Part 6 out of 9
Knapp had stopped now, and seemed bending over the other. Then he
deliberately thrust his hand into the face beneath him.
The Gentleman sat up, snatching for his sword.
"Tweak his conk!" popped a Cockney voice--"the conk of a lord!" And he
was up and away, and down the slope with the merriest spurt of
The Gentleman was on his feet in a second, pursuing, a smear of blood
at his nose.
Knapp heard him.
"Chise me!" he called, and came swinging down the slope at his ease, a
smug grin on his face.
He was the fastest man but one South of Thames that day, and how was
he to know that one was after him?
If he was not aware of it, Kit, watching with all his eyes, was.
The Gentleman was hounding at the other's heels, swift, silent,
"Run!" screamed the boy.
The rifleman glanced over his shoulder.
"God A'mighty!" he yelled. "E's catchin me."
The light went out of his face. Fists and knees woke to sudden life
and began to hammer furiously. The long easy swing became a terrific
pitter-patter. Flinging back his head, he set himself to run the race
of his life.
Knapp was naked, and trained to a tick.
The Gentleman was the faster, and the slope helped his long legs; but
he was booted and spurred.
Kit watched the smooth swoop of the one, and the terrific bob-a-bob-
bob of the other. He was reminded of an eagle he had once seen
stooping at a rabbit on the Cheviots.
Each was running for his all, and each knew it; but the Gentleman was
having the best of it.
Knapp, running with his head as well as with his heels, was making
straight for the creek.
On the flat, among the boulders, he, naked-nimble, would be on better
terms with the booted Gentleman.
But--he would never get there. Kit saw it at a glance.
Down the hill he came with pounding fists, and great knees going. His
head was flung back, his face screwed tight.
He had the lion's heart, this naughty little man. Death, swift and
terrible, cast the shadow of its wings over him. He could not see it,
but he could feel it overhead, swooping, swooping. He would not look
back. His mistake made, he would do his desperate best to retrieve it.
At least he would show the world how a Borderer can die.
Behind him the Gentleman, the wind in his hair, was feeling for his
Another moment and that hub-bub of beating heart and running legs
would stop for ever--skewered.
Kit could not bear it. Casting disguise aside, he leapt into the
creek, and snatched a pebble.
"Chuck!" screamed the rifleman, and jinked like a hare.
Kit saw the gleam of a white waistcoat, and flung with all his might.
The pebble sped true as that which slew Goliath.
It took effect between the fourth and fifth button. Down went the
Gentleman with a windy groan, as though the soul was being sucked out
of his body.
Knapp, the pressure relieved, was his Cockney self again in a second.
He swung on at a leisurely trot with the flick of heel, and swagger of
elbow, peculiar to the crack taking his ease.
"Thank-ye!" he called, pert and patronising. "Lucky shot!"
"Run, fool, run!" yelled Kit. "The sentry!"
On the crest of the hill, against the sky-line, the sentry was
kneeling as he took aim.
"What!--eh!--oh!--im?--blime!" and Knapp buckled to again in earnest.
The sentinel fired.
It was a long shot; but the man was a Grenadier of the Guard, and
picked at that.
Up went Knapp's arms, and down into the creek he stumbled, there to
fall on his face. Up again to run a little further; down once more;
turned head over heels; up again and out of sight.
Kit's heart rose and fell with the little man.
What to make of it?--was he hard hit?--or was he at his eternal
fooling once more?
He had no time for further questions. He must see to his own line of
The Gentleman was winded, and nothing more. The opening of the drain
was discovered. No matter. It had done its work, or would have when
once it had seen him home.
He clambered up the bank, brushed through the tamarisk, back into the
Thank heaven! Blob, the faithful, was still there.
He marked the cheerful gleam of the lantern, a tiny red spark in the
As he shuffled rapidly along he saw the patch of light on the floor
beneath the man-hole.
But--was he mistaken?--or was not that patch, dim and dappled before,
bright now as the moon?
He stopped. His heart was thumping so that he almost expected the
covering drain to crack, and reveal him to the world.
Suddenly the patch vanished. All was darkness save the red eye of
Blob's lantern far away.
Then that too went out.
The blackness was stifling, horrible. He opened his mouth to draw
Then the light at the man-hole appeared again, shining now no longer
on the floor, but on a man's head, bristling, and with huge ears.
Some one was squatting in the drain.
His heart that had been racing brought up bump.
"Any one there, Toadie?" came a voice through the man-hole.
"Only the boy," rumbled the man in the drain.
The words woke Kit to his position. With a ghastly effort he confirmed
his mind and faced the situation.
There was one thing for it--to make for the opening, and trust his
Better to be shot down in the open, anyway, than killed in the drain
like a rabbit.
He turned round.
As he did so, a hand appeared at the opening, and swept back the
tamarisk. A smiling face showed at the mouth of the drain.
"Tiger, Tiger, burning bright
In the forest of the night,"
came the voice of a playful ogre. "Did you ever hear of a man called
Blake, Little Chap? One of God's own."
As he said it, a door slammed violently; a great gust of wind rushed
past the boy down the drain.
Blob, the faithful, had obeyed his orders.
The boy was alone in Hell, and the Devil was stalking him.
Kit turned round.
Under the man-hole squatted old Toadie. The light bathed his hunched
shoulders, his receding forehead, his projecting teeth.
The horror of it, the darkness, here in the bowels of the earth,
hidden from sun and wind and light of heaven, undid the boy.
He tried to scream and could not. He battered madly at the bricks,
caging him like an iron destiny, and only hurt his hands.
Surely, surely God would hear him!
Toadie began to hop towards him--hop--hop--hop.
The boy was breathing stertorously through his nose, almost snorting.
The saliva was dribbling down his chin. He sank in a heap against the
bricks and said,
_"Ello!"_ came a deep voice. _"Feel sick?"_
"I don't know," giggled the boy, crouching limp on the brick-floor.
He knew now what those rabbits he and Gwen had ferreted with glee
felt, old Yellow Jack worming down the burrow after them.
Yes: it was nicer to ferret than to be ferreted.
Nicest of all perhaps to be the ferret and suck blood, suck blood,
suck blood, glued between the eyes of your victim.
Again the boy giggled.
The horror was passing. It was only a nightmare now, too terrible to
be true, and a familiar nightmare. To be hemmed in thus in darkness,
an ogre creeping in upon him, he just a throbbing heart and breathing
nostrils.... Often before ... in life, in death, in dreams.... He
didn't know, and didn't greatly care.... Time to wake soon.... Mother
or old Nan would knock in a minute.... This sort of dream always ended
in that knock.
He beckoned to the hopping toad, smiling. They might just as well be
friends. Mother's knock would disturb them soon enough.
A noise roused him from his waking death.
It was the shuffling of feet.
Old Toadie heard it too, and snarled across his shoulder.
"Who the hell's that?"
In the darkness there was a falling flash.
It was Blob; Blob, the brave, who had fulfilled his orders and more.
Loyal to his brother-boy, he had slammed the door as bidden, and,
himself, the wrong side of it, had come to Kit's assistance.
After all he was a boy, and was not the young gentleman a boy?--and is
not all the world against boys?--Boys that must hold together, or they
will surely all be lost. Kit heard and lived anew.
Before him in the darkness was a muffled tumult. Out of it came Blob's
_"Give over squeegin"_
And the bass reply,
_"I'll squeege your eart out !"
"Hullo! hullo! hullo!--what's forrad there?"_ came the Gentleman's
echoing voice, as he crept towards them.
Kit scuffled down the drain, and tripped over a tumbling mass. It
writhed; it stank; it was hot; it had two voices that growled and
"Well done, Blob!" he panted. "Which is you?"
_"Oi'm me,"_ came a smothered treble from the heart of the
The boy's hand felt a shirt, warm and wet.
"Is that you?" prodding with his dirk.
_"G-r-r, you young--"_
Kit slid the dirk home. He was surprised to find how smoothly the
steel ran in. It was not hard, then, to kill a man, and it was
The man shivered and relaxed.
_"Is that old Toadie you've got there?"_ called the Gentleman,
crawling leisurely along.
_"What you doing to him?"_
_"Ah, well,"_ said the Gentleman, _"I never cared much for old.
Toadie. We weren't simpatico. If you care to wait a minute I'll--"_
"Can't," gasped Kit. "No time. Now, boy, hurry!"
Blob crawled out from beneath the dead man.
"Anudder pennorth for Blo-ub!" he gurgled, and added jealously, one
hand on the corpse, "He's moine. Oi killed un first."
"Never mind about that! This way."
There was one chance and one only. The door blocked one end; the
Gentleman the other; the only exit was the man-hole. They must risk
"Here, Blob!--up here!--quick now!--give us a leg!"
Blob gave him a heave. Up he went into the light, like a cork from a
bottle. Staying himself on his elbows, he hung, half in the hole, half
out of it, the light dazzling him.
A roar of laughter smote him in the heart.
Blinking, he looked about him.
Above waved the sycamores, breeze-stirred and dark, and walling him
round, the Gap Gang.
Kit's first thought was to drop.
Two soft arms seized him from behind; a sickening breath was on his
cheek; a smooth face pressed his; and a fawning treble was saying in
his ear with appalling tenderness,
"Let ole George elp you, Lovey."
THE PARSON'S AGONY
The Parson stamped up and down the loft, gnawing his thumb.
Those long shots from the rear had ceased half an hour ago. A tall
Grenadier drooped across the wall. How should he have known there was
one in the cottage could reach out a fatal finger and tap him on the
forehead at two hundred yards?
The Parson's jolly face was haggard.
Now and then he peered out of the seaward window, listening. On the
knoll all was still. He could see nothing, could hear nothing. Blue
Knickers had withdrawn; he could mark no prowling figures. Only among
the tree-trunks a pale wisp of smoke meandered upwards, telling of a
About him was the drowsy buzz-z-z of an August noon. A cabbage
butterfly sailed by. The creature's insufferable airs annoyed him. The
fate of Nelson, the life of a noble lad, these were nothing to it,
curse it for its callousness!
The minutes passed. The silence was so oppressive that he could hear
it. It stifled him.
What an age the boy was! Good heavens!--he could have got to the mouth
of the drain and back half-a-hundred times by now! What was the
delay?--Things must have gone awry! Yet how could they?--It was always
the way! There was no trusting any living soul but yourself! Why the
devil couldn't he be in two places at once?--It was _damnable!_
He pulled himself together with a jerk.
Here he was becoming unjust, irritable, womanish; everything he had
always most despised in a man of action.
A shout came to him from seaward.
A shot followed.
The perspiration started to his forehead. He ran to the ladder-head.
In the dimness below he could see the old foretop-man sitting alert
beside the black square of the open trap.
Piper was stooping forward, one great hand curved at his ear,
"All well below there?"
"Well, sir, I'm not justly sure. A minute back I seemed to feel like a
gush o wind--"
"Then hail the boy, man!"
"Boy Hoad! below there!" in stentorian tones.
The only answer was a rush of air through the open trap, and the
muffled slam of a door, house-shaking.
The Parson ran down into the cellar.
Blob's lantern glimmered on the floor, but there was no Blob.
He felt the door, cold to his hands as a corpse. It was shut fast as
death. The catch had snapped; but the bolts were not home.
His first impulse was to open; his second to refrain. A man with a
musket anywhere in the drain could not miss him. And he once down, the
door open, all was over!--the cottage stormed, the despatches taken,
old man Piper slain, and Nelson lost.
His ear against the clammy iron, he listened. Yes; outside the door he
could detect the sound of faint breathing.
A distance away, he could hear the scuffling of feet.
He saw it all. They had shot Blob, who lay without, breathing his
last. The door, left unguarded, had slammed, and they were nabbing Kit
and Knapp in the drain.
His hand was upon the catch once more. Should he go?--dared he stay?
His spirit wrought within him.
Strong man though he was, he was whimpering in the darkness.
To slink behind that iron door was eternal shame; to go was inevitable
ruin. Could he save his own old skin at the cost of that boy's? And
yet he could not get away from the remorseless fact that to save his
own skin might be to save his country.
His agony was short but terrible. The patriot prevailed over the man.
The discipline of twenty years' soldiering had taught him life's
hardest lesson--to sacrifice his feelings to his duty. He made his
choice, and chose the path that has always seemed best to Englishmen
in such case.
He slammed the bolts home.
He was up the ramp in a moment, and had banged the trap-door behind
Old Piper turned from the loop-hole.
"Seems there's summat up yonder behind the trees, sir. I yeard--Ah!
what'll that be?"
From behind the knoll came a sudden holloa, then an uproarious burst
"They've got em, by God!" The old man swung his chair about with lion-
like eyes. "By your leave, sir, you must go to them lads."
The Parson was tearing off coat and cravat.
"I'm going.... I'll slip out of the dormer-window so as to leave the
He sped up the ladder, and down again in a twinkling.
"Here are the despatches! If I go down, it'll take em ten minutes to
rush the place and give you time to burn the papers. Here are my
pistols! one for the first Frenchman, and t'other--well, you're a
better man than I am, Piper, you know what's right, but--"
"I'll trust my Maker before the Gap Gang," said the old man. "He'll
understand.... Good-bye, sir. God help you."
"He will," cried the Parson. "It's His battle. Good-bye, Piper. I'm
cut to the heart to leave you. But--"
He was up the ladder and out of the window in a moment, stealing
across the greensward, Polly in one hand, and Knapp's bugle in the
No spatter of fire greeted him from the knoll; no flitting figures
retreated before him. All was peace, and the fair breeze ruffling the
The Gap Gang were at some bloody business behind the trees.
Kit's life stopped short.
"That's one on em. Where's t'other?" growled Beardie.
"Oi'm here," said Blob, and thrust up, pink and impassive, in his
cheek an obvious slice of apple.
"That's right," said Fat George in sleek, caressing voice. "Give the
genelman your and, my dear. He'll elp you out. There you are! There's
no call for _you_ to be scared. _You're_ among old friends."
The Gang had gathered round the hole.
Beardie on his hands and knees was peering down into the drain.
Then he threw up his head with a savage roar.
"My God! they've done old Toadie."
He burst through the crowd at the boy, eyes and beard ablaze.
Kit, tight-clutched in Fat George's arms, shut his eyes.
There flashed before his mind a lonely figure, bound and buffeted in
the palace of a high-priest eighteen hundred years ago. He saw it,
patient among its persecutors, with the eyes of perfect vision, and
grew strangely calm and comforted.
These evil men appeared to him in a clearer, a purer light. For one
splendid second he was sorry for them.
"Father, forgive them," he prayed, and added aloud, "Good-bye, Blob."
The voice at his ear brought him back from heaven.
"Stidy, Beardie!--You're spiling sport. Ave the Mossoos twigged
"Nay," said Dingy Joe. "They're a'ter the naked chap."
"Then we've got this little bit o business all to ourselves, the
Genelmen o the Gap Gang ave. Let's take im up among the trees, and gag
Was God in heaven? would He allow it?
As though in answer, close at hand a bugle sounded.
The boy had a vision of a winged figure, sword in hand, swooping
wrathfully down upon them.
Surely he knew it--that swoop, that sword, that splendid rage.
It was St. Michael, the Archangel, in the famous picture by Guido
Reni, a copy of which hung in the drawing-room at home.
"Remember the crew o the Curlew, men!" roared a mighty voice.
The arms about the boy loosened.
"The sogers!" shrilled Fat George, and bolted with a scream.
The rest followed in cataract rout. They pelted past the lad,
bellowing, bleating: a tumult of arms, legs, aweful eyes in aweful
faces. Only Beardie had the strength of mind to aim a smashing blow at
the boy's head as he fled, and he missed.
"Make for the cottage, boys!" thundered the Parson, storming by. "Oh,
Polly, my love and my lady!" and his sword flashed and sang and swept
against the sky.
"Grenadiers!" rang an imperious voice from out of the ground.
Kit jumped round.
The Gentleman's head was thrust through the manhole; his eyes sweeping
Fighting Fitz had seized the situation in a glance. Could he thrust
his Grenadiers between the boys and the cottage, victory was his.
Lifting himself on his hands, his head thrown back, he sent the
singing voice that the veterans of the Prussian Guard had heard at
Marengo out of the cloud as Kellerman's Green Brigade roared down on
them--he sent it swinging over grass and knoll,
"_A la maison, mes enfants!"_
Kit did not hesitate. Dirk in hand, he leapt at the head flashing in
the sun. Here, in the heat and hell of battle, he had no thought of
The Gentleman heard the patter of his coming, and swept about.
"Sold again, Little Chap!" he laughed, and bobbed underground.
The chance was gone. There was not a second to be lost.
"This way, Blob!" yelled the boy, and dashed up the knoll, making for
THE RACE FOR THE COTTAGE
And it was full time.
As he stormed up the knoll, he heard upon his right the clink of arms,
and the sound of a Frenchman shouting.
Down through the sheltering sycamores he plunged, and burst out into
A tall Grenadier, who had been sentry upon the shingle-bank, was
racing up on his right across the greensward, screaming as he ran.
His yells were of effect. Half a dozen ragged ruffians bobbed up from
behind the broken wall in the rear, and seeing only the boys, made
fiercely for them.
It was a race for the cottage; and the door of the cottage was shut.
That dead mask of wood stared at Kit blankly. Had it no eyes? no soul?
no understanding? was it not English, heart of oak, its life sucked
these centuries from the breast of the same mother? could it not
_feel_ his agony?
"Piper! Piper! the door's shut!"
"_Ay, sir, but it wun't be drackly-minute_," came a straining
voice from within; and the boy could hear the rending of torn boards,
and the splintering of terrific hatchet-work.
The Grenadier with set teeth and blue-black muzzle was launching
forward with huge strides.
Kit could hear the rattle of his cartridge-pouch flopping as he ran.
Would the door open? if so, which would reach it first?
"Faster, Blob, faster!"
"Oi'd run faaster, if ma legs would," panted Blob, lumbering behind.
He was doing his best; but he was no match for the fawn-footed
gentleman, who led him. Lumps of ghostly clay, inherited from a long
line of furrow-following ancestors, clung to his heels, impeding him.
Kit gripped his dirk and ran.
His eyes were on the Grenadier, a black and yellow fellow, with a wart
between the brows. That wart held Kit's imagination. It sickened him.
It was just his luck to have to deal with a warted man, when he had
always loathed warts! But for the wart he felt he could have been
At the thought the tide of his humour welled within him; and the
Grenadier was amazed to see a smile in the eyes of this boy with the
long face, ghastly-pale, racing against him.
Taken off his guard, he smiled too.
So each ran towards the other, whom he meant to kill, with smiling
The cottage door began to open slowly, so slowly.
The boy could see the old foretop-man in the darkened passage. A
hatchet was in his mouth; he was handling the door with one hand, and
his chair with the other.
So easy for a whole man to open the door, so hard for the disabled
The Grenadier, hounding with huge strides, was already almost there.
"Man on your left, Piper!" the boy screamed.
"All right, sir!" mumbled the old seaman. "Give me cutlass room--all I
He put both hands to the wheels of his chair, and spun out into the
open, hatchet in mouth.
As he did so, round the corner of the cottage swooped half a dozen
"Take the Frenchman, sir!" roared the old man. "I'll tackle these--"
With a wrench, he slewed his chair, spun the wheels furiously, and
shocked into the cloud of them.
The Grenadier launched at his back, bayonet at the charge.
"Coward!" gasped Kit, still five yards away, and flung his dirk.
It stuck in the ground at the man's feet, and tripped him. He plunged
forward on hands and knees, and gathered himself as a wave about to
As he rose, Kit leapt on him, naked-handed.
The man was hurled through the open door, and brought up against the
inner wall with an appalling shock.
For a moment man and boy hugged cheek to cheek.
Kit's legs were round the other's hips, his arms about the other's
"Beast! don't bite!" he gurgled, as the man munched his shoulder; and
the image of Gwen, who when hard-driven used her teeth effectively,
rose before him.
The image faded. The man had the under-grip, and was squeezing his
soul out. Another moment, and his ribs must go.
"Blob!" he choked.
A dark something shot through the door and shocked against the
"Where'll Oi kill him?" asked a voice.
"Where you like," muttered Kit, swooning.
A hand rose and fell.
The man relaxed his grip. Kit could feel him fading and fading away,
as the life oozed out of him. He was a-horse on Death.
"Assez," muttered the Frenchman sleepily, swayed and fell.
Dazed and dizzy, Kit staggered to his feet.
A shadow darkened the door; a strange voice cried in horrible triumph:
Two pistols lay on the table. Blindly the boy snatched both.
"Now!" he said, as one in a dream, and, shoving a pistol against the
man's bare and shaggy bosom, fired.
Blindly he stepped over the fellow's body, and out into the open.
A man, on hands and knees, was crawling away round the corner of the
cottage; another lay dead on his face across the way.
Before him he saw a little cloud of men, and the gleam of a silver
head thrusting out moon-like from among them.
Blindly he fired into the brown, and blindly followed up.
One man fell; others slunk away, snarling.
The whole thing was over.
Buzzing August prevailed again.
"Are you hurt?" sobbed Kit.
"No, sir, I'm bravely, thank you. Properly shook up, though." The old
man was heaving like the sea. "They'd no knives nor nothin, only one
on em, and Boy Hoad stuck him as he passed. They hurt emselves more'n
me. I bluv I'm a better man above the waist nor ever I were. All the
juice like goes to my arms now I've no legs--that's how I reck'n it
"We must get in before they come again. Quick!"
"Ah, they won't come again, sir. Easy satisfied, the Gap Gang. Got no
guts because they got no God.... Ah, here's Mr. Joy!"
The Parson was coming across the greensward, high and mighty as a
The Gentleman was standing among the sycamores, laughing.
He waved his hand to the boy.
"Congratulations, Little Chap," he called.
"Don't accept em," snarled the Parson. "Posing impostor!--coxcomb!--
"What! has he wounded you, sir?" asked old Piper.
"Pinked me in the calf, the coward!" snapped the Parson. "He's not a
gentleman. I always knew he wasn't!--Frenchified feller!"
He looked round with grim satisfaction.
"So you've been busy, too. I reckon they're half a dozen short o what
they were before the sally. And we've got our man through, too!"
He pointed across the plain.
From the foot of the Downs a string of Grenadiers were coming back at
They had no prisoner.
THE SHADOW OF THE WOMAN
The door was shut, and all once again darkness in the cottage of the
Something slithering along the floor caught Kit's ear.
Then he saw that Blob had by the collar the Grenadier he had killed,
and with groanings and pantings and strange animal noises, was hauling
his victim towards the dark mouth of the cellar.
"Leave him alone," called Kit sternly. "D'you call that a respectable
way to treat the dead?" He laid a piece of sacking over the corpse,
adding--"That'll do to cover him up till we can bury him properly."
"But Oi don't want un buried," whined Blob. "Oi be goin to keep un
agin the fifth o Novambur--guy for Bloub!"
"You're going to do no such thing, you disgusting little beast. You'll
get your tuppence, and you don't deserve that."
"Ah," said Blob cunningly, "this un'll be worth a little better'n
tuppence surely. You knaw who he be, Maaster Sir?"
Blob dropped his voice to a mysterious whisper.
"Squoire Nabowlin. Mus. Poiper tall me."
"Squoire Nabowlin," reiterated the boy. "Nabowlin Bounabaardie--the
top Frenchie. See the legs on him! red and gold and buttons and all."
The Gentleman was sauntering across the grass towards the cottage, his
hands behind him.
The Parson brushed aside the mattress, and thrust out, snarling.
"Keep your distance, sir, or take the consequences."
The Gentleman strolled forward.
"Ah, there you are, Padre. I came to have a little chat."
"Stand fast then, and state your business!--This is war, not play-
acting. I hate your silly swagger."
"Well, in the first place I thought you might care to know that your
"Thank you for nothing. Knew that already."
"But you know--there's always a little but in this world--hateful
word, isn't it?--but, but, but--he's too late."
"What ye mean?"
"I mean that Nelson reached Dover last night, and sails this
afternoon. The _Medusa_'ll be off here at dawn if this breeze
The Parson had forgotten Dover. Chatham, the Admiralty, Merton! in his
note he had urged Beauchamp to send messengers post-haste to all
three; but Dover!
"That's all right," he called calmly. "I've a galloping express half-
way there by now, thank ye."
The other shook his head with a grave smile.
"It's sixty miles in a bee-line from Lewes to Dover, and plenty of
public-houses on the road. No Englishman could do it under eight hours
on a hot day. If your romance-man gets there by midnight, he'll do
well--and still be hours too late."
The Parson remained unmoved.
"It makes no odds," he called loftily. "If you want to know, Nelson's
not in England."
"Is he not? where is he then?"
"Why, where he ought to be--hammering the Combined Squadron somewhere
St. Vincent way."
"How d'you know?"
"He's my cousin on my father's side. I heard from his mother only--
"By last night's mail!" suggested the Gentleman. "May I ask then why
you trouble to send a galloping express to Dover to stop him?"
The Parson's face darkened. He thrust forward.
"And may I ask how _you_ know Nelson got to Dover last night?"
The other shrugged.
"I have agents."
The Parson nodded grimly.
"Yes; I've a list of em."
"_Your_ countrymen, _my_ friends"--with a malicious little
bow--"the Friends of Freedom."
The Parson leaned out, black as night.
"Friends of Freedom be d-----d!" he thundered--"bloody traitors!"
The other raised a shocked hand.
"Holy Padre! Reverend Father! _Virginibus puerisque_, if you
The Parson turned to find Kit at his elbow.
"I'm only a deacon," he grumbled. And it's only what you French gentry
call a _fashion de polly_."
"I am not French--or only on my mother's side," replied the other
"Well, Frenchified then--it's all the same, ain't it?--all that bowin
and scrapin and humbuggin business--you know what I mean."
"Yes, yes, I know, my polished friend.... And as to these same
_couleur-de-rose_ gentry I understand your feelings entirely, and
for the very good reason that I share them. And I don't mind telling
you in confidence that as to the bulk of them your description is not
"And if _they're_ that, what are _you_, I'd like to know?"
shouted the Parson.
"I am an Irishman. I serve my country--I do not sell her."
"And are all Irishmen traitors?"
A gleam came into the other's eyes. He smiled frostily.
"All who are worthy of the name," he said....
"But to return to our sheep. They have served me, these sanguinary
gentlemen, so I can't stand by and see them hanged, when I can save
em. And to put it shortly--I want that despatch-bag, please!"
He came forward like a child, hand outstretched, and smiling
The Parson flung out a finger and volleyed laughter.
"And he thinks he's going to get it! Ask pretty; don't forget to say
please; and he shall have everything he wants, he shall, he shall.
There's a lambkin! there's a little lovey!" He leaned out again. "And
what you going to give us for it?"
"Why, a free pass-out, with all the honours of war."
"Thank you for nothing. Seems to me I can have a free pass-out
whenever I like. I've just free-passed out a man. And I'm only a
minute or two back myself from a little stroll with a lady."
The Gentleman sauntered forward.
"I am sorry to be so importunate," he said gravely, "but I _must_
have those despatches and I mean to have them."
"The position is this: Nelson is _mine_." He brought down his
right fist on his left. "_Nothing_ can save him now--_nothing_.
This time to-morrow, so sure as that sun will rise, he will be
dead or on the way to Verdun. That has been arranged."
"_How?_" thundered the Parson. "_How_ has it been arranged?"
The Gentleman was pacing to and fro before the window; and his eyes
"It's enough for you to know," he said at last, "that I--I have
influence with a lady, who--who has influence with Nelson."
"What _does_ he mean?" whispered Kit.
The Parson had turned very white.
He knew that woman, by nature so noble; and he knew something of her
history--the history of the shame of man.
"D'you mean to tell me _She's_ going to sell _her_ Nelson to
that organ-grinder's monkey from Corsica?" he roared. "Because if
you'll tell me that, I'll tell you you're a liar."
The Gentleman still paced before the window.
"I'll tell you nothing of the sort," he said. "She believes herself to
be serving her country." He was speaking very slowly, almost mincing
his words. "She has--has come into possession of information...."
The man, usually so self-possessed, stuttered and stopped dead.
"And how did she come into possession of that information, I wonder?"
asked the Parson, slow and white.
The Gentleman flashed his face up.
"I'll put it in brutal English so that even _you_ can understand.
_I made a fool of a woman who thought she was making a fool of
There was a lengthy silence.
"And they call him the Gentleman!" came the Parson's voice at last--
The other had resumed his pacing.
"He sneaks himself into the confidence of a lady," continued the
Parson quietly. "He conceals his identity--"
Again the other flashed his eyes up.
"I did not!" he shouted, hammering with his hand. "The first words I
ever spoke to her in the drawing-room at Merton were to tell her who I
was. That night she told Pitt over his port. And Pitt told her--but
there!--I needn't go into that.... And when she asked me what brought
me to Merton, I answered truthfully--'Love of adventure and the
fairest face in Europe.'"
The Parson leaned out.
"I understand you now. You take advantage of that face of yours; you
worm yourself into the confidence of a woman, a noble woman; and you--"
The Gentleman blazed appalling eyes up at him.
"And _you_ have not seen my Ireland suffer!"
The Parson quailed before the white blast of the other's anger. It was
as though a hail of lightnings had struck him.
"_His_ Ireland! ass!" was the only retort he could think of.
"Nelson then let us put aside," continued the other, cold again.
"There remain--you and the despatches. I want the despatches. You want
yourselves. Shall we exchange?"
"No, we shan't," snapped the Parson.
"I know your straits," continued the other. "You're short of
"Short of provisions!" guffawed the Parson. "Why, step this way, and
I'll show you a boy with the bellyache."
"And short of men," the other continued, quite himself again. "What
does your garrison consist of?--one holy padre, one half an old
sailor, Monsieur Mooncalf, and Little Chap."
"And what's your own lot?" bellowed the Parson--"one dozen of
sweepings of France, one dozen of the picked scum of our country, and
one conceited young whipper-snapper, who swaggers about in breeches
and boots all day _and was never on a horse in his life to my
The Gentleman waved his hand.
"Take the consequences then," he said. "A rivederci."
"Take the consequences yourself!" roared the Parson--"you and your
river dirties. I'll see your friends hung high as Haman yet."
The other shook his head.
"You won't live to see that, dear man," he said quietly, and turned
THE PLANK CAPONIER
Kit was in the cellar stripping his belt and cartridge-pouch from
As he rose from his knees Piper hailed him.
"Mr. Joy callin you, sir."
The boy ran up the ramp. The old man, handling his musket, was peering
through the Northward loop-hole.
"What is it?"
"Summat up yonder, sir."
The boy raced up the ladder.
The Parson was at the dormer looking towards the Downs, shimmering now
in the fair evening.
"What's the meaning of this?" he said, pointing.
A great Sussex wain, top-heavy with hay, was drawing out of a farmyard
among trees, a quarter of a mile away. A white horse was in the
shafts, and a black in the lead. Two Grenadiers were at the head of
the black leader, who was giving trouble. Others in shirt-sleeves were
mounting to the top of the load.
"Old Gander's wain," said the Parson. "That's old mare Jenny in the
shafts, and her three-year-old daughter in the lead. Ha, Miss
Blossom!--That's your sort!--Knock em sprawling!--Teach the Mossoos to
handle an English lady!"
A tall man ran out of the farmyard, a snow-storm of white-frocked
children pursuing him; and even at that distance Parson and boy could
hear them screaming laughter. The tall man snatched up one and kissed
her. Then he took off his hat with an enormous sweep to the others,
"Humph! posing rather prettily this time!" muttered the Parson,
On the top of the wain, clear against the sky, a tall figure now rose,
and gathered the rope-reins in his hand.
The men at the leader's head jumped aside.
Up she went, sky-high.
The coachman handled her as a mother handles a wilful child. The wind
was towards them, and they could hear him singing to her.
"Hum! he can handle the ribands a bit," muttered the Parson, watching
intently. "Miss Blossom's never tasted a bit before."
The filly dropped, and flung forward with the shock of a breaking
The slope was with them. The old mare, with snarling head and backward
ears, broke into a lumbering trot, snatching at her daughter's tail.
The wain began to gather weigh, creaking, jolting, jerking along.
The filly was tearing into her collar; the old mare, swept along by
the pursuing wain, broke into a heavy gallop. The Gentleman, holding
them hard, was singing to them as they came.
"Mean mischief, sir," called Piper from below.
"Jove, they do!" muttered the Parson, chin forward, and eyes flaming
as he watched. "Like a Horse Artillery battery coming into action."
The wain leapt and swung and bounced along like a live thing.
"Ah, I thought so.... Pace too good.... He's dropping his load....
Ah!--there goes another!"
A Grenadier was seen to fall with flapping tails, and another, and
another; till the track of the thundering wain was strewn with men,
who picked themselves up and pursued.
Only the intrepid coachman, his feet set deep, held his place, swaying
to the swing of the wain.
The Parson gnawed his lip as he watched.
"What's it all mean, Piper?"
"Don't justly know what to make of it, sir."
"You can't get a line on him?"
"No, sir. He's slewed aside out o my range."
And indeed the Gentleman had swung his team to the left, as though to
avoid the old man's fire. They were lurching along at a thundering
gallop. It seemed as though the horses were fleeing from the wain.
The Parson was leaning far out of the window to watch.
"Round he comes!"
As he spoke, the Gentleman flung back with all his strength, and
wrenched to the right.
Round came the leader; the wheeler, slithering, jerking, almost swept
off her legs, as the wain came on top of her. Then the whole came
thundering across the greensward at the gable-end of the cottage.
"Ca'ant be going to ram us, sir, surely?" shouted Piper.
The old man could see nothing now, but he could hear the roar of the
"I believe he is!" cried the Parson.
It was the boy's swift mind that first leapt to the Gentleman's plan.
"No, sir!" he screamed. "Don't you see?--He'll bring the waggon
alongside at a gallop, jam it against the wall, and then----"
And then! the Parson saw it in a flash:--axemen at work on the door
beneath the wain, and stormers through the dormer-window over the top.
"By God, you've got it!"
It must be stopped at all costs.
The wain was coming at the cottage from the flank. A shot from the
left shoulder at an impossible angle at a galloping target--was that
their only hope?
The Parson glanced wildly round.
The thunder of the wain and the singing voice of the coachman was in
An old plank was lying in the loft.
"Plank Caponier!" he yelled, pounced on it, and thrust it out of the
window. "Now, Kit!--You're lightest!--There's your musket--loaded!--
Blob, sit on this end with me!"
Kit, musket in hand, ran out on the plank.
He was standing on air.
"Steady!" hoarsed the Parson, blue eyes gleaming through the window.
"Don't look down! Aim at her chest! Wait till you can see the roll of
Kit heard nothing, saw nothing, but a foam-splashed breast, a nodding
head, racing knees, and reaching feet.
All the world for him was in that black and shining bosom. It grew
upon him as he looked. It was no more a chest. It was a cloud, about
to burst on the world. He fired into the heart of it, sure he could
Up went the filly, fighting the air.
The boy saw her belly, her thighs, and the swish of her tail between
Down she came in roaring ruin, the old mare an avalanche of snow
"In, Kit!" screamed the Parson.
"No, sir!" yelled the boy.
In a blinding light he saw the thing to do, and flashed to do it.
Down he jumped, and dirk in hand raced for the tangle of horseflesh,
black and white and heaving like an angry sea.
Swift as he was, the Gentleman was swifter.
Before the boy had touched ground, he was down from his perch,
slashing at the tackle with his sword. Now he leapt to the mare's
head, hurling her back into her breeching.
While Kit was yet twenty yards away, he was up again, standing on the
shafts, reins in hand.
"Now, my lady!" came the high singing voice.
The brave old thing answered to it as though to a lover. She flung
forward with a sob.
"I'll take the mare and the man!" panted the Parson, racing up behind,
his curls almost cracking. "You go for the lynch-pins!"
He swept past, Polly in hand.
"Forgive me, Jenny!" he cried; and thrust home.
A spout of blood seemed to darken the sky, and deluge all. The wain
brought up with a dreadful jerk.
"Home, sir, if you can!" shouted Piper from his loop-hole. "Here's the
"Kit!" bawled the Parson. "Where are you?"
The lad crept out from under the wain.
"Got the lynch-pins?"
"Then come on!"
Under the fore-wheel the Gentleman was lying on his back, with closed
The boy stopped.
"Are you hurt, sir?"
The other shook a smiling head.
"Only shocked. Jerked off my box. Run, Little Chap, run!--or they'll
"Kit, damn you!" stormed the Parson. "_Will_ you run?"
Across the greensward half a dozen Grenadiers were hurling. The
nearest dropped on his knee, and took deliberate aim at the boy.
The loop-hole clouded suddenly.
Out of it Death spoke.
The Grenadier toppled over on to his back with flapping hands. A
moment he sat bolt-erect, a foolish-familiar look on his face--Kit
somehow expected him to put his tongue out--then collapsed ghastly.
The boy made for the cottage.
Blob, leaning out of the dormer, chewing an apple, watched him with
"Say, Maaster Sir," he cried, as he spat and slobbered, "reck'n
they'll catch you."
"Shall I unbolt the door, sir?" shouted Piper.
"You do, by God!" roared the wrathful Parson. "They're on our heels,
"How'll you manage then, sir?"
"Leave that to me, and stick to your shooting!"
A great water-butt stood at the corner, empty now.
The Parson, man of myriad resource, had trundled it beneath the
dormer, and turned it upside down in a second.
Kit was on it, and in through the window in a twinkle. The Parson
The leading Grenadier came at him, bayonet at the charge. The Parson
put the steel aside with his blade, and met the man fair in the face
with his heel.
"Good punch!" he cried cheerily, and kicking the butt away from under
him, scrambled into the loft.
He stood awhile both hands on his knees, heaving. Then he looked up,
his blue eyes good and grinning.
"Prettiest thing I ever saw in my life!" he panted. "But, you young
scaramouch! what the deuce d'you mean by stopping to chatter to that
"I thought he was hurt," gasped the boy panting against the wall.
"He's my friend."
The Gentleman was standing beneath the dormer, one hand uplifted.
The Parson looked down at him.
"Well, you're a calm chap," he said with slow delight.
Better than anything in the world he loved a brave man.
"I know my man," replied the other in the same still voice.
He was far away in April twilight-land.
The fine face, gay as the morning a few minutes since, had now a
wistful evening look. The shadows had fallen on it: rain was not far.
Even the Parson, blind-eyed Englishman that he was, noticed it, and
was touched. After all the man was a boy, and a beaten boy.
"Are you hurt?" he gruffed.
The Parson thought he understood.
"It was the pluckiest attempt I ever saw!" he cried with the
generosity of the victor. "That black filly had never known the feel
of a collar, till twenty minutes since.... I was to have broken her
"She was the least bit awkward at the start," mused the other. "But
she handled sweetly all the same."
"We had all the luck," continued the Parson. "But for that plank,
you'd have brought it off. It'll be your turn next time!"
The other lifted his face swiftly.
"Ah, no," he cried, "you mistake. _That's_ nothing! It's
Fifty yards away the wain lay wrecked on the greensward, the old white
mare crumpled in the shafts. She was stone-dead, and her muzzle, with
its coarse long hairs, was resting on the quarters of her daughter.
"That's the worst of war," said the Gentleman in that remote voice of
his. "_We_ know; _they_ don't."
"I expect it's all fairer than it seems," said the Parson huskily.
The other nodded.
"Have you a pistol?"
The filly was not dead. Lying on her side, she was lifting her head
and craning back to gaze at her dead dam.
Something clutched the Parson by the throat. A veil was rent. For a
moment he seemed to see the tragedy as the man beneath him saw it--the
passion, the pathos of that blind suffering in the cause of another.
"Here!" he said hoarsely, handing down a pistol.
The Gentleman took it, and seeing a pale face peering behind the
"She's not suffering, I think. Don't look, Little Chap."
He walked back to the filly.
Lying still now, her head along the greensward, she watched him
coming; snorting through full-blown nostrils.
He knelt at her head, pulling her ear, and caressing her.
"There, then, there!--It's all over now, little woman. I've come to
THE TWO PRAYERS
The Gentleman was walking away into the sunset.
The Parson turned from the dormer, and his eyes were wet.
"And, now, my boy," he cried, "you know what a gentleman is."
The words loosed the fountains of laughter in the lad's heart.
"I thought, sir, that you said--"
"You thought wrong," snapped the Parson. "I said nothing of the sort."
He swung round on Blob and kicked him.
"What fur why?" whimpered Blob.
"Teach you!" cried the Parson. "Want some more, eh? Then behave
yourself. I'm sick o your nonsense."
He reached up to the rafter.
"Eat and sleep--that's the whole duty of man just at present. Blob,
take Piper his rations, and ask him to forgive an old soldier who's a
bit short in the temper in action--and do the same yourself, my boy.
They snatched a hasty meal.
Outside the dusk was falling.
The Parson brushed the crumbs off his cravat.
"And now will you take first watch, or shall I?"
"I will, sir. I don't feel like sleep."
"Very well. Wake me when the moon dips behind the Downs, or earlier if
there's a sign of the soldiers."
Kit took his post at the dormer. The other slipped off his coat.
"I'm not much of a Parson as you may have found out," he muttered,
"still I am an Englishman." And he plumped down on his knees
His was a very short and simple prayer; the prayer tens of thousands
of Englishmen were praying from their hearts at that time.
Kneeling in his shirt, Polly shining before him against the wall, he
repeated it most earnestly.
The whispered words, so simple and heart-felt, reached the ears of the
boy at the dormer.
"God bless our dear country; and God d--- the French."
The waters of laughter came roaring up the boy's throat, and surged
The Parson rose from his knees, and scowled at the lad's shaking
"I suppose they're too proud to pray in _his_ Service," he
sneered. "Pack o pirates!" He took off his coat and folded it with
thumps. "Yet I know one sailor who's not above paying his respects to
his Maker--and that's Lord Nelson, of whom you may have heard. Seen
him myself in the trenches at Calvi. I remember a great buck of a
Dragoon Guardsman asking him,
"'Why d'you pray, little man?' 'Why,' says Nelson, simple as a child,
'because mother taught me.' Yes, sir," fiercely, "and that's why I
pray--and jolly good reason too."
"Did she teach you that prayer?" asked Kit demurely.
"Bah! blurry young tarry-breeks!" muttered the other; and curling on
the floor, his rolled jacket beneath his head, the old campaigner was
off to sleep, Polly fair and faithful beside him.
The boy had the house to himself, and the world too. At last he could
retire once more upon the Love within him.
He could pray--without words.
The sea was a plain shining beneath the moon. Against the light, inky
sycamores ruffled, stars entangled in their leaves. On the shingle-
bank the bear-skinn'd sentinel showed black against white waters.
The plain beauty of the night stole upon his mind. All was jewelled
silence, save for the jar-r-r of the familiar goat-sucker from the
foot of the hills, and the wash of the sea.
How calm it was, how strong, how radiant!
He had been far away. Now he was drawing near again. It was his once
more. He possessed it all, all, all, and loved it as his own.
All day he had been the prisoner of his own distraught senses. And how
comfortable it was, after the darkness of that life which is death, to
resume the large loveliness of Life Unending.
Space and Time had no more meaning for him. He was again eternal and
infinite. All this beauty of earth and sky and moon-wan water, it was
not outside him, it was himself. He reached out a hand to pluck a
handful of stars, and could not--because they were too close. You
cannot pluck the jewels of your own heart.
Yet however deep he plunged into Eternity, the ache of Time was still
present to his mind, remote indeed, on the farthest shores of memory,
but always there, an ache that would not still. He felt the pain of
it, and still more the pettiness. To him, sitting at the heart of
things, drinking in the great night, they seemed strangely mean and
tawdry now, the excitements of the past day.
_Let not your heart be troubled_, came the voice of the Poet of
Truth down the ages.
Was it worthy of a Son of God so to vex himself with the trivialities
of this world?
What was war? what victory? what defeat?
True he must do his best for conscience' sake, but God would swing the
stars across the heaven whether Napoleon landed or not. He would still
march on His great way, though Nelson were lost.
Smiling to himself, the lad was wondering whether to the Maker of
those stars, this earth, that sea, the issue of this business might be
more than the issue of a squabble between two sparrows would be to
He crossed to the northward window.
The Downs surged before him like a wave, dull against the brilliant
darkness. Overhead the slow stars trailed by, dipping, one after one,
behind the dark curtain of hills. The moon climbed above the
sycamores. Out on the plain something sparkled frostily. It was the
bayonet of a sentinel, lonely-pacing in the moonlight.
The sight brought the lad back to earth.
How would it all end? Were these few bearskinn'd trespassers only the
spray of seas to follow?
In a little while would England be flooded with them? Aghast, he
peered seaward: and seemed to behold a black tide of men sweeping
across the moon-drift. They deluged England. The fringe of them lapped
about his own northern home. A man in a tree was shooting at Gwen
running for her life, her hair behind her, screaming, "Kit!"
Something fell on the floor with a sharp tap, and stopped the shriek
on the verge of his lips.
What was it?
Another tap. Something was bobbing briskly across the floor. He picked
it up. It was a pebble, and must have come through the window.
Cocking his pistol, he rose.
"Down't shoot," said a low voice.
Beneath the window stood the little rifleman, white in the shadow of
the house, and grinning up at him.
"How did you get through?"
"Slip through em, sir--h'easy as a h'eel."
"Don't talk so loud," whispered the boy. "Just hop on to the sill of
the lower window. I'll see if I can haul you in."
"No, sir. I won't come in. I may be more usefuller outside. Keep em on
the Key Whiff as the sayin is."
"Then keep still! don't jig! hug in here in the shadow of the house!
I'll call Mr. Joy."
The Parson was at the window in a minute and listening to the man's
According to his own account Knapp had done the twelve miles to Lewes
under the hour.
"Went slap away, as your orders was, sir, no foolin nor nothin, just
slap bang through em--you ask Mr. Caryll."
"Never mind about your feats," said the Parson shortly. "Did you see
"O yes, sir. Ran straight away through the camp to his tent, where the
flag were flyin, never bothered about no sentries nor nothin. Just as
I trot up, a little bit of a butterfly lady like bob out o the tent,
and when she see me--'Beau, boy!' she squeals. 'Beau, boy! ere's a
niked man! _Do_ come and see!' And she jig up and down and tiddle
her fingers at me, please as Punch.... Out come ole Whiskers, sword
and all. 'You something something!' says he, and knocks her back into
the tent. Then he run at me, roarin."
The little man was sniggering.
"I see by his eyes he meant it all, so--
"'Here, sir,' says I, 'somethin for yourself!' and chucks the note in
The Parson was breathing deep.
"And what then?"
"Why, sir, I'd nothin on me ony the dooks me God give me. So I up and
I skip it."
The Parson leaned out, and smote at the man's shaven skull with the
butt-end of his pistol.
"Ain't I done right, sir?" squeaked the little man, dodging back.
"You've sold us!" cursed the Parson, and he was white even in the
"Hush, sir! hush!" cried Kit. "For goodness' sake, hush! They'll hear
"Hullo! hullo! what's all this?" came a voice from across the sward.
"Excuse me, sir!" whispered Knapp, unabashed. "I'd best be steppin it.
Here are your papers, sir." He flung a packet through the window and
The Gentleman sat on the wall in the moonlight.
"So your chap's back," he called in his friendly voice.
"Yes, sir," replied the Parson harshly, "and the soldiers on his heels
two thousand strong, with a couple of Horse Batteries, and a company
of Sappers to rig up a gallows for conceited young coxcombs who pose
on walls in the moonlight."
"Very glad to see any friends of yours any time," replied the
Gentleman. "But unless they come soon I'm afraid we shall miss. I'm
off at dawn. But I'll see you again before going. Good-night."
He sauntered away.
The Parson turned, grinding his teeth.
Then he saw the boy's face, and laid a hand on his shoulder.
"Turn in, boy, and try to get a snooze. What tomorrow brings Heaven
knows, but we do know we shall want all our strength to meet it."
THE PARSON MUSES
The Parson opened his packet.
It contained a batch of newspapers dropped for him daily at Lewes by
the coach, and not called for since last Saturday.
Ah, here we are!
_The Times, Monday, August l9_--that was the day before
_Lord Nelson is arrived at Portsmouth._
Then the Gentleman was right!
He was here, the man his country had believed barring the passage of
the Combined Squadron Vigo way.
Why had the watch-dog left his post?
_We may infer from the circumstance of his Lordship's coming home,
that information had reached him of the Combined Squadron having got
He dared say they had. Where was the man should have stopped them?
_The Times, August 20._
_Lord Nelson arrived at his seat at Merton in Surrey
O, the Gentleman! the Gentleman! It was all true then!...
_and will most probably attend at the Admiralty this day_.
And this was Nelson! his Nelson!
_Victory, Spithead, August 18, 1805.
The Victory, with the fleet under my command, left Gibraltar twenty-
seven days ago....
Nelson and Bronte_.
That's right. Do the thing thoroughly if you're going to do it at all.
Come home yourself, and bring your fleet with you. It might get in the
way of the Combined Squadron if it stopped off Cadiz. Pity to be rude,
_As soon as Lord Nelson's flag was descried at Spithead, the
ramparts, and every place which could command a view of the entrance
of the harbour, were crowded with spectators. As he approached the
shore, he was saluted with loud and reiterated huzzas, as enthusiastic
and sincere as if he had returned crowned with a third great naval
That third great victory, where was it now?
Poor little chap! poor little Nelson!
And what was this? The _Moniteur_, _Paris_, _August
12_. Boo-woo-woo.... Bob Calder's battle. [Footnote: Sir Robert
Calder had fought an indecisive action with Villeneuve in July.] Bob
Calder ought to be shot. Had em and then wouldn't hammer em. Call
_Vice-Admiral Calder stood off with thirteen ships, and left the
Combined Squadron masters of the sea_.
Masters of the Sea!
O good God! good God!
And what was Nelson doing?
_The sudden arrival of Lord Nelson in the Metropolis, after so long
an absence, and such arduous service, is a circumstance peculiarly
interesting to the inhabitants, who were yesterday waiting in
thousands about the Admiralty to give him a truly British reception.
Many, of course, were disappointed in their object, and can only wait
for another opportunity; but that, we have reason to believe, will
occur this evening, as it is reported in the Naval circles, that his
Lordship intends to pay a visit to Vauxhall Gardens, in honour of the
birthday of the Duke of Clarence. The report is, in many points of
view, entitled to consideration, for there is no other Gala in the
season which affords such an infinite degree of nautical
Gala with a big G!
_No other Gala in the season which affords such an infinite degree
of nautical attraction._
Poor England! poor Nelson!
THE GENTLEMAN'S LAST CARD
Kit awoke with a start.
The dormer made a patch of diamond light in the dead of the wall, and
the chill of dawn sharpened the air.
Blob was bending over him.
"Nelson's a-comin," he announced, much as he might have said breakfast
Kit looked up into the round pink face, fresh as a daisy, and dewy-
eyed above him.
"No!" he cried, and started to his elbow.
"He is though, lad," said the Parson at the window, very quiet.
Kit was beside him in a minute.
The mattress was down, and the Parson, leaning out into the blue, both
hands on the sill, munched his thoughts.
"There's his tops'ls," said he, nodding east to where far across the
waters a glimmer as of an iceberg hung in the dawn. "Take the glass
and have a peep at her."
Mists still swathed the waters. Through them the sun peered ghostly,
twinkling on the intripping tide beyond the shingle-bank.
And--there again! far away, poised between sky and sea, that glimmer
It was some tall ship standing across the bay, the sun making glory on
"Make her out?"
"Yes, sir. She's a frigate right enough--can't be anything else with
that height of canvas."
For in those dark days there was little business on the narrow seas
other than the business of war. For weeks together the Channel waters
were virgin of merchant-men. Trading bottoms dared not venture.
Majestic three-deckers and tall frigates paced the seas alone. Anon a
privateer swooped. Then a black smuggler scuttled from shore to shore
between twilights. Rarely a vast convoy, herded like sheep, drove by,
the dogs of war barking at the laggards. For the rest naked waters,
"It's the _Medusa_" said the Parson deliberately. "How soon'll
she be off here, think you, sailor-boy?"
"I hardly know, sir. With this breeze I should think she might be
abreast of us in two hours, and round the Head in four."
"And into the trap in five," mused the Parson.
"And Nelson bandaged, his back to the wall, facing a French firing
party--all at about six o'clock of a sweet summer evening, August
22nd, the year of Our Lord, 1805."
He began to whistle meditatively.
The fine head, a-ripple with curls, was outlined against the sky. The
face was keener than a few days back; the jolly laughing look was
there no more. The blue eyes were touched to steel; and nose and jowl
thrust forth with ominous grimness. It was the face of the determined
fighter, hard-set and terrible.
He leaned out into the morning, whistling quietly, as fair a mark as
any sharp-shooter on the knoll might wish, so Kit suddenly recalled,
and plucked at him.
The other's arm was iron against him. The Parson made no move, seeming
neither to feel, nor understand. A man of marble, he dwelt in the
mind; brooding on that glimmer of pearls in the east.