Between Two Thieves
OUR NEW SERIAL
Sheep as black as the gritstone on the Peakshire hills were feeding there, scattered all about us—lower down an old white-haired shepherd was trying to collect them; his dog, one of the shaggy, long-haired, black-and-white English breed that drives and guards sheep, seemed not to know its business. Bertham spoke of that ; and the shepherd explained in his patois that the dog was not his, but had been borrowed of a neighbor—a misfortune had happened to his own. It had got the worst in a desperate fight with another dog, a combat a outrance, fought perhaps in defence of its master’s sheep; it was injured past cure: he thought he would fetch up a cord later, from the farm whose thatched roofs we could see down in the valley below, and put the unlucky creature out of its pain. We thought we might be able to do something to prevent that execution, so Bertham and I went to the shed, an affair of hurdles and poles and bunches of heather, such as our Breton shepherds of Finistère and the Cotes du Nord build to shelter them from the weather. . . .”
“The dog was lying in a pool of blood on the beaten earth floor. A shoulder and the throat were terribly mangled, a fore-leg had been bitten through ; one would have said the creature had been worried by a wolf rather than a dog of its own breed. And she was sitting on the ground beside it, holding its bloody head in her lap.”
De Moulny’s eyes blinked as though the Director’s blazing beds of gilliflowers and calceolarias, geraniums and mignonette, had dazzled them. Hector asked, with awakening interest in a story which had not at first promised much:
“Who was she?”
De Moulny stuck his chin out, and stated in his didactic way:
“She was the type of jeune personne of whom my grandmother would have approved.”
“A young girl!” grumbled Hector, who at this period esteemed the fullblown peony of womanhood above the opening rosebud. He shrugged one shoulder so contemptuously that de Moulny was nettled.
“One might say to you, There are young girls and young girls.’ ”
“This one was charming, then?” Hector’s waning interest began to burn up again.
“Certainly, no! For,” said de Moulny authoritatively, “to be charming you must desire to charm. This young girl was innocent of any thought of coquetry. And—if you ask me whether she was beautiful, I should give you again the negative. Beauty—the beauty of luxuriant hair, pale, silken brown, flowing, as a young girl’s should, loosely upon shoulders rather meagre; the beauty of an exquisite skin, fresh, clear, burned like a nectarine on the oval cheeks where the sun had touched it ; beauty of eyes, those English eyes of blue-grey, more lustrous than brilliant,
banded about the irises with velvety black, widely opened, thickly lashed— these she possessed, with features much too large for beauty, with a form too undeveloped even to promise grace. But the quality or force that marked her out, distinguished her from others of her age and sex, I have no name for that!”
“No?” Hector, not in the least interested, tried to look so, and apparently succeeded. De Moulny went on: “No !—nor would you. Suppose you had met the Venerable Jeanne d’Arc in her peasant kirtle, driving her sheep or cows to pasture in the fields about Domrémy in the days before her Voices spoke and said: ‘Thou, Maid, art destined to deliver France!’ Or—what if you had seen the Virgins of the Temple at Jerusalem pass singing on their way to the tribune surrounded with balconies, where while the Morning Sacrifice burned upon the golden Altar to the fanfare of the silver trumpets, they besought God Almighty, together with all Israel, for the speedy coming of the Saviour of mankind. . . . Would
not One among them, draped in her simple robe of hyacinth blue, covered with the white, plainly-girdled tunic, a veil of Syrian gauze upon her golden hair, have brought you the conviction that She, above all women you had ever seen, was destined, marked out, set apart, created to serve a peculiar purpose of her Creator, stamped with His stamp-”
The hard blue eyes, burning now, encountered Hector’s astonished gape, and their owner barked out: “What are you opening your mouth so wide about?” I
Hector blurted out:
“Why—what for? Because you said that a raw English girl nursing a dying sheep-dog on a mountain in Peakshire reminded you of the Maid of Orleans and Our Blessed Lady!”
“And if I did?”
“But was she not English? . . .
A Protestant? . . .a heretic?”
“Many of the Saints were heretics— until Our Lord called them,” said de
Moulny, with that fanatical spark burning in his blue eye. ‘But He had chosen them before He called. They bore the seal of His choice.”
“Perhaps you are right. No doubt you know best. It is you who are to be
-” Hector broke off.
“You were going to finish: ‘It is you who are to be a priest, not me ! . . .” de Moulny said, with the veins in his heavy forehead swelling, and a twitching muscle jerking down his pouting underlip. ,
“I forget what I was going to say,” declared Hector mendaciously, and piled Ossa upon Pelion by begging de Moulny to go on with his story. “It interested hugely,” he said, even as he struggled to repress the threatening yawn.
“What is there to tell?” grumbled de Moulny ungraciously. “She was there, that is all—with the dog that had been hurt. A pony she had ridden was grazing at the back of the shed, its bridle tied to the pommel of the saddle. Bertham approached her and saluted her; he knew her, it seems, and presented me. She spoke only of -the dog —looked at nothing but the dog! She could not bear to leave it, in case it should be put to death by the master it could serve no more. . . .”
Hector interrupted, for de Moulny’s voice had begun to sound as though he were talking in his sleep:
“Tell me her name.”
“Her name is Ada Merling.”
Even on de Moulny’s French tongue the name was full of music; is came to Hector’s ear like the sudden sweet gurgling thrill that makes the idler straying beneath low-hanging, green hazel-branches upon a June morning in an English wood or lane, look up and catch a glimpse of the golden bill and the gleaming, black-plumaged head, before their owner, with a defiant “tuck-tuck!” takes wing, with curious slanting flight. The boy had a picture of the blackbird, not of the girl, in his mind, as de Moulny went on:
“True, the dog seemed at the last gasp, but if it were possible to stop the
bleeding, she said, there might be a chance, who knew? It had occurred to her that cold-water applications might check the flow of blood. ‘We will try, and see, Mademoiselle/ said I.”
De Moulny’s tone was one of fatuous self-satisfaction.
“A rusty tin saucepan is lying in a corner of the shed. This I fill with water from a little spring that trickles down the cliff behind us. We contribute handkerchiefs. Bertham and I hold the dog while she bathes the torn throat and shoulder, and bandages them. Remains the swollen leg. It occurs to me that fomentations of hot water might be of use there; I mention this idea. ‘Good! good!’ she cries, ‘we will make a fire and heat some.’ She sets to collecting the dry leaves and sticks that are scattered in a corner. Bertham makes a pile of these, and attempts to kindle it with fuses.” A smile of ineffable conceit curved de Moulny’s flabby pale cheeks and quirked the corners of his pouting lips. “He burns matches and he loses his temper: there is no other result. Then I stepped forward, bowed. . . . ‘Permit me, Mademoiselle, to show you how we arrange these things in my country/ ” De Moulny’s tone was so infinitely arrogant, his humility so evidently masked the extreme of bumptiousness, that Hector wondered how the athletic Bertham endured it without knocking him down?
“So I hollow a fireplace in the floor, with a pocket-knife and a piece of slate, devise a flue at each corner, light the fire—which burns, one can conceive, to a marvel. . . . She has meanwhile refilled the rusty saucepan at the little spring: she sets it on, the water boils, when it occurs to us that we have no more handkerchiefs. But the shepherd’s linen blouse hangs behind the shed-door; at her bidding we tear that into strips. ... All is done that can be done; we bid Mademoiselle Merling au revoir. She will ride home presently when her patient is a little easier, she says. We volunteer to remain; she declines to allow us. She thanks us for
our aid in a voice that has the clear ring of crystal—I can in no other way describe it! When I take my leave, T desire to kiss her hand. She permits me very gracefully; she speaks French, too, with elegance, as she asks where I learned to make a fireplace so cleverly?
“ ‘We are taught these things,’ T say to her, ‘at the Royal School of Technical Military Instruction, in my Paris. For we do not think one qualified for being an officer, Mademoiselle, until he has learned all the things that a private should know.’ Then it was that Bertham made that celebrated coq-àl’âne about its being bad form to do servant’s work well. You should have seen the look she gave him. Sapristi! —with a surprise in it that cut to the quick. She replies: ‘Servants should respect and look up to us, and not despise us: and how can they look up to us if we show ourselves less capable than they? When T am older I mean to have a great house full of sick people to comfort and care for and nurse. And everything that has to be done for them I will learn to do with my own hands!’ My sister Viviette would have said: ‘When I grow up I shall have a rivière of pearls as big as pigeons’ eggs/ or T shall drive on the boulevards and in the Bois in an ivory-panelled barouche.’ Then I ask a stupid question : ‘Is it that you are to be a Sister of Charity, Mademoiselle?’ She answers, with a look of surprise: ‘Can no one but a nun care for the sick?’ T return: ‘In France. Mademoiselle, our sick-nurses are these holy women. They are welcome everywhere: in private bouses and in public hospitals, in time of peace: and in the time of war you will find them in the camp and on the battlefield. Your first patient is a soldier wounded in war.’ I say to her, pointing to the dog. ‘Perhaps it is an augury of the future?’
“ ‘War is a terrible thing.’ she answers me. and grows pale, and her great eyes are fixed as though they look upon a corpse-strewn battle-field. T hope with all my heart that I may never see it!’ ‘But a nurse must become inured
to ugly and horrible sights, Mademoiselle/ T remind her. She replies: ‘I shall find courage to endure them when I become a nurse/ Then Bertham blurts out in his brusque way: ‘But you never will! Your people would not allow it. Wait and see if T am not right?’ She returns to him, with a smile, half child’s, half woman’s, guileless and subtle at the same time, if you can understand that? ‘We will wait—and you will see! ”
De Moulny’s whisper had dwindled to a mere thread of sound. He had long forgotten Hector, secretly pining for the end of a story that appeared to him as profoundly dull as interminably long; and, oblivious of the other’s martyrdom, talked only to himself.
“ ‘We ivill wait and you will see. . . . You have the courage of your convictions, Mademoiselle,’ I tell her, ‘and courage always succeeds.’ She says in that crystal voice: ‘When things, stones or other obstacles, are piled up in front of you to prevent your getting through a gap in the dyke, you don’t push because you might topple them all over, and kill somebody on the other side; and you don’t pull because you might bring them all down on your own head. You lift the stones away, one at a time; and by-and-by you see light through a little hole . . . and then the hole gets bigger, and there is more and more light.’ . . . There T interpose. . . . ‘But if the stones to be moved are too big for such little hands, Mademoiselle?’ And she answers, looking at them gravely: ‘Mv hands are not little. And if they were, there would always be men to lift the things that are too heavy, and do the things that are too hard.’
“ ‘Men or boys, Mademoiselle?’ I question. Then she gives me her hand once more. ‘Thank you, M. de Moulny! I will not forget it was you who built the fireplace, and helped to hold the dog.’ And Bertham was so jealous that he would not speak to me during the whole ride home!”
Upon that note of exultation the story ended. To Hector the recital had
been of unmitigated dullness. Nothing but his loyalty to de Moulny had kept him from wriggling on his chair; had checked the yawns that had threatened to unhinge his youthful jaws. Now he was guilty of an offence beside which yawning would have been pardonable. He opened his black eyes in a stare of youthful, insufferable curiosity, and called out in his shrill young pipe:
“Jealous, do you say! Why, was he in love with her as well as you?”
De Moulny’s muscles jerked. He almost sat up in bed. A moment he remained glaring over the basket, speechless and livid with rage. Then he cried out furiously:
“Go away! Leave me! Go!—do you hear?”
And as Hector rose in dismay and stood blankly gaping at the convulsed and tragic face, de Moulny plucked the pillow from behind his head, and hurled that missile of low comedy at the cruel eyes that stung, and fell back upon the bolster with a cry of pain that froze the luckless blunderer to the marrow. Hector fled then, as Sister Edouard Antoine, summoned from her colloquy in the passage bv the sound, came_ hurrying back" to the bedside. Looking back as he plunged through the narrow, black swing-doors—doors very much like two coffin-lids on hinges, set up side by side, he saw the Sister bending over the long heaving body on the bed, solicitude painted on the mild face framed in the starchedwhite linen coif; and heard de Moulny’s muffled sobbing, mingled with her soft, consoling tones.
Why should de Moulny shed tears? Did he really hate the idea of being a priest? And if so, would he be likely to love his friend Dunoisse, who had, with a broken foil, pointed out the way that ended in the seminary, the cassock and the tonsure?
The savage, livid, loathing face rose up before Hector’s mental vision—the furious cry that had issued from the twisted lips: “Go! Leave me! Go!— do you hear?” still rang in the boy’s
ears. The look, the cry, were full of hate. Yet Alain had, but a moment before, solemnly sworn to be his friend.
. . . When we are very young we believe such oaths unbreakable.
Came Pédelaborde, and thrust a warty hand under Redskin’s elbow, as he stood frowning and pondering still, on the wide shallow doorstep of the Infirman’ portico, brick-and-plaster Corinthian, elegant and chaste. . . .
“Hé bien, mon ami; nous voilà réconciliés? A visit of sympathy, hein? It is quite proper! absolutely in rule.
. . . But”—Pédelaborde’s little yellow eyes twinkled and glittered in his round brown face like a pair of highly polished brass buttons, his snub nose cocked itself with an air of infinite knôwingness. his bullet head of cropped black hair sparked intelligence from every bristle—“but—all the same, to call a spade a spade, saisissez? the trick that did the job for de Moulnv is a dirty one. As an expert, I told you of it. As a gentleman, vouez?—I hardly expected you to use it!”
“A trick. . , . Use it !” Hector stuttered. and his round horrified stare would have added to de Moulny’s offence. “You dont mean—you cannot
believe that I-” He choked over
Pédelaborde chuckled comfortably, thrusting his wrartv hands deep into the pockets of his baggy red serge breeches.
“Whv, just as he lunged after his feint, didn’t you—hein? Plump!—in the act to riposte, and cleverly managed, too. Suppose he believes it a pure accident. I am not the fellow to tell tales. . . . Honor”—Pédelaborde extracted one of the warty hands on purpose to lay it upon his heart—“honor forbids. Now we’re on the subject of honor. I have positively pledged mine to pay Mère Cornu a trifling sum T owe her—a mere matter of eight francs—could vou lend them until my uncle—hang the old skinnamalinks!— forks out with my allowance that is due?”
“I will lend you the money,” said Hector, wiping the sickly drops from
his wet forehead. “But—I swear to you that was an accident—I slipped on a slug!” he added passionately.
He had not had the heart to spend a franc of his own monthly allowance of two louis. He pulled the cash out of his pocket now; a handful of silver pieces, with one treasured napoleon shining amongst them, and was picking out the eight francs from the bulk, when, with a pang, the barhed memory of his oath drove home. Perhaps these coins were some infinitesimal part of that accursed dowry. . . .
“Take it all !—keep it ! Ido not want it back!” he stammered hurriedly, and thrust the wealthy handful upon greedy Pédelaborde so recklessly that the napoleon and several big silver coins escaped that worthy’s warty clutches, and dropped, ringing and rolling and spinning, making a temporary Tom Tiddler’s ground of the Junior’s parade.
“Paid not to split! Saperlipopette!
. . . Then there was no slug! He meant to do the thing! . . .”
Honest Pédelaborde. pausing even in the congenial task of picking up gold and silver, straightened his back to stare hard after the Redskin’s retreating figure, and whistle with indrawn breath, through a gap in his front teeth: “Phew-iv!”
Those little yellow eyes of the dentist’s nephew were sharp. The brain behind them, though shallow, worked excellently in the interests of Pédelaborde. It occurred to him that when next Madame Cornu should clamor for the discharge of her bill for sweetstuff and pastry, the little affair of the trick fall might advantageously be mentioned again.
Alain-Joseph-Henri-Jules, cadet of the illustrious and ducal house of de Moulny, recovered of his wound, much to the gratification of his noble family, more by grace of a sound constitution and the faithful nursing of the Infirmary Sisters than by skill of the surgeons, who knew appallingly little in those
days of the treatment of internal wounds. He left the Royal School of Technical Military Instruction to travel abroad under the grandmaternal care of the Duchesse, for what the Chief Director gracefully termed the “reconstitution of his health.” Later he was reported to have entered as a student at the Seminary of Saint Sulpice. It was vain to ask Redskin whether this was true. You got no information out of the fellow. Lie had turned sulky, the pupils said, since the affair of the duel, which invested him in the eyes even of the great boys of the Senior Corps, to which he was shortly afterwards promoted, with a luridly-tinted halo of distinction.
So nobody save Hector was aware that after the first short, stiff letter or two Alain had ceased to write. In silence the Redskin bucklered his pride. Hitherto he had not permitted his love of study to interfere with the more serious business of amusement. Now he applied himself to the acquisition of knowledge with a dogged, savage concentration his Professors had never remarked in him before. Attending one of the stately half-yearly School receptions, arrayed in all the obsolete but imposing splendours of his gold-encrusted, epauletted, frogged, high-stocked uniform of ceremony, adorned with the Cross of the Legion of Honour,—an Imperial decoration severely ignored by the Monarchy,—Marshall Dunoisse was complimented by the General-Commandant and the Chief Director upon the brilliant abilities and remarkable progress of his son.
“So it seems the flea of work has bitten you?” the affectionate parent commented a few days later, tweaking Hector’s ear in the Napoleonic manner, and turning upon_ his son the fanged and gleaming smile, that in conjunction with its owner’s superb height, fine form, boldly-cut, swarthy features, fierce black eyes, and luxuriant black whiskers, had earned for the ex-aide-decamp of Napoleon I. the reputation of an irressistible lady-killer.
The handsome features of the elderly dandy were thickened and inflamed by wine and good living, the limbs in the
tight-fitting white stockinet pantaloons, for which he had reluctantly exchanged his golden-buckled knee-breeches; the extremities more often encased in narrow-toed, elastic-sided boots, or buckled pumps, than in the spurred Hessians, were swollen and shapeless with rheumatic gout. The hyacinthe locks, or the greater part of them, came from the atelier of Michalon Millière, Llis Majesty’s own hairdresser, in the Rue Feydeau; the whiskers owed 'their jetty gloss to a patent pomade invented by the same highly-patronised tonsorial artist. The broad black eyes were bloodshot, and could blaze under their bushy brows at times with an ogre-like ferocity, but were not brilliant any more.
Yet, from the three maids to the stout Bretonne who was cook, from the cook to Miss Smithwick,—who had acted in the capacity of dame de compagnie to Madame Dunoisse,—had become governess to her son when the gates of the Convent clashed once more behind the remorse and sorrow of that unhappy lady ; and in these later years, now that Hector had outgrown her mild capacity for instruction, fulfilled the duties of housekeeper at No. 000, Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin,—the female staff of the ex-military widower’s household worshipped Monsieur the Marshall.
“Do you think papa so handsome?” Hector, when a very small boy, would pipe out boldly. “He has eyes that are always angry, even when he smiles. He gnashes his teeth when he laughs. He kicked Moustapho” (the poodle) “so hard in the chest with the sharp toe of his shiny boot, when Moustapho dropped a macaroon he did not want, that Moustapho cried out loud with pain. He bullies the men-servants and swears at them. He smells of Cognac, and is always spilling his snuff about on the carpets and tables, and chairs. Me, I think him ugly, for my part.”
“Your papa, my Hector, possesses in an eminent degree those personal advantages to which the weakness of the female sex renders its members fatally susceptible,” the gentle spinster said to her pupil; and she had folded her tidy black mittens upon her neat stomacher
;is she said it, and shaken her prim, respectable head with a sigh, adding, as her mild eye strayed between the lace and brocade window-curtains to the smart, high-wheeled cabriolet waiting in the courtyard below; the glittering turn-out with the showy, high-actioned mare in the shafts, and the little topbooted, liveried, cockaded, English groom hanging to her nose :
“I would that your dear mother had found it compatible with the fulfilment of her religious duties to remain at home. For the Domestic Affections, Hector, which flourish by the connubial fireside, are potent charms to restrain the too-ardent spirit, and recall the wandering heart.” And then Miss Smithwick had coughed and ended.
She winked at much that was scandalous in the life of her idol, that prim, chaste, good woman ; but who shall say that her unswerving fidelity and humble devotion did not act sometimes as a martingale? The bon-vivant, the gambler, the dissipated elderly buck of the First Napoleon’s Court, the exAdonis of the Tuileries, who never wasted time in resisting the blandishments of any Venus of the Court or nymph of the Palais Royal, respected decent Smithwick, was even known, at the pathetic stage of wine, to refer to her as the only woman who had ever understood him.
Yet when her sister (her sole remaining relative, who lived upon a small annuity, in the village of Hampstead, near London), sustained a paralytic stroke, and Smithwick was recalled to nurse her, did that poor lady’s employer dream of providing,—out of those hundreds of thousands of thalers wrested from the coffers of the Count of Widinitz—for the old age of the faithful creature? You do not know Monsieur the Marshal if you dream he did.
He generously paid her the quarter due of her annual salary of fifteen hundred francs, kissed her knuckly left hand with the garnet ring upon it, placed there by a pale young English curate deceased many years previously —for even the Smithwicks have their romances and their tragedies—told her that his “roof” was “open” to her when-
ever she desired to return; and bowed her graciously out of his library, whose Empire bookcases were laden with costly editions of the classics, published by the Houbigants and the Chardins, Michaud and Buère (tomes of beauty that were fountains sealed to the illiterate master of the house), and whose walls were hung with splendid engravings by Renard and F. Chauveau, a few gems from the brushes of Watteau and Greuze, Boucher and Mignard; and one or two examples of the shining art of the young Meissonier.
The luxurious house in the Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin was less wholesome for good Smithwick’s going. But I fear young Hector regretted her departure less than he should have done. True, the meek gentlewoman had not been able to teach her patron’s son very much. But she had at least implanted in him the habit of truth, and the love of soap-and-water and clean linen. East, but not least, she had taught him to speak English of the educated upper classes with barely a trace of accent, whereas the Paris-residing teachers of the tongue of Albion were in those days, and too frequently are in these, emigrants from the green isle adjacent; Miss Maloney’s, Misther Magee’s, and Mrs. Maguire’s; equipped with the thinnest of skins for imagined injuries, and the thickest of brogues for voluble speech, that ever hailed from Dublin or Wexford, King’s County or the County Cork.
Not a servant of the household but had some parting gift for Smithwick— from the blue handkerchief full of apples ofi'ered by the kitchen-girl, to the housemaid’s tribute of a crocheted lace fichu; from the cook’s canary-bird, a piercing songster, to the green parasol —a sweet thing no bigger than a plate, with six-inch fringe and an ivory handle with a hinge, to purchase which Monsieur Brousset, the Marshal’s valet, Duchard the butler, and Auguste the coachman had clubbed francs.
The question of a token of remembrance for faithful Smithwick was a thorn in her ex-pupil’s pillow. You are to understand that Redskin, in his blundering, boyish way, had been try-
ing hard to keep inviolate the oath imposed upon him by de Moulny. The monthly two louis of pocket-money were scrupulously dropped each pay-day into the alms-box of the Carmelite Church in the Rue Vaugirard, and what a hungry glare followed the vanishing coins, and to what miserable shifts the boy resorted in the endeavour to earn a meagre pittance to supply his most pressing needs, and what an unjust reputation for stinginess and parsimony he earned, when it became known that he was willing to help dull or lazy students with their papers for pay, you can conceive.
He possessed the sum of five francs, amassed with difficulty after this fashion, and this represented the boy’s entire capital at this juncture. A fivefranc piece is a handsome coin, but you cannot buy anything handsome with it, that is the trouble. The discovery of the scene-painter Daguerre, first made in .1830, was not published by the Government of France until 1839. Otherwise, how the faithful heart of the attached Smithwick might have been gladdened by one of those inexpensive, oily-looking, semi-iridescent, strangely elusive portraits; into which the recipient peered, making discoveries of familiar leading features of relatives or friends, hailing them with joy when found, never finding them all together.
A portrait, even a pencil miniature with stumped shadows, its outlines filled with the palest wash of water-colour, was out of the question. There was a silhouettist in the Rue de Chai Hot. To this artist Hector resorted, and obtained a black paper profile, mounted and glazed, and enclosed in a gilt tin frame, at cost of all the boy possessed in the world.
That the offering was a poor one never occurred to simple Smithwick. She received it with little squeaking, mouse-like cries of delight, and grief, and admiration; she ran at the tall, awkward, blushing youth to kiss him, unaware he recoiled from the affectionate dab of her cold, pink-ended nose.
You could not say that the organ in question was disproportionately large, but its owner never managed to dispose of it inoffensively in the act of oscula-
tion. It invariably got in the eye or the ear of the recipient of the caress. A nose so chill in contact, say authorities, indicates by inverse ratio the temperature of the heart.
Hector got leave from the School, and went with the poor troubled Smithwick to the office of the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the Boulevard des Capucines, where for ten of her scanty store of francs she got her passport signed. Stout Auguste drove them in the shiny barouche with the high-steppers in silver-mounted harness, to meet the red Calais coach at the Public Posting-Office in the Rue Notre Dame des Victoires, whither one of the stable-lads had wheeled Miss Smithwick’s aged, piebald hair-trunk, her carpet-bag, and her three band-boxes on a hand-truck. And judging by the coldness of the poor soul’s nose when, a very Niobe for tears, she kissed the son of her lost mistress and her adored patron good-bye, the heart beneath Smithwick’s faded green velvet mantle must have been a very furnace of maternal love and tenderness.
“Never neglect the necessity of daily ablution of the entire person,my dearest boy!” entreated the poor gentlewoman, “or omit the exercises of your religion at morning and night. Instruct the domestics to see that your beloved papa’s linen is properly aired. I fear they will be only too prone to neglect these necessaiy precautions when my surveillance is withdrawn ! And— though but a humble individual offers this counsel, remember, my Hector, that there are higher aims in life than the mere attainment of great wealth or lofty station. Self-respect, beloved child, is worth far more!” She was extraordinarily earnest in saying this, shaking her thin grey curls with emphatic nods, holding up a lean admonitory forefinger. “Persons with gifts and capacities as great, natures as noble and generous as your distinguished fathers, may be blinded by the sparkling lustre of a jewelled sceptre, allured by the prospect of dominion, power, influence, rule. . . .” What could good Smithwick possibly be driving at? “But an unstained honour, my beloved
boy, is worth more than these, and a clean conscience smooths the—way we must all of us travel !” She blinked the tears from her scanty, ginger-hued eyelashes, and added: “I have forfeited a confidence and regard I deeply appreciated, by perhaps unnecessarily believing it my duty to reiterate this.” She coughed and dabbed her poor red eyes with the damp white handkerchief held in the thin, shaking hand in the shabby glove; and continued: “But a day will come when the brief joys and bitter disillusions of this life will be at an end. The bitterest that I have ever known comes late, very late indeed!” Had Smithwick met it in the library that morning ivhen the Marshall bade her adieu? “ When I lay my head upon my pillow to die, it will be with the conviction that I did my duty. It has borne me fruit of sorrow. But I hope and pray that this chastening may be for my good. And oh ! my dearest child, may God for ever bless and keep you !”
The mail bags were stowed. The three inside passengers’ seats being taken, poor weeping Smithwick perforce was compelled to negotiate the ladder, must climb into the cabriolet in company with the guard. With her thin elderly ankles upon her mind, it may be judged that no more intelligible speech came from her. She peered round the tarred canvas hood as the bugle flourished : she waved her wet handkerchief as the long, stinging whiplash cracked over the bony backs of the four high-rumped, long-necked greys. . . . She was gone. Something had gone out of Hector’s life along with her; he had not loved her. yet she left a gap behind. His heart was cold and heavy as he brought his eyes back from the dwindling red patch made by the mail amongst the varicoloured Paris street-traffic, but the hardening changes that had begun in him from the very hour of de Moulny’s revelations stiffened the muscles of his face, and drove back the tears he might have shed.
“Holy blue!” gulped stout Auguste, who was sitting on his box blubbering and mopping his eyes with a red cotton
handkerchief sadly out of keeping with his superb mauve and yellow livery, and the huge cocked-hat that crowned his well-powdered wig. “There are gayer employments than seeing people off, my faith there are! Who would have dreamed I should ever pipe my eye for the old girl? It is a pity she is gone. She was an honest creature!” He added huskily, tucking away the red cotton handkerchief : “One could do uncommonly well now with two fingers of wine!’
He cocked his thirsty eyes at penniless Hector, who pretended not to hear him, and turned away abruptly ; saying that he would walk back to the School.
“That is not a chip of the old block, see you, when it comes to a cart-wheel for drink money,” said Auguste over his shoulder, as the silver-harnessed blacks with much clamping and high action, prepared to return to the stables in the Rue de la Chaussée d’Antin, and the silk-stockinged footman mounted his perch behind.
“It is a learned prig,” pronounced the footman, authoritatively, adding: “They turn them out all of one pattern at that shop of his.”
“Yet he fought a duel,” said Auguste, deftly twirling the prancing steeds into a by-street and pulling up outside a little, low-browed wine-shop much frequented by gold-laced liveries and cocked hats. “And came off the victor,” he added with a touch of pride.
“By a trick got up beforehand,” said the footman pithily, as he dived under the striped awning, in at the wine-shop door.
“Nothing of the sort!” denied Auguste.
“Just as vou please,” said the footman, emerging with two brimming pewter measures, “but none the less true. M. Pédelaborde’s nephew, who taught the covp to M. Hector, told M. Alain de Moulny, long after the affair, how cleverlv he had been grassed. It was at the ílotel de Moulny, my crony Lacroix, M. Alain’s valet, was waiting in the ante-room and listened at the door. Money passed, Lacroix says. M. Alain de Moulny paid Pédelaborde handsomely not to ten.”
“That is a story one doesn’t like the stink of,” said Auguste, making a wry mouth, draining the measure, handing it back to the silk-calved one, and spitting in the dust. “But the knowing fellow who taught M. Hector the dirty dodge and blows the gaff for hushmoney, that is a rank polecat, my word !”
A crude pronouncement with which the reader may be inclined to. agree.
The months went by. Hector ended his course at the School of Technical Military Instruction with honours, and his examiners, in recognition of the gift for languages, the bent for Science, the administrative and organising capacities that were distinctive of this student, transferred him, with another equally promising youth, not to the Academy of Ways, Works, and Transport, where the embryo artillery engineer officers of the School of Technical Military Instruction were usually ground and polished, but to the Training Institute for Officers of the Staff. An annual bounty tacked to the tail of the certificate relieved that pressing necessity for pocket-money. Redskin, with fewer anxieties on his" mind, could draw breath.
The Training Institute for Officers of the Staff was the School of Technical Military Instruction all over again, but upon a hugely magnified scale. To mention the School was the unpardonable sin : you spent the first term in laboriously unlearning everything that had been taught you there. On being admitted at the small gate adjacent to the large ones of wrought and gilded iron, you beheld the facade of the Institute, its great portico crowned with a triangular pediment supported upon stately pillars, upon which was sculptured an emblematical bas-relief of France, seated in a trophy of conquered cannon, instructing her sons in the military sciences, and distributing among them weapons of war. Following your guide, you shortly afterwards discover two large yards^ full of young men in unbuttoned uniforms, supporting on
their knees drawing-boards with squares of cartridge paper pinned upon them, upon which they were busily delineating the various architectural features of the buildings of the Institute, while a Colonel of the Corps of Instructors sternly or blandly surveyed the scene. Within the Institute, studies in Mathematics, Trigonometry and Topography, Cosmography, Geography, Chemistry, Artillery, Field Fortifications, Assault and Defence, Plans, Military Administration, Military Manœuvres, French, English, and German Literature, Fencing, Swimming, and Horsemanship in all its branches were thoroughly and comprehensively taught. And once a quarter the pupil-basket was picked over by skilled hands; and worthy young men, who were eminently fitted to serve their country in the inferior capacity as regimental officers, but did not possess the qualities necessary for the making of Officers of the Staff, were, at that little gate by the side of the great gilded iron ones, blandly shown out.
For, sane even in her maddest hour, France has never—under every conceivable political condition,in every imaginable national crisis, and under whatever government — Monarchical, Imperial, or Republican, that may for the time being have got the upper hand —ceased labouring to insure the supply to her Army, constantly renewed, of officers competent to command armies, of scientists skilled in the innumerable moves of the Great Game of War. Nor have other nations, Continental or insular, ever failed to profit by France’s example, and follow France’s lead.
The Marshal’s son was not dismissed by that dreaded little exit. The fine flower of Young France grew in the neat parterres behind those lofty gilded railings. Sous-lieutenant Hector Dunoisse found many intellectual superiors among his comrades, whose society stimulated him to greater efforts. He worked, and presently began to win distinction ; passed, with a specially-endorsed certificate, his examinations in the branches of study already enumerated and a few more; served for three months as Supernumerary-Assistant-
Adjutant with an Artillery Regiment at Nancy; did duty for a corresponding period in the same capacity at Belfort with a corps of Engineers ; and then received his appointment as AssistantAdjutant to the 333rd Regiment of Chasseurs d’Afrique, quartered at Blidah.
Money would not be needed to make life tolerable at Blidah, where mettlesome Arab horses could be bought by Chasseurs d’Afrique at reasonable
Êrices, and the mastic and the thin »almatian wine were excellent and cheap. Algerian cigars and pipe-tobacco were obtainable at the outlay of a few coppers; and from every thicket of dwarf oak or alfa-grass, hares started out before the sportsman’s gun ; and partridges and Carthage hens were as plentiful as sparrows in Paris.
Yet even at Blidah Dunoisse knew the nip of poverty, and there were times when the pack that de Moulny’s hand had bound upon his shoulders galled him sore. For—the stroke of a pen and one could have had all one wanted. It needed no more than that.
For in Paris, at the big hotel in the Rue de la Chausése d’Antin, in the book-lined, weapon-adorned, half-library, half smoking room that was Redskin’s private den, and had been the boudoir of Marie Bathilde; there lay in a locked drawer of the inlaid ebony writing-table, a white parchment-covered pass-book inscribed with the name of Hector Dunoisse, and a book of retty green-and-blue cheques upon the lessieurs Rothschild, 9, Rue d’Artois. The dip of the quill in the ink, and one of the bland, well-dressed, middleaged, discreet-looking cashiers behind the golden grilles and the broad, gleaming rosewood counters, would have opened a metal-lined drawer of gold louis, and plunged a copper shovel into the shining mass and filled the pockets of young Hector; or more probably would have wetted a skilful forefinger and thumb—run over a thick roll of crackling pink, or blue, or grey, billets de banque, jotted down the numbers, and handed the roll across the counter to its owner, with a polite bow.
“So you think there is a curse upon
my money, eh?” Monsieur the Marshal had said, upon an occasion when one of those scenes that leave ineffaceable scars upon the memory, had taken place between the father and the son.
Hector, spare, upright, muscular, lithe, ruddy of hue, bright of eye, steady of nerve, newly issued from the mint and stamped with the stamp of the Training Institute, and appointed to join his regiment in Algeria, turned pale under his reddish skin. He was silent.
“You have used none of it since you heard that story, hein? It would defile the sonl and dirty the hands, hein?" queried Monsieur the Marshal, plunging one of his own into the waistcoatpocket where he kept his snuff, and taking an immense pinch. “Yet let me point out that the allowance you disburse in pious alms and so forth-”
Hector jumped, and wondered how his father had found out, and then decided that it was only a good piece of guessing, “may not be any portion of your mother’s dowry. I was not poor when I recovered those three hundred thousand silver thalers from the Prioress of the Carmelite Convent at Widinitz. I wished to be so much richer, that is all!”
“Poverty,” said his son, breathing sharply through the nostrils and looking squarely in the Marshal’s swollen, fierce-eyed, bushily whiskered face, “poverty would have been some excuse —if anything could have excused so great an-”
“ Tnfamy,’ was the word you were going to use,” said Monsieur the Marshal, smiling across his great false teeth of Indian ivory, which golden bands retained in his jaws, and scattering Spanish snuff over his white kersey, tightlystrapped pantaloons, as he trumpeted loudly in a voluminous handkerchief of yellow China silk. “Pray do not hesitate to complete the sentence.”
But Hector did not complete the sentence. The Marshal went on, shrugging his shoulders and waving his ringed hands: “After all. it is better to be infamous than idiotic. You hamper your career by playing the incorruptible; you are put to stupid shifts for
money when plenty of money lies at your command.”
“Do I not know that?”
“You have won honours, and with them a reputation for parsimony— are called a brilliant screw,—name of a thousand devils !—among your comrades. You coach other men for pay; you translate foreign technical works for military publishers; you burn the candle at both ends and in the middle. It is very honourable and scrupulous, but would those who have sneered at you think better of you if they knew the truth? You know they would not! Instead of being despised, you would be laughed at for playing Don Quixote. That is one of the books I have read,” Monsieur the Marshal added, pricked by the evident surprise with which his son received this unexpected testimony of his parent’s literacy. “One can get some useful things out of a book like that, even though the hero of it is mad as a March hare. It is one of the books with blood and marrow in them, as the Emperor would have said: books like that—unlike those of your Chateaubriands, Hugos, Lamartines, the devil knows who else !—are the literature that nourish men who are alive, not wooden puppets of virtue and propriety whose strings are pulled by priests— sacred name of-”
The Marshal went on, as his son stood silent before him, to lash himself into a frenzy of rage that imperilled the seams of a tight-waisted high-collared frock-coat of Frogé’s own building, and gave its wearer what the Germans term a red head; with such accompaniments of gasping and snorting, rollings of the eyes and starting of the forehead-veins as are painfully suggestive of bleedings and sinapisms; cuppings and hot bricks; soft-footed personages with shiny black bags, candles, wreaths of white, purple and yellow immortelles inscribed with “Regrets” and all the plumed pomp and sable circumstances of a funeral procession to the Cemetery of Père La Chaise. He wound up at last, or rather, ran down ; sank, puffing and perspiring and purple, into an easy chair. . . . Hector, who had listened with an unmoved.
countenance and heels correctly approximated, bowed and left the room, across which a broad ray of sunshine fell from the high, velvet-draped windows, across the inlaid ebony writingtable near which the Marshal lay back, wheezing and scowling, and muttering.
. . The thousands of shining
motes that danced in that wide golden beam might have been wasps; the old man about whom they sported was so goaded and stung. Who wants to watch the Marshal in his hour of rageful humiliation. . . . He fumed and cursed awhile under his dyed moustaches, and then hit on an idea which made him chuckle and grin. He wheeled round, and splashed off a huge blotty letter to his bankers, and from that day the sum of One Million One Hundred and Twenty-five Thousand Francs stood to the credit of Hector Dunoisse upon Rothschild’s books, and stood untouched. . . . One did not need much money out in Algeria, the temptation to dip into the golden store was barely felt, the malice of the Marshal was not to be gratified just yet awhile. . J
Though perhaps it was not-altogether malice that inspired that action of Monsieur. LJis son forgot to question before long; forgot that old desertion of de Moulny’s and its fanged tooth; forgot the cheque-book dimming with dust that drifted through the keyhole of the locked drawer in the writing-table, whose key was on his ring.
For there came a day when the boy —for he was little more—rode out at the Algiers Gate in command of a squadron of Chasseurs d’Afrique, under orders to reinforce the Zouaves garrisoning a hill-fort in Kabylia, threatened with siege by a rebellious Arab Kaid who had thrown up his office, and his pay, and declared war against the Francos.
The rustle of-the white cap-cover against his epaulet as he turned his head, the jingle of the scabbard against his stirrup, the clink of the bridle, made pleasant harmony with the other clinking and jingling. The air was cool before dawn, and the blue shadow of mighty Atlas stretched far over the
plain of Metidja. In the deep-foliaged sycamores; from the copses of mastic, the nightingales trilled : turtle-doves were drinking and bathing in the mountain-rills, Zachar lifted a huge stony brow upon the horizon. . . .
A slender young trooper with a high, reedy, tenor voice, sang an Arab song; his comrades joined in the chorus:
“Thy Fate in the balance, thy foot in the stirrup, before thee the path of Honour. Ride on! Who knows what lies at the end of the long journey? Ride on !
“Life and Love, Death and Sleep, these are from the Hand of the Giver. Ride on ! Thy Fate in the balance, thy foot in the stirrup, before thee the path of Honour! Ride on!”
So Dunoisse rode on; the feet of his Arab mare falling softly on the thick white dust of the Dalmatic Road. And the great mysterious East rose up before him, smiling her slow, mystic smile, and opened her olive-hued, jewelled arms, and drew the boy of twenty to her warm, perfumed bosom, and kissed' him with kisses that are potent philtres, and wove around him her magic spells. And he forgot all the things that it had hurt him so to remember, for a space of two years.
When his two years’ service with the Cavalry were ended he was transferred, with his step as lieutenant, but still in the capacity of Assistant-Adjutant, to the First Battalion, 999th Regiment of the Line, Paris; quartered in the Barracks of the Rue de l’Assyrie.
With the return to the familial’ places of his boyhood, those things that Hector thought he had forgotten began to revive sufficiently to sting. A brother-officer spoke to him of de Moulny, who had quitted St. Sulpice a year previously, under a shadow so dark, it was discreetly hinted, that only the paternal influence had saved him from expulsion.
Hector did not blaze out in passionate defence or exoneration of his whilom comrade and friend. He said, briefly and coldly: “Those who say so
lie ! I used to know him !” and dropped the subject, as the chatterer was glad to do. For that duel fought by two schoolboys with disbuttoned fencing-foils six years before, was to be the flrst upon a list that grew and lengthened, and kept on growing and lengthening. . . . Unless you were desirous of cold steel for breakfast, there were subjects that must not be trifled with in the hearing of Assistant-Adjutant Hector Dunoisse.
The Catholic Church : Religious, particularly nuns; more particularly nuns of the Carmelite Order: ... in-
stances of foul play in trials of strength and skill, particularly shady coups in fencing, slim tricks in the Game of the Sword. With other causes of offence provoking the quid rides? you never were quite sure where they might crop up.
And the fellow was a lighter—loved risk, enjoyed danger. . . .
Was the grass more slippery at one end of the paced-out ground than the other? There was no necessity to toss up unless Monsieur, the other principal, insisted in observance of the strict formality—Dunoisse rather preferred slip-
E grass. Was the sun in the eyes of sieur the other principal? Change about by all means—Dunoisse rather enjoyed facing the glare that made you blink. The gusty wind that might deflect your pistol-bullet, the blowing dust that drifted into your eyes, mouth and nostrils, and that might provoke a cough or sneeze, just at the wrong moment for the swordsman ; these conditions, justly regarded as unfavorable to continued existence, were rather courted than otherwise by this voung officer of the Staff.
At Blidah, it had been told about, that an Arab sorceress had given the subAdjutant a charm, insuring success in the duel. Only, to insure this, the holder of the amulet must embrace the contrary odds and court the handicap. This story trotted back to Paris at Dunoisse’s heels; it was told behind ladies’ fans in every drawing-room he entered. Women liked it, it was so romantic ; but men sneered, knowdng the truth.
The truth, according to Pedel aborde, that is. . . .
Like a poisonous thorn, that implied accusation of foul play made by the dentist’s nephew on that morning when Redskin had visited the convalescent de Moulny in the Infirmary of the School, had rankled in the victim’s flesh since it had been planted there. Honest Pedelaborde had not been idle in spreading the story and ornamenting it. Nor, if the truth had been known, had de Moulny been the only hearer who had paid him to tell it no more.
Mud is mud, though in contrast with the foulness of the hands that plaster it upon your garments, the vile stuff seems almost clean; and a slander listened to is a slander half-believed. The Pedelabordes invariably find listeners; there are always paying customers for offal, or those who deal in it might find a more sweetly-smelling trade.
Dunoisse had not long returned to Paris when he received one of those rare communications from his mother, bearing no address, forwarded by the hands of the priest who had been the director of Madame Dunoisse. Lifeless, formal notes, without a throb in them, without a hint of tenderness to the eye incapable of reading between the rigid lines:
“J. M. J.—x.
“I am told that you are well, have returned from Algeria in good health, that your services have earned you distinguished mention in the despatches of your Colonel, and that your abilities seem to promise a career of brilliance. Giving thanks to Almighty God and to Our Blessed Lady, and praying with all my heart that the highest spiritual graces may be vouchsafed you in addition to those mental and bodily gifts which you already possess,
“Your mother in Christ, Térèse de S. Francois.
I love you and bless you ! Pray also for me, my son !”
A picture burned up in living colours
in the son's memory as he read. Hector saw himself as a fair-haired boy of six in a little blue velvet dress, playing oil the carpet of his mother’s boudoir. She sat in a low Indian cane chair with her year-old baby on her lap; a tiny Marie Bathilde, whose death of some sudden infantile complaint a few months later, turned the thoughts of the mother definitely in the direction of the abandoned way of religion, the vocation lost.
Even the magnificent new rockinghorse, with real hairy hide, and redundant mane and tail, and a splendid saddle, bridle, and stirrups of scarlet leather, could not blind the boy’s childish eyes to the beauty of his mother. She was all in white; her skin had the gleam of satin and the pinky hue of rose-granite in its sheath of snow; she was slender as a nymph, upright and lissome as a tall swaying reed of the river shore, with a wealth of black hair that crowned her small high-bred head with a turban of silky, glistening coils, yet left looped braids to fall down to the narrow ribbon of silver tissue that was her girdle, defining the line of the bosom as girdles did long after the death of the First Empire. And her child upon her knee was as pearly fair as she shone dark and lustrous, though with the mother’s eyes of changeful gleaming grey, so dark as almost to seem black.
The boudoir opened at one side into a dome-shaped conservatory full of palms and flowers, where a fountain played in an agate basin, and through the gush and tinkle of the falling water and the cracking of Hector’s toy-whip, Monsieur the Marshall had come upon the pretty domestic picture unseen and unheard. He stood in the archway that led from the conservatory, a stalart handsome figure of a soldierly dandy of middle-age, who has not yet begun to read in pretty women’s eyes that his best days are over. His wife looked up from the child with which she played, holding a bunch of cherries beyond reach of the eager, dimpled hands. Their glances met.
. own Marie!—was this not worth it? Achille Dunoisse had exclaimed.
And Madame Dunoisse had answered, with a strange, wild, haggard change upon her beautiful face, looking her husband fully in the eyes:
“Perhaps, if this were all-”
And had put down the startled child upon a cushion near, and risen, and gone swiftly without a backward look, out of the exquisite, luxurious room, into the bed chamber that was beyond, shutting and locking the door behind her, leaving the discomfited Adonis to shrug, and exclaim :
“So much for married happiness !” Then, turning to the boy who sat upon the rocking-horse, forgetful of the toy, absorbing the scene with wide, grave eyes and curious, innocent ears, Monsieur the Marshal had said abruptly:
“My son, when you grow up, never marry a woman with a religion.”
To whom little Hector had promptly replied :
“Of course T shall not marry a woman. I shall marry a little girl in a pink frock?”
How rife with a tragic meaning the little scene appeared, now that the boy who had flogged the red-caparisoned rocking-horse had grown to man’s estate.
Those frozen letters of his mother’s! What a contrast they presented to the gushing epistles of poor old Smithwick, studded with notes of exclamation, bristling with terms of endearment, crammed with affectionate messages, touching reminiscences of happier days in dear, dear Paris, always underlined. .
The prim sandalled feet of the poor ojd maiden were set in stony places since the death of the paralytic sister, to nurse whom she had returned to what she invariably termed her “native isle of Britain.” . . . Even to
Hector’s inexperience those letters, in their very reticence upon the subject of poor Smithwick’s need, breathed of poverty. The straitness of his own means galled him horribly when he read in Smithwick’s neat, prim, ladylike calligraphy confessions such as these :
“The annuity originally secured to my beloved sister by purchase having ceased at her death, I am fain to seek employment in genteel families as a teacher of the French language, with which—no one knows better than my dearest Hector—I am thoroughly conversant. I would not willingly complain against the lot which Providence has appointed me. But so small are the emoluments to he gained from this profession, that I fear existence cannot be long supported upon the scant subsistence they afford.”
The pinch of poverty is never more acutely felt than by the open-handed. In Africa Dunoisse had been sensible of the gnawing tooth of poverty. In Paris it had claws as well as teeth.
To have had five thousand francs to send to poor old Smithwick! To have been able to invest a snug sum for her in some solid British concern—those Government Three per Cents, for instance, of which the poor lady had always spoken with such reverence and respect. Or to have bought her a bundle of shares in one of the English Railway Companies, whose steel spiderwebs were beginning to spread over the Fnited Kingdom about this time. What would her old pupil not have given ! And—it could have been done so easily if only he could have brought himself to fill in one of those cheques upon Rothschild. But the thing was impossible.
His gorge rose at it. His religious principles were too deeply rooted, his honour stood too high, or possibly the temptation was not strong enough? There was little of the primal Eve about poor old shabby Smithwick. When while hands . whose touch thrilled to the heart’s core, should be stretched out to him for some of that bankedup gold: when eves whose lustre tears discreetly shed onlv enhanced should he raised pleadingly to his: when an exquisite mouth should entreat, Hector was to find that one’s own oaths, no less than the oaths of one’s friends, are brittle things: and that in the heat of the passion that is kindled in a young and ardent man hv the breath of a
beautiful woman, Religion and Principle and Honour are but as wax in flame.
He scraped a few hundred francs together and sent them to poor old Smithwick, and received another letter of disproportionately-measured gratitude for the meagre gift, that might so easily have been a rich one, if . . .
He learned from a very little paragraph at the end of the grateful letter that his faithful old friend had broken down in health. That she had been seriously ill “from the effects of overanxiety and a too strenuous battle with adversity,” ending with pious thanks to Providence—Smithwick was always curiously anxious to avoid references of a more sacred nature—that, “through the introduction and recommendation of a most generous friend’,” she had obtained admission as an inmate of the Hospice for Sick Governesses in Cavendish > Street, London, West, “a noble charity conducted upon the purest Christian principles, where I may hope, D.V., to spend my closing days in peace”
Were they so near, those closing days of the simple, honourable, upright life? Gratitude, respect, old association, a chivalrous pity for the woman, sick and poor, and old, conspired to make the first step on the Road Perilous easier than her pupil would have imagined. He got upon his iron-grey Arab, Djelma, dearest and most valuable of the few possessions owned by this son of a millionaire, and rode to the Rue d’Artois with the levelled brows and cold, set face of a man who rides to dishonour.
Upon the very steps of Rothschild’s, a _ brother-officer of the Regiment of Line to which our young sprig of the Staff was attached in the capacity of Assistant-Adjutant, met ana repaid Dunoisse an ancient, moss-grown, longforgotten debt of three thousand francs.
“You come fort à propos—for you, that is ! Here, catch hold ! Sorry I met you! You’re not, I’ll bet you this
whacking lump!” Monsieur the Captain joyfully flourished the stout roll of
billets de banque, from which he had stripped the notes he now thrust under Dunoisse’s nose. “Wonder where I got ’em? Inside there”—a thumb clothed in lemon-coloured kid jerked over the shoulder—“from one of those powdered old cocks behind the gilt balusters. My old girl has stumped with a vengeance this time. I told her my tailor was a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour, and had sent me a cartel because I hadn’t paid his bill.” One is sorry to record that Monsieur the Captain’s “old girl” was no less stately a person than Madame la Comtesse de Kerouatte, of the Chateau de Pigandel, Ploubanou, La Bretagne. “She swallowed the story, and see the result. Don’t shy at taking the plasters. You can lend me again when I’m broke! Pouch! and va te promener!”
So Dunoisse gratefully took the tendered bank-notes, and with one of them an _ outside place on the blue Havre diligence, rattling out of Paris, next morning, behind its four bony bays, ere the milkwomen, and postmen and newspaper-carts began their rounds.
The salt fresh wind stinging his redbrown skin, the salter spray upon his lips, the veiled and shawled and muffled ladies, and cloaked and greatcoated gentlemen, already extended on the deck-seats and deck-chairs of the steampacket Britannia of Southampton— patiently^ waiting to be dreadfully indisposed in little basins that were dealt out by the brisk, hurrying, gilt-buttoned stewards as cards are dealt at whist; the glasses of brandy-and-water being called for by robust Britons, champing ham-sandwiches with mustard on their upper lips, and good-fellowship beaming out of their large pink, whiskered faces; the tumblers of eau sucree being ordered by French travelers, who invariably _ got toast-and-water instead ; the swaying crates of luggage, the mantraps made by coils of rope on wet and slippery decks, the crash of waves hitting bows or paddle-wheels, the shrieks of scared females, convinced their last hour had come—recalled to Dunoisse his boyish visit to what poor Smith-
wick had invariably termed “the shores of Albion.”
He remembered with gratitude the self-denying hospitality of the poor sisters: the little home at Hampstead, the golden-blossomed furze of the Heath, came back to him with extraordinary vividness. Down to the piping bullfinch, whose cage hung in the little front parlor-window, and whose repertoire, consisting of the first bar of “Home, Sweet Home,” the boy had endeavoured to enlarge with the melodies of Partant Pour La Syrie" and “Jeanette et Jeannot,'' every detail stood clear.
And here was England, upon a pale grey February morning, under skies that wept coíd heavy tears of partlymelted snow. Black fungus-growths of umbrellas were clustered on the quay; the thick air smelt of oilskins and wet mackintoshes. And so across a dripping gangway to a splashy paved incline that ended in a Railway Station, for instead of coaching through Plants and Surrey to Middlesex by the scarlet “Defiance” or the yellow “Tally-Ho!” you travelled by the Iron Road all the way to London.
You are to picture the splav-wheeled, giraffe-necked locomotive of the time, with the top of the funnel nicked like the cut paper round a cutlet-bone; the high-bodied cariages, with little windows and hard hair-cloth cushions; the gentlemen passengers in shaggy hats with curly brims, high-waisted coats, with immense roll-collars, and full-hipped trousers strapped down over shiny boots; assisting ladies in coal-scuttle bonnets, and pelerines trimmed with fur, worn over gored skirts, swelled out by a multiplicity of starched, embroidered petticoats, affording peeps of pantalettes and sandals, to alight or to ascend. . . .
Pray understand that there was no jumping. Violent movement was not considered genteel. Supposing you to be of the softer sex—it was softer in those days than it is now!—you were swaidike or sprightly, according to your height, figure, and the shape of your nose, and your name almost invariably ended in “anna” or “ina” or “etta.”
My Aunt Julietta was sprightly. She
had a nose ever so slightly turned up at the end, and a dimple in her left cheek. Pier elder sister, one of her elder sisters —Aunt Julietta was the youngest of six —her elder, Marietta, was swanlike, with a long neck and champagne-bottle shoulders, and the most elegant Early Victorian figure you can conceive; a fiddle of the old pattern has such a waist and hips.
Both my aunts traveled by this very train, in the same first-class compartment as the Assistant-Adjutant of the 999th Regiment of the Line. The young ladies were, in fact, returning from a visit to the elegant and hospitable family mansion of Sir Tacton Wackton, Baronet, of Wops Hall, Hants; whose elder daughter had been their schoolfellow and bosom-friend at the Misses Squeezers’ Select BoardingSchool for young ladies at Backboard Plouse, Selina Parade, Brighton. It was the first occasion upon which they had braved the dangers of the Iron Road unprotected by a member of the sterner sex. Consequently, when, in the act of picking up and handing to my Aunt Julietta a sweet green velvet reticule she had accidentally dropped upon the platform, the^ black-eyed, dark-complexioned, military-looking young foreign gentleman, in a grey traveling cloak and cap, who performed this act of gallantry, peeped up the tunnel of her coal-scuttle bonnet, with evident appreciation of the wholesome apple-cheeked, bright-eved English girl-face looking out from amongst the ringlets and frills and flowers at the end. both the young ladies were extremely fluttered. And as they passed on, Aunt Mariette whispered haughtilv, “Plow presumptuous!” and Aunt Julietta responded: “Oh, I don't think he meant to be that, my dear! And how handsome and distinguished-looking.” To which my Aunt Marietta only responded, with the disdainful curl of the lip that went with her Roman nose: “For a foreigner, passably so !”
Later on, by one of the oddest accidents you could conceive possible, my aunts found themselves in the same first-class compartment as the foreignlooking gentleman; and as the Southampton to London Express clanked
and .jolted and rattled upon its metal way (rail-carriages being unprovided at that early date with springs, pneumatic brakes, and other mechanical inventions for the better ease of the public), the courtesy and consideration of their well-bred fellow-traveler, who spoke excellent English—combined with his undeniable good looks—created an impression upon my Aunt Julietta, which by the time the Express had rattled and jolted and clanked into the junction of the provincial garrison town of Dullingstoke (near which was situated the family mansion of my grandparents), had developed into an attachment of the early, hapless, unreciprocated order.
“If only,” thought my sentimental Aunt, “the train could go on for ever!”
But the train stopped: and there was the family chariot, with the purplenosed coachman on the box; there was the boy who had cleaned the knives, now promoted to page’s livery, at the noses of Chestnut and Browney, waiting to convey my aunts to the shelter of the paternal roof. They collected muffs, reticules, and parcels. . . . The military-looking young foreign gentleman handed them out, one after the other, and bowed over their respective hands with a grace that caused Aunt Marietta to exclaim, “Mv dear!” and Aunt Julietta to return, “Did you ever?” as the family chariot drove away, and the Express, with much preliminary snorting, prepared to start again, and did in fact start; but brought up with a jerk, and clanked back to the platform to pick up a passenger of importance, who had arrived behind time.
A dazzling^ scarlet mail-phaeton, pulled by a pair of high-spirited, sweating. chestnut trotters, had brought him to the junction, sitting, enveloped in a huge shaggy box-coat with buttons as large as Abernethy biscuits; covered wijh a curlv-brimmed, low-crowned shiny beaver hat that, might have belonged to a Broad Church parson of sporting proclivities, by the side of the smart groom who drove.....An-
other groom in the little seat behind sheltered him from the rain with a vast green silk gig-umbrella, just as though he had been any common, ordinary
landholder of means and position, with a stake in the Borough Elections, a seat on the local Bench, and the right to put J.P. after his name; and commit local poachers caught by his own gamekeepers in his own plantations, then and there, in his own library, to the District Lock Up for trial at the Weekly Sessions.
But the guard,—a functionary in the absurdest uniform, a cross between a penny-postman’s and a military pensioner’s, knew better. So did the porters, encased in green velveteen corduroy, as worn by the porters of to-day; so did the station-master, crowned with the gilt-banded top-hat of a bank-messenger and sporting the crimson waistcoat of a beadle. With a Parliamentary Down-train waiting outside and shrieking to come through, while a Composite of horse-boxes and cattle-trucks and coal-trucks bumped and jolted over the Main Line metals; with the Up-Express from Southampton panting to be green-flagged and belled upon its metal road to London, he waited, his giltbanded top-hat respectfully in hand, to receive the distinguished passenger. Who did not hurry, possibly in virtue of his bulk, but waddled down the platforrn with a gait you felt to be peculiarIv his own, involving a short turn to the right as he stepped out with the right foot (encased in the largest size of shiny patent-leather boot), and a turn to the left as he set down the left one. as though inviting the whole world to take a comprehensive, satisfactory stare at a great and good man. and be the better for it.
Impatient passengers, projecting the upper halves of their bodies from the carriage-windows, saw nothing much in him. But to these, awed porters and reverent officials whispered behind their expectant palms,—on being conjured to sav what the deuce the delay was about?—that the gentleman who had caused it was a Government Contractor, tremendous influential and uncommon rich ; so much so as to be able to break the Bank of England by the simple process of drawing a whacking cheque upon it. When the hearer
laughed heartily at this, or snorted indignantly, the officials and porters amended that, perhaps to say the Bank of England was a bit too strong, but that everybody knew the gentleman was a Millionaire, and regularly rolling in his thousands.
He rolled now towards the compartment of which the foreign gentleman who had assisted my aunts to alight was now the only occupant; and allowed himself to be respectfully hoisted in, and tenderly placed in a corner seat, with his valise and hat-box beside him. He filled up the compartment—compartments were narrower in those days than they are now—as completely as a large, shaggy bear might have done, when he got upon his legs again, and stood at the window, beaming so benevolently upon the admiring crowd assembled on the platform that the station-master, upon whom had not fallen one drop of gold or silver manna out of the smiler’s jingling trouser-pockets, felt impelled to say: “Lord bless you, Mr. Thompson Jowell, sir! A safe journey up to London and back! Guard, be extra careful this trip !” And the guard, who had not been tipped, touched his tall hat respectfully; and the porter, who had reaped nothing but honour from carrying Mr. Thompson Jowell’s hat-box and valise; and the other porter, who had rammed scalding hot-water tins into the carriage, that the large feet of the popular idol might be warmed thereby, threw up each his muffin-shaped cap, and cried, “LIooray!” And the train started,—so suddenly, in the mistaken zeal of the engine-driver, that Thompson Jowell was shot with violence into a distant corner of the carriage, and so violently bonneted by collision with the rack above, that only his large, red, projecting ears saved him from being completely extinguished by the low-crowned, curlybrimmed, shiny beaver hat, that might have been a sporting parson’s of the jovial Broad Church brand.
He took the hat off after that, revealing his little pear-shaped head of upright, bristly grey hair, and his forehead that slanted like the lid of a Noah’s Ark over all the jumbled beasts
inside, and goggled with his large, moist, circular brown eyes upon his fellow-traveler over the voluminous crimson silk handkerchief with which he mopped his damp and shining face. He unbuttoned his greatcoat and threw his long bulky body back in his corner with a “whoof!” of relief, and put up his short, thick legs upon the seat, saying to Dunoisse, with a jerky, patronising nod:
“Plenty of room, sir, if you’re inclined to do the same. These new-fangled hot-water tins draw a man’s corns consumedly!” Adding, a moment after Dunoisse’s smiling refusal: “Please yourself, and you’ll please me. ‘Hang manners! Give me comfort!’ says Mister John Bull. . . . You’re French yourself, I take it?”
“Sir, since you do me the honour to inquire,” returned Dunoisse dryly, for the goggle-eyes of Mr. Thompson Jowell were curiously fixed on him, “I received my education at a public school in Paris.”
“Thought as much!” said Mr. Thompson Jowell, smiling in a satisfied way, crossing his extra-sized patentleather-covered feet, and revolving the thumbs of the large ringed hands that were clasped upon his protuberant waistcoat. “I mayn’t comprenney the parly-voo, but I know the cut of a Frenchman’s jib when I see one. You might take in another man, I say, but you can’t deceive me. Sharp, sir, that’s what my name is!”
“I am gratified,” returned Dunoisse, without enthusiasm, “to make Mr. Sharp’s acquaintance!” And pointedly unfolded and began to read The Times, leaving Thompson Jowell uncertain whether he had or had not been insulted by a person whom he designated in his own mind as an “upstart Crappaw.”
But the paper presented little of interest, and presently, from behind its shelter, Dunoisse found himself watching his companion, who had drawn from various inner pockets of the large shaggy box-coat various little bags, containing pinches of divers brands of oats, together with divers other little parcels containing short-cut
samples of straw and hay. From the inspection of these, by the nose and the teeth, as well as by the organs of vision, he appeared to derive delight and satisfaction so intense, that the upstart Crappaw in the opposite corner, who had had dealings with Contractors in his own benighted, foreign country, could no longer be in doubt as to his calling.
Those black eyes of the ex-Adjutant of Chasseurs d’Afrique were extraordinarily observant, and the brain housed in the small well-shaped head, under the crisp close waves of his black hair, had not been forged and tempered and ground at the Training Institute for Officers of the Staff for nothing.....
This man who had been addressed as Mr. Thompson Jowell, and who had said his name was Sharp, repelled Dunoisse and interested him, as a big and bloated spider might have disgusted and attracted an entomologist.
So, when the train, jolting and rattling and clanking in the Early Victorian manner, through the chilly, dripping country, at the terrific speed of twenty miles an hour, slowed up and slid groaning into a station close to a great permanent Military Encampment in the vicinity of Bagshot Heath, where, drawn up upon a deserted siding were a long row of open trucks, loaded with trusses of hay and straw, all unprotected from the pouring rain by any kind of covering whatever; and Mr. Sharp, moved to irrepressible ecstasy by this sight, was fain to get up and thrust his big hands deep in his jingling trousers-pockets to have his laugh out more comfortably; a sudden impulse of speech swayed the hitherto silent foreigner in the opposite corner to lean forwards, and say:
“You seem elated, sir, by the spectacle of all this spoiled and soaking forage?”
The person addressed, who was bending himself in the middle in the height
his enjoyment, straightened with a jerk. His big underjaw dropped; his nose, aggressively cocked, and with a blunted end, as though in early youth it had been held against a revolving
grindstone, appeared to assume a less obstinate angle; his large face lost its ruddy color. Muddily pale, with eyes that rolled quite wildly in their large round orbits, he stared in the dark face of this bright-eyed, alert, military-looking, painfully-observant foreigner. For it occurred to him, with a breaking out of shiny perspiration upon the surface of his forehead and jowl, and a stiffening of the already bristling grey hairs upon his head, that this might be the devil.
Thompson Jowell was orthodox to the backbone, and firmly believed in the individual existence of the personage named. He glanced with nervous suspicion at the small, arched, well-booted feet of his fellow-passenger. Had one of the dark-faced stranger’s well-shaped grey trousered legs ended in a cloven hoof, Thompson Jowell would have said his prayers, or pulled the communication-cord that ended in the guard’s van. He was not quite certain which. As it was, he felt sufficiently reassured to be overbearing. He snorted, and resumed his seat with as much dignity as was compatible with the jolting of the Express. He thrust his knees apart, leaned his large hands upon them, stared the inquisitive stranger hard in the face, snorted again, and said:
“Perhaps you will be good enough to explain, sir, what you meant by that remark?”
“I shall be charmed to do so,” returned Dunoisse. “It will afford me gratification. What I meant was that you laughed ; and the spectacle of waste and destruction that presumably provoked your laughter did not appear to me, a stranger and a foreigner, provocative of merriment.”
“Now look you here, young sir!” said Thompson Jowell, getting very red about the ears and gills, and jabbing at the speaker with a stout and mottled forefinger. “Foreigner or no foreigner, you have an eye in your head, I take it!’ Very well, then, look at me! I am not the sort of person to be called to account for my laughter—if, indeed,
I laughed at all, which I don’t admit 1— by any living man—British or French or Cannibal Islander—unless that in-
dividual wants to be made to laugh on the wrong side of his own mouth. Jack Blunt, my name is—and so you know ! As regards those truckloads, they have been delivered on a certain date According to Contract, and whether the troop-horses of Her Majesty’s Army like the hay when they get it, or whether they would prefer plumcake and macaroons, damme if I carel”
With which the speaker threw himself back in the corner and folded his thick, short arms upon his voluminous waistcoat, which was of velvet, magnificently embroidered, and in the bosom of which cascaded a superb cravat of blue satin, ornamented with three blazing ruby breastpins. He breathed hard a while and frowned majestically, and then relaxed his frown in pity for the evident confusion of the snubbed foreigner; who said, without the humility that one might have expected:
“Sir, that you and other men of your standing and influence in this country do not care, is in my poor opinion a national calamity.”
The brows of Thompson Jowell relaxed at this implied concession to his greatness. He closed his eyes and puffed his pendulous cheeks, and said, nodding his pear-shaped head, the beaver hat belonging to which was in the rack above it:
“Aye—aye! Well—well! Not badly put by half!”
“A national calamity,” pursued Dunoisse, “when one reflects how large a sum of the nation’s money went into the pockets of the contractor who delivered the consignment, and further, when it occurs to one how impossible it will become for any expert to determine whether straw and hay so drenched and spoiled was not rotten and fermenting previous to delivery, and the exposure that must inevitably set up both conditions. And further still, when it is extremely possible that the neglect to cover the trucks was of design ; and that the person—Quartermaster-Sergeant or Railway Official—whose duty it was to take this precaution, had been—for all men are not as scrupulous, sir, as yourself, and some are capable of such ro-
guery—bribed by the contractor or his confidential agent, to omit it !”
This being an exact summary of what had taken -place, the above sentences, coined in Dunoisse’s somewhat precise and formal English, and uttered with the short, clipped inflection that characterized it, came pelting about the large and tingling ears of Thompson Jowell like stinging flakes of ice. He gasped and rolled his eyes at them in apoplectic fashion, and wagged his head and shook it from side to side, until the speaker stopped.
“No, no, young sir!” said Thompson Jowell at that juncture. “Don’t tell me! I won’t listen to you; it’s past crediting; it couldn’t be! Frenchmen might be guilty of such doings, I can credit it; Italians very likely, Germans uncommonly-probably, Roosians without doubt! But when you go to tell a true-blue Briton such as I am, that Englishmen with British blood running in their veins and British hearts a-beating in their bosoms could be capable of such doings, I tell you by Gosh the thing’s impossible! I won’t listen to you! Don’t talk to me!”
He fell back gasping at the end of this splendid tribute of his countrymen. And, of such queerly conflicting elements are even liars and knaves composed, they were real tears that he whisked away with his big, flaming silk handkerchief, and the trembling of the hand that held it was due as much to appreciation of his own eloquence as to alarm at the uncanny sharpness with which this disturbing young foreigner, with the cold black eyes and the admirable command of English, had put his finger on the ugly truth.
Dunoisse, far from suspecting that he had at his mercy the identical contractor whose methods he had sketched with such brilliant fidelity to nature, pursued:
“Rogues are everywhere, sir. We have plenty of them in France, and unhappily for other countries, we do not enjoy the monopoly. And—the person I reverence and honor, with one exception, above all living women, is an English lady. Respect for her great nation —and yours!—is not lacking in me,
the adopted son of another nation, no less great; with whom England has striven in honorable war, with whom she is now most happily at peace. Yet though I admire 1 may criticise; and plainly say that the lamentable spectacle that has furnished our discussion, plainly points, if not to wilful neglect, to lack of forethought, and foresight upon the part of certain officials who should—in the interests of the British Army—have been trained to think and to see.”
“I don’t agree with yon, young sir,” said Mr. Thompson Jowell, hooking his large splay thumbs into the armholes of his superb velvet waistcoat in a bullying manner, and folding his pendulous chin into fresh creases on his cravat after a fashion he employed in the browbeating of clerks and agents. “I disagree with you flatly, and—my name being Tom Plain—“I’ll tell you for why. You called that spoiled hay and straw—my name being John Candid, I’ll admit it is spoiled !—A lamentable spectacle.’ To me it is not a lamentable spectale. Far from it! I call it a beautiful illustration, sir !—a standing example of the greatness of England and the immensity of the resources that she has at command.”
“Name of Heaven, why?” cried Dunoisse, confounded and surprised out of his usual self-possession by this extraordinary statement.
“Aha! Now you’re getting warm, young sir,” said Thompson Jowell, triumphantly. “Keep your temper and leave Heaven out of the question, that’s my advice to you. And let me tell you that Great Britain is not so poor that she can’t afford to be at the expense of a little loss and damage, and that the high-bred, wealthy, fashionable gentlemen who hold commissions in her Army have other fish to fry and other things to attend to than keeping an eye on Quartermaster-Sergeants, Forage and Supply Agent’s clerks and Railway Officials. And that the coroneted noblemen who sit at the head of Departments in her War Office are too great, and grand, and lofty to dirty their hands with common affairs and
vulgar details—and it does ’em honour i Honour, by George!” said Thompson Jowell, and smote his podgy hand upon his gross and bulk thigh, clad in a pantaloon of shepherd’s plaid of the largest pattern procurable. “My name’s John Downright—and what I say is— it does ’em honour!”
“I have to learn, sir,” said Dunoisse, with recovered and smiling urbanity, “that the criterion of a gentleman lies in his incapacity for discharging the duties of his profession, any more than in his capacity for being gulled by knavish subordinates and cheated by thievish tradesmen.”
“Now take care where you’re trading, my young sir!” said Thompsm Jowell, frowning and swelling portentously. “For you’re on thin ice, that’s what you’re on. My name’s Jack Blunt and I tell you so plumply. For I am a Contractor of Supplies and an Auxiliary-Transport Agent to the British Army, and I glory in my trade, that’s what I do ! And go to the Horse Guards in Whitehall, London—and ask my Lords of the Army Council, and His Honour, the Adjutant-General, and His Excellency the QuartermasterGeneral whether the character of Thompson Jowell is respected? Maybe you’ll get an answer—maybe you won’t! And call at the Admiralty— perhaps they don’t know him at the Victualling Office—and the Director of Transport never heard of him! They might tell you at the Treasury that the Commissary-General bows to him! I’m not going to boast!—it ain’t my way. But if you don’t hear in every one of the high places I’ve mentioned, that the individual inside this waistcoat”—he smote it as he spoke—“is an honour to Old England and such a sturdy stem of seasoned British oak as may be relied on to uphold the Crown and Constitution in the hour of need with the last penny in his purse, and the best blood of his bosom, call me a damned liar!” “I shall not fail in the event you mention to avail myself of the permission accorded me,” returned Dunoisse politely, “in the spirit in which it is given.”
“Ha, ha! You’re a joker, I see!” said Mr. Thompson Jowell. Excuse me, young sir,” he added, “but if you have quite finished with that newspaper, it will save me buying one if you’ll kindly pass it over!”
With which the great man deftly whipped the unperused Times from the seat where it had been laid aside by its owner, and ignoring the political articles and Foreign Intelligence (under which heading a brief paragraph announcing the decease of the aged paralytic Hereditary Prince of Widinitz, might, had the glance of his fellowtraveler fallen upon it, have seemed to him of more than passing interest), dived into those thrilling columns that deal with the rise and fall in value of wheat and oats, hay and straw, beans and chaff, and other staple commodities of the Forage Trade, and record the fluctuations of the Stock Exchange ; became a virtue of such elevations and depressions, immersed in perusal ; and spoke no more either on the greatness of Great Britain, the greatness of Thompson Jowell, or any other kindred subject. And the Waterloo Road Terminus being reached, a luxuriously-appointed brougham, drawn by a handsome horse, and ornamented, as to the door-panels and harness, with repetitions, illuminated or engraved, of a large and showy coat-of-arms recently purchased at Heralds’ College, received the glorious being, and whirled him away through murky miles of foggy streets to his shabby little office in The Poultry.
Here, in a shady alley of low-browed houses near the Banking House of Lubbock, amidst dirt and dust and cobwebs and incrustations of City mud. upon the floors that were never washed, upon the windows that were never cleaned, upon the souls of those who spent their lives there, the vast business of Thompson Jowell. Flour. Forage, and Straw Contractor. Freightage and Auxiliary-Transport Agent to Her Majesty’s Army, had grown from a very little cuttle-fish into a giant octopus, all huge stomach and greedy par-
rot-beak ; owning a hundred scaly tentacles, each panoplied with suckers for draining the golden life-blood of the British ratepayers from the coffers of the British Government; and furnished. moreover, with sufficient of that thick and oily medium, known as Humbug, in its ink-bag, to blind, not only the eyes of the people and their rulers and representatives to its huge, wholesale swindlings; but in some degree to becloud and veil its own vision, so that foul seemed fair, and petty greed and low cunning took on a pleasing aspect of great-minded and unselfish patriotism.
Cowell, the Beef-Contractor, and Sowell, who undertook to supply such garments as the Government generously provided to its soldiers free of cost; scamping materials in fashioning the one sparrow-tailed full-dress coatee and pair of trousers—so that stalwart infantrymen found it incompatible with strict propriety to stoop; and legs and arms of robust troopers were so tightly squeezed into cases of coarse red or coarse blue cloth as to resemble nothing so much as giant sausages—were persons of influence and standing. Towell, who turned out shirts, of regulation material something coarser than bedticking, paying wan workwomen four pence per dozen—the worker finding buttons, needles and thread—and receiving for each garment two shillings and sevenpence. filched from the soldier’s pay: Rowell, who found the Cavalry and Artillery in saddlery of inferior leather and spurs of dubious metal : Powell, who roofed the British Forces as to the head, with helmets, busbies, shakos, and fatigue-caps: Bowell. who stocked its surgeons’ medicinechests with adulterated tincture of opium. Epsom-salts that never hailed from Epsom : decoction of jalap, made potent with croton oil: inferior squills and supicious senna: and Shoell. who shod the rank-and-file with one annual pair of boots (made principally of brown paper). were, taken together, a gang of—let ns write a community of upright and worthy individuals; but.
viewed in comparison with Dunoisse’s acquaintance of the railway, they paled like farthing rushlights beside a transparency illuminated by gas.
A day was coming when Britannia, leaning in her hour of need, upon that sturdy stem of seasoned British oak, was to find it but a worm-eaten sham; a hollow shell of dust and rottenness, housing loathsome, slimy things, crawland writhing amidst the green and fleshless bones that once wore Victoria’s uniform; housing and breeding in the empty skulls of brave and hardy men. Dead in their thousands, not of the shot and shell, the fire and steel and pestilence that are the grim concomitants of War: but dead of Privation and Want, Cold and Starvation—through the rapacity and greed, the mercenary cunning and base treachery of those staunch and loyal pillars of the British Crown and Constitution: Cowell, Sowell, Towell, Rowell, Powell, Bowell, Shoell, and, last but not least among those worthies, Thompson Jowell.
Arrived at his dingy little office in The Poultry halfway up the narrow, shady alley of low-browed, drab-faced houses near the Banking House of Lubbock, you saw Thompson Jowell, recruited by a solid luncheon, bending severe brows upon a pale-faced, weakeyed clerk, who had grievously offended, and was up for judgment.
“What this? Now, what’s this, Standish?” the great man blustered. “You have been doing overtime and ask to be paid for it? Lawful claims are met with prompt settlement in this office, as you have good cause to know. But, lookee here!” The speaker puffed out his pendulous cheeks in his characteristic way, and held up a stout, menacing finger before the wincing eyes of the unfortunate Standish. “Don’t you, or any other man in my employment get trying to make money out of me! Because you won’t, you know!” said Mr. Thompson Jowell. “D’ye see?” and jabbed at the thorax of the unfortunate
Standish with the finger, and then rubbed his own nose smartly with it, and thrust it, with its fellows, into his large, deep trousers-pocket as the livid victim faltered:
“You were good enough, previously to the Christmas holidays, sir, to send for me, and say that if I cared to-”
Thompson Jowell solemnly shook his little pear-shaped head, and goggled with his large, round brown eyes upon the scared victim, saying:
“Not ‘cared to,’ Standish. Be accurate, my good fellow, in words as in deed!”
“You hinted to me, sir-” stam-
mered the unfortunate.
Thompson Jowell swelled to such portentous size at this that the clerk visibly shrank and dwindled before the awful presence.
“I am not accustomed to hint, Standish !”
“You intimated, sir, that if I was willing”—gulped the paPid Standish— “to devote my evenings to making up the New Year’s accounts and checking the files of duplicate invoices against the office-ledgers, you—you would undertake—or so you were good enough to give me to understand—that I should be the better for it!”
“But if I mentioned overtime,” returned his employer, thrusting his short fat hands under his wide coat-tails, and rocking backwards and forwards on the office hearthrug, a cheap and shabby article to which the great man was accustomed to point with pride as illustrative of the robust humility of his own nature, “I’ll eat my hat!” He glanced at the low-crowned, shiny beaver hanging on a wooden peg beside his private safe, in company with the shaggy boxcoat and a fur-lined, velvet-collared cloak of sumptuous appearance, adding, “and that’s a meal would cost me thirty shillings. For there’s no such a thing as overtime. It don’t exist ! And if you proved to me it did I wouldn’t believe you !” said Thompson Jowell, thrusting his thick right hand deep into the bosom of the gorgeous waistcoat, and puffing himself out still more. “For your
time, young man ! in return for a liberal salary of Twenty Shillings per week, belongs to Me—to Me, Standish, whenever I choose to employ it! As for being the better for having done the work you say you have, you are the better morally, in having discharged your duty to a generous employer ; and if you choose to injure your constitution by stopping here o’ nights until eleven p.m. it’s no affair of mine. John Downright my name is!—besides the one that’s on the brass doorplate of these offices, and what I say is—it’s no affair of mine! Though, mind you! in burning gas upon these premises up to I don’t know what hour of the night, you’ve materially increased the Company’s quarterly bill, and in common justice ought to defray their charges. I’ll let you off that !—so think yourself lucky ! and don’t come asking me to remunerate you for overtime again. Now, get out with you !”
Unlucky Standish, yellow and green with disappointed hopes and secret fury, and yet admiring, in spite of himself, the clever way in which he had been defrauded, backed towards the narrow door, and in the act collided with a visitor, who, entering, straightway impregnated and enlivened the dead and musty atmosphere with a heterogeneous mixture of choice perfumes, in which superfine Macassar and bear’s grease, the fashionable Frangipani and Jockey Club ; Russia-leather, a suspicion of stables, and more than a hint of malt liquor, combined with the fragrance of the choice Havana cheroot which the newcomer removed from his mouth as he entered, to make way for the filial salutation :
“Halloa, Governor! All serene?” You then saw young Mortimer Jowell, only surviving sapling of the sturdy stem of tough old British oak ticketed Thompson Jowell, received in that fond father’s arms, who warmly hugged him to his bosom, crying:
“Morty! My own boy!”
“How goes it, Governor?” responded Morty, winking tremendously, and patting his parent on his stout back with a
large-sized hand, gloved with the most expensive lemon kid. “Hold on, you!” he hailed, as the ghastly Standish, seeing Distress for Rent written large across the page of the near future, was creeping out. “Come back and help us out of this watchbox, will yer?” Adding, as the clerk assisted him out of a capacious driving-coat of yellow cloth, with biscuit-sized mother-o’-pearl buttons:
“You look uncommon green, Standish, mv boy—Standish’s your name, ain’t it?”
“Yes, Mr. Mortimer, sir. And—I am quite well, sir, thank you, sir. There’s nothing the matter with me beyond ordinary.”
He hung up the son’s coat on the peg beneath the low-crowned, curlybrimmed beaver of the parent, and went out. Morty, retaining his own fashionable, shaggy headgear upon a skull of the bullet rather than the pear-shaped order, had forgotten the clerk and his pick face before the door closed behind him.
“Don’t you worry about Standish and his looks, my boy!” said Thompson Jowell. “That’s the way to spoil a good clerk, that is. Cock ’em up with an idea that they’re overworked, next thing is they’re in bed, and their wives —and why the devil they should have wives, when at that fellow’s age I couldn’t afford the luxury, beats me!— their wives are writing letters begging me not to stop the substitute’s pay out of the husband’s salary, because he. and she, and the children—and it’s like their extravagance and presumption to have children when they can’t afford to keep ’em !—will have to go to the Workhouse if you do. And why shouldn’t, they go to the Workhouse? What do we ratepayers keep it up for. if it ain’t good enough for you. ma’am, and the likes of you and your’s? My name being Tom Candid—that’s what I say to her.”
He had, in fact, said it to a suppliant of the proud, presumptuous class he complained of, only that morning. And now, as he blew out his big, pendulous
cheeks and triple chin above their stiff, circular frill of iron-grey whisker, his tall son took him by the shoulders and shook him playfully backwards and forwards in the grip of the great hands that were clothed with the extra-sized lemon kids, saying, as he regarded his affectionate parent with a pair of brown eyes, that, with the narrow brain behind them, were a trifle bemused with liquor even at this early hour, yet wonderfully frank and honest for a son of Thompson Jowell’s:
“You knowin’ old File! You firstclass, extra-ground, double-edged Shylock, you! You jolly old Fee-Faw-Fum, smellin’ the blood of Englishmen, and grindin’ their bones to make your bread—or the flour you sell to the British Government, and take precious jolly good care to sell dear!—you’re lookin’ in the prime of health and the pink of condition, and that’s what I like to see!”
“Really, Morty ! Truly, now, my dear boy?”
Morty nodded, with a cheerful grin, and Thompson Jowell’s heart glowed with fatherly pride in this big young man with the foolish, good-natured face and the round, somewhat owlish eyes, that resembled his own, though not in their simplicity. But Morty’s invariable and characteristic method of expressing frank admiration of those invaluable business qualities of unscrupulous, greed, and cunning, which the author of his being, while fattening upon them, preferred to disown—was a venomed dart rankling in the fleshy ribs that were clothed by the gorgeous waistcoat. His narrow slanting forehead, that was like the lid of Noah’s Ark—furrowed as he heard. He said, with hurrv and effort :
“Aes—yes! Well—well! And how did you come, dear boy?”
“Tooled the Tilbury with the tandem over from Norwood,” Morty responded, “on purpose to have a good look at you. Lord Adolphus Noddlewood, my friend and chum at the Reverend’s, came along too. Lots of fun on the way! Tre-menjous row with tollgate-keeper’s
wife at Camberwell Gate—Tollman, gone to bed, after bein’ up all night, stuck his head out of upper-window in a red nightcap to tell us, if we ain’t too drunk to remember it!—we’re talkin, for once in our lives, to a decent woman. . . . (And you ought to ha’ heard the names she’d called us !) . . . ‘Dolph, my boy,’ says I to Lord Adolphus when we got into the Borough Road—and plenty of excitement there, with a leader that kep’ tryin’ to get into the omnibus after the old ladies ! . . . ‘Dolph, my buck,’ says I, ‘I’m goin’ to show you where the Guinea Tree grows.’ ‘Ha, ha, ha ! That means,’ says he to me, ‘you’re goin’ to fly a kite among the Jews.’ ‘You’re dead out there, Dolph!’ says I. ‘For one thing, the Gov’ bleeds free. A touch of the lancet, and he brims the basin. For another—there isn’t a Hebrew among the Ten Tribes, from Dan to Beersheba, ’ud dare to lend me a penny-piece on my tidiest signature for fear of what my father’d do when he found out they been gettin’ hold of his precious boy! For, deep as they are, my father’s deeper,’ says I, ‘and artful as they are. he’s more artful still; and grinding and grasping extortioners as it’s their nature to be, there’s not a Jew among ’em that the Governor wouldn’t give ninety points out of a hundred to, and beat at Black Pool—with the nigger in the pocket and a general shell-out all round! Ha, ha, haw! Whew! . . .” Morty whipped out a handkerchief of brilliant hue, diffusing odours of Araby, and applied it to his nose: “Piff! this here old rat-hole of yours stinks over and above a bit. Why don’t you burn it down?—you’re insured to the hilt, or I don’t know you, dad! And take a smart, snug, comfortable office in Cheapside or Cornhill?”
“It wouldn’t do! T began in this place, and have grown up here, as one might say, and have got too used to it to fancy another. And—be a little careful, Morty. my boy!” urged the father of this shining specimen, admiring the son’s high spirit and volubility, yet suffering at his well-earned praise. He felt so keen a pride in this tall,
bullet-headed, broad-shouldered, loosely-jointed son, that the tears stood in bis round eyes as they goggled at him; and the upright grey hair upon his pear-shaped head bristled more stiffly. Somebody outside here might be listening,” he pleaded, “and that kind of joke’s dangerous if repeated. Be careful, my dear boy !”
“If you mean careful of those tallowfaced, inky, chilblain-fingered chaps in the office outside this, and the room on the other side of the passage,” said Morty, jerking up his coat-tails, and seating himself upon the large, important blotting-pad that lay upon the stained leather of the kneehole writing-table, that, with the iron safe previously mentioned; an armchair with loops of horsehair stuffing coming through the torn leather covering of its arms, and bulging through the torn leather covering of its back; a wooden stool adorned with a fantastic pattern of perforations; a dusty set of wooden pigeon-holes stuffed with dustier papers, and a bookcase containing Shipping-Lists, References, Handy Volumes, Compendiums, Ready Reckoners, and Guides, such as are commonly used by business men who chase the goose that lays the golden egg of Profit through the tortuous ways of Finance ;—with a few more, likely to be of use to an Auxiliary-Transport Agent and Forage Contractor—comprised,
with a blistered little yellow iron washstand. furitively lurking in a shady corner, the furniture of the office—“if you mean those clerks of yours, you’re joking when you talk of them repeating anything they hear. They know you too well. Gov! They’ve sold themselves to you. body and soul. For you’re the Devil, Governor—the very Devil! Ain’t you? Gaw! Don’t tell me you ain’t! I don’t believe you!” said Morty, with a tinge of the paternal manner. “I won’t believe you! I wouldn’t believe you if you took a pair of wings (detachable patent), like what the Pashas—there’s a stunnin’ creature!—sports in the new Opera Bally as the ‘Sylph of the Silver Sham’—no, dammv !—that ain’t it ! ‘Sylph of the Silver Strand’—out of
your safe, and a harp and a crown out of the corner-cupboard by the fireplace”— a rusty, narrow fireplace, with a bent poker thrust in between the bars of the niggardly grate that had a smoking lump of coal in it—“and showed me,” said Morty, with a gleam of imagination, “your first-class diploma as a qualified practising Angel! And so you know !”
He poked Thompson Jowell in the meaty ribs that were covered by his gorgeous waistcoat, and though the hidden thorn rankled more and more, and though allusions to the personage mentioned seemed to savour of irréligion, the great man’s brow relaxed, and he chuckled, as he rattled the money in the tills of his big trouser-pockets.
“And how goes the learning, Morty, with the reverend gentleman at Norwood? Does he seem to have his trade as Tutor at his fingers’ ends? Does he push you on and prepare you? coach you and generally cram you with the things you ought to be master of? As a young fellow of means and expectations—-who will shortly (or great people break promises!)—hold a Commission in Her Majesty’s Foot Guards?”
“Oh, Lord !” groaned Morty. “Don’t he, though?”
“This friend of yours you’ve brought with you is a swell, it seems?” resumed the father.
“Lord Adolphus Noddlewood . . . I believe you. Gov!” returned the son, screwing up his round, young, foolish face into an expression of portentous knowingness. “Eldest son of the Marquess of Crumphorn—ain’t that the tiptop thing?”
“Eldest son of the Marquess of Crumphorn ! We’ll look him up in the —that’s the sort of thing a woman enjoys doing,” said Thompson Jowell. rather viciously, “and that keeps her from grizzling and groaning, and thinking herself an invalid.”
“How is my mother, sir?” asked the son, with a shade of resentment at the other’s slighting tone.
“She’s pretty much the same as usual,” said Thompson Jowell sourly, and
ceased to puff himself out to double his natural size, and left off rattling the tills in his trousers, “or she was when I left her early this morning. A decent, worthy sort of woman, your mother,” he added, snorting, “without any spirit or go in her. And as for setting off fine clothes and jewels, as the wife of a man in My position ought to—you might as well hang ’em on a pump. Indeed, you’d show ’em off to more advantage, because a pump can’t retire into the background with a Dorcas work-basket and a Prayer-Book, and generally efface itself. It stops where it is—and if it ain’t a rattler as regards conversation, people do get some kind of response from it, if they’re at the trouble of working the handle. Now, your mother—”
“My mother, sir, is as good company and as well worth looking at—in fine clothes or shabby ones—as any lady in the land !” said Mortv. “I’m dam’ if she ain’t!” And so red and angry a light shone in the round brown eyes that were generally dull and lustrous, and so well-developed a scowl sat on the rather pimply forehead from which the tall shaggy white beaver stove-pipe of the latest fashion was jovially tilted back, that Thompson Jowell changed the conversation rather hurriedly.
“Well, well! perhaps she is!” he agreed, in rather a floundering manner. “And if her own son didn’t think so, who should? Bun down to Market Drowsing and see her as soon as you’re able. She won’t come up to Hanover Square before the beginning of May. Give her compliments, along with mine, to the Honourable and Reverend Alfred de Gassey and Lady Alicia Brokingbole. There’s a thorough-paced nob for you, the Honourable and Reverend! And his wife! The genuine hall-marked Thing, registered and stamped—that’s what she is!”
He referred in these terms of unqualified admiration to a needy sprig of nobility who had held a commission in a Cavalry regiment; and. having with highly commendable rapidity ran
through a considerable fortune, had exchanged, some years previously, at ihe pressing instance of his creditors, the Army for the Church, and a family living which fell vacant at a particularly appropriate moment. And, having married another slip of the aristocracy as impecunious as himself, the Reverend Alfred had hit upon the philanthropic idea of enlarging his clerical stipend and benefiting Humanity at large, by receiving under his roof two or three young gentlemen of backward education and large fortune, who should require to be prepared for the brilliant discharge of their duty to their Sovereign and their country, as subaltern officers of crack regimental corps.
Not that preparation was essential in those days, when Army Coaches were vehicles as rare as swan-drawn waterchariots; and the cramming-establishments that were some years later to spring up like mushrooms on Shooter’s Hill or Primrose Hill, or in the purlieus of Hammersmith or Peckham, wTere unknown. Ensigns of Infantry, or cornets of Cavalry Regiments, joined their respective corps without having received the ghost of a technical military education ; often without possessing any knowledge whatever beyond a nodding acquaintance with two out of the three R’s. . . . Mathematics, Fortification, French and German, were not imparted by the Honourable and Reverend Alfred to his wealthy pupils, for the simple reason that he. the instructor, was not acquainted with these. But in Boxing, Fencing. Riding, the clauses of the Code of Honour regulating the Prize Ring and the duelling-ground, not to mention the rules governing the game of Whist, at which the Reverend Alfred always won ; he was a very fully-qualified tutor. And his wife, the Lady Alicia Brokingbole, youngest daughter of the Earl of Gallopaway, initiated the more personal of the young gentlemen into the indispensable art of handing chairs, winding Berlin wools, giving an arm to a lady, copying sweet poems from the Forget-Me-Not or The Keepsake into her album, and generally
making themselves useful and agreeable. Nor was the Lady Alicia averse to a little discreet flirtation, or a little game of piquet, or a little rubber of whist, at which, like the Reverend Alfred, she invariably won. It will be comprehended that, provided the bearcub who came to Norwood to be licked into shape were rich, the said cub might spend a fairly pleasant time: and be regaled with a good deal of flattery and adulation, mixed with chit-chat, gossip, and scandal, of the most aristocratic and exclusive kind.
“She’s a spankin’ fine woman, is Lady Alicia,” agreed Morty, with the air of a connoisseur, “though a dam’ sight too fond of revokin’ at whist with pound points to suit my book !” he added, with a cloud upon the brow that might have been more intellectual
“But she’s an Earl’s daughter!—an Earl’s daughter. Morty, my boy!” urged Thompson Jowell; “and moves in high Society, the very highest—or so I have been given to understand.”
“Correct, too. Knows everybody worth knowin’—got the entire Peerage and Court Circulor at her finger-ends,” declared simple Morty. “I drove her four-in-hand from Norwood to the Row only yesterday. Gaw! You should have seen us! Bowin’ right and left like China Manda—what-do-you-call’ems?—to the most tre-menjous nobs (in coroneted carriages, with flunkeys in powder and gold lace) you ever clapped your eyes on ! And you ought to hear her tell of the huntin’ supper she sat down to at her cousin’s castle in ^ Bohemia—the chap’s an Austrian Prince with a name like a horses’ cough. Four-and-fortv covers, two Crowned Heads, five Hereditary Grand Dukes with their Duchesses, a baker’s dozen of Princes, and for the rest, nothin’ under a Count or Countess, ‘until, Mr. Jowell,’ she says, ‘you arrived at Alfred, who would grace any social circle, however lofty, and poor little humble Me!’ And they played a Charade afterwards, and Lady Alicia had no jewels to wear in the part of Cleopatra, ‘having chosen,’ she says, ‘to wed for Love rather than Ambition.’ And the Prince had an iron
coffin brought in—or was it copper?— cram-jam-full of diamonds and rubies as big as pigeons’ eggs, and told her ladyship to take what she chose. ‘Gaw! those sort of relatives are worth havin’! Shouldn’t mind a few of ’em myself!’ says I to Lady A.”
“That’s the sort of woman to culti.vate, Morty, my boy !” advised Thompson Jowell, smiling and rubbing his hands. “With a little managing and cleverness, she ought to get you into the swim. The Goldfish Tank, I mean, where the titled heiresses are. You
represent Money, solid Money 1—but what we want—to set our Money off, is Rank! And the men of the British Aristocracy are easy enough to gel at, and easy enough to get on with, provided you don’t happen to tread on their damned exclusive corns. But
their women, confound ’em—their high - nosed, long - necked women — they’re as hard to get on a level of chatty equality with as Peter Wilkins’ flying females were; and the mischief of it is, my boy, you can’t do without their good word. So cultivate Lady A.! Wink at her cheating at cards—it’s in the blood of all these tip-top swells— and get her to take you about with her. And one of these days we may be hearing how Lady Rosaline Jowell, second daughter of the Earl, or the Marquess, or the Duke of Something-or-other, was Presented, on her marriage with Mr. Mortimer Jowell, of the Foot Guards; and what sort of figure her husband cut at the Prince’s Levee. And, by Gosh! though I don’t keep a coffer full of diamonds as big as pigeons’ eggs in my safe, we’ll see what Bond Street can do in the way of a Tiara for the head, and a Zone for the waist, and a necklace and bracelets of the biggest shiners that can be got, for her Ladyship, Thompson Jowell’s daughter-in-law! And what I say I’ll do, I do! My name’s Old Trusty, ain’t it, Morty boy?”
His round eyes goggled almost appealingly at his son.
“And if I’m—what you say—a bit of a Squeezer as regards making people pay; and a bit of a Grinder—though
that I don’t admit—at driving hard bargains; and Mister Sharp of Cutters’ Lane when it comes to getting the best of So-and-So and Such-and-Such — who’d cheerfully skin me alive, only give ’em the chance of it—you’re the last person in the world, Morty, who ought to throw it in my face.”
He spoke with almost weeping earnestness; there were blobs of moisture in the corners of his eyes; his blustering Boreas-voice was almost soft and pleading as Thompson Jowell bid for the good opinion of his son. “Not that I reproach you,” was the refrain of his song, “but you ought to be the last!”
“Old Gov!” The large young man repeated his previous action of taking Thompson Jowell by his fleshy shoulders with the extra-sized hands, encased in the lemon kid gloves, and pleasantly shaking him backwards and forwards, as though he had been a large, plain whiskered doll.
“There’s the Commission in the Guards, Morty. You wouldn’t believe — having set my heart on making a first-class gentleman of my boy—what an uncommon sight of trouble I’ve taken to bring that sealed paper with Her Majesty’s signature on it, down from the sky-high branch it hangs on ! His Honour the Commissary-General kept his word in presenting me to my Lord Dalgan, His Grace the Commander-inChief’s confidential Secretary, yesterday, and after a little general chit-chat, I felt my way to a hint, for we must be very humble with such great folks,” said Thompson Jowell, rattling the tills, “and watch for times and opportunities. My Lord was very high and lofty with me, as you may suppose. . .
. . “ ‘So you have a son, Mr. Thompson Jowell,’ says he. ‘I congratulate you, my dear sir, on having done your duty to posterity. And it is your ambition that this young man should enjoy the privilege of wearing Her Majesty’s uniform? Mell, well! We will see what we can do with His Grace, Mr. Thompson Jowell, towards procuring the young gentleman an ensigncy in some regiment of infantry.’ ‘Hum-
bly thanking you, my Lord,’ says I, ‘for the gracious encouragement you have given to a man who might be called by persons less grand, and noble, and generous-minded than your Lordship, an ambitious tradesman; — since you permit me to speak my mind’— and he bows over his stock in his stiffnecked, gracious way—‘I dare to say I fly higher for my boy,’ says I, ‘than a mere marching regiment. And what I have set my heart upon, and likewise my son his, is, plainly speaking, a Commission in the Foot Guards, White Tufts or Cut Red Feathers’ Up go his eyebrows at that, Morty, and he taps with his shiny nails—a real nobleman’s nails—on the carved arm of his chair, smiling. ‘Really, Mr. Thompson Jowell’—and he leans back and throws his foot over his knee, showing the Wellington boot with gold spurs and the white strap of the pearl-grey trouser— ‘ambition is, to a certain extent, laudable and to be encouraged. But at the same time, permit me to sav that you do fly high !’ ‘Begging your Lordships’s leave once more,’ says I, ‘to speak out— and Plain’s my name and nature!—I have come to beg the greatest nobleman in the land to make a hay-and-strawand-flour merchant’s son a gentleman. A word in the ear of His Grace the Duke, and a stroke of your pen will do it, my Lord,’ I says; ‘and when I find myself in the presence of a power as lofty and as wide as yours, and am graciously encouraged to ask a favor, I don’t ask a little one that a lesser influence could grant. I plump for the Guards, and your Lordship can but refuse me!’ ”
“You clever old Codger! Rubbin’ him down with a wisp of straw, and ticklin’ him in all the right places. . . . But look here, you know!” objected Morty with a darkening brow, “I don’t half cotton to all that patter about making a gentleman of a merchant’s son. Egad, sir, I’m dam’ if I do like it!”
He sat upon the knee-hole table and folded his arms upon his waistcoat, a garment of brown velvet embroidered with golden springs, worn in conjunc-
lion with a satin cravat of dazzling green, peppered with scarlet horseshoes and adorned with pins of Oriental pearl; and blew out his round cheeks quite in the paternal manner as he shook his bullet head.
“You mustn’t mind a bit of bumblepie, my boy !” pleaded Thompson Jowell, “seeing what a great thing is to be got by eating it, and looking as if you liked it. You don’t suppose I’m any fonder of the dish than you are—but it’s for my son’s sake; and so, down it goes! These stately swells will have you flatter ’em, stiff-necked, and fawn upon ’em, and lick their boots for ’em. They were born to have men cringe to 'em, and by Gosh, sir! can you stand upright and milk a cow at the same time? You can’t, and you know it!—so you squat and whistle to her, and down comes the milk between your fingers, squish !”
“I ain’t a dairymaid,” asserted Morty sulkily.
“Not you!” said Thompson Jowell, beaming on him fondly. “And when your old Governor’s willing to do the dirty work, why should you soil your hands?” His thick voice shook, and the tears stood in his goggle-eyes. “I’d lie down in the gutter so that those polished Wellingtons I spoke of just now should walk upon me dryshod—by Gosh I would!” said Thompson Jowell —“if only I might get up again with golden mud upon me, to be scraped off and put away for you! Look here! You told your friend, Lord ’Dolph, your Governor was a generous bleeder. Well, so I am ! I’ll fill your pan to-day.”
He whipped out his cheque-book, large and bulky like himself, and— Morty having condescendingly removed himself from the blotter—drew what that scion of his race was moved to term “a whacker” of a cheque. And sent him away gorged with that golden mud to which he had referred, and correspondingly happy; so that he passed through the larger, outer office, where seven pallid clerks were hard at work under the direction of a grey-faced elderly man who inhabited a little ground-glass-panelled sentry-box open-
ing out of their place of bondage, with “Manager” in blistered letters of black paint upon the door—like a boisterous wind tinged with stables, cigars, and mixed perfumery, and shed some drops of his shining store on them in passing.
“Look here, you chaps! See what the Old Man’s stood me!” Morty flourished the pink oblong, bearing the magic name of Coutts’. Six of the seven pairs of eyes ravished from ledgers and correspondence, flared with desperate longing and sickened with impotent desire. Standish still kept his sea-green face downbent. And the grey Manager,peeping out of his glass case, congratulated as in duty bound.
“You’re in luck again, Mr. Mortimer! . . . May I hope we see you
“First rate, Chobley! Topping condition !” Morty stuffed the cheque with lordly carelessness into a pocket in the gold-sprigged velvet vest, withdrawing a little ball of crackly white paper, which he jovially displayed between a finger and thumb attired in lemon kid.
“Twig this, hey? Well, it shall mean a dinner at the Albion in Drury Lane for the lot of you . . . and an evenin’ at the Play—if you ain’t too proud for the Pit? Leave your wives at home !” the young reprobate advised, with a wink; “you’re all too much married by a lot, hey, Chobley? And halfa-bottle of fizz apiece it ought to stand you in. . . . And see that beggar
Standish drinks his share! . . .
Catch! . . . Gaw!—what a butter-
fingered beggar you are, Standish !” .
. . The paper insult, flipped at ghastly Standish’s lowered nose, smartly hit that feature, and rebounded into a letter-basket as Morty blustered out. The clerks looked at each other as the swing-doors banged and gibbered behind the young autocrat. They heard him hail Lord ’Dolph, heard the trampling and slipping of the tandem-horses’ hoofs upon the uneven pavement; heard Morty cheerfully curse the groom, —heard, too, the final “Gau !” with which the heir of the house of Jowell
clinched the news of his good luck with his Governor ; the hiss and smack of the tandemwhip, and the departing clatter of the tilbury westwards, to those regions where golden-haired sirens smile upon young men with monkeys in their pockets; and white-bosomed waiters dance attendance on their pleasure in halls of dazzling light.
Then said the gray-faced Manager, breaking the silence:
“I suppose, gentlemen, we had better do as Mr. Mortimer so kindly suggested? I presume that no one here is averse to theatrical exhibitions, or objects to a good dinner, washed down with the half-bottle of champagne the young gentleman liberally mentioned?”
“I prefer port !” said the hitherto silent Standish, in so strange a voice it seemed as though another man had spoken.
“Do you, egad?” said a fellow-clerk sniggeringly. “Perhaps you’ll tell us why?”
“Because it is the color of blood,” the pale drudge answered. He dipped his
pen in the red ink as he spoke, and dived into his ledger again, and the face he bent over the closely-figured pages was yellow and sharp as a wedge of cheese.
Chobley, the Manager, had looked sharply at Standish when he had given voice to that strange reason for preferring the thick red wine. He had respectfully smoothed out the crumpled five-pound note, and folded it into a broad flat spill, and he scraped the pepper-and-salt bristles of his chin with it thoughtfully as he took his eyes away from the downcast, brooding face; and very shortly afterwards took himself, upon a sufficient business-excuse, into Thompson Jowell’s room. And next morning Standish did not appear at the office in The Poultry, and thenceforwards the place upon the short-legged, horsehair-covered stool that had been his was occupied by another white-gilled toiler; and his frayed and ragged old black office coat vanished for good from its hook behind the door.
“Between Two Thieves” will be continued in the April issue of MacLean’s Magazine.