Part 3 out of 13
Things mayn't come to the worst, after all."
And so careless and quickly oblivious, happily or unhappily, was his
temperament, that he read himself to sleep with Terrail's "Club des
Valets de Coeur," and slept in ten minutes' time as composedly as
though he had inherited fifty thousand a year.
That evening, in the loose-box down at Royallieu, Forest King stood
without any body-covering, for the night was close and sultry, a lock
of the sweetest hay unnoticed in his rack, and his favorite wheaten-
gruel standing uncared-for under his very nose; the King was in the
height of excitation, alarm, and haughty wrath. His ears were laid
flat to his head, his nostrils were distended, his eyes were glancing
uneasily with a nervous, angry fire rare in him, and ever and anon he
lashed out his heels with a tremendous thundering thud against the
opposite wall, with a force that reverberated through the stables and
made his companions start and edge away. It was precisely these
companions that the aristocratic hero of the Soldiers' Blue Ribbon
They had just been looking him over--to their own imminent peril; and
the patrician winner of the Vase, the brilliant six-year-old of Paris,
and Shire and Spa steeple-chase fame, the knightly descendant of the
White Cockade blood and of the coursers of Circassia, had resented the
familiarity proportionately to his own renown and dignity. The King
was a very sweet-tempered horse, a perfect temper, indeed, and ductile
to a touch from those he loved; but he liked very few, and would
suffer liberties from none. And of a truth his prejudices were very
just; and if his clever heels had caught--and it was not his fault
that they did not--the heads of his two companions, instead of coming
with that ponderous crash into the panels of his box, society would
certainly have been no loser, and his owner would have gained more
than had ever before hung in the careless balance of his life.
But the iron heels, with their shining plates, only caught the oak of
his box-door; and the tete-a-tete in the sultry, oppressive night went
on as the speakers moved to a prudent distance; one of them
thoughtfully chewing a bit of straw, after the immemorial habit of
grooms, who ever seem as if they had been born into this world with a
cornstalk ready in their mouths.
"It's almost a pity--he's in such perfect condition. Tip-top. Cool as
a cucumber after the longest pipe-opener; licks his oats up to the
last grain; leads the whole string such a rattling spin as never was
spun but by a Derby cracker before him. It's almost a pity," said
Willon meditatively, eyeing his charge, the King, with remorseful
"Prut-tush-tish!" said his companion, with a whistle in his teeth that
ended with a "damnation!" "It'll only knock him over for the race;
he'll be right as a trivet after it. What's your little game; coming
it soft like that, all of a sudden? You hate that ere young swell like
"Aye," assented the head groom with a tigerish energy, viciously
consuming his bit of straw. "What for am I--head groom come nigh
twenty years; and to Markisses and Wiscounts afore him--put aside in
that ere way for a fellow as he's took into his service out of the
dregs of a regiment; what was tied up at the triangles and branded D,
as I know on, and sore suspected of even worse games than that, and
now is that set up with pride and sich-like that nobody's woice ain't
heard here except his; I say what am I called on to bear it for?": and
the head groom's tones grew hoarse and vehement, roaring louder under
his injuries. "A man what's attended a Duke's 'osses ever since he was
a shaver, to be put aside for that workhus blackguard! A 'oss had a
cold--it's Rake what's to cure him. A 'oss is entered for a race--it's
Rake what's to order his morning gallops, and his go-downs o' water.
It's past bearing to have a rascally chap what's been and gone and
turned walet, set up over one's head in one's own establishment, and
let to ride the high 'oss over one, roughshod like that!"
And Mr. Willon, in his disgust at the equestrian contumely thus heaped
on him, bit the straw savagely in two, and made an end of it, with a
vindictive "Will yer be quiet there; blow yer," to the King, who was
protesting with his heels against the conversation.
"Come, then, no gammon," growled his companion--the "cousin out o'
Yorkshire" of the keeper's tree.
"What's yer figure, you say?" relented Willon meditatively.
"Two thousand to nothing--come!--can't no handsomer," retorted the
Yorkshire cousin, with the air of a man conscious of behaving very
"For the race in Germany?" pursued Mr. Willon, still meditatively.
"Two thousand to nothing--come!" reiterated the other, with his arms
folded to intimate that this and nothing else was the figure to which
he would bind himself.
Willon chewed another bit of straw, glanced at the horse as though he
were a human thing to hear, to witness, and to judge, grew a little
pale; and stooped forward.
"Hush! Somebody'll spy on us. It's a bargain."
"Done! And you'll paint him, eh?"
The assent was very husky, and dragged slowly out, while his eyes
glanced with a furtive, frightened glance over the loose-box. Then--
still with that cringing, terrified look backward to the horse, as an
assassin may steal a glance before his deed at his unconscious victim
--the head groom and his comrade went out and closed the door of the
loose-box and passed into the hot, lowering summer night.
Forest King, left in solitude, shook himself with a neigh; took a
refreshing roll in the straw, and turned with an appetite to his
neglected gruel. Unhappily for himself, his fine instincts could not
teach him the conspiracy that lay in wait for him and his; and the
gallant beast, content to be alone, soon slept the sleep of the
A STAG HUNT AU CLAIR DE LA LUNE.
"Seraph--I've been thinking," said Cecil musingly, as they paced
homeward together from the Scrubs, with the long line of the First
Life stretching before and behind their chargers, and the hands of the
Household Cavalry plying mellowly in their rear.
"You don't mean it. Never let it ooze out, Beauty; you'll ruin your
Cecil laughed a little, very languidly; to have been in the sun for
four hours, in full harness, had almost taken out of him any power to
be amused at anything.
"I've been thinking," he went on undisturbed, pulling down his chin-
scale. "What's a fellow to do when he's smashed?"
"Eh?" The Seraph couldn't offer a suggestion; he had a vague idea that
men who were smashed never did do anything except accept the smashing;
unless, indeed, they turned up afterward as touts, of which he had an
equally vague suspicion.
"What do they do?" pursued Bertie.
"Go to the bad," finally suggested the Seraph, lighting a great cigar,
without heeding the presence of the Duke, a Field-Marshal, and a
Serene Highness far on in front.
Cecil shook his head.
"Can't go where they are already. I've been thinking what a fellow
might do that was up a tree; and on my honor there are lots of things
one might turn to----"
"Well, I suppose there are," assented the Seraph, with a shake of his
superb limbs in his saddle till his cuirass and chains and scabbard
rang again. "I should try the P. R., only they will have you train."
"One might do better than the P. R. Getting yourself into prime
condition, only to be pounded out of condition and into a jelly, seems
hardly logical or satisfactory--specially to your looking-glass,
though, of course, it's a matter of taste. But now, if I had a
cropper, and got sold up----"
"You, Beauty?" The Seraph puffed a giant puff of amazement from his
Havana, opening his blue eyes to their widest.
"Possible!" returned Bertie serenely, with a nonchalant twist to his
mustaches. "Anything's possible. If I do now, it strikes me there are
vast fields open."
"Gold fields!" suggested the Seraph, wholly bewildered.
"Gold fields? No! I mean a field for--what d'ye call it--genius. Now,
look here; nine-tenths of creatures in this world don't know how to
put on a glove. It's an art, and an art that requires long study. If a
few of us were to turn glove-fitters when we are fairly crushed, we
might civilize the whole world, and prevent the deformity of an ill-
fitting glove ever blotting creation and prostituting Houbigant. What
do you say?"
"Don't be such a donkey, Beauty!" laughed the Seraph, while his
charger threatened to passage into an oyster cart.
"You don't appreciate the majesty of great plans," rejoined Beauty
reprovingly. "There's an immense deal in what I'm saying. Think what
we might do for society--think how we might extinguish snobbery, if we
just dedicated our smash to Mankind. We might open a College, where
the traders might go through a course of polite training before they
blossomed out as millionaires; the world would be spared an agony of
dropped h's and bad bows. We might have a Bureau where we registered
all our social experiences, and gave the Plutocracy a map of
Belgravia, with all the pitfalls marked; all the inaccessible heights
colored red, and all the hard-up great people dotted with gold to show
the amount they'd be bought for--with directions to the ignoramuses
whom to know, court, and avoid. We might form a Courier Company, and
take Brummagem abroad under our guidance, so that the Continent
shouldn't think Englishwomen always wear blue veils and gray shawls,
and hear every Englishman shout for porter and beefsteak in Tortoni's.
We might teach them to take their hats off to women, and not to prod
pictures with sticks, and to look at statutes without poking them with
an umbrella, and to be persuaded that all foreigners don't want to be
bawled at, and won't understand bad French any the better for its
being shouted. Or we might have a Joint-Stock Toilette Association,
for the purposes of national art, and receive Brummagem to show it how
to dress; we might even succeed in making the feminine British Public
drape itself properly, and the B. P. masculine wear boots that won't
creak, and coats that don't wrinkle, and take off its hat without a
jerk, as though it were a wooden puppet hung on very stiff strings. Or
"Talk the greatest nonsense under the sun!" laughed the Seraph. "For
mercy's sake, are you mad, Bertie?"
"Inevitable question addressed to Genius!" yawned Cecil. "I'm showing
you plans that might teach a whole nation good style if we just threw
ourselves into it a little. I don't mean you, because you'll never
smash, and one don't turn bear-leader, even to the B. P., without the
primary impulse of being hard-up. And I don't talk for myself,
because, when I go to the dogs I have my own project."
"And what's that?"
"To be groom of the chambers at Meurice's or Claridge's," responded
Bertie solemnly. "Those sublime creatures with their silver chains
round their necks and their ineffable supremacy over every other
mortal!--one would feel in a superior region still. And when a snob
came to poison the air, how exquisitely one could annihilate him with
showing him his ignorance of claret; and when an epicure dined, how
delightfully, as one carried in a turbot, one could test him with the
eprouvette positive, or crush him by the eprouvette negative. We have
been Equerries at the Palace, both of us, but I don't think we know
what true dignity is till we shall have risen to headwaiters at a
With which Bertie let his charger pace onward, while he reflected
thoughtfully on his future state. The Seraph laughed till he almost
swayed out of saddle, but he shook himself into his balance again with
another clash of his brilliant harness, while his eyes lightened and
glanced with a fiery gleam down the line of the Household Cavalry.
"Well, if I went to the dogs I wouldn't go to Grand Hotels; but I'll
tell you where I would go, Beauty."
"Into hot service, somewhere. By Jove, I'd see some good fighting
under another flag--out in Algeria, there, or with the Poles, or after
Garibaldi. I would, in a day--I'm not sure I won't now, and I bet you
ten to one the life would be better than this."
Which was ungrateful in the Seraph, for his happy temper made him the
sunniest and most contented of men, with no cross in his life save the
dread that somebody would manage to marry him some day. But Rock had
the true dash and true steel of the soldier in him, and his blue eyes
flashed over his Guards as he spoke, with a longing wish that he were
leading them on to a charge instead of pacing with them toward Hyde
Cecil turned in his saddle and looked at him with a certain wonder and
pleasure in his glance, and did not answer aloud. "The deuce--that's
not a bad idea," he thought to himself; and the idea took root and
grew with him.
Far down, very far down, so far that nobody had ever seen it, nor
himself ever expected it, there was a lurking instinct in "Beauty,"--
the instinct that had prompted him, when he sent the King at the Grand
Military cracker, with that prayer, "Kill me if you like, but don't
fail me!"--which, out of the languor and pleasure-loving temper of his
unruffled life, had a vague, restless impulse toward the fiery perils
and nervous excitement of a sterner and more stirring career.
It was only vague, for he was naturally very indolent, very gentle,
very addicted to taking all things passively, and very strongly of
persuasion that to rouse yourself for anything was a niaiserie of the
strongest possible folly; but it was there. It always is there with
men of Bertie's order, and only comes to light when the match of
danger is applied to the touchhole. Then, though "the Tenth don't
dance," perhaps, with graceful, indolent, dandy insolence, they can
fight as no others fight when Boot and Saddle rings through the
morning air, and the slashing charge sweeps down with lightning speed
and falcon swoop.
"In the case of a Countess, sir, the imagination is more excited,"
says Dr. Johnson, who had, I suppose, little opportunity of putting
that doctrine for amatory intrigues to the test in actual practice.
Bertie, who had many opportunities, differed with him. He found love-
making in his own polished, tranquil circles apt to become a little
dull, and was more amused by Laura Lelas. However, he was sworn to the
service of the Guenevere, and he drove his mail-phaeton down that day
to another sort of Richmond dinner, of which the lady was the object
instead of the Zu-Zu.
She enjoyed thinking herself the wife of a jealous and inexorable
lord, and arranged her flirtations to evade him with a degree of skill
so great that it was lamentable it should be thrown away on an
agricultural husband, who never dreamt that the "Fidelio-III-
TstnegeR," which met his eyes in the innocent face of his "Times"
referred to an appointment at a Regent Street modiste's, or that the
advertisement--"White wins--Twelve," meant that if she wore white
camellias in her hair at the opera she would give "Beauty" a meeting
Lady Guenevere was very scrupulous never to violate conventionalities.
And yet she was a little fast--very fast, indeed, and was a queen of
one of the fastest sets; but then--O sacred shield of a wife's virtue
--she could not have borne to lose her very admirable position, her
very magnificent jointure, and, above all, the superb Guenevere
So, for the sake of the diamonds, she and Bertie had their rendezvous
under the rose.
This day she went down to see a dowager Baroness aunt, out at Hampton
Court--really went, she was never so imprudent as to falsify her word;
and with the Dowager, who was very deaf and purblind, dined at
Richmond, while the world thought her dining at Hampton Court. It was
nothing to anyone, since none knew it to gossip about, that Cecil
joined her there; that over the Star and Garter repast they arranged
their meeting at Baden next month; that while the Baroness dozed over
the grapes and peaches--she had been a beauty herself, in her own day,
and still had her sympathies--they went on the river, in the little
toy that he kept there for his fair friends' use; floating slowly
along in the coolness of evening, while the stars loomed out in the
golden trail of the sunset, and doing a graceful scene a la Musset and
Meredith, with a certain languid amusement in the assumption of those
poetic guises, for they were of the world worldly; and neither
believed very much in the other.
When you have just dined well, and there has been no fault in the
clarets, and the scene is pretty, if it be not the Nile in the
afterglow, the Arno in the moonlight, or the Loire in vintage-time,
but only the Thames above Richmond, it is the easiest thing in the
world to feel a touch of sentiment when you have a beautiful woman
beside you who expects you to feel it. The evening was very hot and
soft. There was a low south wind, the water made a pleasant murmur,
wending among its sedges. She was very lovely, moreover; lying back
there among her laces and Indian shawls, with the sunset in the brown
depths of her eyes and on her delicate cheek. And Bertie, as he looked
on his liege lady, really had a glow of the old, real, foolish,
forgotten feeling stir at his heart, as he gazed on her in the half-
light, and thought, almost wistfully, "If the Jews were down on me
to-morrow, would she really care, I wonder?"
Really care? Bertie knew his world and its women too well to deceive
himself in his heart about the answer. Nevertheless, he asked the
question. "Would you care much, chere belle?"
"If I came to grief--went to the bad, you know; dropped out of the
She raised her splendid eyes in amaze, with a delicate shudder through
all her laces. "Bertie! You would break my heart! What can you dream
"Oh, lots of us end so! How is a man to end?" answered Bertie
philosophically, while his thoughts still ran off in a speculative
skepticism. "Is there a heart to break?"
Her ladyship looked at him an laughed.
"A Werther in the Guards! I don't think the role will suit either you
or your corps, Bertie; but if you do it, pray do it artistically. I
remember, last year, driving through Asnieres, when they had found a
young man in the Seine; he was very handsome, beautifully dressed, and
he held fast in his clinched hand a lock of gold hair. Now, there was
a man who knew how to die gracefully, and make his death an idyl!"
"Died for a woman?--ah!" murmured Bertie, with the Brummel nonchalance
of his order. "I don't think I should do that, even for you--not, at
least, while I had a cigar left."
And then the boat drifted backward, while the stars grew brighter and
the last reflection of the sun died out; and they planned to meet
to-morrow, and talked of Baden, and sketched projects for the winter
in Paris, and went in and sat by the window, taking their coffee, and
feeling, in a half-vague pleasure, the heliotrope-scented air blowing
softly in from the garden below, and the quiet of the starlit river in
the summer evening, with a white sail gleaming here and there, or the
gentle splash of an oar following on the swift trail of a steamer; the
quiet, so still and so strange after the crowded rush of the London
"Would she really care?" thought Cecil, once more. In that moment he
could have wished to think she would.
But heliotrope, stars, and a river, even though it had been tawny and
classical Tiber instead of ill-used and inodorous Thames, were not
things sufficiently in the way of either of them to detain them long.
They had both seen the Babylonian sun set over the ruins of the Birs
Nimrud, and had talked of Paris fashions while they did so; they had
both leaned over the terraces of Bellosguardo, while the moon was full
on Giotto's tower, and had discussed their dresses for the Veglione
masquerade. It was not their style to care for these matters; they
were pretty, to be sure, but they had seen so many of them.
The Dowager went home in her brougham; the Countess drove in his mail-
phaeton--objectionable, as she might be seen, but less objectionable
than letting her servants know he had met her at Richmond. Besides,
she obviated danger by bidding him set her down at a little villa
across the park, where dwelt a confidential protegee of hers, whom she
patronized; a former French governess, married tolerably well, who had
the Countess' confidences, and kept them religiously for sake of so
aristocratic a patron, and of innumerable reversions of Spanish point
and shawls that had never been worn, and rings, of which her lavish
ladyship had got tired.
From here she would take her ex-governess' little brougham, and get
quietly back to her own home in Eaton Square, in due time for all the
drums and crushes at which she must make her appearance. This was the
sort of little device which really made them think themselves in love,
and gave the salt to the whole affair. Moreover, there was this ground
for it, that had her lord once roused from the straw-yards of his
prize cattle, there was a certain stubborn, irrational, old-world
prejudice of pride and temper in him that would have made him throw
expediency to the winds, then and there, with a blind and brutal
disregard to slander and to the fact that none would ever adorn his
diamonds as she did. So that Cecil had not only her fair fame, but her
still more valuable jewels in his keeping when he started from the
Star and Garter in the warmth of the bright summer's evening.
It was a lovely night; a night for lonely highland tarns, and southern
shores by Baiae; without a cloud to veil the brightness of the stars.
A heavy dew pressed the odors from the grasses, and the deep glades of
the avenue were pierced here and there with a broad beam of silvery
moonlight, slanting through the massive boles of the trees, and
falling white and serene across the turf. Through the park, with the
gleam of the water ever and again shining through the branches of the
foliage, Cecil started his horses; his groom he had sent away on
reaching Richmond, for the same reason as the Countess had dismissed
her barouche, and he wanted no servant, since, as soon as he had set
down his liege lady at her protegee's, he would drive straight back to
Piccadilly. But he had not noticed what he noted now, that instead of
one of his carriage-grays, who had fallen slightly lame, they had put
into harness the young one, Maraschino, who matched admirably for size
and color, but who, being really a hunter, though he had been broken
to shafts as well, was not the horse with which to risk driving a
However, Beauty was a perfect whip and had the pair perfectly in hand,
so that he thought no more of the change, as the grays dashed at a
liberal half-speed through the park, with their harness flashing in
the moonlight, and their scarlet rosettes fluttering in the pleasant
air. The eyes beside him, the Titian-like mouth, the rich, delicate
cheek, these were, to be sure, rather against the coolness and science
that such a five-year-old as Maraschino required; they were
distracting even to Cecil, and he had not prudence enough to deny his
sovereign lady when she put her hands on the ribbons.
"The beauties! Give them to me, Bertie. Dangerous? How absurd you are;
as if I could not drive anything? Do you remember my four roans at
She could, indeed, with justice, pique herself on her skill; she drove
matchlessly, but as he resigned them to her, Maraschino and his
companion quickened their trot, and tossed their pretty thoroughbred
heads, conscious of a less powerful hand on the reins.
"I shall let their pace out; there is nobody to run over here," said
Maraschino, as though hearing the flattering conjuration swung off
into a light, quick canter, and tossed his head again; he knew that,
good whip though she was, he could jerk his mouth free in a second, if
he wanted. Cecil laughed--prudence was at no time his virtue--and
leaned back contentedly, to be driven at a slashing pace through the
balmy summer's night, while the ring of the hoofs rang merrily on the
turf, and the boughs were tossed aside with a dewy fragrance. As they
went, the moonlight was shed about their path in the full of the young
night, and at the end of a vista of boughs, on a grassy knoll were
some phantom forms--the same graceful shapes that stand out against
the purple heather and the tawny gorse of Scottish moorlands, while
the lean rifle-tube creeps up by stealth. In the clear starlight there
stood the deer--a dozen of them, a clan of stags alone--with their
antlers clashing like a clash of swords, and waving like swaying
banners as they tossed their heads and listened.[*]
[*] Let me here take leave to beg pardon of the gallant Highland stags
for comparing them one instant with the shabby, miserable-looking
wretches that travesty them in Richmond Park. After seeing these
latter scrubby, meager apologies for deer, one wonders why
something better cannot be turned loose there. A hunting-mare I
know well nevertheless flattered them thus by racing them through
the park: when in harness herself, to her own great disgust.
In an instant the hunter pricked his ears, snuffed the air, and
twitched with passionate impatience at his bit; another instant and he
had got his head, and, launching into a sweeping gallop, rushed down
Cecil sprang forward from his lazy rest, and seized the ribbons that
in one instant had cut his companion's gloves to stripes.
"Sit still," he said calmly, but under his breath. "He had been always
ridden with the Buckhounds; he will race the deer as sure as we live!"
Race the deer he did.
Startled, and fresh for their favorite nightly wandering, the stags
were off like the wind at the noise of alarm, and the horses tore
after them; no skill, no strength, no science could avail to pull them
in; they had taken their bits between their teeth, and the devil that
was in Maraschino lent the contagion of sympathy to the young carriage
mare, who had never gone at such a pace since she had been first put
in her break.
Neither Cecil's hands nor any other force could stop them now; on they
went, hunting as straight in line as though staghounds streamed in
front of them, and no phaeton rocked and swayed in a dead and dragging
weight behind them. In a moment he gauged the closeness and the
vastness of the peril; there was nothing for it but to trust to
chance, to keep his grasp on the reins to the last, and to watch for
the first sign of exhaustion. Long ere that should be given death
might have come to them both; but there was a gay excitation in that
headlong rush through the summer night; there was a champagne-draught
of mirth and mischief in that dash through the starlit woodland; there
was a reckless, breathless pleasure in that neck-or-nothing moonlight
Yet danger was so near with every oscillation; the deer were trooping
in fast flight, now clear in the moonlight, now lost in the shadow,
bounding with their lightning grace over sward and hillock, over briar
and brushwood, at that speed which kills most living things that dare
to race the "Monarch of the Glens." And the grays were in full
pursuit; the hunting fire was in the fresh young horse; he saw the
shadowy branches of the antlers toss before him, and he knew no better
than to hunt down in their scenting line as hotly as though the field
of the Queen's or the Baron's was after them. What cared he for the
phaeton that rocked and reeled on his traces; he felt its weight no
more than if it were a wicker-work toy, and, extended like a
greyhound, he swerved from the road, swept through the trees, and tore
down across the grassland in the track of the herd.
Through the great boles of the trunks, bronze and black in the
shadows, across the hilly rises of the turf, through the brushwood
pell-mell, and crash across the level stretches of the sward, they
raced as though the hounds were streaming in front; swerved here,
tossed there, carried in a whirlwind over the mounds, wheeled through
the gloom of the woven branches, splashed with a hiss through the
shallow rain-pools, shot swift as an arrow across the silver radiance
of the broad moonlight, borne against the sweet south wind, and down
the odors of the trampled grass, the carriage was hurled across the
park in the wild starlight chase. It rocked, it swayed, it shook, at
every yard, while it was carried on like a paper toy; as yet the
marvelous chances of accident had borne it clear of the destruction
that threatened it at every step as the grays, in the height of their
pace now, and powerless even to have arrested themselves, flew through
the woodland, neither knowing what they did, nor heeding where they
went; but racing down on the scent, not feeling the strain of the
traces, and only maddened the more by the noise of the whirling wheels
As Cecil leaned back, his hands clinched on the reins, his sinews
stretched almost to bursting in their vain struggle to recover power
over the loosened beasts, the hunting zest awoke in him too, even
while his eyes glanced on his companion in fear and anxiety for her.
"Tally-ho! hark forward! As I live, it is glorious!" he cried, half
unconsciously. "For God's sake, sit still, Beatrice! I will save you."
Inconsistent as the words were, they were true to what he felt; alone,
he would have flung himself delightedly into the madness of the chase;
for her he dreaded with horror the eminence of their peril.
On fled the deer, on swept the horses; faster in the gleam of the
moonlight the antlered troop darted on through the gloaming; faster
tore the grays in the ecstasy of their freedom; headlong and heedless
they dashed through the thickness of leaves and the weaving of
branches; neck to neck, straining to distance each other, and held
together by the gall of the harness. The broken boughs snapped, the
earth flew up beneath their hoofs; their feet struck scarlet sparks of
fire from the stones, the carriage was whirled, rocking and tottering,
through the maze of tree-trunks, towering like pillars of black stone
up against the steel-blue clearness of the sky. The strain was
intense; the danger deadly. Suddenly, straight ahead, beyond the
darkness of the foliage, gleamed a line of light; shimmering, liquid,
and glassy--here brown as gloom where the shadows fell on it, here
light as life where the stars mirrored on it. That trembling line
stretched right in their path. For the first time, from the blanched
lips beside him a cry of terror rang.
"The river!--oh, heaven!--the river!"
There it lay in the distance, the deep and yellow water, cold in the
moon's rays, with its further bank but a dull gray line in the mists
that rose from it, and its swamp a yawning grave as the horses, blind
in their delirium and racing against each other, bore down through all
obstacles toward its brink. Death was rarely ever closer; one score
yards more, one plunge, one crash down the declivity and against the
rails, one swell of the noisome tide above their heads, and life would
be closed and passed for both of them. For one breathless moment his
eyes met hers--in that moment he loved her, in that moment their
hearts beat with a truer, fonder impulse to each other than they had
ever done. Before the presence of a threatening death life grows real,
love grows precious, to the coldest and most careless.
No aid could come; not a living soul was nigh; the solitude was as
complete as though a western prairie stretched round them; there were
only the still and shadowy night, the chilly silence, on which the
beat of the plunging hoofs shattered like thunder, and the glisten of
the flowing water growing nearer and nearer every yard. The
tranquillity around only jarred more horribly on ear and brain; the
vanishing forms of the antlered deer only gave a weirder grace to the
moonlight chase whose goal was the grave. It was like the midnight
hunt after Herne the Hunter; but here, behind them, hunted Death.
The animals neither saw nor knew what waited them, as they rushed down
on to the broad, gray stream, veiled from them by the slope and the
screen of flickering leaves; to save them there was but one chance,
and that so desperate that it looked like madness. It was but a
second's thought; he gave it but a second's resolve.
The next instant he stood on his feet, as the carriage swayed to and
fro over the turf, balanced himself marvelously as it staggered in
that furious gallop from side to side, clinched the reins hard in the
grip of his teeth, measured the distance with an unerring eye, and
crouching his body for the spring with all the science of the old
playing-fields of his Eton days, cleared the dashboard and lighted
astride on the back of the hunting five-year old--how, he could never
have remembered or have told.
The tremendous pace at which they went swayed him with a lurch and a
reel over the off-side; a woman's cry rang again, clear, and shrill,
and agonized on the night; a moment more, and he would have fallen,
head downward, beneath the horses' feet. But he had ridden stirrupless
and saddleless ere now; he recovered himself with the suppleness of an
Arab, and firm-seated behind the collar, with one leg crushed between
the pole and Maraschino's flanks, gathering in the ribbons till they
were tight-drawn as a bridle, he strained with all the might and sinew
that were in him to get the grays in hand before they could plunge
down into the water. His wrists were wrenched like pulleys, the
resistance against him was hard as iron; but as he had risked life and
limb in the leap which had seated him across the harnessed loins of
the now terrified beast, so he risked them afresh to get the mastery
now; to slacken them, turn them ever so slightly, and save the woman
he loved--loved, at least in this hour, as he had not loved her
before. One moment more, while the half-maddened beast rushed through
the shadows; one moment more, till the river stretched full before
them in all its length and breadth, without a living thing upon its
surface to break the still and awful calm; one moment--and the force
of cool command conquered and broke their wills despite themselves.
The hunter knew his master's voice, his touch, his pressure, and
slackened speed by an irresistible, almost unconscious habit of
obedience; the carriage mare, checked and galled in the full height of
her speed, stood erect, pawing the air with her forelegs, and flinging
the white froth over her withers, while she plunged blindly in her
nervous terror; then with a crash, her feet came down upon the ground,
the broken harness shivered together with a sharp, metallic clash;
snorting, panting, quivering, trembling, the pair stood passive and
The carriage was overthrown; but the high and fearless courage of the
peeress bore her unharmed, even as she was flung out on to the
yielding fern-grown turf. Fair as she was in every hour, she had never
looked fairer than as he swung himself from the now powerless horses
and threw himself beside her.
"My love--my love, you are saved!"
The beautiful eyes looked up, half unconscious; the danger told on her
now that it was passed, as it does most commonly with women.
"Saved!--lost! All the world must know, now, that you are with me this
evening," she murmured with a shudder. She lived for the world, and
her first thought was of self.
He soothed her tenderly.
"Hush--be at rest! There is no injury but what I can repair, nor is
there a creature in sight to have witnessed the accident. Trust in me;
no one shall ever know of this. You shall reach town safely and
And, while he promised, he forgot that he thus pledged his honor to
leave four hours of his life so buried that, however much he needed,
he neither should nor could account for them.
THE PAINTED BIT.
Baden was at its brightest. The Victoria, the Badischer Hof, the
Stephanie Bauer were crowded. The Kurliste had a dazzling string of
names. Imperial grandeur sauntered in slippers; chiefs, used to be
saluted with "Ave Caesar Imperator," smoked a papelito in peace over
"Galignani." Emperors gave a good-day to ministers who made their
thrones beds of thorns, and little kings elbowed great capitalists who
could have bought them all up in a morning's work in the money market.
Statecraft was in its slippers and diplomacy in its dressing-gown.
Statesmen who had just been outwitting each other at the hazard of
European politics laughed good-humoredly as they laid their gold down
on the color. Rivals who had lately been quarreling over the knotty
points of national frontiers now only vied for a twenty-franc rosebud
from the bouquetiere. Knights of the Garter and Knights of the Golden
Fleece, who had hated each other to deadliest rancor with the length
of the Continent between them, got friends over a mutually good book
on the Rastadt or Foret Noir. Brains that were the powder depot of
one-half of the universe let themselves be lulled to tranquil
amusement by a fair idiot's coquetry. And lips that, with a whisper,
could loosen the coursing slips of the wild hell-dogs of war, murmured
love to a princess, led the laugh at a supper at five in the morning,
or smiled over their own caricatures done by Tenniel or Cham.
Baden was full. The supreme empires of demi-monde sent their
sovereigns, diamond-crowned and resistless, to outshine all other
principalities and powers, while in breadth of marvelous skirts, in
costliness of cobweb laces, in unapproachability of Indian shawls and
gold embroideries, and mad fantasies and Cleopatra extravagances, and
jewels fit for a Maharajah, the Zu-Zu was distanced by none.
Among the kings and heroes and celebrities who gathered under the
pleasant shadow of the pine-crowned hills, there was not one in his
way greater than the steeple-chaser, Forest King--certes, there was
not one half so honest.
The Guards' Crack was entered for the Prix de Dames, the sole
representative of England. There were two or three good things out of
French stables,--specially a killing little boy, L'Etoile,--and there
was an Irish sorrel, the property of an Austrian of rank, of which
fair things were whispered; but it was scarcely possible that anything
could stand against the King and that wonderful stride of his which
spread-eagled his field like magic, and his countrymen were well
content to leave their honor and their old renown to "Beauty" and his
Beauty himself, with a characteristic philosophy, had a sort of
conviction that the German race would set everything square. He stood
either to make a very good thing on it or to be very heavily bit.
There could be no medium. He never hedged in his life; and as it was
almost a practical impossibility that anything the foreign stables
could get together would even be able to land within half a dozen
lengths of the King. Cecil, always willing to console himself, and
invariably too careless to take the chance of adverse accident into
account, had come to Baden, and was amusing himself there dropping a
Friedrich d'Or on the rouge, flirting in the shady alleys of the
Lichtenthal, waltzing Lady Guenevere down the ballroom, playing ecarte
with some Serene Highness, supping with the Zu-Zu and her set, and
occupying rooms that a Russian Prince had had before him, with all the
serenity of a millionaire, as far as memory of money went; with much
more than the serenity in other matters of most millionaires, who,
finding themselves uncommonly ill at ease in the pot-pourri of
monarchs and ministers, of beau-monde and demi-monde, would have given
half their newly turned thousands to get rid of the odor of Capel
Court and the Bourse, and to attain the calm, negligent assurance, the
easy, tranquil insolence, the nonchalance with Princes, and the
supremacy among the Free Lances, which they saw and coveted in the
Bertie amused himself. He might be within a day of his ruin, but that
was no reason why he should not sip his iced sherbet and laugh with a
pretty French actress to-night. his epicurean formulary was the same
as old Herrick's, and he would have paraphrased this poet's famous
Drink a pure claret while you may,
Your "stiff" is still a-flying;
And he who dines so well to-day
To-morrow may be lying,
Pounced down upon by Jews /tout net/,
Or outlawed in a French /guinguette!
Bertie was a great believer--if the words are not too sonorous and too
earnest to be applied to his very inconsequent views upon any and
everything--in the philosophy of happy accident. Far as it was in him
to have a conviction at all,--which was a thorough-going, serious sort
of thing not by any means his "form,"--he had a conviction that the
doctrine of "Eat, drink, and enjoy, for to-morrow we die" was a
universal panacea. He was reckless to the uttermost stretch of
recklessness, all serene and quiet though his pococurantism and his
daily manner were; and while subdued to the undeviating monotone and
languor of his peculiar set in all his temper and habits, the natural
dare-devil in him took out its inborn instincts in a wildly careless
and gamester-like imprudence with that most touchy tempered and
inconsistent of all coquettes--Fortune.
Things, he thought, could not well be worse with him than they were
now. So he piled all on one coup, and stood to be sunk or saved by the
Prix de Dames. Meanwhile, all the same, he murmured Mussetism to the
Guenevere under the ruins of the Alte Schloss, lost or won a rouleau
at the roulette-wheel, gave a banknote to the famous Isabel for a tea-
rose, drove the Zu-Zu four in hand to see the Flat races, took his
guinea tickets for the Concerts, dined with Princes, lounged arm-in-
arm with Grand Dukes, gave an Emperor a hint as to the best cigars,
and charmed a Monarch by unfolding the secret of the aroma of a
Guards' Punch, sacred to the Household.
Bertie who believed in bivalves but not in heroics, thought it best to
take the oysters first and eschew the despair entirely.
He had one unchangeable quality--insouciance; and he had, moreover,
one unchangeable faith--the King. Lady Guenevere had reached home
unnoticed after the accident of their moonlight stag-hunt. His
brother, meeting him a day or two after their interview, had nodded
affirmatively, though sulkily, in answer to his inquiries, and had
murmured that it was "all square now." The Jews and the tradesmen had
let him leave for Baden without more serious measures than a menace,
more or less insolently worded. In the same fashion he trusted that
the King's running at the Bad, with the moneys he had on it, would set
all things right for a little while; when, if his family interest,
which was great, would get him his step in the First Life, he thought,
desperate as things were, they might come round again smoothly,
without a notorious crash.
"You are sure the King will 'stay,' Bertie?" asked Lady Guenevere, who
had some hundreds in gloves (and even under the rose "sported a pony"
or so more seriously) on the event.
"Certain! But if he don't I promise you as pretty a tableau as your
Asnieres one; for your sake, I'll make the finish as picturesque as
possible. Wouldn't it be well to give me a lock of hair in readiness?"
Her ladyship laughed and shook her head; if a man killed himself, she
did not desire that her gracious name should be entangled with the
"No; I don't do those things," she said, with captivating waywardness.
"Besides, though the Oos looks cool and pleasant, I greatly doubt that
under any pressure you would trouble it; suicides are too pronounced
for your style, Bertie."
"At all events, a little morphia in one's own rooms would be quieter,
and better taste," said Cecil, while he caught himself listlessly
wondering, as he had wondered at Richmond, if this badinage were to
turn into serious fact--how much would she care.
"May your sins be forgiven you!" cried Chesterfield, the apostle of
training, as he and the Seraph came up to the table where Cecil and
Cos Wentworth were breakfasting in the garden of the Stephanien on the
race-day itself. "Liqueurs, truffles, and every devilment under the
sun?--cold beef, and nothing to drink, Beauty, if you've any
"Never had a grain, dear boy, since I can remember," murmured Bertie
apologetically. "You took all the rawness off me at Eton."
"And you've been taking coffee in bed, I'll swear!" pursued the cross-
"What if he have? Beauty's condition can't be upset by a little mocha,
nor mine either," said his universal defender; and the Seraph shook
his splendid limbs with a very pardonable vanity.
"Ruteroth trains; Ruteroth trains awfully," put in Cos Wentworth,
looking up out of a great silver flagon of Badminton, with which he
was ending his breakfast; and referring to that Austrian who was to
ride the Paris favorite. "Remember him at La Marche last year, and the
racing at Vincennes--didn't take a thing that could make flesh--
muscles like iron, you know--never touched a soda even----"
"I've trained, too," said Bertie submissively; "look how I've been
waltzing! There isn't harder work than that for any fellow. A
deuxtemps with the Duchess takes it out of you like any spin over the
His censurers laughed, but did not give in their point.
"You've run shocking risks, Beauty," said Chesterfield; "the King's in
fine running-form; don't say he isn't; but you've said scores of times
what a deal of riding he takes. Now, can you tell us yourself that
you're in as hard condition as you were when you won the Military,
Cecil shook his head with a sigh.
"I don't think I am; I've had things to try me, you see. There was
that Verschoyle's proposal. I did absolutely think at one time she'd
marry me before I could protest against it! Then there was that shock
to one's whole nervous system, when that indigo man, who took Lady
Laura's house, asked us to dinner, and actually thought we should go!
--and there was a scene, you know, of all earthly horrors, when Mrs.
Gervase was so near eloping with me, and Gervase cut up rough, instead
of pitying me; and then the field-days were so many, and so late into
the season; and I exhausted myself so at the Belvoir theatricals at
Easter; and I toiled so atrociously playing 'Almaviva' at your place,
Seraph--a private opera's galley slave's work!--and, altogether, I've
had a good many things to pull me down since the winter," concluded
Bertie, with a plaintive self-condolence over his truffles.
The rest of his condemning judges laughed, and passed the plea of
sympathy; the Coldstreamer alone remained censorious and untouched.
"Pull you down! You'll never pull off the race if you sit drinking
liqueurs all the morning!" growled that censor. "Look at that!"
Bertie glanced at the London telegram tossed across to him, sent from
a private and confidential agent.
"Betting here--two to one on L'Etoile; Irish Roan offered and taken
freely. Slight decline in closing prices for the King; getting on
French bay rather heavily at midnight. Fancy there's a commission out
against the King. Looks suspicious." Cecil shrugged his shoulders and
raised his eyebrows a little.
"All the better for us. Take all they'll lay against me. It's as good
as our having a 'Commission out'; and if any cads get one against us
it can't mean mischief, as it would with professional jocks."
"Are you so sure of yourself, Beauty?"
Beauty shook his head repudiatingly.
"Never am sure of anything, much less of myself. I'm a chameleon, a
"Are you so sure of the King, then?"
"My dear fellow, no! I ask you in reason, how can I be sure of what
isn't proved? I'm like that country fellow the old story tells of; he
believed in fifteen shillings because he'd once had it in his hand;
others, he'd heard, believed in a pound; but, for his part, he didn't,
because he'd never seen it. Now that was a man who'd never commit
himself; he might had had the Exchequer! I'm the same; I believe the
King can win at a good many things because I've seen him do 'em; but I
can't possibly tell whether he can get this, because I've never ridden
him for it. I shall be able to tell you at three o'clock--but that you
don't care for----"
And Bertie, exhausted with making such a lengthened exposition--the
speeches he preferred were monosyllabic--completed his sins against
training with a long draught of claret-cup.
"Then what the devil do you mean by telling us to pile our pots on
you?" asked the outraged Coldstreamer, with natural wrath.
"Faith is a beautiful sight!" said Bertie, with solemnity.
"Offered on the altar of the Jews!" laughed the Seraph, as he turned
him away from the breakfast table by the shoulders. "Thanks, Beauty;
I've 'four figures' on you, and you'll be good enough to win them for
me. Let's have a look at the King. They are just going to walk him
Cecil complied; while he lounged away with the others to the stables,
with a face of the most calm, gentle, weary indifference in the world,
the thought crossed him for a second of how very near he was to the
wind. The figures in his betting-book were to the tune of several
thousands, one way or another. If he won this morning it would be all
right, of course; if he lost--even Beauty, odd mixture of devil-may-
care and languor though he was, felt his lips grow, for the moment,
hot and cold by turns as he thought of that possible contingency.
The King looked in splendid condition; he knew well enough what was up
again, knew what was meant by that extra sedulous dressing-down, that
setting muzzle that had been buckled on him some nights previous, the
limitation put to his drink, the careful trial spins in the gray of
the mornings, the conclusive examination of his plates by a skillful
hand; he knew what was required of him, and a horse in nobler
condition never stepped out in body clothing, as he was ridden slowly
down on to the plains of Iffesheim. The Austrian Dragoon, a Count and
a Chamberlain likewise, who was to ride his only possible rival, the
French horse L'Etoile, pulled his tawny silken mustaches as he saw the
great English hero come up the course, and muttered to himself,
"L'affaire est finie." L'Etoile was a brilliant enough bay in his
fashion, but Count Ruteroth knew the measure of his pace and powers
too thoroughly to expect him to live against the strides of the
"My beauty, won't you cut those German fellows down!" muttered Rake,
the enthusiast, in the saddling inclosure. "As for those fools what go
agin you, you'll put them in a hole, and no mistake. French horse,
indeed! Why, you'll spread-eagle all them Mossoos' and Meinherrs'
cattle in a brace of seconds--"
Rake's foe, the head groom, caught him up savagely.
"Won't you never learn decent breeding? When we wins we wins on the
quiet, and when we loses we loses as if we liked it; all that braying,
and flaunting, and boasting is only fit for cads. The 'oss is in tip-
top condition; let him show what he can do over furren ground."
"Lucky for him, then, that he hasn't got you across the pigskin; you'd
rope him, I believe, as soon as look at him, if it was made worth your
while," retorted Rake, in caustic wrath; his science of repartee
chiefly lay in a successful "plant," and he was here uncomfortably
conscious that his opponent was in the right of the argument, as he
started through the throng to put his master into the "shell" of the
Shire-famous scarlet and white.
"Tip-top condition, my boy--tip-top, and no mistake," murmured Mr.
Willon for the edification of those around them as the saddle-girths
were buckled on, and the Guards' Crack stood the cynosure of every eye
Then, in his capacity as head attendant on the hero, he directed the
exercise bridle to be taken off, and with his own hands adjusted a new
and handsome one, slung across his arm.
" 'Tis a'most a pity. 'Tis a'most a pity," thought the worthy, as he
put the curb on the King; "but I shouldn't have been haggravated with
that hinsolent soldiering chap. There, my boy! if you'll win with a
painted quid, I'm a Dutchman."
Forest King champed his bit between his teeth a little; it tasted
bitter; he tossed his head and licked it with his tongue impatiently;
the taste had got down his throat and he did not like its flavor; he
turned his deep, lustrous eyes with a gentle patience on the crowd
about him, as though asking them what was the matter with him. No one
moved his bit; the only person who could have had such authority was
busily giving the last polish to his coat with a fine handkerchief--
that glossy neck which had been so dusted many a time with the cobweb
coronet-broidered handkerchiefs of great ladies--and his instincts,
glorious as they were, were not wise enough to tell him to kick his
head groom down, then and there, with one mortal blow, as his poisoner
The King chafed under the taste of that "painted quid"; he felt a
nausea as he swallowed, and he turned his handsome head with a
strange, pathetic astonishment in his glance. At that moment a
familiar hand stroked his mane, a familiar foot was put into his
stirrup, Bertie threw himself into saddle; the lightest weight that
ever gentleman-rider rode, despite his six-foot length of limb. The
King, at the well-known touch, the well-loved voice, pricked his
delicate ears, quivered in all his frame with eager excitation,
snuffed the air restlessly through his distended nostrils, and felt
every vein under his satin skin thrill and swell with pleasure; he was
all impatience, all power, all longing, vivid intensity of life. If
only that nausea would go! He felt a restless sickliness stealing on
him that his young and gallant strength had never known since he was
foaled. But it was not in the King to yield to a little; he flung his
head up, champing angrily at the bit, then walked down to the
starting-post with his old calm, collected grace; and Cecil, looking
at the glossy bow of the neck, and feeling the width of the
magnificent ribs beneath him, stooped from his saddle a second as he
rode out of the inclosure and bent to the Seraph.
"Look at him, Rock! The thing's as good as won."
The day was very warm and brilliant; all Baden had come down to the
race-course; continuous strings of carriages, with their four or six
horses and postilions, held the line far down over the plains; mob
there was none, save of women in matchless toilets, and men with the
highest names in the "Almanac de Gotha"; the sun shone cloudlessly on
the broad, green plateau of Iffesheim, on the white amphitheater of
chalk hills, and on the glittering, silken folds of the flags of
England, France, Prussia, and of the Grand Duchy itself, that floated
from the summits of the Grand Stand, Pavilion, and Jockey Club.
The ladies, descending from the carriages, swept up and down on the
green course that was so free from "cads" and "legs"; their
magnificent skirts trailing along without the risk of a grain of dust;
their costly laces side by side with the Austrian uniforms of the
military men from Rastadt. The betting was but slight, in odd contrast
with the hubbub and striking clamor of English betting rings; the only
approach to anything like "real business" being transacted between the
members of the Household and those of the Jockey Clubs. Iffesheim was
pure pleasure, like every other item of Baden existence, and all
aristocratic, sparkling, rich, amusement-seeking Europe seemed
gathered there under the sunny skies, and on everyone's lips in the
titled throng was but one name--Forest King's. Even the coquettish
bouquet-sellers, who remembered the dresses of his own colors which
Cecil had given them last year when he had won the Rastadt, would sell
nothing except little twin scarlet and white moss rosebuds; of which
thousands were gathered and died that morning in honor of the English
A slender event usually, the presence of the renowned crack of the
Household Cavalry made the Prix de Dames the most eagerly watched-for
entry on the card; and the rest of the field were scarcely noticed as
the well-known gold-embroidered jacket came up at the starting-post.
The King saw that blaze of light and color over course and stands that
he knew so well by this time; he felt the pressure round him of his
foreign rivals as they reared and pulled and fretted and passaged; the
old longing quivered in all his eager limbs, the old fire wakened in
all his dauntless blood; like the charger at sound of the trumpet-
call, he lived in his past victories, and was athirst for more. But
yet--between him and the sunny morning there seemed a dim, hazy
screen; on his delicate ear the familiar clangor smote with something
dulled and strange; there seemed a numbness stealing down his frame;
he shook his head in an unusual and irritated impatience,; he did not
know what ailed him. The hand he loved so loyally told him the work
that was wanted of him; but he felt its guidance dully too, and the
dry, hard, hot earth, as he struck it with his hoof, seemed to sway
and heave beneath him; the opiate had stolen into his veins and was
creeping stealthily and surely to the sagacious brain, and over the
clear, bright senses.
The signal for the start was given; the first mad headlong rush broke
away with the force of a pent-up torrent suddenly loosened; every
instinct of race and custom, and of that obedience which rendered him
flexible as silk to his rider's will, sent him forward with that
stride which made the Guards' Crack a household word in all the
Shires. For a moment he shook himself clear of all the horses, and led
off in the old grand sweeping canter before the French bay, three
lengths in the one single effort.
Then into his eyes a terrible look of anguish came; the numb and
sickly nausea was upon him, his legs trembled, before his sight was a
blurred, whirling mist; all the strength and force and mighty life
within him felt ebbing out, yet he struggled bravely. He strained, he
panted, he heard the thundering thud of the first flight gaining
nearer and nearer upon him; he felt his rivals closing hotter and
harder in on him; he felt the steam of his opponent's smoking, foam-
dashed withers burn on his own flanks and shoulders; he felt the
maddening pressure of a neck-to-neck struggle; he felt what in all his
victorious life he had never known--the paralysis of defeat.
The glittering throngs spreading over the plains gazed at him in the
sheer stupor of amazement; they saw that the famous English hero was
dead-beat as any used-up knacker.
One second more he strove to wrench himself through the throng of the
horses, through the headlong crushing press, through--worst foe of
all!--the misty darkness curtaining his sight! One second more he
tried to wrestle back the old life into his limbs, the unworn power
and freshness into nerve and sinew. Then the darkness fell utterly;
the mighty heart failed; he could do no more--and his rider's hand
slackened and turned him gently backward; his rider's voice sounded
very low and quiet to those who, seeing that every effort was
hopeless, surged and clustered round his saddle.
"Something ails the King," said Cecil calmly; "he is fairly knocked
off his legs. Some Vet must look to him; ridden a yard farther he will
Words so gently spoken!--yet in the single minute that alone had
passed since they had left the Starter's Chair, a lifetime seemed to
have been centered, alike to Forest King and to his owner.
The field swept on with a rush, without the favorite; and the Prix de
Dames was won by the French bay L'Etoile.
When a young Prussian had shot himself the night before for roulette
losses, the event had not thrilled, startled, and impressed the gay
Baden gathering one tithe so gravely and so enduringly as did now the
unaccountable failure of the great Guards' Crack.
Men could make nothing of it save the fact that there was "something
dark" somewhere. The "painted quid" had done its work more thoroughly
than Willon and the welsher had intended; they had meant that the
opiate should be just sufficient to make the favorite off his speed,
but not to make effects so palpable as these. It was, however, so
deftly prepared that under examination no trace could be found of it,
and the result of veterinary investigation, while it left unremoved
the conviction that the horse had been doctored, could not explain
when or how, or by what medicines. Forest King had simply "broken
down"; favorites do this on the flat and over the furrow from an
overstrain, from a railway journey, from a touch of cold, from a
sudden decay of power, from spasm, or from vertigo; those who lose by
them may think what they will of "roping," or "painting," or
"nobbling," but what can they prove?
Even in the great scandals that come before the autocrats of the
Jockey Club, where the tampering is clearly known, can the matter ever
be really proved and sifted? Very rarely. The trainer affects stolid
unconsciousness or unimpeachable respectability; the hapless stable-
boy is cross-examined, to protest innocence and ignorance, and most
likely protest them rightly; he is accused, dismissed, and ruined; or
some young jock has a "caution" out everywhere against him, and never
again can get a mount even for the commonest handicap; but, as a rule,
the real criminals are never unearthed, and by consequence are never
reached and punished.
The Household, present and absent, were heavily hit. They cared little
for the "crushers" they incurred, but their champion's failure, when
he was in the face of Europe, cut them more terribly. The fame of the
English riding-men had been trusted to Forest King and his owner, and
they, who had never before betrayed the trust placed in them, had
broken down like any screw out of a livery stable; like any jockey
bribed to "pull" at a suburban selling-race. It was fearfully bitter
work; and, unanimous to a voice, the indignant murmur of "doctored"
ran through the titled, fashionable crowds on the Baden course in deep
and ominous anger.
The Seraph's grand wrath poured out fulminations against the wicked-
doer whosoever he was, or wheresoever he lurked; and threatened, with
a vengeance that would be no empty words, the direst chastisement of
the "Club," of which both his father and himself were stewards, upon
the unknown criminal. The Austrian and French nobles, while winners by
the event, were scarce in less angered excitement. It seemed to cast
the foulest slur upon their honor that, upon foreign ground, the
renowned English steeple-chaser should have been tampered with thus;
and the fair ladies of either world added the influence of their
silver tongues, and were eloquent in the vivacity of their sympathy
and resentment with a unanimity women rarely show in savoring defeat,
but usually reserve for the fairer opportunity of swaying the censer
Cecil alone, amid it all, was very quiet; he said scarcely a word, nor
could the sharpest watcher have detected an alteration in his
countenance. Only once, when they talked around him of the
investigations of the Club, and of the institution of inquiries to
discover the guilty traitor, he looked up with a sudden, dangerous
lighting of his soft, dark, hazel eyes, under the womanish length of
their lashes: "When you find him, leave him to me."
The light was gone again in an instant; but those who knew the wild
strain that ran in the Royallieu blood knew by it that, despite his
gentle temper, a terrible reckoning for the evil done his horse might
come some day from the Quietist.
He said little or nothing else, and to the sympathy and indignation
expressed for him on all sides he answered with his old, listless
calm. But, in truth, he barely knew what was saying or doing about
him; he felt like a man stunned and crushed with the violence of some
tremendous fall; the excitation, the agitation, the angry amazement
around him (growing as near clamor as was possible in those
fashionable betting-circles, so free from roughs and almost free from
bookmakers), the conflicting opinions clashing here and there--even,
indeed, the graceful condolence of the brilliant women--were
insupportable to him. He longed to be out of this world which had so
well amused him; he longed passionately, for the first time in his
life, to be alone.
For he knew that with the failure of Forest King had gone the last
plank that saved him from ruin; perhaps the last chance that stood
between him and dishonor. He had never looked on it as within the
possibilities of hazard that the horse could be defeated; now, little
as those about him knew it, an absolute and irremediable disgrace
fronted him. For, secure in the issue of the Prix de Dames, and
compelled to weight his chances in it very heavily that his winnings
might be wide enough to relieve some of the debt-pressure upon him,
his losses now were great; and he knew no more how to raise the moneys
to meet them than he would have known how to raise the dead.
The blow fell with crushing force; the fiercer because his indolence
had persisted in ignoring his danger, and because his whole character
was so naturally careless and so habituated to ease and to enjoyment.
A bitter, heartsick misery fell on him; the tone of honor was high
with him; he might be reckless of everything else, but he could never
be reckless in what infringed, or went nigh to infringe, a very
stringent code. Bertie never reasoned in that way; he simply followed
the instincts of his breeding without analyzing them; but these led
him safely and surely right in all his dealings with his fellow-men,
however open to censure his life might be in other matters. Careless
as he was, and indifferent, to levity, in many things, his ideas of
honor were really very pure and elevated; he suffered proportionately
now that, through the follies of his own imprudence, and the baseness
of some treachery he could neither sift nor avenge, he saw himself
driven down into as close a jeopardy of disgrace as ever befell a man
who did not willfully, and out of guilty coveting of its fruits, seek
For the first time in his life the society of his troops of
acquaintance became intolerably oppressive; for the first time in his
life he sought refuge from thought in the stimulus of drink, and
dashed down neat Cognac as though it were iced Badminton, as he drove
with his set off the disastrous plains of Iffesheim. He shook himself
free of them as soon as he could; he felt the chatter round him
insupportable; the men were thoroughly good-hearted, and though they
were sharply hit by the day's issue, never even by implication hinted
at owing the disaster to their faith in him, but the very cordiality
and sympathy they showed cut him the keenest--the very knowledge of
their forbearance made his own thoughts darkest.
Far worse to Cecil than the personal destruction the day's calamity
brought him was the knowledge of the entire faith these men had placed
in him, and the losses which his own mistaken security had caused
them. Granted he could neither guess nor avert the trickery which had
brought about his failure; but none the less did he feel that he had
failed them; none the less did the very generosity and magnanimity
they showed him sting him like a scourge.
He got away from them at last, and wandered out alone into the gardens
of the Stephanien, till the green trees of an alley shut him in in
solitude, and the only echo of the gay world of Baden was the strain
of a band, the light mirth of a laugh, or the roll of a carriage
sounding down the summer air.
It was eight o'clock; the sun was slanting in the west in a cloudless
splendor, bathing the bright scene in a rich golden glow, and tinging
to bronze the dark masses of the Black Forest. In another hour he was
the expected guest of a Russian Prince at a dinner party, where all
that was highest, fairest, greatest, most powerful, and most
bewitching of every nationality represented there would meet; and in
the midst of this radiant whirlpool of extravagance and pleasure,
where every man worth owning as such was his friend, and every woman
whose smile he cared for welcomed him, he knew himself as utterly
alone, as utterly doomed, as the lifeless Prussian lying in the dead-
house. No aid could serve him, for it would have been but to sink
lower yet to ask or to take it; no power could save him from the ruin
which in a few days later at the farthest would mark him out forever
an exiled, beggared, perhaps dishonored man--a debtor and an alien.
Where he had thrown himself on a bench beneath a mountain-ash, trying
vainly to realize this thing which had come upon him--and to meet
which not training, nor habit, nor a moment's grave reflection had
ever done the slightest to prepare him; gazing, blankly and
unconsciously, at the dense pine woods and rugged glens of the Forest
that sloped upward and around above the green and leafy nest of Baden
--he watched mechanically the toiling passage of a charcoal-burner
going up the hillside in distance through the firs.
"Those poor devils envy us!" he thought. "Better be one of them ten
thousand times than be trained for the Great Race, and started with
the cracks, dead weighted with the penalty-shot of Poverty!"
A soft touch came on his arm as he sat there; he looked up, surprised.
Before him stood a dainty, delicate little form, all gay with white
lace, and broideries, and rose ribbons, and floating hair fastened
backward with a golden fillet; it was that of the little Lady Venetia,
--the only daughter of the House of Lyonnesse, by a late marriage of
his Grace,--the eight-year-old sister of the colossal Seraph; the
plaything of a young and lovely mother, who had flirted in Belgravia
with her future stepson before she fell sincerely and veritably in
love with the gallant and still handsome Duke.
Cecil roused himself and smiled at her; he had been by months together
at Lyonnesse most years of the child's life, and had been gentle to
her as he was to every living thing, though he had noticed her seldom.
"Well, Petite Reine," he said kindly, bitter as his thoughts were;
calling her by the name she generally bore. "All alone? Where are your
"Petite Reine," who, to justify her sobriquet, was a grand, imperial
little lady, bent her delicate head--a very delicate head, indeed,
carrying itself royally, young though it was.
"Ah! you know I never care for children!"
It was said so disdainfully, yet so sincerely, without a touch of
affectation, and so genuinely, as the expression of a matured and
contemptuous opinion, that even in that moment it amused him. She did
not wait an answer, but bent nearer, with an infinite pity and anxiety
in her pretty eyes.
"I want to know--you are so vexed; are you not? They say you have lost
all your money!"
"Do they? They are not far wrong then. Who are 'they,' Petite Reine?"
"Oh! Prince Alexis, and the Duc de Lorance, and mamma, and everybody.
Is it true?"
"Very true, my little lady."
"Ah!" She gave a long sigh, looking pathetically at him, with her head
on one side, and her lips parted; "I heard the Russian gentleman
saying that you were ruined. Is that true, too?"
"Yes, dear," he answered wearily, thinking little of the child in the
desperate pass to which his life had come.
Petite Reine stood by him silent; her proud, imperial young ladyship
had a very tender heart, and she was very sorry; she had understood
what had been said before her of him vaguely indeed, and with no sense
of its true meaning, yet still with the quick perception of a
brilliant and petted child. Looking at her, he saw with astonishment
that her eyes were filled with tears. He put out his hand and drew her
"Why, little one, what do you know of these things? How did you find
me out here?"
She bent nearer to him, swaying her slender figure, with its bright
gossamer muslins, like a dainty hare-bell, and lifting her face to his
--earnest, beseeching, and very eager.
"I came--I came--please don't be angry--because I heard them say you
had no money, and I want you to take mine. Do take it! Look, it is all
bright gold, and it is my own, my very own. Papa gives it to me to do
just what I like with. Do take it; pray do!"
Coloring deeply, for the Petite Reine had that true instinct of
generous natures,--a most sensitive delicacy for others,--but growing
ardent in her eloquence and imploring in her entreaty, she shook on to
Cecil's knee, out of a little enamel sweetmeat box, twenty bright
Napoleons that fell in a glittering shower on the grass.
He started, and looked at her in a silence that she mistook for
offense. She leaned nearer, pale now with her excitement, and with her
large eyes gleaming and melting with passionate entreaty.
"Don't be angry; pray take it; it is all my own, and you know I have
bonbons, and books, and playthings, and ponies, and dogs till I am
tired of them; I never want the money; indeed I don't. Take it, please
take it; and if you will only let me ask Papa or Rock they will give
you thousands and thousands of pounds, if that isn't enough. Do let
Cecil, in silence still, stooped and drew her to him. When he spoke
his voice shook ever so slightly, and he felt his eyes dim with an
emotion that he had not known in all his careless life; the child's
words and action touched him deeply, the caressing, generous innocence
of the offered gift, beside the enormous extravagance and hopeless
bankruptcy of his career, smote him with a keen pang, yet moved him
with a strange pleasure.
"Petite Reine," he murmured gently, striving vainly for his old
lightness, "Petite Reine, how some man will love you one day! Thank
you from my heart, my little innocent friend."
Her face flushed with gladness; she smiled with all a child's
"Ah! then you will take it! and if you want more only let me ask them
for it; papa and Philip never refuse me anything!"
His hand wandered gently over the shower of her hair, as he put back
the Napoleons that he had gathered up into her azure bonbonniere.
"Petite Reine, you are a little angel; but I cannot take your money,
my child, and you must ask for none for my sake from your father or
from Rock. Do not look so grieved, little one; I love you none the
less because I refuse it."
Petite Reine's face was very pale and grave; a delicate face, in its
miniature feminine childhood almost absurdly like the Seraph's; her
eyes were full of plaintive wonder and of pathetic reproach.
"Ah!" she said, drooping her head with a sigh; "it is no good to you
because it is such a little; do let me ask for more!"
He smiled, but the smile was very weary.
"No, dear, you must not ask for more; I have been very foolish, my
little friend, and I must take the fruits of my folly; all men must. I
can accept no one's money, not even yours; when you are older and
remember this, you will know why. But I do not thank you the less from
She looked at him, pained and wistful.
"You will not take anything, Mr. Cecil?" she asked with a sigh,
glancing at her rejected Napoleons.
He drew the enamel bonbonniere away.
"I will take that if you will give it me, Petite Reine, and keep it in
memory of you."
As he spoke, he stooped and kissed her very gently; the act had moved
him more deeply than he thought he had it in him to be moved by
anything, and the child's face turned upward to him was of a very
perfect and aristocratic loveliness, far beyond her years. She colored
as his lips touched hers, and swayed slightly from him. She was an
extremely proud young sovereign, and never allowed caresses; yet she
lingered by him, troubled, grave, with something intensely tender and
pitiful in the musing look of her eyes. She had a perception that this
calamity which smote him was one far beyond the ministering of her
He took the pretty Palais Royal gold-rimmed sweetmeat box, and slipped
it into his waistcoat pocket. It was only a child's gift, a tiny Paris
toy; but it had been brought to him in a tender compassion, and he did
keep it; kept it through dark days and wild nights, through the scorch
of the desert and the shadows of death, till the young eyes that
questioned him now with such innocent wonder had gained the grander
luster of their womanhood and had brought him a grief wider than he
At that moment, as the child stood beside him under the drooping
acacia boughs, with the green, sloping lower valley seen at glimpses
through the wall of leaves, one of the men of the Stephanien
approached him with an English letter, which, as it was marked
"instant," they had laid apart from the rest of the visitors' pile of
correspondence. Cecil took it wearily--nothing but fresh
embarrassments could come to him from England--and looked at the
little Lady Venetia.
"Will you allow me?"
She bowed her graceful head; with all the naif unconsciousness of a
child, she had all the manner of the veille cour; together they made
He broke the envelope and read--a blurred, scrawled, miserable letter;
the words erased with passionate strokes, and blotted with hot tears,
and scored out in impulsive misery. It was long, yet at a glance he
scanned its message and its meaning; at the first few words he knew
its whole as well as though he had studied every line.
A strong tremor shook him from head to foot, a tremor at once of
passionate rage and of as passionate pain; his face blanched to a
deadly whiteness; his teeth clinched as though he were restraining
some bodily suffering, and he tore the letter in two and stamped it
down into the turf under his heel with a gesture as unlike his common
serenity of manner as the fiery passion that darkened in his eyes was
unlike the habitual softness of his too pliant and too unresentful
temper. He crushed the senseless paper again and again down into the
grass beneath his heel; his lips shook under the silky abundance of
his beard; the natural habit of long usage kept him from all
utterance, and even in the violence of its shock he remembered the
young Venetia's presence; but, in that one fierce, unrestrained
gesture the shame and suffering upon him broke out, despite himself.
The child watched him, startled and awed. She touched his hand softly.
"What is it? Is it anything worse?"
He turned his eyes on her with a dry, hot, weary anguish in them; he
was scarcely conscious what he said or what he answered.
"Worse--worse?" he repeated mechanically, while his heel still ground
down in loathing the shattered paper into the grass. "There can be
nothing worse! It is the vilest, blackest shame."
He spoke to his thoughts, not to her; the words died in his throat; a
bitter agony was on him; all the golden summer evening, all the fair
green world about him, were indistinct and unreal to his senses; he
felt as if the whole earth were of a sudden changed; he could not
realize that this thing could come to him and his--that this foul
dishonor could creep up and stain them--that this infamy could ever be
of them and upon them. All the ruin that before had fallen on him
to-day was dwarfed and banished; it looked nothing beside the
unendurable horror that reached him now.
The gay laughter of children sounded down the air at that moment; they
were the children of a French Princess seeking their playmate Venetia,
who had escaped from them and from their games to find her way to
Cecil. He motioned her to them; he could not bear even the clear and
pitying eyes of the Petite Reine to be upon him now.
She lingered wistfully; she did not like to leave him.
"Let me stay with you," she pleaded caressingly. "You are vexed at
something; I cannot help you, but Rock will--the Duke will. Do let me
He laid his hand on her shoulder; his voice, as he answered, was
hoarse and unsteady.
"No; go, dear. You will please me best by leaving me. Ask none--tell
none; I can trust you to be silent, Petite Reine."
She gave him a long, earnest look.
"Yes," she answered simply and gravely, as one who accepts, and not
lightly, a trust.
Then she went slowly and lingeringly, with the sun on the gold fillet
binding her hair, but the tears heavy on the shadow of her silken
lashes. When next they met again the luster of a warmer sun, that once
burned on the white walls of the palace of Phoenicia and the leaping
flame of the Temple of the God of Healing, shone upon them; and
through the veil of those sweeping lashes there gazed the resistless
sovereignty of a proud and patrician womanhood.
Alone, his head sank down upon his hands; he gave reins to the fiery
scorn, the acute suffering which turn by turn seized him with every
moment that seared the words of the letter deeper and deeper down into
his brain. Until this he had never known what it was to suffer; until
this his languid creeds had held that no wise man feels strongly, and
that to glide through life untroubled and unmoved is as possible as it
is politic. Now he suffered, he suffered dumbly as a dog, passionately
as a barbarian; now he was met by that which, in the moment of its
dealing, pierced his panoplies of indifference, and escaped his light
"Oh, God!" he thought, "if it were anything--anything--except
In a miserable den, an hour or so before--there are miserable dens
even in Baden, that gold-decked rendezvous of princes, where crowned
heads are numberless as couriers, and great ministers must sometimes
be content with a shakedown--two men sat in consultation. Though the
chamber was poor and dark, their table was loaded with various
expensive wines and liqueurs. Of a truth they were flush of money, and
selected this poor place from motives of concealment rather than of
necessity. One of them was the "welsher," Ben Davis; the other, a
smaller, quieter man, with a keen, vivacious Hebrew eye and an olive-
tinted skin, a Jew, Ezra Baroni. The Jew was cool, sharp, and
generally silent; the "welsher," heated, eager, flushed with triumph,
and glowing with a gloating malignity. Excitement and the fire of very
strong wines, of whose vintage brandy formed a large part, had made
him voluble in exultation; the monosyllabic sententiousness that had
characterized him in the loose-box at Royallieu had been dissipated
under the ardor of success; and Ben Davis, with his legs on the table,
a pipe between his teeth, and his bloated face purple with a brutal
contentment, might have furnished to a Teniers the personification of
culminated cunning and of delighted tyranny.
"That precious Guards' swell!" he muttered gloatingly, for the
hundredth time. "I've paid him out at last! He won't take a 'walk
over' again in a hurry. Cuss them swells! They allays die so game; it
ain't half a go after all, giving 'em a facer; they just come up to
time so cool under it all, and never show they are down, even when
their backers throw up the sponge. You can't make 'em give in, not
even when they're mortal hit; that's the crusher of it."
"Vell, vhat matter that ven you have hit 'em?" expostulated the more
"Why, it is a fleecing of one," retorted the welsher savagely, even
amid his successes. "A clear fleecing of one. If one gets the better
of a dandy chap like that, and brings him down neat and clean, one
ought to have the spice of it. One ought to see him wince and--cuss
'em all!--that's just what they'll never do. No! not if it was ever
so. You may pitch into 'em like Old Harry, and those d----d fine
gentlemen will just look as if they liked it. You might strike 'em
dead at your feet, and it's my belief, while they was cold as stone
they'd manage to look not beaten yet. It's a fleecing of one--a
fleecing of one!" he growled afresh; draining down a great draught of
brandy-heated Roussillon to drown the impatient conviction which
possessed him that, let him triumph as he would, there would ever
remain, in that fine intangible sense which his coarse nature could
feel, though he could not have further defined it, a superiority in
his adversary he could not conquer; a difference between him and his
prey he could not bridge over.
The Jew laughed a little.
"Vot a child you are, you Big Ben! Vot matter how he look, so long as
you have de success and pocket de monish?"
Big Ben gave a long growl, like a mastiff tearing to reach a bone just
held above him.
"Hang the blunt! The yellows ain't a quarter worth to me what it 'ud
be to see him just look as if he knew he was knocked over. Besides,
laying again' him by that ere commission's piled up hatsful of the
ready, to be sure; I don't say it ain't; but there's two thou' knocked
off for Willon, and the fool don't deserve a tizzy of it. He went and
put the paint on so thick that, if the Club don't have a flare-up
about the whole thing----"
"Let dem!" said the Jew serenely. "Dey can do vot dey like; dey von't
get to de bottom of de vell. Dat Villon is sharp; he vill know how to
keep his tongue still; dey can prove nothing; dey may give de sack to
a stable-boy, or dey may think themselves mighty bright in seeing a
mare's nest, but dey vill never come to us."
The welsher gave a loud, hoarse guffaw of relish and enjoyment.
"No! We know the ins and outs of Turf Law a trifle too well to be
caught napping. A neater thing weren't ever done, if it hadn't been
that the paint was put a trifle too thick. The 'oss should have just
run ill, and not knocked over, clean out o' time like that. However,
there ain't no odds a-crying over spilt milk. If the Club do come a
inquiry, we'll show 'em a few tricks that'll puzzle 'em. But it's my
belief they'll let it off on the quiet; there ain't a bit of evidence
to show the 'oss was doctored, and the way he went stood quite as well
for having been knocked off his feed and off his legs by the woyage
and sich like. And now you go and put that swell to the grindstone for
Act 2 of the comedy; will yer?"
Ezra Baroni smiled, where he leaned against the table, looking over
"Dis is a delicate matter; don't you come putting your big paw in it--
you'll spoil it all."
Ben Davis growled afresh:
"No, I ain't a-going. You know as well as me I can't show in the
thing. Hanged if I wouldn't almost lief risk a lifer out at Botany Bay
for the sake o' wringing my fine-feathered bird myself, but I daren't.
If he was to see me in it, all 'ud be up. You must do it. Get along;
you look uncommon respectable. If your coat-tails was a little longer,
you might right and away be took for a parson."
The Jew laughed softly, the welsher grimly, at the compliment they
paid the Church; Baroni put up his papers into a neat Russia letter
book. Excellently dressed, without a touch of flashiness, he did look
eminently respectable--and lingered a moment.
"I say, dear child; vat if de Marquis vant to buy off and hush up? Ten
to von he vill; he care no more for monish than for dem macaroons, and
he love his friend, dey say."
Ben Davis took his legs off the table with a crash, and stood up,
flushed, thirstily eager, almost aggressive in his peremptory
"Without wringing my dainty bird's neck? Not for a million paid out o'
hand! Without crushing my fine gentleman down into powder? Not for all
the blunt of every one o' the Rothschilds! Curse his woman's face!
I've got to keep dark now; but when he's crushed, and smashed, and
ruined, and pilloried, and drove out of this fine world, and warned
off of all his aristocratic race-courses, then I'll come in and take a
look at him; then I'll see my brilliant gentleman a worn-out, broken-
down swindler, a dying in the bargain!"
The intense malignity, the brutal hungry lust for vengeance that
inspired the words, lent their coarse vulgarity something that was for
the moment almost tragical in its strength; almost horrible in its
passion. Ezra Baroni looked at him quietly, then without another word
went out--to a congenial task.
"Dat big child is a fool," mused the subtler and gentler Jew.
"Vengeance is but de breath of de vind; it blow for you one day, it
blow against you de next; de only real good is monish."
The Seraph had ridden back from Iffesheim to the Bad in company with
some Austrian officers, and one or two of his own comrades. He had
left the Course late, staying to exhaust every possible means of
inquiry as to the failure of Forest King, and to discuss with other
members of the Newmarket and foreign jockey clubs the best methods--if
method there were--of discovering what foul play had been on foot with
the horse. That there was some, and very foul too, the testimony of
men and angels would not have dissuaded the Seraph; and the event had
left him most unusually grave and regretful.
The amount he had lost himself, in consequence, was of not the
slightest moment to him, although he was extravagant enough to run
almost to the end even of his own princely tether in money matters;
but that "Beauty" should be cut down was more vexatious to him than
any evil accident that could have befallen himself, and he guessed
pretty nearly the terrible influence the dead failure would have on
his friend's position.
True, he had never heard Cecil breathe a syllable that hinted at
embarrassment; but these things get known with tolerable accuracy
about town, and those who were acquainted, as most people in their set
were, with the impoverished condition of the Royallieu exchequer,
however hidden it might be under an unabated magnificence of living,
were well aware also that none of the old Viscount's sons could have
any safe resources to guarantee them from as rapid a ruin as they
liked to consummate. Indeed, it had of late been whispered that it was
probable, despite the provisions of the entail, that all the green
wealth and Norman Beauty of Royallieu itself would come into the
market. Hence the Seraph, the best-hearted and most generous-natured
of men, was worried by an anxiety and a despondency which he would
never have indulged, most assuredly, on his own account, as he rode
away from Iffesheim after the defeat of his Corps' champion.
He was expected to dinner with one of the most lovely of foreign
Ambassadresses, and was to go with her afterward to the Vaudeville, at
the pretty golden theater, where a troupe from the Bouffes were
playing; but he felt anything but in the mood for even her bewitching
and--in an marriageable sense--safe society, as he stopped his horse
at his own hotel, the Badischer Hof.
As he swung himself out of saddle, a well-dressed, quiet, rather
handsome little man drew near respectfully, lifting his hat--it was M.
Baroni. The Seraph had never seen the man in his life that he knew of,
but he was himself naturally frank, affable, courteous, and never
given to hedging himself behind the pale of his high rank; provided
you did not bore him, you might always get access to him easily enough
--the Duke used to tell him, too easily.
Therefore, when Ezra Baroni deferentially approached with, "The Most
Noble the Marquis of Rockingham, I think?" the Seraph, instead of
leaving the stranger there discomfited, nodded and paused with his
inconsequent good nature; thinking how much less bosh it would be if
everybody could call him, like his family and his comrades, "Rock."
"That is my name," he answered. "I do not know you. Do you want
anything of me?"
The Seraph had a vivid terror of people who "wanted him," in the
subscription, not the police, sense of the word; and had been the
victim of frauds innumerable.
"I wished," returned Baroni respectfully, but with sufficient
independence to conciliate his auditor, whom he saw at a glance
cringing subservience would disgust, "to have the opportunity of
asking your lordship a very simple question."
The Seraph looked a little bored, a little amused.
"Well, ask it, my good fellow; you have your opportunity!" he said
impatiently, yet good-humored still.
"Then would you, my lord," continued the Jew with his strong Hebrew-
German accent, "be so good as to favor me by saying whether this
signature be your own?"
The Jew held before him a folded paper, so folded that one line only
was visible, across which was dashed in bold characters, "Rockingham."
The Seraph put up his eye-glass, stopped, and took a steadfast look;
then shook his head.
"No; that is not mine; at least, I think not. Never made my R half a
quarter so well in my life."
"Many thanks, my lord," said Baroni quietly. "One question more and we
can substantiate the fact. Did your lordship indorse any bill on the
15th of last month?"
The Seraph looked surprised, and reflected a moment. "No, I didn't,"
he said after a pause. "I have done it for men, but not on that day; I
was shooting at Hornsey Wood most of it, if I remember right. Why do
"I will tell you, my lord, if you grant me a private interview."
The Seraph moved away. "Never do that," he said briefly; "private
interviews," thought he, acting on past experience, "with women always
mean proposals, and with men always mean extortion."
Baroni made a quick movement toward him.
"An instant, my lord! This intimately concerns yourself. The steps of
an hotel are surely not the place in which to speak of it?"
"I wish to hear nothing about it," replied Rock, putting him aside;
while he thought to himself regretfully, "That is 'stiff,' that bit of
paper; perhaps some poor wretch is in a scrape. I wish I hadn't so
wholly denied my signature. If the mischief's done, there's no good in
bothering the fellow."
The Seraph's good nature was apt to overlook such trifles as the Law.
Baroni kept pace with him as he approached the hotel door, and spoke
"My lord, if you do not listen, worse may befall the reputation both
of your regiment and your friends."
The Seraph swung round; his careless, handsome face set stern in an
instant; his blue eyes grave, and gathering an ominous fire.
"Step yonder," he said curtly, signing the Hebrew toward the grand
staircase. "Show that person to my rooms, Alexis."
But for the publicity of the entrance of the Badischer Hof the mighty
right arm of the Guardsman might have terminated the interview then
and there, in different fashion. Baroni had gained his point, and was
ushered into the fine chambers set apart for the future Duke of
Lyonnesse. The Seraph strode after him, and as the attendant closed
the door and left them alone in the first of the great lofty suite,
all glittering with gilding, and ormolu, and malachite, and rose
velvet, and Parisian taste, stood like a tower above the Jew's small,
slight form; while his words came curtly, and only by a fierce effort
through his lips.
"Substantiate what you dare to say, or my grooms shall throw you out
of that window! Now!"
Baroni looked up, unmoved; the calm, steady, undisturbed glance sent a
chill over the Seraph; he thought if this man came but for purposes of
extortion, and were not fully sure that he could make good what he
said, this was not the look he would give.
"I desire nothing better, my lord," said Baroni quietly, "though I
greatly regret to be the messenger of such an errand. This bill, which
in a moment I will have the honor of showing you, was transacted by my
house (I am one of the partners of a London discounting firm),
indorsed thus by your celebrated name. Moneys were lent on it, the
bill was made payable at two months' date; it was understood that you
accepted it; there could be no risk with such a signature as yours.
The bill was negotiated; I was in Leyden, Lubeck, and other places at
the period; I heard nothing of the matter. When I returned to London,
a little less than a week ago, I saw the signature for the first time.
I was at once aware that it was not yours, for I had some paid bills,
signed by you, at hand, with which I compared it. Of course, my only
remedy was to seek you out, although I was nearly certain, before your
present denial, that the bill was a forgery."
He spoke quite tranquilly still, with a perfectly respectful regret,
but with the air of a man who has his title to be heard, and is acting
simply in hie own clear right. The Seraph listened, restless,
impatient, sorely tried to keep in the passion which had been awakened
by the hint that this wretched matter could concern or attaint the
honor of his corps.
"Well! speak out!" he said impatiently. "Details are nothing. Who drew
it? Who forged my name, if it be forged? Quick! give me the paper."
"With every trust and every deference, my lord, I cannot let the bill
pass out of my own hands until this unfortunate matter be cleared up--
if cleared up it can be. Your lordship shall see the bill, however, of
course, spread here upon the table; but first, let me warn you, my
Lord Marquis, that the sight will be intensely painful to you.
"Very painful, my lord," added Baroni impressively. "Prepare yourself
Rock dashed his hand down on the marble table with a force that made
the lusters and statuettes on it ring and tremble.
"No more words! Lay the bill there."
Baroni bowed and smoothed out upon the console the crumpled document,
holding it with one hand, yet leaving visible with the counterfeited
signature one other, the name of the forger in whose favor the bill
was drawn; that other signature was--"Bertie Cecil."
"I deeply regret to deal you such a blow from such a friend, my lord,"
said the Jew softly. The Seraph stooped and gazed--one instant of
horrified amazement kept him dumb there, staring at the written paper
as at some ghastly thing; then all the hot blood rushed over his fair,
bold face; he flung himself on the Hebrew, and, ere the other could
have breath or warning, tossed him upward to the painted ceiling and
hurled him down again upon the velvet carpet, as lightly as a
retriever will catch up and let fall a wild duck or a grouse, and
stood over Baroni where he lay.
Baroni, lying passive and breathless with the violence of the shock
and the surprise, yet kept, even amid the hurricane of wrath that had
tossed him upward and downward as the winds toss leaves, his hold upon
the document, and his clear, cool, ready self-possession.
"My lord," he said faintly, "I do not wonder at your excitement,
aggressive as it renders you; but I cannot admit that false which I
know to be a for--"
"Silence! Say that word once more, and I shall forget myself and hurl
you out into the street like the dog of a Jew you are!"
"Have patience an instant, my lord. Will it profit your friend and
brother-in-arms if it be afterward said that when this charge was
brought against him, you, my Lord Rockingham, had so little faith in
his power to refute it that you bore down with all your mighty
strength in a personal assault upon one so weakly as myself, and
sought to put an end to the evidence against him by bodily threats
against my safety, and by--what will look legally, my lord, like--an
attempt to coerce me into silence and to obtain the paper from my
hands by violence?"
Faint and hoarse the words were, but they were spoken with quiet
confidence, with admirable acumen; they were the very words to lash
the passions of his listener into unendurable fire, yet to chain them
powerless down; the Guardsman stood above him, his features flushed
and dark with rage, his eyes literally blazing with fury, his lips
working under his tawny, leonine beard. At every syllable he could
have thrown himself afresh upon the Jew and flung him out of his
presence as so much carrion; yet the impotence that truth so often
feels, caught and meshed in the coils of subtlety--the desperate
disadvantage at which Right is so often placed, when met by the
cunning science and sophistry of Wrong--held the Seraph in their net
now. He saw his own rashness, he saw how his actions could be
construed till they cast a slur even on the man he defended; he saw
how legally he was in error, how legally the gallant vengeance of an
indignant friendship might be construed into consciousness of guilt in
the accused for whose sake the vengeance fell.
He stood silent, overwhelmed with the intensity of his own passion,
baffled by the ingenuity of a serpent-wisdom he could not refute.
Ezra Baroni saw his advantage. He ventured to raise himself slightly.
"My lord, since your faith in your friend is so perfect, send for him.
If he be innocent, and I a liar, with a look I shall be confounded."
The tone was perfectly impassive, but the words expressed a world. For
a moment the Seraph's eyes flashed on him with a look that made him
feel nearer his death than he had been near to it in all his days; but
Rockingham restrained himself from force.
"I will send for him," he said briefly; in that answer there was more
of menace and of meaning than in any physical action.
He moved and let Baroni rise; shaken and bruised, but otherwise little
seriously hurt, and still holding, in a tenacious grasp, the crumpled
paper. He rang; his own servant answered the summons.
"Go to the Stephanien and inquire for Mr. Cecil. Be quick; and request
him, wherever he be, to be so good as to come to me instantly--here."
The servant bowed and withdrew; a perfect silence followed between
these two so strangely assorted companions; the Seraph stood with his
back against the mantelpiece, with every sense on the watch to catch
every movement of the Jew's, and to hear the first sound of Cecil's
approach. The minutes dragged on; the Seraph was in an agony of
probation and impatience. Once the attendants entered to light the
chandeliers and candelabra; the full light fell on the dark, slight
form of the Hebrew, and on the superb attitude and the fair, frank,
proud face of the standing Guardsman; neither moved--once more they
were left alone.
The moments ticked slowly away one by one, audible in the silence. Now
and then the quarter chimed from the clock; it was the only sound in
FOR A WOMAN'S SAKE.
The door opened--Cecil entered.
The Seraph crossed the room, with his hand held out; not for his life
in that moment would he have omitted that gesture of friendship.
Involuntarily he started and stood still one instant in amaze; the
next, he flung thought away and dashed into swift, inconsequent words.
"Cecil, my dear fellow! I'm ashamed to send for you on such a
blackguard errand. Never heard of such a swindler's trick in all my
life; couldn't pitch the fellow into the street because of the look of
the thing, and can't take any other measure without you, you know. I
only sent for you to expose the whole abominable business, never
because I believe---- Hang it! Beauty, I can't bring myself to say it
even! If a sound thrashing would have settled the matter, I wouldn't
have bothered you about it, nor told you a syllable. Only you are
sure, Bertie, aren't you, that I never listened to this miserable
outrage on us both with a second's thought there could be truth in it?
You know me? you trust me too well not to be certain of that?"
The incoherent address poured out from his lips in a breathless
torrent; he had never been so excited in his life; and he pleaded with
as imploring an earnestness as though he had been the suspected
criminal, not to be accused with having one shadow of shameful doubt
against his friend. His words would have told nothing except
bewilderment to one who should have been a stranger to the subject on
which he spoke; yet Cecil never asked even what he meant. There was no