The Honourable Mr. Tawnish
by Jeffery Farnol
Introducing Mr. Tawnish, and what befell
at The Chequers
Myself and Bentley, who, though a good fellow in many ways, is yet a
fool in more (hence the prominence of the personal pronoun, for, as
every one knows, a fool should give place to his betters)myself and
Bentley, then, were riding home from Hadlow, whither we had been to
witness a dog-fight (and I may say a better fight I never saw, the dog
I had backed disabling his opponent very effectively in something less
than three-quarters of an hourwhereby Bentley owes me a hundred
guineas)we were riding home as I say, and were within a half-mile or
so of Tonbridge, when young Harry Raikes came up behind us at his usual
wild gallop, and passing with a curt nod, disappeared down the hill in
a cloud of dust.
Were I but ten years younger, says I, looking after him,
Tonbridge Town would be too small to hold yonder fellow and myselfhe
is becoming a positive pest.
True, says Bentley, he's forever embroiling some one or other.
Only last week, says I, while you were away in London, he ran
young Richards through the lungs over some triviality, and they say he
Poor lad! poor lad! says Bentley. I mind, too, there was Tom
Adamsshot dead in the Miller's Field not above a month ago; and
before that, young Oatlands, and many others besides
Egad, says I, but I've a great mind to call 'out' the bully
Pooh! says Bentley, the fellow's a past master at either weapon.
If you will remember, there was a time when I was accounted no mean
performer either, Bentley.
Pooh! says Bentley, leave it to a younger manmyself, for
Why, there is but a month or two betwixt us, says I.
Six months and four days, says he in his dogged fashion;
besides, he went on, argumentatively, should it come to
small-swords, you are a good six inches shorter in the reach than
Raikes; now as for me
You! says I, Should it come to pistols you could not help but
stop a bullet with your vast bulk.
Hereupon Bentley must needs set himself to prove that a big man
offered no better target than a more diminutive one, all of which was
of course but the purest folly, as I very plainly showed him, whereat
he fell a-whistling of the song Lillibuleero (as is his custom ever,
when at all hipped or put out in any way). And so we presently came to
the cross-roads. Now it has been our custom for the past twelve years
to finish the day with a game of picquet with our old friend Jack
Chester, so that it had become quite an institution, so to speak. What
was our surprise then to see Jack himself upon his black mare, waiting
for us beneath the finger-post. That he was in one of his passions was
evident from the acute angle of his hat and wig, and as we approached
we could hear him swearing to himself.
Bet you fifty it's his daughter, says Bentley.
Done! says I, promptly.
How now, Jack? says Bentley, as we shook hands.
May the Devil anoint me! growled Jack.
Belike he will, says Bentley.
Here's an infernal state of affairs! says Jack, frowning up the
road, his hat and wig very much over one eye.
Why, what's to do? says I.
Do? says he, rapping out three oaths in quick
successiondo?the devil and all's to do!
Make it a hundred? says Bentley aside.
Done! says I.
To think, groans Jack, blowing out his cheeks and striking himself
a violent blow in the chest, to think of a pale-faced, pranked-out,
spindle-shanked, mealy-mouthed popinjay like him!
Him? says I, questioningly.
Ayehim! snaps Jack, with another oath.
Make it a hundred and fifty, Bentley? says I softly.
Agreed! says Bentley.
To think, says Jack again, of a prancing puppy-dog, a walking
clothes-pole like himand she loves him, sir!
She? repeated Bentley, and chuckled.
Aye, she, sir, roared Jack; to think after the way we have
brought her up, after all our care of her, that she should go and fall
in love with a dancing, dandified nincompoop, all powder and patches.
Why damme! the wench is run stark, staring mad. Egad! a nice situation
for a loving and affectionate father to be placed in!
Father? says I.
Aye, father, sir, roars Jack again, though I would to heaven
Penelope had some one else to father herthe jade!
What! says I, unheeding Bentley's leering triumph (Bentley never
wins but he must needs show it) what, is Penelopefallen in love with
Why don't I tell you? cries Jack, don't I tell you that I found a
set of versesactually poetry, that the jackanapes had written her?
Did you tax her with the discovery? says I.
To be sure I did, and the minx owned her love for himvowed she'd
never wed another, and positively told me she liked the poetry stuff.
After that, as you may suppose, I came away; had I stayed I won't
answer for it but that I might have boxed the jade's ears. Oh, egad, a
And I thought we had settled she was to marry Bentley's nephew
Horace some day, says I, as we turned into the High Street.
It seems she has determined otherwisethe vixen; and a likely lad,
too, as I remember him, says Jack, shaking his head.
Where is he now, Bentley? says I.
Humph! says Bentley, thoughtfully. His last letter was writ from
Aye, that's it, says Jack, while he's gadding abroad, this
mincing, languid ass, this
What did you say was the fellow's name? says I.
Tawnish! says Jack, making a wry face over it, the Honourable
Horatio Tawnish. Come, Dick and Bentley, what shall we do in the
Speaking for myself, I returned, it's devilish hard to
And speaking for us all, says Bentley, suppose we thrash out the
question over a bottle of wine? and swinging into the yard of The
Chequers hard by, he dismounted and led the way to the sanded parlour.
We found it empty (as it usually is at this hour) save for a
solitary individual who lounged upon one of the settles, staring into
He was a gentleman of middling height and very slenderly built, with
a pair of dreamy blue eyes set in the oval of a face whose pallor was
rendered more effective by a patch at the corner of his mouth. His
coat, of a fine blue satin laced with silver, sat upon him with scarce
a wrinkle (the which especially recommended itself to me); white satin
small-clothes and silk stockings of the same hue, with silver-buckled,
red-heeled shoes, completed a costume of an elegance seldom seen out of
London. I noticed also that his wig, carefully powdered and ironed, was
of the very latest French mode (vastly different to the rough scratch
wigs usually affected by the gentry hereabouts), while the
three-cornered hat upon the table at his elbow was edged with the very
finest point. Altogether, there was about him a certain delicate air
that reminded me of my own vanished youth, and I sighed. As I took my
seat, yet wondering who this fine gentleman might be, Jack seized me
suddenly by the arm.
Look! says he in my ear, damme, there sits the fellow!
Turning my head, I saw that the gentleman had risen, and he now
tripped towards us, his toes carefully pointed, while a small,
gold-mounted walking cane dangled from his wrist by a riband.
I believe, says he, speaking in a soft, affected voice, I believe
I have the felicity of addressing Sir John Chester?
The same, sir, said Jack, rising, and, sir, I wish a word with
you. Here, however, remembering myself and Bentley, he introduced
usthough in a very perfunctory fashion, to be sure.
Sir John, says Mr. Tawnish, your very obedient humble;
gentlemenyours, and he bowed deeply to each of us in turn, with a
prodigious flourish of the laced hat.
[Illustration: I believe I have the felicity of addressing Sir John
Chester? Page 12.]
I repeat, sir, says Jack, returning his bow, very stiff in the
back, I repeat, I would have a word with you.
On my soul, I protest you do me too much honour! he
murmuredshall we sit? Jack nodded, and Mr. Tawnish sank into a
chair between myself and Bentley.
Delightful weather we are having, says he, breaking in upon a
somewhat awkward pause, though they do tell me the country needs rain
Mr. Tawnish, says Jack, giving himself a sudden thump in the
chest, I have no mind to talk to you of the weather.
No? says Mr. Tawnish, with a tinge of surprise in his gentle
voice, why then, I'm not particular myself, Sir Johnthere are a host
of other mattershorses and dogs, for instance.
The devil take your horses and dogs, sir! cries Jack.
Willingly, says Mr. Tawnish, to speak the truth I grow something
tired of them myself; there seems very little else talked of
Mr. Tawnish, says Jack, beginning to lose his temper despite my
admonitory frown, the matter on which I would speak to you is my
daughter, sir, the Lady Penelope.
Whathere, Sir John? cries Mr. Tawnish, in a horrified tone, in
the tap of an inn, with apink my immortal soul!a sanded floor, and
the very air nauseous with the reek of filthy tobacco? No, no, Sir
John, indeed, keep to horses and dogs, I beg of you; 'tis a subject
more in harmony with such surroundings.
Now look you, sir, says Jack, blowing out his cheeks, 'tis a good
enough place for what I have to say to you, sanded floor or no, and I
promise it shall not detain you long.
Hereupon Jack rose with a snort of anger, and began pacing to and
fro, striking himself most severely several times, while Mr. Tawnish,
drawing out a very delicate, enamelled snuff-box, helped himself to a
leisurely pinch, and regarded him with a mild astonishment.
Sir, says Jack, turning suddenly with a click of spurred heels,
you are in the habit of writing poetry?
The patch at the corner of the Honourable Horatio's mouth quivered
for a moment. Really, my dear Sir John he began.
You sent a set of verses to my daughter, sir, Jack broke in,
well, damme, sir, I don't like poetry!
I do not doubt it for a moment, sir, says Mr. Tawnish, but these
were written, if you remember, tothe lady.
Exactly, cries Jack, and you will understand, sir, that I forbid
poetry, once and for allcurse me, sir, I'll not permit it!
This new French sauce that London is gone mad over is a thought too
strong of garlic, to my thinking, says Mr. Tawnish, flicking a stray
grain of snuff from his cravat. You will, I think, agree with me, Sir
John, that to a delicate palate
The devil anoint your French sauce, sir, cries Jack, in a fury,
who's talking of French sauces?
My very dear Sir John, says Mr. Tawnish, with an engaging smile,
when one topic becomes at allstrained, shall we say?I esteem it
the wiser course to change the subject, having frequently proved it to
have certain soothing and calming effectshence my sauce.
Here Bentley sneezed and coughed both together and came nigh choking
outright (a highly dangerous thing in one of his weight), which
necessitated my loosening his steenkirk and thumping him betwixt the
shoulder-blades, while Jack strode up and down, swearing under his
breath, and Mr. Tawnish took another pinch of snuff.
French sauce, by heaven! cries Jack suddenly, did any man ever
hear the like of it?French sauce! and herewith he snatched off his
wig and trampled upon it, and Bentley choked himself purple again. I
will admit that Jack's round bullet head, with its close-cropped,
grizzled hair standing on end, would have been a whimsical, not to say
laughable sight in any other (Bentley for instance)but Jack in a rage
is no laughable matter.
By the Lord, sir, cries he, turning upon Mr. Tawnish, who sat
cross-legged, regarding everything with the same mild wondermentby
the Lord! I'd call you out for that French sauce if I thought you were
a fighting man.
Heaven forfend! exclaimed Mr. Tawnish, with a gesture of horror,
violence of all kinds is abhorrent to my nature, and I have always
regarded the duello as a particularly clumsy and illogical method of
settling a dispute.
Hereupon Jack looked about him in a helpless sort of fashion, as
indeed well he might, and catching sight of his wig lying in the middle
of the floor, promptly kicked it into a corner, which seemed to relieve
him somewhat, for he went to it and, picking it up again, knocked out
the dust upon his knee, and setting it on very much over one eye, sat
himself down again, flushed and panting, but calm.
Mr. Tawnish, says he, as regards my daughter, I must asknay
demandthat you cease your persecution of her once and for all.
Sir John, says Mr. Tawnish, bowing across the table, allow me to
suggest in the most humble and submissive manner, that the word
'persecution' is perhaps a trifleI say just a trifleunwarranted.
Be that as it may, sir, I repeat it, nevertheless, says Jack, and
furthermore I must insist that you communicate no more with the Lady
Penelope either by poetry oror any other means.
Alas! sighs Mr. Tawnish, cheat myself as I may, the possibility
will obtrude itself that you do not look upon my suit with quite the
degree of warmth I had hoped. Sir, I am not perfect, few of us are, but
even you will grant that I am not altogether a savage? As he ended, he
helped himself to another pinch of snuff with a pretty, delicate air
such as a lady would use in taking a comfit; indeed his hand, small and
elegantly shaped, whose whiteness was accentuated by the emerald and
ruby ring upon his finger, needed no very strong effort of fancy to be
taken for a woman's outright. I saw Jack's lip curl and his nostrils
dilate at its very prettiness.
There be worse things than savages, sir, says he, pointedly.
Indeed, Sir John, you are very rightdo but hearken to the
brutes, says Mr. Tawnish, with lifted finger, as from the floor above
came a roar of voices singing a merry drinking-catch, with the ring of
glasses and the stamping of spurred heels. Hark to 'em, he repeated,
with a gesture of infinite disgust; these are creatures the which,
having all the outward form and semblance of man, yet, being utterly
devoid of all man's finer qualities, live but to quarrel and fightto
eat and drink and beget their kindin which they be vastly prolific,
for the world is full of such. To-night it would seem they are in a
high good humour, wherefore they are a trifle more boisterous than
usual, indulging themselves in these howlings and shoutings, and shall
presently drink themselves out of what little wit Dame Nature hath
bestowed upon 'em, and be carted home to bed by their lackeyspah!
Howwhat? gasps Jack, while I sat staring (very nearly
open-mouthed) at the cool audacity of the fellow.
Are you aware, sir, cries Jack, when at last he had regained his
breath, that the persons you have been decrying are friends of mine,
gallant gentlemen allaye, sir, damme, and men to
boot!hard-fighting, hard-riding, hard-drinking, six-bottle gentlemen,
I fear me my ignorance of country ways hath led me into a grave
error, says Mr. Tawnish, with a scarce perceptible shrug of the
shoulders; upon second thoughts I grant there is about a man who can
put down one throat what should suffice for six, something great.
Or roomy! adds Bentley, in a strangling voice.
We are at side issues, says Jack, very red in the face, the point
being, that I forbid you my daughter once and for all.
Might I enquire your very excellent reasons?
Plainly, then, returns Jack, hitting himself in the chest again,
the Lady Penelope Chester must and shall marry a man, sir.
Yes, nodded Mr. Tawnish, a man is generally essential in such
cases, I believe.
I say a man, sir, roared Jack, and, damme, I mean a man, and not
a clothes-horse or a dancing master, oror a French sauce, sir. One
who will not faint if a dog bark too loudly, nor shiver at sight of a
pistol, nor pick his way ever by smooth roads. He must be a man, I say,
able to use a small-sword creditably, who knows one end of a horse from
another, who can win well but lose better, who can follow the hounds
over the roughest country and not fall sick for a trifle of mud, nor
fret a week over a splashed coatin a word, he must be a man, sir.
Alas, what a divine creature is man, after all! sighs Mr. Tawnish,
with a shake of the head, small matter of wonder if I cannot attain
unto so high an estate; for I beg you to observe that though I am
tolerably efficient in the use of my weapon (here he laid his hand
lightly upon the silver hilt of his small-sword), though I can tell a
spavined horse from a sound one, and can lose a trifle without positive
tears, yetand I say it with a sense of my extreme unworthinessI
have an excessive and abiding horror of mud, or dirt in any shape or
form. But is there no other way, Sir John? In remote times it was the
custom in such cases to set the lover some arduous tasksome
enterprise to try his worth. Come now, in justice do the same by me, I
beg, and no matter how difficult the undertaking, I promise you shall
at least find me zealous.
Come, Jack, cries Bentley, suddenly, smite me, but that's very
fair and sportsmanlike! How think you, Dick?
Why, for once I agree with you, Bentley, says I, 'tis an offer
not devoid of spirit, and should be accepted as such.
Jack sat down, took two gulps of wine, and rose again.
Mr. Tawnish, says he, since these gentlemen are in unison upon
the matter, and further, knowing they have the good of the Lady
Penelope at heart as much as I, I will accept your proposition, and we
will, each of us, set you a task. But, sir, I warn you, do not delude
yourself with false hopes; you shall not find them over-easy, I'll
Mr. Tawnish bowed, with the very slightest shrug of his shoulders.
Firstly, then, Jack began, you mustermust Here he paused
to rub his chin and stare at his boots. Firstly, he began again, if
you shall succeed in doing Here his eyes wandered slowly up to the
rafters, and down again to me. Curse it, Dick! he broke off, what
the devil must he do?
Firstly, I put in, you must accomplish some feat the which each
one of us three shall avow to be beyond him.
Good! cries Jack, rubbing his hands, excellentso much for the
first. SecondlyI say secondlyerha, yesyou must make a public
laughing stock of that quarrelsome puppy, Sir Harry Raikes. Raikes is a
dangerous fellow and generally pinks his man, sir.
So they tell me, nodded Mr. Tawnish, jotting down a few lines in
Thirdly, ended Bentley, you must succeed in placing all three of
usnamely, Sir Richard Eden, Sir John Chester, and myselftogether
and at the same time, at a disadvantage.
Now, sir, says Jack, complacently, prove your manhood equal to
these three tasks, and you shall be free to woo and wed the Lady
Penelope whenever you will. How say you, Dick and Bentley?
Agreed, we replied.
Indeed, gentlemen, says Mr. Tawnish, glancing at his memoranda
with a slight frown, I think the labours of Hercules were scarce to be
compared to these, yet I do not altogether despair, and to prove to you
my readiness in the matter, I will, with your permission, go and set
about the doing of them. With these words he rose, took up his hat,
and with a most profound obeisance turned to the door.
At this moment, however, there came a trampling of feet upon the
stairs, another door was thrown open, and in walked Sir Harry Raikes
himself, followed by D'Arcy and Hammersley, with three or four others
whose faces were familiar. They were all in boisterous spirits, Sir
Harry's florid face being flushed more than ordinary with drinking, and
there was an ugly light in his prominent blue eyes.
Now, it so happened that to reach the street, Mr. Tawnish must pass
close beside him, and noting this, Sir Harry very evidently placed
himself full in the way, so that Mr. Tawnish was obliged to step aside
to avoid a collision; yet even then, Raikes thrust out an elbow in such
a fashion as to jostle him very unceremoniously. Never have I seen an
insult more wanton and altogether unprovoked, and we all of us, I
think, ceased to breathe, waiting for the inevitable to follow.
Mr. Tawnish stopped and turned. I saw his delicate brows twitch
suddenly together, and for a moment his chin seemed more than usually
prominentthen all at once he smiledpositively smiled, and shrugged
his shoulders with his languid air.
Sir, says he, with a flash of his white teeth, it seems they make
these rooms uncommon small and narrow, for the likes of you and
meyour pardon. And so, with a tap, tap, of his high, red-heeled
shoes, he crossed to the door, descended the steps, turned up the
street, and was gone.
Hehe begged the fellow's pardon! spluttered Jack, purple in the
A more disgraceful exhibition was never seen, says I, the
fellow's a rank coward! As for Bentley, he only fumbled with his
wine-glass and grunted.
The departure of Mr. Tawnish had been the signal for a great burst
of laughter from the others, in the middle of which Sir Harry strolled
up to our table, nodding in the insolent manner peculiar to him.
They tell me, said he, leering round upon us, they tell me your
pretty Penelope takes something more than a common interest in yonder
fop; have a care, Sir John, she's a plaguey skittish filly by the looks
of her, have a care, or like as not
But here his voice was drowned by the noise of our three chairs, as
Sir Harry Raikes, says I, being the first afoot, be you drunk or
no, I must ask you to be a little less personal in your remarksd'ye
What? cries Raikes, stepping up to me, do you take it upon
yourself to teach me a lesson in manners?
Aye, says Bentley, edging his vast bulk between us, a hard task,
Sir Harry, but you be in sad need of one.
By God! cries Raikes, clapping his hand to his small-sword, is it
a quarrel you are after? I say again that the wench
The table went over with a crash, and Raikes leaped aside only just
in time, so that Jack's fist shot harmlessly past his temple. Yet so
fierce had been the blow, that Jack, carried by its very impetus,
tripped, staggered, and fell heavily to the floor. In an instant myself
and Bentley were bending over him, and presently got him to his feet,
but every effort to stand served only to make him wince with pain; yet
balancing himself upon one leg, supported by our shoulders, he turned
upon Raikes with a snarl.
Ha! says he, I've long known you for a drunken rascalfitter for
the stocks than the society of honest gentlemen, now I know you for a
liar besides; could I but stand, you should answer to me this very
Sir John, if you would indulge me with the pleasure, says I,
putting back the skirt of my coat from my sword-hilt, you should find
me no unworthy substitute, I promise.
No, no, says Bentley, being the younger man, I claim this
I thank you both, says Jack, stifling a groan, but in this affair
none other can take my place.
Raikes laughed noisily, and crossing the room, fell to picking his
teeth and talking with his friend, Captain Hammersley, while the others
stood apart, plainly much perturbed, to judge from their gestures and
solemn faces. Presently Hammersley rose, and came over to where Jack
sat betwixt us, swearing and groaning under his breath.
My dear Sir John, says the Captain, bowing, in this
much-to-be-regretted, devilish unpleasant situation, you spoke certain
words in the heat of the moment which were a triflehasty, shall we
say? Sir Harry is naturally a little incensed, still, if upon calmer
consideration you can see your way to retract, I hope
Retract! roars Jack, retractnot a word, not a syllable; I
repeat, Sir Harry Raikes is a scoundrel and a liar
Very good, my dear Sir John, says the Captain, with another bow;
it will be small-swords, I presume?
They will serve, says Jack.
And the time and place?
Just so soon as I can use this leg of mine, says Jack, and I know
of no better place than this room. Any further communication you may
have to make, you will address to my friend here, Sir Richard Eden, who
will, I think, act for me?
Act for you? I repeated, in great distress, yes, yesassuredly.
Then we will leave it thus for the present, Sir John, says the
Captain, bowing and turning away, and I trust your foot will speedily
be well again.
Which is as much as wishing me speedily dead! says Jack, with a
rueful shake of the head. Raikes is a devil of a fellow and generally
pinks his maneh, Dick and Bentley?
Oh, my poor Jack! sighed Bentley, turning his broad back upon Sir
Harry, who, having bowed to us very formally, swaggered off with the
others at his heels.
Man, Jack, says I, you'll never fightyou cannotyou shall
Aye, but I shall! says Jack, grimly.
'Twill be plain murder! says Bentley.
Andthink of Pen! says I.
Aye, Pen! sighed Jack. My pretty Pen! She'll be lonely awhile,
methinks, butthank God, she'll have you and Bentley still!
And so, having presently summoned a coach (for Jack's foot was
become too swollen for the stirrup), we all three of us got in and were
driven to the Manor. And I must say, a gloomier trio never passed out
of Tonbridge Town, for it was well known to us that there was no man in
all the South Country who could stand up to Sir Harry Raikes; and
moreover, that unless some miracle chanced to stop the meeting, our old
friend was as surely a dead man as if he already lay in his coffin.
Of the further astonishing conduct of the
said Mr. Tawnish
Myself and Bentley were engaged upon our usual morning game of
chess, when there came a knocking at the door, and my man, Peter,
Checkmate! says I.
No! says Bentley, castelling.
Begging your pardon, Sir Richard, says Peter, but here's a man
with a message.
Oh, devil take your man with a message, Peter!the game is mine in
six moves, says I, bringing up my queen's knight.
No, says Bentley, steady up the bishop.
From Sir John Chester, says Peter, holding the note under my nose.
Oh! Sir John Chestercheck!
What in the world can Jack want? says Bentley, reaching for his
Check! says I.
Why, what can have put him out again? says Bentley, pointing to
the letterlook at the blots.
Jack is a bad enough hand with the pen at all times, but when in a
passion, his writing is always more or less illegible by reason of the
numerous blots and smudges; on the present occasion it was very evident
that he was more put out than usual.
Some new villainy of the fellow Raikes, you may depend, says I,
breaking the seal.
No, says Bentley, I'll lay you twenty, it refers to young
Done! I nodded, and spreading out the paper I read (with no little
difficulty) as follows:
DEAR DICK AND BENTLEY,
Come round and see me at once, for the devil anoint me if I ever
heard tell the like on't, and more especially after the
of a week ago. To my mind, 'tis but a cloak to mask his
as you will both doubtless agree when you shall have read this
Well, but where's his meaning? 'Tis ever Jack's way to forget the
very kernel of news, grumbled Bentley.
Pooh! 'tis plain enough, says I, he means Raikes; any but a fool
would know that.
Lay you fifty it's Tawnish, says Bentley, in his stubborn way.
Done! says I.
Stay a moment, Dick, says Bentley, as I rose, what of our
Pen,she hasn't asked you yet how Jack hurt his foot, has she?
Not a word.
Ha! says Bentley, with a ponderous nod, which goes to prove she
doth but think the more, and we must keep the truth from her at all
hazards, Dickshe'll know soon enough, poor, dear lass. Now, should
she ask usas ask us she will, 'twere best to have something to tell
herlet's say, he slipped somewhere!
Aye, I nodded, we'll tell her he twisted his ankle coming down
the step at 'The Chequers'would to God he had! So saying, we clapped
on our hats and sallied out together arm in arm. Jack and I are near
neighbours, so that a walk of some fifteen minutes brought us to the
Manor, and proceeding at once to the library, we found him with his leg
upon a cushion and a bottle of Oporto at his elbowa-cursing most
Well, Jack, says Bentley, as he paused for breath, and how is the
Leg! roars Jack, leg, sirlook at ituseless as a logas a
cursed log of wood, sirsnapped a tendonso Purdy says, but Purdy's a
damned pessimistic fellowthe devil anoint all doctors, say I!
And pray, what might be the meaning of this note of yours? and I
held it out towards him.
Meaning, cries Jack, can't you readdon't I tell you? The
insufferable insolence of the fellow.
Faith! says I, if it's Raikes you mean, anything is believable of
Raikes! roars Jack, louder than ever, fiddle-de-dee, sir! who
mentioned that rascalyou got my note?
In which you carefully made mention of no one.
Well, I meant to, and that's all the difference.
To be sure, added Bentley,it's young Tawnish; anybody but a
fool would know that.
To be sure, nodded Jack. Dick, says he, turning upon me
suddenly, Dick, could you have passed over such an insult as we saw
Raikes put upon him the other day?
No! I answered, very short, and you know it.
Jack turned to Bentley with a groan.
And you, Bentley, come now, says he, you could, eh!come now?
Not unless I was asleep or stone blind, or deaf, says Bentley.
Damme! and why not? cries Jack, and then groaned again. I was
afraid so, says he, I was afraid so.
Jack, what the devil do you mean? I exclaimed.
For answer he tossed a crumpled piece of paper across to me. Read
that, says he, I got it not an hour sinceread it aloud. Hereupon,
smoothing out the creases, I read the following:
TONBRIDGE, OCTR. 30th, 1740.
MY DEAR SIR JOHN,
Fortune, that charming though much vilified dame, hath for once
proved kind, for the first, and believe me by far the most
formidable of my three tasks, namely, to perform that which each
of you shall avow to be beyond him, is already accomplished, and
make bold to say, successfully.
To be particular, you could not but notice the very objectionable
conduct, I might say, the wanton insolence of Sir Harry Raikes
the occasion of our last interview. Now, Sir John, you, together
with Sir Richard Eden and Mr. Bentley, will bear witness to the
that I not only passed over the affront, but even went so far as
apologise to him myself, wherein I think I can lay claim to
achieved that which each one of you will admit to have been
Having thus fulfilled the first undertaking assigned me, there
remain but two, namely, to make a laughing stock of Sir Harry
(which I purpose to do at the very first opportunity) and to
you three gentlemen at a disadvantage.
So, my dear Sir John, in hopes of soon gaining your esteem and
blessing (above all), I rest your most devoted, humble, obedient,
This passes all bounds, says I, tossing the letter upon the table,
such audacitysuch presumption is beyond all belief; the question is,
whether the fellow is right in his head.
No, Dick, says Bentley, helping himself to the Oporto, the
question is ratherwhether he is wrong in his assertion.
Why, as to that I began, and paused, for look at it as I might
'twas plain enough that Mr. Tawnish had certainly scored his first
We all agree, continued Bentley, that we none of us could do the
like; it therefore follows that this Tawnish fellow wins the first
Sheer trickery! cries Jack, hurling his wig into the
Fore gad! Jack, says I, this fellow's no fool, if he 'quits
himself of his other two tasks as featly as this, sink me! but I must
needs begin to love him, for look you, fair is fair all the world over
and I agree with Bentley, for once, that Mr. Tawnish wins the first
Ha! cries Jack, and because the rogue has tricked us once, would
you have us sit by and let Pen throw herself away upon a worthless,
Why, as to that, Jack, says Bentley, a bargain's a bargain
Pish! roared Jack, fumbling in his pocket, why only this very
morning I came upon more of his poetry-stuff! Here, he continued,
tossing a folded paper on the table in front of Bentley, it seems the
young rascal's been meeting herover the orchard wall. Read it,
Bentleyread it, and see for yourself. Obediently Bentley took up the
paper and read as here followeth:
Bah! snorted Jack.
'Dear Heart!' read Bentley again and with a certain unction:
I send you these few lines, poor though they be, for since they
inspired by my great love for thee, that of itself, methinks,
make them more worthy,
Thine, as ever,
You mark that? cries Jack, excitedly, 'hers as ever,' and
'Horatio!' Horatiofaugh! I could ha' taken it kinder had he called
himself Tom, or Will, or George, but 'Horatio'oh, damme! And now
comes the poetry-stuff.
Hereupon Bentley hummed and ha'd, and clearing his throat, read
'When drowsy night with sombre wings
O'er this world his shadow flings
And thou, dear love, doth sleep,
Then do I send my soul to thee
Thy guardian till the dawn to be
And thy sweet slumbers keep.'
'Slumbers keep,' snorted Jack, the insolence of the fellow! Now
look on t'other side.
'I shall be in the orchard to-morrow at the usual hour, in the hope
of a word or a look from you.'
Bentley read, and laid down the paper.
At the usual hourd'ye mark that! cries Jack, thumping himself in
the chest'tis become a habit with 'em, it seemsand there's for ye,
and a nice kettle o' fish it is!
Ah, Bentley, says I, if only your nephew, the young Viscount,
To the deuce with Bentley's nephew! roars Jack. I say he
shouldn't marry her now, nonot if he were ten thousand times
Bentley's nephew, sirdeuce take him!
So then, says I, all our plans are gone astray, and she will have
her way and wed this adventurer Tawnish, I suppose?
No, no, Dick! cries Jack; curse me, am I not her father?
And is she notherself? says I.
True! Jack nodded, and as stubborn asas
Her father! added Bentley. Why, JackDickI tell you she's
ruled us all with a rod of iron ever since she used to climb up our
knees to pull at our wigs with her little, mischievous fingers!
Such very small, pink fingers! says I, sighing. Indeed we've
spoiled her wofully betwixt us.
Ha! snorted Jack, and who's responsible for all this, I say;
who's petted and pampered, and coddled and condoned her every fault?
Whyyou, Dick and Bentley. When I had occasion to scold or correct
her, who was it used to sneak behind my back with their pockets bulging
with cakes and sticky messes? Why, you, Dick and Bentley!
You scold her, Jack? says Bentley, yes, egad! in a voice as mild
as a sucking dove! And when she wept, you'd frown tremendously to hide
thine own tears, man, and end by smothering her with your kisses. And
thus it has ever beenfor her dead mother's sake!
But now, says I after a while, the time is come to be resolute,
for her sakeand her mother's.
Aye, cries Jack, we must be firm with her, we must be resolute!
Penelope's my daughter and shall obey us for once, if we have to lock
her up for a week. I'll teach her that our will is law, for once!
You're in the right on 't, Jack, says I, we must show her that
she can't ride rough-shod over us any longer. We must be stern to be
We must be adamant! says Bentley, his eyes twinkling.
We must be harsh, says I, if need be and
But here, perceiving Bentley's face to be screwed up warningly,
observing his ponderous wink and eloquent thumb, I glanced up and
beheld Penelope herself regarding us from the doorway. And indeed,
despite the pucker at her pretty brow, she looked as sweet and fresh
and fair as an English summer morning. But Jack, all innocent of her
presence, had caught the word from me.
Harsh! cries he, thumping the table at his elbow, I'll warrant me
I'll be harsh enoughif 'twas only on account of the fellow's
poetry-stuffthe jade! We'll lock her upaye, if need be, we'll
starve her on bread and water, we'll
But he got no further, for Penelope had stolen up behind him and,
throwing her arms round his neck, kissed him into staring silence.
Uncle Bentley! says she, giving him one white hand to kiss, and
you, dear uncle Dick! and she gave me the other.
What, my pretty lass! cries Bentley, rising, and would have kissed
the red curve of her smiling lips, but she stayed him with an
Nay, sir, says she, mighty demure, you know my new rule,from
Monday to Wednesday my hand; from Wednesday to Saturday, my cheek; and
on Sunday, my lipsand to-day is Tuesday, sir!
Drat my memory, so it is! says Bentley, and kissed her slender
fingers obediently, as I did likewise. Hereupon she turns, very high
and haughty, to eye Jack slowly from head to foot, and to shake her
head at him in dignified rebuke.
As for you, sir, says she, you stole away my letter,was that
gentle, was it loving, was it kind? Uncle Bentleysay 'No'!
Whyerno, stammered Bentley, but you see, Pen
Then, Sir John, she continued, with her calm, reproving gaze still
fixed upon her father's face the while he fidgetted in his chair, then
yesterday, Sir John, when I found you'd taken it, and came to demand it
back again, you heard me coming and slipped outthrough the window,
and hid yourselfin the stables, and rode away without even stopping
to put on your riding-boots, andin that terrible old hat! Was that
behaving like a dignified, middle-aged gentleman and Justice of the
Peace, sir? Uncle Richard, say 'Certainly not!'
Well, II suppose 'twas not, says I, but under the
And now I find you all with your heads very close together,
hatching diabolical plots and conspiracies against poor little
Nay, Penelope, says Jack, beginning to bluster, weI say we are
Oh, Sir John, she sighed, oh, Sir John Chester, 'tis a shameful
thing and most ungallant in a father to run off with his daughter's
love-letter. Prithee, where is her love-letter? Give her her
Hereupon Jack must needs produce the letter from his pocket (where
he had hidden it) and she (naughty baggage) very ostentatiously set it
'neath the tucker at her bosom. Which done, she nods at each one of us
in turn, frowning a little the while.
I vow, says she, tapping the floor with the toe of her satin shoe,
I could find it in my heart to be very angry with youall of you, if
I didn'tlove you quite so well. So, needs must I forgive you. Sir
John dear, stoop down and let me straighten your wigthere! Now you
may kiss me, siran' you wish.
Hereupon Jack kissed her, of course, and thereafter catching sight
of us, frowned terrifically.
Now, look'ee here, PenPenelope, says he, I say, look'ee here!
Yes, Sir John dear.
Ithat is to saywe, began Jack, for Dick and Bentley are one
with me, I say thatthater, I say thatwhat the devil do I mean to
Why, Pen, I explained, 'tis this strangerthiser
Tawnish! says Bentley.
Aye, Tawnish! nodded Jack. Now heark'ee, Pen, I repeatI say, I
Very frequently, dear, she sighed. Well?
I say, continued Jack, that Iweutterly forbid you to see or
hear from the fellow again.
And pray, sir, what have you against him? says she softly,only
her slender foot tapped a little faster.
Everything! says Jack.
Which is as much as to saynothing! she retorted.
I say, cried Jack, the man you come to marry shall be a man
and not a mincing exquisite with no ideas beyond the cut of his coat.
And, says I, a man of position, and no led-captain with an eye to
your money, or needy adventurer hunting a dowry, Pen.
Oh! she sighed, how cruelly you misjudge him! And you, Uncle
Bentley, what have you to say?
That whoso he be, we would have him in all things worthy of thee,
Aye! nodded Jack, so my lass, forego this whimno more o' this
Tawnish fellowforget him.
Forget! says she, how lightly you say it! Oh, prithee don't you
see that I am a child no longerdon't you understand?
Pooh! cries Jack. Fiddle-de-dee! What-a-plague! This fellow is no
fit mate for our Pen, a stranger whom nobody knows! a languid fop! a
pranked-out, patched and powdered puppy-dog! So Penelope, let there be
an end on't!
Pen's little foot had ceased its tattoo, but her eyes were bright
and her cheeks glowed when she spoke again.
Oh! says she, scornfully. Oh, most noble, most fair-minded
gentlemenall three of you, to condemn thus, out of hand, one of whom
you know nothing, and without allowing him one word in his own behalf!
Aye, hang your heads! Oh, 'tis most unworthy of youyou whom I have
ever held to be in all things most just and honourable!
And here she turned her back fairly upon us and crossed to the
window, while we looked at one another but with never a word betwixt
us; wherefore she presently went on again.
And yet, says she, and now her voice was grown wonderfully tender,
you all loved the mother I never knewloved her passing well, and,
for her sake, have borne with my foolish whims all these years, and
given me a place deep within your hearts. And because of this, says
she, turning and coming back to us, yes, because of this I love thee,
Uncle Dick! Here she stooped and kissed me (God bless her). And you
too, Uncle Bentley! Here she kissed Bentley. And you, dear, tender
father! Here she kissed Jack. Indeed, she sighed, methinks I love
you all far more than either of you, being only men, can ever
understand. But because I am a woman, needs must I do as my heart bids
me in this matter, or despise myself utterly. As for the worth of this
gentleman, oh! think you I am so little credit to your upbringing as
not to know the real from the base? Ah! trust me! And indeed I know
this for a very noble gentleman, and what's more, I will
neverneverwed any other than this gentleman! So saying, she sobbed
once, and turning about, sped from the room, banging the door behind
Hereupon Jack sighed and ruffled up his wig, while Bentley, lying
back in his chair, nodded up at the ceiling, and as for myself I stared
down at the floor, lost in sombre thought.
Well, exclaimed Jack at last, what the devil are you shaking your
heads over? Had you aided me just now instead of sitting there
mumchance like two graven imagessay like two accursed graven
Why, retorted Bentley, didn't I say
Say, cries Jack, no sooner did you clap eyes on her than it's 'My
sweet lass!' 'My pretty maid!' and such toys! And after all your talk
of being 'harsh to be kind!' Oh, a cursed nice mess you've made on't
betwixt you. Lord knows I tried to do my best
To be sure, nodded Bentley, 'Come let me straighten your wig'
says she, and there you sat likeegad, like a furious lamb!
Jack and Bentley, says I, 'tis time we realized that our Pen's a
woman grown and weold men, though it seems but yesterday we were boys
together at Charterhouse. But the years have slipped away, as years
will, and everything is changed but our friendship. As we, in those
early days lived, and fought, and worked together, so we loved
together, and shechose Jack. And because of our love, her choice was
ours also. And in a little while she died, but left us Pento comfort
Jack if such might be, and to be our little maid. Each day she hath
grown more like to what her sweet mother was, and so we have loved
hervery dearly untilto-day we have waked to find our little maid a
woman grownto think, and act, and choose for herself, and weold
And so I sighed, and rising crossed to the window and stood there
Lord! says Bentley at last, how the years do gallop upon a man!
Aye! sighed Jack, I never felt my age till now.
Nor I! added Bentley.
And now, says Jack, what of Raikes; have you seen aught of him
But I met Hammersley this morning, says Bentley, and he was
anxious to know when thethe
Meeting was likely to take place? put in Jack, as he paused;
Purdy tells me I shan't be able to use this foot of mine for a month
That will put it near Christmas, added Bentley.
Yes, nodded Jack, I think we could do no better than Christmas
A devilish strange time for a duel, says Bentley, peace on earth,
and all that sort of thing, you know.
Why, it's Pen, says Jack, staring hard into the fire, she will be
at her Aunt Sophia's then, which is fortunate on the whole. I shouldn't
care for her to see mewhen they bring me home.
For a long time it seemed to me none of us spoke. I fumbled through
all my pockets for my snuff-box without finding it (which was strange),
and looking up presently, I saw that Bentley had upset his wine, which
was trickling down his satin waistcoat all unnoticed.
Jack, says I at last, a Gad's name, lend me your snuff-box!
And now, says he, suppose we have a hand at picquet.
Of a Flight of Steps, a Stirrup, and a Stone
Autumn, with its dying flowers and falling leaves, is, to my
thinking, a mournful season, and hath ever about it a haunting
melancholy, a gentle sadness that sorts very ill with this confounded
tune of Lillibuleero, more especially when whistled in gusts and
somewhat out of key.
Therefore, as we walked along towards the Manor on this November
afternoon, I drew my arm from Bentley's and turned upon him with a
Why in heaven's name must you whistle? I demanded.
Did I so, Dick? I was thinking.
Of what, pray?
Of many things, man Dick, but more particularly of my nephew.
Ah! says I scornfully, our gallant young Viscount! our bridegroom
elect whoran away!
But none the less, added Bentley, stoutly, a pretty fellow with a
good leg, a quick hand and a true eye, Dickone who can tell 'a hawk
from a hern-shaw' as the saying is.
Which I take leave to doubt, says I, sourly, or he would have
fallen in with our wishes and married Pen a year ago, instead of
running away like a craven fool!
But bethink you, Dick, says Bentley flushing, he had never so
much as seen her and, when he heard we were all so set on having him
married, he writ me saying he 'preferred a wife of his own choosing'
and thenwell, he bolted!
Like a fool!
'Twas very natural, snorted Bentley, redder in the face than ever.
And what's more, he's a fine lad, a lovable lad, and a very fine
gentleman into the bargain, as you will be the first to admit when
but here Bentley broke off to turn and look at me mighty solemn all at
once: Dick, says he, do you think young Raikes is so great a
swordsman as they say?
Yes, I answered bitterly, and that's why I grieve for our poor
Jack? says Bentley, staring like a fool, Jackah yes, to be
sureto be sure.
I tell you, Bentley, I continued, impressively, so sure as he
crosses swords with the fellow, Jack is a dead man.
Humph! says Bentley, after we had gone some little way in silence.
Man Dick, I'm greatly minded to tell thee a matter.
Well? I enquired, listlessly.
But on second thoughts, I won't, Dick, says he, for 'silence is
golden,' as the saying is!
Why then, says I, go you on to the house; I'm minded to walk in
the rose-garden awhile, for I had caught the flutter of Pen's cloak at
the end of one of the walks.
Walk? repeated Bentley, staring. Rose-garden? But Jack will be
for a game of picquet
I'll be with you anon, says I, turning away.
Hum! says Bentley, scratching his chin, and presently sets off
towards the house, whistling lustily.
I found Penelope in the yew-walk, leaning against the statue of a
satyr. And looking from the grotesque features above to the lovely face
below, I suddenly found my old heart a-thumping strangelyfor beside
this very statue, in almost the same attitude, her mother had once
stood long ago to listen to the tale of my hopeless love. For a moment
it almost seemed that the years had rolled backward, it almost seemed
that the thin grey hair beneath my wig might be black once more, my
step light and elastic with youth. Instinctively, I reached out my
hands and took a swift step across the grass, then, all at once she
looked up, and seeing me, smiled.
My hands dropped.
Penelope, I said.
Uncle Dick, says she, her smile fading, why, what is it?
Naught, my dear, says I, trying to smile, old men have strange
fancies at times
Nay, but what was it? she repeated, catching my hands in hers.
Child, says I, child, you are greatly like what your mother was
Am I? says she very low, looking at me with a new light in her
eyes. Then she leaned suddenly forward and kissed me.
Why, Pen! says I, all taken aback.
I know, she nodded, on Monday my hand, on Wednesday my cheek, and
on Sunday my lips
And to-day is Friday!
What if it is, sir, says she, tossing her head, I made that rule
simply for peace and quietness sake; you and Uncle Bentley were forever
pestering me to death, you know you were.
Were we? says I, chuckling, well, I'm one ahead of him to-day,
Talking thus, we came to the rose-garden (Pen's special care) and
here we must needs fall a-sorrowing over the dead flowers.
And yet, says Pen, pausing beside a bush whereon hung a few faded
blooms, all will be as sweet, and fresh, and glorious again next
Yes, I answered, heavily, next year. And I sighed again,
bethinking me of the changes this next year must bring to all of us.
Tell me, Uncle Dick, says she, suddenly, laying a hand on either
of my shoulders, how did father hurt his foot?
Why, to be sure, says I, readily, 'twas an accident. You must
know 'twas as we came down the steps at 'The Chequers', Pen; talking
and laughing, d'ye see, he tripped and fellcaught his spur, I fancy.
But he wore no spurs, Uncle Dick, says she, mighty demure.
Ohwhydidn't he so, Pen? says I, a little hipped. Well, then
heerjusttripped, you knowfell, you understand.
On the steps, Uncle Dick?
Aye, on the steps, I nodded.
Prithee did he fall up the steps or down the steps, Uncle Dick?
Down, Pen, down; he simply tripped down the steps andand there
you have it.
But prithee Uncle Dick
Nay, nay, says I, the game waits for me, PenI must go.
But at this moment, as luck would have it, Bentley reappeared, nor
was I ever more glad to see him.
Aha, man Dick, cries he, wagging his finger at me. Walk in the
rose-garden, was it? Oh, for shame, to so abuse my confidenceDick, I
blush for thee; and Jack's a roaring for thee, and the game waits for
thee; in a wordbegone! And to-day, Pen, says he, as I turned away,
to-day is Friday! and he stooped and kissed her pretty cheek.
I had reached the terrace when I stopped all at once and, moved by a
sudden thought, I turned about and hurriedly retraced my steps. They
were screened from sight by one of the great yew hedges, but as I
approached I could hear Bentley's voice:
His horse? says Bentley.
Yes, says Pen, and Saladin's such a quiet old horse as a rule!
But what's his horse got to do with it? says Bentley.
Why, you were there, Uncle Bentley. Saladin jibbed, didn't he, just
as father had one foot in the stirrup ready to mount?
Oh! Ha! Hum! says Bentley. Did Jack tell you all that, Pen?
Who else? says she, 'twas you caught his bridle, wasn't it?
I? Hum! The bridle? says Bentley, whyegad, Pen
And Uncle Dick caught father as he fell, she continued.
Did Jack tell thee all that? says Bentley.
How should I know else? says she.
Lord! says Bentley.
And 'twas you caught the bridle, now, wasn't it? says she,
[Illustration: Oh! Ha! Hum! says Bentley, did Jack tell you all
that, Pen? Page 80.]
Whyersince you mention it,yesI suppose so, mumbled
Bentley, oh, yes, certainly I caught the bridlesurprisingly agile in
one o' my size, Pen, eh? But egad, the game waitsI must be off, but a
kiss firstfor saving thy father for thee, Pen.
Waiting for no more, I turned and set off towards the house, but as
I once more reached the terrace, up comes Bentley behind me, whistling
lustily as usual.
Why Dick, says he, where have you sprung from?
Bentley, says I, shaking my head, it's in my mind you've been a
For what, Dick?
For catching that bridle! says I. Why on earth couldn't you be
content to let him trip down the steps as we agreed a week ago?
Why then, what of Jack's story of Saladin's jibbingthough strike
me purple, Dick, if I thought he had enough imagination.
Do you think he did tell her so? says I.
To be sure he did, Dick, unless
Humph! says I, let's go and ask him.
Side by side we entered the great hall, and side by side we came to
the door of the library; now the door was open, and from within came
the sound of Jack's voice.
I tell thee 'twas nought but a stone, Pen, he was saying, I say,
an ordinary, loose cobble-stone! Good Gad, madam, and why shouldn't it
be a cobble-stone? Gentlemen are forever twisting their ankles on
cobble-stones! I tell you Hereupon Bentley threw open the door, but
I entered first.
No, no, Jack! I cried, 'twas down the stepsyou tripped down the
steps at 'The Chequers,' you know you did!
Nay, 'twas Saladin jibbed,don't you remember? says Bentley.
Why, Dick and Bentley! cries Jack, staring from one to the other
of us, what a plague's all this? Don't I know how I hurt my own foot?
I say 'twas a cobble-stone, and a cobble-stone it shall be. Lord! how
could ye try to fill our maid's pretty head with such folly? Shame on
ye both! Why not stick to the truthand my cobble-stone?
And now, dear Sir John, says Pen, very soft and demure, pray tell
mehow did you hurt your foot?
Heywhat? spluttered Jack, don't I tell you
A flight of steps, a stirrup, and a stone! sighed Pen, shaking her
head at us each in turn.
Now look'ee, Pen, says Jack, trying to bluster, I say I'm not to
be badgered and brow-beaten by a slip of a girlI say I'm not, by
Oh, my dears, my dears! sighed Pen, reprovingly, Isn't it time
you learned that you can keep fewvery few secrets from me, who
understand you all so well because I love you all so well? I have been
your playfellow and companion so long that, methinks, I know you much
better than you know yourselves; I, who have had my word in all your
councils? How foolish then to think to put me off with such flimsy
stories. Of course I shall find out all about it, sooner or later, I
always do. Yes, I shall, even if I must needs hide in corners sirs, and
hearken at keyholes, and peep and pryso I warn you. And with this,
she nodded and turned and left us to stare blankly at one another.
That settles it! said Bentley, gloomily, she'll no more swallow
thy cobble-stone than Dick's flight of steps, Jack. She'll know the
truth before the week is out!
The minx! cried Jack, the jade! And with the word he snatched
off his wig and hurled it into a corner.
Jack, says I, what's to be done?
Done? he roared, I'll pack her off to her Aunt Sophia to-morrow!
Aye, says Bentley, butwill she go?
Bentley, says Jack, I'll thank you to reach me my wig!
Of how We fell in with a Highwayman at
the Cross Roads
Myself and Bentley were returning from another dog-fight. This time
my dog had lost (which was but natural, seeing its very unfit
condition, though to be sure it looked well enough at a glance). Alas!
the sport is not what it was in my young days, when rogues can so put
off a sick dog upon the unsuspecting. Methinks 'tis becoming a very
brutal, degrading practicehave determined to have done with
dog-fighting once and for all. Bentley was in a high good humour (as
was but to be expected, seeing he had won nigh upon two hundred guineas
of me), but then, as I have said, Bentley never wins but he must needs
By the way, said he, breaking off in the middle of the air he was
humming, did you see him at the fight?
Him? says I.
Raikes, nodded Bentley. Man Dick, I never see the fellow but my
fingers itch for his throat. I heard some talk that he had won a
thousand or so from young Vesey, by this one bout alone.
Humph! says I.
Come, Dick, says Bentley, let's get on; he cannot be so very far
behind, and I have no stomach for his societyI'll race you to the
cross roads for fifty.
I'll hurry myself for no such fellow as Raikes! says I.
Nor fifty guineas?
No, says I, nor fifty guineas!
Whereupon, Bentley yielding to my humour, we rode on with never a
word betwixt us. It lacked now but a short three weeks to Christmas,
and every day served but to bring Jack nearer to his grave, and add a
further load to that which pressed upon my heart. At such times the
thought of Pen, and the agony I must see in her eyes so soon, drove me
well-nigh frantic. In this rough world men must be prepared for
fortune's buffetsand shame to him that blenches, say Ibut when
through us Fate strikes those we fain would shelter, methinks it is
another matter. Thus, had Jack proved coward, I for one should have
rejoiced for Pen's sake, but as it was, no power on earth could stay
the meeting, and this Christmas would bring her but anguish, and a
great sorrow. With all these thoughts upon my mind I was very silent
and despondentand what wonder! As for Bentley, he, on the contrary,
manifested an indifference out of all keeping with his character, an
insensibility that angered and disgusted me not a little, but surprised
and pained me, most of all.
So it was in moody silence that we walked our horses up the hill
where the beacon stands, and were barely on top, when we heard the
sound of rapidly approaching hoofs behind us, and a few minutes later
Sir Harry Raikes with his friend, Captain Hammersley, galloped up.
Hereupon Bentley, in his usual easy, inconsequent fashion, fell into
conversation with them, but as for me, having bowed in acknowledgment
of their boisterous salutation, I relapsed once more into gloomy
thought. Little by little however, it became apparent to me that for
some reason I had become a mark for their amusement; more than once I
caught them exchanging looks, or regarding me from the corners of their
eyes in such fashion as set my ears a-tingling. The Captain was
possessed of a peculiarly high-pitched, falsetto laugh, which,
recurring at frequent intervals (and for no reason as I could see),
annoyed me almost beyond bearing. But I paid no heed, staring straight
before me and meditating upon a course of action which had been in my
head for days pasta plan whereby Jack's duel might be prevented
altogether, and our sweet maid shielded from the sorrow that must
otherwise blight her life so very soon. As I have said before, there
was a time, years ago, when I was accounted a match for any with the
small-sword, and though a man grows old he can never forget what he has
learned of the art. I had, besides, seen Raikes fight on two or three
occasions, and believed, despite the disparity of our years, that I
could master him. If on the other hand I was wrong, if, to put it
bluntly, he should kill me, well, I was a very lonely man with none
dependent upon me, nay, my money would but benefit others the sooner;
moreover, I was a man of some standing, a Justice of the Peace, with
many friends in high authority, both in London and the neighbourhood,
who I know would raise such an outcry as would serve to rid the county
of Raikes once and for all. And a better riddance could not well be
Thus, I argued, in either case my object could not fail, and
therefore I determined on the first favourable opportunity to put the
matter to a sudden issue. Presently the road narrowed so that we were
forced to ride two abreast, and I noticed with a feeling of
satisfaction that Raikes purposely reined in so as to bring himself
By the way, Sir Richard, says he carelessly, what of Jack
You possibly allude to my friend Sir John Chester, I corrected.
To be sure, he answered, staring me in the eyesto be sureJack
Chester. Hereupon the Captain giggled. They tell me his leg yet
troubles him, continued Raikes, seeing I was silent.
'Tis nearly well, says Bentley, over his shoulder, and at the same
time I noticed his great mare began to edge closer to the Captain's
Can it be possible? cried Raikes, in mock surprise. On my soul,
you astonish me! At this the Captain screeched with laughter again,
yet he broke off in the middle to curse instead, as his horse
floundered into the ditch.
Pink my immortal soul, sir! says he, as he got down to pick up his
hat, but I verily believe that great beast of yours is gone suddenly
mad! And indeed, Bentley's mare was sidling and dancing in a manner
that would seem to lend truth to the words.
No, says Bentley, very solemn, she has an objection to sudden
noises'twas your laugh frightened her belike.
The Captain muttered a curse or two, wiped the mud from his hat, and
climbing back into the saddle, we proceeded upon our way.
Speaking of Jack Chester, began Raikes, but here he was
interrupted by Bentley, who had been regarding us for some time with an
Gentlemen, says he, pointing to the finger-post ahead of us, 'tis
said Sir Charles d'Arcy was stopped at the cross roads yonder by a
highwayman, no later than last night, and he swears the fellow was none
other than the famous Jerry Abershaw himself, and he is said to be in
these parts yet.
The devil! exclaimed the Captain, glancing about apprehensively,
while I stared at Bentley in surprise, for this was the first I had
heard of it. As for Sir Harry Raikes, he dismissed the subject with a
careless shrug, and turned his attention to me once more.
Speaking of Jack Chester, says he, I begin to fear that leg of
his will never mend.
Ah? says I, looking him in the eyes for the first time, yes?
Considering the circumstances, he nodded.
It would seem that your fears were wasted none the less, sir.
My dear Sir Richard, he smiled, as I was saying to some one only
the other day, an injured armor leg for that matter, has often
supplied a lack of courage before now.
As he ended, the Captain began to laugh again, but meeting my eye,
stopped, for the moment I had waited for had arrived, and I reined
round so suddenly as to throw Sir Harry's horse back upon its haunches.
Damnation! he cried, struggling with the plunging animal, are you
Do me the favour to dismount, says I, suiting the action to the
word, and throwing my bridle to Bentley.
And what now? says Raikes, staring.
You will perceive that the road here is passably even, and the
light still fairly good, says I.
Highly dramatic, on my soul! he sneered.
Sir Harry Raikes, says I, stepping up to his stirrup, you will
notice that I have here a sword and a whipwhich shall it be?
The sneer left his lips on the instant, his face as suddenly grew
red, and I saw the veins start out on his temples.
What, cries he, is it a fight you're after?
Exactly! says I, and laid my hand upon my small-sword; but at this
moment Bentley rode betwixt us.
By God, you don't, Dick! says he, laying his great hand upon my
By God, but I do! says I, endeavouring vainly to shake off his
Man, Dick, cries he, you are a madmanand full six inches
shorter in the reach! Now I
You! I broke in, you are a mountainbesides, the quarrel is
minecome, loose me, Bentleyloose me, I say.
No! Devil take medo you think I'll stand by and see you
Bentley, I cried, if ever you were friend of mine you will free
my arm this instant.
All this time Raikes sat regarding us with a look of such open
amusement as came nigh driving me frantic.
Mr. Bentley, says he, with a flourish of his hat, I fancy 'twould
be as well for Sir Richard were I and Captain Hammersley to ride on
before, yet do not loose him till I am out of sight, I beg.
You hear, Bentley? says I, trembling with passion. Comelet us
gofool, I whispered under my breath, for her sake! Bentley's
fingers twitched upon my arm.
Ah, I thought so! he nodded.
Then quick, do as I bid, and get it over.
On condition that you settle the affair in the meadow yonder'tis
a better place in all respects, says Bentley, under his breath.
I care not where it be, says I.
So, sneered Raikes, you are bent on fighting, then?
In the meadow yonder, nodded Bentley, pointing with his whip to a
field that lay beyond the narrow stone bridge, some little distance
As you will, says Raikes, shrugging his shoulders; but whatever
the consequences, I call you all to witness that Sir Richard's own
impulsiveness is entirely to blame.
So, having remounted, we rode forward, Raikes and the Captain
leading the way.
Now as we drew nearer to the bridge I have mentioned, I noticed a
solitary figure wrapped in a horseman's cloak who sat upon the coping,
seemingly absorbed in watching the flow of the stream beneath. We were
almost upon him when he slowly rose to his feet, and as he turned his
head I saw that he was masked, and, furthermore, that in either hand he
held a long-barrelled pistol.
Abershaw, by God! exclaimed the Captain, reining up all of a
Stand! cried a harsh voice, whereupon we all very promptly obeyed
with the exception of Raikes, who, striking spurs to his horse, dashed
in upon the fellow with raised whip. There was the sound of a blow, a
bitter curse, and the heavy whip, whirling harmlessly through the air,
splashed down into the stream.
Ah! would you then? says the fellow, with the muzzles of the
pistols within a foot of Sir Harry's cowering body. Ah, would you?
Curse me, but I've a mind to blow the heart and liver out of youd'ye
I'll see you hanged for this, said Raikes, betwixt his teeth.
Maybe aye, maybe no, says the fellow, in the same rough yet
half-jovial voice, but for the present come downget down, d'ye
hear? Muttering oaths, Sir Harry perforce dismounted, and being by
this still nearer the threatening muzzles, immediately proceeded to
draw out a heavy purse, which he sullenly extended toward the
highwayman, who, shifting one pistol to his pocket, took it, weighed it
in his hand a moment, and then coolly tossed it over into the stream.
What the devil! gasped Raikes, are you mad?
Maybe aye, maybe no, says the fellow, grinning beneath his mask,
but that's neither here nor there, master, the question betwixt us
being a coat.
What coat? cries Raikes, with a bewildered stare.
This coat, says the fellow, tapping him upon the arm with his
pistol barrel, and a very passable coat it isfine velvet, I swear,
and as I'm a living sinner, a flowered waistcoat!come, take 'em off,
Very slowly, Sir Harry obeyed, swearing frightfully, while the
fellow, sitting upon the parapet of the bridge, swung his legs and
Humph! says he, as if to himself, buckskin breeches, and boots
brand newburn me! and then suddenly in a louder tone: Off with
What d'ye mean? snarled Raikes, and his face was murderous.
What I says, returned the other, with a flourish of his pistols,
such being my natur', d'ye take me? And if the gentleman in the muddy
hat moves a finger nearer his barkers, I'll blow his head offcurse me
if I won't. Saying which the highwayman began to whistle softly,
swinging his legs in time to himself. As for the Captain, the hand
which had crept furtively towards his pistols dropped as if it had been
shot, and he sat watching the fellow with staring eyes.
And indeed he made a strange, fantastic figure sitting there hunched
up in the fading light, with the quick gleam of his ever restless eyes
showing through the slits of his hideous half-mask, and the pout of his
whistling lips beneath; nay, there was about the whole figure, from the
rusty spurs at his heels to the crown of his battered hat, something
almost devilish, with an indefinable mockery beyond words.
Bentley, I whispered, as Raikes slowly kicked off his boots one
after the other, this fellow's a madman beyond a doubt, or we are
dreaming. Bentley's reply was something betwixt a groan and a choke,
and looking round, I saw that his face was purple.
Man, don't do that, I cried, you'll burst a blood-vessel!
Come, says the fellow, breaking off his whistle of a sudden, and
turning over the garments at his feet with the toe of his boot, you
wouldn't go for to cheat me out of your breeches, would you? Come now,
master, off with 'em, I say, for look ye, I mislike to be kept waiting
for a thing as I wantssuch being my natur', d'ye take me?
Sir Harry Raikes stood rigid, his face dead whiteonly his burning
eyes and twitching mouth told of the baffled fury that was beyond all
words. Twice he essayed to speak and could notonce he turned to look
at us with an expression of such hopeless misery and mute appeal as
moved even me to pity. As for the highwayman, he began to whistle and
swing his legs once more.
Bentley, says I, this must go no farther.
What can we do? gasped Bentley, and laid his heavy hand upon my
Come, says the fellow again, rising to his feet.
No, cries Raikes, in a choking voice, not for all the devils in
I'll count five, grinned the fellow, and he levelled his pistols.
One! says he, but Raikes never stirredTwo, the harsh,
inexorable voice went on, threefour There was a sudden wild sob,
and Sir Harry Raikes was shivering in his hat and shirt. The highwayman
now turned his attention to Raikes's horsethough keeping a wary eye
upon usand having drawn both pistols from their holsters, motioned
him to remount. Sir Harry obeyed with never so much as a word; which
done, the fellow gave a whistle, upon which a horse appeared from the
shadow of the hedge beyond, from whose saddle he took two lengths of
cord, and beckoning to the Captain, set him to bind Raikes very
securely to the stirrup-leathers. As one in a dream the Captain
proceeded about it (bungling somewhat in the operation), but it was
done at last.
Now, my masters, says the fellow briskly, I must trouble each one
of you for his barkersand no tricks, mark me, no tricks! With this
he nodded to Bentley, who yielded up his weapons after a momentary
hesitation, while the Captain seemed positively eager to part with his,
and I in my turn was necessitated to do the same.
It may be a matter of wonder to some, that one man could so easily
disarm four, but 'tis readily understood if you have looked into the
muzzle of a horse-pistol held within a few inches of your head.
Thus, all being completed, the highwayman, having mounted, gave us
the word to proceed, Bentley and I riding first, then Raikes and the
Captain, and last of all the fellow, pistol in hand. So thus it was, in
the dusk of the evening, that we came into Tonbridge Town, with never a
word betwixt usmyself silent from sheer amazement, the Captain for
reasons of his own, Sir Harry Raikes for very obvious causes, but
mostly (as I judge) on account of his chattering teeth, and Bentley
because a man cannot whistle Lillibuleero beneath his breath and talk
at the same time.
Lights were beginning to gleam at windows as we entered the High
Street, and here I made sure the highwayman would have left usbut no,
on turning my head, there he rode, close behindhis battered hat over
his nose, and his pistol in his hand, for all the world as if we were
back on the open road rather than the main thoroughfare of a Christian
By this time we were become a mark for many eyes; people came
running from all sides, the air hummed with voices; shouts were heard,
mingled with laughter and jeers, but we rode on, and through it all at
a gallop. As we passed The Chequers I saw the windows full of faces,
and Truscott and Finch with five or six others came running out to
stare after us open mouthed. So we galloped through Tonbridge Town, and
never drew rein until we were out upon the open road once more. There
the fellow stopped us.
Masters all, says he, 'tis here we partmaybe you'll forget
memaybe notespecially one of you; d'ye take me? and he pointed to
the shivering figure of Raikes. The wind is plaguily chill I'll allow,
but burn me! could I be blamed for that, my masterswhat, all silent?
Well! Well! Howsomever, give me that trinket, Masterjust to show
there's no ill-feeling, so to speak; and he indicated a small gold
locket that Raikes wore round his neck on a riband, who, without a
word, or even looking up, slipped it off and laid it in the other's
Well, good-night, my masters, good-night! says he, in his jovial
voice; maybe we shall meet again, who knows? My best respects to you
allme being respectful by natur'. Good-night. So, with an awkward
flourish of his hat, he wheeled his horse and galloped away towards
Concerning the true Identity of our Highwayman
'Twas some half-hour later that we found Jack in his library, seated
before the fire, his wine at his elbow and Pen at his feet, reading
aloud from Mr. Steele's Tatler.
Upon our sudden appearance Penelope rose, and looked from myself to
Bentley a trifle anxiously I thought. Now, as I made my bow to her, I
heard Bentley softly begin to whistle Lillibuleero, and though I had
heard him do so many times before, it suddenly struck me that this was
the air the highwayman fellow had whistled as he sat swinging his legs
upon the bridge.
Bentley, to-day is Wednesday! I expostulated, as breaking off in
the middle of a bar, he kissed Pen full upon the lips.
To be sure it is, says he, and kissed her again upon the cheek.
And ten o'clock, added Jack, and time all maids were abed.
Not before I even matters, says I. I'll give second place to
none, least of all Bentley! And I having kissed her twiceonce upon
the cheek for Wednesday, and once upon the lips for myself,she
dropped us a laughing courtesy, and with a final good-night kiss for
Jack, and a nod to each of us, ran up to bed. But even then Bentley
must needs follow her out to the stairs and stand there whispering his
nonsensewhich goes but to prove the jealous nature of the man!
What's to do? says Jack, pushing the wine towards me. I've sat
here with the cards beside me ever since eight o'clockwhat's to do?
Why, you must know, I began, we were stopped at the cross roads
by a highwaymanmyself and Bentley, with Captain Hammersley and Sir
Here Bentley, returning, must needs throw himself into a chair,
laughing and choking all at once.
Raikes he gasped,in his shirtby the Lord! Oh, egad, Jack!
fluttering in the wind
What in the world! began Jack, staring. Is he drunk or mad?
As I tell you, says I, loosening Bentley's cravat, we were
stopped by a highwayman and forthwith I plunged into an account of
the whole matter.
Egad! cries Bentley again, breaking in ere I was half done, here
was Dick offering Raikes a choice betwixt his horsewhip and his
swordand he, look you, a full six inches shorter in the reach, while
You! says I, he couldn't help but pink you somewhere or other at
the first pass
Well, Raikes was a-sneering as I say, pursued Bentley, when up
comes our highwayman and coolly strips him to his very shirt,
Jackties him to his horse, and parades him all through Tonbridgerat
me!and as I tell you, the wind, Jack't was cursedly cold,
andandoh! strike me purple! Here Bentley choked again, and while I
thumped his back, he and Jack rolled in their chairs, and shook the
very casements with their laughter.
His shirt? gasped Jack at last, wiping his eyes.
His shirt, groaned Bentley, wiping his.
Lord! cries Jack, Lord! 'twill be the talk of the town, says he,
after a while.
To be sure it will, says Bentley, and hereupon they fell a-roaring
with laughter again. For my part, what betwixt thumping Bentley's back
and the memory of Christmas morning now so near, I was sober enough.
They were still howling with laughter, and Bentley's face had
already assumed a bluish tinge, when the door opened and a servant
appeared, who handed a letter to Jack. Still laughing, he took it and
broke the seal; at sight of the first words, however, his face
underwent a sudden change. Is the messenger here? says he, very
No, Sir John.
Humph! says Jack, you may go then; and he began to read. But he
had not read a dozen words when he broke out into his customary oath.
May the devil anoint me! Did you ever hear the like of that, now?
What? says I.
I say, did you ever hear the like of it? he repeated. Dick and
Bentley, this fellow is the very devil!
What fellow? says I.
Lay you fifty it's Tawnish, gurgled Bentley.
Done! says I.
A deuced pretty coil, on my soul! says Jack, beginning to limp up
and down, oh, a deuced pretty coildamn the fellow!
What fellow? says I again.
Make it a hundred? says Bentley, in my ear.
What fellow? cries Jack, taking me up, d'ye mean to sit there and
ask what fellowwhom should it be?
Aye, who indeed? added Bentley.
If it's Raikes I began.
Raikes, roars Jack, snatching his wig off, Raikesbah!
Then supposing you will be so very obliging as to tell us who the
devil you do mean?
Why, aren't I trying to? cries Jack, indignantly, but you give a
man no chance between you. Listen to this. And, having re-settled his
wig, he drew the candles nearer to him and read as follows:
'My very dear Sir John'
(The devil anoint his very dear Sir John!)
'It gives me infinite pleasure to have the honour of telling
(There's a line for you!)
'of telling you that the second of my tasks is now
wit, that of making Sir Harry Raikes a laughing-stock.'
What? I cried.
Listen, says Jack.
'Whether a gentleman riding abroad in naught but his hat and
is a sufficiently laughable matter, or an object of derision,
depends altogether upon the point of view, and I must leave your
friends, namely, Sir Richard Eden and Mr. Bentley, to decide.
remains now but one more undertaking, that of putting you
alltogether and at the same timeat a disadvantage, which I
confidently hope to perform so soon as Dame Fortune will permit.
'I am returning their pistols to Sir Richard Eden and Mr. Bentley
'Trusting that you and yours are blooming in all health, I beg to
'Your most obedient, humble servant to command,
Tawnish? says I.
Tawnish, says Bentley.
Tawnish! says Jack. Devil take him!
By heaven! says I, remembering the grim, determined figure of the
highwayman, by heaven, he has a man's body beneath his silks and laces
Egad! says Jack, sourly, I almost think you love the fellow.
On my soul! says I, I almost think I do.
Of the Dawning of Christmas Day
In most lives (as I suppose) there is a time which, looming ahead of
us dark and sombre, fills us with a direful expectancy and a thousand
boding fears, so that with every dawn we thank God that it is not yet.
Still, the respite thus allowed brings us little ease, for the
knowledge of its coming haunts us through the day and night, creeping
upon us nearer and nearer with every tick of the clock, until the last
chime has runguntil the sand is all run down in the glass, and we are
left face to face with our destiny to front it as we may.
Christmas Day was dawning. From my window I had watched the first
pale light gather little by little beyond the distant trees, until the
whole dismal scene had come into view.
It had snowed all night, and now everything showed beneath a white
burden that, as I watched, seemed horribly suggestive of shrouds; so I
turned from the casement with a shiver, and drawing the curtains, sat
down before the fire (which I had mended during the night), dejected in
mind, and heavy with lack of sleep. Somewhere further down the corridor
I could hear Bentley snoring, and the sound, rising and falling in the
quietude with wearisome monotony, irritated my fractious nerves to that
degree that I was of half a mind to go and wake him. Since Penelope had
left for London, two days before, he and I had been staying with Jack
at the Manor. And very silent the great place had seemed without her;
Jack had been more fretful than usual, and more than once I had thrown
down my cards in a huff, for cards, after all, were a very sorry
substitute for our lovely, laughing Pen. Hereupon I must needs fall to
thinking of her mother (as indeed I oft do of late)dead now these
twenty years and more. But what are years after all to one who has
loved as I? And from the broken threads of my life that was, I began to
weave a life of the might have beena fuller, richer life, perfected
by love, and a woman's sweet companionshipso very different to the
lonely life that was mine. Well, she had decreed otherwise,and
nownow she was deadand I an old man, and lonely. But Jack had loved
her passing well, and he was lonely tooand Bentley likewiseBentley,
who was snoring like a grampus. I rose, and slipping on some clothes,
stepped out into the corridor. But with my hand upon the latch of his
bedroom door I stopped, and changing my mind, went down the stairs to
the library. To my surprise the candles were still burning, and through
the open door I saw Jack sprawled across the table, his face buried in
his hands, and beside him Penelope's miniature. Now as I stood there
hesitating, I saw his shoulders heaving very strangely, wherefore,
turning about, I began to creep softly up the stairs again, lest he
should find himself discovered. Half-way up, however, I heard the
scrape of his chair as he rose, and a moment after the sound of his
step, firm and resolute as ever, noting which I turned and came down
again, coughing very naturally as I reached the last stair.
Ah, Dick! says he, as he turned and saw me, A Merry Christmas to
Now it had ever been our custom, since he and I and Bentley were
lads together at Charterhouse, at this so happy season to greet each
other thus, but for once I found the words to stick most woefully, and
for no reason in the world my eyes wandered from his face to the
miniature upon the table, seeing which he picked it upyet kept it
covered in his hand.
Dick, says he, staring up at the cornice very hard, we loved her
mother wellpassing wellyou, and Bentley, and I.
Aye, says I, we did.
This was the first great sorrow of my lifethat by my happiness
you two were rendered desolate, says he, laying his hand upon my
No, no, says I.
Yes, says he, think you I have been so blind, Dick?
You were her choice, says I.
True, I was her choice, he repeated, and methinks it came nigh
breaking both your hearts, yet you were my friends stillthe old bonds
were too strong for self to break them.
'T were a poor friendship else, says I.
And now, Dick, says he, with his eyes on the cornice again, there
is Pen, and I saw his lips quiver slightly.
Aye, I nodded, there's Penour Pen.
I felt his fingers tighten on my shoulder, but he was silent.
When I go out to-day, says he at last, and stopped.
When I go out to-day he began once more, and stopped again;
then, with a sudden gesture, he thrust the miniature into my hand. You
and Bentley! says he, and turned to the papers that littered the
table. You understand? says he, over his shoulder.
Yes, says I, from the window, gazing across the bleak, grey
desolation of the park. Yes, I understand.
I've been setting my papers in order, Dick,a hard business, says
he, with a rueful shake of the head, a hard business, Dickand now
I'm minded to write a few lines to her, and that methinks will be
harder yet. And passing his hand wearily over his brow, he took up his
Oh JackJack, says I, suddenly, there may be hope yet
None, says he, quietly; I was ever a fool with the small-sword,
as you will remember, Dick. But I do not repineyou and Bentley are
So I presently went up-stairs again, and this time I did not pass
Bentley's door, but entering, found him already nearly dressed, and as
I live!a-whistling of his eternal Lillibuleero.
Bentley, says I, sharply, you surely forget what day it is?
No, says he, reaching out his hand with a smile. A Merry
But seeing my look, and how I shrank from his proffered hand, his
face grew solemn all in a moment.
Good God, man! I cried, cannot you understand! and with the
words, I held up the miniature before his eyes. From to-day she is in
our care aloneher mother died twenty years agoand to-daypoor
Jackoh, damn your Merry Christmas!are you so utterly heartless and
without feeling, or only a blind fool?
And with this I turned my back fairly upon him and hurried from the
Which deals, among other Matters, with
the Ring of Steel
My anger toward Bentley, sudden though it may appear, was scarcely
the outcome of the moment. I could not but call to mind the thousand
little things he had both done and said during the past weeks that
demonstrated the strange indifference he had shown toward the whole
affair. Thus, as the day advanced, my feeling against him grew but the
more intense. Looking back on it now, I am inclined to put this down
partly to the reason already stated, partly to lack of sleep, and
partly to the carking care that had gnawed at my heart all these
weeksthough even now I am inclined to think that his conduct, as I
then viewed it, justified my resentment.
I noticed as the day advanced that he seemed to be labouring under
some strong excitement, and more than once he manifested a desire to
speak with me aside, but I took good care to give him no opportunity.
At length, however, Jack chancing to be out of the room for a moment,
he seized me by the arm ere I could escape him.
Dick he began.
Sir! I cut in, shaking myself free of him, whatever explanation
you may have to offer for your strange, andyes, sirutterly
heartless conduct of late, I beg that you will let it stand until this
most unhappy affair is overI'm in no mood for it now. He fell back
from me, staring as one utterly bewildered for a moment, then he
If you will but listen, Dick
Sir, says I, drawing away from him, I have asked no explanation
at your hands, and desire nonethe callousness which you have shown so
persistently of late has utterly broken down and severed once and for
all whatever feeling of friendship I may have entertained for you
You don't mean ityou can never mean it, says he, stretching out
an eager hand towards me. Dick, do but listen
Mean it, sir! I repeated, I tell you it is but the memory of that
dead friendship which stays me from calling upon you to account to me
with your sword.
But, he stammered, youyou would neveryou could never
Enough, sir, says I, I have no desire for further speech with
yousave that it would be well at least to keep up an appearance of
the old relationship, until this affair is over and done with.
Why, Dick! says he, his lips twitching strangely, whyDick! and
with the word he turned suddenly and left me.
The duel had been settled for twelve o'clock, and it was exactly
half after eleven by my chronometer when a servant came to warn us that
the coach was at the door. So we presently descended and got in with
never a word betwixt us. When men know each other so thoroughly, there
is no need for the mask of gaiety to be held up as is usual at such
times; thus we rode very silent and thoughtful for the most part, until
we heard Purdy, the surgeon, hailing us from where he stood waiting at
the cross roads as had been arranged.
Well, sirs, says he, nodding and frowning at us in his sharp way
as he took his seat, and how is the foot?
Right as a trivet! says Jack.
I question that, says Purdy, dogmatically; that tendon cannot be
well for a full month yetcurse me if it can! They tell me, he went
on, that the other side has young Protherogentlemen, mark my
words!Prothero's a stark, staring foola positive ass!A man breaks
his leg'Give him a clyster!' says Prothero. A child has
teething-rash!'A clyster! a clyster!' cries Prothero. A boy has the
collywobbles or mumps'A clyster!' says Prothero. Mark me, gentlemen,
should Sir John here pink his man, depend upon it Prothero will finish
him with a clyster!
This journey, which I had made a thousand times and more, never
seemed so short as it did upon this Christmas morning, yet I for one
experienced a feeling akin to relief as we were ushered into the sanded
parlour of The Chequers.
We found Raikes arrived before us, seated at a table with
Hammersley, Finch, and four or five others whose faces were familiar,
and a heathenish uproar they were making. Upon our entrance they fell
silent, however, and exchanged bows with us ere we sat down.
If the episode of the shirt was not forgot, 'twas at least accounted
by most the wiser policy to let it so appear, though all
Tonbridgenay, all the country roundrung with the story behind Sir
Harry's back, and indeed (as I well know) 'tis laughed over by many to
And now being here, and noting the cleared floor and the other
preparations for what was to follow, and looking at Jack beside me so
full of strength and life, and bethinking me of what he might be so
very soon, a deadly nausea came upon me, such as I had never felt
before on such occasions, so that I was forced to sit down.
Nay, Dick, says Jack, shaking his head, I have no mind to wait;
get it over for me as soon as may be.
No, no, says Bentley, sharply, at least let us have a bottle of
wine first, and on this point he was so insistent that Jack was
ultimately forced to give in to him, though even then Bentley seemed
ill-content, for he fell to fidgetting awkwardly in his chair, and
compared his chronometer with the clock full a dozen times in as many
The crowd at the other table grew uproarious again, and more than
once I heard the Captain's high-pitched laugh.
Bentley, says I, 'tis past twelve o'clock.
Yes, says he, and began straightway upon Lillibuleero.
Jack started and looked up.
Come, Dick, let us begin at once.
The wine's not all out yet, says Bentley, with his eyes upon the
clock again; and now I noticed for the first time that his cheeks were
devoid of all colour and his face seemed strangely peaked and haggard.
At this moment, Jack rising, I had perforce to do the same, seeing
which the party at the other table ceased their uproar of a sudden and
a deep silence fell as Captain Hammersley advanced to meet me, and
having bowed, spun a coin in the air to decide choice of ground.
Jack, says I, as I rejoined him, you will fight with your back to
the door, though there is little difference save that the wall is a
trifle lighter there, and will make you less conspicuous.
Jack nodded, and with Bentley's aid, began removing his coat and
Dick, says Bentley, in my ear, speaking in a strange, uneven
voice, such as I had never heard from his lips before, while Jack
busied himself untying his cravatDick, they must notshall not
fight, and I saw that the sweat stood out in great drops upon his
In God's name, Bentley, what's to stop them now? says I, whereupon
he turned away with a strange wringing motion of his hands, and seeing
how those hands trembled, I became aware that mine were doing the same.
Be so good as to take your ground, gentlemen, said Captain
Hammersley, advancing with the small-swords beneath his arm. Jack
stepped forward at once, followed a moment later by Raikes. Each in
turn took his weapon, saluted, and fell to his guard.
I was just holding the crossed blades and Hammersley had scarce
begun the count, when there arose a sudden clamour without, the door
was flung open, and Mr. Tawnish stood bowing upon the threshold.
Ah! says he, tripping forward daintily, in one hand his
handkerchief, while with the other he gracefully waved his laced hat,
an affair of honour, I perceive. On my soul now, it gives me real pain
to intrude myself thusit desolates me, positively it doesbut,
gentlemen, this cannot go on.
Cannot go onthe devil, sir! broke in the Captain loudly, and
who says so?
I say so, sir, returned Mr. Tawnish, with his slow smile, and
should you care to hear it, I'll say so again, sir.
On what grounds? says Hammersley, frowning.
On the grounds that mine is the prior claim to the sword of Sir
Bah! cries Raikes, with a short laugh, give the count,
Hammersley, and we will begin.
Mr. Tawnish closed and fobbed his snuff-box.
I think not, sir, says he, very quietly.
Mr. Tawnish, says Jack, I have waited over a month to fight this
Sir John, says Tawnish, bowing, your pardon, but I have waited
Whatever quarrel you may have with me, sir, Raikes broke in,
shall wait my time and pleasure.
I think not, says Mr. Tawnish again, his smile more engaging and
his blue eyes more dreamy than ever; on the contrary, I have a reason
here which I venture to hope will make you change your mind.
A reason? says Raikes, starting as he met the other's look. What
That! says Mr. Tawnish, and tossed something to Sir Harry's feet.
Now as it lay there upon the sand, I saw that it was a small gold
locket. For maybe a full minute there was a dead silence, while Raikes
stared down at the locket, and Mr. Tawnish took a pinch of snuff.
Who gave you this? says Raikes suddenly, and in a strange voice.
Mr. Tawnish flicked-to the enamelled lid of his snuff-box very
delicately with one white finger.
I took it, says he, blandly, from a poor devil who sat shivering
in his shirt.
You! says Raikes, in so low a tone as to be almost a
I, returned Mr. Tawnish, with a bow.
Liar! says Raikes, in the same dangerously suppressed murmur.
As to that, says Mr. Tawnish, shrugging his shoulders, I will
leave you to judge for yourself, sir.
With the words, he slipped off his wig and turned his back to us for
a moment. When he fronted us again, there stood our highwayman, his
restless eyes gleaming evilly through the slits of his half-mask, the
mocking smile upon his lips, the same grotesque figure beyond all
doubt, despite his silks and laces.
So, my masters, says he, in the same rough, half-jovial tone there
was no mistaking, I says to you, maybe we should meet again, I says,
and I've kept my wordsuch being my natur'd'ye take me?
There broke from Sir Harry's lips an inarticulate snarl of fury as
he leaped forward, but I managed to get between them, and Bentley had
wrested the sword from his grasp in an instant.
Damnation! cries he, quivering with passion, give us the swords.
Sir, says Mr. Tawnish, bowing to the Captain, you see, I was
right, after allthe gentleman seems positively eager to oblige me.
And, having readjusted his wig, he proceeded in his leisurely
fashion to remove his coat and high-heeled shoes, and to tuck up his
And now, all being ready, the thin, narrow blades rang together.
Raikes was too expert a swordsman to let his passion master him a
second time, and as the two faced each other there was not a pin to
choose betwixt 'em: nay, if anything, Sir Harry would almost seem the
better man, what with his superior height and length of limb. There
was, too, a certain gleam in his eye, and a confident smile on his lips
that I remembered to have seen there the day he killed poor Richards.
He opened his attack with a thrust in tierce, followed by a
longe so swift and well timed that it came nigh ending the matter
there and then, but it was parriedheaven knows howand I heard Jack
sigh behind me.
Indeed, on this occasion Sir Harry fought with all that impetuosity
which, seconded by his incredible quickness of recovery, had rendered
him famous. A very dangerous opponent he looked, with his great length
of arm; and his face, with its menacing brow and gritted teeth, spoke
his purpose more plainly than any words. Mr. Tawnish, on the other
hand, preserved his usual serene composure, fencing with a certain airy
grace that seemed habitual with him in all things.
Momentarily, the fighting grew but the fiercer, Sir Harry sending in
thrust after thrust, with now and then a sudden, vicious longe
which, it seemed, Mr. Tawnish had much ado to put aside; twice, in as
many moments, Sir Harry's point flashed over his shoulder, missing his
throat by a hair, and once it rent the cambric of his sleeve from the
elbow up; yet the pale serenity of his face remained unchanged, his
placid calm unbroken, save, perhaps, that his eyes were a trifle wider
and brighter, and his chin more than usually prominent. And still they
fought, fast and furious as ever, and though Raikes came dangerously
near time and time again, his point was always met and parried.
Minutes passed that seemed hoursthere were sudden pauses when we
could detect the thud of feet and the hiss of breath drawn sharply
between shut teeth. And now, to my amazement, I saw that Mr. Tawnish
was pressing the attack, answering thrust with thrust, and longe
with longe. The fighting grew to a positive frenzy; the
shivering blades rang with their swift changes from quarte to
Such a pace cannot last, says I, to no one in particular, the end
must come soon!
Almost with the words, I saw Mr. Tawnish's blade waver aimlessly;
Raikes saw it too, and drove in a lightning thrust. There was a sharp
clash of meeting steel, a flurry of blades, and Sir Harry Raikes
staggered back, his eyes wide and staring, threw up his arms, and
pitching forward, rolled over with a groan.
Wherein the Truth of the old Adage is made
manifestto wit: All's well that
So swift and altogether unexpected had been the end, that for a long
minute there was a strange, tense stillness, a silence wherein all eyes
were turned from the motionless form on the floor, with the
ever-widening stain upon the snow of his shirt, to where Mr. Tawnish
stood, leaning upon his small-sword. Then all at once pandemonium
seemed to break loosesome running to lift the wounded man, some
wandering round aimlessly, but all talking excitedly, and at the same
Dick and Bentley, says Jack, mopping at his face with his
handkerchief, it's in my mind that we have made a cursed mistake for
oncethe fellow is a man.
I've known that this month and more, says I.
I say a man, repeated Jack, and devil anoint me, I mean a man!
Who writes verses! added Bentley.
And what of that, sir? cries Jack, indignantly. I did the same
myself oncewe all did.
A patched and powdered puppy-dog! sneers Bentley; look at him.
Now at this, glancing across at Mr. Tawnish, I saw that he still
stood as before, only that the point of his sword was buried deep in
the floor beneath his weight, while his pale face seemed paler even
than its wont. As we watched, his hand slipped suddenly from the hilt,
and he tottered slightly; then I noticed for the first time that blood
was running down his right arm, and trickling from his finger-tips.
With an exclamation, I started forward, but Bentley's grasp was on
my shoulder, and his voice whispered in my ear: Leave him to
Jack'tis better so. And indeed Jack was already beside him, had
flung one arm about the swaying figure, and half led, half carried him
to a chair.
Ah! says Purdy, laying bare a great gash in the upper arma
little blood, but simplesimple! and he fell to work a-sponging and
bandaging, with a running exordium upon the humanity of the sword as
opposed to the more deadly bulletuntil at length, the dressing in
place, Mr. Tawnish sighed and opened his eyes.
Sir John, says he, sitting up, give me leave to tell you that my
third and last task was accomplished this morning.
Eh? cries Jack, but first, let me get you out of this.
What of Sir Harry Raikes? says Tawnish, rising.
Serious, says Purdy, shaking his head, serious, but not
Good! says Jack, giving his arm to Mr. Tawnish, I'm glad of
Though, pursued Purdy, he will be an invalid for months to come,
the right lungas I pointed out to my colleague, Protheroa man of
very excellent sense, by the way
At this juncture, at a sign from Prothero, Purdy left us with a bow.
Hereupon we saluted the others, and turning into an adjacent room,
called for wine and filled our glasses to Mr. Tawnish, with all the
As he rose to make his acknowledgment, for the first time in my
recollection he seemed ill at ease.
Sir John, and gentlemen, says he, slowly, I had scarce looked for
this kindness at your handsit makes what I have to say harder than I
had thought. Gentlemen, he continued, after a brief pause, you each
in turn set me an undertaking, little thinking at the time that there
was any likelihood of my fulfilling them. As you know, however, the
first two I accomplished some time since, and this morning I succeeded
in the last, namely, in taking all three of you, together and at the
same time, at a disadvantage. Sir John, gentlemenscarce an hour ago
the Lady Penelope Chester became my wife.
Jack started up from the table with an oath, and fell back, staring
at the speaker with knitted browswhile Bentley gazed open-mouthedas
for me, I could do nothing but think that our Pen was gone from our
keeping at last.
By Gad, Jack, he's done us, cried Bentley, fetching the table a
great blow with his fist.
Now, as I stood with my back to them, staring out into the yard
below, my eyes encountered a great, four-horsed travelling chariot, and
as I watched it, gloomily enough, the door was flung suddenly open, and
ere the waiting footman could let down the steps a lady leapt lightly
out and stood looking up at the windows. All at once she turned and
gazed straight up at methen I saw that it was Pen. With a wave of her
hand she darted up the steps, and a moment later was in the room.
Oh, I could wait no longer! she cried, looking round with the
tears in her lovely eyes, we have been wed but an hour, and I have sat
there praying 'twixt hope and fear, until methought I should go mad.
[Illustration: Father, says she, this is my husbandand I am
proud to tell you so. Page 159.]
Here, catching sight of Tawnish with his wounded arm, she uttered a
low cry, and in a moment was kneeling beside him, kissing his uninjured
hand, and fondling it with a thousand endearing terms. And seeing the
infinite tenderness in his eyes and the love-light in her own, I was
possessed of a sudden, great content. In a while, remembering us, she
looked up, and, though her cheeks were red, her glance met ours freely
Father, says she, this is my husbandand I am proud to tell you
There was a moment's silence, and Jack's frown grew the blacker.
Father, says she again, I am not so simple but that I found out
your quarrel with Sir Harry, and knew that you came hither to-day to
meet your deathsoso I sought aid of this noble gentleman. Yet first
I begged of him to marry me, that ifif he had died to-day in your
place, I could have mourned him as a beloved husband. Can you forgive
As Pen ended, she rose and approached Jack with outstretched hands;
for a moment longer he hesitatedthen he had her in his embrace.
And you, Uncle Bentley, says she, looking at us from Jack's arms,
and, Uncle Dick, dear, tender Uncle Dick, can you forgive your wilful
God knows, my dear, there's naught to forgive, says I, save that
you are leaving us
Nay, Sir Richard, cries Mr. Tawnish, Uncle Bentley has seen to
Uncle! says Jack.
Uncle! says I.
Can it be possible, says Mr. Tawnish, rising, that you are still
unaware of the relationship?
Bentley, cries Jack, explain.
To be sure, says Bentley, in his heavy way, pointing to Mr.
Tawnish, this is my sister's only child, Viscount Hazelmere!
What! cries Jack, while I stood dumb with astonishment.
As you remember, Jack and Dick, says Bentley, getting ponderously
to his feet, it was ever our wish that these two should marry, but,
being young and hot-headed, the very expression of that wish was but
the signal for them to set themselves to thwart it, even before they
had ever seen each other. Therefore acting upon that very contrariness,
I wrote to my graceless nephew there, telling him that he need have no
fear for his freedomthat we had changed our plans with regard to
himthat our Pen was a thousand times too good and sweet for such as
hewhich she is, mark you!that she was a beauty, and reigning toast
of all the South Countrywhich she likewise is, mark youand, in a
word, forbidding him to think any more about her. Whereupon, my young
gentleman comes hot-foot back to England, to learn the why and
whereforedid the mightily indignant, an' it please youand ended by
vowing he'd marry her despite all three of us. As for Penoh, egad! I
spun her a fine tale, I promise youspoke of him as a poor young
gentleman, penniless but proud, a man 'twould be folly for any maid to
wedand oh, Jack and Dick, it worked like a charmshe saw him and
promptly fell in love with him, and he with her. Yet at this juncture,
Jack, you must needs go nigh ruining all by your quarrel with Raikes;
however, knowing my young rascal there plumed himself monstrously upon
his swordsmanship, I offered to put it to the test, and found him
mighty eager. But oh, curse me! as I watched them preparing to murder
you, Jack, a little while since, and this nephew of mine failed to
come, methought I should go mad! And to think that they were marrying
each other all the time! Rat me, Dick and Jack! to-day will be the
merriest Christmas of allhow say you?
So, laughing and rejoicing together, they presently went out, and I
heard their happy voices below, ringing clear and crisp in the frosty
air of the yard. But I remained, staring into the fire, bethinking me
of my treatment of Bentley. The mystery of his seeming indifference was
cleared up now; where I had failed in my design of averting Jack's
duel, he had succeeded, nay, had even brought together these two, as
had been the wish of our hearts for years past. And now I had insulted
him, wantonly, beyond forgiveness. Yet we had been friends so
longperhaps, if I told him humbly
Dick! said a voice behind me, and a great hand was laid upon my
Bentley, says I, hurriedly, I was wrongwill youcan you
Man, Dick, says he, grasping my hand. A Merry Christmas to thee!
Come, the others are waiting you, and Pen's a-dying to kiss you, I
So he took me by the arm, and we went down-stairs together. And when
I paused, and would have spoken further of my fool's mistake, he
clapped me upon the shoulder again, and fell a-whistling of