Part 1 out of 11
Etext prepared by Polly Stratton and Andrew Sly
The Broad Highway
by Jeffery Farnol
Shirley Byron Jevons
The friend of my boyish ambitions
This book is dedicated
As a mark of my gratitude, affection and esteem
As I sat of an early summer morning in the shade of a tree,
eating fried bacon with a tinker, the thought came to me that I
might some day write a book of my own: a book that should treat
of the roads and by-roads, of trees, and wind in lonely places,
of rapid brooks and lazy streams, of the glory of dawn, the glow
of evening, and the purple solitude of night; a book of wayside
inns and sequestered taverns; a book of country things and ways
and people. And the thought pleased me much.
"But," objected the Tinker, for I had spoken my thought aloud,
"trees and suchlike don't sound very interestin'--leastways--not
in a book, for after all a tree's only a tree and an inn, an inn;
no, you must tell of other things as well."
"Yes," said I, a little damped, "to be sure there is a highwayman--"
"Come, that's better!" said the Tinker encouragingly.
"Then," I went on, ticking off each item on my fingers, "come Tom
Cragg, the pugilist--"
"Better and better!" nodded the Tinker.
"--a one-legged soldier of the Peninsula, an adventure at a
lonely tavern, a flight through woods at midnight pursued by
desperate villains, and--a most extraordinary tinker. So far so
good, I think, and it all sounds adventurous enough."
"What!" cried the Tinker. "Would you put me in your book then?"
"Why then," said the Tinker, "it's true I mends kettles, sharpens
scissors and such, but I likewise peddles books an' nov-els, an'
what's more I reads 'em--so, if you must put me in your book, you
might call me a literary cove."
"A literary cove?" said I.
"Ah!" said the Tinker, "it sounds better--a sight better--besides,
I never read a nov-el with a tinker in it as I remember; they're
generally dooks, or earls, or barronites--nobody wants to read
about a tinker."
"That all depends," said I; "a tinker may be much more
interesting than an earl or even a duke."
The Tinker examined the piece of bacon upon his knifepoint with a
cold and disparaging eye.
"I've read a good many nov-els in my time," said he, shaking his
head, "and I knows what I'm talking of;" here he bolted the
morsel of bacon with much apparent relish. "I've made love to
duchesses, run off with heiresses, and fought dooels--ah! by the
hundred--all between the covers of some book or other and enjoyed
it uncommonly well--especially the dooels. If you can get a
little blood into your book, so much the better; there's nothing
like a little blood in a book--not a great deal, but just enough
to give it a 'tang,' so to speak; if you could kill your
highwayman to start with it would be a very good beginning to
"I could do that, certainly," said I, "but it would not be
according to fact."
"So much the better," said the Tinker; "who wants facts in a
"Hum!" said I.
"And then again--"
"What more?" I inquired.
"Love!" said the Tinker, wiping his knife-blade on the leg of his
"Love?" I repeated.
"And plenty of it," said the Tinker.
"I'm afraid that is impossible," said I, after a moment's
Because I know nothing about love."
"That's a pity," said the Tinker.
"Under the circumstances, it is," said I.
"Not a doubt of it," said the Tinker, beginning to scrub out the
frying-pan with a handful of grass, "though to be sure you might
learn; you're young enough."
"Yes, I might learn," said I; "who knows?"
"Ah! who knows?" said the Tinker. And after he had cleansed the
pan to his satisfaction, he turned to me with dexter finger
upraised and brow of heavy portent. "Young fellow," said he, "no
man can write a good nov-el without he knows summat about love,
it aren't to be expected--so the sooner you do learn, the better."
"Hum!" said I.
"And then, as I said afore and I say it again, they wants love in
a book nowadays, and wot's more they will have it."
"They?" said I.
"The folk as will read your book--after it is written."
"Ah! to be sure," said I, somewhat taken aback; "I had forgotten
"Forgotten them?" repeated the Tinker, staring.
"Forgotten that people might went to read it--after it is
"But," said the Tinker, rubbing his nose hard, "books are written
for people to read, aren't they?"
"Not always," said I.
Hereupon the Tinker rubbed his nose harder than ever.
"Many of the world's greatest books, those masterpieces which
have lived and shall live on forever, were written (as I believe)
for the pure love of writing them."
"Oh!" said the Tinker.
"Yes," said I, warming to my theme, "and with little or no idea
of the eyes of those unborn generations which were to read and
marvel at them; hence it is we get those sublime thoughts
untrammelled by passing tastes and fashions, unbounded by narrow
creed or popular prejudice."
"Ah?" said the Tinker.
"Many a great writer has been spoiled by fashion and success,
for, so soon as he begins to think upon his public, how best to
please and hold their fancy (which is ever the most fickle of
mundane things) straightway Genius spreads abroad his pinions and
leaves him in the mire."
"Poor cove!" said the Tinker. "Young man, you smile, I think?"
"No," said I.
"Well, supposing a writer never had no gen'us--how then?"
"Why then," said I, "he should never dare to write at all."
"Young fellow," said the Tinker, glancing at me from the corners
of his eyes, "are you sure you are a gen'us then?"
Now when my companion said this I fell silent, for the very
sufficient reason that I found nothing to say.
"Lord love you!" said he at last, seeing me thus "hipped"--"don't
be downhearted--don't be dashed afore you begin; we can't all be
gen'uses--it aren't to be expected, but some on us is a good deal
better than most and that's something arter all. As for your book,
wot you have to do is to give 'em a little blood now and then with
plenty of love and you can't go far wrong!"
Now whether the Tinker's theory for the writing of a good novel
be right or wrong, I will not presume to say. But in this book
that lies before you, though you shall read, if you choose, of
country things and ways and people, yet, because that part of my
life herein recorded was a something hard, rough life, you shall
read also of blood; and, because I came, in the end, to love very
greatly, so shall you read of love.
Wherefore, then, I am emboldened to hope that when you shall have
turned the last page and closed this book, you shall do so with a
CHIEFLY CONCERNING MY UNCLE'S LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT
"'And to my nephew, Maurice Vibart, I bequeath the sum of twenty
thousand pounds in the fervent hope that it may help him to the
devil within the year, or as soon after as may be.'"
Here Mr. Grainger paused in his reading to glance up over the rim
of his spectacles, while Sir Richard lay back in his chair and
laughed loudly. "Gad!" he exclaimed, still chuckling, "I'd give
a hundred pounds if he could have been present to hear that," and
the baronet went off into another roar of merriment.
Mr. Grainger, on the other hand, dignified and solemn, coughed a
short, dry cough behind his hand.
"Help him to the devil within the year," repeated Sir Richard,
"Pray proceed, sir," said I, motioning towards the will.... But
instead of complying, Mr. Grainger laid down the parchment, and
removing his spectacles, began to polish them with a large silk
"You are, I believe, unacquainted with your cousin, Sir Maurice
Vibart?" he inquired.
"I have never seen him," said I; "all my life has been passed
either at school or the university, but I have frequently heard
mention of him, nevertheless."
"Egad!" cried Sir Richard, "who hasn't heard of Buck Vibart--beat
Ted Jarraway of Swansea in five rounds--drove coach and four down
Whitehall--on sidewalk--ran away with a French marquise while but
a boy of twenty, and shot her husband into the bargain. Devilish
celebrated figure in 'sporting circles,' friend of the Prince
"So I understand," said I.
"Altogether as complete a young blackguard as ever swaggered down
St. James's." Having said which, Sir Richard crossed his legs
and inhaled a pinch of snuff.
"Twenty thousand pounds is a very handsome sum," remarked Mr.
Grainger ponderously and as though more with the intention of
saying something rather than remain silent just then.
"Indeed it is," said I, "and might help a man to the devil as
comfortably as need be, but--"
"Though," pursued Mr. Grainger, "much below his expectations and
sadly inadequate to his present needs, I fear."
"That is most unfortunate," said I, "but--"
"His debts," said Mr. Grainger, busy at his spectacles again,
"his debts are very heavy, I believe."
"Then doubtless some arrangement can be made to--but continue your
reading, I beg," said I.
Mr. Grainger repeated his short, dry cough and taking up the will,
slowly and almost as though unwillingly, cleared his throat and
began as follows:
"'Furthermore, to my nephew, Peter Vibart, cousin to the above, I
will and bequeath my blessing and the sum of ten guineas in cash,
wherewith to purchase a copy of Zeno or any other of the stoic
philosophers he may prefer.'"
Again Mr. Grainger laid down the will, and again he regarded me
over the rim of his spectacles.
"Good God!" cried Sir Richard, leaping to his feet, "the man must
have been mad. Ten guineas--why, it's an insult--damme!--it's an
insult--you'll never take it of course, Peter."
"On the contrary, sir," said I.
"But--ten guineas!" bellowed the baronet; "on my soul now, George
was a cold-blooded fish, but I didn't think even he was capable
of such a despicable trick--no--curse me if I did! Why, it would
have been kinder to have left you nothing at all--but it was like
George--bitter to the end--ten guineas!"
"Is ten guineas," said I, "and when one comes to think of it,
much may be done with ten guineas."
Sir Richard grew purple in the face, but before he could speak,
Mr. Grainger began to read again:
"'Moreover, the sum of five hundred thousand pounds, now vested
in the funds, shall be paid to either Maurice or Peter Vibart
aforesaid, if either shall, within one calendar year, become the
husband of the Lady Sophia Sefton of Cambourne.'"
"Good God!" exclaimed Sir Richard.
"'Failing which,'" read Mr. Grainger, "'the said sum, namely,
five hundred thousand pounds, shall be bestowed upon such charity
or charities as the trustees shall select. Signed by me, this
tenth day of April, eighteen hundred and--, GEORGE VIBRART. Duly
witnessed by ADAM PENFLEET, MARTHA TRENT."'
Here Mr. Grainger's voice stopped, and I remember, in the silence
that followed, the parchment crackled very loudly as he folded it
precisely and laid it on the table before him. I remember also
that Sir Richard was swearing vehemently under his breath as he
paced to and fro between me and the window.
"And that is all?" I inquired at last.
"That," said Mr. Grainger, not looking at me now, "is all."
"The Lady Sophia," murmured Sir Richard as if to "himself, "the
Lady Sophia!" And then, stopping suddenly before me in his walk,
"Oh, Peter!" said he, clapping his hand down upon my shoulder,
"oh, Peter, that settles it; you're done for, boy--a crueller
will was never made."
"Marriage!" said I to myself. "Hum!"
"A damnable iniquity," exclaimed Sir Richard, striding up and
down the room again.
"The Lady Sophia Sefton of Cambourne!" said I, rubbing my chin.
"Why, that's just it," roared the baronet; "she's a reigning
toast--most famous beauty in the country, London's mad over
her--she can pick and choose from all the finest gentlemen in
England. Oh, it's 'good-by' to all your hopes of the inheritance,
Peter, and that's the devil of it."
"Sir, I fail to see your argument," said I.
"What?" cried Sir Richard, facing round on me, "d'you think
you'd have a chance with her then?"
"Without friends, position, of money? Pish, boy! don't I tell
you that every buck and dandy--every mincing macaroni in the
three kingdoms would give his very legs to marry her--either for
her beauty or her fortune?" spluttered the baronet. "And let me
inform you further that she's devilish high and haughty with it
all--they do say she even rebuffed the Prince Regent himself."
"But then, sir, I consider myself a better man than the Prince
Regent," said I.
Sir Richard sank into the nearest chair and stared at me
"Sir," I continued, "you doubtless set me down as an egoist of
egoists. I freely confess it; so are you, so is Mr. Grainger
yonder, so are we all of us egoists in thinking ourselves as good
as some few of our neighbors and better than a great many."
"Deuce take me!" said Sir Richard.
"Referring to the Lady Sophia, I have heard that she once
galloped her horse up the steps of St. Paul's Cathedral--"
"And down again, Peter," added Sir Richard.
"Also she is said to be possessed of a temper," I continued, "and
is above the average height, I believe, and I have a natural
antipathy to termagants, more especially tall ones."
"Termagant!" cried Sir Richard. "Why, she's the handsomest woman
in London, boy. She's none of your milk-and-watery, meek-mouthed
misses--curse me, no! She's all fire and blood and high mettle--a
woman, sir glorious--divine--damme, sir, a black-browed goddess--a
"Sir Richard," said I, "should I ever contemplate marriage, which
is most improbable, my wife must be sweet and shy, gentle-eyed and
soft of voice, instead of your bold, strong-armed, horse-galloping
creature; above all, she must be sweet and clinging--"
"Sweet and sticky, oh, the devil! Hark to the boy, Grainger,"
cried Sir Richard, "hark to him--and one glance of the glorious
Sefton's bright eyes--one glance only, Grainger, and he'd be at
her feet--on his knees--on his confounded knees, sir!"
"The question is, how do you propose to maintain yourself in the
future?" said Mr. Grainger at this point; "life under your altered
fortunes must prove necessarily hard, Mr. Peter."
"And yet, sir," I answered, "a fortune with a wife tagged on to
it must prove a very mixed blessing after all; and then again,
there may be a certain amount of satisfaction in stepping into a
dead man's shoes, but I, very foolishly, perhaps, have a hankering
for shoes of my own. Surely there must be some position in life
that I am competent to fill, some position that would maintain me
honorably and well; I flatter myself that my years at Oxford were
not altogether barren of result--"
"By no means," put in Sir Richard; "you won the High Jump,
"Sir, I did," said I; "also 'Throwing the Hammer.'"
"And spent two thousand pounds per annum?" said Sir Richard.
"Sir, I did, but between whiles managed to do fairly well in the
Tripos, to finish a new and original translation of Quintilian,
another of Petronius Arbiter and also a literal rendering into
the English of the Memoirs of the Sieur de Brantome."
"For none of which you have hitherto found a publisher?" inquired
"Not as yet," said I, "but I have great hopes of my Brantome, as
you are probably aware this is the first time he has ever been
translated into the English."
"Hum!" said Sir Richard, "ha!--and in the meantime what do you
intend to do?"
"On that head I have as yet come to no definite conclusion, sir,"
"I have been wondering," began Mr. Grainger, somewhat diffidently,
"if you would care to accept a position in my office. To be sure
the remuneration would be small at first and quite insignificant
in comparison to the income you have been in the receipt of."
"But it would have been money earned," said I, "which is
infinitely preferable to that for which we never turn a hand--at
least, I think so."
"Then you accept?"
"No, sir," said I, "though I am grateful to you, and thank you
most sincerely for your offer, yet I have never felt the least
inclination to the practice of law; where there is no interest
one's work must necessarily suffer, and I have no desire that
your business should be injured by any carelessness of mine."
"What do you think of a private tutorship?"
"It would suit me above all things were it not for the fact that
the genus 'Boy' is the most aggravating of all animals, and that
I am conscious of a certain shortness of temper at times, which
might result in pain to my pupil, loss of dignity to myself, and
general unpleasantness to all concerned--otherwise a private
tutorship would suit most admirably."
Here Sir Richard took another pinch of snuff and sat frowning up
at the ceiling, while Mr. Grainger began tying up that document
which had so altered my prospects. As for me, I crossed to the
window and stood staring out at the evening. Everywhere were trees
tinted by the rosy glow of sunset, trees that stirred sleepily in
the gentle wind, and far away I could see that famous highway,
built and paved for the march of Roman Legions, winding away to
where it vanished over distant Shooter's Hill.
"And pray," said Sir Richard, still frowning at the ceiling,
"what do you propose to do with yourself?"
Now, as I looked out upon this fair evening, I became, of a
sudden, possessed of an overmastering desire, a great longing for
field and meadow and hedgerow, for wood and coppice and shady
stream, for sequestered inns and wide, wind-swept heaths, and
ever the broad highway in front. Thus I answered Sir Richard's
question unhesitatingly, and without turning from the window:
"I shall go, sir, on a walking tour through Kent and Surrey into
Devonshire, and thence probably to Cornwall."
"And with a miserable ten guineas in your pocket? Preposterous
--absurd!" retorted Sir Richard.
"On the contrary, sir," said I, "the more I ponder the project,
the more enamored of it I become."
"And when your money is all gone--how then?"
"I shall turn my hand to some useful employment," said I;
"digging, for instance."
"Digging!" ejaculated Sir Richard, "and you a scholar--and what
is more, a gentleman!"
"My dear Sir Richard," said I, "that all depends upon how you
would define a gentleman. To me he would appear, of late years,
to have degenerated into a creature whose chief end in life is to
spend money he has never earned, to reproduce his species with a
deplorable frequency and promiscuity, habitually to drink more
than is good for him, and, between whiles, to fill in his time
hunting, cock-fighting, or watching entranced while two men pound
each other unrecognizable in the prize ring. Occasionally he has
the good taste to break his neck in the hunting field, or get
himself gloriously shot in a duel, but the generality live on to
a good old age, turn their attention to matters political and,
following the dictates of their class, damn reform with a
whole-hearted fervor equalled only by their rancor."
"Deuce take me!" ejaculated Sir Richard feebly, while Mr. Grainger
buried his face in his pocket-handkerchief.
"To my mind," I ended, "the man who sweats over a spade or follows
the tail of a plough is far nobler and higher in the Scheme of
Things than any of your young 'bloods' driving his coach and four
to Brighton to the danger of all and sundry."
Sir Richard slowly got up out of his chair, staring at me
open-mouthed. "Good God!" he exclaimed at last, "the boy's a
I smiled and shrugged my shoulders, but, before I could speak,
Mr. Grainger interposed, sedate and solemn as usual:
"Referring to your proposed tour, Mr. Peter, when do you expect
"Early to-morrow morning, sir."
"I will not attempt to dissuade you, well knowing the difficulty,"
said he, with a faint smile, "but a letter addressed to me at
Lincoln's Inn will always find me and receive my most earnest
attention." So saying, he rose, bowed, and having shaken my hand,
left the room, closing the door behind him.
"Peter," exclaimed the baronet, striding up and down, "Peter, you
are a fool, sir, a hot-headed, self-sufficient, pragmatical young
fool, sir, curse me!"
"I am sorry you should think so," I answered.
"And," he continued, regarding me with a defiant eye, "I shall
expect you to draw upon me for any sum that--that you may require
for the present--friendship's sake--boyhood and--and all that
sort of thing, and--er--oh, damme, you understand, Peter?"
"Sir Richard," said I, grasping his unwilling hand, "I--I thank
you from the bottom of my heart."
"Pooh, Peter, dammit!" said he, snatching his hand away and
thrusting it hurriedly into his pocket, out of farther reach.
"Thank you, sir," I reiterated; "be sure that should I fall ill or
any unforeseen calamity happen to me, I will most gladly, most
gratefully accept your generous aid in the spirit in which it is
"But?" exclaimed Sir Richard.
"Oh, the devil!" said Sir Richard, and ringing the bell ordered
his horse to be brought to the door, and thereafter stood with
his back to the empty fireplace, his fists thrust down into his
pockets, frowning heavily and with a fixed intentness at the
Sir Richard Anstruther is tall and broad, ruddy of face, with a
prominent nose and great square chin whose grimness is offset by
a mouth singularly sweet and tender, and the kindly light of blue
eyes; he is in very truth a gentleman. Indeed, as he stood there
in his plain blue coat with its high roll collar and shining
silver buttons, his spotless moleskins and heavy, square-toed
riding boots, he was as fair a type as might be of the English
country gentleman. It is such men as he, who, fearless upon the
littered quarterdecks of reeling battleships, undismayed amid the
smoke and death of stricken fields, their duty well and nobly
done; have turned their feet homewards to pass their latter days
amid their turnips and cabbages, beating their swords into
pruning-hooks, and glad enough to do it.
"Peter," said he suddenly.
"Sir?" said I.
"You never saw your father to remember, did you?"
"No, Sir Richard."
"Nor your mother?"
"Nor my mother."
"Poor boy--poor boy!"
"You knew my mother?"
"Yes, Peter, I knew your mother," said Sir Richard, staring very
hard at the chair again, and I saw that his mouth had grown
wonderfully tender. "Yours has been a very secluded life hitherto,
Peter," he went on after a moment.
"Entirely so," said I, "with the exception of my
never-to-be-forgotten visits to the Hall."
"Ah, yes, I taught you to ride, remember."
"You are associated with every boyish pleasure I ever knew," said
I, laying my hand upon his arm. Sir Richard coughed and grew
suddenly red in the face.
"Why--ah--you see, Peter," he began, picking up his riding whip
and staring at it, "you see your uncle was never very fond of
company at any time, whereas I--"
"Whereas you could always find time to remember the lonely boy
left when all his companions were gone on their holidays--left to
his books and the dreary desolation of the empty schoolhouse, and
"Pooh!" exclaimed Sir Richard, redder than ever. "Bosh!"
"Do you think I can ever forget the glorious day when you drove
over in your coach and four, and carried me off in triumph, and
how we raced the white-hatted fellow in the tilbury--?"
"And beat him!" added Sir Richard.
"Took off his near wheel on the turn," said I.
"The fool's own fault," said Sir Richard.
"And left him in the ditch, cursing us!" said I.
"Egad, yes, Peter! Oh, but those were fine horses and though I
say it, no better team in the south country. You'll remember the
'off wheeler' broke his leg shortly after and had to be shot,
"And later, at Oxford," I began.
"What now, Peter?" said Sir Richard, frowning darkly.
"Do you remember the bronze vase that used to stand on the
mantelpiece in my study?"
"Bronze vase?" repeated Sir Richard, intent upon his whip again.
"I used to find bank-notes in it after you had visited me,
and when I hid the vase they turned up just the same in most
"Young fellow--must have money--necessary--now and then,"
muttered Sir Richard.
At this juncture, with a discreet knock, the butler appeared to
announce that Sir Richard's horse was waiting. Hereupon the
baronet, somewhat hastily, caught up his hat and gloves, and I
followed him out of the house and down the steps.
Sir Richard drew on his gloves, thrust his toe into the stirrup,
and then turned to look at me over his arm.
"Peter," said he.
"Sir Richard?" said I.
"Regarding your walking tour--"
"I think it's all damned tomfoolery!" said Sir Richard. After
saying which he swung himself into the saddle with a lightness
and ease that many younger might have envied.
"I'm sorry for that, sir, because my mind is set upon it."
"With ten guineas in your pocket!"
"That, with due economy, should be ample until I can find some
means to earn more."
"A fiddlestick, sir--an accursed fiddlestick!" snorted Sir
Richard. "How is a boy, an unsophisticated, hot-headed young
fool of a boy to earn his own living?"
"Others have done it," I began.
"Pish!" said the baronet.
"And been the better for it in the end."
"Tush!" said the baronet.
"And I have a great desire to see the world from the viewpoint of
"Bah!" said the baronet, so forcibly that his mare started; "this
comes of your damnable Revolutionary tendencies. Let me tell
you, Want is a hard master, and the world a bad place for one who
is moneyless and without friends."
"You forget, sir, I shall never be without a friend."
"God knows it, boy," answered Sir Richard, and his hand fell and
rested for a moment upon my shoulder. "Peter," said he, very
slowly and heavily, "I'm growing old--and I shall never marry--and
sometimes, Peter, of an evening I get very lonely and--lonely,
Peter." He stopped for a while, gazing away towards the green
slopes of distant Shooter's Hill. "Oh, boy!" said he at last,
"won't you come to the Hall and help me to spend my money?"
Without answering I reached up and clasped his hand; it was the
hand which held his whip, and I noticed how tightly he gripped
the handle, and wondered.
"Sir Richard," said I at last, "wherever I go I shall treasure
the recollection of this moment, but--"
"Oh, dammit!" he exclaimed, and set spurs to his mare. Yet once
he turned in his saddle to flourish his whip to me ere he
galloped out of sight.
I SET OUT
The clock of the square-towered Norman church, a mile away, was
striking the hour of four as I let myself out into the morning.
It was dark as yet, and chilly, but in the east was already a
faint glimmer of dawn. Reaching the stables, I paused with my
hand on the door-hasp, listening to the hiss, hissing that told me
Adam, the groom, was already at work within. As I entered he
looked up from the saddle he was polishing and touched his
forehead with a grimy forefinger.
"You be early abroad, Mr. Peter."
"Yes," said I. "I wish to be on Shooter's Hill at sunrise; but
first I came to say 'good-by' to 'Wings.'"
"To be sure, sir," nodded Adam, picking up his lanthorn.
Upon the ensuing interview I will not dwell; it was affecting
both to her and to myself, for we were mutually attached.
"Sir," said Adam, when at last the stable door had closed behind
us, "that there mare knows as you're a-leaving her."
"I think she does, Adam."
"'Osses be wonderful wise, sir!"
"This is a bad day for Wings, sir--and all of us, for that
"I hope not, Adam."
"You be a-going away, they tell me, sir?"
"Yes, going away," I nodded.
"Wonder what'll become o' the mare, sir?"
"Ah, yes, I wonder," said I.
"Everything to be sold under the will, I think, sir?"
"Excuse me, sir," said he, knuckling his forehead, "you won't be
wanting ever a groom, will you?"
"No, Adam," I answered, shaking my head, "I sha'n't be wanting a
"Nor yet a body servant, sir?"
"No, Adam, nor yet a body servant."
Here there ensued a silence during which Adam knuckled his right
temple again and I tightened the buckle of my knapsack.
"I think, Adam," said I, "I think it is going to be a fine day."
"Good-by, Adam!" said I, and held out my hand.
"Good-by, sir." And, having shaken my hand, he turned and went
back into the stable.
So I set off, walking beneath an avenue of trees looming up gigantic
on either hand. At the end was the lodge and, ere I opened the
gates--for John, the lodgekeeper, was not yet astir--ere I opened
the gates, I say, I paused for one last look at the house that had
been all the home I had ever known since I could remember. As I
stood thus, with my eyes upon the indistinct mass, I presently
distinguished a figure running towards me and, as he came up,
"It ain't much, sir, but it's all I 'ave," said he, and thrust a
short, thick, well-smoked clay pipe into my hand--a pipe that was
fashioned to the shape of a negro's head. "It's a good pipe,
sir," he went on, "a mortal good pipe, and as sweet as a nut!"
saying which, he turned about and ran off, leaving me standing
there with his parting gift in my hand.
And having put the pipe into an inner pocket, I opened the gate
and started off at a good pace along the broad highway.
It was a bleak, desolate world that lay about me, a world of
shadows and a white, low-lying mist that filled every hollow and
swathed hedge and tree; a lowering earth and a frowning heaven
infinitely depressing. But the eastern sky was clear with an
ever-growing brightness; hope lay there, so, as I walked, I kept
my eyes towards the east.
Being come at last to that eminence which is called Shooter's
Hill, I sat down upon a bank beside the way and turned to look
back upon the wonderful city. And as I watched, the pearly east
changed little by little, to a varying pink, which in turn slowly
gave place to reds and yellows, until up came the sun in all his
majesty, gilding vane and weathercock upon a hundred spires and
steeples, and making a glory of the river. Far away upon the
white riband of road that led across Blackheath, a chaise was
crawling, but save for that the world seemed deserted.
I sat thus a great while gazing upon the city and marvelling at
the greatness of it.
"Truly," said I to myself, "nowhere in the whole world is there
such another city as London!" And presently I sighed and,
rising, set my back to the city and went on down the hill.
Yes--the sun was up at last, and at his advent the mists rolled
up and vanished, the birds awoke in brake and thicket and,
lifting their voices, sang together, a song of universal praise.
Bushes rustled, trees whispered, while from every leaf and twig,
from every blade of grass, there hung a flashing jewel.
With the mists my doubts of the future vanished too, and I strode
upon my way, a very god, king of my destiny, walking through a
tribute world where feathered songsters carolled for me and
blossoming flowers wafted sweet perfume upon my path. So I went
on gayly down the hill, rejoicing that I was alive.
In the knapsack at my back I had stowed a few clothes, the
strongest and plainest I possessed, together with a shirt, some
half-dozen favorite books, and my translation of Brantome;
Quintilian and Petronius I had left with Mr. Grainger, who had
promised to send them to a publisher, a friend of his, and in my
pocket was my uncle George's legacy,--namely, ten guineas in gold.
And, as I walked, I began to compute how long such a sum might be
made to last a man. By practising the strictest economy, I
thought I might manage well enough on two shillings a day, and
this left me some hundred odd days in which to find some means
of livelihood, and if a man could not suit himself in such time,
then (thought I) he must be a fool indeed.
Thus, my thoughts caught something of the glory of the bright sky
above and the smiling earth about me, as I strode along that
"Broad Highway" which was to lead me I knew not whither, yet
where disaster was already lying in wait for me--as you shall
CONCERNS ITSELF MAINLY WITH A HAT
As the day advanced, the sun beat down with an ever-increasing
heat, and what with this and the dust I presently grew very
thirsty; wherefore, as I went, I must needs conjure up tantalizing
visions of ale--of ale that foamed gloriously in tankards, that
sparkled in glasses, and gurgled deliciously from the spouts of
earthen pitchers, and I began to look about me for some inn where
these visions might be realized and my burning thirst nobly
quenched (as such a thirst deserved to be). On I went, through
this beautiful land of Kent, past tree and hedge and smiling
meadow, by hill and dale and sloping upland, while ever the sun
grew hotter, the winding road the dustier, and my mighty thirst
At length, reaching the brow of a hill, I espied a small inn or
hedge tavern that stood back from the glare of the road, seeming
to nestle in the shade of a great tree, and joyfully I hastened
As I approached I heard loud voices, raised as though in
altercation, and a hat came hurtling through the open doorway
and, bounding into the road, rolled over and over to my very
feet. And, looking down at it, I saw that it was a very ill-used
hat, frayed and worn, dented of crown and broken of brim, yet
beneath its sordid shabbiness there lurked the dim semblance of
what it had once been, for, in the scratched and tarnished
buckle, in the jaunty curl of the brim, it still preserved a
certain pitiful air of rakishness; wherefore, I stooped, and,
picking it up, began to brush the dust from it as well as I
I was thus engaged when there arose a sudden bull-like roar and,
glancing up, I beheld a man who reeled backwards out of the inn
and who, after staggering a yard or so, thudded down into the
road and so lay, staring vacantly up at the sky. Before I could
reach him, however, he got upon his legs and, crossing unsteadily
to the tree I have mentioned, leaned there, and I saw there was
much blood upon his face which he essayed to wipe away with the
cuff of his coat. Now, upon his whole person, from the crown of
his unkempt head down to his broken, dusty boots, there yet clung
that air of jaunty, devil-may-care rakishness which I had seen,
and pitied in his hat.
Observing, as I came up, how heavily he leaned against the tree,
and noting the extreme pallor of his face and the blank gaze of
his sunken eyes, I touched him upon the shoulder.
"Sir, I trust you are not hurt?" said I.
"Thank you," he answered, his glance still wandering, "not in the
least--assure you--merely tap on the nose, sir--unpleasant--damnably,
but no more, no more."
"I think," said I, holding out the battered hat, "I think this is
His eye encountering it in due time, he reached out his hand
somewhat fumblingly, and took it from me with a slight movement
of the head and shoulders that might have been a bow.
"Thank you--yes--should know it among a thousand," said he
dreamily, "an old friend and a tried--a very much tried one--many
thanks." With which words he clapped the much-tried friend upon
his head, and with another movement that might have been a bow,
turned short round and strode away. And as he went, despite the
careless swing of his shoulder, his legs seemed to falter somewhat
in their stride and once I thought he staggered; yet, as I watched,
half minded to follow after him, he settled his hat more firmly
with a light tap upon the crown and, thrusting his hands into the
pockets of his threadbare coat, fell to whistling lustily, and so,
turning a bend in the road, vanished from my sight.
And presently, my thirst recurring to me, I approached the inn,
and descending three steps entered its cool shade. Here I found
four men, each with his pipe and tankard, to whom a large,
red-faced, big-fisted fellow was holding forth in a high state of
heat and indignation.
"Wot's England a-comin' to?--that's wot I wants to know," he was
saying; "wot's England a-comin' to when thievin' robbers can come
a-walkin' in on you a-stealin' a pint o' your best ale out o' your
very own tankard under your very own nose--wot's it a-comin' to?"
"Ah!" nodded the others solemnly, "that's it, Joel--wot?"
"W'y," growled the red-faced innkeeper, bringing his big fist
down with a bang, "it's a-comin' to per--dition; that's wot it's
"And wot," inquired a rather long, bony man with a face half-hidden
in sandy whisker, "wot might per--dition be, Joel; likewise, wheer?"
"You must be a danged fule, Tom, my lad!" retorted he whom they
called Joel, redder in the face than ever.
"Ay, that ye must!" chorused the others.
"I only axed 'wot an' wheer."
"Only axed, did ye?" repeated Joel scornfully,
"Ah," nodded the other, "that's all."
"But you're always a-axin', you are," said Joel gloomily.
"W'ich I notice," retorted the man Tom, blowing into his tankard,
"w'ich I notice as you ain't never over-fond o' answerin'."
"Oh!--I ain't, ain't I?"
"No, you ain't," repeated Tom, "nohow."
Here the red-faced man grew so very red indeed that the others
fell to coughing, all together, and shuffling their feet and
giving divers other evidences of their embarrassment, all save
the unimpressionable Tom.
Seizing the occasion that now presented itself, I knocked loudly
upon the floor with my stick, whereupon the red-faced man,
removing his eyes slowly and by degrees from the unconcerned Tom,
fixed them darkly upon me.
"Supposing," said I, "supposing you are so very obliging as to
serve me with a pint of ale?"
"Then supposin' you show me the color o' your money?" he growled,
"come, money fust; I aren't takin' no more risks."
For answer I laid the coins before him. And having pocketed the
money, he filled and thrust a foaming tankard towards me, which I
emptied forthwith and called upon him for another.
"Wheer's your money?"
"Here," said I, tossing a sixpence to him, "and you can keep the
"Why, ye see, sir," he began, somewhat mollified, "it be precious
'ard to know who's a gentleman, an' who ain't; who's a thief, an'
who ain't these days."
"Why, only a little while ago--just afore you--chap comes a-walkin'
in 'ere, no account much to look at, but very 'aughty for all
that--comes a-walkin in 'ere 'e do an' calls for a pint o' ale--you
'eard 'im, all on ye?" He broke off, turning to the others; "you
all 'eard 'im call for a pint o' ale?"
"Ah--we 'eard 'im," they nodded.
"Comes a-walkin' in 'ere 'e do, bold as brass--calls for a pint
o' ale--drinks it off, an'--'ands me 'is 'at; you all seen 'im
'and me 'is 'at?" he inquired, once more addressing the others.
"Every man of us," the four chimed in with four individual nods.
"'Wot's this 'ere?' says I, turnin' it over. 'It's a 'at, or once
was,' says 'e. 'Well, I don't want it,' says I. 'Since you've
got it you'd better keep it,' says 'e. 'Wot for?' says I? 'Why,'
says 'e, 'it's only fair seein' I've got your ale--it's a case of
exchange,' says 'e. 'Oh! is it?' says I, an' pitched the thing
out into the road an' 'im arter it--an' so it ended. An' wot,"
said the red-faced man nodding his big head at me, "wot d'ye
think o' that now?"
"Why, I think you were perhaps a trifle hasty," said I.
"Oh, ye do, do ye?"
"Yes," I nodded.
"An' for why?"
"Well, you will probably remember that the hat had a band round
"Ay, all wore away it were too--"
"And that in the band was a buckle--"
"Ay, all scratched an' rusty it were--well?"
"Well, that tarnished buckle was of silver--"
"Silver!" gasped the man, his jaw falling.
"And easily worth five shillings, perhaps more, so that I think
you were, upon the whole, rather hasty." Saying which, I
finished my ale and, taking up my staff, stepped out into the
I MEET WITH A GREAT MISFORTUNE
That day I passed through several villages, stopping only to eat
and drink; thus evening was falling as, having left fair
Sevenoaks behind, I came to the brow of a certain hill, a long
and very steep descent which (I think) is called the River Hill.
And here, rising stark against the evening sky, was a gibbet, and
standing beneath it a man, a short, square man in a somewhat
shabby coat of a bottle-green, and with a wide-brimmed beaver hat
sloped down over his eyes, who stood with his feet well apart,
sucking the knob of a stick he carried, while he stared up at
that which dangled by a stout chain from the cross-beam of the
gibbet,--something black and shrivelled and horrible that had
once been human.
As I came up, the man drew the stick from his mouth and touched
the brim of his hat with it in salutation.
"An object lesson, sir," said he, and nodded towards the
loathsome mass above.
"A very hideous one!" said I, pausing, "and I think a very
"He was as fine a fellow as ever thrust toe into stirrup," the
man went on, pointing upwards with his stick, "though you'd never
think so to look at him now!"
"It's a horrible sight!" said I.
"It is," nodded the man, "it's a sight to turn a man's stomach,
that it is!"
"You knew him perhaps?" said I.
"Knew him," repeated the man, staring at me over his shoulder,
"knew him--ah--that is, I knew of him."
"Nick Scrope his name was," answered the man with a nod, "hung at
Maidstone assizes last year, and a very good end he made of it
too; and here he be--hung up in chains all nat'ral and reg'lar,
as a warning to all and sundry."
"The more shame to England," said I; "to my thinking it is a
scandal that our highways should be rendered odious by such
horrors, and as wicked as it is useless."
"'Od rot me!" cried the fellow, slapping a cloud of dust from his
coat with his stick, "hark to that now."
"What?" said I, "do you think for one moment that such a sight,
horrible though it is, could possibly deter a man from robbery
or murder whose mind is already made up to it by reason of
circumstances or starvation?"
"Well, but it's an old custom, as old as this here road."
"True," said I, "and that of itself but proves my argument, for
men have been hanged and gibbeted all these years, yet robbery
and murder abide with us still, and are of daily occurrence."
"Why, as to that, sir," said the man, falling into step beside me
as I walked on down the hill, "I won't say yes and I won't say
no, but what I do say is--as many a man might think twice afore
running the chance of coming to that--look!" And he stopped to
turn, and point back at the gibbet with his stick. "Nick can't
last much longer, though I've know'd 'em hang a good time--but
they made a botch of Nick--not enough tar; you can see where the
sun catches him there!"
Once more, though my whole being revolted at the sight, I must
needs turn to look at the thing--the tall, black shaft of the
gibbet, and the grisly horror that dangled beneath with its
chains and iron bands; and from this, back again to my companion,
to find him regarding me with a curiously twisted smile, and a
long-barrelled pistol held within a foot of my head.
"Well?" said I, staring.
"Sir," said he, tapping his boot with his stick," I must trouble
you for the shiner I see a-winking at me from your cravat,
likewise your watch and any small change you may have."
For a moment I hesitated, glancing from his grinning mouth
swiftly over the deserted road, and back again.
"Likewise," said the fellow, "I must ask you to be sharp about
it." It was with singularly clumsy fingers that I drew the watch
from my fob and the pin from my cravat, and passed them to him.
"Now your pockets," he suggested, "turn 'em out."
This command I reluctantly obeyed, bringing to light my ten
guineas, which were as yet intact, and which he pocketed
forthwith, and two pennies--which he bade me keep.
"For," said he, "'t will buy you a draught of ale, sir, and there's
good stuff to be had at 'The White Hart' yonder, and there's
nothin' like a draught of good ale to comfort a man in any such
small adversity like this here. As to that knapsack now," he
pursued, eyeing it thoughtfully, "it looks heavy and might hold
valleybels, but then, on the other hand, it might not, and those
there straps takes time to unbuckle and--" He broke off suddenly,
for from somewhere on the hill below us came the unmistakable
sound of wheels. Hereupon the fellow very nimbly ran across the
road, turned, nodded, and vanished among the trees and underbrush
that clothed the steep slope down to the valley below.
I was yet standing there, half stunned by my loss and the
suddenness of it all, when a tilbury came slowly round a bend in
the road, the driver of which nodded lazily in his seat while his
horse, a sorry, jaded animal, plodded wearily up the steep slope
of the hill. As he approached I hailed him loudly, upon which he
suddenly dived down between his knees and produced a brass-bound
"What's to do?" cried he, a thick-set, round-faced fellow,
"what's to do, eh?" and he covered me with the wide mouth of the
"Thieves!" said I, "I've been robbed, and not three minutes since."
"Ah!" he exclaimed, in a tone of great relief, and with the color
returning to his plump cheeks, "is that the way of it?"
"It is," said I, "and a very bad way; the fellow has left me but
twopence in the world."
"Come," I went on, "you are armed, I see; the thief took to the
brushwood, here, not three minutes ago; we may catch him yet--"
"Catch him?" repeated the fellow, staring.
"Yes, don't I tell you he has stolen all the money I possess?"
"Except twopence," said the fellow.
"Well, twopence ain't to be sneezed at, and if I was you--"
"Come, we're losing time," said I, cutting him short.
"But--my mare, what about my mare?"
"She'll stand," I answered; "she's tired enough."
The Bagman, for such I took him to be, sighed, and, blunderbuss
in hand, prepared to alight, but, in the act of doing so, paused:
"Was the rascal armed?" he inquired, over his shoulder
"To be sure he was," said I.
The Bagman got back into his seat and took up the reins.
"What now?" I inquired.
"It's this accursed mare of mine," he answered; "she'll bolt
again, d'ye see--twice yesterday and once the day before, she
bolted, sir, and on a road like this--"
"Then lend me your blunderbuss."
"I can't do that," he replied, shaking his head.
"But why not?" said I impatiently.
"Because this is a dangerous road, and I don't intend to be left
unarmed on a dangerous road; I never have been and I never will,
and there's an end of it, d'ye see!"
"Then do you mean to say that you refuse your aid to a
fellow-traveler--that you will sit there and let the rogue get away
with all the money I possess in the world--"
"Oh, no; not on no account; just you get up here beside me and
we'll drive to 'The White Hart.' I'm well known at 'The White
Hart;' we'll get a few honest fellows at our heels and have this
thieving, rascally villain in the twinkling of an--" He stopped
suddenly, made a frantic clutch at his blunderbuss, and sat
staring. Turning short round, I saw the man in the beaver hat
standing within a yard of us, fingering his long pistol and with
the same twisted smile upon his lips.
"I've a mind," said he, nodding his head at the Bagman, "I've a
great mind to blow your face off."
The blunderbuss fell to the roadway, with a clatter.
"Thievin', rascally villain--was it? Damme! I think I will blow
your face off."
"No--don't do--that," said the Bagman, in a strange, jerky voice,
"what 'ud be--the good?"
"Why, that there poor animal wouldn't have to drag that fat
carkiss of yours up and down hills, for one thing."
"I'll get out and walk."
"And it might learn ye to keep a civil tongue in your head."
"I--I didn't mean--any--offence."
"Then chuck us your purse," growled the other, "and be quick
about it." The Bagman obeyed with wonderful celerity, and I
heard the purse chink as the footpad dropped it into the pocket
of his greatcoat.
"As for you," said he, turning to me, "you get on your way and
never mind me; forget you ever had ten guineas and don't go
a-riskin' your vallyble young life; come--up with you!" and he
motioned me into the tilbury with his pistol.
"What about my blunderbuss?" expostulated the Bagman, faintly, as
I seated myself beside him, "you'll give me my blunderbuss--cost
me five pound it did."
"More fool you!" said the highwayman, and, picking up the unwieldy
weapon, he hove it into the ditch.
"As to our argyment--regardin' gibbetin', sir," said he, nodding
to me, "I'm rayther inclined to think you was in the right on it
arter all." Then, turning towards the Bagman: "Drive on, fat-face!"
said he, "and sharp's the word." Whereupon the Bagman whipped up
his horse and, as the tired animal struggled forward over the
crest of the hill, I saw the highwayman still watching us.
Very soon we came in view of "The White Hart," an inn I remembered
to have passed on the right hand side of the road, and scarce were
we driven up to the door than down jumped the Bagman, leaving me
to follow at my leisure, and running into the tap, forthwith began
recounting his loss to all and sundry, so that I soon found we
were become the center of a gaping crowd, much to my disgust.
Indeed, I would have slipped away, but each time I attempted to do
so the Bagman would appeal to me to corroborate some statement.
"Galloping Dick himself, or I'm a Dutchman!" he cried for the
twentieth time; "up he comes, bold as brass, bless you, and a
horse-pistol in each hand. 'Hold hard!' says I, and ups with my
blunderbuss; you remember as I ups with my blunderbuss?" he
inquired, turning to me.
"Quite well," said I.
"Ah, but you should have seen the fellow's face, when he saw my
blunderbuss ready at my shoulder; green it was--green as grass,
for if ever there was death in a man's face, and sudden death at
that, there was sudden death in mine, when, all at once, my mare,
my accursed mare, jibbed--"
"Yes, yes?" cried half-a-dozen breathless voices, "what then?"
"Why, then, gentlemen," said the Bagman, shaking his head and
frowning round upon the ring of intent faces, "why then,
gentlemen, being a resolute, determined fellow, I did what any
other man of spirit would have done--I--"
"Dropped your blunderbuss," said I.
"Ay, to be sure I did--"
"And he pitched it into the ditch," said I.
"Ay," nodded the Bagman dubiously, while the others crowded
"And then he took your money, and called you 'Fool' and 'Fatface,'
and so it ended," said I. With which I pushed my way from the
circle, and, finding a quiet corner beside the chimney, sat down,
and with my last twopence paid for a tankard of ale.
WHAT BEFELL ME AT "THE WHITE HART"
When a man has experienced some great and totally unexpected
reverse of fortune, has been swept from one plane of existence
to another, that he should fail at once to recognize the full
magnitude of that change is but natural, for his faculties must
of necessity be numbed more or less by its very suddenness.
Yesterday I had been reduced from affluence to poverty with an
unexpectedness that had dazed me for the time being, and, from
the poverty of an hour ago, I now found myself reduced to an
utter destitution, without the wherewithal to pay for the meanest
night's lodging. And, contrasting the careless ease of a few
days since with my present lamentable situation, I fell into a
gloomy meditation; and the longer I thought it over, the more
dejected I became. To be sure, I might apply to Sir Richard
for assistance, but my pride revolted at even the thought, more
especially at such an early stage; moreover, I had determined,
beforehand, to walk my appointed road unaided from the first.
From these depressing thoughts I was presently aroused by a loud,
rough voice at no great distance, to which, though I had been dimly
conscious of it for some time, I had before paid no attention.
Now, however, I raised my eyes from the spot upon the floor where
they had rested hitherto, and fixed them upon the speaker.
He was a square-shouldered, bullet-headed fellow, evidently held
in much respect by his companions, for he occupied the head of
the table, and I noticed that when ever he spoke the others held
their peace, and hung upon the words with an appearance of much
"'Yes, sirs,' says I," he began, louder than before, and with a
flourish of his long-stemmed pipe, "'yes, sirs, Tom Cragg's my
name an' craggy's my natur,' says I. 'I be 'ard, sirs, dey-vilish
'ard an' uncommon rocky! 'Ere's a face as likes good knocks,'
I says, 'w'y, when I fought Crib Burke o' Bristol 'e broke 'is
'and again' my jaw, so 'e did, an' I scarce knowed 'e'd 'it me till
I see 'im 'oppin' wi' the pain of it. Come, sirs,' says I, 'who'll
give me a black eye; a fiver's all I ask.' Well, up comes a young
buck, ready an' willin'. 'Tom,' says 'e, 'I'll take two flaps at
that figger-head o' yourn for seven guineas, come, what d'ye say?'
I says, 'done,' says I. So my fine gentleman lays by 'is 'at an'
cane, strips off 'is right-'and glove, an' 'eavin' back lets fly at
me. Bang comes 'is fist again' my jaw, an' there's my gentleman
a-dabbin' at 'is broken knuckles wi' 'is 'ankercher. 'Come, my
lord,' says I, 'fair is fair, take your other whack.' 'Damnation!'
says 'e, 'take your money an' go to the devil!' says 'e, 'I thought
you was flesh an' blood an' not cast iron!' 'Craggy, my lord,' says
I, gathering up the rhino, 'Cragg by name an' craggy by natur', my
lord,' says I."
Hereupon ensued a roar of laughter, with much slapping of thighs,
and stamping of feet, while the bullet-headed man solemnly
emptied his tankard, which was the signal for two or three of
those nearest to vie for its possession, during which Tom Cragg
sucked dreamily at his pipe and stared placidly up at the ceiling.
"Now, Tom," said a tall, bony individual, chiefly remarkable in
possessing but one eye, and that so extremely pale and watery as
to give one the idea that it was very much overworked, "now, Tom,"
said he, setting down the refilled tankard at the great man's
elbow with a triumphant flourish, "tell us 'ow you shook 'ands
wi' the Prince Regent."
"Ah! tell us," chimed the rest.
"Well," said the bullet-headed man, stooping to blow the froth
from his ale, "it was arter I beat Jack Nolan of Brummagem. The
Prince 'e come a-runnin' to me 'e did, as I sat in my corner
a-workin' at a loose tusk. 'Tom,' 'e says, 'Tom, you be a wonder.'
'I done Jack Nolan up proper I think, your 'Ighness,' says I.
'Tom,' says 'e, wi' tears in 'is eyes, 'you 'ave; an' if I 'ad my
way,' says 'e, 'I'd make you Prime Minister to-morrer!' 'e says.
An' slapped me on the back 'e did, wi' 'is merry own 'and, an'
likewise gave me this 'ere pin," saying which, he pointed to
a flaming diamond horseshoe which he wore stuck through his
neckerchief. The stones were extremely large and handsome, looking
very much out of place on the fellow's rough person, and seemed in
some part to bear out his story. Though, indeed, as regarded his
association with the Prince Regent, whose tastes were at all times
peculiar (to say the least), and whose love for "the fancy" was
notorious, I thought it, on the whole, very probable; for despite
Craggy's words, foolishly blatant though they sounded, there was
about him in his low, retreating brow, his small, deep-set eyes,
his great square jowl and heavy chin, a certain air there was no
mistaking. I also noticed that the upper half of one ear was
unduly thick and swollen, which is a mark (I believe) of the
professional pugilist alone.
"Tom," cried the one-eyed man, "wot's all this we heerd of Ted
Jarraway of Swansea bein' knocked out in five rounds by this 'ere
Lord Vibbot, up in London?"
"Vibbot?" repeated Cragg, frowning into his tankard, "I 'aven't
'eard of no Vibbot, neither lord, earl, nor dook."
"Come, Tom," coaxed the other, "everybody's heerd o' Buck Vibbot,
'im they calls the 'Fightin' Barronite.'"
"If," said Cragg, rolling his bullet-head, "if you was to ask me
who put Ted Jarraway to sleep, I should answer you, Sir Maurice
Vibart, commonly called 'Buck' Vibart; an' it took ten rounds to
do it, not five."
As may be expected, at this mention of my cousin's name I pricked
up my ears.
"And what's all this 'bout him 'putting out' Tom Cragg, in three?"
At this there was a sudden silence and all eyes were turned towards
the speaker, a small, red-headed fellow, with a truculent eye.
"Come," said he, blowing out a cloud of tobacco smoke, "in three
rounds! What d'ye say to that now, come?"
Cragg had started up in his chair and now sat scowling at his
inquisitor open-mouthed; and in the hush I could hear the ticking
of the clock in the corner, and the crackle of the logs upon the
hearth. Then, all at once, Cragg's pipe shivered to fragments on
the floor and he leapt to his feet. In one stride, as it seemed,
he reached the speaker, who occupied the corner opposite mine,
but, even as he raised his fist, he checked himself before the
pocket-pistol which the other held levelled across the table.
"Come, come--none o' that," said the red-headed man, his eye more
truculent than ever, "I ain't a fightin' cove myself, and I don't
want no trouble--all I asks is, what about Buck Vibart putting
out Tom Cragg--in three rounds? That's a civil question, ain't
it--what d'ye say now--come?"
"I says," cried Tom Cragg, flourishing a great fist in the air,
"I says as 'e done it--on a foul!" And he smote the table a blow
that set the glasses ringing.
"Done it on a foul?" cried three or four voices.
"On a foul!" repeated Cragg.
"Think again," said the red-headed man, "'t were said as it was a
werry clean knock-out."
"An' I say it were done on a foul," reiterated Cragg, with
another blow of his fist, "an' wot's more, if Buck Vibart stood
afore me--ah, in this 'ere very room, I'd prove my words."
"Humph!" said the red-headed man, "they do say as he's wonderful
quick wi' his 'mauleys,' an' can hit--like a sledgehammer."
"Quick wi' 'is 'ands 'e may be, an' able to give a goodish thump,
but as for beatin' me--it's 'all me eye an' Betty Martin,' an'
you can lay to that, my lads. I could put 'im to sleep any time
an' anywhere, an' I'd like--ah! I'd like to see the chap as says
contrairy!" And here the pugilist scowled round upon his hearers
(more especially the red-headed man) so blackly that one or two
of them shuffled uneasily, and the latter individual appeared to
become interested in the lock of his pistol.
"I'd like," repeated Cragg, "ah! I'd like to see the cove as
"No one ain't a-goin' to, Tom," said the one-eyed man soothingly,
"not a soul, Lord bless you!"
"I only wish they would," growled Cragg.
"Ain't there nobody to obleege the gentleman?" inquired the
"I'd fight any man as ever was born--wish I may die!" snorted Cragg.
"You always was so fiery, Tom!" purred the one-eyed man, blinking
his pale orb.
"I were," cried the prizefighter, working himself into another
rage, "ah! an' I'm proud of it. I'd fight any man as ever wore
breeches--why, burn me! I'd give any man ten shillin' as could
stand up to me for ten minutes."
"Ten shillings!" said I to myself, "ten shillings, when one comes
to think of it, is a very handsome sum--more especially when one
is penniless and destitute!"
"Wish I may die!" roared Cragg, smiting his fist down on the table
again, "a guinea--a golden guinea to the man as could stand on 'is
pins an' fight me for five minutes--an' as for Buck Vibart--curse
'im, I say as 'e won on a foul!"
"A guinea," said I to myself, "is a fortune!" And, setting down
my empty tankard, I crossed the room and touched Cragg upon the
"I will fight you," said I, "for a guinea."
Now, as the fellow's eyes met mine, he rose up out of his chair and
his mouth opened slowly, but he spoke no word, backing from me
until he was stayed by the table, where he stood, staring at me.
And once again there fell a silence, in which I heard the tick of
the clock in the corner and the crackle of the logs upon the hearth.
"You?" said he, recovering himself with an effort, "you?" and, as
he spoke, I saw his left eyelid twitch suddenly.
"Exactly," I answered, "I think I can stand up to even you--for
five minutes." Now, as I spoke, he winked at me again. That it
was meant for me was certain, seeing that his back was towards
the others, though what he intended to convey I could form no
idea, so I assumed as confident an air as possible and waited.
Hereupon the one-eyed man broke into a sudden raucous laugh, in
which the others joined.
"'Ark to 'im, lads," he cried, pointing to me with the stern of his
pipe, "'e be a fine un to stand up to Tom Cragg--I don't think."
"Tell 'un to go an' larn hisself to grow whiskers fust!" cried a
"Ay, to be sure, 'e aren't got so much as our old cat!" grinned a
"Stay!" cried the one-eyed man, peering up at me beneath his
hand. "Is they whiskers a-peepin' at me over 'is cravat or do my
eyes deceive me?" Which pleasantry, called forth another roar of
laughter at my expense.
Now, very foolishly perhaps, this nonsense greatly exasperated
me, for I was, at that time, painfully conscious of my bare lips
and chin. It was, therefore, with an effort that I mastered my
quickly rising temper, and once more addressed myself to Cragg.
"I am willing," said I, "to accept your conditions and fight
you--for a guinea--or any other man here for that matter, except
the humorous gentleman with the watery eye, who can name his own
price." The fellow in question stared at me, glanced slowly
round, and, sitting down, buried his face in his tankard.
"Come, Tom Cragg," said I, "a while ago you seemed very anxious
for a man to fight; well--I'm your man," and with the words I
stripped off my coat and laid it across a chairback.
This apparent willingness on my part was but a cloak for my real
feelings, for I will not here disguise the fact that the prospect
before me was anything but agreeable; indeed my heart was thumping
in a most unpleasant manner, and my tongue and lips had become
strangely parched and dry, as I fronted Cragg.
Truly, he looked dangerous enough, with his beetling brow, his
great depth of chest, and massive shoulders; and the possibility
of a black eye or so, and general pounding from the fellow's
knotted fists, was daunting in the extreme. Still, the chance of
earning a guinea, even under such conditions, was not to be lightly
thrown away; therefore I folded my arms and waited with as much
resolution as I could.
"Sir," said Cragg, speaking in a very altered tone, "sir, you
seem oncommon--eager for it."
"I shall be glad to get it over," said I.
"If," he went on slowly, "if I said anything against--you know
who, I'm sorry for it--me 'aving the greatest respec' for--you
know who--you understand me, I think." And herewith he winked,
three separate and distinct times.
"No, I don't understand you in the least," said I, "nor do I
think it at all necessary; all that I care about is the guinea
"Come, Tom," cried one of the company, "knock 'is 'ead off to
"Ay, set about 'm, Tom--cut your gab an' finish 'im," and here
came the clatter of chairs as the company rose.
"Can't be done," said Cragg, shaking his head, "leastways--not
"I'm not particular," said I, "if you prefer, we might manage it
very well in the stable with a couple of lanthorns."
"The barn would be the very place," suggested the landlord,
bustling eagerly forward and wiping his hands on his apron, "the
very place--plenty of room and nice and soft to fall on. If you
would only put off your fightin' till to-morrow, we might cry it
through the villages; 'twould be a big draw. Ecod! we might make
a purse o' twenty pound--if you only would! Think it over--think
"To-morrow I hope to be a good distance from here," said I;
"come, the sooner it is over the better, show us your barn." So
the landlord called for lanthorns and led the way to a large
outbuilding at the back of the inn, into which we all trooped.
"It seems to be a good place and very suitable," said I.
"You may well say that," returned the landlord; "it's many a fine
bout as has been brought off in 'ere; the time Jem Belcher beat
'The Young Ruffian' the Prince o' Wales sat in a cheer over in
that theer corner--ah, that was a day, if you please!"
"If Tom Cragg is ready," said I, turning up the wristbands of my
shirt, "why, so am I." Here it was found to every one's surprise,
and mine in particular, that Tom Cragg was not in the barn.
Surprise gave place to noisy astonishment when, after much running
to and fro, it was further learned that he had vanished altogether.
The inn itself, the stables, and even the haylofts were ransacked
without avail. Tom Cragg was gone as completely as though he had
melted into thin air, and with him all my hopes of winning the
guinea and a comfortable bed.
It was with all my old dejection upon me, therefore, that I
returned to the tap-room, and, refusing the officious aid of the
One-Eyed Man, put on my coat, readjusted my knapsack and crossed
to the door. On the threshold I paused, and looked back.
"If," said I, glancing round the ring of faces, "if there is any
man here who is at all willing to fight for a guinea, ten
shillings, or even five, I should be very glad of the chance to
earn it." But, seeing how each, wilfully avoiding my eye, held
his peace, I sighed, and turning my back upon them, set off along
the darkening road.
OF THE FURTHER PUZZLING BEHAVIOR OF TOM CRAGG, THE PUGILIST
Evening had fallen, and I walked along in no very happy frame of
mind, the more so, as the rising wind and flying wrack of clouds
above (through which a watery moon had peeped at fitful intervals)
seemed to presage a wild night. It needed but this to make my
misery the more complete, for, as far as I could tell, if I slept
at all (and I was already very weary), it must, of necessity, be
beneath some hedge or tree.
As I approached the brow of the hill, I suddenly remembered that
I must once more pass the gibbet, and began to strain my eyes for
it. Presently I spied it, sure enough, its grim, gaunt outline
looming through the murk, and instinctively I quickened my stride
so as to pass it as soon as might be.
I was almost abreast of it when a figure rose from beneath it and
slouched into the road to meet me. I stopped there and then, and
grasping my heavy staff waited its approach.
"Be that you, sir?" said a voice, and I recognized the voice of
"What are you doing--and there of all places?"
"Oh--I ain't afeared of 'im," answered Cragg, jerking his thumb
towards the gibbet, "I ain't afeard o' none as ever drawed
breath--dead or livin'--except it be 'is 'Ighness the Prince
"And what do you want with me?"
"I 'opes as theer's no offence, my lord," said he, knuckling his
forehead, and speaking in a tone that was a strange mixture of
would-be comradeship and cringing servility. "Cragg is my name,
an' craggy's my natur', but I know when I'm beat. I knowed ye
as soon as I laid my 'peepers' on ye, an' if I said as it were a
foul, why, when a man's in 'is cups, d'ye see, 'e's apt to shoot
rayther wide o' the gospel, d'ye see, an' there was no offence,
my lord, strike me blind! I know you, an' you know me--Tom Cragg
by name an' craggy by--"
"But I don't know you," said I, "and, for that matter, neither do
you know me."
"W'y, you ain't got no whiskers, my lord--leastways, not with you
"And what the devil has that got to do with it?" said I angrily.
"Disguises, p'raps!" said the fellow, with a sly leer, "arter
that theer kidnappin'--an' me 'avin' laid out Sir Jarsper Trent,
in Wych Street, accordin' to your orders, my lord, the Prince
give me word to 'clear out'--cut an' run for it, till it blow'd
over; an' I thought, p'raps, knowin' as you an' 'im 'ad 'ad words,
I thought as you 'ad 'cut stick' too--"
"And I think--that you are manifestly drunk," said I, "if you
still wish to fight, for any sum--no matter how small--put up
your hands; if not, get out of my road." The craggy one stepped
aside, somewhat hastily, which done, he removed his hat and stood
staring and scratching his bullet-head as one in sore perplexity.
"I seen a many rum goes in my time," said he, "but I never see so
rummy a go as this 'ere--strike me dead!"
So I left him, and strode on down the hill. As I went, the moon
shot out a feeble ray, through some rift in the rolling clouds,
and, looking back, I saw him standing where I had left him beneath
the gibbet, still scratching his bullethead, and staring after me
down the hill.
Now, though the whole attitude and behavior of the fellow was
puzzling to no small degree, my mind was too full of my own
concerns to give much thought to him indeed, scarce was he out of
my sight but I forgot him altogether; for, what with my weariness,
the long, dark road before and behind me, and my empty pockets, I
became a prey to great dejection. So much so that I presently
sank wearily beside the way, and, resting my chin in my hands, sat
there, miserably enough, watching the night deepen about me.
"And yet," said I to myself, "if, as Epictetus says--'to despise
a thing is to possess it,' then am I rich, for I have always
despised money; and if, weary as I am, I can manage to condemn
the luxury of a feather bed, then tonight, lying in this grassy
ditch beneath the stars, I shall slumber as sweetly as ever I did
between the snowy sheets." Saying which, I rose and began to
look about for some likely nook in the hedge, where I might pass
the night. I was thus engaged when I heard the creak of wheels,
and the pleasant rhythmic jingle of harness on the dark hill
above, and, in a little while, a great wagon or wain, piled high
with hay, hove into view, the driver of which rolled loosely in
his seat with every jolt of the wheels, so that it was a wonder
he did not roll off altogether. As he came level with me I
hailed him loudly, whereupon he started erect and brought his
horses to a stand:
"Hulloa!" he bellowed, in the loud, strident tone of one rudely
awakened, "w'at do 'ee want wi' I?"
"A lift," I answered, "will you give a tired fellow a lift on
"W'y--I dunno--be you a talkin' chap?"
"I don't think so," said I.
"Because, if you be a talkin' chap, I beant a-goin' to give 'ee a
lift, no'ow--not if I knows it; give a chap a lift, t' other day,
I did--took 'im up t' other side o' Sevenoaks, an' 'e talked me
up 'ill an' down 'ill, 'e did--dang me! if I could get a wink o'
sleep all the way to Tonbridge; so if you 'm a talkin' chap, you
don't get no lift wi' I."
"I am generally a very silent chap," said I; "besides, I am too
tired and sleepy to talk, even if I wished--"
"Sleepy," yawned the man, "then up you get, my chap--I'm sleepy
too--I allus am, Lord love ye! theer's nowt like sleep--up wi'
you, my chap." Forthwith, up I clambered and, laying myself down
among the fragrant hay, stretched out my tired limbs, and sighed.
Never shall I forget the delicious sense of restfulness that
stole over me as I lay there upon my back, listening to the creak
of the wheels, the deliberate hoof-strokes of the horses, muffled
in the thick dust of the road, and the gentle snore of the driver
who had promptly fallen asleep again. On we went as in borne on
air, so soft was my bed, now beneath the far-flung branches of
trees, sometimes so low that I could have touched them with my
hand, now, beneath a sky heavy with sombre masses of flying cloud
or bright with the soft radience of the moon. On I went, careless
alike of destination, of time, and of future, content to lie there
upon the hay, and rest. And so, lulled by the gentle movement, by
the sound of wheels and harness, and the whisper of the soft wind
about me, I presently fell into a most blessed sleep.
WHICH CONCERNS ITSELF WITH A FARMER'S WHISKERS AND A WAISTCOAT
How long I slept I have no idea, but when I opened my eyes it was
to find the moon shining down on me from a cloudless heaven; the
wind also had died away; it seemed my early fears of a wild night
were not to be fulfilled, and for this I was sufficiently grateful.
Now as I lay, blinking up to the moon, I presently noticed that we
had come to a standstill and I listened expectantly for the jingle
of harness and creak of the wheels to recommence. "Strange!" said
I to myself, after having waited vainly some little time, and
wondering what could cause the delay, I sat up and looked about me.
The first object my eyes encountered was a haystack and, beyond
that, another, with, a little to one side, a row of barns, and
again beyond these, a great, rambling farmhouse. Evidently the
wain had reached its destination, wherever that might be, and the
sleepy wagoner, forgetful of my presence, had tumbled off to bed.
The which I thought so excellent an example that I lay down again,
and, drawing the loose hay over me, closed my eyes, and once more
My second awakening was gradual. I at first became conscious of
a sound, rising and falling with a certain monotonous regularity,
that my drowsy ears could make nothing of. Little by little,
however, the sound developed itself into a somewhat mournful
melody or refrain, chanted by a not unmusical voice. I yawned
and, having stretched myself, sat up to look and listen. And the
words of the song were these:
"When a man, who muffins cries,
Cries not, when his father dies,
'Tis a proof that he would rather
Have a muffin than his father."
The singer was a tall, strapping fellow with a good-tempered
face, whose ruddy health was set off by a handsome pair of black
whiskers. As I watched him, he laid aside the pitchfork he had
been using, and approached the wagon, but, chancing to look up,
his eye met mine, and he stopped:
"Hulloa!" he exclaimed, breaking short off in the middle of a
"Hallo!" said I.
"W'at be doin' up theer?"
"I was thinking," I returned, "that, under certain circumstances,
I, for one, could not blame the individual, mentioned in your
song, for his passionate attachment to muffins. At this precise
moment a muffin--or, say, five or six, would be highly acceptable,
"Be you partial to muffins, then?"
"Yes, indeed," said I, "more especially seeing I have not broken
my fast since midday yesterday."
"Well, an' w'at be doin' in my hay?"
"I have been asleep," said I.
"Well, an' what business 'ave ye got a-sleepin' an' a-snorin' in
"I was tired," said I, "and 'Nature her custom holds, let shame
say what it will,' still--I do not think I snored."
"'Ow do I know that--or you, for that matter?" rejoined the
farmer, stroking his glossy whiskers, "hows'ever, if you be quite
awake, come on down out o' my hay." As he said this he eyed me
with rather a truculent air, likewise he clenched his fist.
Thinking it wisest to appear unconscious of this, I nodded affably,
and letting myself down from the hay, was next moment standing
"Supposin' I was to thump 'ee on the nose?" he inquired.
"For makin' so free wi' my hay."
"Why then," said I, "I should earnestly endeavor to thump you on
The farmer looked me slowly over from head to foot, with a
"Thought you was a common tramper, I did," said he.
"Why, so I am," I answered, brushing the clinging hay from me.
"Trampers o' the road don't wear gentlemen's clothes--leastways,
I never see one as did." Here his eyes wandered over me again,
from my boots upward. Half-way up, they stopped, evidently
arrested by my waistcoat, a flowered satin of the very latest
cut, for which I had paid forty shillings in the Haymarket,
scarcely a week before; and, as I looked down at it, I would
joyfully have given it, and every waistcoat that was ever cut, to
have had that forty shillings safe back in my pocket again.
"That be a mighty fine weskit, sir!"
"Do you think so?" said I.
"Ah, that I do--w'at might be the cost of a weskit the like o'
"I paid forty shillings for it, in the Haymarket, in London,
scarcely a week ago," I answered. The fellow very slowly closed
one eye at the same time striking his nose three successive raps
with his forefinger:
"Gammon!" said he.
"None the less, it's true," said I.
"Any man as would give forty shillin' for a garment as is no
mortal good agen the cold--not reachin' fur enough, even if it do
be silk, an' all worked wi' little flowers--is a dommed fool!--"
"Assuredly!" said I, with a nod.
"Howsomever," he continued, "it's a handsome weskit, there's no
denyin', an' well worth a woman's lookin' at--a proper man inside
"Not a doubt of it," said I.
"I mean," said he, scratching his ear, and staring hard at the
handle of the pitchfork, "a chap wi' a fine pair o' whiskers,
"Hum!" said I.
"Now, woman," he went on, shifting his gaze to the top button
of his left gaiter, "woman is uncommon fond o' a good pair o'
whiskers--leastways, so I've heerd."
"Indeed," said I, "few women can look upon such things unmoved,
I believe, and nothing can set off a pair of fine, black whiskers
better than a flowered satin waistcoat."