Part 3 out of 4
the deck. Then there was a pause with no sound but the gentle lipping
of the water against the sides of the pirate vessel. Finally, a
crashing blow as from a pistol-butt fell upon the door, and an instant
afterwards Sweetlocks himself, a tall, dark man, with a deep red
birthmark blazing upon his cheek, strode into the cabin. His swaggering
air sank somewhat as he looked into those pale and filmy eyes.
"Captain Sharkey," said he, "I come as spokesman of the crew."
"So I have heard, Sweetlocks," said the captain, softly. "I may live to
rip you the length of your vest for this night's work."
"That is as it may be, Captain Sharkey," the master answered, "but if
you will look up you will see that I have those at my back who will not
see me mishandled."
"Cursed if we do!" growled a deep voice from above, and glancing upwards
the officers in the cabin were aware of a line of fierce, bearded,
sun-blackened faces looking down at them through the open skylight.
"Well, what would you have?" asked Sharkey. "Put it in words, man, and
let us have an end of it."
"The men think," said Sweetlocks, "that you are the devil himself, and
that there will be no luck for them whilst they sail the sea in such
company. Time was when we did our two or three craft a day, and every
man had women and dollars to his liking, but now for a long week we have
not raised a sail, and save for three beggarly sloops, have taken never
a vessel since we passed the Bahama Bank. Also, they know that you
killed Jack Bartholomew, the carpenter, by beating his head in with a
bucket, so that each of us goes in fear of his life. Also, the rum
has given out, and we are hard put to it for liquor. Also, you sit in
your cabin whilst it is in the articles that you should drink and roar
with the crew. For all these reasons it has been this day in general
Sharkey had stealthily cocked a pistol under the table, so it may have
been as well for the mutinous master that he never reached the end of
his discourse, for even as he came to it there was a swift patter of
feet upon the deck, and a ship lad, wild with his tidings, rushed into
"A craft!" he yelled. "A great craft, and close aboard us!"
In a flash the quarrel was forgotten, and the pirates were rushing to
quarters. Sure enough, surging slowly down before the gentle
trade-wind, a great full-rigged ship, with all sail set, was close
It was clear that she had come from afar and knew nothing of the ways of
the Caribbean Sea, for she made no effort to avoid the low, dark craft
which lay so close upon her bow, but blundered on as if her mere size
would avail her.
So daring was she, that for an instant the Rovers, as they flew to loose
the tackles of their guns, and hoisted their battle-lanterns, believed
that a man-of-war had caught them napping.
But at the sight of her bulging, portless sides and merchant rig a shout
of exultation broke from amongst them, and in an instant they had swung
round their fore-yard, and darting alongside they had grappled with her
and flung a spray of shrieking, cursing ruffians upon her deck.
Half a dozen seamen of the night-watch were cut down where they stood,
the mate was felled by Sharkey and tossed overboard by Ned Galloway,
and before the sleepers had time to sit up in their berths, the vessel
was in the hands of the pirates.
The prize proved to be the full-rigged ship _Portobello_--Captain Hardy,
master--bound from London to Kingston in Jamaica, with a cargo of cotton
goods and hoop-iron.
Having secured their prisoners, all huddled together in a dazed,
distracted group, the pirates spread over the vessel in search of
plunder, handing all that was found to the giant quartermaster, who in
turn passed it over the side of _The Happy Delivery_ and laid it under
guard at the foot of her mainmast.
The cargo was useless, but there were a thousand guineas in the ship's
strong-box, and there were some eight or ten passengers, three of them
wealthy Jamaica merchants, all bringing home well-filled boxes from
their London visit.
When all the plunder was gathered, the passengers and crew were dragged
to the waist, and under the cold smile of Sharkey each in turn was
thrown over the side--Sweetlocks standing by the rail and
ham-stringing them with his cutlass as they passed over, lest some
strong swimmer should rise in judgment against them. A portly,
grey-haired woman, the wife of one of the planters, was among the
captives, but she also was thrust screaming and clutching over
"Mercy, you hussy!" neighed Sharkey, "you are surely a good twenty years
too old for that."
The captain of the _Portobello_, a hale, blue-eyed grey-beard, was the
last upon the deck. He stood, a thick-set resolute figure, in the glare
of the lanterns, while Sharkey bowed and smirked before him.
"One skipper should show courtesy to another," said he, "and sink me if
Captain Sharkey would be behind in good manners! I have held you to the
last, as you see, where a brave man should be; so now, my bully, you
have seen the end of them, and may step over with an easy mind."
"So I shall, Captain Sharkey," said the old seaman, "for I have done my
duty so far as my power lay. But before I go over I would say a word in
"If it be to soften me, you may save your breath. You have kept us
waiting here for three days, and curse me if one of you shall live!"
"Nay, it is to tell you what you should know. You have not yet found
what is the true treasure aboard of this ship."
"Not found it? Sink me, but I will slice your liver, Captain Hardy, if
you do not make good your words! Where is this treasure you speak of?"
"It is not a treasure of gold, but it is a fair maid, which may be no
"Where is she, then? And why is she not with the others?"
"I will tell you why she is not with the others. She is the only
daughter of the Count and Countess Ramirez, who are amongst those whom
you have murdered. Her name is Inez Ramirez, and she is of the best
blood of Spain, her father being Governor of Chagre, to which he was now
bound. It chanced that she was found to have formed an attachment,
as maids will, to one far beneath her in rank aboard this ship; so her
parents, being people of great power, whose word is not to be gainsaid,
constrained me to confine her close in a special cabin aft of my own.
Here she was held straitly, all food being carried to her, and she
allowed to see no one. This I tell you as a last gift, though why I
should make it to you I do not know, for indeed you are a most bloody
rascal, and it comforts me in dying to think that you will surely be
gallow's-meat in this world, and hell's-meat in the next."
At the words he ran to the rail, and vaulted over into the darkness,
praying as he sank into the depths of the sea, that the betrayal of this
maid might not be counted too heavily against his soul.
The body of Captain Hardy had not yet settled upon the sand forty
fathoms deep before the pirates had rushed along the cabin gangway.
There, sure enough, at the further end, was a barred door, overlooked in
their previous search. There was no key, but they beat it in with their
gunstocks, whilst shriek after shriek came from within. In the light
of their outstretched lanterns they saw a young woman, in the very prime
and fullness of her youth, crouching in a corner, her unkempt hair
hanging to the ground, her dark eyes glaring with fear, her lovely form
straining away in horror from this inrush of savage blood-stained men.
Rough hands seized her, she was jerked to her feet, and dragged with
scream on scream to where John Sharkey awaited her. He held the light
long and fondly to her face, then, laughing loudly, he bent forward and
left his red hand-print upon her cheek.
"'Tis the Rover's brand, lass, that he marks his ewes. Take her to the
cabin and use her well. Now, hearties, get her under water, and out to
our luck once more."
Within an hour the good ship _Portobello_ had settled down to her doom,
till she lay beside her murdered passengers upon the Caribbean sand,
while the pirate barque, her deck littered with plunder, was heading
northward in search of another victim.
There was a carouse that night in the cabin of _The Happy Delivery_, at
which three men drank deep. They were the captain, the quartermaster,
and Baldy Stable, the surgeon, a man who had held the first practice in
Charleston, until, misusing a patient, he fled from justice, and took
his skill over to the pirates. A bloated fat man he was, with a creased
neck and a great shining scalp, which gave him his name. Sharkey had
put for the moment all thought of the mutiny out of his head, knowing
that no animal is fierce when it is over-fed, and that whilst the
plunder of the great ship was new to them he need fear no trouble from
his crew. He gave himself up, therefore, to the wine and the riot,
shouting and roaring with his boon companions. All three were flushed
and mad, ripe for any devilment, when the thought of the woman crossed
the pirate's evil mind. He yelled to the negro steward that he should
bring her on the instant.
Inez Ramirez had now realized it all--the death of her father and
mother, and her own position in the hands of their murderers.
Yet calmness had come with the knowledge, and there was no sign of
terror in her proud, dark face as she was led into the cabin, but rather
a strange, firm set of the mouth and an exultant gleam of the eyes, like
one who sees great hopes in the future. She smiled at the pirate
captain as he rose and seized her by the waist.
"'Fore God! this is a lass of spirit," cried Sharkey, passing his arm
round her. "She was born to be a Rover's bride. Come, my bird, and
drink to our better friendship."
"Article Six!" hiccoughed the doctor. "All _bona robas_ in common."
"Aye! we hold you to that, Captain Sharkey," said Galloway. "It is so
writ in Article Six."
"I will cut the man into ounces who comes betwixt us!" cried Sharkey, as
he turned his fish-like eyes from one to the other. "Nay, lass, the man
is not born that will take you from John Sharkey. Sit here upon my
knee, and place your arm round me so. Sink me, if she has not learned
to love me at sight! Tell me, my pretty, why you were so mishandled and
laid in the bilboes aboard yonder craft?"
The woman shook her head and smiled. "No Inglese--no Inglese," she
lisped. She had drunk off the bumper of wine which Sharkey held to her,
and her dark eyes gleamed more brightly than before. Sitting on
Sharkey's knee, her arm encircled his neck, and her hand toyed with his
hair, his ear, his cheek. Even the strange quartermaster and the
hardened surgeon felt a horror as they watched her, but Sharkey laughed
in his joy. "Curse me, if she is not a lass of metal!" he cried,
as he pressed her to him and kissed her unresisting lips.
But a strange intent look of interest had come into the surgeon's eyes
as he watched her, and his face set rigidly, as if a fearsome thought
had entered his mind. There stole a grey pallor over his bull face,
mottling all the red of the tropics and the flush of the wine.
"Look at her hand, Captain Sharkey!" he cried. "For the Lord's sake,
look at her hand!"
Sharkey stared down at the hand which had fondled him. It was of a
strange dead pallor, with a yellow shiny web betwixt the fingers.
All over it was a white fluffy dust, like the flour of a new-baked loaf.
It lay thick on Sharkey's neck and cheek. With a cry of disgust he
flung the woman from his lap; but in an instant, with a wild-cat bound,
and a scream of triumphant malice, she had sprung at the surgeon, who
vanished yelling under the table. One of her clawing hands grasped
Galloway by the beard, but he tore himself away, and snatching a pike,
held her off from him as she gibbered and mowed with the blazing eyes of
The black steward had run in on the sudden turmoil, and among them they
forced the mad creature back into a cabin and turned the key upon her.
Then the three sank panting into their chairs, and looked with eyes of
horror upon each other. The same word was in the mind of each, but
Galloway was the first to speak it.
"A leper!" he cried. "She has us all, curse her!"
"Not me," said the surgeon; "she never laid her finger on me."
"For that matter," cried Galloway, "it was but my beard that she
touched. I will have every hair of it off before morning."
"Dolts that we were!" the surgeon shouted, beating his head with his
hand. "Tainted or no, we shall never know a moment's peace till the
year is up and the time of danger past. 'Fore God, that merchant
skipper has left his mark on us, and pretty fools we were to think that
such a maid would be quarantined for the cause he gave. It is easy to
see now that her corruption broke forth in the journey, and that save
throwing her over they had no choice but to board her up until they
should come to some port with a lazarette."
Sharkey had sat leaning back in his chair with a ghastly face while he
listened to the surgeon's words. He mopped himself with his red
handkerchief, and wiped away the fatal dust with which he was smeared.
"What of me?" he croaked. "What say you, Baldy Stable? Is there a
chance for me? Curse you for a villain! speak out, or I will drub you
within an inch of your life, and that inch also! Is there a chance for
me, I say?"
But the surgeon shook his head. "Captain Sharkey," said he, "it would
be an ill deed to speak you false. The taint is on you. No man on
whom the leper scales have rested is ever clean again."
Sharkey's head fell forward on his chest, and he sat motionless,
stricken by this great and sudden horror, looking with his smouldering
eyes into his fearsome future. Softly the mate and the surgeon rose
from their places, and stealing out from the poisoned air of the cabin,
came forth into the freshness of the early dawn, with the soft,
scent-laden breeze in their faces and the first red feathers of cloud
catching the earliest gleam of the rising sun as it shot its golden rays
over the palm-clad ridges of distant Hispaniola.
That morning a second council of the Rovers was held at the base of the
mainmast, and a deputation chosen to see the captain. They were
approaching the after-cabins when Sharkey came forth, the old devil in
his eyes, and his bandolier with a pair of pistols over his shoulder.
"Sink you all for villains!" he cried, "Would you dare to cross my
hawse? Stand out, Sweetlocks, and I will lay you open! Here, Galloway,
Martin, Foley, stand by me and lash the dogs to their kennel!"
But his officers had deserted him, and there was none to come to his
aid. There was a rush of the pirates. One was shot through the body,
but an instant afterwards Sharkey had been seized and was triced to his
own mainmast. His filmy eyes looked round from face to face, and there
was none who felt the happier for having met them.
"Captain Sharkey," said Sweetlocks, "you have mishandled many of us, and
you have now pistolled John Masters, besides killing Bartholomew, the
carpenter, by braining him with a bucket. All this might have been
forgiven you, in that you have been our leader for years, and that we
have signed articles to serve under you while the voyage lasts. But now
we have heard of this bona roba on board, and we know that you are
poisoned to the marrow, and that while you rot there will be no safety
for any of us, but that we shall all be turned into filth and
corruption. Therefore, John Sharkey, we Rovers of _The Happy Delivery_,
in council assembled, have decreed that while there be yet time, before
the plague spreads, you shall be set adrift in a boat to find such
a fate as Fortune may be pleased to send you."
John Sharkey said nothing, but slowly circling his head, he cursed them
all with his baleful gaze. The ship's dinghy had been lowered, and he
with his hands still tied, was dropped into it on the bight of a rope.
"Cast her off!" cried Sweetlocks.
"Nay, hold hard a moment, Master Sweetlocks!" shouted one of the crew.
"What of the wench? Is she to bide aboard and poison us all?"
"Send her off with her mate!" cried another, and the Rovers roared their
approval. Driven forth at the end of pikes, the girl was pushed towards
the boat. With all the spirit of Spain in her rotting body she flashed
triumphant glances on her captors. "Perros! Perros Ingleses! Lepero,
Lepero!" she cried in exultation, as they thrust her over into the
"Good luck, captain! God speed you on your honeymoon!" cried a chorus
of mocking voices, as the painter was unloosed, and _The Happy
Delivery_, running full before the trade-wind, left the little boat
astern, a tiny dot upon the vast expanse of the lonely sea.
Extract from the log of H.M. fifty-gun ship _Hecate_ in her cruise off
the American Main.
"Jan. 26, 1721.--This day, the junk having become unfit for food, and
five of the crew down with scurvy, I ordered that we send two boats
ashore at the nor'-western point of Hispaniola, to seek for fresh
fruit, and perchance shoot some of the wild oxen with which the island
"7 p.m.--The boats have returned with good store of green stuff and two
bullocks. Mr. Woodruff, the master, reports that near the landing-place
at the edge of the forest was found the skeleton of a woman, clad in
European dress, of such sort as to show that she may have been a person
of quality. Her head had been crushed by a great stone which lay beside
her. Hard by was a grass hut, and signs that a man had dwelt therein
for some time, as was shown by charred wood, bones and other traces.
There is a rumour upon the coast that Sharkey, the bloody pirate, was
marooned in these parts last year, but whether he has made his way into
the interior, or whether he has been picked up by some craft, there is
no means of knowing. If he be once again afloat, then I pray that God
send him under our guns."
THE MARRIAGE OF THE BRIGADIER
I am speaking, my friends, of days which are long gone by, when I had
scarcely begun to build up that fame which has made my name so familiar.
Among the thirty officers of the Hussars of Conflans there was nothing
to indicate that I was superior in any way to the others. I can well
imagine how surprised they would all have been had they realized that
young Lieutenant Etienne Gerard was destined for so glorious a career,
and would live to command a brigade and to receive from the Emperor's
own hands that cross which I can show you any time that you do me the
honour to visit me in my little cottage. You know, do you not, the
little white-washed cottage with the vine in front, in the field beside
People have said of me that I have never known what fear was. No doubt
you have heard them say it. For many years, out of a foolish pride, I
have let the saying pass. And yet now, in my old age, I can afford to
be honest. The brave man dares to be frank. It is only the coward who
is afraid to make admissions. So I tell you now that I also am human;
that I also have felt my skin grow cold, and my hair rise; that I have
even known what it was to run away until my limbs could scarce support
me. It shocks you to hear it? Well, some day it may comfort you, when
your own courage has reached its limits, to know that even Etienne
Gerard has known what it was to be afraid. I will tell you now how this
experience befell me, and also how it brought me a wife.
For the moment France was at peace, and we, the Hussars of Conflans,
were in camp all that summer a few miles from the town of Les Andelys in
Normandy. It is not a very gay place by itself, but we of the Light
Cavalry make all places gay which we visit, and so we passed our time
very pleasantly. Many years and many scenes have dulled my remembrance,
but still the name Les Andelys brings back to me a huge ruined castle,
great orchards of apple trees, and above all, a vision of the lovely
maidens of Normandy. They were the very finest of their sex, as we may
be said to have been of ours, and so we were well met in that sweet
sunlit summer. Ah, the youth, the beauty, the valour, and then the
dull, dead years that blurr them all! There are times when the glorious
past weighs on my heart like lead. No, sir, no wine can wash away such
thoughts, for they are of the spirit and the soul. It is only the
gross body which responds to wine, but if you offer it for that, then I
will not refuse it.
Now of all the maidens who dwelt in those parts there was one who was so
superior in beauty and in charm that she seemed to be very specially
marked out for me. Her name was Marie Ravon, and her people, the
Ravons, were of yeoman stock who had farmed their own land in those
parts since the days when Duke William went to England. If I close my
eyes now, I see her as she then was, her cheeks, dusky like moss roses;
her hazel eyes, so gentle and yet so full of spirit; her hair of that
deepest black which goes most fitly with poetry and with passion; her
finger as supple as a young birch tree in the wind. Ah! how she swayed
away from me when first I laid my arm round it, for she was full of fire
and pride, ever evading, ever resisting, fighting to the last that her
surrender might be the more sweet. Out of a hundred and forty women--
But who can compare where all are so near perfection!
You will wonder why it should be, if this maiden was so beautiful, that
I should be left without a rival. There was a very good reason, my
friends, for I so arranged it that my rivals were in the hospital.
There was Hippolyte Lesoeur, he visited them for two Sundays; but if he
lives, I dare swear that he still limps from the bullet which lodges in
his knee. Poor Victor also--up to his death at Austerlitz he wore my
mark. Soon it was understood that if I could not win Marie, I should at
least have a fair field in which to try. It was said in our camp that
it was safer to charge a square of unbroken infantry than to be seen too
often at the farmhouse of the Ravons.
Now let me be precise for a moment. Did I wish to marry Marie? Ah! my
friends, marriage is not for a Hussar. Today he is in Normandy;
tomorrow he is in the hills of Spain or in the bogs of Poland.
What shall he do with a wife? Would it be fair to either of them?
Can it be right that his courage should be blunted by the thought of the
despair which his death would bring, or is it reasonable that she should
be left fearing lest every post should bring her the news of irreparable
misfortune? A Hussar can but warm himself at the fire, and then hurry
onwards, too happy if he can but pass another fire from which some
comfort may come. And Marie, did she wish to marry me? She knew well
that when our silver trumpets blew the march it would be over the grave
of our married life. Better far to hold fast to her own people and
her own soil, where she and her husband could dwell for ever amid the
rich orchards and within sight of the great Castle of Le Galliard.
Let her remember her Hussar in her dreams, but let her waking days be
spent in the world as she finds it. Meanwhile we pushed such thoughts
from our minds, and gave ourselves up to a sweet companionship, each day
complete in itself with never a thought of the morrow. It is true that
there were times when her father, a stout old gentleman with a face like
one of his own apples, and her mother, a thin anxious woman of the
country, gave me hints that they would wish to be clearer as to my
intentions; but in their hearts they each knew well that Etienne Gerard
was a man of honour, and that their daughter was very safe as well as
very happy in his keeping. So the matter stood until the night of which
It was the Sunday evening, and I had ridden over from the camp.
There were several of our fellows who were visiting the village, and we
all left our horses at the inn. Thence I had to walk to the Ravons,
which was only separated by a single very large field extending to the
very door. I was about to start when the landlord ran after me.
"Excuse me, lieutenant," said he, "it is farther by the road, and yet I
should advise you to take it."
"It is a mile or more out of my way."
"I know it. But I think that it would be wiser," and he smiled as he
"And why?" I asked.
"Because," said he, "the English bull is loose in the field."
If it were not for that odious smile, I might have considered it.
But to hold a danger over me and then to smile in such a fashion was
more than my proud temper could bear. I indicated by a gesture
what I thought of the English bull.
"I will go by the shortest way," said I.
I had no sooner set my foot in the field than I felt that my spirit had
betrayed me into rashness. It was a very large square field, and as I
came further out into it I felt like the cockle-shell which ventures
out from land and sees no port save that from which it has issued.
There was a wall on every side of the field save that from which I had
come. In front of me was the farmhouse of the Ravons, with wall
extending to right and left. A back door opened upon the field, and
there were several windows, but all were barred, as is usual in the
Norman farms. I pushed on rapidly to the door, as being the only
harbour of safety, walking with dignity as befits a soldier, and yet
with such speed as I could summon. From the waist upwards I was
unconcerned and even debonnaire. Below, I was swift and alert.
I had nearly reached the middle of the field when I perceived the
creature. He was rooting about with his fore feet under a large beech
tree which lay upon my right hand. I did not turn my head, nor would
the bystander have detected that I took notice of him, but my eye was
watching him with anxiety. It may have been that he was in a contented
mood, or it may have been that he was arrested by the nonchalance of my
bearing, but he made no movement in my direction. Reassured, I fixed my
eyes upon the open window of Marie's bed-chamber, which was immediately
over the back door, in the hope that those dear, tender, dark eyes, were
surveying me from behind the curtains. I flourished my little cane,
loitered to pick a primrose, and sang one of our devil-may-care choruses
in order to insult this English beast, and to show my love how little
I cared for danger when it stood between her and me. The creature was
abashed by my fearlessness, and so, pushing open the back door, I was
able to enter the farmhouse in safety and in honour.
And was it not worth the danger? Had all the bulls of Castile guarded
the entrance, would it not still have been worth it? Ah, the hours, the
sunny hours, which can never come back, when our youthful feet seemed
scarce to touch the ground, and we lived in a sweet dreamland of our own
creation! She honoured my courage, and she loved me for it. As she lay
with her flushed cheek pillowed against the silk of my dolman, looking
up at me with her wondering eyes, shining with love and admiration,
she marvelled at the stories in which I gave her some pictures of the
true character of her lover.
"Has your heart never failed you? Have you never known the feeling of
fear?" she asked. I laughed at such a thought. What place could fear
have in the mind of a Hussar? Young as I was, I had given my proofs.
I told her how I had led my squadron into a square of Hungarian
Grenadiers. She shuddered as she embraced me. I told her also how I
had swum my horse over the Danube at night with a message for Davoust.
To be frank, it was not the Danube, nor was it so deep that I was
compelled to swim, but when one is twenty and in love, one tells a story
as best one can. Many such stories I told her, while her dear eyes grew
more and more amazed.
"Never in my dreams, Etienne," said she, "did I believe that so brave a
man existed. Lucky France that has such a soldier, lucky Marie that has
such a lover!"
You can think how I flung myself at her feet as I murmured that I was
the luckiest of all--I who had found some one who could appreciate and
It was a charming relationship, too infinitely sweet and delicate for
the interference of coarser minds. But you can understand that the
parents imagined that they also had their duty to do. I played dominoes
with the old man, and I wound wool for his wife, and yet they could not
be led to believe that it was from love of them that I came thrice a
week to their farm. For some time an explanation was inevitable, and
that night it came. Marie, in delightful mutiny, was packed off to her
room, and I faced the old people in the parlour as they plied me with
questions upon my prospects and my intentions.
"One way or the other," they said, in their blunt country fashion.
"Let us hear that you are betrothed to Marie, or let us never see your
I spoke of my honour, my hopes, and my future, but they remained
immovable upon the present. I pleaded my career, but they in their
selfish way would think of nothing but their daughter. It was indeed
a difficult position in which I found myself. On the one hand, I could
not forsake my Marie; on the other, what would a young Hussar do with
marriage? At last, hard pressed, I begged them to leave the matter, if
it were only for a day.
"I will see Marie," said I, "I will see her without delay. It is her
heart and her happiness which come before all else."
They were not satisfied, these grumbling old people, but they could say
no more. They bade me a short good night and I departed, full of
perplexity, for the inn. I came out by the same door which I had
entered, and I heard them lock and bar it behind me.
I walked across the field lost in thought, with my mind entirely filled
with the arguments of the old people and the skilful replies which I had
made to them. What should I do? I had promised to see Marie without
delay. What should I say to her when I did see her? Would I surrender
to her beauty and turn my back upon my profession? If Etienne Gerard's
sword were turned to a scythe, then indeed it was a bad day for the
Emperor and France. Or should I harden my heart and turn away from
Marie? Or was it not possible that all might be reconciled; that I
might be a happy husband in Normandy but a brave soldier elsewhere?
All these thoughts were buzzing in my head, when a sudden noise made me
look up. The moon had come from behind a cloud, and there was the bull
He had seemed a large animal beneath the beech tree, but now he appeared
enormous. He was black in colour. His head was held down, and the moon
shone upon two menacing and bloodshot eyes. His tail switched swiftly
from side to side, and his fore feet dug into the earth. A more
horrible-looking monster was never seen in a nightmare. He was
moving slowly and stealthily in my direction.
I glanced behind me, and I found that in my distraction I had come a
very long way from the edge of the field. I was more than half-way
across it. My nearest refuge was the inn, but the bull was between me
and it. Perhaps if the creature understood how little I feared him, he
would make way for me. I shrugged my shoulders and made a gesture of
contempt. I even whistled. The creature thought I called it, for he
approached with alacrity. I kept my face boldly towards him, but I
walked swiftly backwards. When one is young and active, one can almost
run backwards and yet keep a brave and smiling face to the enemy. As I
ran I menaced the animal with my cane. Perhaps it would have been wiser
had I restrained my spirit. He regarded it as a challenge--which,
indeed, was the last thing in my mind. It was a misunderstanding, but a
fatal one. With a snort he raised his tail and charged.
Have you ever seen a bull charge, my friends? It is a strange sight.
You think, perhaps, that he trots, or even that he gallops. No, it is
worse than this. It is a succession of bounds by which he advances,
each more menacing than the last. I have no fear of anything which man
can do. When I deal with man, I feel that the nobility of my own
attitude, the gallant ease with which I face him, will in itself go far
to disarm him. What he can do, I can do, so why should I fear him?
But when it is a ton of enraged beef with which you contend, it is
another matter. You cannot hope to argue, to soften, to conciliate.
There is no resistance possible. My proud assurance was all wasted upon
the creature. In an instant my ready wit had weighed every possible
course, and had determined that no one, not the Emperor himself, could
hold his ground. There was but one course--to fly.
But one may fly in many ways. One may fly with dignity or one may fly
in panic. I fled, I trust, like a soldier. My bearing was superb
though my legs moved rapidly. My whole appearance was a protest against
the position in which I was placed. I smiled as I ran--the bitter smile
of the brave man who mocks his own fate. Had all my comrades surrounded
the field, they could not have thought the less of me when they saw the
disdain with which I avoided the bull.
But here it is that I must make my confession. When once flight
commences, though it be ever so soldierly, panic follows hard upon it.
Was it not so with the Guard at Waterloo? So it was that night with
Etienne Gerard. After all, there was no one to note my bearing--no one
save this accursed bull. If for a minute I forgot my dignity, who would
be the wiser? Every moment the thunder of the hoofs and the horrible
snorts of the monster drew nearer to my heels. Horror filled me at the
thought of so ignoble a death. The brutal rage of the creature sent a
chill to my heart. In an instant everything was forgotten. There were
in the world but two creatures, the bull and I--he trying to kill
me, I striving to escape. I put down my head and I ran--I ran for my
It was for the house of the Ravons that I raced. But even as I reached
it, it flashed into my mind that there was no refuge for me there.
The door was locked. The lower windows were barred. The wall was high
upon either side. And the bull was nearer me with every stride.
But oh, my friends, it is at that supreme moment of danger that Etienne
Gerard has ever risen to his height. There was one path to safety, and
in an instant I had chosen it.
I have said that the window of Marie's bedroom was above the door.
The curtains were closed, but the folding sides were thrown open, and a
lamp burned in the room. Young and active, I felt that I could spring
high enough to reach the edge of the window sill and to draw myself out
of danger. The monster was within touch of me as I sprang. Had I been
unaided, I should have done what I had planned. But even as in a superb
effort I rose from the earth he butted me into the air. I shot through
the curtains as if I had been fired from a gun, and I dropped upon my
hands and knees in the centre of the room.
There was, as it appears, a bed in the window, but I had passed over it
in safety. As I staggered to my feet I turned towards it in
consternation, but it was empty. My Marie sat in a low chair in the
corner of the room, and her flushed cheeks showed that she had been
weeping. No doubt her parents had given her some account of what had
passed between us. She was too amazed to move, and could only sit
looking at me with her mouth open.
"Etienne!" she gasped. "Etienne!"
In an instant I was as full of resource as ever. There was but one
course for a gentleman, and I took it.
"Marie," I cried, "forgive, oh forgive the abruptness of my return!
Marie, I have seen your parents tonight. I could not return to the camp
without asking you whether you will make me for ever happy by promising
to be my wife?"
It was long before she could speak, so great was her amazement.
Then every emotion was swept away in the one great flood of her
"Oh, Etienne! my wonderful Etienne!" she cried, her arms round my neck.
"Was ever such love! Was ever such a man! As you stand there, white
and trembling with passion, you seem to me the very hero of my dreams.
How hard you breathe, my love, and what a spring it must have been which
brought you to my arms! At the instant that you came, I heard the tramp
of your war-horse without."
There was nothing more to explain, and when one is newly betrothed, one
finds other uses for one's lips. But there was a scurry in the passage
and a pounding at the panels. At the crash of my arrival the old folk
had rushed to the cellar to see if the great cider cask had toppled off
the trestles, but now they were back and eager for admittance. I flung
open the door, and stood with Marie's hand in mine.
"Behold your son!" I said.
Ah, the joy which I had brought to that humble household! It warms my
heart still when I think of it. It did not seem too strange to them
that I should fly in through the window, for who should be a hot-headed
suitor if it is not a gallant Hussar? And if the door be locked, then
what way is there but the window? Once more we assembled all four in
the parlour, while the cobwebbed bottle was brought up and the ancient
glories of the House of Ravon were unrolled before me. Once more I see
the heavy-raftered room, the two old smiling faces, the golden circle of
the lamp-light, and she, my Marie, the bride of my youth, won so
strangely, and kept for so short a time.
It was late when we parted. The old man came with me into the hall.
"You can go by the front door or the back," said he. "The back way is
"I think that I will take the front way," I answered. "It may be a bit
longer, but it will give me the more time to think of Marie."
THE LORD OF FALCONBRIDGE
A LEGEND OF THE RING
Tom Cribb, Champion of England, having finished his active career by his
two famous battles with the terrible Molineux, had settled down into the
public house which was known as the Union Arms, at the corner of Panton
Street in the Haymarket. Behind the bar of this hostelry there was a
green baize door which opened into a large, red-papered parlour, adorned
by many sporting prints and by the numerous cups and belts which were
the treasured trophies of the famous prize-fighter's victorious career.
In this snuggery it was the custom of the Corinthians of the day to
assemble in order to discuss, over Tom Cribb's excellent wines, the
matches of the past, to await the news of the present, and to arrange
new ones for the future. Hither also came his brother pugilists,
especially such as were in poverty or distress, for the Champion's
generosity was proverbial, and no man of his own trade was ever turned
from his door if cheering words or a full meal could mend his condition.
On the morning in question--August 25, 1818--there were but two men in
this famous snuggery. One was Cribb himself--all run to flesh since the
time seven years before, when, training for his last fight, he had done
his forty miles a day with Captain Barclay over the Highland roads.
Broad and deep, as well as tall, he was a little short of twenty stone
in weight, but his heavy, strong face and lion eyes showed that the
spirit of the prize-fighter was not yet altogether overgrown by the fat
of the publican. Though it was not eleven o'clock, a great tankard of
bitter ale stood upon the table before him, and he was busy cutting up a
plug of black tobacco and rubbing the slices into powder between his
horny fingers. For all his record of desperate battles, he looked what
he was--a good-hearted, respectable householder, law-abiding and kindly,
a happy and prosperous man.
His companion, however, was by no means in the same easy circumstances,
and his countenance wore a very different expression. He was a tall and
well-formed man, some fifteen years younger than the Champion, and
recalling in the masterful pose of his face and in the fine spread of
his shoulders something of the manly beauty which had distinguished
Cribb at his prime. No one looking at his countenance could fail to see
that he was a fighting man by profession, and any judge of the fancy,
considering his six feet in height, his thirteen stone solid muscle,
and his beautifully graceful build, would admit that he had started his
career with advantages which, if they were only backed by the driving
power of a stout heart, must carry him far. Tom Winter, or Spring--as
he chose to call himself--had indeed come up from his Herefordshire home
with a fine country record of local successes, which had been enhanced
by two victories gained over formidable London heavy-weights.
Three weeks before, however, he had been defeated by the famous Painter,
and the set-back weighed heavily upon the young man's spirit.
"Cheer up, lad," said the Champion, glancing across from under his
tufted eyebrows at the disconsolate face of his companion. "Indeed,
Tom, you take it overhard."
The young man groaned, but made no reply. "Others have been beat before
you and lived to be Champions of England. Here I sit with that very
title. Was I not beat down Broadwater way by George Nicholls in 1805?
What then? I fought on, and here I am. When the big Black came from
America it was not George Nicholls they sent for. I say to you--fight
on, and by George, I'll see you in my own shoes yet!"
Tom Spring shook his head. "Never, if I have to fight you to get there,
"I can't keep it for ever, Tom. It's beyond all reason. I'm going to
lay it down before all London at the Fives Courts next year, and it's to
you that I want to hand it. I couldn't train down to it now, lad.
My day's done."
"Well, Dad, I'll never bid for it till you choose to stand aside.
After that, it is as it may be."
"Well, have a rest, Tom; wait for your chance, and, meantime, there's
always a bed and crust for you here."
Spring struck his clenched fist on his knee. "I know, Daddy! Ever since
I came up from Fownthorpe you've been as good as a father to me."
"I've an eye for a winner."
"A pretty winner! Beat in forty rounds by Ned Painter."
"You had beat him first."
"And by the Lord, I will again!"
"So you will, lad. George Nicholls would never give me another shy.
Knew too much, he did. Bought a butcher's shop in Bristol with the
money, and there he is to this day."
"Yes, I'll come back on Painter, but I haven't a shilling left.
My backers have lost faith in me. If it wasn't for you, Daddy, I'd be
in the kennel."
"Have you nothing left, Tom?"
"Not the price of a meal. I left every penny I had, and my good name as
well, in the ring at Kingston. I'm hard put to it to live unless I can
get another fight, and who's going to back me now?"
"Tut, man! the knowing ones will back you. You're the top of the list,
for all Ned Painter. But there are other ways a man may earn a bit.
There was a lady in here this morning--nothing flash, boy, a real
tip-top out-and-outer with a coronet on her coach--asking after you."
"Asking after me! A lady!" The young pugilist stood up with surprise
and a certain horror rising in his eyes. "You don't mean, Daddy--"
"I mean nothing but what is honest, my lad. You can lay to that!"
"You said I could earn a bit."
"So, perhaps, you can. Enough, anyhow, to tide you over your bad time.
There's something in the wind there. It's to do with fightin'.
She asked questions about your height, weight, and my opinion of your
prospect. You can lay that my answers did you no harm."
"She ain't making a match, surely?"
"Well, she seemed to know a tidy bit about it. She asked about George
Cooper, and Richmond the Black, and Tom Oliver, always comin' back to
you, and wantin' to know if you were not the pick of the bunch.
_And_ trustworthy. That was the other point. Could she trust you?
Lord, Tom, if you was a fightin' archangel you could hardly live up to
the character that I've given you."
A drawer looked in from the bar. "If you please, Mr. Cribb, the lady's
carriage is back again."
The Champion laid down his long clay pipe. "This way, lad," said he,
plucking his young friend by the sleeve towards the side window.
"Look there, now! Saw you ever a more slap-up carriage? See, too, the
pair of bays--two hundred guineas apiece. Coachman, too, and footman--
you'd find 'em hard to beat. There she is now, stepping out of it.
Wait here, lad, till I do the honours of my house."
Tom Cribb slipped off, and young Spring remained by the window, tapping
the glass nervously with his fingers, for he was a simple-minded country
lad with no knowledge of women, and many fears of the traps which await
the unwary in a great city. Many stories were afloat of pugilists who
had been taken up and cast aside again by wealthy ladies, even as the
gladiators were in decadent Rome. It was with some suspicion therefore,
and considerable inward trepidation, that he faced round as a tall
veiled figure swept into the room. He was much consoled, however, to
observe the bulky form of Tom Cribb immediately behind her as a proof
that the interview was not to be a private one. When the door was
closed, the lady very deliberately removed her gloves. Then with
fingers which glittered with diamonds she slowly rolled up and adjusted
her heavy veil. Finally, she turned her face upon Spring.
"Is this the man?" said she.
They stood looking at each other with mutual interest, which warmed in
both their faces into mutual admiration. What she saw was as fine a
figure of a young man as England could show, none the less attractive
for the restrained shyness of his manner and the blush which flushed his
cheeks. What he saw was a woman of thirty, tall, dark, queen-like, and
imperious, with a lovely face, every line and feature of which told of
pride and breed, a woman born to Courts, with the instinct of command
strong within her, and yet with all the softer woman's graces to temper
and conceal the firmness of her soul. Tom Spring felt as he looked at
her that he had never seen nor ever dreamed of any one so beautiful, and
yet he could not shake off the instinct which warned him to be upon his
guard. Yes, it was beautiful, this face--beautiful beyond belief.
But was it good, was it kind, was it true? There was some strange
subconscious repulsion which mingled with his admiration for her
loveliness. As to the lady's thoughts, she had already put away all
idea of the young pugilist as a man, and regarded him now with critical
eyes as a machine designed for a definite purpose.
"I am glad to meet you, Mr.--Mr. Spring," said she, looking him over
with as much deliberation as a dealer who is purchasing a horse.
"He is hardly as tall as I was given to understand, Mr. Cribb.
You said six feet, I believe?"
"So he is, ma'am, but he carries it so easy. It's only the beanstalk
that looks tall. See here, I'm six foot myself, and our heads are
level, except I've lost my fluff."
"What is the chest measurement?"
"Forty-three inches, ma'am."
"You certainly seem to be a very strong young man. And a game one, too,
Young Spring shrugged his shoulders.
"It's not for me to say, ma'am."
"I can speak for that, ma'am," said Cribb. "You read the _Sporting
Chronicle_ for three weeks ago, ma'am. You'll see how he stood up to
Ned Painter until his senses were beat out of him. I waited on him,
ma'am, and I know. I could show you my waistcoat now--that would let
you guess what punishment he can take."
The lady waved aside the illustration. "But he was beat," said she,
coldly. "The man who beat him must be the better man."
"Saving your presence, ma'am, I think not, and outside Gentleman Jackson
my judgment would stand against any in the ring. My lad here has beat
Painter once, and will again, if your ladyship could see your way to
find the battle-money."
The lady started and looked angrily at the Champion.
"Why do you call me that?"
"I beg pardon. It was just my way of speaking."
"I order you not to do it again."
"Very good, ma'am."
"I am here incognito. I bind you both upon your honours to make no
inquiry as to who I am. If I do not get your firm promise, the matter
"Very good, ma'am. I'll promise for my own part, and so, I am sure,
will Spring. But if I may be so bold, I can't help my drawers and
potmen talking with your servants."
"The coachman and footman know just as much about me as you do. But my
time is limited, so I must get to business. I think, Mr. Spring, that
you are in want of something to do at present?"
"That is so, ma'am."
"I understand from Mr. Cribb that you are prepared to fight any one at
"Anything on two legs," cried the Champion. "Who did you wish me to
fight?" asked the young pugilist.
"That cannot concern you. If you are really ready to fight any one,
then the particular name can be of no importance. I have my reasons for
"Very good, ma'am."
"You have been only a few weeks out of training. How long would it take
you to get back to your best?"
"Three weeks or a month."
"Well, then, I will pay your training expenses and two pounds a week
over. Here are five pounds as a guarantee. You will fight when I
consider that you are ready, and that the circumstances are favourable.
If you win your fight, you shall have fifty pounds. Are you satisfied
with the terms?"
"Very handsome, ma'am, I'm sure."
"And remember, Mr. Spring, I choose you, not because you are the best
man--for there are two opinions about that--but because I am given to
understand that you are a decent man whom I can trust. The terms of
this match are to be secret."
"I understand that. I'll say nothing."
"It is a private match. Nothing more. You will begin your training
"Very good, ma'am."
"I will ask Mr. Cribb to train you."
"I'll do that, ma'am, with pleasure. But, by your leave, does he have
anything if he loses?"
A spasm of emotion passed over the woman's face and her hands clenched
white with passion.
"If he loses, not a penny, not a penny!" she cried. "He must not, shall
"Well, ma'am," said Spring, "I've never heard of any such match.
But it's true that I am down at heel, and beggars can't be choosers.
I'll do just what you say. I'll train till you give the word, and then
I'll fight where you tell me. I hope you'll make it a large ring."
"Yes," said she; "it will be a large ring."
"And how far from London?"
"Within a hundred miles. Have you anything else to say? My time is
"I'd like to ask, ma'am," said the Champion, earnestly, "whether I can
act as the lad's second when the time comes. I've waited on him the
last two fights. Can I give him a knee?"
"No," said the woman, sharply. Without another word she turned and was
gone, shutting the door behind her. A few moments later the trim
carriage flashed past the window, turned down the crowded Haymarket, and
was engulfed in the traffic.
The two men looked at each other in silence.
"Well, blow my dicky, if this don't beat cockfightin'!" cried Tom Cribb
at last. "Anyhow, there's the fiver, lad. But it's a rum go, and no
mistake about it."
After due consultation, it was agreed that Tom Spring should go into
training at the Castle Inn on Hampstead Heath, so that Cribb could drive
over and watch him. Thither Spring went on the day after the interview
with his patroness, and he set to work at once with drugs, dumb-bells,
and breathers on the common to get himself into condition. It was hard,
however, to take the matter seriously, and his good-natured trainer
found the same difficulty.
"It's the baccy I miss, Daddy," said the young pugilist, as they sat
together on the afternoon of the third day. "Surely there can't be any
harm in my havin' a pipe?"
"Well, well, lad, it's against my conscience, but here's my box and
there's a yard o' clay," said the Champion. "My word, I don't know what
Captain Barclay of Ury would have said if he had seen a man smoke when
he was in trainin'! He was the man to work you! He had me down from
sixteen to thirteen the second time I fought the Black."
Spring had lit his pipe and was leaning back amid a haze of blue smoke.
"It was easy for you, Daddy, to keep strict trainin' when you knew what
was before you. You had your date and your place and your man.
You knew that in a month you would jump the ropes with ten thousand folk
round you, and carrying maybe a hundred thousand in bets. You knew also
the man you had to meet, and you wouldn't give him the better of you.
But it's all different with me. For all I know, this is just a woman's
whim, and will end in nothing. If I was sure it was serious, I'd break
this pipe before I would smoke it."
Tom Cribb scratched his head in puzzlement.
"I can make nothing of it, lad, 'cept that her money is good. Come to
think of it, how many men on the list could stand up to you for half an
hour? It can't be Stringer, 'cause you've beat him. Then there's
Cooper; but he's up Newcastle way. It can't be him. There's Richmond;
but you wouldn't need to take your coat off to beat him. There's the
Gasman; but he's not twelve stone. And there's Bill Neat of Bristol.
That's it, lad. The lady has taken into her head to put you up against
either the Gasman or Bill Neat."
"But why not say so? I'd train hard for the Gasman and harder for Bill
Neat, but I'm blowed if I can train, with any heart when I'm fightin'
nobody in particular and everybody in general, same as now."
There was a sudden interruption to the speculations of the two
prize-fighters. The door opened and the lady entered. As her eyes fell
upon the two men her dark, handsome face flushed with anger, and
she gazed at them silently with an expression of contempt which brought
them both to their feet with hangdog faces. There they stood, their
long, reeking pipes in their hands, shuffling and downcast, like two
great rough mastiffs before an angry mistress.
"So!" said she, stamping her foot furiously. "And this is training!"
"I'm sure we're very sorry, ma'am," said the abashed Champion.
"I didn't think--I never for one moment supposed--"
"That I would come myself to see if you were taking my money on false
pretences? No, I dare say not. You fool!" she blazed, turning suddenly
upon Tom Spring. "You'll be beat. That will be the end of it."
The young man looked up with an angry face.
"I'll trouble you not to call me names, ma'am. I've my self-respect,
the same as you. I'll allow that I shouldn't have smoked when I was in
trainin'. But I was saying to Tom Cribb here, just before you came in,
that if you would give over treatin' us as if we were children, and if
you would tell us just who it is you want me to fight, and when, and
where, it would be a deal easier for me to take myself in hand."
"It's true, ma'am," said the Champion. "I know it must be either the
Gasman or Bill Neat. There's no one else. So give me the office, and
I'll promise to have him as fit as a trout on the day."
The lady laughed contemptuously.
"Do you think," said she, "that no one can fight save those who make a
living by it?"
"By George, it's an amateur!" cried Cribb, in amazement. "But you don't
surely ask Tom Spring to train for three weeks to meet a Corinthian?"
"I will say nothing more of who it is. It is no business of yours," the
lady answered fiercely. "All I _do_ say is, that if you do not train I
will cast you aside and take some one who will. Do not think you can
fool me because I am a woman. I have learned the points of the game as
well as any man."
"I saw that the very first word you spoke," said Cribb.
"Then don't forget it. I will not warn you again. If I have occasion
to find fault I shall choose another man."
"And you won't tell me who I am to fight?"
"Not a word. But you can take it from me that at your very best it will
take you, or any man in England, all your time to master him. Now, get
back this instant to your work, and never let me find you shirking it
again." With imperious eyes she looked the two strong men down, and
then, turning on her heel, she swept out of the room.
The Champion whistled as the door closed behind her, and mopped his brow
with his red bandanna handkerchief as he looked across at his abashed
companion. "My word, lad," said he, "it's earnest from this day on."
"Yes," said Tom Spring, solemnly, "it's earnest from this day on."
In the course of the next fortnight the lady made several surprise
visits to see that her champion was being properly prepared for the
contest which lay before him. At the most unexpected moments she would
burst into the training quarters, but never again had she to complain of
any slackness upon his part or that of his trainer. With long bouts of
the gloves, with thirty-mile walks, with mile runs at the back of a
mailcart with a bit of blood between the shafts, with interminable
series of jumps with a skipping-rope, he was sweated down until his
trainer was able to proudly proclaim that "the last ounce of tallow is
off him and he is ready to fight for his life." Only once was the lady
accompanied by any one upon these visits of inspection. Upon this
occasion a tall young man was her companion. He was graceful in
figure, aristocratic in his bearing, and would have been strikingly
handsome had it not been for some accident which had shattered his nose
and broken all the symmetry of his features. He stood in silence with
moody eyes and folded arms, looking at the splendid torso of the
prize-fighter as, stripped to the waist, he worked with his dumbbells.
"Don't you think he will do?" said the lady.
The young swell shrugged his shoulders. "I don't like it, _cara mia_.
I can't pretend that I like it."
"You must like it, George. I have set my very heart on it."
"It is not English, you know. Lucrezia Borgia and Mediaeval Italy.
Woman's love and woman's hatred are always the same, but this particular
manifestation of it seems to me out of place in nineteenth-century
"Is not a lesson needed?"
"Yes, yes; but one would think there were other ways."
"You tried another way. What did you get out of that?"
The young man smiled rather grimly, as he turned up his cuff and looked
at a puckered hole in his wrist.
"Not much, certainly," said he.
"You've tried and failed."
"Yes, I must admit it."
"What else is there? The law?"
"Good gracious, no!"
"Then it is my turn, George, and I won't be balked."
"I don't think any one is capable of balking you, _cara mia_. Certainly
I, for one, should never dream of trying. But I don't feel as if I
"I never asked you to."
"No, you certainly never did. You are perfectly capable of doing it
alone. I think, with your leave, if you have quite done with your
prize-fighter, we will drive back to London. I would not for the
world miss Goldoni in the Opera."
So they drifted away; he, frivolous and dilettante, she with her face as
set as Fate, leaving the fighting men to their business.
And now the day came when Cribb was able to announce to his employer
that his man was as fit as science could make him.
"I can do no more, ma'am. He's fit to fight for a kingdom. Another
week would see him stale."
The lady looked Spring over with the eye of a connoisseur.
"I think he does you credit," she said at last. "Today is Tuesday.
He will fight the day after tomorrow."
"Very good, ma'am. Where shall he go?"
"I will tell you exactly, and you will please take careful note of all
that I say. You, Mr. Cribb, will take your man down to the Golden Cross
Inn at Charing Cross by nine o'clock on Wednesday morning. He will take
the Brighton coach as far as Tunbridge Wells, where he will alight at
the Royal Oak Arms. There he will take such refreshment as you advise
before a fight. He will wait at the Royal Oak Arms until he receives a
message by word, or by letter, brought him by a groom in a mulberry
livery. This message will give him his final instructions."
"And I am not to come?"
"No," said the lady.
"But surely, ma'am," he pleaded, "I may come as far as Tunbridge Wells?
It's hard on a man to train a cove for a fight and then to leave him."
"It can't be helped. You are too well known. Your arrival would spread
all over the town, and my plans might suffer. It is quite out of the
question that you should come."
"Well, I'll do what you tell me, but it's main hard."
"I suppose," said Spring, "you would have me bring my fightin' shorts
and my spiked shoes?"
"No; you will kindly bring nothing whatever which may point to your
trade. I would have you wear just those clothes in which I saw you
first, such clothes as any mechanic or artisan might be expected to
Tom Cribb's blank face had assumed an expression of absolute despair.
"No second, no clothes, no shoes--it don't seem regular. I give you my
word, ma'am, I feel ashamed to be mixed up in such a fight. I don't
know as you can call the thing a fight where there is no second.
It's just a scramble--nothing more. I've gone too far to wash my hands
of it now, but I wish I had never touched it."
In spite of all professional misgivings on the part of the Champion and
his pupil, the imperious will of the woman prevailed, and everything was
carried out exactly as she had directed. At nine o'clock Tom Spring
found himself upon the box-seat of the Brighton coach, and waved his
hand in goodbye to burly Tom Cribb, who stood, the admired of a ring
of waiters and ostlers, upon the doorstep of the Golden Cross. It was
in the pleasant season when summer is mellowing into autumn, and the
first golden patches are seen amid the beeches and the ferns. The young
country-bred lad breathed more freely when he had left the weary streets
of Southwark and Lewisham behind him, and he watched with delight the
glorious prospect as the coach, whirled along by six dapple greys,
passed by the classic grounds of Knowle, or after crossing Riverside
Hill skirted the vast expanse of the Weald of Kent. Past Tonbridge
School went the coach, and on through Southborough, until it wound down
a steep, curving road with strange outcrops of sandstone beside it, and
halted before a great hostelry, bearing the name which had been given
him in his directions. He descended, entered the coffee-room, and
ordered the underdone steak which his trainer had recommended.
Hardly had he finished it when a servant with a mulberry coat and a
peculiarly expressionless face entered the apartment.
"Beg your pardon, sir, are you Mr. Spring--Mr. Thomas Spring, of
"That is my name, young man."
"Then the instructions which I had to give you are that you wait for one
hour after your meal. After that time you will find me in a phaeton
at the door, and I will drive you in the right direction."
The young pugilist had never been daunted by any experience which had
befallen him in the ring. The rough encouragement of his backers, the
surge and shouting of the multitude, and the sight of his opponent had
always cheered his stout heart and excited him to prove himself worthy
of being the centre of such a scene. But his loneliness and uncertainty
were deadly. He flung himself down on the horse-hair couch and tried to
doze, but his mind was too restless and excited. Finally he rose, and
paced up and down the empty room. Suddenly he was aware of a great
rubicund face which surveyed him from round the angle of the door.
Its owner, seeing that he was observed, pushed forward into the room.
"I beg pardon, sir," said he, "but surely I have the honour of talking
to Mr. Thomas Spring?"
"At your service," said the young man.
"Bless me! I am vastly honoured to have you under my roof! Cordery is my
name, sir, landlord of this old-fashioned inn. I thought that my eyes
could not deceive me. I am a patron of the ring, sir, in my own humble
way, and was present at Moulsey in September last, when you beat Jack
Stringer of Rawcliffe. A very fine fight, sir, and very handsomely
fought, if I may make bold to say so. I have a right to an opinion,
sir, for there's never been a fight for many a year in Kent or Sussex
that you wouldn't find Joe Cordery at the ring-side. Ask Mr. Gregson at
the Chop-house in Holborn and he'll tell you about old Joe Cordery.
By the way, Mr. Spring, I suppose it is not business that has brought
you down into these parts? Any one can see with half an eye that you
are trained to a hair. I'd take it very kindly if you would give me the
It crossed Spring's mind that if he were frank with the landlord it was
more than likely that he would receive more information than he could
give. He was a man of his word, however, and he remembered his promise
to his employer.
"Just a quiet day in the country, Mr. Cordery. That's all."
"Dear me! I had hoped there was a mill in the wind. I've a nose for
these things, Mr. Spring, and I thought I had a whiff of it. But, of
course, you should know best. Perhaps you will drive round with me this
afternoon and view the hop-gardens--just the right time of year, sir."
Tom Spring was not very skilful in deception, and his stammering excuses
may not have been very convincing to the landlord, or finally persuaded
him that his original supposition was wrong. In the midst of the
conversation, however, the waiter entered with the news that a phaeton
was waiting at the door. The innkeeper's eyes shone with suspicion and
"I thought you said you knew no one in these parts, Mr. Spring?"
"Just one kind friend, Mr. Cordery, and he has sent his gig for me.
It's likely that I will take the night coach to town. But I'll look in
after an hour or two and have a dish of tea with you."
Outside the mulberry servant was sitting behind a fine black horse in a
phaeton, which had two seats in front and two behind. Tom Spring was
about to climb up beside him, when the servant whispered that his
directions were that he should sit behind. Then the phaeton whirled
away, while the excited landlord, more convinced than ever that there
was something in the wind, rushed into his stable-yard with shrieks to
his ostlers, and in a very few minutes was in hot pursuit, waiting at
every cross-road until he could hear tidings of a black horse and a
The phaeton meanwhile drove in the direction of Crowborough. Some miles
out it turned from the high-road into a narrow lane spanned by a tawny
arch of beech trees. Through this golden tunnel a lady was walking,
tall and graceful, her back to the phaeton. As it came abreast of her
she stood aside and looked up, while the coachman pulled up the horse.
"I trust that you are at your best," said she, looking very earnestly at
the prize-fighter. "How do you feel?"
"Pretty tidy, ma'am, I thank you."
"I will get up beside you, Johnson. We have some way to go. You will
drive through the Lower Warren, and then take the lane which skirts the
Gravel Hanger. I will tell you where to stop. Go slowly, for we are
not due for twenty minutes."
Feeling as if the whole business was some extraordinary dream, the young
pugilist passed through a network of secluded lanes, until the phaeton
drew up at a wicket gate which led into a plantation of firs, choked
with a thick undergrowth. Here the lady descended and beckoned Spring
"Wait down the lane," said she to the coachman. "We shall be some
little time. Now, Mr. Spring, will you kindly follow me? I have written
a letter which makes an appointment."
She passed swiftly through the plantation by a tortuous path, then over
a stile, and past another wood, loud with the deep chuckling of
pheasants. At the farther side was a fine rolling park, studded with
oak trees, and stretching away to a splendid Elizabethan mansion, with
balustraded terraces athwart its front. Across the park, and making for
the wood, a solitary figure was walking.
The lady gripped the prize-fighter by the wrist. "That is your man,"
They were standing under the shadow of the trees, so that he was very
visible to them, while they were out of his sight. Tom Spring looked
hard at the man, who was still some hundreds of yards away. He was a
tall, powerful fellow, clad in a blue coat with gilt buttons, which
gleamed in the sun. He had white corded breeches and riding-boots.
He walked with a vigorous step, and with every few strides he struck his
leg with a dog-whip which hung from his wrist. There was a great
suggestion of purpose and of energy in the man's appearance and bearing.
"Why, he's a gentleman!" said Spring. "Look 'ere, ma'am, this is all a
bit out of my line. I've nothing against the man, and he can mean me no
harm. What am I to do with him?"
"Fight him! Smash him! That is what you are here for."
Tom Spring turned on his heel with disgust. "I'm here to fight, ma'am,
but not to smash a man who has no thought of fighting. It's off."
"You don't like the look of him," hissed the woman. "You have met your
"That is as may be. It is no job for me."
The woman's face was white with vexation and anger.
"You fool!" she cried. "Is all to go wrong at the last minute?
There are fifty pounds here they are in this paper--would you refuse
"It's a cowardly business. I won't do it."
"Cowardly? You are giving the man two stone, and he can beat any
amateur in England."
The young pugilist felt relieved. After all, if he could fairly earn
that fifty pounds, a good deal depended upon his winning it. If he
could only be sure that this was a worthy and willing antagonist!
"How do you know he is so good?" he asked.
"I ought to know. I am his wife."
As she spoke she turned, and was gone like a flash among the bushes.
The man was quite close now, and Tom Spring's scruples weakened as he
looked at him. He was a powerful, broad-chested fellow, about thirty,
with a heavy, brutal face, great thatched eyebrows, and a hard-set
mouth. He could not be less than fifteen stone in weight, and he
carried himself like a trained athlete. As he swung along he suddenly
caught a glimpse of Spring among the trees, and he at once quickened his
pace and sprang over the stile which separated them.
"Halloa!" said he, halting a few yards from him, and staring him up and
down. "Who the devil are you, and where the devil did you come from,
and what the devil are you doing on my property?"
His manner was even more offensive than his words. It brought a flush
of anger to Spring's cheeks.
"See here, mister," said he, "civil words is cheap. You've no call to
speak to me like that."
"You infernal rascal!" cried the other. "I'll show you the way out of
that plantation with the toe of my boot. Do you dare to stand there on
my land and talk back at me?" He advanced with a menacing face and his
dog-whip half raised. "Well, are you going?" he cried, as he swung it
into the air.
Tom Spring jumped back to avoid the threatened blow.
"Go slow, mister," said he. "It's only fair that you should know where
you are. I'm Spring, the prize-fighter. Maybe you have heard my name."
"I thought you were a rascal of that breed," said the man. "I've had
the handling of one or two of you gentry before, and I never found one
that could stand up to me for five minutes. Maybe you would like to
"If you hit me with that dog-whip, mister----"
"There, then!" He gave the young man a vicious cut across the shoulder.
"Will that help you to fight?"
"I came here to fight" said Tom Spring, licking his dry lips. "You can
drop that whip, mister, for I _will_ fight. I'm a trained man and
ready. But you would have it. Don't blame me."
The man was stripping the blue coat from his broad shoulders. There was
a sprigged satin vest beneath it, and they were hung together on an
"Trained are you?" he muttered. "By the Lord, I'll train you before I
Any fears that Tom Spring may have had lest he should be taking some
unfair advantage were set at rest by the man's assured manner and by the
splendid physique, which became more apparent as he discarded a black
satin tie, with a great ruby glowing in its centre, and threw aside the
white collar which cramped his thick muscular neck. He then, very
deliberately, undid a pair of gold sleeve-links, and, rolling up his
shirt-sleeves, disclosed two hairy and muscular arms, which would have
served as a model for a sculptor.
"Come nearer the stile," said he, when he had finished. "There is more
The prize-fighter had kept pace with the preparations of his formidable
antagonist. His own hat, coat, and vest hung suspended upon a bush.
He advanced now into the open space which the other had indicated.
"Ruffianing or fighting?" asked the amateur, coolly.
"Very good," said the other. "Put up your hands, Spring. Try it out."
They were standing facing one another in a grassy ring intersected by
the path at the outlet of the wood. The insolent and overbearing look
had passed away from the amateur's face, but a grim half-smile was
on his lips and his eyes shone fiercely from under his tufted brows.
From the way in which he stood it was very clear that he was a
past-master at the game. Tom Spring, as he paced lightly to right
and left, looking for an opening, became suddenly aware that neither
with Stringer nor with the redoubtable Painter himself had he ever faced
a more business-like opponent. The amateur's left was well forward, his
guard low, his body leaning back from the haunches, and his head well
out of danger. Spring tried a light lead at the mark, and another
at the face, but in an instant his adversary was on to him with a shower
of sledge-hammer blows which it took him all his time to avoid.
He sprang back, but there was no getting away from that whirlwind of
muscle and bone. A heavy blow beat down his guard, a second landed on
his shoulder, and over went the prize-fighter with the other on the top
of him. Both sprang to their feet, glared at each other, and fell into
position once more.
There could be no doubt that the amateur was not only heavier, but also
the harder and stronger man. Twice again he rushed Spring down, once by
the weight of his blows, and once by closing and hurling him on to his
back. Such falls might have shaken the fight out of a less game man,
but to Tom Spring they were but incidents in his daily trade. Though
bruised and winded he was always up again in an instant. Blood was
trickling from his mouth, but his steadfast blue eyes told of the
unshaken spirit within.
He was accustomed now to his opponent's rushing tactics, and he was
ready for them. The fourth round was the same as to attack, but it was
very different in defence. Up to now the young man had given way and
been fought down. This time he stood his ground. As his opponent
rushed in he met him with a tremendous straight hit from his left hand,
delivered with the full force of his body, and doubled in effect by the
momentum of the charge. So stunning was the concussion that the
pugilist himself recoiled from it across the grassy ring. The amateur
staggered back and leaned his shoulder on a tree-trunk, his hand up to
"You'd best drop it," said Spring. "You'll get pepper if you don't."
The other gave an inarticulate curse, and spat out a mouthful of blood.
"Come on!" said he.
Even now the pugilist found that he had no light task before him.
Warned by his misadventure, the heavier man no longer tried to win the
battle at a rush, nor to beat down an accomplished boxer as he would a
country hawbuck at a village fair. He fought with his head and his feet
as well as with his hands. Spring had to admit in his heart that,
trained to the ring, this man must have been a match for the best.
His guard was strong, his counter was like lightning, he took punishment
like a man of iron, and when he could safely close he always brought his
lighter antagonist to the ground with a shattering fall. But the one
stunning blow which he had courted before he was taught respect for his
adversary weighed heavily on him all the time. His senses had lost
something of their quickness and his blows of their sting. He was
fighting, too, against a man who, of all the boxers who have made their
names great, was the safest, the coolest, the least likely to give
anything away, or lose an advantage gained. Slowly, gradually, round by
round, he was worn down by his cool, quick-stepping, sharp-hitting
antagonist. At last he stood exhausted, breathing hoarsely, his face,
what could be seen of it, purple with his exertions. He had reached the
limit of human endurance. His opponent stood waiting for him, bruised
and beaten, but as cool, as ready, as dangerous as ever.
"You'd best drop it, I tell you," said he. "You're done."
But the other's manhood would not have it so. With a snarl of fury he
cast his science to the winds, and rushed madly to slogging with both
hands. For a moment Spring was overborne. Then he side-stepped
swiftly; there was the crash of his blow, and the amateur tossed up his
arms and fell all asprawl, his great limbs outstretched, his disfigured
face to the sky.
For a moment Tom Spring stood looking down at his unconscious opponent.
The next he felt a soft, warm hand upon his bare arm. The woman was at
"Now is your time!" she cried, her dark eyes aflame. "Go in! Smash
Spring shook her off with a cry of disgust, but she was back in an
"I'll make it seventy-five pounds--"
"The fight's over, ma'am. I can't touch him."
"A hundred pounds--a clear hundred! I have it here in my bodice.
Would you refuse a hundred?"
He turned on his heel. She darted past him and tried to kick at the
face of the prostrate man. Spring dragged her roughly away, before she
could do him a mischief.
"Stand clear!" he cried, giving her a shake. "You should take shame to
hit a fallen man."
With a groan the injured man turned on his side. Then he slowly sat up
and passed his wet hand over his face. Finally, he staggered to his
"Well," he said, shrugging his broad shoulders, "it was a fair fight.
I've no complaint to make. I was Jackson's favourite pupil, but I give
you best." Suddenly his eyes lit upon the furious face of the woman."
Hulloa, Betty!" he cried. "So I have you to thank. I might have
guessed it when I had your letter."
"Yes, my lord," said she, with a mock curtsey. "You have me to thank.
Your little wife managed it all. I lay behind those bushes, and I saw
you beaten like a hound. You haven't had all that I had planned for
you, but I think it will be some little time before any woman loves you
for the sake of your appearance. Do you remember the words, my lord?
Do you remember the words?"
He stood stunned for a moment. Then he snatched his whip from the
ground, and looked at her from under his heavy brows.
"I believe you're the devil!" he cried.
"I wonder what the governess will think?" said she.
He flared into furious rage and rushed at her with his whip. Tom Spring
threw himself before him with his arms out.
"It won't do, sir; I can't stand by."
The man glared at his wife over the prize-fighter's shoulder.
"So it's for dear George's sake!" he said, with a bitter laugh.
"But poor, broken-nosed George seems to have gone to the wall. Taken up
with a prize-fighter, eh? Found a fancy man for yourself!"
"You liar!" she gasped.
"Ha, my lady, that stings your pride, does it? Well, you shall stand
together in the dock for trespass and assault. What a picture--great
Lord, what a picture!"
"You wouldn't, John!"
"Wouldn't I, by--! you stay there three minutes and see if I wouldn't."
He seized his clothes from the bush, and staggered off as swiftly as he
could across the field, blowing a whistle as he ran.
"Quick! quick!" cried the woman. "There's not an instant to lose."
Her face was livid, and she was shivering and panting with apprehension.
"He'll raise the country. It would be awful--awful!"
She ran swiftly down the tortuous path, Spring following after her and
dressing as he went. In a field to the right a gamekeeper, his gun in
his hand, was hurrying towards the whistling. Two labourers, loading
hay, had stopped their work and were looking about them, their
pitchforks in their hands.
But the path was empty, and the phaeton awaited them, the horse cropping
the grass by the lane-side, the driver half asleep on his perch. The
woman sprang swiftly in and motioned Spring to stand by the wheel.
"There is your fifty pounds," she said, handing him a paper. "You were
a fool not to turn it into a hundred when you had the chance. I've done
with you now."
"But where am I to go?" asked the prize-fighter, gazing around him at
the winding lanes.
"To the devil!" said she. "Drive on, Johnson!"
The phaeton whirled down the road and vanished round a curve.
Tom Spring was alone.
Everywhere over the countryside he heard shoutings and whistlings.
It was clear that so long as she escaped the indignity of sharing his
fate his employer was perfectly indifferent as to whether he got into
trouble or not. Tom Spring began to feel indifferent himself. He was
weary to death, his head was aching from the blows and falls which he
had received, and his feelings were raw from the treatment which he had
undergone. He walked slowly some few yards down the lane, but had no
idea which way to turn to reach Tunbridge Wells. In the distance he
heard the baying of dogs, and he guessed that they were being set upon
his track. In that case he could not hope to escape them, and might
just as well await them where he was. He picked out a heavy stake from
the hedge, and he sat down moodily waiting, in a very dangerous temper,
for what might befall him.
But it was a friend and not a foe who came first into sight. Round the
corner of the lane flew a small dog-cart, with a fast-trotting chestnut
cob between the shafts. In it was seated the rubicund landlord of the
Royal Oak, his whip going, his face continually flying round to glance
"Jump in, Mr. Spring jump in!" he cried, as he reined up. "They're all
coming, dogs and men! Come on! Now, hud up, Ginger!" Not another
word did he say until two miles of lanes had been left behind them at
racing speed and they were back in safety upon the Brighton road.
Then he let the reins hang loose on the pony's back, and he slapped
Tom Spring with his fat hand upon the shoulder.
"Splendid!" he cried, his great red face shining with ecstasy.
"Oh, Lord! but it was beautiful!"
"What!" cried Spring. "You saw the fight?"
"Every round of it! By George! to think that I should have lived to
have had such a fight all to myself! Oh, but it was grand," he cried,
in a frenzy of delight, "to see his lordship go down like a pithed ox
and her ladyship clapping her hands behind the bush! I guessed there
was something in the wind, and I followed you all the way. When you
stopped, I tethered little Ginger in a grove, and I crept after you
through the wood. It's as well I did, for the whole parish was up!"
But Tom Spring was sitting gazing at him in blank amazement.
"His lordship!" he gasped.
"No less, my boy. Lord Falconbridge, Chairman of the Bench, Deputy
Lieutenant of the County, Peer of the Realm--that's your man."
"And you didn't know? It's as well, for maybe you wouldn't have whacked
it in as hard if you had; and, mind you, if you hadn't, he'd have beat
you. There's not a man in this county could stand up to him. He takes
the poachers and gipsies two and three at a time. He's the terror of
the place. But you did him--did him fair. Oh, man, it was fine!"
Tom Spring was too much dazed by what he heard to do more than sit and
wonder. It was not until he had got back to the comforts of the inn,
and after a bath had partaken of a solid meal, that he sent for
Mr. Cordery the landlord. To him he confided the whole train of events
which had led up to his remarkable experience, and he begged him to
throw such light as he could upon it. Cordery listened with keen
interest and many chuckles to the story. Finally he left the room and
returned with a frayed newspaper in his hand, which he smoothed out upon
"It's the _Pantiles Gazette_, Mr. Spring, as gossiping a rag as ever was
printed. I expect there will be a fine column in it if ever it gets its
prying nose into this day's doings. However, we are mum and her
ladyship is mum, and, my word! his lordship is mum, though he did, in
his passion, raise the hue and cry on you. Here it is, Mr. Spring, and
I'll read it to you while you smoke your pipe. It's dated July of last
year, and it goes like this--
"'FRACAS IN HIGH LIFE.--It is an open secret that the differences which
have for some years been known to exist between Lord F---- and his
beautiful wife have come to a head during the last few days.
His lordship's devotion to sport, and also, as it is whispered, some
attentions which he has shown to a humbler member of his household,
have, it is said, long alienated Lady F----'s affection. Of late she
has sought consolation and friendship with a gentleman whom we will
designate as Sir George W----n. Sir George, who is a famous ladykiller,
and as well-proportioned a man as any in England, took kindly to the
task of consoling the disconsolate fair. The upshot, however, was
vastly unfortunate, both for the lady's feelings and for the gentleman's
beauty. The two friends were surprised in a rendezvous near the house
by Lord F--- himself at the head of a party of his servants. Lord F--
then and there, in spite of the shrieks of the lady, availed himself of
his strength and skill to administer such punishment to the unfortunate
Lothario as would, in his own parting words, prevent any woman from
loving him again for the sake of his appearance. Lady F---- has left
his lordship and betaken herself to London, where, no doubt, she is now
engaged in nursing the damaged Apollo. It is confidently expected that
a duel will result from the affair, but no particulars have reached us
up to the hour of going to press.'"
The landlord laid down the paper. "You've been moving in high life, Mr.
Thomas Spring," said he.
The pugilist passed his hand over his battered face. "Well, Mr.
Cordery," said he, "low life is good enough for me."
OUT OF THE RUNNING
It was on the North Side of Butser on the long swell of the Hampshire
Downs. Beneath, some two miles away, the grey roofs and red houses of
Petersfield peeped out from amid the trees which surrounded it.
From the crest of the low hills downwards the country ran in low,
sweeping curves, as though some green primeval sea had congealed in the
midst of a ground swell and set for ever into long verdant rollers.
At the bottom, just where the slope borders upon the plain, there stood
a comfortable square brick farmhouse, with a grey plume of smoke
floating up from the chimney. Two cowhouses, a cluster of hayricks, and
a broad stretch of fields, yellow with the ripening wheat, formed a
fitting setting to the dwelling of a prosperous farmer.
The green slopes were dotted every here and there with dark clumps of
gorse bushes, all alight with the flaming yellow blossoms. To the left
lay the broad Portsmouth Road curving over the hill, with a line of
gaunt telegraph posts marking its course. Beyond a huge white chasm
opened in the grass, where the great Butser chalk quarry had been sunk.
From its depths rose the distant murmur of voices, and the clinking of
hammers. Just above it, between two curves of green hill, might be seen
a little triangle of leaden-coloured sea, flecked with a single white
Down the Portsmouth Road two women were walking, one elderly, florid
and stout, with a yellow-brown Paisley shawl and a coarse serge dress,
the other young and fair, with large grey eyes, and a face which was
freckled like a plover's egg. Her neat white blouse with its trim black
belt, and plain, close-cut skirt, gave her an air of refinement which
was wanting in her companion, but there was sufficient resemblance
between them to show that they were mother and daughter. The one was
gnarled and hardened and wrinkled by rough country work, .the other
fresh and pliant from the benign influence of the Board School; but
their step, their slope of the shoulders, and the movement of their hips
as they walked, all marked them as of one blood.
"Mother, I can see father in the five-acre field," cried the younger,
pointing down in the direction of the farm.
The older woman screwed up her eyes, and shaded them with her hand.
"Who's that with him?" she asked.
"Oh, he's nobody. He's a-talkin' to some one."
"I don't know, mother. It's some one in a straw hat. Adam Wilson of
the Quarry wears a straw hat."
"Aye, of course, it's Adam sure enough. Well, I'm glad we're back home
time enough to see him. He'd have been disappointed if he had come over
and you'd been away. Drat this dust! It makes one not fit to be seen."
The same idea seemed to have occurred to her daughter, for she had taken
out her handkerchief, and was flicking her sleeves and the front of her
"That's right, Dolly. There's some on your flounces. But, Lor' bless
you, Dolly, it don't matter to him. It's not your dress he looks at,
but your face. Now I shouldn't be very surprised if he hadn't come over
to ask you from father."
"I think he'd best begin by asking me from myself," remarked the girl.
"Ah, but you'll have him, Dolly, when he does."
"I'm not so sure of that, mother." The older woman threw up her hands.
"There! I don't know what the gals are coming to. I don't indeed.
It's the Board Schools as does it. When I was a gal, if a decent young
man came a-courtin', we gave him a 'Yes' or a 'No.' We didn't keep him
hanging on like a half-clipped sheep. Now, here are you with two of
them at your beck, and you can't give an answer to either of them."
"Why, mother, that's it," cried the daughter, with something between a
laugh and a sob. "May be if they came one at a time I'd know what to
"What have you agin Adam Wilson?"
"Nothing. But I have nothing against Elias Mason."
"Nor I, either. But I know which is the most proper-looking young man."
"Looks isn't everything, mother. You should hear Elias Mason talk.
You should hear him repeat poetry."
"Well, then, have Elias."
"Ah, but I haven't the heart to turn against Adam."
"There, now! I never saw such a gal. You're like a calf betwixt two
hayricks; you have a nibble at the one and a nibble at the other.
There's not one in a hundred as lucky as you. Here's Adam with three
pound ten a week, foreman already at the Chalk Works, and likely enough
to be manager if he's spared. And there's Elias, head telegraph clerk
at the Post Office, and earning good money too. You can't keep 'em both
on. You've got to take one or t'other, and it's my belief you'll get
neither if you don't stop this shilly-shally."
"I don't care. I don't want them. What do they want to come bothering
"It's human natur', gal. They must do it. If they didn't, you'd be the
first to cry out maybe. It's in the Scriptures. 'Man is born for
woman, as the sparks fly upwards.'" She looked up out of the corner of
her eyes as if not very sure of her quotation. "Why, here be that
dratted Bill. The good book says as we are all made of clay, but Bill
does show it more than any lad I ever saw."
They had turned from the road into a narrow, deeply rutted lane, which
led towards the farm. A youth was running towards them, loose-jointed
and long-limbed, with a boyish, lumbering haste, clumping fearlessly
with his great yellow clogs through pool and mire. He wore brown
corduroys, a dingy shirt, and a red handkerchief tied loosely round his
neck. A tattered old straw hat was tilted back upon his shock of
coarse, matted, brown hair. His sleeves were turned up to the elbows,
and his arms and face were both tanned and roughened until his skin
looked like the bark of some young sapling. As he looked up at the
sound of the steps, his face with its blue eyes, brown skin, and first
slight down of a tawny moustache, was not an uncomely one, were it not
marred by the heavy, stolid, somewhat sulky expression of the country
"Please, mum," said he, touching the brim of his wreck of a hat,
"measter seed ye coming. He sent to say as 'ow 'e were in the five-acre
"Run back, Bill, and say that we are coming," answered the farmer's
wife, and the awkward figure sped away upon its return journey.
"I say, mother, what is Bill's other name?" asked the girl, with languid
"He's not got one."
"No, Dolly, he's a found child, and never had no father or mother that
ever was heard of. We had him from the work'us when he was seven, to
chop mangel wurzel, and here he's been ever since, nigh twelve year.
He was Bill there, and he's Bill here."
"What fun! Fancy having only one name. I wonder what they'll call his
"I don't know. Time to talk of that when he can keep one. But now,
Dolly dear, here's your father and Adam Wilson comin' across the field.
I want to see you settled, Dolly. He's a steady young man. He's blue
ribbon, and has money in the Post Office."
"I wish I knew which liked me best," said her daughter glancing from
under her hat-brim at the approaching figures. "That's the one I should
like. But it's all right, mother, and I know how to find out, so don't
you fret yourself any more."
The suitor was a well-grown young fellow in a grey suit, with a straw
hat jauntily ribboned in red and black. He was smoking, but as he
approached he thrust his pipe into his breast-pocket, and came forward
with one hand outstretched, and the other gripping nervously at his
"Your servant, Mrs. Foster. And how are you, Miss Dolly? Another
fortnight of this and you will be starting on your harvest, I suppose."
"It's bad to say beforehand what you will do in this country," said
Farmer Foster, with an apprehensive glance round the heavens.
"It's all God's doing," remarked his wife piously.
"And He does the best for us, of course. Yet He does seem these last
seasons to have kind of lost His grip over the weather. Well, maybe it
will be made up to us this year. And what did you do at Horndean,
The old couple walked in front, and the other dropped behind, the young
man lingering, and taking short steps to increase the distance.
"I say, Dolly," he murmured at last, flushing slightly as he glanced at
her, "I've been speaking to your father about--you know what."
But Dolly didn't know what. She hadn't the slightest idea of what.
She turned her pretty little freckled face up to him and was full of
curiosity upon the point.
Adam Wilson's face flushed to a deeper red. "You know very well," said
he, impatiently, "I spoke to him about marriage."
"Oh, then it's him you want."
"There, that's the way you always go on. It's easy to make fun, but I
tell you that I am in earnest, Dolly. Your father says that he would
have no objection to me in the family. You know that I love you true."
"How do I know that then?"
"I tell you so. What more can I do?"
"Did you ever do anything to prove it?"
"Set me something and see if I don't do it."
"Then you haven't done anything yet?"
"I don't know. I've done what I could."
"How about this?" She pulled a little crumpled sprig of dog-rose, such
as grows wild in the wayside hedges, out of her bosom. "Do you know
anything of that?"
He smiled, and was about to answer, when his brows suddenly contracted,
his mouth set, and his eyes flashed angrily as they focussed some
distant object. Following his gaze, she saw a slim, dark figure, some
three fields off, walking swiftly in their direction. "It's my friend,
Mr. Elias Mason," said she.
"Your friend!" He had lost his diffidence in his anger. "I know all
about that. What does he want here every second evening?"
"Perhaps he wonders what you want."
"Does he? I wish he'd come and ask me. I'd let him see what I wanted.
"He can see it now. He has taken off his hat to me," Dolly said,
Her laughter was the finishing touch. He had meant to be impressive,
and it seemed that he had only been ridiculous. He swung round upon his
"Very well, Miss Foster," said he, in a choking voice, "that's all
right. We know where we are now. I didn't come here to be made a fool
of, so good day to you." He plucked at his hat, and walked furiously
off in the direction from which they had come. She looked after him,
half frightened, in the hope of seeing some sign that he had relented,
but he strode onwards with a rigid neck, and vanished at a turn of the
When she turned again her other visitor was close upon her--a thin,
wiry, sharp-featured man with a sallow face, and a quick, nervous
"Good evening, Miss Foster. I thought that I would walk over as the
weather was so beautiful, but I did not expect to have the good fortune
to meet you in the fields."
"I am sure that father will be very glad to see you, Mr. Mason.
You must come in and have a glass of milk."
"No, thank you, Miss Foster, I should very much prefer to stay out here
with you. But I am afraid that I have interrupted you in a chat.