked it; and yet I cannot remember any hasty, harsh, or impatient
word to have fallen from his lips. On the contrary, he ever showed
himself careful to please; and even if he rambled in his talk,
rambled always gently--like a humane, half-witted old hero, true to
his colours to the last. I would not dare to say how often he
awoke suddenly from a lethargy, and told us again, as though we had
never heard it, the story of how he had earned the cross, how it
had been given him by the hand of the Emperor, and of the innocent-
-and, indeed, foolish--sayings of his daughter when he returned
with it on his bosom. He had another anecdote which he was very
apt to give, by way of a rebuke, when the Major wearied us beyond
endurance with dispraises of the English. This was an account of
the braves gens with whom he had been boarding. True enough, he
was a man so simple and grateful by nature, that the most common
civilities were able to touch him to the heart, and would remain
written in his memory; but from a thousand inconsiderable but
conclusive indications, I gathered that this family had really
loved him, and loaded him with kindness. They made a fire in his
bedroom, which the sons and daughters tended with their own hands;
letters from France were looked for with scarce more eagerness by
himself than by these alien sympathisers; when they came, he would
read them aloud in the parlour to the assembled family, translating
as he went. The Colonel's English was elementary; his daughter not
in the least likely to be an amusing correspondent; and, as I
conceived these scenes in the parlour, I felt sure the interest
centred in the Colonel himself, and I thought I could feel in my
own heart that mixture of the ridiculous and the pathetic, the
contest of tears and laughter, which must have shaken the bosoms of
the family. Their kindness had continued till the end. It appears
they were privy to his flight, the camlet cloak had been lined
expressly for him, and he was the bearer of a letter from the
daughter of the house to his own daughter in Paris. The last
evening, when the time came to say good-night, it was tacitly known
to all that they were to look upon his face no more. He rose,
pleading fatigue, and turned to the daughter, who had been his
chief ally: 'You will permit me, my dear--to an old and very
unhappy soldier--and may God bless you for your goodness!' The
girl threw her arms about his neck and sobbed upon his bosom; the
lady of the house burst into tears; 'et je vous le jure, le pere se
mouchait!' quoth the Colonel, twisting his moustaches with a
cavalry air, and at the same time blinking the water from his eyes
at the mere recollection.
It was a good thought to me that he had found these friends in
captivity; that he had started on this fatal journey from so
cordial a farewell. He had broken his parole for his daughter:
that he should ever live to reach her sick-bed, that he could
continue to endure to an end the hardships, the crushing fatigue,
the savage cold, of our pilgrimage, I had early ceased to hope. I
did for him what I was able,--nursed him, kept him covered, watched
over his slumbers, sometimes held him in my arms at the rough
places of the road. 'Champdivers,' he once said, 'you are like a
son to me--like a son.' It is good to remember, though at the time
it put me on the rack. All was to no purpose. Fast as we were
travelling towards France, he was travelling faster still to
another destination. Daily he grew weaker and more indifferent.
An old rustic accent of Lower Normandy reappeared in his speech,
from which it had long been banished, and grew stronger; old words
of the patois, too: Ouistreham, matrasse, and others, the sense of
which we were sometimes unable to guess. On the very last day he
began again his eternal story of the cross and the Emperor. The
Major, who was particularly ill, or at least particularly cross,
uttered some angry words of protest. 'Pardonnez-moi, monsieur le
commandant, mais c'est pour monsieur,' said the Colonel: 'Monsieur
has not yet heard the circumstance, and is good enough to feel an
interest.' Presently after, however, he began to lose the thread
of his narrative; and at last: 'Que que j'ai? Je m'embrouille!'
says he, 'Suffit: s'm'a la donne, et Berthe en etait bien
contente.' It struck me as the falling of the curtain or the
closing of the sepulchre doors.
Sure enough, in but a little while after, he fell into a sleep as
gentle as an infant's, which insensibly changed into the sleep of
death. I had my arm about his body at the time and remarked
nothing, unless it were that he once stretched himself a little, so
kindly the end came to that disastrous life. It was only at our
evening halt that the Major and I discovered we were travelling
alone with the poor clay. That night we stole a spade from a
field--I think near Market Bosworth--and a little farther on, in a
wood of young oak trees and by the light of King's lantern, we
buried the old soldier of the Empire with both prayers and tears.
We had needs invent Heaven if it had not been revealed to us; there
are some things that fall so bitterly ill on this side Time! As
for the Major, I have long since forgiven him. He broke the news
to the poor Colonel's daughter; I am told he did it kindly; and
sure, nobody could have done it without tears! His share of
purgatory will be brief; and in this world, as I could not very
well praise him, I have suppressed his name. The Colonel's also,
for the sake of his parole. Requiescat.
CHAPTER XV--THE ADVENTURE OF THE ATTORNEY'S CLERK
I have mentioned our usual course, which was to eat in
inconsiderable wayside hostelries, known to King. It was a
dangerous business; we went daily under fire to satisfy our
appetite, and put our head in the loin's mouth for a piece of
bread. Sometimes, to minimise the risk, we would all dismount
before we came in view of the house, straggle in severally, and
give what orders we pleased, like disconnected strangers. In like
manner we departed, to find the cart at an appointed place, some
half a mile beyond. The Colonel and the Major had each a word or
two of English--God help their pronunciation! But they did well
enough to order a rasher and a pot or call a reckoning; and, to say
truth, these country folks did not give themselves the pains, and
had scarce the knowledge, to be critical.
About nine or ten at night the pains of hunger and cold drove us to
an alehouse in the flats of Bedfordshire, not far from Bedford
itself. In the inn kitchen was a long, lean, characteristic-
looking fellow of perhaps forty, dressed in black. He sat on a
settle by the fireside, smoking a long pipe, such as they call a
yard of clay. His hat and wig were hanged upon the knob behind
him, his head as bald as a bladder of lard, and his expression very
shrewd, cantankerous, and inquisitive. He seemed to value himself
above his company, to give himself the airs of a man of the world
among that rustic herd; which was often no more than his due;
being, as I afterwards discovered, an attorney's clerk. I took
upon myself the more ungrateful part of arriving last; and by the
time I entered on the scene the Major was already served at a side
table. Some general conversation must have passed, and I smelled
danger in the air. The Major looked flustered, the attorney's
clerk triumphant, and three or four peasants in smock-frocks (who
sat about the fire to play chorus) had let their pipes go out.
'Give you good evening, sir!' said the attorney's clerk to me.
'The same to you, sir,' said I.
'I think this one will do,' quoth the clerk to the yokels with a
wink; and then, as soon as I had given my order, 'Pray, sir,
whither are you bound?' he added.
'Sir,' said I, 'I am not one of those who speak either of their
business or their destination in houses of public entertainment.'
'A good answer,' said he, 'and an excellent principle. Sir, do you
'Why, no, sir,' said I. 'A little Spanish at your service.'
'But you know the French accent, perhaps?' said the clerk.
'Well do I do that!' said I. 'The French accent? Why, I believe I
can tell a Frenchman in ten words.'
'Here is a puzzle for you, then!' he said. 'I have no material
doubt myself, but some of these gentlemen are more backward. The
lack of education, you know. I make bold to say that a man cannot
walk, cannot hear, and cannot see, without the blessings of
He turned to the Major, whose food plainly stuck in his throat.
'Now, sir,' pursued the clerk, 'let me have the pleasure to hear
your voice again. Where are you going, did you say?'
'Sare, I am go-ing to Lon-don,' said the Major.
I could have flung my plate at him to be such an ass, and to have
so little a gift of languages where that was the essential.
'What think ye of that?' said the clerk. 'Is that French enough?'
'Good God!' cried I, leaping up like one who should suddenly
perceive an acquaintance, 'is this you, Mr. Dubois? Why, who would
have dreamed of encountering you so far from home?' As I spoke, I
shook hands with the Major heartily; and turning to our tormentor,
'Oh, sir, you may be perfectly reassured! This is a very honest
fellow, a late neighbour of mine in the city of Carlisle.'
I thought the attorney looked put out; I little knew the man!
'But he is French,' said he, 'for all that?'
'Ay, to be sure!' said I. 'A Frenchman of the emigration! None of
your Buonaparte lot. I will warrant his views of politics to be as
sound as your own.'
'What is a little strange,' said the clerk quietly, 'is that Mr.
Dubois should deny it.'
I got it fair in the face, and took it smiling; but the shock was
rude, and in the course of the next words I contrived to do what I
have rarely done, and make a slip in my English. I kept my liberty
and life by my proficiency all these months, and for once that I
failed, it is not to be supposed that I would make a public
exhibition of the details. Enough, that it was a very little
error, and one that might have passed ninety-nine times in a
hundred. But my limb of the law was as swift to pick it up as
though he had been by trade a master of languages.
'Aha!' cries he; 'and you are French, too! Your tongue bewrays
you. Two Frenchmen coming into an alehouse, severally and
accidentally, not knowing each other, at ten of the clock at night,
in the middle of Bedfordshire? No, sir, that shall not pass! You
are all prisoners escaping, if you are nothing worse. Consider
yourselves under arrest. I have to trouble you for your papers.'
'Where is your warrant, if you come to that?' said I. 'My papers!
A likely thing that I would show my papers on the ipse dixit of an
unknown fellow in a hedge alehouse!'
'Would you resist the law?' says he.
'Not the law, sir!' said I. 'I hope I am too good a subject for
that. But for a nameless fellow with a bald head and a pair of
gingham small-clothes, why certainly! 'Tis my birthright as an
Englishman. Where's Magna Charta, else?'
'We will see about that,' says he; and then, addressing the
assistants, 'where does the constable live?'
'Lord love you, sir!' cried the landlord, 'what are you thinking
of? The constable at past ten at night! Why, he's abed and
asleep, and good and drunk two hours agone!'
'Ah that a' be!' came in chorus from the yokels.
The attorney's clerk was put to a stand. He could not think of
force; there was little sign of martial ardour about the landlord,
and the peasants were indifferent--they only listened, and gaped,
and now scratched a head, and now would get a light to their pipes
from the embers on the hearth. On the other hand, the Major and I
put a bold front on the business and defied him, not without some
ground of law. In this state of matters he proposed I should go
along with him to one Squire Merton, a great man of the
neighbourhood, who was in the commission of the peace, the end of
his avenue but three lanes away. I told him I would not stir a
foot for him if it were to save his soul. Next he proposed I
should stay all night where I was, and the constable could see to
my affair in the morning, when he was sober. I replied I should go
when and where I pleased; that we were lawful travellers in the
fear of God and the king, and I for one would suffer myself to be
stayed by nobody. At the same time, I was thinking the matter had
lasted altogether too long, and I determined to bring it to an end
'See here,' said I, getting up, for till now I had remained
carelessly seated, 'there's only one way to decide a thing like
this--only one way that's right ENGLISH--and that's man to man.
Take off your coat, sir, and these gentlemen shall see fair play.'
At this there came a look in his eye that I could not mistake. His
education had been neglected in one essential and eminently British
particular: he could not box. No more could I, you may say; but
then I had the more impudence--and I had made the proposal.
'He says I'm no Englishman, but the proof of the pudding is the
eating of it,' I continued. And here I stripped my coat and fell
into the proper attitude, which was just about all I knew of this
barbarian art. 'Why, sir, you seem to me to hang back a little,'
said I. 'Come, I'll meet you; I'll give you an appetiser--though
hang me if I can understand the man that wants any enticement to
hold up his hands.' I drew a bank-note out of my fob and tossed it
to the landlord. 'There are the stakes,' said I. 'I'll fight you
for first blood, since you seem to make so much work about it. If
you tap my claret first, there are five guineas for you, and I'll
go with you to any squire you choose to mention. If I tap yours,
you'll perhaps let on that I'm the better man, and allow me to go
about my lawful business at my own time and convenience, by God; is
that fair, my lads?' says I, appealing to the company.
'Ay, ay,' said the chorus of chawbacons; 'he can't say no fairer
nor that, he can't. Take off thy coat master!'
The limb of the law was now on the wrong side of public opinion,
and, what heartened me to go on, the position was rapidly changing
in our favour. Already the Major was paying his shot to the very
indifferent landlord, and I could see the white face of King at the
back-door, making signals of haste.
'Oho!' quoth my enemy, 'you are as full of doubles as a fox, are
you not? But I see through you; I see through and through you.
You would change the venue, would you?'
'I may be transparent, sir,' says I, 'but if you'll do me the
favour to stand up, you'll find I can hit dam hard.'
'Which is a point, if you will observe, that I had never called in
question,' said he. 'Why, you ignorant clowns,' he proceeded,
addressing the company, 'can't you see the fellow's gulling you
before your eyes? Can't you see that he has changed the point upon
me? I say he's a French prisoner, and he answers that he can box!
What has that to do with it? I would not wonder but what he can
dance, too--they're all dancing masters over there. I say, and I
stick to it, that he's a Frenchy. He says he isn't. Well then,
let him out with his papers, if he has them! If he had, would he
not show them? If he had, would he not jump at the idea of going
to Squire Merton, a man you all know? Now, you are all plain,
straightforward Bedfordshire men, and I wouldn't ask a better lot
to appeal to. You're not the kind to be talked over with any
French gammon, and he's plenty of that. But let me tell him, he
can take his pigs to another market; they'll never do here; they'll
never go down in Bedfordshire. Why! look at the man! Look at his
feet! Has anybody got a foot in the room like that? See how he
stands! do any of you fellows stand like that? Does the landlord,
there? Why, he has Frenchman wrote all over him, as big as a sign-
This was all very well; and in a different scene I might even have
been gratified by his remarks; but I saw clearly, if I were to
allow him to talk, he might turn the tables on me altogether. He
might not be much of a hand at boxing; but I was much mistaken, or
he had studied forensic eloquence in a good school. In this
predicament I could think of nothing more ingenious than to burst
out of the house, under the pretext of an ungovernable rage. It
was certainly not very ingenious--it was elementary, but I had no
'You white-livered dog!' I broke out. 'Do you dare to tell me
you're an Englishman, and won't fight? But I'll stand no more of
this! I leave this place, where I've been insulted! Here! what's
to pay? Pay yourself!' I went on, offering the landlord a handful
of silver, 'and give me back my bank-note!'
The landlord, following his usual policy of obliging everybody,
offered no opposition to my design. The position of my adversary
was now thoroughly bad. He had lost my two companions. He was on
the point of losing me also. There was plainly no hope of arousing
the company to help; and watching him with a corner of my eye, I
saw him hesitate for a moment. The next, he had taken down his hat
and his wig, which was of black horsehair; and I saw him draw from
behind the settle a vast hooded great-coat and a small valise.
'The devil!' thought I: 'is the rascal going to follow me?'
I was scarce clear of the inn before the limb of the law was at my
heels. I saw his face plain in the moonlight; and the most
resolute purpose showed in it, along with an unmoved composure. A
chill went over me. 'This is no common adventure,' thinks I to
myself. 'You have got hold of a man of character, St. Ives! A
bite-hard, a bull-dog, a weasel is on your trail; and how are you
to throw him off?' Who was he? By some of his expressions I
judged he was a hanger-on of courts. But in what character had he
followed the assizes? As a simple spectator, as a lawyer's clerk,
as a criminal himself, or--last and worst supposition--as a Bow-
The cart would wait for me, perhaps, half a mile down our onward
road, which I was already following. And I told myself that in a
few minutes' walking, Bow-street runner or not, I should have him
at my mercy. And then reflection came to me in time. Of all
things, one was out of the question. Upon no account must this
obtrusive fellow see the cart. Until I had killed or shook him
off, I was quite divorced from my companions--alone, in the midst
of England, on a frosty by-way leading whither I knew not, with a
sleuth-hound at my heels, and never a friend but the holly-stick!
We came at the same time to a crossing of lanes. The branch to the
left was overhung with trees, deeply sunken and dark. Not a ray of
moonlight penetrated its recesses; and I took it at a venture. The
wretch followed my example in silence; and for some time we
crunched together over frozen pools without a word. Then he found
his voice, with a chuckle.
'This is not the way to Mr. Merton's,' said he.
'No?' said I. 'It is mine, however.'
'And therefore mine,' said he.
Again we fell silent; and we may thus have covered half a mile
before the lane, taking a sudden turn, brought us forth again into
the moonshine. With his hooded great-coat on his back, his valise
in his hand, his black wig adjusted, and footing it on the ice with
a sort of sober doggedness of manner, my enemy was changed almost
beyond recognition: changed in everything but a certain dry,
polemical, pedantic air, that spoke of a sedentary occupation and
high stools. I observed, too, that his valise was heavy; and,
putting this and that together, hit upon a plan.
'A seasonable night, sir,' said I. 'What do you say to a bit of
running? The frost has me by the toes.'
'With all the pleasure in life,' says he.
His voice seemed well assured, which pleased me little. However,
there was nothing else to try, except violence, for which it would
always be too soon. I took to my heels accordingly, he after me;
and for some time the slapping of our feet on the hard road might
have been heard a mile away. He had started a pace behind me, and
he finished in the same position. For all his extra years and the
weight of his valise, he had not lost a hair's breadth. The devil
might race him for me--I had enough of it!
And, besides, to run so fast was contrary to my interests. We
could not run long without arriving somewhere. At any moment we
might turn a corner and find ourselves at the lodge-gate of some
Squire Merton, in the midst of a village whose constable was sober,
or in the hands of a patrol. There was no help for it--I must
finish with him on the spot, as long as it was possible. I looked
about me, and the place seemed suitable; never a light, never a
house--nothing but stubble-fields, fallows, and a few stunted
trees. I stopped and eyed him in the moonlight with an angry
'Enough of this foolery!' said I.
He had tamed, and now faced me full, very pale, but with no sign of
'I am quite of your opinion,' said he. 'You have tried me at the
running; you can try me next at the high jump. It will be all the
same. It must end the one way.'
I made my holly whistle about my head.
'I believe you know what way!' said I. 'We are alone, it is night,
and I am wholly resolved. Are you not frightened?'
'No,' he said, 'not in the smallest. I do not box, sir; but I am
not a coward, as you may have supposed. Perhaps it will simplify
our relations if I tell you at the outset that I walk armed.'
Quick as lightning I made a feint at his head; as quickly he gave
ground, and at the same time I saw a pistol glitter in his hand.
'No more of that, Mr. French-Prisoner!' he said. 'It will do me no
good to have your death at my door.'
'Faith, nor me either!' said I; and I lowered my stick and
considered the man, not without a twinkle of admiration. 'You
see,' I said, 'there is one consideration that you appear to
overlook: there are a great many chances that your pistol may miss
'I have a pair,' he returned. 'Never travel without a brace of
'I make you my compliment,' said I. 'You are able to take care of
yourself, and that is a good trait. But, my good man! let us look
at this matter dispassionately. You are not a coward, and no more
am I; we are both men of excellent sense; I have good reason,
whatever it may be, to keep my concerns to myself and to walk
alone. Now I put it to you pointedly, am I likely to stand it? Am
I likely to put up with your continued and--excuse me--highly
impudent ingerence into my private affairs?'
'Another French word,' says he composedly.
'Oh! damn your French words!' cried I. 'You seem to be a Frenchman
'I have had many opportunities by which I have profited,' he
explained. 'Few men are better acquainted with the similarities
and differences, whether of idiom or accent, of the two languages.'
'You are a pompous fellow, too!' said I.
'Oh, I can make distinctions, sir,' says he. 'I can talk with
Bedfordshire peasants; and I can express myself becomingly, I hope,
in the company of a gentleman of education like yourself.'
'If you set up to be a gentleman--' I began.
'Pardon me,' he interrupted: 'I make no such claim. I only see
the nobility and gentry in the way of business. I am quite a plain
'For the Lord's sake,' I exclaimed, 'set my mind at rest upon one
point. In the name of mystery, who and what are you?'
'I have no cause to be ashamed of my name, sir,' said he, 'nor yet
my trade. I am Thomas Dudgeon, at your service, clerk to Mr.
Daniel Romaine, solicitor of London; High Holborn is our address,
It was only by the ecstasy of the relief that I knew how horribly I
had been frightened. I flung my stick on the road.
'Romaine?' I cried. 'Daniel Romaine? An old hunks with a red face
and a big head, and got up like a Quaker? My dear friend, to my
'Keep back, I say!' said Dudgeon weakly.
I would not listen to him. With the end of my own alarm, I felt as
if I must infallibly be at the end of all dangers likewise; as if
the pistol that he held in one hand were no more to be feared than
the valise that he carried with the other, and now put up like a
barrier against my advance.
'Keep back, or I declare I will fire,' he was crying. 'Have a
care, for God's sake! My pistol--'
He might scream as be pleased. Willy nilly, I folded him to my
breast, I pressed him there, I kissed his ugly mug as it had never
been kissed before and would never be kissed again; and in the
doing so knocked his wig awry and his hat off. He bleated in my
embrace; so bleats the sheep in the arms of the butcher. The whole
thing, on looking back, appears incomparably reckless and absurd; I
no better than a madman for offering to advance on Dudgeon, and he
no better than a fool for not shooting me while I was about it.
But all's well that ends well; or, as the people in these days kept
singing and whistling on the streets:-
'There's a sweet little cherub that sits up aloft
And looks out for the life of poor Jack.'
'There!' said I, releasing him a little, but still keeping my hands
on his shoulders, 'je vous ai bel et bien embrasse--and, as you
would say, there is another French word.' With his wig over one
eye, he looked incredibly rueful and put out. 'Cheer up, Dudgeon;
the ordeal is over, you shall be embraced no more. But do, first
of all, for God's-sake, put away your pistol; you handle it as if
you were a cockatrice; some time or other, depend upon it, it will
certainly go off. Here is your hat. No, let me put it on square,
and the wig before it. Never suffer any stress of circumstances to
come between you and the duty you owe to yourself. If you have
nobody else to dress for, dress for God!
'Put your wig straight
On your bald pate,
Keep your chin scraped,
And your figure draped.
Can you match me that? The whole duty of man in a quatrain! And
remark, I do not set up to be a professional bard; these are the
outpourings of a dilettante.'
'But, my dear sir!' he exclaimed.
'But, my dear sir!' I echoed, 'I will allow no man to interrupt the
flow of my ideas. Give me your opinion on my quatrain, or I vow we
shall have a quarrel of it.'
'Certainly you are quite an original,' he said.
'Quite,' said I; 'and I believe I have my counterpart before me.'
'Well, for a choice,' says he, smiling, 'and whether for sense or
poetry, give me
'"Worth makes the man, and want of it the fellow:
The rest is all but leather and prunello."'
'Oh, but that's not fair--that's Pope! It's not original, Dudgeon.
Understand me,' said I, wringing his breast-button, 'the first duty
of all poetry is to be mine, sir--mine. Inspiration now swells in
my bosom, because--to tell you the plain truth, and descend a
little in style--I am devilish relieved at the turn things have
taken. So, I dare say, are you yourself, Dudgeon, if you would
only allow it. And a propos, let me ask you a home question.
Between friends, have you ever fired that pistol?'
'Why, yes, sir,' he replied. 'Twice--at hedgesparrows.'
'And you would have fired at me, you bloody-minded man?' I cried.
'If you go to that, you seemed mighty reckless with your stick,'
'Did I indeed? Well, well, 'tis all past history; ancient as King
Pharamond--which is another French word, if you cared to accumulate
more evidence,' says I. 'But happily we are now the best of
friends, and have all our interests in common.'
'You go a little too fast, if you'll excuse me, Mr. -: I do not
know your name, that I am aware,' said Dudgeon.
'No, to be sure!' said I. 'Never heard of it!'
'A word of explanation--' he began.
'No, Dudgeon!' I interrupted. 'Be practical; I know what you want,
and the name of it is supper. Rien ne creuse comme l'emotion. I
am hungry myself, and yet I am more accustomed to warlike
palpitations than you, who are but a hunter of hedgesparrows. Let
me look at your face critically: your bill of fare is three slices
of cold rare roast beef, a Welsh rabbit, a pot of stout, and a
glass or two of sound tawny port, old in bottle--the right milk of
Englishmen.' Methought there seemed a brightening in his eye and a
melting about his mouth at this enumeration.
'The night is young,' I continued; 'not much past eleven, for a
wager. Where can we find a good inn? And remark that I say GOOD,
for the port must be up to the occasion--not a headache in a pipe
'Really, sir,' he said, smiling a little, 'you have a way of
'Will nothing make you stick to the subject?' I cried; 'you have
the most irrelevant mind! How do you expect to rise in your
profession? The inn?'
'Well, I will say you are a facetious gentleman!' said he. 'You
must have your way, I see. We are not three miles from Bedford by
this very road.'
'Done!' cried I. 'Bedford be it!'
I tucked his arm under mine, possessed myself of the valise, and
walked him off unresisting. Presently we came to an open piece of
country lying a thought downhill. The road was smooth and free of
ice, the moonshine thin and bright over the meadows and the
leafless trees. I was now honestly done with the purgatory of the
covered cart; I was close to my great-uncle's; I had no more fear
of Mr. Dudgeon; which were all grounds enough for jollity. And I
was aware, besides, of us two as of a pair of tiny and solitary
dolls under the vast frosty cupola of the midnight; the rooms
decked, the moon burnished, the least of the stars lighted, the
floor swept and waxed, and nothing wanting but for the band to
strike up and the dancing to begin. In the exhilaration of my
heart I took the music on myself -
'Merrily danced the Quaker's wife,
And merrily danced the Quaker.'
I broke into that animated and appropriate air, clapped my arm
about Dudgeon's waist, and away down the hill at a dancing step!
He hung back a little at the start, but the impulse of the tune,
the night, and my example, were not to be resisted. A man made of
putty must have danced, and even Dudgeon showed himself to be a
human being. Higher and higher were the capers that we cut; the
moon repeated in shadow our antic footsteps and gestures; and it
came over my mind of a sudden--really like balm--what appearance of
man I was dancing with, what a long bilious countenance he had
shown under his shaven pate, and what a world of trouble the rascal
had given me in the immediate past.
Presently we began to see the lights of Bedford. My Puritanic
companion stopped and disengaged himself.
'This is a trifle infra dig., sir, is it not?' said he. 'A party
might suppose we had been drinking.'
'And so you shall be, Dudgeon,' said I. 'You shall not only be
drinking, you old hypocrite, but you shall be drunk--dead drunk,
sir--and the boots shall put you to bed! We'll warn him when we go
in. Never neglect a precaution; never put off till to-morrow what
you can do to-day!'
But he had no more frivolity to complain of. We finished our stage
and came to the inn-door with decorum, to find the house still
alight and in a bustle with many late arrivals; to give our orders
with a prompt severity which ensured obedience, and to be served
soon after at a side-table, close to the fire and in a blaze of
candle-light, with such a meal as I had been dreaming of for days
past. For days, you are to remember, I had been skulking in the
covered cart, a prey to cold, hunger, and an accumulation of
discomforts that might have daunted the most brave; and the white
table napery, the bright crystal, the reverberation of the fire,
the red curtains, the Turkey carpet, the portraits on the coffee-
room wall, the placid faces of the two or three late guests who
were silently prolonging the pleasures of digestion, and (last, but
not by any means least) a glass of an excellent light dry port, put
me in a humour only to be described as heavenly. The thought of
the Colonel, of how he would have enjoyed this snug room and
roaring fire, and of his cold grave in the wood by Market Bosworth,
lingered on my palate, amari aliquid, like an after-taste, but was
not able--I say it with shame--entirely to dispel my self-
complacency. After all, in this world every dog hangs by its own
tail. I was a free adventurer, who had just brought to a
successful end--or, at least, within view of it--an adventure very
difficult and alarming; and I looked across at Mr. Dudgeon, as the
port rose to his cheeks, and a smile, that was semi-confidential
and a trifle foolish, began to play upon his leathery features, not
only with composure, but with a suspicion of kindness. The rascal
had been brave, a quality for which I would value the devil; and if
he had been pertinacious in the beginning, he had more than made up
for it before the end.
'And now, Dudgeon, to explain,' I began. 'I know your master, he
knows me, and he knows and approves of my errand. So much I may
tell you, that I am on my way to Amersham Place.'
'Oho!' quoth Dudgeon, 'I begin to see.'
'I am heartily glad of it,' said I, passing the bottle, 'because
that is about all I can tell you. You must take my word for the
remainder. Either believe me or don't. If you don't, let's take a
chaise; you can carry me to-morrow to High Holborn, and confront me
with Mr. Romaine; the result of which will be to set your mind at
rest--and to make the holiest disorder in your master's plans. If
I judge you aright (for I find you a shrewd fellow), this will not
be at all to your mind. You know what a subordinate gets by
officiousness; if I can trust my memory, old Romaine has not at all
the face that I should care to see in anger; and I venture to
predict surprising results upon your weekly salary--if you are paid
by the week, that is. In short, let me go free, and 'tis an end of
the matter; take me to London, and 'tis only a beginning--and, by
my opinion, a beginning of troubles. You can take your choice.'
'And that is soon taken,' said he. 'Go to Amersham tomorrow, or go
to the devil if you prefer--I wash my hands of you and the whole
transaction. No, you don't find me putting my head in between
Romaine and a client! A good man of business, sir, but hard as
millstone grit. I might get the sack, and I shouldn't wonder!
But, it's a pity, too,' he added, and sighed, shook his head, and
took his glass off sadly.
'That reminds me,' said I. 'I have a great curiosity, and you can
satisfy it. Why were you so forward to meddle with poor Mr.
Dubois? Why did you transfer your attentions to me? And
generally, what induced you to make yourself such a nuisance?'
He blushed deeply.
'Why, sir,' says he, 'there is such a thing as patriotism, I hope.'
CHAPTER XVI--THE HOME-COMING OF MR. ROWLEY'S VISCOUNT
By eight the next morning Dudgeon and I had made our parting. By
that time we had grown to be extremely familiar; and I would very
willingly have kept him by me, and even carried him to Amersham
Place. But it appeared he was due at the public-house where we had
met, on some affairs of my great-uncle the Count, who had an
outlying estate in that part of the shire. If Dudgeon had had his
way the night before, I should have been arrested on my uncle's
land and by my uncle's agent, a culmination of ill-luck.
A little after noon I started, in a hired chaise, by way of
Dunstable. The mere mention of the name Amersham Place made every
one supple and smiling. It was plainly a great house, and my uncle
lived there in style. The fame of it rose as we approached, like a
chain of mountains; at Bedford they touched their caps, but in
Dunstable they crawled upon their bellies. I thought the landlady
would have kissed me; such a flutter of cordiality, such smiles,
such affectionate attentions were called forth, and the good lady
bustled on my service in such a pother of ringlets and with such a
jingling of keys. 'You're probably expected, sir, at the Place? I
do trust you may 'ave better accounts of his lordship's 'elth, sir.
We understood that his lordship, Mosha de Carwell, was main bad.
Ha, sir, we shall all feel his loss, poor, dear, noble gentleman;
and I'm sure nobody more polite! They do say, sir, his wealth is
enormous, and before the Revolution, quite a prince in his own
country! But I beg your pardon, sir; 'ow I do run on, to be sure;
and doubtless all beknown to you already! For you do resemble the
family, sir. I should have known you anywheres by the likeness to
the dear viscount. Ha, poor gentleman, he must 'ave a 'eavy 'eart
In the same place I saw out of the inn-windows a man-servant
passing in the livery of my house, which you are to think I had
never before seen worn, or not that I could remember. I had often
enough, indeed, pictured myself advanced to be a Marshal, a Duke of
the Empire, a Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, and some other
kickshaws of the kind, with a perfect rout of flunkeys correctly
dressed in my own colours. But it is one thing to imagine, and
another to see; it would be one thing to have these liveries in a
house of my own in Paris--it was quite another to find them
flaunting in the heart of hostile England; and I fear I should have
made a fool of myself, if the man had not been on the other side of
the street, and I at a one-pane window. There was something
illusory in this transplantation of the wealth and honours of a
family, a thing by its nature so deeply rooted in the soil;
something ghostly in this sense of home-coming so far from home.
From Dunstable I rolled away into a crescendo of similar
impressions. There are certainly few things to be compared with
these castles, or rather country seats, of the English nobility and
gentry; nor anything at all to equal the servility of the
population that dwells in their neighbourhood. Though I was but
driving in a hired chaise, word of my destination seemed to have
gone abroad, and the women curtseyed and the men louted to me by
the wayside. As I came near, I began to appreciate the roots of
this widespread respect. The look of my uncle's park wall, even
from the outside, had something of a princely character; and when I
came in view of the house itself, a sort of madness of vicarious
vain-glory struck me dumb and kept me staring. It was about the
size of the Tuileries. It faced due north; and the last rays of
the sun, that was setting like a red-hot shot amidst a tumultuous
gathering of snow clouds, were reflected on the endless rows of
windows. A portico of Doric columns adorned the front, and would
have done honour to a temple. The servant who received me at the
door was civil to a fault--I had almost said, to offence; and the
hall to which he admitted me through a pair of glass doors was
warmed and already partly lighted by a liberal chimney heaped with
the roots of beeches.
'Vicomte Anne de St. Yves,' said I, in answer to the man's
question; whereupon he bowed before me lower still, and stepping
upon one side introduced me to the truly awful presence of the
major-domo. I have seen many dignitaries in my time, but none who
quite equalled this eminent being; who was good enough to answer to
the unassuming name of Dawson. From him I learned that my uncle
was extremely low, a doctor in close attendance, Mr. Romaine
expected at any moment, and that my cousin, the Vicomte de St.
Yves, had been sent for the same morning.
'It was a sudden seizure, then?' I asked.
Well, he would scarcely go as far as that. It was a decline, a
fading away, sir; but he was certainly took bad the day before, had
sent for Mr. Romaine, and the major-domo had taken it on himself a
little later to send word to the Viscount. 'It seemed to me, my
lord,' said he, 'as if this was a time when all the fambly should
be called together.'
I approved him with my lips, but not in my heart. Dawson was
plainly in the interests of my cousin.
'And when can I expect to see my great-uncle, the Count?' said I.
In the evening, I was told; in the meantime he would show me to my
room, which had been long prepared for me, and I should be expected
to dine in about an hour with the doctor, if my lordship had no
My lordship had not the faintest.
'At the same time,' I said, 'I have had an accident: I have
unhappily lost my baggage, and am here in what I stand in. I don't
know if the doctor be a formalist, but it is quite impossible I
should appear at table as I ought.'
He begged me to be under no anxiety. 'We have been long expecting
you,' said he. 'All is ready.'
Such I found to be the truth. A great room had been prepared for
me; through the mullioned windows the last flicker of the winter
sunset interchanged with the reverberation of a royal fire; the bed
was open, a suit of evening clothes was airing before the blaze,
and from the far corner a boy came forward with deprecatory smiles.
The dream in which I had been moving seemed to have reached its
pitch. I might have quitted this house and room only the night
before; it was my own place that I had come to; and for the first
time in my life I understood the force of the words home and
'This will be all as you would want, sir?' said Mr. Dawson. 'This
'ere boy, Rowley, we place entirely at your disposition. 'E's not
exactly a trained vallet, but Mossho Powl, the Viscount's
gentleman, 'ave give him the benefick of a few lessons, and it is
'oped that he may give sitisfection. Hanythink that you may
require, if you will be so good as to mention the same to Rowley, I
will make it my business myself, sir, to see you sitisfied.'
So saying, the eminent and already detested Mr. Dawson took his
departure, and I was left alone with Rowley. A man who may be said
to have wakened to consciousness in the prison of the Abbaye, among
those ever graceful and ever tragic figures of the brave and fair,
awaiting the hour of the guillotine and denuded of every comfort, I
had never known the luxuries or the amenities of my rank in life.
To be attended on by servants I had only been accustomed to in
inns. My toilet had long been military, to a moment, at the note
of a bugle, too often at a ditch-side. And it need not be wondered
at if I looked on my new valet with a certain diffidence. But I
remembered that if he was my first experience of a valet, I was his
first trial as a master. Cheered by which consideration, I
demanded my bath in a style of good assurance. There was a
bathroom contiguous; in an incredibly short space of time the hot
water was ready; and soon after, arrayed in a shawl dressing-gown,
and in a luxury of contentment and comfort, I was reclined in an
easy-chair before the mirror, while Rowley, with a mixture of pride
and anxiety which I could well understand, laid out his razors.
'Hey, Rowley?' I asked, not quite resigned to go under fire with
such an inexperienced commander. 'It's all right, is it? You feel
pretty sure of your weapons?'
'Yes, my lord,' he replied. 'It's all right, I assure your
'I beg your pardon, Mr. Rowley, 'but for the sake of shortness,
would you mind not belording me in private?' said I. 'It will do
very well if you call me Mr. Anne. It is the way of my country, as
I dare say you know.'
Mr. Rowley looked blank.
'But you're just as much a Viscount as Mr. Powl's, are you not?' he
'As Mr. Powl's Viscount?' said I, laughing. 'Oh, keep your mind
easy, Mr. Rowley's is every bit as good. Only, you see, as I am of
the younger line, I bear my Christian name along with the title.
Alain is the Viscount; I am the Viscount Anne. And in giving me
the name of Mr. Anne, I assure you you will be quite regular.'
'Yes, Mr. Anne,' said the docile youth. 'But about the shaving,
sir, you need be under no alarm. Mr. Powl says I 'ave excellent
'Mr. Powl?' said I. 'That doesn't seem to me very like a French
'No, sir, indeed, my lord,' said he, with a burst of confidence.
'No, indeed, Mr. Anne, and it do not surely. I should say now, it
was more like Mr. Pole.'
'And Mr. Powl is the Viscount's man?'
'Yes, Mr. Anne,' said he. 'He 'ave a hard billet, he do. The
Viscount is a very particular gentleman. I don't think as you'll
be, Mr. Anne?' he added, with a confidential smile in the mirror.
He was about sixteen, well set up, with a pleasant, merry, freckled
face, and a pair of dancing eyes. There was an air at once
deprecatory and insinuating about the rascal that I thought I
recognised. There came to me from my own boyhood memories of
certain passionate admirations long passed away, and the objects of
them long ago discredited or dead. I remembered how anxious I had
been to serve those fleeting heroes, how readily I told myself I
would have died for THEM, how much greater and handsomer than life
they had appeared. And looking in the mirror, it seemed to me that
I read the face of Rowley, like an echo or a ghost, by the light of
my own youth. I have always contended (somewhat against the
opinion of my friends) that I am first of all an economist; and the
last thing that I would care to throw away is that very valuable
piece of property--a boy's hero-worship.
'Why,' said I, 'you shave like an angel, Mr. Rowley!'
'Thank you, my lord,' says he. 'Mr. Powl had no fear of me. You
may be sure, sir, I should never 'ave had this berth if I 'adn't
'ave been up to Dick. We been expecting of you this month back.
My eye! I never see such preparations. Every day the fires has
been kep' up, the bed made, and all! As soon as it was known you
were coming, sir, I got the appointment; and I've been up and down
since then like a Jack-in-the-box. A wheel couldn't sound in the
avenue but what I was at the window! I've had a many
disappointments; but to-night, as soon as you stepped out of the
shay, I knew it was my--it was you. Oh, you had been expected!
Why, when I go down to supper, I'll be the 'ero of the servants'
'all: the 'ole of the staff is that curious!'
'Well,' said I, 'I hope you may be able to give a fair account of
me--sober, steady, industrious, good-tempered, and with a first-
rate character from my last place?'
He laughed an embarrassed laugh. 'Your hair curls beautiful,' he
said, by way of changing the subject. 'The Viscount's the boy for
curls, though; and the richness of it is, Mr. Powl tells me his
don't curl no more than that much twine--by nature. Gettin' old,
the Viscount is. He 'AVE gone the pace, 'aven't 'e, sir?'
'The fact is,' said I, 'that I know very little about him. Our
family has been much divided, and I have been a soldier from a
'A soldier, Mr. Anne, sir?' cried Rowley, with a sudden feverish
animation. 'Was you ever wounded?'
It is contrary to my principles to discourage admiration for
myself; and, slipping back the shoulder of the dressing-gown, I
silently exhibited the scar which I had received in Edinburgh
Castle. He looked at it with awe.
'Ah, well!' he continued, 'there's where the difference comes in!
It's in the training. The other Viscount have been horse-racing,
and dicing, and carrying on all his life. All right enough, no
doubt; but what I do say is, that it don't lead to nothink.
'Whereas Mr. Rowley's?' I put in.
'My Viscount?' said he. 'Well, sir, I DID say it; and now that
I've seen you, I say it again!'
I could not refrain from smiling at this outburst, and the rascal
caught me in the mirror and smiled to me again.
'I'd say it again, Mr. Hanne,' he said. 'I know which side my
bread's buttered. I know when a gen'leman's a gen'leman. Mr. Powl
can go to Putney with his one! Beg your pardon, Mr. Anne, for
being so familiar,' said he, blushing suddenly scarlet. 'I was
especially warned against it by Mr. Powl.'
'Discipline before all,' said I. 'Follow your front-rank man.
With that, we began to turn our attention to the clothes. I was
amazed to find them fit so well: not a la diable, in the haphazard
manner of a soldier's uniform or a ready-made suit; but with
nicety, as a trained artist might rejoice to make them for a
''Tis extraordinary,' cried I: 'these things fit me perfectly.'
'Indeed, Mr. Anne, you two be very much of a shape,' said Rowley.
'Who? What two?' said I.
'The Viscount,' he said.
'Damnation! Have I the man's clothes on me, too?' cried I.
But Rowley hastened to reassure me. On the first word of my
coming, the Count had put the matter of my wardrobe in the hands of
his own and my cousin's tailors; and on the rumour of our
resemblance, my clothes had been made to Alain's measure.
'But they were all made for you express, Mr. Anne. You may be
certain the Count would never do nothing by 'alf: fires kep'
burning; the finest of clothes ordered, I'm sure, and a body-
servant being trained a-purpose.'
'Well,' said I, 'it's a good fire, and a good set-out of clothes;
and what a valet, Mr. Rowley! And there's one thing to be said for
my cousin--I mean for Mr. Powl's Viscount--he has a very fair
'Oh, don't you be took in, Mr. Anne,' quoth the faithless Rowley:
'he has to be hyked into a pair of stays to get them things on!'
'Come, come, Mr. Rowley,' said I, 'this is telling tales out of
school! Do not you be deceived. The greatest men of antiquity,
including Caesar and Hannibal and Pope Joan, may have been very
glad, at my time of life or Alain's, to follow his example. 'Tis a
misfortune common to all; and really,' said I, bowing to myself
before the mirror like one who should dance the minuet, 'when the
result is so successful as this, who would do anything but
My toilet concluded, I marched on to fresh surprises. My chamber,
my new valet and my new clothes had been beyond hope: the dinner,
the soup, the whole bill of fare was a revelation of the powers
there are in man. I had not supposed it lay in the genius of any
cook to create, out of common beef and mutton, things so different
and dainty. The wine was of a piece, the doctor a most agreeable
companion; nor could I help reflecting on the prospect that all
this wealth, comfort and handsome profusion might still very
possibly become mine. Here were a change indeed, from the common
soldier and the camp kettle, the prisoner and his prison rations,
the fugitive and the horrors of the covered cart!
CHAPTER XVII--THE DESPATCH-BOX
The doctor had scarce finished his meal before he hastened with an
apology to attend upon his patient; and almost immediately after I
was myself summoned and ushered up the great staircase and along
interminable corridors to the bedside of my great-uncle the Count.
You are to think that up to the present moment I had not set eyes
on this formidable personage, only on the evidences of his wealth
and kindness. You are to think besides that I had heard him
miscalled and abused from my earliest childhood up. The first of
the emigres could never expect a good word in the society in which
my father moved. Even yet the reports I received were of a
doubtful nature; even Romaine had drawn of him no very amiable
portrait; and as I was ushered into the room, it was a critical eye
that I cast on my great-uncle. He lay propped on pillows in a
little cot no greater than a camp-bed, not visibly breathing. He
was about eighty years of age, and looked it; not that his face was
much lined, but all the blood and colour seemed to have faded from
his body, and even his eyes, which last he kept usually closed as
though the light distressed him. There was an unspeakable degree
of slyness in his expression, which kept me ill at ease; he seemed
to lie there with his arms folded, like a spider waiting for prey.
His speech was very deliberate and courteous, but scarce louder
than a sigh.
'I bid you welcome, Monsieur le Vicomte Anne,' said he, looking at
me hard with his pale eyes, but not moving on his pillows. 'I have
sent for you, and I thank you for the obliging expedition you have
shown. It is my misfortune that I cannot rise to receive you. I
trust you have been reasonably well entertained?'
'Monsieur mon oncle,' I said, bowing very low, 'I am come at the
summons of the head of my family.'
'It is well,' he said. 'Be seated. I should be glad to hear some
news--if that can be called news that is already twenty years old--
of how I have the pleasure to see you here.'
By the coldness of his address, not more than by the nature of the
times that he bade me recall, I was plunged in melancholy. I felt
myself surrounded as with deserts of friendlessness, and the
delight of my welcome was turned to ashes in my mouth.
'That is soon told, monseigneur,' said I. 'I understand that I
need tell you nothing of the end of my unhappy parents? It is only
the story of the lost dog.'
'You are right. I am sufficiently informed of that deplorable
affair; it is painful to me. My nephew, your father, was a man who
would not be advised,' said he. 'Tell me, if you please, simply of
'I am afraid I must run the risk of harrowing your sensibility in
the beginning,' said I, with a bitter smile, 'because my story
begins at the foot of the guillotine. When the list came out that
night, and her name was there, I was already old enough, not in
years but in sad experience, to understand the extent of my
misfortune. She--' I paused. 'Enough that she arranged with a
friend, Madame de Chasserades, that she should take charge of me,
and by the favour of our jailers I was suffered to remain in the
shelter of the Abbaye. That was my only refuge; there was no
corner of France that I could rest the sole of my foot upon except
the prison. Monsieur le Comte, you are as well aware as I can be
what kind of a life that was, and how swiftly death smote in that
society. I did not wait long before the name of Madame de
Chasserades succeeded to that of my mother on the list. She passed
me on to Madame de Noytot; she, in her turn, to Mademoiselle de
Braye; and there were others. I was the one thing permanent; they
were all transient as clouds; a day or two of their care, and then
came the last farewell and--somewhere far off in that roaring Paris
that surrounded us--the bloody scene. I was the cherished one, the
last comfort, of these dying women. I have been in pitched fights,
my lord, and I never knew such courage. It was all done smiling,
in the tone of good society; belle maman was the name I was taught
to give to each; and for a day or two the new "pretty mamma" would
make much of me, show me off, teach me the minuet, and to say my
prayers; and then, with a tender embrace, would go the way of her
predecessors, smiling. There were some that wept too. There was a
childhood! All the time Monsieur de Culemberg kept his eye on me,
and would have had me out of the Abbaye and in his own protection,
but my "pretty mammas" one after another resisted the idea. Where
could I be safer? they argued; and what was to become of them
without the darling of the prison? Well, it was soon shown how
safe I was! The dreadful day of the massacre came; the prison was
overrun; none paid attention to me, not even the last of my "pretty
mammas," for she had met another fate. I was wandering distracted,
when I was found by some one in the interests of Monsieur de
Culemberg. I understand he was sent on purpose; I believe, in
order to reach the interior of the prison, he had set his hand to
nameless barbarities: such was the price paid for my worthless,
whimpering little life! He gave me his hand; it was wet, and mine
was reddened; he led me unresisting. I remember but the one
circumstance of my flight--it was my last view of my last pretty
mamma. Shall I describe it to you?' I asked the Count, with a
'Avoid unpleasant details,' observed my great-uncle gently.
At these words a sudden peace fell upon me. I had been angry with
the man before; I had not sought to spare him; and now, in a
moment, I saw that there was nothing to spare. Whether from
natural heartlessness or extreme old age, the soul was not at home;
and my benefactor, who had kept the fire lit in my room for a month
past--my only relative except Alain, whom I knew already to be a
hired spy--had trodden out the last sparks of hope and interest.
'Certainly,' said I; 'and, indeed, the day for them is nearly over.
I was taken to Monsieur de Culemberg's,--I presume, sir, that you
know the Abbe de Culemberg?'
He indicated assent without opening his eyes.
'He was a very brave and a very learned man--'
'And a very holy one,' said my uncle civilly.
'And a very holy one, as you observe,' I continued. 'He did an
infinity of good, and through all the Terror kept himself from the
guillotine. He brought me up, and gave me such education as I
have. It was in his house in the country at Dammarie, near Melun,
that I made the acquaintance of your agent, Mr. Vicary, who lay
there in hiding, only to fall a victim at the last to a gang of
'That poor Mr. Vicary!' observed my uncle. 'He had been many times
in my interests to France, and this was his first failure. Quel
charmant homme, n'est-ce pas?'
'Infinitely so,' said I. 'But I would not willingly detain you any
further with a story, the details of which it must naturally be
more or less unpleasant for you to hear. Suffice it that, by M. de
Culemberg's own advice, I said farewell at eighteen to that kind
preceptor and his books, and entered the service of France; and
have since then carried arms in such a manner as not to disgrace my
'You narrate well; vous aves la voix chaude,' said my uncle,
turning on his pillows as if to study me. 'I have a very good
account of you by Monsieur de Mauseant, whom you helped in Spain.
And you had some education from the Abbe de Culemberg, a man of a
good house? Yes, you will do very well. You have a good manner
and a handsome person, which hurts nothing. We are all handsome in
the family; even I myself, I have had my successes, the memories of
which still charm me. It is my intention, my nephew, to make of
you my heir. I am not very well content with my other nephew,
Monsieur le Vicomte: he has not been respectful, which is the
flattery due to age. And there are other matters.'
I was half tempted to throw back in his face that inheritance so
coldly offered. At the same time I had to consider that he was an
old man, and, after all, my relation; and that I was a poor one, in
considerable straits, with a hope at heart which that inheritance
might yet enable me to realise. Nor could I forget that, however
icy his manners, he had behaved to me from the first with the
extreme of liberality and--I was about to write, kindness, but the
word, in that connection, would not come. I really owed the man
some measure of gratitude, which it would be an ill manner to repay
if I were to insult him on his deathbed.
'Your will, monsieur, must ever be my rule,' said I, bowing.
'You have wit, monsieur mon neveu,' said he, 'the best wit--the wit
of silence. Many might have deafened me with their gratitude.
Gratitude!' he repeated, with a peculiar intonation, and lay and
smiled to himself. 'But to approach what is more important. As a
prisoner of war, will it be possible for you to be served heir to
English estates? I have no idea: long as I have dwelt in England,
I have never studied what they call their laws. On the other hand,
how if Romaine should come too late? I have two pieces of business
to be transacted--to die, and to make my will; and, however
desirous I may be to serve you, I cannot postpone the first in
favour of the second beyond a very few hours.'
'Well, sir, I must then contrive to be doing as I did before,' said
'Not so,' said the Count. 'I have an alternative. I have just
drawn my balance at my banker's, a considerable sum, and I am now
to place it in your hands. It will be so much for you and so much
less--' he paused, and smiled with an air of malignity that
surprised me. 'But it is necessary it should be done before
witnesses. Monsieur le Vicomte is of a particular disposition, and
an unwitnessed donation may very easily be twisted into a theft.'
He touched a bell, which was answered by a man having the
appearance of a confidential valet. To him he gave a key.
'Bring me the despatch-box that came yesterday, La Ferriere,' said
he. 'You will at the same time present my compliments to Dr.
Hunter and M. l'Abbe, and request them to step for a few moments to
The despatch-box proved to be rather a bulky piece of baggage,
covered with Russia leather. Before the doctor and an excellent
old smiling priest it was passed over into my hands with a very
clear statement of the disposer's wishes; immediately after which,
though the witnesses remained behind to draw up and sign a joint
note of the transaction, Monsieur de Keroual dismissed me to my own
room, La Ferriere following with the invaluable box.
At my chamber door I took it from him with thanks, and entered
alone. Everything had been already disposed for the night, the
curtains drawn and the fire trimmed; and Rowley was still busy with
my bedclothes. He turned round as I entered with a look of welcome
that did my heart good. Indeed, I had never a much greater need of
human sympathy, however trivial, than at that moment when I held a
fortune in my arms. In my uncle's room I had breathed the very
atmosphere of disenchantment. He had gorged my pockets; he had
starved every dignified or affectionate sentiment of a man. I had
received so chilling an impression of age and experience that the
mere look of youth drew me to confide in Rowley: he was only a