Part 2 out of 11
"That's so!" nodded the farmer.
"But, unfortunately," said I, passing my hand over my smooth lips
and chin, "I have no whiskers."
"No," returned the farmer, with a thoughtful shake of the head,
"leastways, none as I can observe."
"Now, you have," said I.
"So they do tell me," he answered modestly.
"And the natural inference is that you ought to have a flowered
waistcoat to go with them."
"Why, that's true, to be sure!" he nodded.
"The price of this one is--fifteen shillings," said I.
"That's a lot o' money, master," said he, shaking his head.
"It's a great deal less than forty," said I.
"An' ten is less than fifteen, an' ten shillin' is my price; what
d'ye say--come now."
"You drive a hard bargain," said I, "but the waistcoat is yours
at your own price." So saying, I slipped off knapsack and coat,
and removing the garment in question, having first felt through
the pockets, handed it to him, whereupon he slowly counted the
ten shillings into my hand; which done, he sat down upon the shaft
of a cart near by, and, spreading out the waistcoat on his knees,
looked it over with glistening eyes.
"Forty shillin' you paid for 'un, up to Lunnon," said he, "forty
shillin' it were, I think?"
"Forty shillings!" said I.
"Ecod, it's a sight o' money! But it's a grand weskit--ah, that
"So you believe me now, do you?" said I, pocketing the ten
"Well," he answered slowly, "I won't go so fur as that, but 'tis
a mighty fine weskit theer's no denyin', an' must ha' cost a
sight o' money--a powerful sight!" I picked up my knapsack and,
slipping it on, took my staff, and turned to depart. "Theer's a
mug o' homebrewed, an' a slice o' fine roast beef up at th' 'ouse,
if you should be so inclined--"
"Why, as to that," said I, over my shoulder, "I neither eat nor
drink with a man who doubts my word."
"Meanin' those forty shillin'?"
"Well," said he, twisting his whisker with a thoughtful air, "if
you could manage to mak' it twenty--or even twenty-five, I might
mak' some shift to believe it--though 'twould be a strain, but
forty!--no, damme, I can't swaller that!"
"Then, neither can I swallow your beef and ale," said I. "Wheer be
goin'?" he inquired, rising, and following as I made for the gate.
"To the end of the road," I answered.
"Then you be goin' pretty fur--that theer road leads to the sea."
"Why, then I'm going to the sea," said I.
"What to do?"
"I haven't the ghost of an idea," I returned.
"Can you work?"
"Yes," said I.
"Can ye thatch a rick?"
"No," said I.
"Shear a sheep?"
"No," said I.
"Guide a plough?"
"No," said I.
"Shoe a 'oss?"
"No," said I.
"Then ye can't work--Lord love me, wheer 'ave 'e been?"
"At a university," said I.
"At a place warranted to turn one out a highly educated
incompetent," I explained.
"Why, I don't hold wi' eddication nor book-larnin', myself,
master. Here I be wi' a good farm, an' money in the bank, an'
can't write my own name," said the farmer.
"And here am I, a 'first' in 'Litterae Humaniores,' selling my
waistcoat that I may eat," said I. Being come to the gate of the
yard, I paused. "There is one favor you might grant me," said I.
"As what, master?"
"Five minutes under the pump yonder, and a clean towel." The
farmer nodded, and crossing to one of the outhouses, presently
returned with a towel. And, resting the towel upon the pump-head,
he seized the handle, and sent a jet of clear, cool water over my
head, and face, and hands.
"You've got a tidy, sizeable arm," said he, as I dried myself
vigorously, "likewise a good strong back an' shoulders; theer's
the makin's of a man in you as might do summat--say in the plough
or smithin' way, but it's easy to see as you're a gentleman,
more's the pity, an' won't. Hows'ever, sir, if you've a mind to
a cut o' good beef, an' a mug o' fine ale--say the word."
"First," said I, "do you believe it was forty shillings yes or no?"
The farmer twisted his whisker, and stared very hard at the spout
of the pump.
"Tell 'ee what," said he at length, "mak' it thirty, an' I give
ye my Bible oath to do the best wi' it I can."
"Then I must needs seek my breakfast at the nearest inn," said I.
"An' that is the 'Old Cock,' a mile an' a half nearer Tonbridge."
"Then the sooner I start the better," said I, "for I'm mightily
"Why, as to that," said he, busy with his whisker again, "I might
stretch a pint or two an' call it--thirty-five, at a pinch--what
"Why, I say 'good morning,' and many of them!" And, opening the
gate, I started off down the road at a brisk pace. Now, as I
went, it began to rain.
IN WHICH I STUMBLE UPON AN AFFAIR OF HONOR.
There are times (as I suppose) when the most aesthetic of souls
will forget the snow of lilies, and the down of a butterfly's
wing, to revel in the grosser joys of, say, a beefsteak. One
cannot rhapsodize upon the beauties of a sunset, or contemplate
the pale witchery of the moon with any real degree of poetic
fervor, or any degree of comfort, while hunger gnaws at one's
vitals, for comfort is essential to your aesthete, and, after
all, soul goes hand in hand with stomach.
Thus, I swung along the road beneath the swaying green of trees,
past the fragrant, blooming hedges, paying small heed to the
beauties of wooded hill and grassy dale, my eyes constantly
searching the road before me for some sign of the "Old Cock"
tavern. And presently, sure enough, I espied it, an ugly,
flat-fronted building, before which stood a dilapidated horse
trough and a battered sign. Despite its uninviting exterior, I
hurried forward, and mounting the three worn steps pushed open the
door. I now found myself in a room of somewhat uninviting aspect,
though upon the hearth a smouldering fire was being kicked into a
blaze by a sulky-faced fellow, to whom I addressed myself:
"Can I have some breakfast here?" said I.
"Why, it's all according, master," he answered, in a surly tone.
"According to what?" said I.
"According to what you want, master."
"Why, as to that--" I began.
"Because," he went on, administering a particularly vicious kick
to the fire, "if you was to ask me for a French hortolon--or even
the 'ump of a cam-el--being a very truthful man, I should say--no."
"But I want no such things," said I.
"And 'ow am I to know that--'ow am I to know as you ain't set
your 'eart on the 'ump of a cam-el?"
"I tell you I want nothing of the sort," said I, "a chop would do--"
"Chop!" sighed the man, scowling threateningly at the fire, "chop!"
"Or steak," I hastened to add.
"Now it's a steak!" said the man, shaking his head ruefully, and
turning upon me a doleful eye, "a steak!" he repeated; "of
course--it would be; I s'pose you'd turn up your nose at 'am and
eggs--it's only to be expected."
"On the contrary," said I, "ham and eggs will suit me very well;
why couldn't you have mentioned them before?"
"Why, you never axed me as I remember," growled the fellow.
Slipping my knapsack from my shoulders, I sat down at a small
table in a corner while the man, with a final kick at the fire,
went to give my order. In a few minutes he reappeared with some
billets of wood beneath his arm, and followed by a merry-eyed,
rosy-cheeked lass, who proceeded, very deftly, to lay a snowy
cloth and thereupon in due season, a dish of savory ham and
"It's a lovely morning!" said I, lifting my eyes to her comely face.
"It is indeed, sir," said she, setting down the cruet with a turn
of her slender wrist.
"Which I make so bold as to deny," said the surly man, dropping
the wood on the hearth with a prodigious clatter, "'ow can any
morning be lovely when there ain't no love in it--no, not so much
as would fill a thimble? I say it ain't a lovely morning, not by
no manner o' means, and what I says I ain't ashamed on, being a
nat'rally truthful man!" With which words he sighed, kicked the
fire again, and stumped out.
"Our friend would seem somewhat gloomy this morning," said I.
"He've been that way a fortnight now, come Satu'day," replied
the slim lass, nodding.
"Oh?" said I.
"Yes," she continued, checking a smile, and sighing instead;
"it's very sad, he've been crossed in love you see, sir."
"Poor fellow!" said I, "can't you try to console him?"
"Me, sir--oh no!"
"And why not? I should think you might console a man for a
"Why, you see, sir," said she, blushing and dimpling very
prettily, "it do so happen as I'm the one as crossed him."
"Ah!--I understand," said I.
"I'm to be married to a farmer--down the road yonder; leastways,
I haven't quite made up my mind yet."
"A fine, tall fellow?" I inquired.
"Yes--do 'ee know him, sir?"
"With a handsome pair of black whiskers?" said I.
"The very same, sir, and they do be handsome whiskers, though I
do say it."
"The finest I ever saw. I wish you every happiness," said I.
"Thankee sir, I'm sure," said she, and, dimpling more prettily
than ever, she tripped away, and left me to my repast.
And when I had assuaged my hunger, I took out the pipe of Adam,
the groom, the pipe shaped like a negro's head, and, calling for a
paper of tobacco, I filled and lighted the pipe, and sat staring
dreamily out of the window.
Happy is that man who, by reason of an abundant fortune, knows
not the meaning of the word hunger; but thrice happy is he who,
when the hand of famine pinches, may stay his craving with such
a meal as this of mine. Never before, and never since have I
tasted just such eggs, and such ham--so tender! so delicate! so
full of flavor! It is a memory that can never fade. Indeed,
sometimes (even now), when I grow hungry, (about dinner-time) I
see once more the surly-faced man, the rosy-cheeked waiting-maid,
and the gloomy chamber of the "Old Cock" tavern as I saw them
upon that early May morning of the year of grace 18--.
So I sat, with a contented mind, smoking my pipe, and staring out
at the falling summer rain. And presently, chancing to turn my
eyes up the road, I beheld a chaise that galloped in a smother of
mud. As I watched its rapid approach, the postilion swung his
horses towards the inn, and a moment later had pulled up before
the door. They had evidently travelled fast and far, for the
chaise was covered with dirt; and the poor horses, in a lather of
foam, hung their heads, while their flanks heaved distressfully.
The chaise door was now thrown open, and three gentlemen alighted.
The first was a short, plethoric individual, bull-necked and loud
of voice, for I could hear him roundly cursing the post-boy for
some fault; the second was a tall, languid gentleman, who carried
a flat, oblong box beneath one arm, and who paused to fondle his
whisker, and look up at the inn with an exaggerated air of disgust;
while the third stood mutely by, his hands thrust into the pockets
of his greatcoat, and stared straight before him.
The three of them entered the room together, and, while the
languid gentleman paused to survey himself in the small, cracked
mirror that hung against the wall, the plethoric individual
bustled to the fire, and, loosening his coats and neckerchief,
spread out his hands to the blaze.
"A good half-hour before our time," said he, glancing towards the
third gentleman, who stood looking out of the window with his
hands still deep in his pockets; "we did the last ten miles well
under the hour--come, what do you say to a glass of brandy?"
At this, his languid companion turned from the mirror, and I
noticed that he, too, glanced at the silent figure by the window.
"By all means," said he, "though Sir Jasper would hardly seem in
a drinking humor," and, with the very slightest shrug of the
shoulders, he turned back to the mirror again.
"No, Mr. Chester, I am not--in a drinking humor," answered Sir
Jasper, without turning round, or taking his eyes from the window.
"Sir Jasper?" said I to myself, "now where, and in what connection,
have I heard such a name before?"
He was of a slight build, and seemingly younger than either of
his companions by some years, but what struck me particularly
about him was the extreme pallor of his face. I noticed also a
peculiar habit he had of moistening his lips at frequent intervals
with the tip of his tongue, and there was, besides, something in
the way he stared at the trees, the wet road, and the gray sky--a
strange wide-eyed intensity--that drew and held my attention.
"Devilish weather--devilish, on my life and soul!" exclaimed the
short, red-faced man, in a loud, peevish tone, tugging viciously
at the bell-rope, "hot one day, cold the next, now sun, now
rain-- Oh, damn it! Now in France--ah, what a climate--heavenly
--positively divine; say what you will of a Frenchman, damn him
by all means, but the climate, the country, and the women--who
would not worship 'em?"
"Exactly!" said the languid gentleman, examining a pimple upon
his chin with a high degree of interest, "always 'dored a
Frenchwoman myself; they're so--so ah--so deuced French, though
mark you, Selby," he broke off, as the rosy-cheeked maid appeared
with the brandy and glasses," though mark you, there's much to be
said for your English country wenches, after all," saying which,
he slipped his arm about the girl's round waist. There was the
sound of a kiss, a muffled shriek, and she had run from the room,
slamming the door behind her, whereupon the languid gentleman
went back to his pimple.
"Oh! as to that, Chester, I quarrel only with the climate. God
made England, and the devil sends the weather!"
"Selby," said Sir Jasper, in the same repressed tone that he had
used before and still without taking his eyes from the gray
prospect of sky and tree and winding road, "there is no fairer
land, in all the world, than this England of ours; it were a good
thing to die--for England, but that is a happiness reserved for
comparatively few." And, with the words, he sighed, a strange,
fluttering sigh, and thrust his hands deeper into his pockets.
"Die!" repeated the man Selby, in a loud, boisterous way. "Who
talks of death?"
"Deuced unpleasant subject!" said the other, with a shrug at the
cracked mirror. "Something so infernally cold and clammy about
it--like the weather."
"And yet it will be a glorious day later. The clouds are thinning
already," Sir Jasper went on; "strange, but I never realized, until
this morning, how green--and wonderful--everything is!"
The languid Mr. Chester forgot the mirror, and turned to stare at
Sir Jasper's back, with raised brows, while the man Selby shook his
head, and smiled unpleasantly. As he did so, his eye encountered
me, where I sat, quietly in my corner, smoking my negro-head pipe,
and his thick brows twitched sharply together in a frown.
"In an hour's time, gentlemen," pursued Sir Jasper, "we shall
write 'finis' to a more or less interesting incident, and I beg
of you, in that hour, to remember my prophecy--that it would be
a glorious day, later."
Mr. Chester filled a glass, and crossing to the speaker, tendered
it to him without a word; as for Selby, he stood stolidly enough,
his hands thrust truculently beneath his coat-tails, frowning at me.
"Come," said Mr. Chester persuasively, "Just a bracer!" Sir Jasper
shook his head, but next moment reached out a white, unsteady
hand, and raised the brandy to his lips; yet as he drank, I saw
the spirit slop over, and trickle from his chin.
"Thanks, Chester," said he, returning the empty glass; "is it
time we started yet?"
"It's just half-past seven," answered Mr. Chester, consulting his
watch, "and I'm rather hazy as to the exact place."
"Deepdene Wood," said Sir Jasper dreamily.
"You know the place?"
"Then we may as well start, if you are ready?"
"Yes, it will be cool and fresh, outside."
"Settle the bill, Selby, we'll walk on slowly," said Mr. Chester,
and, with a last glance at the mirror, he slipped his arm within
Sir Jasper's, and they went out together.
Mr. Selby meanwhile rang for the bill, frowning at me all the time.
"What the devil are you staring at?" he demanded suddenly, in a
loud, bullying tone.
"If you are pleased to refer to me, sir," said I, "I would say
that my eyes were given for use, and that having used them upon
you, I have long since arrived at the conclusion that I don't
"Ah?" said he, frowning fiercer than ever.
"Yes," said I, "though whether it is your person, your manner, or
your voice that displeases me most, I am unable to say."
"An impertinent young jackanapes!" said he; "damnation, I think
I'll pull your nose!"
"Why, you may try, and welcome, sir," said I; "though I should
advise you not, for should you make the attempt I should be
compelled to throw you out of the window."
At this moment the pretty maid appeared, and tendered him the
bill with a curtesy. He glanced at it, tossed some money upon
the table, and turned to stare at me again.
"If ever I meet you again--" he began.
"You'd probably know me," I put in.
"Without a doubt," he answered, putting on his hat and buttoning
his befrogged surtout; "and should you," he continued, drawing on
his gloves, "should you stare at me with those damned, impertinent
fishes' eyes of yours, I should, most certainly, pull your nose
for you--on the spot, sir."
"And I should as certainly throw you out of the window!" I nodded.
"An impertinent young jackanapes!" said he again, and went out,
banging the door behind him. Glancing from the window, I saw him
catch up with the other two, and all three walk on together down
the road. Sir Jasper was in the middle, and I noticed that his
hands were still deep in his pockets. Now, as I watched their
forms getting smaller and smaller in the distance, there grew
upon me a feeling that he who walked between would nevermore come
And, in a little, having knocked out my negro-head pipe upon my
palm, I called for and settled my score. As I rose, the pretty
chambermaid picked up my knapsack from the corner, and blushing,
aided me to put it on.
"My dear, thank you," said I, and kissed her. This time she
neither shrieked nor ran from the room; she merely blushed a
"Do you think I have fishes' eyes, my dear?"
"La! no, sir--handsome they be, I'm sure, so bright an' black an'
wi' little lights a-dancing in them--there, sir, do ha' done, and
go along wi' you!"
"By the way," I said, pausing upon the worn steps, and looking
back at her, "by the way, how far is it to Deepdene Wood?"
WHICH RELATES THE END OF AN HONORABLE AFFAIR
Some half-mile along the road, upon the left hand, was a stile,
and beyond the stile, a path--a path that led away over field,
and meadow, and winding stream, to the blue verge of distant
Now, midway between these woods and the place where I stood, there
moved three figures; and, far away though they were, I could still
make out that the middle one walked with his hands--those tremulous
betraying hands thrust deep within his pockets.
And presently I climbed the stile, and set off along the path.
"Sir Jasper!" said I to myself. Somewhere in the background of
my consciousness I had a vague recollection of having heard
mention of such a name before, but exactly when and where I could
not, for the life of me, remember.
"Sir Jasper!" said I to myself again. "It is a very uncommon
name, and should be easy to recollect." I had often prided
myself on possessing a singularly retentive memory, more
especially for names and faces, but, upon the present occasion,
the more I pondered the matter, the more hazy I became. So I
walked on through the sweet, wet grass, racking my brain for a
solution of the problem, but finding none.
When I again looked up, the three figures had vanished where the
path took a sharp bend round a clump of pollard oaks, and,
determined not to lose them, I hurried my steps; but when I, in
turn, rounded the corner, not a soul was in sight.
The path sloped up gently before me, with a thick hedge upon my
right, and, after crossing a brawling stream, lost itself in the
small wood or coppice, that crowned the ascent. Wondering, I
hastened forward, and then, happening to look through the hedge,
which grew very thick and high, I stopped all at once.
On the other side of the hedge was a strip of meadow bounded by
the brook I have mentioned; now across this stream was a small
rustic bridge, and on this bridge was a man. Midway between this
man and myself stood a group of four gentlemen, all talking very
earnestly together, to judge by their actions, while somewhat
apart from these, his head bent, his hands still thrust deep in
his pockets, stood Sir Jasper. And from him, for no apparent
reason, my eyes wandered to the man upon the bridge--a tall,
broad-shouldered fellow, in a buff-colored greatcoat, who
whistled to himself, and stared down into the stream, swinging
his tasselled riding-boot to and fro. All at once, as if in
response to some signal, he rose, and unbuttoning his surtout,
drew it off and flung it across the handrail of the bridge.
Mr. Chester was on his knees before the oblong box, and I saw the
glint of the pistols as he handed them up. The distance had
already been paced and marked out, and now each man took his
ground--Sir Jasper, still in his greatcoat, his hat over his
eyes, his neckerchief loose and dangling, one hand in his pocket,
the other grasping his weapon; his antagonist, on the contrary,
jaunty and debonnair, a dandy from the crown of his hat to the
soles of his shining boots.
Their arms were raised almost together. The man Selby glanced
from one to the other, a handkerchief fluttered, fell, and in
that instant came the report of a pistol. I saw Sir Jasper reel
backward, steady himself, and fire in return; then, while the blue
smoke yet hung in the still air, he staggered blindly, and fell.
Mr. Chester, and two or three more, ran forward and knelt beside
him, while his opponent shrugged his shoulders, and, taking off
his hat, pointed out the bullet hole to his white-faced second.
And in a little while they lifted Sir Jasper in their arms, but
seeing how his head hung, a sudden sickness came upon me, for I
knew, indeed, that he would go walking back nevermore. Yet his
eyes were wide and staring--staring up at the blue heaven with
the same fixed intensity as they had done at the inn.
Then I, too, looked up at the cloudless sky, and round upon the
fair earth; and, in that moment, I, for one, remembered his
prophecy of an hour ago. And, indeed, the day was glorious.
WHICH RELATES A BRIEF PASSAGE-AT-ARMS AT "THE CHEQUERS" INN
In due season I came into Tonbridge town, and following the High
Street, presently observed a fine inn upon the right-hand side of
the way, which, as I remember, is called "The Chequers." And
here were divers loiterers, lounging round the door, or seated
upon the benches; but the eyes of all were turned the one way.
And presently, as I paused before the inn, to look up at its
snow-white plaster, and massive cross-beams, there issued from the
stable yard one in a striped waistcoat, with top-boots and a red
face, who took a straw from behind his ear, and began to chew it
meditatively; to whom I now addressed myself.
"Good afternoon!" said I.
"Arternoon!" he answered.
"A fine day!" said I.
"Is it?" said he.
"Why--to be sure it is," said I, somewhat taken aback by his
manner; "to be sure it is."
"Oh!" said he, and shifted the straw very dexterously from one
corner of his mouth to the other, by some unseen agency, and
stared up the road harder than ever.
"What are you looking at?" I inquired.
"'Ill," said he.
"And why do you look at the hill?"
"Mail," said he.
"Oh!" said I.
"Ah!" said he.
"Is it the London coach?"
"Ah!" said he.
"Does it stop here?"
"Ah!" said he.
"Do you ever say anything much beside 'ah'?" I inquired.
He stopped chewing the straw, and with his eyes on the distance,
seemed to turn this question over in his mind; having done which,
he began to chew again.
"Ah!" said he.
"Why, then you can, perhaps, tell me how many miles it is--"
"Five," said he.
"I was about to ask how far it was to--"
"The Wells!" said he.
"Why--yes, to be sure, but how did you know that?"
"It's use!" said he.
"What do you mean?"
"They all ask!" said he.
"Tramps!" said he.
"Oh! so you take me for a tramp?"
"Ah!" said he.
"And you," said I, "put me in mind of a certain Semi-quavering
"Eh?" said he, frowning a little at the hill.
"You've never heard of Rabelais, or Panurge, of course," said I.
The Ostler took out his straw, eyed it thoughtfully, and put it
"No," said he.
"More's the pity!" said I, and was about to turn away, when he
drew the nearest fist abruptly from his pocket, and extended it
"Look at that!" he commanded.
"Rather dirty," I commented, "but otherwise a good, useful member,
I make no doubt."
"It's a-goin'," said he, alternately drawing in and shooting out
the fist in question, "it's a-goin' to fill your eye up."
"Is it?" said I.
"Ah!" said he.
"But what for?"
"I aren't a Semmy, nor yet a Quaver, an' as for Friers," said he,
very deliberately, "why--Frier yourself, says I."
"Nevertheless," said I, "you are gifted with a certain terse
directness of speech that greatly reminds me of--"
"Joe!" he called out suddenly over his shoulder. "Mail, Joe!"
Lifting my eyes to the brow of the hill, I could see nothing save
a faint haze, which, however, gradually grew denser and thicker;
and out from this gathering cloud, soft, and faint with distance,
stole the silvery notes of a horn. Now I saw the coach itself,
and, as I watched it rapidly descending the hill, I longed to be
upon it, with the sun above, the smooth road below, and the wind
rushing through my hair. On it came at a gallop, rocking and
swaying, a good fifteen miles an hour; on it came, plunging into
the green shade of trees, and out into the sun again, with ever
the gathering dust cloud behind; while clear and high rang the
cheery note of the horn. And now, from the cool shadows of the
inn yard, there rose a prodigious stamping of hoofs, rattling of
chains, and swearing of oaths, and out came four fresh horses,
led by two men, each of whom wore topboots, a striped waistcoat,
and chewed upon straws.
And now the coach swung round the bend, and came thundering down
upon "The Chequers," chains jingling, wheels rumbling, horn braying
and, with a stamp and ring of hoof, pulled up before the inn.
And then what a running to and fro! what a prodigious unbuckling
and buckling of straps, while the jovial-faced coachman fanned
himself with his hat; and swore jovially at the ostlers, and the
ostlers swore back at the coachman, and the guard, and the coach,
and the horses, individually and collectively; in the midst of
which confusion, down came the window with a bang, and out of the
window came a flask, and a hand, and an arm, and, last of all, a
great, fat face, round, and mottled, and roaring as it came:
"Oho--I say damn it! damn everybody's eyes and bones--brandy!
O yoho, house--I say brandy! Guard, landlord, ostlers--brandy,
d'ye hear? I say, what the devil! Am I to die for want of a
drop of brandy? Oho!"
Now, little by little, I became conscious (how, I cannot define)
that I was the object of a close and persistent scrutiny--that I
was being watched and stared at by some one near by. Shifting my
eyes, therefore, from the mottled face at the coach window, I
cast them swiftly about until they presently met those of one of
the four outside passengers--a tall, roughly-clad man who leaned
far out from the coach roof, watching me intently; and his face
was thin, and very pale, and the eyes which stared into mine
glowed beneath a jagged prominence of brow.
At the time, though I wondered at the man's expression, and the
fixity of his gaze, I paid him no further heed, but turned my
attention back to Mottle-face, who had, by this time, bellowed
himself purple. Howbeit, in due time, the flask having been
replenished and handed to him, he dived back into the recesses
of the coach, jerked up the window, and vanished as suddenly as
he had appeared.
But now the four fresh horses were in and harnessed, capering and
dancing with an ostler at the head of each; the Driver tossed off
his glass of rum and water, cast an eye up at the clouds, remarked:
"Wind, by Gemini!" settled his feet against the dashboard, and
gathered up the reins. And now, too, the Guard appeared, wiping
his lips as he came, who also cast an eye up at the heavens,
remarked: "Dust, by Jingo!" and swung himself up into the rumble.
"All right behind?" sang out the Driver, over his shoulder.
"All right!" sang back the guard.
"Then--let 'em go!" cried the Driver. Whereupon the ostlers
jumped nimbly back, the horses threw up their heads, and danced
undecidedly for a moment, the long whip cracked, hoofs clattered,
sparks flew, and, rumbling and creaking, off went the London Mail
with such a flourish of the horn as woke many a sleepy echo, near
and far. As I turned away, I noticed that there remained but
three outside passengers; the pale-faced man had evidently
alighted, yet, although I glanced round for him, he was nowhere
to be seen.
Hereupon, being in no mind to undergo the operation of having my
eye filled up, and, moreover, finding myself thirsty, I stepped
into the "Tap." And there, sure enough, was the Outside Passenger
staring moodily out of the window, and with an untouched mug of
ale at his elbow. Opposite him sat an old man in a smock frock,
who leaned upon a holly-stick, talking to a very short, fat man
behind the bar, who took my twopence with a smile, smiled as he
drew my ale, and, smiling, watched me drink.
"Be you from Lunnon, sir?" inquired the old man, eyeing me
beneath his hoary brows as I set down my tankard.
"Yes," said I.
"Well, think o' that now--I've been a-goin' to Lunnon this five
an' forty year--started out twice, I did, but I never got no
furder nor Sevenoaks!"
"How was that?" I inquired.
"Why, theer's 'The White Hart' at Sevenoaks, an' they brews fine
ale at 'The White Hart,' d'ye see, an' one glass begets another."
"And they sent ye back in the carrier's cart!" said the fat man,
smiling broader than ever.
"Ever see the Lord Mayor a-ridin' in 'is goold coach, sir?"
pursued the old man.
"Yes," said I.
"Ever speak to 'im?"
"Ah well, I once knowed a man as spoke to the Lord Mayor o'
Lunnon's coachman--but 'e's dead, took the smallpox the year
arterwards an' died, 'e did."
At this juncture the door was thrown noisily open, and two
gentlemen entered. The first was a very tall man with black hair
that curled beneath his hat-brim, and so luxuriant a growth of
whisker that it left little of his florid countenance exposed.
The second was more slightly built, with a pale, hairless face,
wherein were set two small, very bright eyes, rather close
together, separated by a high, thin nose with nostrils that worked
and quivered when he spoke, a face whose most potent feature was
the mouth, coarse and red, with a somewhat protuberant under lip,
yet supported by a square, determined chin below--a sensual mouth
with more than a suspicion of cruelty lurking in its full curves,
and the big teeth which gleamed white and serrated when he
laughed. Indeed, the whole aspect of the man filled me with an
They were dressed in that mixture of ultra-fashionable and horsey
styles peculiar to the "Corinthian," or "Buck" of the period, and
there was in their air an overbearing yet lazy insolence towards
all and sundry that greatly annoyed me.
"Fifteen thousand a year, by gad!" exclaimed the taller of the two,
giving a supercilious sniff to the brandy he had just poured out.
"Yes, ha! ha!--and a damnably pretty filly into the bargain!"
"You always were so infernally lucky!" retorted the first.
"Call it rather the reward of virtue," answered his companion
with a laugh that showed his big, white teeth.
"And what of Beverley--poor dey-vil?" inquired the first.
"Beverley!" repeated the other; "had he possessed any spirit he
would have blown his brains out, like a gentleman; as it was, he
preferred merely to disappear," and herewith the speaker shrugged
his shoulders, and drank off his glass with infinite relish and
"And a--pretty filly, you say?"
"Oh, I believe you! Country bred, but devilish well-blooded--trust
Beverley for that."
"Egad, yes--Beverley had a true eye for beauty or breed, poor
dey-vil!" This expression of pity seemed to afford each of them
much subtle enjoyment. "Harking back to this--filly," said the
big man, checking his merriment, "how if she jibs, and cuts up
rough, kicks over the traces--devilish awkward, eh?"
His companion raised his foot and rested it carelessly, upon the
settle near by, and upon the heel of his slim riding-boot I saw a
particularly cruel-looking, long-necked spur.
"My dear Mostyn," said he, his nostrils working, "for such an
emergency there is nothing like a pair of good sharp 'persuaders,'"
here he tapped the spur lightly with the slender gold-mounted cane
he carried; "and I rather fancy I know just how and when to use
'em, Mostyn." And once again I saw the gleam of his big, white
All this I heard as they lolled within a yard of me, manifesting
a lofty and contemptuous disregard for all save themselves,
waited upon most deferentially by the smiling fat fellow, and
stared at by the aged man with as much admiring awe as if they
had each been nothing less than a lord mayor of London at the
very least. But now they leaned their heads together and spoke
in lowered tones, but something in the leering eyes of the one,
and the smiling lips of the other, told me that it was not of
horses that they spoke.
"... Bring her to reason, by gad!" said the slighter of the two,
setting down his empty glass with a bang, "oh, trust me to know
their pretty, skittish ways, trust me to manage 'em; I've never
failed yet, by gad!"
"Curse me, that's true enough!" said the other, and here they
sank their voices again.
My ale being finished, I took up my staff, a heavy, knotted
affair, and turned to go. Now, as I did so, my foot, by
accident, came in contact with the gold-mounted cane I have
mentioned, and sent it clattering to the floor. I was on the
point of stooping for it, when a rough hand gripped my shoulder
from behind, twisting me savagely about, and I thus found myself
staring upon two rows of sharp, white teeth.
"Pick it up!" said he, motioning imperiously to the cane on the
floor between us.
"Heaven forbid, sir," said I; "'is thy servant a dog that he
should do this thing?'"
"I told you to pick it up," he repeated, thrusting his head
towards me; "are you going to do so, or must I make you?" and
his nostrils worked more than ever.
For answer I raised my foot and sent the cane spinning across the
room. Somebody laughed, and next moment my hat was knocked from
my head. Before he could strike again, however, I raised my
staff, but suddenly remembering its formidable weight, I altered
the direction of the blow, and thrust it strongly into the very
middle of his gayly flowered waistcoat. So strongly did I
thrust, indeed, that he would have fallen but for the timely
assistance of his companion.
"Come, come," said I, holding him off on the end of my staff, "be
calm now, and let us reason together like logical beings. I
knocked down your cane by accident, and you, my hat by intent;
very well then, be so good as to return me my property, from the
corner yonder, and we will call 'quits.'"
"No, by gad!" gasped my antagonist, bending almost double,
"wait--only wait until I get--my wind--I'll choke--the infernal
life out of you--only wait, by gad!"
"Willingly," said I, "but whatever else you do, you will
certainly reach me my hat, otherwise, just so soon as you find
yourself sufficiently recovered, I shall endeavor to throw you
after it." Saying which, I laid aside my staff, and buttoned up
"Why," he began, "you infernally low, dusty, ditch-trotting
blackguard--" But his companion, who had been regarding me very
closely, twitched him by the sleeve, and whispered something in
his ear. Whatever it was it affected my antagonist strangely,
for he grew suddenly very red, and then very white, and abruptly
turned his back upon me.
"Are you sure, Mostyn?" said he in an undertone.
"Well, I'd fight him were he the devil himself! Pistols perhaps
"Don't be a fool, Harry," cried the other, and seizing his arm,
drew him farther away, and, though they lowered their voices, I
caught such fragments as "What of George?" "changes since your
time," "ruin your chances at the start," "dead shot."
"Sir," said I, "my hat--in the corner yonder."
Almost to my surprise, the taller of the two crossed the room,
followed by his friend, to whom he still spoke in lowered tones,
stooped, picked up my hat, and, while the other stood scowling,
approached, and handed it to me with a bow.
"That my friend, Sir Harry Mortimer, lost his temper, is regretted
both by him and myself," said he, "but is readily explained by the
fact that he has been a long time from London, while I labored
under a--a disadvantage, sir--until your hat was off."
Now, as he spoke, his left eyelid flickered twice in rapid
"I beg you won't mention it," said I, putting on my hat; "but,
sir, why do you wink at me?"
"No, no," cried he, laughing and shaking his head, "ha! ha!
--deyvilish good! By the way, they tell me George himself is
in these parts--incog. of course--"
"George?" said I, staring.
"Cursed rich, on my life and soul!" cried the tall gentleman,
shaking his head and laughing again. "Mum's the word, of course,
and I swear a shaven face becomes you most deyvilishly!"
"Perhaps you will be so obliging as to tell me what you mean?"
said I, frowning.
"Oh, by gad!" he cried, fairly hugging himself with delight.
"Oh, the devil! this is too rich--too infernally rich, on my life
and soul it is!"
Now all at once there recurred to me the memory of Tom Cragg,
the Pugilist; of how he too had winked at me, and of his
incomprehensible manner afterwards beneath the gibbet on River
"Sir," said I, "do you happen to know a pugilist, Tom Cragg by name?"
"Tom Cragg! well, I should think so; who doesn't, sir?"
"Because," I went on, "he too seems to labor under the delusion
that he is acquainted with me, and--"
"Acquainted!" repeated the tall gentleman, "acquainted! Oh, gad!"
and immediately hugged himself in another ecstasy.
"If," said I, "you will have the goodness to tell me for
whom you evidently mistake me--"
"Mistake you!" he gasped, throwing himself upon the settle and
rocking to and fro, "ha! ha!--mistake you!"
Seeing I did but waste my breath, I turned upon my heel, and made
for the door. As I went, my eye, by chance, lighted upon a
cheese that stood at the fat landlord's elbow, and upon which he
cast amorous glances from time to time.
"That seems a fine cheese!" said I.
"It is, sir, if I might make so bold, a noble cheese!" he
rejoined, and laid his hand upon it with a touch that was a
"Then I will take three pennyworth of your noble cheese," said I.
"Cheese!" faintly echoed the gentleman upon the settle, "three
pennyworth. Oh, I shall die, positively I shall burst!"
"Also a loaf," said I. And when the landlord had cut the cheese
with great nicety--a generous portion--and had wrapped it into a
parcel, I put it, together with the loaf, into my knapsack, and
giving him "Good day!" strode to the door. As I reached it, the
tall gentleman rose from the settle, and bowed.
"Referring to George, sir--"
"George!" said I shortly; "to the devil with George!"
Now I could not help being struck by the effect of my words, for
Sir Harry let fall his cane, and stared open-mouthed, while his
companion regarded me with an expression between a frown and
"Now I wonder," said I to myself as I descended the steps, "I
wonder who George can be?"
Before the inn there stood a yellow-wheeled stanhope with a horse
which, from his manner of trembling all over for no conceivable
reason, and manifest desire to stand upon his hind legs, I
conceived to be a thorough-bred; and, hanging grimly to the bridle,
now in the air, now on terra firma, alternately coaxing and cursing,
was my friend the Semi-quavering Ostler. He caught sight of me
just as a particularly vicious jerk swung him off his legs.
"Damn your liver!" he cried to the horse, and then, to me: "If
you'll jest call Joe to 'old this 'ere black varmin for me, I'll
--fill yer--eye up."
"Thanks," said I, "but I much prefer to keep it as it is; really
there is no need to trouble Joe, and as for you, I wish you good
And when I had gone a little way, chancing to glance back over my
shoulder, I saw that the Outside Passenger stood upon the inn
steps, and was staring after me.
THE ONE-LEGGED SOLDIER
Following the high road, I came, in a little, to where the ways
divided, the one leading straight before me, the other turning
sharp to the left, where (as I remember) is a very steep hill.
And at the parting of the ways was a finger-post with the words:
"To LONDON. To TONBRIDGE WELLS. To PEMBRY." Now as I stood
beneath the finger-post, debating which road I should take, I was
aware of the sound of wheels, and, glancing about, saw a carrier's
cart approaching. The driver was a fine, tall, ruddy-faced fellow,
very spruce as to his person, who held himself with shoulders.
squared and bolt upright, and who shouted a cheery greeting to me.
"If so be you are for Pembry, or thereabouts, sir," said he,
bringing his horses to a standstill, "why, jump up, sir--that is,
if you be so minded."
"My course lies anywhere," said I.
"Then--if you be so minded--?"
"I am so minded," said I.
"Then, sir, jump up," said he.
"Thanks!" said I.
So I climbed upon the seat beside him, and then I saw that he had
a wooden leg, and straightway understood his smart bearing, and
general neat appearance.
"You have been a soldier?" said I.
"And my name's Tom, and I could tell you a sight about them
Spanishers, and Frenchies--that is, if--you be so minded?"
"I am so minded; fire away, Tom."
"Well," he began, fixing his eyes on the "wheeler's" ears, "they
Frenchies ain't so bad as is thought, though they do eat frogs,
but what I say is--if they be so minded, why frogs let it be!"
"To be sure!" said I.
"And after all they're well worth fighting, and that's more than
you can say for a many!"
"True," said I, "one generally has a certain respect for the man
"Then there's Old Bony."
"Have you ever seen him?"
"I have, sir; I were captured outside the Lines of Torres Vedras,
and I saw Old Bony eating his breakfast off a drum-head wi' one
hand and a-writing a dispatch wi' the other--a little fat man not
so high as my shoulder, look you. There's some as says as Old
Bony lives on new-born babies, but I know different. Because
why, says you? Because I've seen with these 'ere 'peepers,'
says I--bread it were, and cheese, and garlic, and a uncommon
lot at that."
"And where did you lose your leg, Tom?"
"Vittoria--I 'appened to be carrying my off'cer, Ensign Standish
his name, barely eighteen year old. Shot through the lung he
were, and a-trying to tell me to put him down and go, the fire
being uncommonly 'ot there, you'll understand, sir, and as I say,
he were trying to tell me to drop him and run for it, and blowing
blood-bubbles wi' every word, when all at once I feels a sort of
a shock, and there I was on my back and him atop o' me; and when
I went to get up--damme! there was my leg gone below the knee,
and no pleasant sight, neither."
"Arterwards," he repeated. "Why, that were the end o' my sojerin',
ye see; we lay in the same 'ospital 'im an' me, side by side, and
he swore as I'd saved his life--which I 'adn't, look you, and
likewise swore as he'd never forget it. And he never 'as either,
for here am I wi' my own horse and cart, Tom Price by name,
carrier by trade, an' very much at your service, sir, I'm sure."
Thus we climbed the hill of Pembry, by tree and hedge, and lonely
cottage, by rolling meadow, and twilit wood, Tom the Soldier and I.
Much he told me of lonely night watches, of death sudden and
sharp, of long, weary marches, and stricken fields, of the bloody
doings of the Spanish Guerrillas, of Mina, and his deviltries.
And in my ears was the roar of guns, and before my eyes the gleam
and twinkle of bayonets. By the side of Tom the Soldier I waited
the thunderous charge of French Dragoons, saw their stern, set
faces, and the flash of their brandished steel as they swept down
upon our devoted square, swept down to break in red confusion
before our bristling bayonets; and the air was full of the screams
of smitten, horses, and the deep-throated shouts and groans of
men. By the side of Tom the Soldier I stormed through many a
reeking breach, swept by fire, and slippery with blood; and all
for love of it, the munificent sum of eightpence per day, and
that which we call "Glory." Bravo, Tom the Soldier!
And presently I became aware that he had stopped his horses, and
was regarding me smilingly.
"Tom," said I, "you are a wonderful talker!"
"And you, sir," said he, "are a better listener, and, look you, a
good listener is mighty hard to come by. Howsomever, here's the
end o' my journey, more's the pity, but if you--"
"Tom," said I suddenly, "you never heard of Tom Cragg, did you?"
"Can't say as I have," he answered, stroking his chin thoughtfully,
"though there was a Dick Snagget in the 'Thirty-Ninth,' I remember."
"And you don't know who 'George' is, of course?" I continued
"Why, I've knowed a many Georges in my time," said he, "and then
there's George, Prince o' Wales, the Prince Regent, as they calls
"George, Prince of Wales!" said I, staring; "by heavens, Tom, I
believe you've hit it!" And, with the word, I sprang down from
"My cottage is near by, sir, and I should be proud for you to eat
supper wi' me--that is--if you be so minded?"
"Many thanks," said I, "but I am not so minded, and so, good-by,
Tom!" And, with the words, I wrung the soldier's honest hand in
mine, and went upon my way.
"George, Prince of Wales!" said I to myself; "could this be the
'George' they had meant? If so, then who and what had they
supposed me?" Hereupon, as I walked, I fell into a profound
meditation, in which I presently remembered how that Tom Cragg
had also mentioned the Prince, giving me to understand that his
Highness had actually ordered him (Tom Cragg) to leave London;
and why? "Arter that theer kidnappin', an' me 'avin' laid out
Sir Jarsper Trent--accordin' to yer order."
Sir Jasper Trent! I stopped stock still in the road. Sir Jasper
Trent! At last I remembered the name that had eluded me so
persistently. Remembered it? Nay, indeed, it was rather as if
the Pugilist had whispered the words into my ear, and I glanced
round almost expecting to see him.
"Arter that theer kidnappin', an' me 'avin' laid out Sir Jarsper
Trent--accordin' to yer orders!"
According to my orders, or rather, the orders of the man for whom
he (in common with the two gentlemen at "The Chequers") had mistaken
me. But who was that man? Of him I knew two facts--namely, that
he was much like me in person, and had formerly worn, or possibly
still wore, whiskers. And beyond these two facts I could get no
farther, revolve the matter how I might, so I presently shrugged
my shoulders, and banishing it from my thoughts for the time being,
set forward at a good pace.
IN WHICH I FIND AN ANSWER TO MY RIDDLE
The sun was already westering when I came to a pump beside the
way; and seizing the handle I worked it vigorously, then, placing
my hollowed hands beneath the gushing spout, drank and pumped,
alternately, until I had quenched my thirst. I now found myself
prodigiously hungry, and remembering the bread and cheese in my
knapsack, looked about for an inviting spot in which to eat.
On one side of the road was a thick hedge, and, beneath this
hedge, a deep, dry, grassy ditch; and here, after first slipping
off my knapsack, I sat down, took out the loaf and the cheese,
and opening my clasp-knife, prepared to fall to.
At this moment I was interrupted in a rather singular fashion, for
hearing a rustling close by, I looked up, and into a face that was
protruded through a gap in the hedge above me.
It needed but a glance at the battered hat with its jaunty brim,
and great silver buckle, and the haggard, devil-may-care face
below, to recognize the individual whom I had seen thrown out of
the hedge tavern the morning before.
It was a very thin face, as I have said, pale and hollow-eyed and
framed in black curly hair, whose very blackness did but accentuate
the extreme pallor of the skin, which was tight, and drawn above
the cheek bones and angle of the jaw. Yet, as I looked at this
face, worn and cadaverous though it was, in the glance of the
hollow eyes, in the line of the clean-cut mouth I saw that
mysterious something which marks a man, what we call for want of
a better word, a gentleman.
"Good evening!" said he, and lifted the battered hat.
"Good evening!" I returned.
"Pardon me," said he, "but I was saluting the bread and cheese."
"Indeed!" said I.
"Indeed!" he rejoined, "it is the first edible I have been on
speaking terms with, so to speak, for rather more than three
"You are probably hungry?" said I.
"It would be foolish to deny it, sir."
"Then, if you care to eat with me in the ditch here, you are
heartily welcome," said I.
"With all the pleasure in life!" said he, vaulting very nimbly
through the hedge; "you shall not ask me twice or the very deuce
is in it! Believe me, I--" Here he stopped, very suddenly, and
stood looking at me.
"Ah!" said he gently, and with a rising inflection, letting the
ejaculation escape in a long-drawn breath.
"Well?" I inquired. Now as I looked up at him, the whole aspect
of the man, from the toes of his broken boots to the crown of the
battered hat, seemed to undergo a change, as though a sudden,
fierce anger had leapt into life, and been controlled, but by a
"On my life and soul, now!" said he, falling back a step, and
eyeing me with a vaguely unpleasant smile, "this is a most
unexpected--a most unlooked for pleasure; it is I vow it is."
"You flatter me," said I.
"No, sir, no; to meet you again--some day--somewhere--alone--quite
alone, sir, is a pleasure I have frequently dwelt upon, but never
hoped to realize. As it is, sir, having, in my present condition,
no chance of procuring better weapons than my fists, allow me to
suggest that they are, none the less, entirely at your service;
do me the infinite kindness to stand up."
"Sir," I answered, cutting a slice from the loaf, "you are the
third person within the last forty-eight hours who has mistaken
me for another; it really gets quite wearisome."
"Mistaken you," he broke in, and his smile grew suddenly bitter,
"do you think it possible that I could ever mistake you?"
"I am sure of it!" said I. "Furthermore, pray do not disparage
your fists, sir. A bout at fisticuffs never did a man any harm
that I ever heard; a man's fists are good, honest weapons supplied
by a beneficent Providence--far better than your unnatural swords
and murderous hair-triggers; at least, so I think, being, I trust,
something of a philosopher. Still, in this instance, never having
seen your face, or heard your voice until yesterday, I shall
continue to sit here, and eat my bread and cheese, and if you are
wise you will hasten to follow my so excellent example while there
is any left, for, I warn you, I am mightily sharp set."
"Come, come," said he, advancing upon me threateningly, "enough
of this foolery!"
"By all means," said I, "sit down, like a sensible fellow, and
tell me for whom you mistake me."
"Sir, with all the pleasure in life!" said he, clenching his
fists, and I saw his nostrils dilate suddenly. "I take you for
the greatest rogue, the most gentlemanly rascal but one, in all
"Yes," said I, "and my name?"
"Sir Maurice Vibart!"
"Sir Maurice Vibart?" I sprang to my feet, staring at him in
amazement. "Sir Maurice Vibart is my cousin," said I.
And so we stood, for a long minute, immobile and silent, eyeing
each other above the bread and cheese.
FURTHER CONCERNING THE GENTLEMAN IN THE BATTERED HAT
"Sir," said my companion at last, lifting the battered hat, "I
tender you my apology, and I shall be delighted to eat with you
in the ditch, if you are in the same mind about it?"
"Then you believe me?"
"Indubitably, sir," he answered with a faint smile; "had you
indeed been Sir Maurice, either he or I, and most probably I,
would be lying flat in the road, by this."
So, without more ado, we sat down in the ditch together, side by
side, and began to eat. And now I noticed that when he thought
my eye was upon him, my companion ate with a due deliberation and
nicety, and when he thought it was off, with a voracity that was
painful to witness. And after we had eaten a while in silence,
he turned to me with a sigh.
"This is very excellent cheese!" said he.
"The man from whom I bought it," said I, "called it a noble cheese,
"I never tasted one of a finer flavor!" said my companion.
"Hunger is a fine sauce," said I, "and you are probably hungry?"
"Hungry!" he repeated, bolting a mouthful and knocking his hat over
his eyes with a slap on its dusty crown. "Egad, Mr. Vibart! so
would you be--so would any man be who has lived on anything he could
beg, borrow, or steal, with an occasional meal of turnips--in the
digging of which I am become astonishingly expert--and unripe
blackberries, which latter I have proved to be a very trying diet
in many ways--hungry, oh, damme!"
And after a while, when there nothing remained of loaf or cheese
save a few scattered crumbs, my companion leaned back, and gave
"Sir," said he, with an airy wave of the hand, "in me you behold
a highly promising young gentleman ruined by a most implacable
enemy--himself, sir. In the first place you must know my name is
"Beverley?" I repeated.
"Beverley," he nodded, "Peregrine Beverley, very much at your service
--late of Beverley Place, Surrey, now of Nowhere-in-Particular."
"Beverley," said I again, "I have heard that name before."
"It is highly probable, Mr. Vibart; a fool of that name--fortunate
or unfortunate as you choose to classify him--lost houses, land,
and money in a single night's play. I am that fool, sir, though
you have doubtless heard particulars ere now?"
"Not a word!" said I. Mr. Beverley glanced at me with a faint
mingling of pity and surprise. "My life," I explained, "has been
altogether a studious one, with the not altogether unnatural
result that I also am bound for Nowhere-in-Particular with just
eight shillings and sixpence in my pocket."
"And mine, as I tell you," said he, "has been an altogether riotous
one. Thus each of us, though by widely separate roads--you by the
narrow and difficult path of Virtue, and I by the broad and easy
road of Folly--have managed to find our way into this Howling
Destitution, which we will call Nowhere-in-Particular. Then how
does your path of Virtue better my road of Evil?"
"The point to be considered," said I, "is not so much what we now
are, but rather, what we have done, and may ultimately be, and do."
"Well?" said he, turning to look at me.
"For my own achievements, hitherto," I continued, "I have won the
High Jump, and Throwing the Hammer, also translated the works of
Quintilian, with the Satyricon of Petronius Arbiter, and the Life,
Lives, and Memoirs of the Seigneur de Brantome, which last, as you
are probably aware, has never before been done into the English."
"Ha!" exclaimed Mr. Beverley, sitting up suddenly, with his
ill-used hat very much over one eye, "there we have it! Whoever
heard of Old Quin--What's-his-name, or cared, except, perhaps, a
few bald-headed bookworms and withered litterateurs? While you
were dreaming of life, and reading the lives of other fellows, I
was living it. In my career, episodically brief though it was, I
have met and talked with all the wits, and celebrated men, have
drunk good wine, and worshipped beautiful women, Mr. Vibart."
"And what has it all taught you?" said I.
"That there are an infernal number of rogues and rascals in the
world, for one thing--and that is worth knowing."
"Yes," said I.
"That, though money can buy anything, from the love of a woman
to the death of an enemy, it can only be spent once--and that is
worth knowing also."
"Yes," said I.
"And that I am a most preposterous ass!--and that last, look you,
is more valuable than all the others. Solomon, I think, says
something about a wise man being truly wise who knoweth himself a
fool, doesn't he?"
"Something of the sort."
"Then," said he, flinging his hat down upon the grass beside him,
"what argument can you advance in favor of your 'Narrow and
"The sum of eight shillings and sixpence, a loaf of bread, and a
slice of noble cheese, now no more," said I.
"Egad!" said he, looking at me from the corners of his blue eyes,
"the argument is unanswerable, more especially the cheese part,
against which I'd say nothing, even if I could." Having remarked
which, he lay flat on his back again, staring up at the leaves, and
the calm serenity of the sky beyond, while I filled my negro-head
pipe from my paper of tobacco, and forthwith began to smoke.
And, presently, as I sat alternately watching the blue wreaths of
my pipe and the bedraggled figure extended beside me, he suddenly
rolled over on his arm, and so lay, watching me.
"On my soul!" he exclaimed at length, "it is positively marvellous."
"What is?" I inquired.
"The resemblance between you and your famous cousin."
"It would appear so," said I, shrugging my shoulders, "though,
personally, I was unaware of this fact up till now."
"Do I understand that you have never seen Sir Maurice Vibart,
never seen 'Buck' Vibart?"
"Never!" said I.
"Too much occupied--in keeping to the Narrow and Thorny, I suppose?
Your cousin's is the Broad and Flowery, with a vengeance."
"So I understand," said I.
"Nevertheless, the resemblance between you, both in face and
figure, is positively astounding! With the sole exception that
he wears hair upon his face, and is of a ruddy complexion, while
you are pale, and smooth smooth-cheeked as as a boy--"
"Or yourself!" said I.
"Ah--exactly!" he answered, and passed his fingers across his
chin tentatively, and fell again to staring lazily up into the
sky. "Do you happen to know anything about that most remarkable
species of the 'genus homo' calling themselves 'Bucks,' or
'Corinthians'?" he inquired, after a while.
"Very little," said I, "and that, only by hearsay."
"Well, up to six months ago, I was one of them, Mr. Vibart, until
Fortune, and I think now, wisely, decreed it otherwise." And
herewith, lying upon his back, looking up through the quivering
green of leaves, he told mad tales of a reckless Prince, of the
placid Brummel, of the "Dashing" Vibart, the brilliant Sheridan,
of Fox, and Grattan, and many others, whose names are now a byword
one way or the other. He recounted a story of wild prodigality,
of drunken midnight orgies, of days and nights over the cards,
of wine, women, and horses. But, lastly and very reverently, he
spoke of a woman, of her love, and faith, and deathless trust.
"Of course," he ended, "I might have starved very comfortably,
and much quicker, in London, but when my time comes, I prefer to
do my dying beneath some green hedge, or in the shelter of some
friendly rick, with the cool, clean wind upon my face. Besides--
She loved the country."
"Then there are some women who can't be bought?" said I, looking
at his glistening eyes.
"Mr. Vibart," said he, "so far as I know, there are two--the Lady
Helen Dunstan and the 'Glorious' Sefton."
"The Lady Sophia Sefton of Cambourne?" said I.
"And--the Lady Helen Dunstan," he repeated.
"Do you know the Lady Sophia Sefton?"
"I have had the honor of dancing with her frequently," he answered.
"And is she so beautiful as they say?"
"She is the handsomest woman in London, one of your black-browed,
deep-eyed goddesses, tall, and gracious, and most nobly shaped;
though, sir, for my own part, I prefer less fire and ice--and more
"As, for instance, the Lady Helen Dunstan?" said I.
"Exactly!" nodded Mr. Beverley.
"Referring to the Lady Sophia Sefton," I pursued, "she is a
reigning toast, I believe?"
"Gad, yes! her worshippers are legion, and chief among them his
Royal Highness, and your cousin, Sir Maurice, who has actually
had the temerity to enter the field as the Prince's avowed rival;
no one but 'Buck' Vibart could be so madly rash!"
"A most fortunate lady!" said I.
"Mr. Vibart!" exclaimed my companion, cocking his battered hat
and regarding me with a smouldering eye, "Mr. Vibart, I object to
your tone; the noble Sefton's virtue is proud and high, and above
even the breath of suspicion."
"And yet my cousin would seem to be no laggard in love, and as to
the Prince--his glance is contamination to a woman."
"Sir," returned Mr. Beverley very earnestly, "disabuse your mind
of all unworthy suspicions, I beg; your cousin she laughs to
scorn, and his Royal Highness she had rebuffed as few women have,
hitherto, dared do."
"It would almost seem," said I, after a pause, "that, from what I
have inadvertently learned, my cousin has some dirty work afoot,
though exactly what, I cannot imagine."
"My dear Mr. Vibart, your excellent cousin is forever up to
something or other, and has escaped the well-merited consequences,
more than once, owing to his friendship with, and the favor of
"George?" said I.
"Exactly!" said my companion, raising himself on his elbow, and
"Have you ever heard mention of Tom Cragg, the Pugilist?" I
inquired, blowing a cloud of smoke into the warm air.
"I won ten thousand guineas when he knocked out Ted Jarraway of
Swansea," yawned my companion; "a good fighter, but a rogue--like
all the rest of 'em, and a creature of your excellent cousin's."
"I guessed as much," I nodded, and forthwith plunged into an
account of my meeting with the "craggy one," the which seemed to
amuse Mr. Beverley mightily, more especially when I related
Cragg's mysterious disappearance.
"Oh, gad!" cried Beverley, wiping his eyes on the tattered lapel
of his coat, "the resemblance served you luckily there; your
cousin gave him the thrashing of his life, and poor Tom evidently
thought he was in for another. That was the last you saw of him,
I'll be bound."
"No, I met him afterwards beneath the gibbet on River Hill,
where, among other incomprehensible things, he gave me to
understand that he recognized me despite my disguise, assumed, as
he supposed, on account of his having kidnapped some one or
other, and 'laid out' a certain Sir Jasper Trent in Wych Street
according to my orders, or rather, it would seem, my cousin's
orders, the author of which outrage Sir Jasper had evidently
"The devil!" exclaimed Mr. Beverley, and sat up with a jerk.
"And furthermore," I went on, "he informed me that the Prince
himself had given him the word to leave London until the affair
had blown over."
Now while I spoke, Mr. Beverley had been regarding me with a very
strange expression, his cheeks had gone even paler than before,
his eyes seemed to stare through, and beyond me, and his hands
were tight-clenched at his sides.
"Mr. Beverley," said I, "what ails you?"
For a moment he did not speak, then answered, with the same
"Sir Jasper Trent--is my cousin, sir."
My negro-head pipe slipped suddenly, and fell into the grass,
happily without injury.
"Indeed!" said I.
"Can you not see what this means, sir?" he went on hurriedly.
"Jasper will fight."
"Indeed," said I again, "I fear so."
"Jasper was always a bit of a fish, and with no particular
affection for his graceless kinsman, but I am his only relative;
and--and he hardly knows one end of a pistol from the other,
while your cousin is a dead shot."
"My cousin!" I exclaimed; "then if was he--to be sure I saw only
"Sir Jasper is unmarried--has no relations but myself," my
companion repeated, with the same fixed intentness of look; "can
you appreciate, I wonder, what this would mean to me?"
"Rank, and fortune, and London," said I.
"No, no!" He sprang to his feet, and threw wide his ragged arms
with a swift, passionate gesture. "It means Life--and Helen. My
God!" he went on, speaking almost in a whisper, "I never knew how
much I wanted her--how much I had wilfully tossed aside--till now!
I never realized the full misery of it all--till now! I could
have starved very well in time, and managed it as quietly as most
other ruined fools. But now--to see the chance of beginning again,
of coming back to self-respect and--Helen, my God!" And, of a
sudden, he cast himself upon his face, and so lay, tearing up the
grass by handfuls. Then, almost as suddenly, he was upon his
feet again, and had caught up his hat. "Sir," said he somewhat
shamefacedly, smoothing its ruffled nap with fingers that still
quivered, "pray forgive that little ebullition of feeling; it
is over--quite over, but your tidings affected me, and I am not
quite myself at times; as I have already said, turnips and unripe
blackberries are not altogether desirable as a diet."
"Indeed," said I, "you seemed strangely perturbed."
"Mr. Vibart," said he, staring very hard at the battered hat, and
turning it round and round, "Mr. Vibart, the devil is surprisingly
strong in some of us."
"True," said I.
"My cousin, Sir Jasper, is a bookish fellow, and, as I have said,
a fool where anything else is in question; if this meeting is
allowed to take place, I feel that he will most certainly be killed,
and his death would mean a new life--more than life to me."
"Yes," said I.
"And for a moment, Mr. Vibart, I was tempted to sit down in the
ditch again, and let things take their course. The devil, I
repeat, is remarkably strong in some of us."
"Then what is your present intention?"
"I am going to London to find Sir Maurice Vibart--to stop this
"Impossible!" said I.
"But you see, sir, it so happens that I am possessed of certain
intelligence which might make Sir Maurice's existence in England
"Nevertheless," said I, "it is impossible."
"That remains to be seen, Mr. Vibart," said he, and speaking,
turned upon his heel.
"One moment," said I, "was not your cousin, Sir Jasper, of the
middle height, slim-built and fair-haired, with a habit of
plucking at his lips when at all nervous or excited?"
"Exactly; you know him, sir?"
"No," I answered, "but I have seen him, very lately, and I say
again to stop this duel is an impossibility."
"Do you mean--" he began, and paused. Now, as his eyes met mine,
the battered hat escaped his fingers, and lay all unheeded. "Do
you mean--" he began again, and again stopped.
"Yes," said I, "I mean that you are too late. Sir Jasper was
killed at a place called Deepdene Wood, no longer since than
to-day at half-past seven in the morning. It was raining at
the time, I remember, but the day grew glorious later."
For a long moment Mr. Beverley stood silent with bent head, then,
apparently becoming aware of the hat at his feet, he sent it
flying with a sudden kick, and watched it describe a wide parabola
ere it disappeared into the ditch, some yards away. Which done,
he walked after it, and returned, brushing it very carefully with
his ragged cuff.
"And--you are sure--quite sure, Mr. Vibart?" he inquired, smoothing
the broken brim with the greatest solicitude.
"I stood behind a hedge, and watched it done," said I.
"Then--my God!--I am Sir Peregrine Beverley! I am Sir Peregrine
Beverley of Burnham Hall, very much at your service. Jasper--dead!
A knight banneret of Kent, and Justice of the Peace! How utterly
preposterous it all sounds! But to-day I begin life anew, ah, yes,
a new life, a new life! To-day all things are possible again!
The fool has learned wisdom, and, I hope, become a man. But come,"
said he in a more natural tone, "let us get back to our ditch, and,
while you tell me the particulars, if you don't object I should
much like to try a whiff at that pipe of yours."
So, while I recounted the affair as briefly as I might, he sat
puffing at my pipe, and staring away into the distance. But
gradually his head sank lower and lower, until his face was quite
hidden from me, and for a long moment after I had ended my
narration, there was silence.
"Poor Jasper!" said he at last, without raising his head, "poor
"I congratulate you, Sir Peregrine," said I.
"And I used to pummel him so, when we were boys together at Eton
--poor old Jasper!" And, presently, he handed me my pipe, and
rose. "Mr. Vibart," said he, "it would seem that by no effort,
or virtue of my own, I am to win free of this howling desolation
of Nowhere-in-Particular, after all; believe me, I would gladly
take you with me. Had I not met with you it is--rather more than
probable--that I--should never have seen another dawn; so if--if
ever I can be of--use to you, pray honor me so far; you can
always hear of me at Burnham Hall, Pembry. Good-by, Mr. Vibart,
I am going to her--in all my rags--for I am a man again."
So I bade him good-by, and, sitting in the ditch, watched him
stride away to his new life. Presently, reaching the brow of the
hill (there are hills everywhere in the South country), I saw him
turn to flourish the battered hat ere he disappeared from my sight.
IN WHICH I MEET WITH A PEDLER BY THE NAME OF "GABBING" DICK
"You won't be wantin' ever a broom, now?"
I sat up, sleepily, and rubbed my eyes. The sun was gone, and
the blue sky had changed to a deep purple, set here and there
with a quivering star. Yet the light was still strong enough to
enable me to distinguish the speaker--a short, thick-set man.
Upon his shoulder he carried a bundle of brooms, a pack was slung
to his back, while round his neck there dangled a heterogeneous
collection of articles--ribbons, laces, tawdry neck chains, and
the like; indeed, so smothered was he in his wares that, as he
stood there, he had more the aspect of some disordered fancy than
of a human being.
"You won't be wantin' ever a broom, now?" he repeated, in a
somewhat melancholy tone.
"No," said I.
"Nor yet a mop?"
"Nor that either," said I.
"A belt, now," he suggested mournfully, "a fine leather belt wi'
a steel buckle made in Brummagem as ever was, and all for a
shillin'; what d'ye say to a fine belt?"
"That I have no need of one, thank you."
"Ah, well!" said the man, spitting dejectedly at a patch of
shadow, "I thought as much; you aren't got the look of a buyer."
"Then why ask me?"
"Hinstinct!" said he, "it's jest hinstinct--it comes as nat'ral
to me as eatin', or walkin' these 'ere roads."
"Have you come far to-day?"
"Twenty mile, maybe," he answered, setting down his bundle of
"Are you tired?"
"'Course I'm tired."
"Then why not sit down and rest?"
"Because I'd 'ave to get up again, wouldn't I?"
"Are you hungry?
"'Ungry aren't the word for it."
"And how is trade?"
"Couldn't be worse!"
"I perceive you are a pessimist," said I.
"No," said he, "I'm a pedler--baptism'l name Richard, commonly
known as 'Gabbin' Dick.'"
"At least yours is a fine healthy trade," said I.
"A life of constant exercise, and fresh air; to-day for
"'Ot as a hoven!" said he.
"Yet there was a good, cool wind," said I.
"Ah! an' with dust enough to choke a man! And then there's the
loneliness o' these 'ere roads."
"Loneliness?" said I.
"That's the word; sometimes it gets so bad as I'm minded to do
away wi' myself--"
"Strange!" I began.
"Not a bit," said be; "when you've been a-walkin' an' a-walkin'
all day past 'edge and 'edge, and tree and tree, it's bad enough,
but it's worse when the sun's gone out, an' you foller the
glimmer o' the road on and on, past 'edges as ain't 'edges, and
trees as ain't trees, but things as touch you as you pass, and
reach out arter you in the dark, behind. Theer's one on 'em,
back theer on the Cranbrook road, looks like an oak-tree in the
daytime--ah, an' a big 'un--it's nearly 'ad me three times
a'ready--once by the leg, once by the arm, and once by the neck.
I don't pass it arter dark no more, but it'll 'ave me yet--mark my
words--it'll 'ave me one o' these fine nights; and they'll find
me a-danglin' in the gray o' the dawn!"
"Do you mean that you are afraid?" I inquired.
"No, not afeared exactly; it's jest the loneliness--the lonely
quietness. Why, Lord! you aren't got no notion o' the tricks the
trees and 'edges gets up to a' nights--nobody 'as but us as tramps
the roads. Bill Nye knowed, same as I know, but Bill Nye's dead;
cut 'is throat, 'e did, wi' one o' 'is own razors--under a 'edge."
"And what for?" I inquired, as the Pedler paused to spit
lugubriously into the road again.
"Nobody knowed but me. William Nye 'e were a tinker, and a rare,
merry 'un 'e were--a little man always up to 'is jinkin' and
jokin' and laughin'. 'Dick,' 'e used to say (but Richard I were
baptized, though they calls me Dick for short), 'Dick,' 'e used
to say, 'd'ye know that theer big oak-tree--the big, 'oller oak
as stands at the crossroads a mile and a 'alf out o' Cranbrook?
A man might do for 'isself very nice, and quiet, tucked away
inside of it, Dick,' says 'e; 'it's such a nice, quiet place, so
snug and dark, I wonder as nobody does. I never pass by,' says
'e, 'but I takes a peep inside, jest to make sure as theer aren't
no legs a-danglin', nor nobody 'unched up dead in the dark. It's
such a nice, quiet place,' e used to say, shakin' 'is lead, and
smilin' sad-like, 'I wonder as nobody's never thought of it afore.'
Well, one day, sure enough, poor Bill Nye disappeared--nobody
knowed wheer. Bill, as I say, was a merry sort, always ready wi'
a joke, and that's apt to get a man friends, and they searched
for 'im 'igh and low, but neither 'ide nor 'air o' poor Bill did
they find. At last, one evenin' I 'appened to pass the big oak--the
'oller oak, and mindin' Bill's words, thinks I--'ere's to see if
'tis empty as Bill said. Goin' up to it I got down on my 'ands
and knees, and, strikin' a light, looked inside; and there, sure
enough, was poor Bill Nye hunched up inside of it wi' a razor in
'is 'and, and 'is 'ead nigh cut off--and what wi' one thing and
another, a very unpleasant sight he were."
"And why--why did he do it?" I asked.
"Because 'e 'ad to, o' course--it's jest the loneliness.
They'll find me some day, danglin'--I never could abide 'blood
myself--danglin' to the thing as looks like a oak tree in
"What do you mean?" said I.
The Pedler sighed, shook his head, and shouldered his brooms.
"It's jest the loneliness!" said he, and, spitting over this
shoulder, trudged upon his way.
HOW I HEARD THE STEPS OF ONE WHO DOGGED ME IN THE SHADOWS
And, in a little while, I rose, and buckled on my knapsack. The
shadows were creeping on apace, but the sky was wonderfully
clear, while, low down upon the horizon, I saw the full-orbed
moon, very broad and big. It would be a brilliant night later,
and this knowledge rejoiced me not a little. Before me stretched
a succession of hills--that chain of hills which, I believe, is
called the Weald, and over which the dim road dipped, and wound,
with, on either hand, a rolling country, dark with wood, and
coppice--full of mystery. The wind had quite fallen, but from
the hedges, came sudden rustlings and soft, unaccountable noises.
Once, something small and dark scuttered across the road before
me, and once a bird, hidden near by, set up a loud complaint,
while, from the deeps of a neighboring wood, came the mournful
note of a night-jar.
And, as I walked, I bethought me of poor Bill Nye, the Tinker. I
could picture him tramping upon this very road, his jingling load
upon his back, and the "loneliness" upon and around him. A small
man, he would be, with a peaked face, little, round, twinkling
eyes, grizzled hair, and a long, blue chin. How I came to know
all this I cannot tell, only it seemed he must be so. On he
went, his chin first upon one shoulder, and now upon the other,
shooting furtive glances at hedges which were not hedges, and
trees which were not trees. Somewhere there was a "thing" that
looked like a big oak tree in the daytime--a hollow oak. On he
went through the shadows, on and on. Presently he turned out of
the road, and there, sure enough, was the oak itself. Kneeling
down, he slipped off his burden and pushed it through a jagged
hole at the root. Then he glanced round him, a long, stealthy
look, down at the earth and up at the sky, and crept into the
tree. In the dimness I could see him fumble for the thing he
wanted, pause to thumb its edge, and, throwing up his chin, raise
"Folly!" said I aloud, and stopped suddenly in my stride.
The moon's rim was just topping the trees to my left, and its
light, feeble though it was as yet, served to show that I had
reached a place where four roads met.
Now, casting my eyes about me, they were attracted by a great
tree that grew near by, a tree of vast girth and bigness. And,
as I looked, I saw that it was an oak-tree, near the root of
which there was a jagged, black hole.
How long I stood staring at this, I cannot say, but, all at once,
the leaves of the tree were agitated as by a breath of wind, and
rustled with a sound indescribably desolate, and from the dark
mass rose the long-drawn, mournful cry of some night bird.
Heedless of my direction, I hurried away, yet, ever when I had