Part 3 out of 5
"Why detain me, colonel? I can tell you no more."
"We shall need you as guide."
"As guide? But the count? If I were to fall into his hands?
The Prussian commander waved him away. "Send Captain Baumgarten to me
at once," said he.
The officer who answered the summons was a man of middle-age,
heavy-jawed, blue-eyed, with a curving yellow moustache, and a brick-red
face which turned to an ivory white where his helmet had sheltered it.
He was bald, with a shining, tightly stretched scalp, at the back of
which, as in a mirror, it was a favourite mess-joke of the subalterns to
trim their moustaches. As a soldier he was slow, but reliable and
brave. The colonel could trust him where a more dashing officer might
be in danger.
"You will proceed to Chateau Noir to-night, captain," said he. "A guide
has been provided. You will arrest the count and bring him back.
If there is an attempt at rescue, shoot him at once."
"How many men shall I take, colonel?"
"Well, we are surrounded by spies, and our only chance is to pounce upon
him before he knows that we are on the way. A large force will attract
attention. On the other hand, you must not risk being cut off."
"I might march north, colonel, as if to join General Goeben. Then I
could turn down this road which I see upon your map, and get to Chateau
Noir before they could hear of us. In that case, with twenty men--"
"Very good, captain. I hope to see you with your prisoner to-morrow
It was a cold December night when Captain Baumgarten marched out of Les
Andelys with his twenty Poseners, and took the main road to the north
west. Two miles out he turned suddenly down a narrow, deeply rutted
track, and made swiftly for his man. A thin, cold rain was falling,
swishing among the tall poplar trees and rustling in the fields on
either side. The captain walked first with Moser, a veteran sergeant,
beside him. The sergeant's wrist was fastened to that of the French
peasant, and it had been whispered in his ear that in case of an
ambush the first bullet fired would be through his head. Behind them
the twenty infantrymen plodded along through the darkness with their
faces sunk to the rain, and their boots squeaking in the soft, wet clay.
They knew where they were going, and why, and the thought upheld them,
for they were bitter at the loss of their comrades. It was a cavalry
job, they knew, but the cavalry were all on with the advance, and,
besides, it was more fitting that the regiment should avenge its own
It was nearly eight when they left Les Andelys. At half-past eleven
their guide stopped at a place where two high pillars, crowned with some
heraldic stonework, flanked a huge iron gate. The wall in which it had
been the opening had crumbled away, but the great gate still towered
above the brambles and weeds which had overgrown its base. The
Prussians made their way round it and advanced stealthily, under the
shadow of a tunnel of oak branches, up the long avenue, which was still
cumbered by the leaves of last autumn. At the top they halted and
The black chateau lay in front of them. The moon had shone out between
two rain-clouds, and threw the old house into silver and shadow. It was
shaped like an L, with a low arched door in front, and lines of small
windows like the open ports of a man-of-war. Above was a dark roof,
breaking at the corners into little round overhanging turrets, the whole
lying silent in the moonshine, with a drift of ragged clouds blackening
the heavens behind it. A single light gleamed in one of the lower
The captain whispered his orders to his men. Some were to creep to the
front door, some to the back. Some were to watch the east, and some the
west. He and the sergeant stole on tiptoe to the lighted window.
It was a small room into which they looked, very meanly furnished.
An elderly man, in the dress of a menial, was reading a tattered paper
by the light of a guttering candle. He leaned back in his wooden chair
with his feet upon a box, while a bottle of white wine stood with a
half-filled tumbler upon a stool beside him. The sergeant thrust his
needle-gun through the glass, and the man sprang to his feet with a
"Silence, for your life! The house is surrounded, and you cannot
escape. Come round and open the door, or we will show you no mercy when
we come in."
"For God's sake, don't shoot! I will open it! I will open it!"
He rushed from the room with his paper still crumpled up in his hand.
An instant later, with a groaning of old locks and a rasping of bars,
the low door swung open, and the Prussians poured into the stone-flagged
"Where is Count Eustace de Chateau Noir?"
"My master! He is out, sir."
"Out at this time of night? Your life for a lie!"
"It is true, sir. He is out!"
"I do not know."
"I cannot tell. No, it is no use your cocking your pistol, sir. You
may kill me, but you cannot make me tell you that which I do not know."
"Is he often out at this hour?"
"And when does he come home?"
Captain Baumgarten rasped out a German oath. He had had his journey for
nothing, then. The man's answers were only too likely to be true. It
was what he might have expected. But at least he would search the house
and make sure. Leaving a picket at the front door and another at the
back, the sergeant and he drove the trembling butler in front of them--
his shaking candle sending strange, flickering shadows over the old
tapestries and the low, oak-raftered ceilings. They searched the whole
house, from the huge stone-flagged kitchen below to the dining-hall on
the second floor, with its gallery for musicians, and its panelling
black with age, but nowhere was there a living creature. Up above, in
an attic, they found Marie, the elderly wife of the butler; but the
owner kept no other servants, and of his own presence there was no
It was long, however, before Captain Baumgarten had satisfied himself
upon the point. It was a difficult house to search. Thin stairs, which
only one man could ascend at a time, connected lines of tortuous
corridors. The walls were so thick that each room was cut off from its
neighbour. Huge fireplaces yawned in each, while the windows were 6ft.
deep in the wall. Captain Baumgarten stamped with his feet, tore down
curtains, and struck with the pommel of his sword. If there were secret
hiding-places, he was not fortunate enough to find them.
"I have an idea," said he, at last, speaking in German to the sergeant.
"You will place a guard over this fellow, and make sure that he
communicates with no one."
"And you will place four men in ambush at the front and at the back. It
is likely enough that about daybreak our bird may return to the nest."
"And the others, captain?"
"Let them have their suppers in the kitchen. The fellow will serve you
with meat and wine. It is a wild night, and we shall be better here
than on the country road."
"And yourself, captain?"
"I will take my supper up here in the dining-hall. The logs are laid
and we can light the fire. You will call me if there is any alarm.
What can you give me for supper--you?"
"Alas, monsieur, there was a time when I might have answered, 'What you
wish!' but now it is all that we can do to find a bottle of new claret
and a cold pullet."
"That will do very well. Let a guard go about with him, sergeant, and
let him feel the end of a bayonet if he plays us any tricks."
Captain Baumgarten was an old campaigner. In the Eastern provinces, and
before that in Bohemia, he had learned the art of quartering himself
upon the enemy. While the butler brought his supper he occupied himself
in making his preparations for a comfortable night. He lit the
candelabrum of ten candles upon the centre table. The fire was already
burning up, crackling merrily, and sending spurts of blue, pungent smoke
into the room. The captain walked to the window and looked out.
The moon had gone in again, and it was raining heavily. He could hear
the deep sough of the wind, and see the dark loom of the trees, all
swaying in the one direction. It was a sight which gave a zest to his
comfortable quarters, and to the cold fowl and the bottle of wine which
the butler had brought up for him. He was tired and hungry after his
long tramp, so he threw his sword, his helmet, and his revolver-belt
down upon a chair, and fell to eagerly upon his supper. Then, with his
glass of wine before him and his cigar between his lips, he tilted his
chair back and looked about him.
He sat within a small circle of brilliant light which gleamed upon his
silver shoulder-straps, and threw out his terra-cotta face, his heavy
eyebrows, and his yellow moustache. But outside that circle things were
vague and shadowy in the old dining-hall. Two sides were oak-panelled
and two were hung with faded tapestry, across which huntsmen and dogs
and stags were still dimly streaming. Above the fireplace were rows of
heraldic shields with the blazonings of the family and of its alliances,
the fatal saltire cross breaking out on each of them.
Four paintings of old seigneurs of Chateau Noir faced the fireplace, all
men with hawk noses and bold, high features, so like each other that
only the dress could distinguish the Crusader from the Cavalier of the
Fronde. Captain Baumgarten, heavy with his repast, lay back in his
chair looking up at them through the clouds of his tobacco smoke, and
pondering over the strange chance which had sent him, a man from the
Baltic coast, to eat his supper in the ancestral hall of these proud
Norman chieftains. But the fire was hot, and the captain's eyes were
heavy. His chin sank slowly upon his chest, and the ten candles gleamed
upon the broad, white scalp.
Suddenly a slight noise brought him to his feet. For an instant it
seemed to his dazed senses that one of the pictures opposite had walked
from its frame. There, beside the table, and almost within arm's length
of him, was standing a huge man, silent, motionless, with no sign of
life save his fierce-glinting eyes. He was black-haired, olive-skinned,
with a pointed tuft of black beard, and a great, fierce nose, towards
which all his features seemed to run. His cheeks were wrinkled like a
last year's apple, but his sweep of shoulder, and bony, corded hands,
told of a strength which was unsapped by age. His arms were folded
across his arching chest, and his mouth was set in a fixed smile.
"Pray do not trouble yourself to look for your weapons," he said, as the
Prussian cast a swift glance at the empty chair in which they had been
laid. "You have been, if you will allow me to say so, a little
indiscreet to make yourself so much at home in a house every wall of
which is honeycombed with secret passages. You will be amused to hear
that forty men were watching you at your supper. Ah! what then?"
Captain Baumgarten had taken a step forward with clenched fists.
The Frenchman held up tho revolver which he grasped in his right hand,
while with the left he hurled the German back into his chair.
"Pray keep your seat," said he. "You have no cause to trouble about
your men. They have already been provided for. It is astonishing with
these stone floors how little one can hear what goes on beneath.
You have been relieved of your command, and have now only to think of
yourself. May I ask what your name is?"
"I am Captain Baumgarten of, the 24th Posen Regiment."
"Your French is excellent, though you incline, like most of your
countrymen, to turn the 'p' into a 'b.' I have been amused to hear them
cry '_Avez bitie sur moi!_' You know, doubtless, who it is who addresses
"The Count of Chateau Noir."
"Precisely. It would have been a misfortune if you had visited my
chateau and I had been unable to have a word with you. I have had to do
with many German soldiers, but never with an officer before. I have
much to talk to you about."
Captain Baumgarten sat still in his chair. Brave as he was, there was
something in this man's manner which made his skin creep with
apprehension. His eyes glanced to right and to left, but his weapons
were gone, and in a struggle he saw that he was but a child to this
gigantic adversary. The count had picked up the claret bottle and held
it to the light.
"Tut! tut!" said he. "And was this the best that Pierre could do for
you? I am ashamed to look you in the face, Captain Baumgarten. We must
improve upon this."
He blew a call upon a whistle which hung from his shooting-jacket.
The old manservant was in the room in an instant.
"Chambertin from bin 15!" he cried, and a minute later a grey bottle,
streaked with cobwebs, was carried in as a nurse bears an infant.
The count filled two glasses to the brim.
"Drink!" said he. "It is the very best in my cellars, and not to be
matched between Rouen and Paris. Drink, sir, and be happy! There are
cold joints below. There are two lobsters, fresh from Honfleur. Will
you not venture upon a second and more savoury supper?"
The German officer shook his head. He drained the glass, however, and
his host filled it once more, pressing him to give an order for this or
"There is nothing in my house which is not at your disposal. You have
but to say the word. Well, then, you will allow me to tell you a story
while you drink your wine. I have so longed to tell it to some
German officer. It is about my son, my only child, Eustace, who was
taken and died in escaping. It is a curious little story, and I think
that I can promise you that you will never forget it.
"You must know, then, that my boy was in the artillery--a fine young
fellow, Captain Baumgarten, and the pride of his mother. She died
within a week of the news of his death reaching us. It was brought by a
brother officer who was at his side throughout, and who escaped while my
lad died. I want to tell you all that he told me.
"Eustace was taken at Weissenburg on the 4th of August. The prisoners
were broken up into parties, and sent back into Germany by different
routes. Eustace was taken upon the 5th to a village called Lauterburg,
where he met with kindness from the German officer in command.
This good colonel had the hungry lad to supper, offered him the best he
had, opened a bottle of good wine, as I have tried to do for you, and
gave him a cigar from his own case. Might I entreat you to take one
The German again shook his head. His horror of his companion had
increased as he sat watching the lips that smiled and the eyes that
"The colonel, as I say, was good to my boy. But, unluckily, the
prisoners were moved next day across the Rhine into Ettlingen.
They were not equally fortunate there. The officer who guarded them was
a ruffian and a villain, Captain Baumgarten. He took a pleasure in
humiliating and ill-treating the brave men who had fallen into his
power. That night upon my son answering fiercely back to some taunt of
his, he struck him in the eye, like this!"
The crash of the blow rang through the hall. The German's face fell
forward, his hand up, and blood oozing through his fingers. The count
settled down in his chair once more.
"My boy was disfigured by the blow, and this villain made his appearance
the object of his jeers. By the way, you look a little comical yourself
at the present moment, captain, and your colonel would certainly say
that you had been getting into mischief. To continue, however, my boy's
youth and his destitution--for his pockets were empty--moved the pity of
a kind-hearted major, and he advanced him ten Napoleons from his own
pocket without security of any kind. Into your hands, Captain
Baumgarten, I return these ten gold pieces, since I cannot learn the
name of the lender. I am grateful from my heart for this kindness shown
to my boy.
"The vile tyrant who commanded the escort accompanied the prisoners to
Durlack, and from there to Carlsruhe. He heaped every outrage upon my
lad, because the spirit of the Chateau Noirs would not stoop to turn
away his wrath by a feigned submission. Ay, this cowardly villain,
whose heart's blood shall yet clot upon this hand, dared to strike my
son with his open hand, to kick him, to tear hairs from his moustache--
to use him thus--and thus--and thus!"
The German writhed and struggled. He was helpless in the hands of this
huge giant whose blows were raining upon him. When at last, blinded and
half-senseless, he staggered to his feet, it was only to be hurled back
again into the great oaken chair. He sobbed in his impotent anger and
"My boy was frequently moved to tears by the humiliation of his
position," continued the count. "You will understand me when I say that
it is a bitter thing to be helpless in the hands of an insolent and
remorseless enemy. On arriving at Carlsruhe, however, his face, which
had been wounded by the brutality of his guard, was bound up by a young
Bavarian subaltern who was touched by his appearance. I regret to see
that your eye is bleeding so. Will you permit me to bind it with my
He leaned forward, but the German dashed his hand aside.
"I am in your power, you monster!" he cried; "I can endure your
brutalities, but not your hypocrisy."
The count shrugged his shoulders.
"I am taking things in their order, just as they occurred," said he.
"I was under vow to tell it to the first German officer with whom I
could talk _tete-a-tete_. Let me see, I had got as far as the young
Bavarian at Carlsruhe. I regret extremely that you will not permit me
to use such slight skill in surgery as I possess. At Carlsruhe, my lad
was shut up in the old caserne, where he remained for a fortnight.
The worst pang of his captivity was that some unmannerly curs in the
garrison would taunt him with his position as he sat by his window in
the evening. That reminds me, captain, that you are not quite situated
upon a bed of roses yourself, are you now? You came to trap a wolf, my
man, and now the beast has you down with his fangs in your throat.
A family man, too, I should judge, by that well-filled tunic. Well, a
widow the more will make little matter, and they do not usually remain
widows long. Get back into the chair, you dog!
"Well, to continue my story--at the end of a fortnight my son and his
friend escaped. I need not trouble you with the dangers which they ran,
or with the privations which they endured. Suffice it that to disguise
themselves they had to take the clothes of two peasants, whom they
waylaid in a wood. Hiding by day and travelling by night, they had got
as far into France as Remilly, and were within a mile--a single mile,
captain--of crossing the German lines when a patrol of Uhlans came right
upon them. Ah! it was hard, was it not, when they had come so far and
were so near to safety?" The count blew a double call upon his whistle,
and three hard-faced peasants entered the room.
"These must represent my Uhlans," said he. "Well, then, the captain in
command, finding that these men were French soldiers in civilian dress
within the German lines, proceeded to hang them without trial or
ceremony. I think, Jean, that the centre beam is the strongest."
The unfortunate soldier was dragged from his chair to where a noosed
rope had been flung over one of the huge oaken rafters which spanned the
room. The cord was slipped over his head, and he felt its harsh grip
round his throat. The three peasants seized the other end, and looked
to the count for his orders. The officer, pale, but firm, folded his
arms and stared defiantly at the man who tortured him.
"You are now face to face with death, and I perceive from your lips that
you are praying. My son was also face to face with death, and he
prayed, also. It happened that a general officer came up, and he heard
the lad praying for his mother, and it moved him so--he being himself a
father--that he ordered his Uhlans away, and he remained with his
aide-de-camp only, beside the condemned men. And when he heard all the
lad had to tell--that he was the only child of an old family, and that
his mother was in failing health--he threw off the rope as I throw off
this, and he kissed him on either cheek, as I kiss you,
and he bade him go, as I bid you go, and may every kind wish of that
noble general, though it could not stave off the fever which slew my
son, descend now upon your head."
And so it was that Captain Baumgarten, disfigured, blinded, and
bleeding, staggered out into the wind and the rain of that wild December
THE STRIPED CHEST
"What do you make of her, Allardyce?" I asked.
My second mate was standing beside me upon the poop, with his short,
thick legs astretch, for the gale had left a considerable swell behind
it, and our two quarter-boats nearly touched the water with every roll.
He steadied his glass against the mizzen-shrouds, and he looked long and
hard at this disconsolate stranger every time she came reeling up on to
the crest of a roller and hung balanced for a few seconds before
swooping down upon the other side. She lay so low in the water that I
could only catch an occasional glimpse of a pea-green line of bulwark.
She was a brig, but her mainmast had been snapped short off some 10ft.
above the deck, and no effort seemed to have been made to cut away the
wreckage, which floated, sails and yards, like the broken wing of a
wounded gull upon the water beside her. The foremast was still
standing, but the foretopsail was flying loose, and the headsails were
streaming out in long, white pennons in front of her. Never have I seen
a vessel which appeared to have gone through rougher handling. But we
could not be surprised at that, for there had been times during the last
three days when it was a question whether our own barque would ever see
land again. For thirty-six hours we had kept her nose to it, and if the
_Mary Sinclair_ had not been as good a seaboat as ever left the Clyde,
we could not have gone through. And yet here we were at the end of it
with the loss only of our gig and of part of the starboard bulwark.
It did not astonish us, however, when the smother had cleared away, to
find that others had been less lucky, and that this mutilated brig
staggering about upon a blue sea and under a cloudless sky, had been
left, like a blinded man after a lightning flash, to tell of the terror
which is past. Allardyce, who was a slow and methodical Scotchman,
stared long and hard at the little craft, while our seamen lined the
bulwark or clustered upon the fore shrouds to have a view of the
stranger. In latitude 20 degrees and longitude 10 degrees, which were
about our bearings, one becomes a little curious as to whom one meets,
for one has left the main lines of Atlantic commerce to the north.
For ten days we had been sailing over a solitary sea.
"She's derelict, I'm thinking," said the second mate.
I had come to the same conclusion, for I could see no signs of life
upon her deck, and there was no answer to the friendly wavings from our
seamen. The crew had probably deserted her under the impression that
she was about to founder.
"She can't last long," continued Allardyce, in his measured way.
"She may put her nose down and her tail up any minute. The water's
lipping up to the edge of her rail."
"What's her flag?" I asked.
"I'm trying to make out. It's got all twisted and tangled with the
halyards. Yes, I've got it now, clear enough. It's the Brazilian flag,
but it's wrong side up."
She had hoisted a signal of distress, then, before her people had
abandoned her. Perhaps they had only just gone. I took the mate's
glass and looked round over the tumultuous face of the deep blue
Atlantic, still veined and starred with white lines and spoutings of
foam. But nowhere could I see anything human beyond ourselves.
"There may be living men aboard," said I.
"There may be salvage," muttered the second mate.
"Then we will run down upon her lee side, and lie to." We were not more
than a hundred yards from her when we swung our foreyard aback, and
there we were, the barque and the brig, ducking and bowing like two
clowns in a dance.
"Drop one of the quarter-boats," said I. "Take four men, Mr. Allardyce,
and see what you can learn of her."
But just at that moment my first officer, Mr. Armstrong, came on deck,
for seven bells had struck, and it was but a few minutes off his watch.
It would interest me to go myself to this abandoned vessel and to see
what there might be aboard of her. So, with a word to Armstrong, I
swung myself over the side, slipped down the falls, and took my place in
the sheets of the boat.
It was but a little distance, but it took some time to traverse, and so
heavy was the roll that often when we were in the trough of the sea, we
could not see either the barque which we had left or the brig which we
were approaching. The sinking sun did not penetrate down there, and it
was cold and dark in the hollows of the waves, but each passing billow
heaved us up into the warmth and the sunshine once more. At each of
these moments, as we hung upon a white-capped ridge between the two dark
valleys, I caught a glimpse of the long, pea-green line, and the nodding
foremast of the brig, and I steered so as to come round by her stern, so
that we might determine which was the best way of boarding her. As we
passed her we saw the name _Nossa Sehnora da Vittoria_ painted across
her dripping counter.
"The weather side, sir," said the second mate. "Stand by with the
boat-hook, carpenter!" An instant later we had jumped over the
bulwarks, which were hardly higher than our boat, and found ourselves
upon the deck of the abandoned vessel. Our first thought was to provide
for our own safety in case--as seemed very probable--the vessel should
settle down beneath our feet. With this object two of our men held on
to the painter of the boat, and fended her off from the vessel's side,
so that she might be ready in case we had to make a hurried retreat.
The carpenter was sent to find out how much water there was, and whether
it was still gaming, while the other seaman, Allardyce and myself, made
a rapid inspection of the vessel and her cargo.
The deck was littered with wreckage and with hen-coops, in which the
dead birds were washing about. The boats were gone, with the exception
of one, the bottom of which had been stove, and it was certain that the
crew had abandoned the vessel. The cabin was in a deck-house, one side
of which had been beaten in by a heavy sea. Allardyce and I entered it,
and found the captain's table as he had left it, his books and papers--
all Spanish or Portuguese--scattered over it, with piles of cigarette
ash everywhere. I looked about for the log, but could not find it.
"As likely as not he never kept one," said Allardyce. "Things are
pretty slack aboard a South American trader, and they don't do more than
they can help. If there was one it must have been taken away with him
in the boat."
"I should like to take all these books and papers," said I. "Ask the
carpenter how much time we have."
His report was reassuring. The vessel was full of water, but some of
the cargo was buoyant, and there was no immediate danger of her sinking.
Probably she would never sink, but would drift about as one of those
terrible unmarked reefs which have sent so many stout vessels to the
"In that case there is no danger in your going below, Mr. Allardyce,"
said I. "See what you can make of her and find out how much of her
cargo may be saved. I'll look through these papers while you are gone."
The bills of lading, and some notes and letters which lay upon the desk,
sufficed to inform me that the Brazilian brig _Nossa Sehnora da
Vittoria_ had cleared from Bahia a month before. The name of the
captain was Texeira, but there was no record as to the number of the
crew. She was bound for London, and a glance at the bills of lading was
sufficient to show me that we were not likely to profit much in the way
of salvage. Her cargo consisted of nuts, ginger, and wood, the latter
in the shape of great logs of valuable tropical growths. It was these,
no doubt, which had prevented the ill-fated vessel from going to the
bottom, but they were of such a size as to make it impossible for us to
extract them. Besides these, there were a few fancy goods, such as a
number of ornamental birds for millinery purposes, and a hundred cases
of preserved fruits. And then, as I turned over the papers, I came upon
a short note in English, which arrested my attention.
It is requested (said the note) that the various old Spanish
and Indian curiosities, which came out of the Santarem
collection, and which are consigned to Prontfoot & Neuman
of Oxford Street, London, should be put in some place where
there may be no danger of these very valuable and unique articles
being injured or tampered with. This applies most particularly
to the treasure-chest of Don Ramirez di Leyra, which must on
no account be placed where anyone can get at it.
The treasure-chest of Don Ramirez! Unique and valuable articles!
Here was a chance of salvage after all. I had risen to my feet with the
paper in my hand when my Scotch mate appeared in the doorway.
"I'm thinking all isn't quite as it should be aboard of this ship,
sir," said he. He was a hard-faced man, and yet I could see that he had
"What's the matter?"
"Murder's the matter, sir. There's a man here with his brains beaten
"Killed in the storm?" said I.
"May be so, sir, but I'll be surprised if you think so after you have
"Where is he, then?"
"This way, sir; here in the maindeck house."
There appeared to have been no accommodation below in the brig, for
there was the after-house for the captain, another by the main hatchway,
with the cook's galley attached to it, and a third in the forecastle for
the men. It was to this middle one that the mate led me. As you
entered, the galley, with its litter of tumbled pots and dishes, was
upon the right, and upon the left was a small room with two bunks for
the officers. Then beyond there was a place about 12ft. square, which
was littered with flags and spare canvas. All round the walls were a
number of packets done up in coarse cloth and carefully lashed to the
woodwork. At the other end was a great box, striped red and white,
though the red was so faded and the white so dirty that it was only
where the light fell directly upon it that one could see the colouring.
The box was, by subsequent measurement, 4ft. 3ins. in length, 3ft. 2ins.
in height, and 3ft. across--considerably larger than a seaman's chest.
But it was not to the box that my eyes or my thoughts were turned as I
entered the store-room. On the floor, lying across the litter of
bunting, there was stretched a small, dark man with a short, curling
beard. He lay as far as it was possible from the box, with his feet
towards it and his head away. A crimson patch was printed upon the
white canvas on which his head was resting, and little red ribbons
wreathed themselves round his swarthy neck and trailed away on to the
floor, but there was no sign of a wound that I could see, and his face
was as placid as that of a sleeping child. It was only when I stooped
that I could perceive his injury, and then I turned away with an
exclamation of horror. He had been pole-axed; apparently by some person
standing behind him. A frightful blow had smashed in the top of his
head and penetrated deeply into his brains. His face might well be
placid, for death must have been absolutely instantaneous, and the
position of the wound showed that he could never have seen the person
who had inflicted it.
"Is that foul play or accident, Captain Barclay?" asked my second mate,
"You are quite right, Mr. Allardyce. The man has been murdered--struck
down from above by a sharp and heavy weapon. But who was he, and why
did they murder him?"
"He was a common seaman, sir," said the mate. "You can see that if you
look at his fingers." He turned out his pockets as he spoke and brought
to light a pack of cards, some tarred string, and a bundle of Brazilian
"Hello, look at this!" said he.
It was a large, open knife with a stiff spring blade which he had picked
up from the floor. The steel was shining and bright, so that we could
not associate it with the crime, and yet the dead man had apparently
held it in his hand when he was struck down, for it still lay within his
"It looks to me, sir, as if he knew he was in danger and kept his knife
handy," said the mate. "However, we can't help the poor beggar now.
I can't make out these things that are lashed to the wall. They seem
to be idols and weapons and curios of all sorts done up in old sacking."
"That's right," said I. "They are the only things of value that we are
likely to get from the cargo. Hail the barque and tell them to send the
other quarter-boat to help us to get the stuff aboard."
While he was away I examined this curious plunder which had come into
our possession. The curiosities were so wrapped up that I could only
form a general idea as to their nature, but the striped box stood in a
good light where I could thoroughly examine it. On the lid, which was
clamped and cornered with metal-work, there was engraved a complex coat
of arms, and beneath it was a line of Spanish which I was able to
decipher as meaning, "The treasure-chest of Don Ramirez di Leyra, Knight
of the Order of Saint James, Governor and Captain-General of Terra Firma
and of the Province of Veraquas." In one corner was the date, 1606, and
on the other a large white label, upon which was written in English,
"You are earnestly requested, upon no account, to open this box."
The same warning was repeated underneath in Spanish. As to the lock, it
was a very complex and heavy one of engraved steel, with a Latin motto,
which was above a seaman's comprehension. By the time I had finished
this examination of the peculiar box, the other quarter-boat with Mr.
Armstrong, the first officer, had come alongside, and we began to carry
out and place in her the various curiosities which appeared to be the
only objects worth moving from the derelict ship. When she was full I
sent her back to the barque, and then Allardyce and I, with the
carpenter and one seaman, shifted the striped box, which was the only
thing left, to our boat, and lowered it over, balancing it upon the two
middle thwarts, for it was so heavy that it would have given the boat a
dangerous tilt had we placed it at either end. As to the dead man, we
left him where we had found him. The mate had a theory that, at the
moment of the desertion of the ship, this fellow had started
plundering, and that the captain, in an attempt to preserve discipline,
had struck him down with a hatchet or some other heavy weapon.
It seemed more probable than any other explanation, and yet it did not
entirely satisfy me either. But the ocean is full of mysteries, and we
were content to leave the fate of the dead seaman of the Brazilian brig
to be added to that long list which every sailor can recall.
The heavy box was slung up by ropes on to the deck of the _Mary
Sinclair_, and was carried by four seamen into the cabin, where, between
the table and the after-lockers, there was just space for it to stand.
There it remained during supper, and after that meal the mates remained
with me, and discussed over a glass of grog the event of the day.
Mr. Armstrong was a long, thin, vulture-like man, an excellent seaman,
but famous for his nearness and cupidity. Our treasure-trove had
excited him greatly, and already he had begun with glistening eyes to
reckon up how much it might be worth to each of us when the shares of
the salvage came to be divided.
"If the paper said that they were unique, Mr. Barclay, then they may be
worth anything that you like to name. You wouldn't believe the sums
that the rich collectors give. A thousand pounds is nothing to them.
We'll have something to show for our voyage, or I am mistaken."
"I don't think that," said I. "As far as I can see, they are not very
different from any other South American curios."
"Well, sir, I've traded there for fourteen voyages, and I have never
seen anything like that chest before. That's worth a pile of money,
just as it stands. But it's so heavy that surely there must be
something valuable inside it. Don't you think that we ought to open it
"If you break it open you will spoil it, as likely as not," said the
Armstrong squatted down in front of it, with his head on one side, and
his long, thin nose within a few inches of the lock.
"The wood is oak," said he, "and it has shrunk a little with age. If I
had a chisel or a strong-bladed knife I could force the lock back
without doing any damage at all."
The mention of a strong-bladed knife made me think of the dead seaman
upon the brig.
"I wonder if he could have been on the job when someone came to
interfere with him," said I.
"I don't know about that, sir, but I am perfectly certain that I could
open the box. There's a screwdriver here in the locker. Just hold the
lamp, Allardyce, and I'll have it done in a brace of shakes."
"Wait a bit," said I, for already, with eyes which gleamed with
curiosity and with avarice, he was stooping over the lid. "I don't see
that there is any hurry over this matter. You've read that card which
warns us not to open it. It may mean anything or it may mean nothing,
but somehow I feel inclined to obey it. After all, whatever is in it
will keep, and if it is valuable it will be worth as much if it is
opened in the owner's offices as in the cabin of the _Mary Sinclair_."
The first officer seemed bitterly disappointed at my decision.
"Surely, sir, you are not superstitious about it," said he, with a
slight sneer upon his thin lips. "If it gets out of our own hands, and
we don't see for ourselves what is inside it, we may be done out of our
"That's enough, Mr. Armstrong," said I, abruptly. "You may have every
confidence that you will get your rights, but I will not have that box
"Why, the label itself shows that the box has been examined by
Europeans," Allardyce added. "Because a box is a treasure-box is no
reason that it has treasures inside it now. A good many folk have had a
peep into it since the days of the old Governor of Terra Firma."
Armstrong threw the screwdriver down upon the table and shrugged his
"Just as you like," said he; but for the rest of the evening, although
we spoke upon many subjects, I noticed that his eyes were continually
coming round, with the same expression of curiosity and greed, to the
old striped box.
And now I come to that portion of my story which fills me even now with
a shuddering horror when I think of it. The main cabin had the rooms of
the officers round it, but mine was the farthest away from it at the end
of the little passage which led to the companion. No regular watch was
kept by me, except in cases of emergency, and the three mates divided
the watches among them. Armstrong had the middle watch, which ends at
four in the morning, and he was relieved by Allardyce. For my part I
have always been one of the soundest of sleepers, and it is rare for
anything less than a hand upon my shoulder to arouse me.
And yet I was aroused that night, or rather in the early grey of the
morning. It was just half-past four by my chronometer when something
caused me to sit up in my berth wide awake and with every nerve
tingling. It was a sound of some sort, a crash with a human cry at the
end of it, which still jarred on my ears. I sat listening, but all was
now silent. And yet it could not have been imagination, that hideous
cry, for the echo of it still rang in my head, and it seemed to have
come from some place quite close to me. I sprang from my bunk, and,
pulling on some clothes, I made my way into the cabin. At first I saw
nothing unusual there. In the cold, grey light I made out the
red-clothed table, the six rotating chairs, the walnut lockers, the
swinging barometer, and there, at the end, the big striped chest. I was
turning away, with the intention of going upon deck and asking the
second mate if he had heard anything, when my eyes fell suddenly upon
something which projected from under the table. It was the leg of a
man--a leg with a long sea-boot upon it. I stooped, and there was a
figure sprawling upon his face, his arms thrown forward and his body
twisted. One glance told me that it was Armstrong, the first officer,
and a second that he was a dead man. For a few moments I stood gasping.
Then I rushed on to the deck, called Allardyce to my assistance, and
came back with him into the cabin.
Together we pulled the unfortunate fellow from under the table, and as
we looked at his dripping head we exchanged glances, and I do not know
which was the paler of the two.
"The same as the Spanish sailor," said I.
"The very same. God preserve us! It's that infernal chest! Look at
He held up the mate's right hand, and there was the screwdriver which he
had wished to use the night before.
"He's been at the chest, sir. He knew that I was on deck and you were
asleep. He knelt down in front of it, and he pushed the lock back with
that tool. Then something happened to him, and he cried out so that you
"Allardyce," I whispered, "what _could_ have happened to him?"
The second mate put his hand upon my sleeve and drew me into his cabin.
"We can talk here, sir, and we don't know who may be listening to us in
there. What do you suppose is in that box, Captain Barclay?"
"I give you my word, Allardyce, that I have no idea."
"Well, I can only find one theory which will fit all the facts. Look at
the size of the box. Look at all the carving and metal-work which may
conceal any number of holes. Look at the weight of it; it took four men
to carry it. On top of that, remember that two men have tried to open
it, and both have come to their end through it. Now, sir, what can it
mean except one thing?"
"You mean there is a man in it?"
"Of course there is a man in it. You know how it is in these South
American States, sir. A man may be president one week and hunted like a
dog the next--they are for ever flying for their lives. My idea is that
there is some fellow in hiding there, who is armed and desperate, and
who will fight to the death before he is taken."
"But his food and drink?"
"It's a roomy chest, sir, and he may have some provisions stowed away.
As to his drink, he had a friend among the crew upon the brig who saw
that he had what he needed."
"You think, then, that the label asking people not to open the box was
simply written in his interest?"
"Yes, sir, that is my idea. Have you any other way of explaining the
I had to confess that I had not.
"The question is what we are to do?" I asked.
"The man's a dangerous ruffian, who sticks at nothing. I'm thinking it
wouldn't be a bad thing to put a rope round the chest and tow it
alongside for half an hour; then we could open it at our ease. Or if we
just tied the box up and kept him from getting any water maybe that
would do as well. Or the carpenter could put a coat of varnish over it
and stop all the blow-holes."
"Come, Allardyce," said I, angrily. "You don't seriously mean to say
that a whole ship's company are going to be terrorised by a single man
in a box. If he's there, I'll engage to fetch him out!" I went to my
room and came back with my revolver in my hand. "Now, Allardyce," said
I, "do you open the lock, and I'll stand on guard."
"For God's sake, think what you are doing, sir!" cried the mate. "Two
men have lost their lives over it, and the blood of one not yet dry upon
"The more reason why we should revenge him."
"Well, sir, at least let me call the carpenter. Three are better than
two, and he is a good stout man."
He went off in search of him, and I was left alone with the striped
chest in the cabin. I don't think that I'm a nervous man, but I kept
the table between me and this solid old relic of the Spanish Main.
In the growing light of morning the red and white striping was beginning
to appear, and the curious scrolls and wreaths of metal and carving
which showed the loving pains which cunning craftsmen had expended upon
it. Presently the carpenter and the mate came back together, the former
with a hammer in his hand.
"It's a bad business, this, sir," said he, shaking his head, as he
looked at the body of the mate. "And you think there's someone hiding
in the box?"
"There's no doubt about it," said Allardyce, picking up the screwdriver
and setting his jaw like a man who needs to brace his courage.
"I'll drive the lock back if you will both stand by. If he rises let
him have it on the head with your hammer, carpenter. Shoot at once,
sir, if he raises his hand. Now!"
He had knelt down in front of the striped chest, and passed the blade of
the tool under the lid. With a sharp snick the lock flew back. "Stand
by!" yelled the mate, and with a heave he threw open the massive top of
the box. As it swung up we all three sprang back, I with my pistol
levelled, and the carpenter with the hammer above his head. Then, as
nothing happened, we each took a step forward and peeped in. The box
Not quite empty either, for in one corner was lying an old yellow
candle-stick, elaborately engraved, which appeared to be as old as the
box itself. Its rich yellow tone and artistic shape suggested that it
was an object of value. For the rest there was nothing more weighty or
valuable than dust in the old striped treasure-chest.
"Well, I'm blessed!" cried Allardyce, staring blankly into it.
"Where does the weight come in, then?"
"Look at the thickness of the sides, and look at the lid. Why, it's
five inches through. And see that great metal spring across it."
"That's for holding the lid up," said the mate. "You see, it won't lean
back. What's that German printing on the inside?"
"It means that it was made by Johann Rothstein of Augsburg, in 1606."
"And a solid bit of work, too. But it doesn't throw much light on what
has passed, does it, Captain Barclay? That candlestick looks like gold.
We shall have something for our trouble after all."
He leant forward to grasp it, and from that moment I have never doubted
as to the reality of inspiration, for on the instant I caught him by the
collar and pulled him straight again. It may have been some story of
the Middle Ages which had come back to my mind, or it may have been that
my eye had caught some red which was not that of rust upon the upper
part of the lock, but to him and to me it will always seem an
inspiration, so prompt and sudden was my action.
"There's devilry here," said I. "Give me the crooked stick from the
It was an ordinary walking-cane with a hooked top. I passed it over the
candlestick and gave it a pull. With a flash a row of polished steel
fangs shot out from below the upper lip, and the great striped chest
snapped at us like a wild animal. Clang came the huge lid into its
place, and the glasses on the swinging rack sang and tinkled with the
shock. The mate sat down on the edge of the table and shivered like a
"You've saved my life, Captain Barclay!" said he.
So this was the secret of the striped treasure-chest of old Don Ramirez
di Leyra, and this was how he preserved his ill-gotten gains from the
Terra Firma and the Province of Veraquas. Be the thief ever so cunning
he could not tell that golden candlestick from the other articles of
value, and the instant that he laid hand upon it the terrible spring was
unloosed and the murderous steel pikes were driven into his brain, while
the shock of the blow sent the victim backward and enabled the chest to
automatically close itself. How many, I wondered, had fallen victims to
the ingenuity of the mechanic of Ausgburg? And as I thought of the
possible history of that grim striped chest my resolution was very
"Carpenter, bring three men, and carry this on deck."
"Going to throw it overboard, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Allardyce. I'm not superstitious as a rule, but there are
some things which are more than a sailor can be called upon to stand."
"No wonder that brig made heavy weather, Captain Barclay, with such a
thing on board. The glass is dropping fast, sir, and we are only just
So we did not even wait for the three sailors, but we carried it out,
the mate, the carpenter, and I, and we pushed it with our own hands over
the bulwarks. There was a white spout of water, and it was gone. There
it lies, the striped chest, a thousand fathoms deep, and if, as they
say, the sea will some day be dry land, I grieve for the man who finds
that old box and tries to penetrate into its secret.
A SHADOW BEFORE
The 15th of July, 1870, found John Worlington Dodds a ruined gamester of
the Stock Exchange. Upon the 17th he was a very opulent man. And yet
he had effected the change without leaving the penurious little Irish
townlet of Dunsloe, which could have been bought outright for a quarter
of the sum which he had earned during the single day that he was
within its walls. There is a romance of finance yet to be written, a
story of huge forces which are for ever waxing and waning, of bold
operations, of breathless suspense, of agonised failure, of deep
combinations which are baffled by others still more subtle. The mighty
debts of each great European Power stand like so many columns of
mercury, for ever rising and falling to indicate the pressure upon each.
He who can see far enough into the future to tell how that ever-varying
column will stand to-morrow is the man who has fortune within his grasp.
John Worlington Dodds had many of the gifts which lead a speculator to
success. He was quick in observing, just in estimating, prompt and
fearless in acting. But in finance there is always the element of luck,
which, however one may eliminate it, still remains, like the blank at
roulette, a constantly present handicap upon the operator. And so it
was that Worlington Dodds had come to grief. On the best advices he had
dabbled in the funds of a South American Republic in the days before
South American Republics had been found out. The Republic defaulted,
and Dodds lost his money. He had bulled the shares of a Scotch railway,
and a four months' strike had hit him hard. He had helped to underwrite
a coffee company in the hope that the public would come along upon the
feed and gradually nibble away some of his holding, but the political
sky had been clouded and the public had refused to invest. Everything
which he had touched had gone wrong, and now, on the eve of his
marriage, young, clear-headed, and energetic, he was actually a bankrupt
had his creditors chosen to make him one. But the Stock Exchange is an
indulgent body. What is the case of one to-day may be that of another
to-morrow, and everyone is interested in seeing that the stricken man is
given time to rise again. So the burden of Worlington Dodds was
lightened for him; many shoulders helped to bear it, and he was able to
go for a little summer tour into Ireland, for the doctors had ordered
him rest and change of air to restore his shaken nervous system. Thus
it was that upon the 15th of July, 1870, he found himself at his
breakfast in the fly-blown coffee-room of the "George Hotel" in the
market square of Dunsloe. It is a dull and depressing coffee-room, and
one which is usually empty, but on this particular day it was as crowded
and noisy as that of any London hotel. Every table was occupied, and a
thick smell of fried bacon and of fish hung in the air. Heavily booted
men clattered in and out, spurs jingled, riding-crops were stacked in
corners, and there was a general atmosphere of horse. The conversation,
too, was of nothing else. From every side Worlington Dodds heard of
yearlings, of windgalls, of roarers, of spavins, of cribsuckers, of a
hundred other terms which were as unintelligible to him as his own
Stock Exchange jargon would have been to the company. He asked the
waiter for the reason of it all, and the waiter was an astonished man
that there should be any man in this world who did not know it.
"Shure it's the Dunsloe horse fair, your honour--the greatest
horse-fair in all Oireland. It lasts for a wake, and the folk come from
far an' near--from England an' Scotland an' iverywhere. If you look out
of the winder, your honour, you'll see the horses, and it's asy your
honour's conscience must be, or you wouldn't slape so sound that the
creatures didn't rouse you with their clatter."
Dodds had a recollection that he had heard a confused murmur, which had
interwoven itself with his dreams--a sort of steady rhythmic beating and
clanking--and now, when he looked through the window, he saw the cause
of it. The square was packed with horses from end to end--greys, bays,
browns, blacks, chestnuts--young ones and old, fine ones and coarse,
horses of every conceivable sort and size. It seemed a huge function
for so small a town, and he remarked as much to the waiter.
"Well, you see, your honour, the horses don't live in the town, an' they
don't vex their heads how small it is. But it's in the very centre of
the horse-bradin' districts of Oireland, so where should they come to be
sould if it wasn't to Dunsloe?" The waiter had a telegram in his hand,
and he turned the address to Worlington Dodds. "Shure I niver heard
such a name, sorr. Maybe you could tell me who owns it?"
Dodds looked at the envelope. Strellenhaus was the name. "No, I don't
know," said he. "I never heard it before. It's a foreign name.
Perhaps if you were--"
But at that moment a little round-faced, ruddy-cheeked gentleman, who
was breakfasting at the next table, leaned forward and interrupted him.
"Did you say a foreign name, sir?" said he.
"Strellenhaus is the name."
"I am Mr. Strellenhaus--Mr. Julius Strellenhaus, of Liverpool. I was
expecting a telegram. Thank you very much."
He sat so near that Dodds, without any wish to play the spy, could not
help to some extent overlooking him as he opened the envelope.
The message was a very long one. Quite a wad of melon-tinted paper came
out from the tawny envelope. Mr. Strellenhaus arranged the sheets
methodically upon the table-cloth in front of him, so that no eye but
his own could see them. Then he took out a note-book, and, with an
anxious face, he began to make entries in it, glancing first at the
telegram and then at the book, and writing apparently one letter or
figure at a time. Dodds was interested, for he knew exactly what the
man was doing. He was working out a cipher. Dodds had often done it
himself. And then suddenly the little man turned very pale, as if the
full purport of the message had been a shock to him. Dodds had done
that also, and his sympathies were all with his neighbours. Then the
stranger rose, and, leaving his breakfast untasted, he walked out of the
"I'm thinkin' that the gintleman has had bad news, sorr," said the
"Looks like it," Dodds answered; and at that moment his thoughts were
suddenly drawn off into another direction.
The boots had entered the room with a telegram in his hand. "Where's
Mr. Mancune?" said he to the waiter.
"Well, there are some quare names about. What was it you said?"
"Mr. Mancune," said the boots, glancing round him. "Ah, there he is!"
and he handed the telegram to a gentleman who was sitting reading the
paper in a corner.
Dodds's eyes had already fallen upon this man, and he had wondered
vaguely what he was doing in such company. He was a tall, white-haired,
eagle-nosed gentleman, with a waxed moustache and a carefully pointed
beard--an aristocratic type which seemed out of its element among the
rough, hearty, noisy dealers who surrounded him. This, then, was Mr.
Mancune, for whom the second telegram was intended.
As he opened it, tearing it open with a feverish haste, Dodds could
perceive that it was as bulky as the first one. He observed also, from
the delay in reading it, that it was also in some sort of cipher.
The gentleman did not write down any translation of it, but he sat for
some time with his nervous, thin fingers twitching amongst the hairs of
his white beard, and his shaggy brows bent in the deepest and most
absorbed attention whilst he mastered the meaning of it. Then he sprang
suddenly to his feet, his eyes flashed, his cheeks flushed, and in his
excitement he crumpled the message up in his hand. With an effort he
mastered his emotion, put the paper into his pocket, and walked out of
This was enough to excite a less astute and imaginative man than
Worlington Dodds. Was there any connection between these two messages,
or was it merely a coincidence? Two men with strange names receive two
telegrams within a few minutes of each other, each of considerable
length, each in cipher, and each causing keen emotion to the man who
received it. One turned pale. The other sprang excitedly to his feet.
It might be a coincidence, but it was a very curious one. If it was not
a coincidence, then what could it mean? Were they confederates who
pretended to work apart, but who each received identical orders from
some person at a distance? That was possible, and yet there were
difficulties in the way. He puzzled and puzzled, but could find no
satisfactory solution to the problem. All breakfast he was turning it
over in his mind.
When breakfast was over he sauntered out into the market square, where
the horse sale was already in progress. The yearlings were being sold
first--tall, long-legged, skittish, wild-eyed creatures, who had run
free upon the upland pastures, with ragged hair and towsie manes, but
hardy, inured to all weathers, and with the makings of splendid hunters
and steeplechasers when corn and time had brought them to maturity.
They were largely of thoroughbred blood, and were being bought by
English dealers, who would invest a few pounds now on what they might
sell for fifty guineas in a year, if all went well. It was legitimate
speculation, for the horse is a delicate creature, he is afflicted with
many ailments, the least accident may destroy his value, he is a certain
expense and an uncertain profit, and for one who comes safely to
maturity several may bring no return at all. So the English
horse-dealers took their risks as they bought up the shaggy Irish
yearlings. One man with a ruddy face and a yellow overcoat took them by
the dozen, with as much _sang froid_ as if they had been oranges,
entering each bargain in a bloated note-book. He bought forty or fifty
during the time that Dodds was watching him.
"Who is that?" he asked his neighbour, whose spurs and gaiters showed
that he was likely to know.
The man stared in astonishment at the stranger's ignorance.
"Why, that's Jim Holloway, the great Jim Holloway," said he; then,
seeing by the blank look upon Dodds's face that even this information
had not helped him much, he went into details. "Sure he's the head of
Holloway & Morland, of London," said he. "He's the buying partner, and
he buys cheap; and the other stays at home and sells, and he sells dear.
He owns more horses than any man in the world, and asks the best money
for them. I dare say you'll find that half of what are sold at the
Dunsloe fair this day will go to him, and he's got such a purse that
there's not a man who can bid against him."
Worlington Dodds watched the doings of the great dealer with interest.
He had passed on now to the two-year-olds and three-year-olds,
full-grown horses, but still a little loose in the limb and weak in the
bone. The London buyer was choosing his animals carefully, but having
chosen them, the vigour of his competition drove all other bidders out
of it. With a careless nod he would run the figure up five pounds at a
time, until he was left in possession of the field. At the same time he
was a shrewd observer, and when, as happened more than once, he believed
that someone was bidding against him simply in order to run him up, the
head would cease suddenly to nod, the note-book would be closed with a
snap, and the intruder would be left with a purchase which he did not
desire upon his hands. All Dodds's business instincts were aroused by
the tactics of this great operator, and he stood in the crowd watching
with the utmost interest all that occurred.
It is not to buy young horses, however, that the great dealers come to
Ireland, and the real business of the fair commenced when the four and
five-year-olds were reached; the full-grown, perfect horses, at their
prime, and ready for any work or any fatigue. Seventy magnificent
creatures had been brought down by a single breeder, a comfortable-
looking, keen-eyed, ruddy-cheeked gentleman who stood beside the
sales-man and whispered cautions and precepts into his ear.
"That's Flynn of Kildare," said Dodds's informant. "Jack Flynn has
brought down that string of horses, and the other large string over
yonder belongs to Tom Flynn, his brother. The two of them together are
the two first breeders in Ireland." A crowd had gathered in front of the
horses. By common consent a place had been made for Mr. Holloway, and
Dodds could catch a glimpse of his florid face and yellow covert-coat in
the front rank. He had opened his note-book, and was tapping his teeth
reflectively with his pencil as he eyed the horses.
"You'll see a fight now between the first seller and the first buyer in
the country," said Dodds's acquaintance. "They are a beautiful string,
anyhow. I shouldn't be surprised if he didn't average five-and-thirty
pound apiece for the lot as they stand."
The salesman had mounted upon a chair, and his keen, clean-shaven face
overlooked the crowd. Mr. Jack Flynn's grey whiskers were at his elbow,
and Mr. Holloway immediately in front.
"You've seen these horses, gentlemen," said the salesman, with a
backward sweep of his hand towards the line of tossing heads and
streaming manes. "When you know that they are bred by Mr. Jack Flynn,
at his place in Kildare, you will have a guarantee of their quality.
They are the best that Ireland can produce, and in this class of horse
the best that Ireland can produce are the best in the world, as every
riding man knows well. Hunters or carriage horses, all warranted sound,
and bred from the best stock. There are seventy in Mr. Jack Flynn's
string, and he bids me say that if any wholesale dealer would make one
bid for the whole lot, to save time, he would have the preference over
There was a pause and a whisper from the crowd in front, with some
expressions of discontent. By a single sweep all the small dealers had
been put out of it. It was only a long purse which could buy on such a
scale as that. The salesman looked round him inquiringly.
"Come, Mr. Holloway," said he, at last. "You didn't come over here for
the sake of the scenery. You may travel the country and not see such
another string of horses. Give us a starting bid."
The great dealer was still rattling his pencil upon his front teeth.
"Well," said he, at last, "they _are_ a fine lot of horses, and I won't
deny it. They do you credit, Mr. Flynn, I am sure. All the same I
didn't mean to fill a ship at a single bid in this fashion. I like to
pick and choose my horses."
"In that case Mr. Flynn is quite prepared to sell them in smaller lots,"
said the salesman. "It was rather for the convenience of a wholesale
customer that he was prepared to put them all up together. But if no
gentleman wishes to bid--"
"Wait a minute," said a voice. "They are very fine horses, these, and I
will give you a bid to start you. I will give you twenty pounds each
for the string of seventy."
There was a rustle as the crowd all swayed their heads to catch a
glimpse of the speaker. The salesman leaned forward. "May I ask your
"Strellenhaus--Mr. Strellenhaus of Liverpool."
"It's a new firm," said Dodds's neighbour. "I thought I knew them all,
but I never heard of him before."
The salesman's head had disappeared, for he was whispering with the
breeder. Now he suddenly straightened himself again. "Thank you for
giving us a lead, sir," said he. "Now, gentlemen, you have heard the
offer of Mr. Strellenhaus of Liverpool. It will give us a base to start
from. Mr. Strellenhaus has offered twenty pounds a head."
"Guineas," said Holloway.
"Bravo, Mr. Holloway! I knew that you would take a hand. You are not
the man to let such a string of horses pass away from you. The bid is
twenty guineas a head."
"Twenty-five pounds," said Mr. Strellenhaus.
It was London against Liverpool, and it was the head of the trade
against an outsider. Still, the one man had increased his bids by fives
and the other only by ones. Those fives meant determination and also
wealth. Holloway had ruled the market so long that the crowd was
delighted at finding someone who would stand up to him.
"The bid now stands at thirty pounds a head," said the salesman.
"The word lies with you, Mr. Holloway."
The London dealer was glancing keenly at his unknown opponent, and he
was asking himself whether this was a genuine rival, or whether it was a
device of some sort--an agent of Flynn's perhaps--for running up the
price. Little Mr. Strellenhaus, the same apple-faced gentleman whom
Dodds had noticed in the coffee-room, stood looking at the horses with
the sharp, quick glances of a man who knows what he is looking for.
"Thirty-one," said Holloway, with the air of a man who has gone to his
"Thirty-two," said Strellenhaus, promptly.
Holloway grew angry at this persistent opposition. His red face flushed
"Thirty-three!" he shouted.
"Thirty-four," said Strellenhaus.
Holloway became thoughtful, and entered a few figures in his note-book.
There were seventy horses. He knew that Flynn's stock was always of the
highest quality. With the hunting season coming on he might rely upon
selling them at an average of from forty-five to fifty. Some of them
might carry a heavy weight, and would run to three figures. On the
other hand, there was the feed and keep of them for three months, the
danger of the voyage, the chance of influenza or some of those other
complaints which run through an entire stable as measles go through a
nursery. Deducting all this, it was a question whether at the present
price any profit would be left upon the transaction. Every pound that
he bid meant seventy out of his pocket. And yet he could not submit to
be beaten by this stranger without a struggle. As a business matter it
was important to him to be recognised as the head of his profession.
He would make one more effort, if he sacrificed his profit by doing so.
"At the end of your rope, Mr. Holloway?" asked the salesman, with the
suspicion of a sneer.
"Thirty-five," cried Holloway gruffly.
"Thirty-six," said Strellenhaus.
"Then I wish you joy of your bargain," said Holloway. "I don't buy at
that price, but I should be glad to sell you some."
Mr. Strellenhaus took no notice of the irony. He was still looking
critically at the horses. The salesman glanced round him in a
"Thirty-six pounds bid," said he. "Mr. Jack Flynn's lot is going to Mr.
Strellenhaus of Liverpool, at thirty-six pounds a head. Going--going--"
"Forty!" cried a high, thin, clear voice.
A buzz rose from the crowd, and they were all on tiptoe again, trying to
catch a glimpse of this reckless buyer. Being a tall man, Dodds could
see over the others, and there, at the side of Holloway, he saw the
masterful nose and aristocratic beard of the second stranger in the
coffee-room. A sudden personal interest added itself to the scene.
He felt that he was on the verge of something--something dimly seen--
which he could himself turn to account. The two men with strange names,
the telegrams, the horses--what was underlying it all? The salesman was
all animation again, and Mr. Jack Flynn was sitting up with his white
whiskers bristling and his eyes twinkling. It was the best deal which
he had ever made in his fifty years of experience.
"What name, sir?" asked the salesman.
"Mr. Mancune of Glasgow."
"Thank you for your bid, sir. Forty pounds a head has been bid by Mr.
Mancune of Glasgow. Any advance upon forty?"
"Forty-one," said Strellenhaus.
"Forty-five," said Mancune.
The tactics had changed, and it was the turn of Strellenhaus now to
advance by ones, while his rival sprang up by fives. But the former was
as dogged as ever.
"Forty-six," said he.
"Fifty!" cried Mancune.
It was unheard of. The most that the horses could possibly average at a
retail price was as much as these men were willing to pay wholesale.
"Two lunatics from Bedlam," whispered the angry Holloway. "If I was
Flynn I would see the colour of their money before I went any further."
The same thought had occurred to the salesman. "As a mere matter of
business, gentlemen," said he, "it is usual in such cases to put down a
small deposit as a guarantee of _bona fides_. You will understand how I
am placed, and that I have not had the pleasure of doing business with
either of you before."
"How much?" asked Strellenhaus, briefly.
"Should we say five hundred?"
"Here is a note for a thousand pounds."
"And here is another," said Mancune.
"Nothing could be more handsome, gentlemen," said the salesman. "It's a
treat to see such a spirited competition. The last bid was fifty pounds
a head from Mancune. The word lies with you, Mr. Strellenhaus."
Mr. Jack Flynn whispered something to the salesman. "Quite so! Mr.
Flynn suggests, gentlemen, that as you are both large buyers, it would,
perhaps, be a convenience to you if he was to add the string of Mr. Tom
Flynn, which consists of seventy animals of precisely the same quality,
making one hundred and forty in all. Have you any objection, Mr.
"And you, Mr. Strellenhaus?"
"I should prefer it."
"Very handsome! Very handsome indeed!" murmured the salesman. "Then I
understand, Mr. Mancune, that your offer of fifty pounds a head extends
to the whole of these horses?"
A long breath went up from the crowd. Seven thousand pounds at one
deal. It was a record for Dunsloe.
"Any advance, Mr. Strellenhaus?"
They could hardly believe their ears. Holloway stood with his mouth
open, staring blankly in front of him. The salesman tried hard to look
as if such bidding and such prices were nothing unusual. Jack Flynn of
Kildare smiled benignly and rubbed his hands together. The crowd
listened in dead silence.
"Sixty-one," said Strellenhaus. From the beginning he had stood without
a trace of emotion upon his round face, like a little automatic figure
which bid by clockwork. His rival was of a more excitable nature. His
eyes were shining, and he was for ever twitching at his beard.
"Sixty-five," he cried.
But the clockwork had run down. No answering bid came from Mr.
"Seventy bid, sir."
Mr. Strellenhaus shrugged his shoulders.
"I am buying for another, and I have reached his limit," said he.
"If you will permit me to send for instructions--"
"I am afraid, sir, that the sale must proceed."
"Then the horses belong to this gentleman." For the first time he
turned towards his rival, and their glances crossed like sword-blades.
"It is possible that I may see the horses again."
"I hope so," said Mr. Mancune; and his white, waxed moustache gave a
feline upward bristle.
So, with a bow, they separated. Mr. Strellenhaus walked, down to the
telegraph-office, where his message was delayed because Mr. Worlington
Dodds was already at the end of the wires, for, after dim guesses and
vague conjecture, he had suddenly caught a clear view of this coming
event which had cast so curious a shadow before it in this little Irish
town. Political rumours, names, appearances, telegrams, seasoned horses
at any price, there could only be one meaning to it. He held a secret,
and he meant to use it.
Mr. Warner, who was the partner of Mr. Worlington Dodds, and who was
suffering from the same eclipse, had gone down to the Stock Exchange,
but had found little consolation there, for the European system was in a
ferment, and rumours of peace and of war were succeeding each other with
such rapidity and assurance that it was impossible to know which to
trust. It was obvious that a fortune lay either way, for every rumour
set the funds fluctuating; but without special information it was
impossible to act, and no one dared to plunge heavily upon the strength
of newspaper surmise and the gossip of the street. Warner knew that an
hour's work might resuscitate the fallen fortunes of himself and his
partner, and yet he could not afford to make a mistake. He returned to
his office in the afternoon, half inclined to back the chances of peace,
for of all war scares not one in ten comes to pass. As he entered the
office a telegram lay upon the table. It was from Dunsloe, a place of
which he had never heard, and was signed by his absent partner.
The message was in cipher, but he soon translated it, for it was short
"I am a bear of everything German and French. Sell, sell, sell, keep on
For a moment Warner hesitated. What could Worlington Dodds know at
Dunsloe which was not known in Throgmorton Street? But he remembered
the quickness and decision of his partner. He would not have sent such
a message without very good grounds. If he was to act at all he must
act at once, so, hardening his heart, he went down to the house, and,
dealing upon that curious system by which a man can sell what he has not
got, and what he could not pay for if he had it, he disposed of heavy
parcels of French and German securities. He had caught the market in
one of its little spasms of hope, and there was no lack of buying until
his own persistent selling caused others to follow his lead, and so
brought about a reaction. When Warner returned to his offices it took
him some hours to work out his accounts, and he emerged into the streets
in the evening with the absolute certainty that the next settling-day
would leave him either hopelessly bankrupt or exceedingly prosperous.
It all depended upon Worlington Dodds's information. What could he
possibly have found out at Dunsloe?
And then suddenly he saw a newspaper boy fasten a poster upon a
lamp-post, and a little crowd had gathered round it in an instant
One of them waved his hat in the air; another shouted to a friend across
the street. Warner hurried up and caught a glimpse of the poster
between two craning heads--
"FRANCE DECLARES WAR ON GERMANY."
"By Jove!" cried Warner. "Old Dodds was right, after all."
THE KING OF THE FOXES
It was after a hunting dinner, and there were as many scarlet coats as
black ones round the table. The conversation over the cigars had
turned, therefore, in the direction of horses and horsemen, with
reminiscences of phenomenal runs where foxes had led the pack from end
to end of a county, and been overtaken at last by two or three limping
hounds and a huntsman on foot, while every rider in the field had been
pounded. As the port circulated the runs became longer and more
apocryphal, until we had the whips inquiring their way and failing to
understand the dialect of the people who answered them. The foxes, too,
became mere eccentric, and we had foxes up pollard willows, foxes which
were dragged by the tail out of horses' mangers, and foxes which had
raced through an open front door and gone to ground in a lady's
bonnet-box. The master had told one or two tall reminiscences, and when
he cleared his throat for another we were all curious, for he was a bit
of an artist in his way, and produced his effects in a _crescendo_
fashion. His face wore the earnest, practical, severely accurate
expression which heralded some of his finest efforts.
"It was before I was master," said he. "Sir Charles Adair had the
hounds at that time, and then afterwards they passed to old Lathom, and
then to me. It may possibly have been just after Lathom took them over,
but my strong impression is that it was in Adair's time. That would be
early in the seventies--about seventy-two, I should say.
"The man I mean has moved to another part of the country, but I daresay
that some of you can remember him. Danbury was the name--Walter
Danbury, or Wat Danbury, as the people used to call him. He was the son
of old Joe Danbury, of High Ascombe, and when his father died he came
into a very good thing, for his only brother was drowned when the _Magna
Charta_ foundered, so he inherited the whole estate. It was but a few
hundred acres, but it was good arable land, and those were the great
days of farming. Besides, it was freehold, and a yeoman farmer without
a mortgage was a warmish man before the great fall in wheat came.
Foreign wheat and barbed wire--those are the two curses of this country,
for the one spoils the farmer's work and the other spoils his play.
"This young Wat Danbury was a very fine fellow, a keen rider, and a
thorough sportsman, but his head was a little turned at having come,
when so young, into a comfortable fortune, and he went the pace for a
year or two. The lad had no vice in him, but there was a hard-drinking
set in the neighbourhood at that time, and Danbury got drawn in among
them; and, being an amiable fellow who liked to do what his friends were
doing, he very soon took to drinking a great deal more than was good for
him. As a rule, a man who takes his exercise may drink as much as he
likes in the evening, and do himself no very great harm, if he will
leave it alone during the day. Danbury had too many friends for that,
however, and it really looked as if the poor chap was going to the bad,
when a very curious thing happened which pulled him up with such a
sudden jerk that he never put his hand upon the neck of a whisky bottle
"He had a peculiarity which I have noticed in a good many other men,
that though he was always playing tricks with his own health, he was
none the less very anxious about it, and was extremely fidgety if ever
he had any trivial symptom. Being a tough, open-air fellow, who was
always as hard as a nail, it was seldom that there was anything amiss
with him; but at last the drink began to tell, and he woke one morning
with his hands shaking and all his nerves tingling like over-stretched
fiddle-strings. He had been dining at some very wet house the night
before, and the wine had, perhaps, been more plentiful than choice; at
any rate, there he was, with a tongue like a bath towel and a head that
ticked like an eight-day clock. He was very alarmed at his own
condition, and he sent for Doctor Middleton, of Ascombe, the father of
the man who practises there now.
"Middleton had been a great friend of old Danbury's, and he was very
sorry to see his son going to the devil; so he improved the occasion by
taking his case very seriously, and lecturing him upon the danger of his
ways. He shook his head and talked about the possibility of _delirium
tremens_, or even of mania, if he continued to lead such a life.
Wat Danbury was horribly frightened.
"'Do you think I am going to get anything of the sort?' he wailed.
"'Well, really, I don't know,' said the doctor gravely. 'I cannot
undertake to say that you are out of danger. Your system is very much
out of order. At any time during the day you might have those grave
symptoms of which I warn you.'
"'You think I shall be safe by evening?'
"'If you drink nothing during the day, and have no nervous symptoms
before evening, I think you may consider yourself safe," the doctor
answered. A little fright would, he thought, do his patient good, so he
made the most of the matter.
"'What symptoms may I expect?' asked Danebury.
"'It generally takes the form of optical delusions.'
"'I see specks floating all about.'
"'That is mere biliousness,' said the doctor soothingly, for he saw that
the lad was highly strung, and he did not wish to overdo it.
'I daresay that you will have no symptoms of the kind, but when they do
come they usually take the shape of insects, or reptiles, or curious
"'And if I see anything of the kind?'
"'If you do, you will at once send for me;' and so, with a promise of
medicine, the doctor departed.
"Young Wat Danbury rose and dressed and moped about the room feeling
very miserable and unstrung, with a vision of the County Asylum for ever
in his mind. He had the doctor's word for it that if he could get
through to evening in safety he would be all right; but it is not very
exhilarating to be waiting for symptoms, and to keep on glancing at your
bootjack to see whether it is still a bootjack or whether it has begun
to develop antennae and legs. At last he could stand it no longer, and
an overpowering longing for the fresh air and the green grass came over
him. Why should he stay indoors when the Ascombe Hunt was meeting
within half a mile of him? If he was going to have these delusions
which the doctor talked of, he would not have them the sooner nor the
worse because he was on horseback in the open. He was sure, too, it
would ease his aching head. And so it came about that in ten minutes he
was in his hunting-kit, and in ten more he was riding out of his
stable-yard with his roan mare 'Matilda' between his knees. He was a
little unsteady in his saddle just at first, but the farther he went the
better he felt, until by the time he reached the meet his head was
almost clear, and there was nothing troubling him except those haunting
words of the doctor's about the possibility of delusions any time before
"But soon he forgot that also, for as he came up the hounds were thrown
off, and they drew the Gravel Hanger, and afterwards the Hickory Copse.
It was just the morning for a scent--no wind to blow it away, no water
to wash it out, and just damp enough to make it cling. There was a
field of forty, all keen men and good riders, so when they came to the
Black Hanger they knew that there would be some sport, for that's a
cover which never draws blank. The woods were thicker in those days
than now, and the foxes were thicker also, and that great dark
oak-grove was swarming with them. The only difficulty was to make them
break, for it is, as you know, a very close country, and you must coax
them out into the open before you can hope for a run.
"When they came to the Black Hanger the field took their positions along
the cover-side wherever they thought that they were most likely to get a
good start. Some went in with the hounds, some clustered at the ends of
the drives, and some kept outside in the hope of the fox breaking in
that direction. Young Wat Danbury knew the country like the palm of his
hand, so he made for a place where several drives intersected, and there
he waited. He had a feeling that the faster and the farther he galloped
the better he should be, and so he was chafing to be off. His mare,
too, was in the height of fettle and one of the fastest goers in the
county. Wat was a splendid lightweight rider--under ten stone with his
saddle--and the mare was a powerful creature, all quarters and
shoulders, fit to carry a lifeguardsman; and so it was no wonder that
there was hardly a man in the field who could hope to stay with him.
There he waited and listened to the shouting of the huntsman and the
whips, catching a glimpse now and then in the darkness of the wood of a
whisking tail, or the gleam of a white-and-tan side amongst the
underwood. It was a well-trained pack, and there was not so much as a
whine to tell you that forty hounds were working all round you.
"And then suddenly there came one long-drawn yell from one of them, and
it was taken up by another, and another, until within a few seconds the
whole pack was giving tongue together and running on a hot scent.
Danbury saw them stream across one of the drives and disappear upon the
other side, and an instant later the three red coats of the hunt
servants flashed after them upon the same line. He might have made a
shorter cut down one of the other drives, but he was afraid of heading
the fox, so he followed the lead of the huntsman. Right through the
wood they went in a bee-line, galloping with their faces brushed by
their horses' manes as they stooped under the branches.
"It's ugly going, as you know, with the roots all wriggling about in the
darkness, but you can take a risk when you catch an occasional glimpse
of the pack running with a breast-high scent; so in and out they dodged
until the wood began to thin at the edges, and they found themselves in
the long bottom where the river runs. It is clear going there upon
grassland, and the hounds were running very strong about two hundred
yards ahead, keeping parallel with the stream. The field, who had come
round the wood instead of going through, were coming hard over the
fields upon the left; but Danbury, with the hunt servants, had a clear
lead, and they never lost it.
"Two of the field got on terms with them--Parson Geddes on a big
seventeen-hand bay which he used to ride in those days, and Squire
Foley, who rode as a feather-weight, and made his hunters out of cast
thoroughbreds from the Newmarket sales; but the others never had a
look-in from start to finish, for there was no check and no pulling, and
it was clear cross-country racing from start to finish. If you had
drawn a line right across the map with a pencil you couldn't go
straighter than that fox ran, heading for the South Downs and the sea,
and the hounds ran as surely as if they were running to view, and yet
from the beginning no one ever saw the fox, and there was never a hallo
forrard to tell them that he had been spied. This, however, is not so
surprising, for if you've been over that line of country you will know
that there are not very many people about.
"There were six of them then in the front row--Parson Geddes, Squire
Foley, the huntsman, two whips, and Wat Danbury, who had forgotten all
about his head and the doctor by this time, and had not a thought for
anything but the run. All six were galloping just as hard as they could
lay hoofs to the ground. One of the whips dropped back, however, as
some of the hounds were tailing off, and that brought them down to five.
Then Foley's thoroughbred strained herself, as these slim-legged,
dainty-fetlocked thoroughbreds will do when the going is rough, and he
had to take a back seat. But the other four were still going strong,
and they did four or five miles down the river flat at a rasping pace.
It had been a wet winter, and the waters had been out a little time
before, so there was a deal of sliding and splashing; but by the time
they came to the bridge the whole field was out of sight, and these four
had the hunt to themselves.
"The fox had crossed the bridge--for foxes do not care to swim a chilly
river any more than humans do--and from that point he had streaked away
southward as hard as he could tear. It is broken country, rolling
heaths, down one slope and up another, and it's hard to say whether the
up or the down is the more trying for the horses. This sort of
switchback work is all right for a cobby, short-backed, short-legged
little horse, but it is killing work for a big, long-striding hunter
such as one wants in the Midlands. Anyhow, it was too much for Parson
Geddes' seventeen-hand bay, and though he tried the Irish trick--for he
was a rare keen sportsman--of running up the hills by his horse's head,
it was all to no use, and he had to give it up. So then there were only
the huntsman, the whip, and Wat Danbury--all going strong.
"But the country got worse and worse and the hills were steeper and more
thickly covered in heather and bracken. The horses were over their
hocks all the time, and the place was pitted with rabbit-holes; but the
hounds were still streaming along, and the riders could not afford to
pick their steps. As they raced down one slope, the hounds were always
flowing up the opposite one, until it looked like that game where the
one figure in falling makes the other one rise.
"But never a glimpse did they get of the fox, although they knew very
well that he must be only a very short way ahead for the scent to be so
strong. And then Wat Danbury heard a crash and a thud at his elbow, and
looking round he saw a pair of white cords and top-boots kicking out of
a tussock of brambles. The whip's horse had stumbled, and the whip was
out of the running. Danbury and the huntsman eased down for an instant;
and then, seeing the man staggering to his feet all right, they turned
and settled into their saddles once more.
"Joe Clarke, the huntsman, was a famous old rider, known for five
counties round; but he reckoned upon his second horse, and the second
horses had all been left many miles behind. However, the one he was
riding was good enough for anything with such a horseman upon his back,
and he was going as well as when he started. As to Wat Danbury, he was
going better. With every stride his own feelings improved, and the mind
of the rider had its influence upon the mind of the horse. The stout
little roan was gathering its muscular limbs under it, and stretching to
the gallop as if it were steel and whale-bone instead of flesh and
blood. Wat had never come to the end of its powers yet, and to-day he
had such a chance of testing them as he had never had before.
"There was a pasture country beyond the heather slopes, and for several
miles the two riders were either losing ground as they fumbled with
their crop-handles at the bars of gates, or gaining it again as they
galloped over the fields. Those were the days before this accursed wire
came into the country, and you could generally break a hedge where you
could not fly it, so they did not trouble the gates more than they could
help. Then they were down in a hard lane, where they had to slacken
their pace, and through a farm where a man came shouting excitedly after
them; but they had no time to stop and listen to him, for the hounds
were on some ploughland, only two fields ahead. It was sloping upwards,
that ploughland, and the horses were over their fetlocks in the red,
"When they reached the top they were blowing badly, but a grand valley
sloped before them, leading up to the open country of the South Downs.
Between, there lay a belt of pine-woods, into which the hounds were
streaming, running now in a long, straggling line, and shedding one here
and one there as they ran. You could see the white-and-tan dots here
and there where the limpers were tailing away. But half the pack were
still going well, though the pace and distance had both been
tremendous--two clear hours now without a check.
"There was a drive through the pine-wood--one of those green, slightly
rutted drives where a horse can get the last yard out of itself, for the
ground is hard enough to give him clean going and yet springy enough to
help him. Wat Danbury got alongside of the huntsman and they galloped
together with their stirrup-irons touching, and the hounds within a
hundred yards of them.
"'We have it all to ourselves,' said he.
"'Yes, sir, we've shook on the lot of 'em this time,' said old Joe
Clarke. 'If we get this fox it's worth while 'aving 'im skinned an'
stuffed, for 'e's a curiosity 'e is.'
"'It's the fastest run I ever had in my life!' cried Danbury.
"'And the fastest that ever I 'ad, an' that means more,' said the old
huntsman. 'But what licks me is that we've never 'ad a look at the
beast. 'E must leave an amazin' scent be'ind 'im when these 'ounds can
follow 'im like this, and yet none of us have seen 'im when we've 'ad a
clear 'alf mile view in front of us.'
"'I expect we'll have a view of him presently,' said Danbury; and in his
mind he added, 'at least, I shall,' for the huntsman's horse was gasping
as it ran, and the white foam was pouring down it like the side of a
"They had followed the hounds on to one of the side tracks which led out
of the main drive, and that divided into a smaller track still, where
the branches switched across their faces as they went, and there was
barely room for one horse at a time. Wat Danbury took the lead, and he
heard the huntsman's horse clumping along heavily behind him, while his
own mare was going with less spring than when she had started. She
answered to a touch of his crop or spur, however, and he felt that there
was something still left to draw upon. And then he looked up, and there
was a heavy wooden stile at the end of the narrow track, with a lane of
stiff young saplings leading down to it, which was far too thick to
break through. The hounds were running clear upon the grassland on the
other side, and you were bound either to get over that stile or lose
sight of them, for the pace was too hot to let you go round.
"Well, Wat Danbury was not the lad to flinch, and at it he went full
split, like a man who means what he is doing. She rose gallantly to it,
rapped it hard with her front hoof, shook him on to her withers,
recovered herself, and was over. Wat had hardly got back into his
saddle when there was a clatter behind him like the fall of a woodstack,
and there was the top bar in splinters, the horse on its belly, and the
huntsman on hands and knees half a dozen yards in front of him.
Wat pulled up for an instant, for the fall was a smasher; but he saw old
Joe spring to his feet and get to his horse's bridle. The horse
staggered up, but the moment it put one foot in front of the other, Wat
saw that it was hopelessly lame--a slipped shoulder and a six weeks'
job. There was nothing he could do, and Joe was shouting to him not to
lose the hounds, so off he went again, the one solitary survivor of the
whole hunt. When a man finds himself there, he can retire from
fox-hunting, for he has tasted the highest which it has to offer.
I remember once when I was out with the Royal Surrey--but I'll tell you
that story afterwards.
"The pack, or what was left of them, had got a bit ahead during this
time; but he had a clear view of them on the downland, and the mare
seemed full of pride at being the only one left, for she was stepping
out rarely and tossing her head as she went. They were two miles over
the green shoulder of a hill, a rattle down a stony, deep-rutted country
lane, where the mare stumbled and nearly came down, a jump over a 5ft.
brook, a cut through a hazel copse, another dose of heavy ploughland, a
couple of gates to open, and then the green, unbroken Downs beyond.
"'Well,' said Wat Danbury to himself, 'I'll see this fox run into or I
shall see it drowned, for it's all clear going now between this and the
chalk cliffs which line the sea.' But he was wrong in that, as he
speedily discovered. In all the little hollows of the downs at that
part there are plantations of fir-woods, some of which have grown to a
good size. You do not see them until you come upon the edge of the
valleys in which they lie. Danbury was galloping hard over the short,
springy turf when he came over the lip of one of these depressions, and
there was the dark clump of wood lying in front of and beneath him.
There were only a dozen hounds still running, and they were just
disappearing among the trees. The sunlight was shining straight upon
the long olive-green slopes which curved down towards this wood, and
Danbury, who had the eyes of a hawk, swept them over this great expanse;
but there was nothing moving upon it. A few sheep were grazing far up
on the right, but there was no other sight of any living creature.
He was certain then that he was very near to the end, for either the fox
must have gone to ground in the wood or the hounds' noses must be at his
very brush. The mare seemed to know also what that great empty sweep of
countryside meant, for she quickened her stride, and a few minutes
afterwards Danbury was galloping into the fir-wood.
"He had come from bright sunshine, but the wood was very closely
planted, and so dim that he could hardly see to right or to left out of
the narrow path down which he was riding. You know what a solemn,
churchyardy sort of place a fir-wood is. I suppose it is the absence of
any undergrowth, and the fact that the trees never move at all. At any
rate a kind of chill suddenly struck Wat Danbury, and it flashed through
his mind that there had been some very singular points about this run--
its length and its straightness, and the fact that from the first find
no one had ever caught a glimpse of the creature. Some silly talk which
had been going round the country about the king of the foxes--a sort of
demon fox, so fast that it could outrun any pack, and so fierce that
they could do nothing with it if they overtook it--suddenly came back
into his mind, and it did not seem so laughable now in the dim fir-wood
as it had done when the story had been told over the wine and cigars.
The nervousness which had been on him in the morning, and which he had
hoped that he had shaken off, swept over him again in an overpowering
wave. He had been so proud of being alone, and yet he would have given
10 pounds now to have had Joe Clarke's homely face beside him. And
then, just at that moment, there broke out from the thickest part of the
wood the most frantic hullabaloo that ever he had heard in his life.
The hounds had run into their fox.
"Well, you know, or you ought to know, what your duty is in such a case.
You have to be whip, huntsman, and everything else if you are the first
man up. You get in among the hounds, lash them off, and keep the brush
and pads from being destroyed. Of course, Wat Danbury knew all about
that, and he tried to force his mare through the trees to the place
where all this hideous screaming and howling came from, but the wood was
so thick that it was impossible to ride it. He sprang off, therefore,
left the mare standing, and broke his way through as best he could with
his hunting-lash ready over his shoulder.
"But as he ran forward he felt his flesh go cold and creepy all over.
He had heard hounds run into foxes many times before, but he had never
heard such sounds as these. They were not the cries of triumph, but of
fear. Every now and then came a shrill yelp of mortal agony. Holding
his breath, he ran on until he broke through the interlacing branches,
and found himself in a little, clearing with the hounds all crowding
round a patch of tangled bramble at the further end.
"When he first caught sight of them the hounds were standing in a
half-circle round this bramble patch, with their backs bristling and
their jaws gaping. In front of the brambles lay one of them with his
throat torn out, all crimson and white-and-tan. Wat came running out
into the clearing, and at the sight of him the hounds took heart again,
and one of them sprang with a growl into the bushes. At the same
instant, a creature the size of a donkey jumped on to its feet, a huge
grey head, with monstrous glistening fangs and tapering fox jaws, shot
out from among the branches, and the hound was thrown several feet into
the air, and fell howling among the cover. Then there was a clashing
snap, like a rat-trap closing, and the howls sharpened into a scream and
then were still.
"Danbury had been on the look-out for symptoms all day, and now he had
found them. He looked once more at the thicket, saw a pair of savage
red eyes fixed upon him, and fairly took to his heels. It might only be
a passing delusion, or it might be the permanent mania of which the
doctor had spoken, but anyhow, the thing to do was to get back to bed
and to quiet, and to hope for the best.
"He forgot the hounds, the hunt, and everything else in his desperate
fears for his own reason. He sprang upon his mare, galloped her madly
over the downs, and only stopped when he found himself at a country
station. There he left his mare at the inn, and made back for home as
quickly as steam would take him. It was evening before he got there,
shivering with apprehension, and seeing those red eyes and savage teeth
at every turn. He went straight to bed and sent for Dr. Middleton.
"'I've got 'em, doctor,' said he. 'It came about exactly as you said--
strange creatures, optical delusions, and everything. All I ask you now
is to save my reason.' The doctor listened to his story, and was
shocked as he heard it.
"'It appears to be a very clear case,' said he. 'This must be a lesson
to you for life.'
"'Never a drop again if I only come safely through this,' cried Wat
"'Well, my dear boy, if you will stick to that it may prove a blessing
in disguise. But the difficulty in this case is to know where fact ends
and fancy begins. You see, it is not as if there was only one delusion.
There have been several. The dead dogs, for example, must have been one
as well as the creature in the bush.'
"'I saw it all as clearly as I see you.'
"'One of the characteristics of this form of delirium is that what you
see is even clearer than reality. I was wondering whether the whole run
was not a delusion also.'
"Wat Danbury pointed to his hunting boots still lying upon the floor,
necked with the splashings of two counties.
"'Hum! that looks very real, certainly. No doubt, in your weak state,
you over-exerted yourself and so brought this attack upon yourself.
Well, whatever the cause, our treatment is clear. You will take the
soothing mixture which I will send to you, and we shall put two leeches
upon your temples to-night to relieve any congestion of the brain.'
"So Wat Danbury spent the night in tossing about and reflecting what a
sensitive thing this machinery of ours is, and how very foolish it is to
play tricks with what is so easily put out of gear and so difficult to
mend. And so he repeated and repeated his oath that this first lesson
should be his last, and that from that time forward he would be a sober,
hard-working yeoman as his father had been before him. So he lay,
tossing and still repentant, when his door flew open in the morning and
in rushed the doctor with a newspaper crumpled up in his hand.
"'My dear boy,' he cried, 'I owe you a thousand apologies. You're the
most ill-used lad and I the greatest numskull in the county. Listen to
this!' And he sat down upon the side of the bed, flattened out his
paper upon his knee, and began to read.
"The paragraph was headed, 'Disaster to the Ascombe Hounds,' and it went
on to say that four of the hounds, shockingly torn and mangled, had been
found in Winton Fir Wood upon the South Downs. The run had been so
severe that half the pack were lamed; but the four found in the wood
were actually dead, although the cause of their extraordinary injuries
was still unknown.
"'So, you see,' said the doctor, looking up, 'that I was wrong when I
put the dead hounds among the delusions.'
"'But the cause?' cried Wat.
"'Well, I think we may guess the cause from an item which has been
inserted just as the paper went to press:--