ARTHUR BEVERLEY BAXTER
IF YOU could find the village of Windbridge (which is very difficult as it hides itself at the bottom of a hill well off the main road which crosses the downs at a certain part of the English South-East Coast) you could see the identical cottage where Doctor Jellybud looked from his window at the beginning of this history.
For more years than most people could remember he had lived there, and every day he looked out of the window on rising, because he was a jovial, roundbellied, old boy who was glad to see the morning; and if the sun has any sympathy in its nature at all, it must have had hard work to keep from coming out and smiling back at the jolly, red-faced Doctor.
“Octavius,” cried his sister from below, “breakfast is ready.”
“Coming, my dear, coming at once,” cried the Doctor, immersing his face in a basin of cold water.
That was a harmless lie which I am sure never grew any blacker for repetition. He always was late for breakfast and never did “come at once,” but then if he had, there would have been no necessity for his rubbing his hands and making all sorts of genial excuses and generally starting the day off (as it should be started) as if life were a very pleasant thing altogether, and breakfast one of the pleasantest things i-n life.
The Doctor had never married, which was strange too, for there wasn’t a keener eye for a dimpled cheek
or a pretty ankle in that part of the country.......
But then possibly he liked so many dimples, and admired such regiments of pretty ankles, that he couldn’t concentrate on just one set of them.
Yet it should be recorded that sometimes when he used to sit by the fire and drink punch with Jacob Funnle, the county Magistrate who was given to amateur theatricals, (it was a well-known fact that his Othello was far better than anything on the London stage) and who used to scare prisoners speechless by his manner when he tried them, Doctor Jellybud would grow a little melancholy. On those occasions it was his habit to confess to an early and fruitless attachment to a “splendid creature” with ten thousand a year in her own right, who had been cruel enough to hand over the care of her splendid self, and the ten thousand a year, to an Ensign in the — st. Bloodandthunderers, who owned the finest mustaches, the best legs, and the thickest heads in London.
As this tale nevcr failed to produce a state of abject sentimentality in both of them, old Funnle would propose “Women, lovely women—God bless ’hm,” and, as any gentleman would, they always did full justice to the toast, bracing up surprisingly after it. In fact more than once these evenings had ended with a chorus descriptive of the joys of bachelorhood, sung so heart-
THE Doctor was the eighth child of a teacher in a poor little Cornwall school, and by dint of much economy he had been sent to London, where, after several years in a hospital, he was duly proclaimed a competent member of the medical profession. As it was at that time the mustached Ensign had bludgeoned his matrimonial chances, he bought the practice of Dr. Swiggins, who had looked after the health of all Windbridge for fifty years, and who, finally taking sick, made the mistake of trying one of his own remedies, with the result that his place of residence changed to the cemetery, and his practice was sold to Dr. Jellybud.
As that was when he was in his early thirties, his favorite sister, Regina, had come to keep house for him just until he was married.
And thirty years passed by, and the pretty little sister, with the cheeks like roses, grew to be a sweetfaced woman with fading flowers in her face but a gentle kindliness that is a far more lasting and beautiful thing than roses which must die with the passing of summer. The world is full of such women, offering their sympathy and understanding, and never asking any other reward than the knowledge that some load has been made a little lighter for their ministering.
So, when this story opens, his sister was still keeping house for the Doctor, though it was a great joke between them that some day he would bring home a blushing young bride. . . . And in return he would accuse her of designs on Jacob Funnle.
Altogether they were a very happy pair, and even if the old Doctor never knew very much about medicine, and had forgotten most of the little he knew, he did a tremendous amount of good by his cheeriness. In fact, as he used to drive through the village with his black bag in full view, Windbridge wouldn’t have exchanged its family Doctor for all the brains of Harley Street. ^
TTELL, my dear,” said Doctor Jellybud, entering * * the dining-room with his face still glowing from the recent ablutions. “That’s a very cosy fire. Sorry I was late. Damme, I’m always late—shouldn’t wonder, you know, if I wasn’t really intended for the seventh child, but consequence of being late they had to leave me till the eighth. I tell you that s good porridge aint it? Eat lots of oatmeal, sleep with your window open, keep cheerful, and half the doctors and undertakers would go bankrupt in a year.’”
“It looks like rain. Octavius.”
"Should be snow this time of year.”
“I think there’s a storm coming on. Do you have to go out to-day? You know, you’re not as young as you were.”
“Yes I am, m’dear—younger. If a fellow lives properly, you know—open windows at night, not too
ily that it would have been difficult to realize that one was a blighted lover, and the other a widower.
much spirits and ’baccy, and absolutely never touches
port wine.....he simply lives in a circle. Starts
young, grows to middle age, then gets younger and younger until he disappears again.”
“But Octavius, who do you have to see to-day?”
“The whole lot of ’em, Regina. There’s Widow McGregor getting more melancholy every day, and Joe Green who is quarreling with his wife all the time. Then there’s poor old Ned Clarke who don’t seem able to earn a penny, and of course I have to see Sam Heeling about the Xmas music—you know it falls on Sunday this year—and then I must go and see little Barbara Flint.”
“You shouldn’t go away out to that lonely spot.” “That’s just it, m’dear. It is a lonely spot and that pretty little creature’s pining away like a bird in a cage, all on account of her sinful old dad who won’t see what’s going on before his very eyes.”
“Yes, I noticed Barbara at church last Sunday, and she looked like a fading lily.”
“She does, Regina—just like a lily. It’s my opinion, speaking as her medical adviser, that she’s in love. She looks just like I did when—you know who I mean when she jilted me for that nincompoop in the Bloodandthunderers.”
A FTER which melancholy thought the Doctor devoted himself to his breakfast with more relish than ever.
“Barbara,” said Miss Jellybud, pouring out some coffee and uncovering a plate of steaming rolls, “has never been the same since she visited her poor dead mother’s brother in Surrey. It’s my opinion she fell in love with someone while there.”
“Like as not.”
“I wish I could go and see her, or even if she would only come here of an afternoon and sit by the fire. I know I’m dull company for a young girl like her, but surely anything’s better than remaining in that rickety old house on the downs with her mean old father.” “The perverse old specimen.”
“Well really, Octavius, I hate to be unkind, but when I think of how he screws the last penny out of everybody, and never spends anything but just when he’s forced to, and how he lives in that horrible house with
little Barbara just the same as a prisoner..... I
must say that I think he’s anything but a gentleman.” “A gentleman. Regina!” The Doctor’s face grew quite apopletic. “He’s not only Flint—he’s a skinflint, a miser, a scoundrel ! Damme, if he was only to get sick, I’d poison him and hang cheerfully for it. It’s my opinion that all this trouble between Joe Green and his wife, and Widow McGregor with her fretting, is all in consequence of that bad-livered old scoundrel grinding the money out of them that hasn’t the means to pay. I tell you, Regina, Josephus Flint had better keep out '-f my way; he’d better not apply to Doctor Jellybud for medicine unless he first gets it analyzed.”
There was a scratching at the door and the low whine of a dog.
“There’s Nero,” said the Doctor. “Let him in.” T TIS sister opened the door to admit the shaggiest
-*■ and most melancholy dog that ever walked on four legs. Without so much as a wag of his tail, he took one look at his master and rolled over on the floor by the fire as if life’s burdens were really too much for him to bear much longer. His sadness was perhaps a business asset to the Doctor, because, when a medical practitioner is as jovial as old Jellybud, it is just as well to have a dog that is always on the brink of tears.
He used to accompany his master on all his journeys, running behind the gig with his shaggy head just between the two hind wheels which spattered him constantly with mud. And; being an object of particular animosity to other canines, who apparently regarded his melancholy as a personal affront, his progress through the village was considerably harassed by all and sundry mongrels who waged guerilla warfare on him, while the Doctor would brandish his whip and threaten them with tortures unending.
“Well, Nero,” said the Doctor, “how’s the weather?”
The dog uttered a dismal groan as though that were the one subject which he could not bear to hear mentioned.
“Nero’s in a good humor this morning,” said the happy little Doctor. “And now, m’dear, if you have the present for the Widow McGregor, and that leg of mutton we don’t want, for old Ned Clarke, I’ll just tell the man to harness up and then be off on my rounds.”
“I wish you wouldn’t go, Octavius dear. There’s going to be a storm.”
“Bless your sweet face,” said the Doctor, producing his pipe, “that’s the very reason I must go. Those poor souls always get worse when the sky’s clouding up and there’s a nasty bite in the air.”
IF Doctor Jellybud’s dog was a creature of melancholy, his horse was a quadruped that would have earned a fortune for an undertaker. He was a large beast of fabulous age and, though he ate enough for three dray-horses, was all angles and corners. On the outward journeys away from home, he made a tremendous show, tossing his head and heaving his flanks, fhrugh in reality going just a little slower than a fast walk. But, when the day’s rounds were complete, and the Doctor’s gig was definitely set for home, the old horse would get right down to business, covering so much ground with his long, ungainly stride that the little red-wheeled gig used to bob from side to side to the immediate peril of the Doctor and any passing pedestrian who did not allow sufficient leeway. As for Nero—it must ever remain a mystery how he escaped decapitation. . . . But perhaps a life of such daily jeopardy may have accounted for his dejected condition of mind.
The horse was named Socrates (out of respect to the learned lineage of the Jellybud family) and was unfortunate enough to be blind in his right eye. Being possessed, however, of an inordinate curiosity that only ripened with age, (and such is the perverseness of human affairs that most incidents of interest happened on his left side) it resulted that Socrates was frequently facing the opposite way in which he was going.
In fact as Doctor Jellybud would drive down the street with Nero, the dog, in mournful faithfulness between the rear wheels, and Socrates turning his head almost completely around, the impression one received was that the family practitioner was actually consulting with his horse concerning the treatment to be administered to the sick of Windbridge.
/'"'VN the morning, therefore, that this narrative commences, the Doctor bade good-bye to his sister, who had been packing into the gig various little presents for people, “just things she didn’t want”—as if she were affluent instead of being forced to economize on every shilling—and with much clattering of hoofs from Socrates, who seemed to be trying to devise a new step for the horn-pipe, and a dismal groan from Nero, the equipage made its stately way through the village. Seated on the very high seat of the absurd little gig, and, as I have said, with the mysterious black bag in full view of the populace, the Doctor acknowledged the hearty greetings of the few who were abroad on that bleak December morning, with a cordiality tempered by consciousness of his exalted position.
Arriving without mishap at the Widow McGregor’s (unless it could be counted as such when the chemist’s dog had made a rush at Nero and very nearly succeeded in embroiling him with the glaring red spokes) the Doctor carefully tied Socrates to a post and, walking around the gig, entered the miserable little garden— the horse endeavoring to follow his circuitous progress
with his good eye until a strangling sensation taught him that he couldn’t turn a complete circle with his neck.
“Good morning to you, Madam,” said the Doctor, as a tired woman, whose face was threaded with wrinkles, opened the door, “I hope I see you hearty.”
“Ah, no, Doctor. I amna’ hairty. Fair froom it.” “Tut, tut, Madam,” said the visitor, taking a seat in a bare, dingy room and rubbing his hands jovially together, “you’re looking the very picture of health.” “Then it dinna tak much for to mak a pictur,” was the miserable response. “Ah’m feeling sair bad, for ’tis a raw morning and I canna’ afford but little fire.” “I am sorry to hear that,” began the Doctor, “very -”
“Aye—sympathy’s a’ verra well but it doesna bur-r-rn. It taks a’ my earnings for to pay old Flint the rent. He raised it on me last week again, and me a puir widder.”
The Doctor grew so red in the face with anger, and so short of breath with its suppression, that he was forced to stand up to permit the proper circulation.
“Flint,” said he, forcefully, “is a scoundrel. A double-dyed, double-damned scoundrel.”
“Aye,” said Mrs. McGregor dreayily, “but throwin’ stanes dinna heat the hoose.”
“I tell you what, Madam,” said the family physician, “if that fellow isn’t very careful, he’ll meet with a painful accident some of these days. I don’t want to startle you, Madam, but when I was younger I once took on Bruiser Jones, a professional pugilist. I won’t say what I did to him—I was young and impetuous in those days—but 'Bruiser wras never the same man again. No sir—I mean, no, Madam.” “Aye,” agreed the widow with a doleful sigh, “we was all young once, though you wouldna’ ken it to look at me the noo.”
“Mrs. McGregor,” said the Doctor, in the manner which had so nearly been the undoing of the Ensign in the Bloodandthunderers, “I remember when you came to the village from Scotland more than thirty years ago. ‘By gad!’ I said, ‘There’s a woman.’ Those were the very words—‘There’s a woman,’ and by gad! You don’t look a day older now.”
“Then your eyesight is muckle wairse than it should be,” was the gracious response.
“By-the-by,” said Jellybud, remembering the professional nature of his visit, “be sure and sleep with your window open, eat plenty of porridge and. . . . dear me! where did I leave that bag?—oh there it is. I have a bottle of port wine here, which I want to get rid of in case I’m tempted to drink it. Would you believe it, Madam, an inch of that wine in the bottom of a glass, and Doctor Jellybud would join his predecessor in the cemetery.” He produced the bottle from the bag and handed it to her. “Will you accept it, Mrs. McGregor?” he said, appealingly.
“Aye. Beggars canna’ be choosers: but it’s a puir drink compared wi’ whuskey. Hae ye an opener-— and we’ll just sample it after the manner of speakin’.” Doctor Jellybud had an opener, and in a second he had extracted the cork and the good lady poured two generous portions into two cracked glasses.
“Mrs. McGregor,” said the Doctor, not at all like a man who was about to drink the Hemlock and end his
Note.—In this novelette, published complete herewith, Mr. Baxter has written a Christmas story that will entertain and delight every reader. Mr. Baxter is a young Canadian writer who is rapidly coming to the forefront.
A novel of Mr. Baxter s, “The Parts Men Play,“ will start in an early issue of MACLEAN’S.
days on earth, “I wish you a Merry Xmas.”
“Aye,” said'the old woman, “it’s a fou’ wish when a widder’s as puir as me, but I thank ye for the spurrit which prompts it.”
TT was not necessary to drive to old Ned Clarke’s A tumble-down cottage as it was only a few steps from where the Widow McGregor lived, so hurrying to his door the energetic little Doctor gave a brisk doubleknock. It was opened by a very old man in shabby clothes, whose large face, once lit with a certain rugged good humor, had grown dull with fading faculties and the ugly companionship of poverty. He was a man of nearly ninety years of age, but with a frame so strong, that, though it was a little bent from age, it refused to yield to the siege of dimming memory and dulling mind.
“Good morning, Ned,” said the Doctor, “I hope I find you well.”
“I cannot complain,” said the other in a deliberate, heavy voice that pronounced every syllable distinctly as though he were conscious that the work of his mind might be slow but he would make it thorough, “though it be cold, and my old bones aching just a little with the damp morning.” He led the way into the cottage and indicated a chair for his visitor. “But it will not be long now, Doctor, for I be growing old and no use to no one. I’m a weary, tired man as will be very glad when Ins time has coom.”
“My dear sir,” said the Doctor, “you have years of life in you yet. Why the village wouldn’t be the same without you. Bless my heart, take Ned Ciarke from Windbridge, and what remains? There’s a riddle for you. How long have you lived here, Ned?”
“Sixty year and a little better; ever since I hurt my leg in the Navy and was sent ashore. You wouldn’t know Windbridge in them days, Doctor. Where the Chapel be now, there were a scaff’ld, and one day 1 see a man hanged there. Ah, I see’d him. There he hanged for more’n a week, but he had killed another, and ’tis writ in Holy Scripter that. . . . that. . . . My memory bean’t what it were but I recall his hanging, and the Good Book says something that makes it all right. But I remember thinking at the time that it were a rare, awful thing to hang a man. Shoot him, or drown him; but hanging’s a choky business and bean’t a proper sight for women and children to see.”
“Your cottage is cold here, Ned.”
“Yes, Doctor, it do be chillsome, but then I’m a hardy fellow spite of my ninety year coom this May, though I don’t go for to say but that a bit of fire would be a kindly thing.”
“Have you no coal or firewood?”
“Yes, a little. But I must save it for the days when my old bones ache worse’n to-day, for I be too bad in the back now for to cut the bush ; though I do say that it’s a pleasant thing for an old man to sit with his pipe and listen to the logs a’ blazing in the fire. But I cannot complain, Doctor, even if it do come hard to move from this cot next fortnight, and me not knowing where to go, unless into the work’us, which goes again' my feelings arter fighting all these years for to die independent like.”
T'VOCTOR JELLYBUD took out a pair of spectacles and adjusted them on the very tip of his nose. » “Ned,” he said calmly, though his face was purple, “why are you leaving here?”
The old man slowly tapped the arm of his chair with his hand.
“It be Master Flint, Doctor,” he said. “He has» raised the rent five bob a month more, and no matter how I scrape I cannot go for to meet it.”
The Doctor took his glasses off the end of his nose and put thçm back in the case. He then produced a very large handkerchief and wiped his brow, stopping in the act suddenly and brandishing a fist within an inch of Ned Clarke’s nose.
“Ned,” he said, tensely, “do you see that?”
“Yezzir,” replied the old man. “What be you going to dowith it?”
“Never mind, sir, never mind,” said the Doctor, plunging the fist beneath the tails of his coat, and tossing them violently up and down. “All I can säy to Mr. Flint is that I don’t envy him— that’s all. By the way, Ned,” the little man’s fury had subsided as swiftly as it had come, “here’s a leg of mutton which my sister bought, forgetting that neither of us can abide mutton. She was wondering if you’d mind taking in so that it wouldn’t be wasted.”
“Doctor,” said Clarke, slowly, “you and your sister be a very kindly pair. It’s my opinion as people like you, that just keep doing for poor folk, has as» good a chance up yonder on the quai'ter* deck, as them long-faced chapel people as keeps on praying for them but don’t go for to do nothing but pray.’" “But, ray dear sir,” said Jellybud, “that mutton would be wasted. It’s nothing but that. And now B must be off—sleep with your window open?”
“I do, Doctor, I be a man as likes to feel o’ the opera air upon his face.”
“That’s right. Well, Ned, my boy, a Merry Xmas.’" “Thank you, Doctor, and I’ll take it kindly of you to give that there same wish to your sister, from an oldS man whose time has almost coom. This be my last winter, Doctor, for I can see the signal flying at the mast.”
“Tut, tut, Ned—you’ll be the pride of the village for another ten years.”
“P’r’aps yes—p’r’aps no, Doctor; though I do take it bad for to leave Windbridge now, as Master Flint be forcing me to do. It were sixty year and a little better when I coren here first. You wouldn’t have snowed the village ,n them days. Where the Chapel be now, there were a scaff’ld, and one uay I see’d a man banged there.”
\I/TTH a growing indignation that threatened to * * burst a blood vessel in his head, Doctor Octavius Jellybud completed his morning rounds, dispensing a very little medical advice, a great deal of cheeriness, and generally contributing towrards the good of men with that sublime art of philanthropia, w'hich Lord Bacon attributes to the ancient Greeks. Nor did the threats which he breathed against the períun of one, Josephus Flint, Esq., of “The Oaks,” in any way impair his sympathy for the forlorn of 'Windbridge. On the contrary, he mixed gentleaess and violence and boisterous good humor in the same vial and produced a remedy w'hich would have made a fortune for him if he could have put it on the market.
He had just spent fifteen minutes with Mrs. Green, wrhose trouble with her husband Joe was one of those offsprings of poverty, a state supposed by comfortable philosophers to be a very good one for people w'ho are used to it; and he had hurried down the road to arrange with Sam Heeling about the Xmas music (the Doctor’s voice being the kind that can sing bass, tenor or alto, according to wherever there was a shortage) when the lowering clouds warned him that the storm would not hold off much longer.
For a full minute he debated with himself whether to go home or carry out his original plan of visiting Barbara Flint.
After the manner of a man who is undecided he gazed at the clouds and shook his head ; then he looked at Socrates and frowned; after that he looked up the road and then down it, as if the solution might appear unexpectedly from either source; then he clambered into the gig with a look of implacable determination.
“One more run, Socrates,” he said.
‘Out to ‘The Oaks,’ then back home.”
A FTER ten minutes of protest on the L part of Socrates, which resulted in the horse, gig, and Doctoigoing round and round in a circle (while Nero followed patiently between the rear wheels under the impression that he was covering a considerable amount of ground) they started off suddenly at a very good clip for the distant dwelling of Josephus Flint.-
But to get to “The Oaks,” it wras necessary to pass “The Briars,” which was the dwelling place of that worthy soul, Jacob Funnle, County Magistrate and prince of Othellos. “The Briars” was one of the pleasantest places imaginable, with great fireplaces that made merry with logs, a den with beam ceilings, a kitchen in which game were always hanging from the hooks. . . . And there was no denying it Funnle was the one man in the village who could give the Doctor a contest at Cribbage. It was their custom to wager half-a-crown on a game, and rivalry was so intense that the inhabitants of Windbridge could always tell next day by their faces, who had lost and who had won.
Nevertheless, Doctor Jellybud had a conscience, and like most honest men, was afraid of it. It was his habit to declare that working hours were working hours, and that the time of play must on no account interfere with them. Therefore, he determined with a capital D that even if it were a disagreeable, raw morning, and even if Funnle’s chimneys were throwing sparks into the air, he would not listen to their Siren melody. As it was impossible to follow the plan of Ulysses and strap himself to the gig, he emulated Orpheus, and, looking away from the temptation, sang lustily along the country road a chorus, w'hich, if it did not exactly offer praises to thegods, was not without its holy aspect, being all about a friar.
But he had forgotten that, included in the seductions of The Briars, ’ there was an exceedingly comfortable stable there where two Md friends of Socrates were ending their days in wpt ¿fed contentment. Therefore, it happened when tl-ty d«ídway leading into Funnle’s home was reached,c activas stopped so suddenly that Nero, whose i something else, kept right
on up t* 2ls.
“Well, Ned, a Merry Xmas.”-
“I wish you the same, Doctor, and thank you kindly.”
“Now, Socrate3,” said the Doctor, “none of that.”
Being a philosopher, the horse remained calm, merely turning around as usual by the longest route to bring his good eye to bear on the speaker.
“Come on, Socrates,” said Doctor Jellybud, brandishing the whip. “There can’t be two masters on a job like this.”
As an illustration that only certain types can be trusted with the truth, the horse no sooner heard this sagacious remark than he apparently determined to be the one master, himself, and turning headlong into the driveway, actually galloped the whole distance to the stables.
“Now then, you scoundrel,” said the Doctor, puffing hard from the unexpected jolting, “you’re a nice, grateful beast, aint you? After all these years I’ve kept you in oats, you go and do a trick like that.”
The further feelings of the horse were spared by the simultaneous appearance of Funnle and the groom, the former taking charge of the Doctor, and the latter unharnessing the horse.
“Well, Jellybud,” said the Magistrate, “what ill wind
brings you here? Isn’t the undertaker getting enough to do these days?”
“Funnle,” said the Doctor, as they cordially shook hands, “I believe you’d rather die than have the Doctor earn an honest pound physicking you.”
“What’s the use of giving him an honest pound? He’d only lose it at Cribbage.”
“Lose, my dear Funnle? Did you say lose?” \ The Doctor grew quite indignant at the thought. “I would say that betting money against Jacob Funnle at Cribbage should be listed as a safe investment for widows and orphans.”
For a moment the Magistrate, who was tall and could look very fierce on occasion, stared haughtily at his guest, while his whiskers, which ended half way down his face, seemed to bristle outwards with condensed fury. Satisfying himself, however, with a scornful laugh, he permitted hospitality to prevail, and led the Doctor into the aforesaid den with the beam ceilings.
“That’s a fire,” said Jellybud, rubbing his hands together jovially, and chuckling at the merry noise of the flames roaring up the chimney.
“Then,” said the host, making a poor pretence at seeming casual, “what do you say to a game by it?”
“No,” said the Doctor.
“No, Funnle, not even one. Business -”
“Anything but fiddlesticks, my dear sir. My rule of life is: work hard, loaf hard, sleep hard—but never two at the same time. By the way, I hope you sleep with your window open? That's the secret of health; very little spirits, very little ’baccy, and on no account any port
wine. One inch of port-”
“That reminds me,” said Funnle, “I want you to try a new weed. A fellow in the Mall sold it to me last month when I was to Town, and attributed all the graces of Ambrosia to it. Here’s the bowl and pipe all waiting for you.”
“Thank you, old fellow,” said the Doctor. “Now I call that real thoughtful of you.”
“Not at all, Jellybud. Now draw your chair up nearer the fire and .... what do you say to
one game at half-a-crown?”
“No, sir,” said the Doctor, heroically, “can’t be done. As a matter of fact, I came in here to-day to ask your advice. You’re a Justice of the Peace, aint you?”
“I am,” said the other, with dignity.
“Well, Funnle, I’m going to break it.”
“Eh?” said the host, somewhat startled. “Oh, I see: you are going to disturb his Majesty’s Peace, are you?” “As to that,” said the Doctor, uncomfortably, “there’s no more loyal subject alive than me, but if the peace belongs to him, then I’m a Dutchman if I don’t break it, even if they smother me in the Tower for it.”
“You had better be careful, sir,” said Jacob Funnle, Esq., of “The Briars,” rising to his feet, buttoning his coat, adjusting his spectacles, and generally managing to look-every inch a Magistrate. “What is the casus belli?”
“Flint,” said the Doctor.
“Oh,” said the Magistrate, taking off his spectacles. “What’s he up to now?”
“Raised the rent on Widow McGregor, Ned Clarke, Sam Heeling and Joe Green,” said the Doctor, so forcefully that he was almost lifted clean out of his chair.
“Now, I call that,” said Funnle, undoing two buttons of his coat, “a rascally thing to do.”
“It’s a downright, damnable, dirty, evil, murdering trick,” cried Doctor Jellybud, “and when Flint and me meets—then watch for sparks.”
“Now', just a minute,” said the other, puffing thoughtfully and doing up one of the two liberated buttons. “What are you thinking of doing?”
“Doing,” cried the Doctor. “I’m going to call and give him a piece of my mind. Then, if he won’t reduce those rents, why, damme! I’ll pulverize him: I’ll make him an interesting anatomical study for medical students. Did you ever hear of ‘Bruiser’ Jones?” Jacob Funnle, who had taken a seat, rose once again, replaced the spectacles, and re-hooked the Magisterial button.
“Jellybud,” said he, frowning tremendously, “there is about you poco di motto. You have the presumption to come to me with this threat of violence to one of His Majesty’s subjects, forgetting that virtute officii, I could commit you at once for conspiracy. Remember, as the ancients had it: verbum aat sapienti, which in vulgar parlance, means that a wink is as good as a nod. As a Magistrate my duty is clear; as one who is not indifferent to the claims of long acquaintanceship, I advise via media, in other words, ‘take another coach.’ It is sine quâ non, that you have the law on your side, for if it be against you, a traveller on the Desert of Sahara were better able to escape the rays of the sun, than you to elude the long grip of JUSTICE!”
A FTER this imposing oration, Jacob Funnle, Esq., removed his glasses, unbottoned his coat, lit his pipe and sat down.
“When do the new rents start, Jellybud?” he said, amiably.
“Next week .... Boxing Day,” answered the Doctor, who had not quite recovered from the awful feeling that the law was chasing him over the Rocky Mountains.
“Then, look you, old fire-eater, we’ll think over this together.”
“And while we’re thinking,” said the Doctor, his indignation driving away his fear, “Widow McGregor is freezing, and old Ned Clarke has no roof to cover his head.”
“H’mm,” mused the Magistrate, “Jellybud, you old fire-brand, there’s my hand on it that I’ll join you in any scheme—providing it does not break one of His Majesty’s statutes—that will bring Master Flint to his senses. But I demand one condition.”
The Doctor frowned dubiously. “What is it?” he asked.
“That you don’t do anything to Flint until we discuss it further.”
“Very good, old fellow,” said the Doctor, shaking hands with the utmost heartiness, “though I was all keyed up to a bout with the villain. I’ll never forget the third round against ‘Bruiser’-”
“Well, now that that’s settled,” said the Magistrate, “what do you say to one game? And seeing that it’s the Xmas season, shall we make it three bob instead of half-a-crown?”
“As to that,” said the Doctor, refilling his pipe, “I suppose you are entitled to your revenge.”
“Revenge?” said the other with a sneer. “Why, last month my housemaid, Jennie, threatened to leave my service, all of having to gather up half-crowns left here by a certain Doctor. And as for my dog ‘Prince,’ he went thin as a lath, ruining his digestion with eating ’em.”
The Doctor produced his glasses and sat them on the very tip of his nose, not that his eyes needed any assistance, but it served to check the eruption of temper.
“Funnle,” he said, more in sadness than in anger, “I am sorry to say it of a friend, but you are not telling the truth.”
For a moment there was an intense silence, charged with explosive matter, but the host’s fiery face gradually melted into a grin and his whiskers drooped on his face like sails that are becalmed.
“What will you have to drink, old spit-fire?” he said.
“Damme!” said the Doctor, his face glowing with complete and contagious good humor. “Give me a glass of port.”
A S has been stated, Windbridge lay at the bottom of a hill. Being thus sheltered from the wind, and as there was no place for a bridge anywhere, doubtless those two facts gave birth to the village’s name—it being a good old English custom to call places after features that do not exist, quite as frequently as after things that do.
But the men who first led the village destiny down hill were not lacking in wisdom, for the winds that rose from the sea and swept the downs that stretched for fifteen miles inland, were cold and biting in most months of the year, but especially so when the forces of winter advanced to wrestle earth from the lethargy of autumn.
At least, so thought a solitary traveller who was •wending his way up the long up-and-down road that stretched from the coast to the County Town, ten miles beyond Windbridge. It was a miserable December morning, too sulky to snow, too lazy to rain, but determined, like the dog in the manger, that the sun wouldn’t be given a chance whatever happened. The sky was dark and sullen with heavy, grey clouds, and the sea, which has no mind of its own but always borrows its mood from the heavens, was like swirling lead.
The traveller was a young man, dressed in a style which spoke of decent country family rather than that of a man about town; with boots that were good, sturdy ones and, like his brown hands, intended for use. With his cloak thrown over his shoulder, and carrying a stick and knapsack, he was covering a good four English miles an hour while his breath on the raw morning air appeared like steam.
Every now and then when he reached the top of a rise (and the road from the sea to the County Town is a series of camel’s humps), he would pause and gaze at the bleak vista of the downs. If the sister elements of air and water were dull and cheerless, the sight of those blue, charred stretches with miserable growth of stubble, could not have been much more enlivening.
As far as the eye could see, there was no sign of life except where a lonely cottage huddled against a slope as though its owner were an ex-hangman eating out his days in remorse. And to add to the general eeriness of the scene, the wind was howling and moaning in chromatic rise and fall like a ghostly orchestra of murdered clarionet players.
CpHE young man was within three miles of Windbridge when the truce of the elements was broken, and a drizzling rain began to fall—not the kind of rain which comes down in an honest, straightforward manner, but one that watches its chances and creeps under coat collars, and trickles down the neck, or slides off a hat onto the nose; the kind of rain that loves to hide in the sleeves, or ooze into some crack between the sole and uppers of a boot .... A miserable, slinking rain that knew it had no business there at all in December, but was determined to cause as much discomfort as possible before the slumbering Spirit of Winter woke and did its duty.
Buttoning his cloak around him, and pulling his hat down to cover his face (which was a manly, sunburned one) the traveller stepped out more briskly than before and not pausing at any hills, reached the last slope which led him to the cross-roads.
And at its summit he paused.
The cross-roads were like the twisted prongs of a fork; one prong going to the left and leading to the County Town ; another ambling straight on and then, by a sort of practical joke, making a gradual detour to the right and taking you back to the sea again, while a third stole furtively to the right for half a mile where it abruptly dipped and pulled up short at Windbridge, hidden from view below.
Continued on page 90
Continued from page 22
To aid distracted travellers, a signpost all bent with age was stuck in the very centre of the cross-roads, with its left arm declaring that the County Town was somewhere near the North Star, and its right that Windbridge lay buried in the bowels of the earth.
Perhaps it was the perplexity of those who journeyed that way, which prompted some philanthropic soul, many decades before, to erect an inn on the spot, where direction and refreshment could be obtained. At any rate, there it stood, all by itself, a fine little stony, door-andhinges sort of place, with a snug little bar just inside the door, and queer dark rooms hidden all over the place, and pretty little casement windows meant to be looked out of by pretty blue eyes —or brown ones either, for that matter.
Unfortunately, like most of the best little inns of England, The Fiddlers Three boasted an evil past. It is a discouraging fact that wickedness in both families and public houses seems a better foundation than good behaviour; for the gentlemen who write on social reform are always telling us that our oldest families were a bad lot in the time of Ethelbert the Unready, or Boadicea; and certainly the snuggest and pleasantest taverns in deserted spots of the country usually seem to have attracted and harbored all the wandering vagabonds of the district, in the past.
There wTas no question of it but The Fiddlers Three, when it was owned by Patrick O’Flynn (who was hanged by mistake in 1827, but richly deserved it) was in league with both smugglers and highwaymen. It, had been his custom to keep a look-out across the downs and, if he saw travellers approaching, put a light in the Western window to acquaint the gentlemen of the road of the fact. And when the Excise men would drop in for a glass of grog before going down to Perkins’ cove to try and' catch the smugglers who were known to use it, Patrick showed a red light in an Eastern window—and never a smuggler would be caught that night.
T T was in later and more peaceful times
however, that our lonely traveller paused to survey The Fiddlers Three, which was standing apparently deserted and strangely quiet in the drip-dripdrip of the rain. Not a movement could be seen about the inn; not the chortle of a single fowl .... not the yelp of a restless dog.
From a chimney at the back of the house a thin stream of smoke was emerging into the soaking air, and walking towards it the traveller came to a covered driving shed where a solitary figure was sitting on a barrel.
“Hello,” «aid the young man, halting his investigations.
The other made no reply, but picking up a stick proceeded to whittle it with « knife. He was dressed in a blue ■mock with pantaloons that were far too large for him but which were tied at the ankles to prevent them getting underneath his boots. Although his face was young, there was a weak beard of several months’ growth on his chin, and hto large colorless eyes, gleaming from nebulous depths, lacked focus so that his gaze seemed to expand like the rays rf a lantern and to surround rather than «••centrate on what he looked.
“Hello,” said the stranger again.
“Follow the sparks,” said the other, pausing in his whittling and speaking hi a far-away, breathy voice: “Watch
'eta Goming from the chimneys .... Follem the sparks; they’ll lead you to it. What’s your name?”
He appeared to lose interest in the question as soon as asked, and carefully •acamining the stick in his hand, resumed his occupation.
The young man smiled, and putting town his knapsack, sat on an old box ia the yard.
“What’s your name?” repeated the torange figure without looking up. “If
Çxu’ve got no name they can’t bury you.
•u must have one to put on the tombstone or the coach will never find you.” The stranger sucked at an unfilled
“Have you got a name?” he asked. “Ah—that I have, Jack Fish ....
poor Jack Fish. Come here -” He
beckoned to the other and solemnly tapged^his own head with the handle of the
“Queer,” he whispered. “Something wrong inside. Don’t tell no one.”
The stranger nodded sympathetically. “They laugh at me,” said the poor tollow, measuring the stick against his arm and frowning profoundly. “They say poor Jack Fish sees things. Ha, ha! They don’t be far wrong there. Sees 'em and hears ’em too. Do you know where they keep the ghosts of old stage coaches?”
“Do you know that on Xmas Eve the ouachmen and guards, them that s dead, I mean, harness ’em up and ride over to country blowing horns and cracking whips .... Did you ever hear that afore?”
The visitor shook his head and the laughed softly to himself, both his «'«tee and shining eyes full of the Mysticism of his disordered fantasies.
“Jack Fish,” he moaned, suddenly breaking off from his laugh and clasping his head with his hands as though •truck with pain. “Poor .... Jack .... Ftoh. That’s what they call me.” He ‘looked up vacantly, then took up his kaife and stick once more. “They laugh at me and say I sees things—ah, and 'em too—but when I meets 'em a« a dark night and tells 'em that if you catch the sounds of wheels on Xmas »ve a-grinding on the road, and horses ■tottering hard .... and if there aint n* -wheels nor horses neither .... Then I tells ’em that before another Xmas ownes they will be dead. Listen -”
He leaned over to the stranger and Us voice was low and had the effect of Metance.
"Before another Xmas comes,” he re-
rited, “you’re dead. They bury you a cemetery with your name writ on a stone—but the sparks will find you. They’ll follow the sparks. . . . follow tfe« sparks. And when I tells ’em that, a, dark night, they say ‘Poor Jack Fish, but I see 'em hurrying away with ««ir eyes all fearsome, and they never •tops until they’re inside and locked the toors secure.”
nUITH a quiet laugh he whittled for a , few minutes, while the stranger, noticing that his pipe was unfilled, took a pouch from the knapsack and remedied deficiency.
“On Xmas Eve,” went on the idiot after a few minutes’ silence, “the coachman always comes out of their graves and harnesses up the old Brighton Coach. Then they watches where the •parks goes and comes out of chimneys, and follows them to the graveyards. At midnight they blows their horn and all the merry gentlemen come out of their graves .... them as used to smuggto by sea, and them as robbed on the roads by night, and them that was
pirates a-cutting men’s throats and hanging them up in the sun all day to rot. . . . Merry gentlemen, I calls 'em. And at midnight every Xmas Eve, they gather for some rum and 'baccy and a merry time they has laughing over the days when they was alive. But where do you think they come?”
The stranger shook his head.
“Here,” said the idiot, triumphantly, “right here at The Fiddlers Three. I let ’em in. They don't mind poor Jack Fish—I let ’em in.”
As if he had wasted too much time already, the half-wit resumed his work with such energy that the air was full of flying bits of the stick; while the stranger, apparently lost in his own thoughts, sat silently puffing his pip«, as the dreary rain covered the roof of the shed and dripped drearily through the cracks.
“Where’s Windbridge, Jack?” asked the stranger, after a considerable pause.
“Go along the road,” said the other, without looking up, “Roll down the hill, take two turns and a jump and beware of the dog!”
The other nodded. “That’s the road there?” he queried.
“Ah,” said the idiot, “it might be, if it aint moved. I heard some of the chimneys saying as how they was thinking of moving farther down hill.”
“Jack,” said the other, abruptly, “where does Josephus Flint live?”
The idiot put down the stick and laughed softly to himself.
“I seen him yesterday on the road,” he said, checking his mirth, “all doubled up and snarling like a dog. ‘Get away Jack Fish,’ he sez, all frighted and shaking his fist at me. ‘You bring bad luck.’ ‘I do,' I sez, ‘for the merry gentlemen will have you this very Xmas Eve and take you back with ’em to their graves.’ And away he run—down the road with his stick knocking the pebbles all ways, with him yelling as how I lied and the devil was in me, and as long as I stood there laughing, he was going hickety-hump, hickety-hump like as if the grave-diggers was after him.”
DURING this recital, the stranger appeared more interested, and at its finish rose and stretched his arms. “Which is Flint’s house?” he asked.
The idiot pointed vaguely towards the road which led to the County Town. “Follow the sparks,” he said.
“Is that it?—where the smoke's coming out .... away over the fields there ?” The half-wit looked and nodded his head.
“Perhaps it is,” he said, grudgingly, “but the merry gentlemen will have him this Xmas Eve.”
The stranger adjusted his cloak once more, and, shaking his hat to clear it of moisture, he replaced it on his head. “Good-bye, Jack,” he said.
But the figure in the smock w^s gazing at the stick which was by that time little more than the size of a pencil, apparently trying to recall the use for which he had intended it. When h© reached the road the stranger looked back, but the poor fellow was sitting there, still lost in some fantastic reverie of his tired, useless brain.
THE dwelling of Josephus Flint lay back from the road surrounded by great trees that kept the place in constant shade. It was a gloomy, lonely house, and even at night, when other places were bright with light, the dark¡ ness of the house would be broken only by a single lamp moving about wherever the miserly owner went.
Josephus Flint was not a man to have guests to his home, and in his turn he never visited anyone, so that “The Oaks,” as his house was called, was more like a gloomy fortress under siege than a dwelling place for human beings. Yet it was notorious that Flint had money—rumor in her extravagance had it that he was fabulously rich—but be that as it may, his fortune was considerable and grew little less for any spending he might do.
By dint of reaching here and clawing there he had succeeded in acquiring the ownership of nearly all the poorer dwelling places of Windbridge, bÿ reason of which he was able, like a Spaniard tor1 turing’ prisoners on the wrack, to squeeze and turn the handle of his power until his name had become a thing of detestation. On the few occasions that he ventured through the streets of the village he was greeted with malignant scowls and muttered imprecations, but they only served to add fuel to the burning flames of his greed and to convince him further of his rare shrewdness.
Perhaps, as has been predicted more than once, he would have been brought to task by some of the more adventurous spirits such as Doctor Jellybud, if it had not been that in addition to his other wealth, the old miser possessed a daughter who inspired an affection which was no less general than the dislike for her father. There was absolutely no reason why a shrivelled, whining, yellow-faced fellow like Flint should have a daughter like Barbara. Eugenically it was all wrong .... But there she was and there was no denying her, even if anyone wanted to.
Though she was only allowed from the house on a Sunday morning, or on the very rarest occasions when the choir in which she sang might perhaps be holding some secular celebration, (as even the most serious choirs do every now and then) she always looked as fresh and dainty as if such things as a miserly father and a great, creaky, lonely house were completely unknown to her.
Barbara Flint was not a tall, imposing girl—I don’t suppose anyone would ever speak of her as ‘Queenly’-—on the contrary, her brown curls were just about the height of a man’s shoulder (which is the proper height for brown curls to be), and her eyes were a mischievous, twinkling pair of twins that no sooner looked at a man than everything would go out of his head and he would be forced to lower his own eyes. Not that that was much refuge, for it only brought you to Barbara’s mouth— a coaxing, tantalizing affair altogether —and as it was quite impossible to look for any length of time at it without completely losing one’s presence of mind, it was necessary to leave there too. But whether it was her snowy, rounded neck, or blue-tipped fingers, or her quite bewildering waist, looking at Barbara Flint was very trying for masculine eyes. It wasn’t even safe to lower one’s eyes to the floor for there were Barbara’s ankles—and, as Doctor Jellybud once said .... But, then, he was a bit of a dog in his day.
In fact, the only safe way to talk to Barbara Flint was to stare straight at the ceiling—but then who wanted to stare at a ceiling if they could look at Barbara instead?
But there had come a change.
TN a moment of generosity, or whatever
ingredient passed for that in old Flint’s system, he had allowed her to visit her uncle in Surrey. When the bird returned to its cage the eyes were no longer spai-kling but pensive; the tantalizing mouth drooped, and the roses in her cheeks changed tb lilies. Gossip speculated; conjecture waxed eloquent; but she confided to no one and it is hardly to be expected that her father, blind with greed to all the pleasant things of life, would notice the loss of the roses from his daughter’s face.
Week by week she grew more quiet and thoughtful, but if possible more lovely than before. It is perfectly surprising what a charming effect can be given to a pretty face by its owner thinking .... And even more surprising when one remembers how seldom this beauty ruse is adopted by the fair ones of the land.
But, though prettier than ever, Barbara grew mere and more like an imprisoned bird pining for the open meadows .... like a flower that summer's departing spirit has forgotten to call.
npHUS to the gloomy fortress of “The Oaks,” with its drooping prisoner, came the stranger of the downs. Walking up the unused drive-way, as still as the tomb, he knocked firmly at the door, the noise startling a whole community of birds into an indignant chatter and bringing an echo from a deserted stable.
After he had repeated the knock a third time he heard a shuffling step with an undoing of a chain, the unlocking of a padlock, and the slow withdrawal of a bolt. After this disarmament the door, which creaked horribly in protest, was opened and an old retainer whose hair was so thin that his head seemed covered with cob-webs, peered through the crevice.
“Go ’way,” he said in a quivering, cracked voice. “Ye have no business here. Go ’way.”
The young man quietly advanced his foot against the door.
“I want to see Miss Barbara,” he said.
“Go ’way,” repeated the servant, coughing querulously with the effort of speech. “Mas’r Flint’s orders: ye be begging, I know. No beggars; no beggars. He has nought to give. Go ’way.”
With this hearty welcome the old man tried to close the door but the stranger stopped it with his foot and then, rather roughly, put his shoulder against it with the result that it swung back abruptly, pinning the old servitor against the wall with only his hands and feet showing in convulsive movements like a drowning man struggling to swim.
“Here,” said the impetuous invader,” “come out, and listen to me. See this half-crown? That’s for you if you tell Miss Barbara that Jerry wants to speak with her. I’ll wait in this room to the right and if you don’t get that message to her at once, I’ll crack your old eggshell of a head.”
THE servant clutched the coin avar-*■ iciously, and grinning knowingly, shuffled down the dark hallway, murmuring strange sounds and wagging his yellow head at all angles to assure himself that it was still there and in good working order. The stranger moved into a great dreary room with dingy furniture covered by shabby upholstery, a grate that had known no coal for many winters, a long table in the centre with its contents covered by a cloth that looked like a shroud, and windows where the light was repelled by heavy curtains as though beneath the table cover there was someone lying dead.
With an impatient frown the visitor took in the appointments of the room, and undoing his cloak threw it back over his shoulders where the falling drops of rain still clinging to it made a litle pool in the worn-out carpet.
There was a light footstep on the stairway, a sudden glimpse of dimples, blushes, curls and twinkling feet, and an equally sudden encircling of their owner by a pair of particularly sturdy arms.
“Oh. Jerry,” said the young lady, speaking into the breast-pocket of his coat.
“Barbara,” said the stranger with his lips compressed against the brown curls.
As neither of them seemed to think that anything more need be said, they might have gone on indefinitely, with her apostrophizing the breast pocket, and him murmuring “Barbara” into the curls (and by no means a pastime to be sneered at either) if she had not been suddenly overcome with a combination of timidity and curiosity.
“Oh Jerry,” she whispered, “why have you come?”
“Barbara,” answered the stranger, and his voice went all wobbly with emotion, “I couldn’t live another day without you.”
“Oh, Jerry,” said Barbara sighing happily at this outrageous lie, although the young man was naturally honest and wouldn’t state what he didn’t believe, yet......well confound it,
you try holding in your arms, the sweetest little bit of femininity for a hundred miles in any direction and see if hyperbole doesn't creep in somewhere.
“Jerry,” said Barbara, looking up at him, and bringing her coaxing lips cruelly near his, “you must go away.”
“Never,” said the stranger.
At this point conversation ceased— but words are poor things at best, and if a young man in his twenties and a young lady, as fragrant and winsome as Barbara Flint, couldn’t find a better medium of expression than lan-
guage, then, the world was made for philosophers and not for lovers.
“.....But you must,” said Bar-
bara after a lengthy pause, speaking with that sublime irrelevancy of young 1 people who are able to take up the ! threads of a conversation at any time ; with an aplomb that would drive a memory expert into a paroxysm of envy.
“If I go away,” said the stranger, ¡ “you must come too. Listen, Barbara: j I tried to forget you, but ever since you visited your uncle I have been the miserablest man alive. I have endeavored to get interested in my farm—I went to town to try and forget. ... I even thought of going to Canada!”
“Oh Jerry!” said Barbara.
“Yes, I did,” said the other stoutly, “Red Indians or no Red Indians, I was j going there. But the more I thought of ' it all, the harder it was to forget you. | Oh, Barbara, dear, if you don’t want to see me go to the other end of the world ; and die a miserable bachelor, say that ; you love me and will be my wife.” (And ; Jacob Funnle in Lis most dramatic j moments never equalled the intensity of the young man’s voice as he uttered those words.)
“No, dear,” said Barbara, “you must ¡ go away.” Here she pressed his hand i very tightly, as if that made going away any easier. “Father would never consent, for you know I am only nineteen and besides there is no one to look after him.”
“Then bring him along, Barbara,” said Jerry. “From all I hear, he seems a surly bruto—excuse me speaking of | your father that way, my love—but ; when I see this horrible house and think how you are a prisoner in it, I would rather have him come and live with us than let you stay here one day longer than necessary.”
“Oh you would, would you?”
THE young people separated swiftly, as Josephus Flint uttered these words in a thin, quivering voice as though the bones in his threat were already losened bv death’s palsy and rattling in ghoulish anticipation of his approaching disintegration. Having been warned by his faithful servitor who was curiously devoted to the miser, he had crept towards the lovers, feeling every step with his stick before he ventured on it, with the result that he had arrived unperceived and just in time to hear the candid reference to his own charming disposition. He was a wrinkled, biscuit-colored man whose . very blood had grown miserly, and, refusing to flow freely through his veins, had left him open to periodical attacks of rheumatism caused by the damp, unaired rooms and the constant shadow in which both his mind and body lived. Although considerably bent from all this, and yellow of skin, a pair of piercing eyes and a strong, hooked nose kept
his appearance from senility......
lending an effect of smouldering vitality as a burning coal will often continue to glow when its fellows have become lifeless ashes.
“So you would take me with you,” said Mr. Flint, with a horrible rattle, | shaking his stick at the uninvited guest, while the old retainer who had acted as informer and had followed him into the room, rubbed his shrivelled hands and wagged his old egg of a head in great enjoyment of the scene. “You would he kindly to an old man just for nothing, eh? Not for his gold—oh no, not for his gold—nor neither for his houses bringing in good rent. ...” Here Mr. Flint grinned disagreeably, displaying a cracked tooth to the very best advantage. “Bringing in good rent,” he went on, sucking a breath in between the cracked tooth and its neighbor with an unearthly whistle, “and they’ll bring more too, mark ye. They can’t afford to buy and there’s no other houses to be had, so they'll pay Josephus Flint more and more. . . . and more......”
His voice ended in a cough and with difficulty he regained his breath. There was a cackle of laughter from the aged servant who tremblingly ran his fingers over his colorless lips as though the jest were so good he begrudged the escaping of any of it in merriment.
“Mr. Flint,” said the young man glancing for encouragement at Barbara’s beaming eyes, “I love your daughter. I have loved her now for many months and I cannot live without her.”
“Ah—he loves her,” sneered the miser but apparently speaking to no one in particular. “He didn’t know anything about her being an only child— nothing about her father’s money—oh no—nothing at all about the money. Hark’ee, Smithers—hark to him' raving about my daughter, and never a word about the money I’ve scraped and worked and starved and fought for. Hark’ee, Smithers.”
Thus appealed to, the old servant opened his mouth wide, and from its toothless interior came a faint, subterranean sound no louder than the meow of a kitten.
“Sir,” said the young man, “you wrong me cruelly. I don’t need a penny of your money'—Barbara is all I want.” At which statement the young lady mentioned cast such an affectionate glance upon him that further speech became quite impossible.
“The girl,” said the miser, “has no mind of her own. She’s only a chit of a thing and thinks as how every monkey-face that looks sweet at her, wants her for a wife. I know your game, young fellow. You’ve got a smooth tongue that can fool her, but you can’t come over Josephus Flint. He wasn’t born yesterday—no, nor the day before either. Eh, Smithers?”
“Mr. Flint,” said the young man, “I have asked Barbara to become my wife.”
“And I tell you,” cried the miser, his thin voice rising almost to a scream, “that she’ll not have you—and all your sneaking around here won’t get you further.”
“But,” said the young man, biting his lip with suppressed anger, “she can speak for herself. She’s old enough to know her own mind.”
“Nothing of the sort,” cried Flint. “She’s a child—a silly, brainless thing as every skulking hound that wants her father’s money tries to be sweet with.” “Oh Jerry,” said Barbara, wiping a tear from one of the twin jewels, “I think you had better go.”
“Never,” said Jerry, with a repetition of the before-mentioned hyperbole.
“Her advice is good,” sneered Josephus Flint; “the door works both ways and will let you out same as it let you in. So out you go, my strutting peacock, and don’t let me see your fine feathers about here no more unless you want them clipped.”
“Sir,” said the young man, taking a very slight step forward, which so startled Mr. Flint that he staggered back into the arms of old Smithers, “if it weren’t for your daughter I’d take you two old devils by the scruff of your necks and drown you like cats in a tub. You’re a scoundrel, sir, and when you insult me, and your daughter too, which is far worse, you do so because you know your age protects you.”
“Begone,” cried the miser, an ugly pallor mixing with the disagreeable yellow of his face. “Begone afore I put the dogs on you.”
“Go ’way,” bleated Smithers, shaking a long shining finger over Flint’s shoulder. “Go ’way.”
“Yes, Jerry, dear,” pleaded Barbara, “please go. Father will be all right directly.”
“Barbara,” said Jerry, “come with me. There’s no law, written or unwritten, that can keep us apart if you really love me. Get a few things together right now, and I’ll warrant that you’ll leave the house unmolested.”
“Smithers,” shrieked the miser, brandishing his stick, “hark to him. You be witness to his trying to abduct my daughter. There’s a law for that, Smithers, and I’ll have it on him if it takes every penny I’ve scraped together.”
“Mr. Flint,” said Jerry quietly—
“Ah—Mister Flint! Mr. Flint!” shrieked the old fellow in a tempest of rage. “That’s your song, you parrot, but it will be ‘Mr. Turnkey, Mr. Turnkey,’ for you, my fine fellow. Breaking into a man’s house, assaulting his servant, trying to steal his daughter—there’s a law for that. And how do I know that
may be only your excuse for robbing the
house?.....He was alone here,
Smithers! He’s been robbing us! He’» been robbing—” His voice rose to a scream and ended in a fit of wugfiing which discolored his face a horrible black, while Smithers slapped him on the back, and crooned toothless mouthings of encouragement and sympathy.
“Sir,” said Jerry, “I shall go—but you have not beard the last of me. If Barbara will be my wife, I shall come and take her even if you bar every window and door six feet deep with the gold you’ve stolen from the poor.”
“Libel!” yelled Mr. Flint. “Blackmail! Threats! I’ll have the law. Smithers—I’ll—”
“Call the law as loudly as you like, said the young man, disdainfully, buttoning his cloak about him and reaching for bis hat; “but some of these nights you’ll have visitors here that the law can’t touch. Watch out, Mr. Flint, that the man who has wronged the living so
THERE was a choking sound fro*»
the miser; his face was livid, and the rattling sound in his throat seemed startlingly loud. Weak with anger and terror he pulled the collar from hie throat to ease the breathing, and, turning helplessly to old Smithers, leaned on his shoulder for support.
“Conspiracy,” he said, faintly, “. . .
Everywhere.....all against me . . -
It’s Jack Fish’s doing. . . . I’ll have
the law on him. . . . dangerous.....
lock him up . . . . They’re all against me, Smithers—my own daughter. . . everybody. . . against me.”
“Ño, they aint,” squeaked the old servitor, patting the miser’s should« with his bony hand, “I aint agin ye, Mas’r Flint. You be a good mas’r to old Smithers these forty year. I afcrt agin ye.”
“Conspiracy,” moaned the miser, há*
whole body trembling.....“They
don’t come out in the open. . . . They won’t fight fair. . . . They try t© frighten me, Smithers.”
“I know, mas’r,” croaked the servitor. “Go ’way.” He shook his finger at the young man, “Ye have no business hear*. Ye be a beggar—that’s what ye be. Q« ’way.”
“Barbara,” said the young man, “i* it your wish that I go?”
“Yes, yes, dear,” said the girl, bravely, “I must stay with father. Perhap» in a couple of years I could see yon again.”
“But you do love me, Barbara?”
“Oh, Jerry,” said Barbara, and burst into tears which the young man checked by vehemently catching her in his arms, imprinting a kiss on her lips, stamping past the two old men and conferring a snap of the fingers on them as he did so, and leaving the house—performing the whole series of actions in a little less time than it takes to record.
As he reached the drive-way, tjbe rain, which apparently had been waiting for him, came dow'n in an absolute deluge. Pulling his hat tight down OB his ears, the young man of the downs walked sternly away, the rain splashing off his hat in such torrents that be looked like a figure in a fountain that had suddenly decided to go for a walk.
IT will have been noted by this time that Dr. Octavius Jellybud possessed a deep fixity of purpose. Duty to him was as the magnetic north to the needle of a compass, and just as compelling. When he declared that he was going to see Barbara Flint that day, the entire king’s army of horse and foot, who were said to be unequal to replacing Humpty-Dumpty on the wall, WOUM have been just as helpless in preventing Dr. Jellybud from achieving his objective.
Yet, even as mariners, steering by » perfect chart, have been known to run on shoals, the Doctor suffered peculiarly from the diverting cross-current* which beset the human destiny. The**« never was a family physician who planned his day more ruthlessly; there WM probably never one who was so unsuccessful in adhering to his plan.
In. spite of his indomitable will be was forced to realize that where Might (in the form of Judge Funnle’s house) could not prevail, Treachery (in the person of Socrates) by deserting the ¡ straight road of duty for the drive-way I of ease and oats, could puncture the I strongest armor of inflexibility.
But though temporarily drawn from his course, the Doctor was not the kind ¡ of a man to give up without a struggle. At the conclusion of his cribbage game with Funnle he pocketed three shillings, and, resolutely refusing to stay for luncheon, went out to the stable> and superintended the harnessing of the indignant Socrates.
Waving his host farewell he climbed ; into the gig.
i “Good-bye, Funnle,” he said, indicating to his horse by a “Ghck” that he i was to proceed. The response very nearly threw the worthy physician by : a back somersault into the road ; Socrates had bolted forward a full j length, and then did a shuffling, musichall step that gave him a particularly misanthropic look, failing to advance the gig a single yard.
“Now then,” said the Doctor, readjusting his hat and shifting himself several inches forward, “none of that .... Good-bye, Funnle.”
After six repetitions of this spasmodic mode of transit (during which Nero was four times wdthin an inch of having his brains kicked out) Socrates squared well away and, without further mishap, they reached the main road and went bowling along once more towards “The Oaks.”
But the troubles of this man of iron will were not yet over. Rain, like dew, has a habit of falling upon the just and unjust alike, as one of our first women barristers remarked during the I trial of a much-hounded Jew—a trial in i which the young lady modestly assumed the roles of prosecuting attorney, judge S and jury; and therefore, just as the Doctor was within half a mile of “The Fiddlers Three,” which he had to pass before gaining the road to Flint’s house, the storm which had so drenched the young man of the downs, came swiftly upon the Doctor like wrath.
“Hello,” said the Doctor, buttoning everything up and covering his head with a rubber cape, “this is very remarkable for this time of year. . . . J am very much afraid we’ll have to put in at The Fiddlers Three until it passes.”
It was a wise resolution, for the rain was coming down with such force that it was turning the countryside into a net-work of muddy, running streams; and, being joined by a Bolshevistic wind that did its best to blow the Doctor and his gig clean back to Windbridge, progress was extremely difficult. At length, however, the friendly shelter of the driving-shed was reached, and the grinning half-wit helped the practitioner from his pedestal.
With a kindly pat on the shoulder which the poor fellow seemed to appreciate tremendously (for though his brain was half-witted it did not mean that he was half-hearted as well) the ! Doctor shook hands with the landlord, i no less a person than Abraham Fish,
I who had hurried out to take the Doc! tor’s dripping coat.
/''"OPENING the door for his guest he
bustled about, putting new logs on tile fire in the coffee room; ordering the buxom cook to prepare a leg of mutton, with some chops, right away; while an exceedingly pretty bar-andhouse-maid was told to mix “something warm” for the Doctor, but first to bring ! some slippers to replace his wet boots.
1 In fact, The Fiddlers Three, instead of j being a desolate, deserted tavern as it' had looked in the morning to Jerry, was turned into a hive of bustling hospitality; and, as the Doctor sat before the ! re with a bowl of tobacco handed from a shelf by the landlord, and noting with approval that the pretty little barand-house-maid was squeezing a bit of lemon into the glass of “something warm,” Dr. Jellybud felt that except for the three violinists (and after all, that’s an awful load of artistic temperament to have hanging around) his lot could i compare very favorably with that of I Old King Cole himself.
“Horrible weather, Abraham,” said j the Doctor.
“Very aggravatin’.” said the Landlord.
“Well, my dear,” said the Doctor accepting the steaming libation from the daughter of Bacchus. “Here’s looking at you.”
“Go on with you,” said the young woman, blushing most agreeably, and coyly looking at the ground.
The phrase “something warm” is a peculiar one. It might mean a great deal and then again it might mean very little. In these days “something warm” has a geographical quality, signifying quite a different thing in America than it would, say, in Scotland; but whatever Abraham Fish meant when he used chat phrase back in the times of which chis story tells, the bar-and-house-maid must have given it a very satisfactory translation. Of course it may have possessed only medicinal qualities, and -the squeezing of the lemon may have been merely “a gilding of the philosophic pill,” but no sooner were the contents out of the glass and inside the Doctor than a gradual glow of comfort began to spread from his chilled feet to the bald spot, about the size of a halfcrown, on the very pinnacle of his head. He listened to the logs roaring in the fire-place; he noticed the noiseless and endless activities of the pretty bar-andhouse-maid; he smelt the fragrance of broiling chops, percolating gratefully from the kitchen. . . . and a smile of such cherubic sweetness expanded over his plump countenance that if it could only have been put into a stained glass cathedral window he could have passed for a holy painting.
HE was just relapsing into a reverie the burden of which was the thought of how pleasant a thing life was, when the front door was violently opened and a gust of wind, a swirl of rain, and a bad-tempered young man all came in together.
“Damme!” said the Doctor. “Close the door. Come in. Draw your chair up by the fire. Abraham—here’s a
drowned man for you.”
“Can I get something to eat here?” •¡aid the stranger, sharply, as the landlord helped to divest him of cloak and hat.
“Directly, sir,” said Mr. Fish. “I’ll hang your things out in the kitchen for to dry. Your feet be soaked, sir—take off them boots and we'll have ’em dry in an hour. Now then, Nancy—a glass f something warm for the gen'l’man.” With rather a sulky air the young man received these hospitable ministrations, and with a curt “good day” took his seat beside the Doctor, draining his glass restorative without so much as a glance at the officiating Nancy who had assumed her most demure and captivating manner for the occasion.
“Disagreeable weather,”s said the Doctor.
“Damnable,” said the other, staring dreamily into the fire.
“You are a stranger to Windbridge?” “Yes.”
As the stranger did not deign any further information, a silence ensued while The Fiddlers Three rocked and creaked in the gale and the windows were hard put to resist the attacking torrents of rain.
“Visiting about these parts?’ suggested the Doctor interrogatively. “No.”
“I see,” said the Doctor, who was just as wise as before, but owing to his medical experience had acquired the habit of appearing to understand exactly what everyone meant. To be able to describe one’s symptoms to a physician who says “I see,” is to experience complete mttntal relief on the spot.
“Disagreeable weather,” said the Doctor again.
“For this time of year.”
“For any time of year,” said the stranger.
“But particularly for this time of year,” persisted the Doctor.
“Well, it’s damned disagreeable anyway.”
“Exactly,” said the Doctor quite convinced that he had proved a knotty point.
“Nice cosy little inn, this,” he went on after another lengthy pause as the
celestial odor of chops was wafted into the room. “Ever been here before?” “No,” said the young man, “and there’ll be two moons in the sky when I come here again.”
“Now I gather,” said Octavius Jellybud, thoughtfully, “that something unpleasant has happened to you. I knew it wasn’t just a bad liver at your age.”
THE young man rose to his feet and crossing to the side of the fire leaned against the stone frame, looking musingly into the flames.
“Sir,” he said, “excuse my curtness to you; but if you will remember that I crossed these grizzly downs in a drizzling rain, borne up by hope of seeing and claiming for my wife a young woman whom I had every reason to believe looked kindly on me. . . . only to be ordered out of the house by her father and—what is worse—being accused of trying to rob the place. Curse it, sir! If I were older, or he younger, I’d make him eat those words and shake him by the throat until they were well down his gullet.”
Doctor Jellybud’s fa^e was a study of sympathetic understanding. Possessing a blighted romantic career of his own, he found his greatest joy in the romance of others; and the straightforward story of the young stranger had roused the keenest interest in him.
“But my dear sir,” he said, encouragingly, “it will all come rig-ht.”
“Yes—” The young man shrugged his shoulders. “Even Barbara said we might see each other again in a couple of years.”
“BARBARA?” The Doctor sat bolt upright and gripped the arms of his chair. “Are vou the lover of Barbara Flint?”
“I was,” said the other, “though Í did not mean to mention her name.”
“I might have known it,” cried the Doctor jumping to his feet and striding up and down the room, tossing his coat tails violently as he did so. “You’re the chap—bless my soul !—you’re the lucky scoundrel that captured our little beauty’s heart, are you? I see—I’ve got it—clear as day—Here’s my hand— Jellybud’s my name—Doctor Octavius Jellybud—what’s yours?”
“Jerry—” began the other, heartily gripping the Doctor’s hami.
“Jerry? That’s enough,” said the practitioner, energetically. “Jerry will do for me—and there’s something wrong if you and me, Jerry, won’t do fnr old FLINT!” At which word, delivered with terrific energy, the Doctor L'ok a pass in the air with his right fist, then assumed an “on guard” position that would have won applause in any sporting club in the country.
“Then you know Barbara?” said the young man, soulfully, hut finding a melancholy pleasure in the mere mention of her name.
“Know her, my dear Jerry?” The Doctor’s frown vanished before the sunshine of his good humor. “Bless your heart—I officiated when she arrived; and as I said to her mother at the time—charming woman, never should have married that obnoxious specimen—I said: ‘There’ll be tears in Heaven at parting with this lovely little thing.’ Which were about the last words the poor soul heard, for she was sick of pneumonia from living in that damp house, and died a few hours later.”
Here the Doctor blew his nose with such violence that it sounded like a trumpet.
“I am the miserablest man alive,” said Jerry, turning towards the fire with a countenance which lent considerable force to his assertion.
“Tell me all that happened,” said the Doctor, resuming his seat, and, as was his professional custom, adjusting the glasses on the end of his nose. “The only difference between whispering a secret down a well, and telling it to a Doctor, is, that a Doctor can’t be pumped, so out with it, Jerry.”
l/l/JTH lips that trembled angrily, the »» young man recalled his visit; how he had proved that Barbara did love him; how their Eden was invaded by the serpent; how words had flown about like brick-bats. . . . and, in short, he told his tale with a manliness and frankness that would have melted the most rugged nature.
. . . Is it fair, Doctor,” concluded the youth, “that Barbara and I, who love each other so dearly, should be parted by this curmudgeon who can see nothing for the greed blinding his eyes—is it fair?”
“No sir!” cried the Doctor jumping up and sitting down violently, “NO SÍR!” . ,
“I wish you had seen him,’ said the young man with a mirthless laugh, “when I told him that the dead would get him yet. I guessed from Jack Fish that the old miser was superstitious, but I could hardly believe my eyes when I saw him with his jaw quivering and his whole body trembling like a jelly, as if he saw the ghosts in the very room.”
“Poor Jack,” said Abraham Fish, the landlord, who had joined the two guests and had heard the last remarks. “The silly lad’s barmy in the nob. He always holds as how every Xmas Eve the old dead pirates and highwaymen— them as used The Fiddlers Three in the good old days—comes back here for an hour. It’s a creepy thing, gents, when the wind’s a-howling over them there downs, and the poor boy telling it like as if he hears the dead ’uns hammering at the door. ... It do be a creepy thing—and Master Flint is that scared that when he sees Jack, he runs away as fast as his crooked old legs will take him.”
The Doctor puffed at his pipe, but a trained physiognomist would have noticed that his eyebrows were lowered and his lips pursed up in an expression of deep mental concentration.
“For twenty year now,” went on the Landlord, “Master Flint do always come on a Xmas Eve. There he sits in that éorner all by himself—and when he thinks as how almost everyone is gone, he sez: ‘Fish—a glass of beer for all
these gen’l’men, at my expense.’ I don’t know why he goes for to do it, and most of us would rather drink a glass of physic—beggin’ your pardon, Doctor Jellybud—than take anything from that thei-e aggravatin’ piece of bag*gage. But wishes don’t get nowhere— and he’ll be here this Xmas Eve same as before.”
Beckoning them to be silent the Doctor requested the young man and the Landlord to gather close about him. He was almost purple in the face with condensed excitement and his merry old eyes were shining like lamps.
“Listen,” he whispered. “Listen to this.”
Whatever it was the Doctor said, it must have been very amusing, for at its conclusion all three burst into such a prolonged and hearty laugh that poor Jack Fish came in at the noise, terrorstricken.
“Jack!” cried the jovial Doctor. “Here’s a half-crown for you. You’ve earned it, my boy.”
With a gleeful laugh the idiot thrust the coin into his smock and with eyes rolling about in their sockets, left the room muttering and chuckling to himself.
At this point Nancy arrived to announce that the meal was ready, and proceeded to spread a table right where they were (it being the wish of both the Doctor and Jerry that they eat together) ; after which they set to with such heartiness that Barbara Flint would have been more unhappy still if she would have seen the jolly look on the face of the lover so recently torn from her arms. As for the*bar-andhouse-maid, she waited on them so dexterously and daintily and joined in their mysteriously boisterous good humor so cheerfully that, on three occasions the Doctor insisted upon placing his arm around her—-a recognition of her charms which brought such outbursts of guffaws each time from the whole group, that the buxom cook in the kitchen (who hadn’t the faintest idea of what' was going on) laughed herself into hysterics and had to be restored with a drop of something from the bar. . . In fact it was such a merry and noisy party that even Nero appeared at the door with the nearest
thing approaching a grin ever seen on his super-melancholy visage.
“Then it’s decided,” said the Doctor, at the end of the meal, apropos of what they had discussed. “You come and stav with me—any sister will be delighted—and on the way home we’ll drop in and gee Funnle. Abraham— have Socrates, harnessed.”
A half hlatm-. with the stranger .seated beside the Doctor, the gig started off for “"(.'he Briars” once more—and as the rain and wind were behind him, Socrates established a record for speed that is still spoken of in awe by the villagers of Windbridge.
Windbridge, lying disconsolate for two days in the grip of unseasonable rain, had been transformed into a shimmering, crystal fairyland. Early in the morning snow began to fall, covering the downs in a great blanket of white : clothing the naked trees in soft, clinging garments : embedding
cottages in thick hoods: changing
green hedges to furry palisades . .
And hour after hour the descending, fluttering hosts of snowflakes fell
twinkling through the air.....
Tracks of passing vehicles were made and obliterated as soon as made . . On church tower, on pinnacles of
trees, on creeping vines, the soft encroaching canopy of nature fell, hanging its jewelry on them all.
And when towards night, the storehouse of the skies held no more treasure, the moon appeared and with its alchemy of silvery blue, touched the world with its star-tipped wand .
. . cottage roofs changed to glitter-
ing minarets : out on the downs the light of a solitary shepherd’s hut became a sapphire glowing in a sea of satin white : the village itself was a twinkling street of little snow-bound palaces for gnomes.
It was Xmas Eve—that strangely gripping season of the heart; a time that means so much to children, and when children mean so much to us; a passing hour when selfishness and greed and carking care fly out the chimneys like poor Jack Fish’s sparks .... when hearts beat faster, hands clasp tighter; when tears and laughter are nearer the brink, and old scenes and old friends are best. One moment in life’s little day when kindly hearts can make a palace of a hut or lack of them turn affluence to poverty.
Far out at the cross-roads, The Fiddlers Three, deep-banked in snow, was all ablaze with merriment. A goodly company of villagers, as was their custom, had gathered for a jovial tankard and the easy badinage of hard-working, well-fed, honest souls. It is true, perhaps, that the conversation was not overdeep, nor dealt with things of metaphysical import. They did not immerse themselves in the Dead Sea of advanced socialistic thought, nor feel the subliminal uprush of those who by some hired medium strive to hitch this world to the next; but they did laugh, and they did sing, and when they wished each other the greetings of the season they did not mumble nor stumble over them. When they sang a fooldsh chorus each man did his best to sing louder than his neighbor, and when they passed the hat for a crippled villager, they gave as they sang and laughed— cheerfully, heartily, generously.
Milords and Gentlemen, Senators and Scientists, Presidents and Potentates— is there nothing to learn in these troublesome times from the goodly gathering at The Fiddlers Three?
IT WAS nearly eleven o’clock when those of the villagers who had spouses to consider, left and the inn resumed its^ normal aspect. The logs were burning low; Nancy had washed and shined every glass in the place, then retired upstairs; when the door was cautiously opened and the head of Josephus Flint appeared in the aperture.
“A Merry Xmas to ye all,” he croaked
addressing the three invariables who vvere attending to the last moments of the dying fire.
With good grace they returned the wish, and the miser, stamping his feet ! to shake off the clinging snow, entered I and took his customary seat back in the shadows, sitting without a word as his fingers played a querulous tattoo on his j chin.
In a few minutes one of the perennials I left amidst a chorus of good wishes from I his partners, and, hammering the table with his stick, Flint summoned the landlord.
“Fish,” he said, with the disagreeable ' rattle of his throat, “a glass of beer all ! round for these gentlemen.”
“All of ’em?” said the landlord, glancj ing at the two survivors of the party, j As it was obviously a question which did not necessitate an answer, he retired behind the bar and filled three glasses, giving two to the guests and the third to the generous donor, himself.
With a perfunctory “Here’s to you, sir,” the pair of villagers quaffed the foaming, two-penny draft, and then departed, having achieved the thirsty purpose for which they had remained.
Twenty minutes passed.
The smouldering logs glowed faintly in the fire-place; a solitary candle j spluttered, almost went out, revived, drooped, and sent strange shadows playing grotesquely about the room. The inn that had been so noisy was as silent as a tomb set in the great white desert of the downs.
And still the miser sat with wrinkled, yellow brow supported by his lean, clawing fingers, his hungry eyes gazing into the smouldering fire. . . . There was the soft sound of some loosened snow gliding from the roof to the ground. . , . A blue ray of moonlight crept stealthily
in through a window.....Over the
downs came the howl of a lonely dog.
The miser still sat alone, wrapped in some dream of gold that left him lost to his surroundings.
SUDDENLY his thin blood froze in horror. There was a loud hammering at the outer, kitchen door ; the sound of a neighing horse; loud voices uttering strange oaths. He heard the shriek of Jack Fish and the stamp of jingling spurs.
Staggering to his feet the miser reachei for his hat and strove to leave the room, but his feet were lead and his trembling limbs powerless to move them. The voices were coming nearer. . . . the door was opening .... He looked wildly over his shoulder and with a moan sank to hi' knees and hid behind the chair he b -c¡ been sitting in.
x'here at the door, in the almost total darkness, he saw two hideous faces. They were glowing like flames, as if two satyrs stood grinning into the fires of Hell. Across the brow of the taller ene, and embracing his left eye, was a blood-stained bandage. The other’s countenance was a murderous, redbearded one with an open sword-cut diagonally across his face.
“What ho!” bellowed the taller one, and the horror-stricken miser saw that he was dressed in the vile trappings of a pirate, knife, cutlass and all. “Some rum, landlord, and look ye, blackguard— make it boiling hot, for sink me by the head, if that grave of mine doesn’t grow more rheumatic every year.”
With clumsy, stumbling steps and terrified countenance, Abraham Fish appeared and, taking two bottles from the bar, hurried towards the kitchen, j Through the door Flint could just make i out the jibbering figure of the half-wit j muttering wildly to himself as he sat,
; cross-legged, on the floor.
! “One moment, by Jupiter!” said the shorter ghost, drawing a pair of enormous pistols from their holsters and halting the landlord as he was just leaving the room. “Are we alone?” “Y-yes, s-s-sir,” stammered the landlord.
Cut his throat,” said the pirate in a blood-curdling voice, “throw him down the well.”
V -would you care for a light?” asked the proprietor. Josephus Flint’s heart distinctly stopped, then resumed its^beat at a greater speed than ever, j ‘Goggles and Guttersnipers !” swore I the shorter ghost, juggling a pistol and narrowly missing a tumble as his enormous spurs interlocked. “Begone and fetch the rum, or hang me to the nearest gibbet if I don’t puncture your windpipe.”
Not waiting for a second intimation, the landlord bowed low and precipitately disappeared as the pirate drew his enormous cutlass and took a heavy step in his direction.
“Well, Turpin, my lad,” he said, putting down his cutlass on the floor and drawing up a chair to the table in the centre of the room. “Are you ready with the dice?”
“Squirks and Skittles!” ejaculated the other, whose costume bore out the fact that he had once been a highwayman, and whose bearded, maltreated face looked blotched and hideous in the meagre glimmer of the persistent candle. “S’death! but my fingers itch to feel the scoundrel’s throat.”
“Now then,” said the other, reaching for his cutlass and laying it on the table. “Let us understand each other verbatim et literatim. Three throws of the dice, and the winner of two takes Master Flint along with him.”
“What’s that?” cried the highwayman, jumping to his feet and pointing his pistols recklessly around the room.
“WHAT’S WHAT?” roared the pirate lunging into the dark with his cutlass.
“Slugs and Squashes! Methinks I heard a rattle of some villain’s throat.” “Hop aboard me!” cried the pirate, making the air sing with his cutlass, “Where is the yellow-livered scoundrel? I’ll carve him ! I’ll change his architecture!”
In spite of this opportunity for improving his figure, the listener remained hidden, one hand clutching the chair, the other holding his jaw lest the noise of his chattering teeth be heard. After the two diabolical figures had uttered a few more oaths and threats they sat down again, the cutlass was once more put on the table, and the pistols were relodged in their holsters.
“Now then,” said the rather stout
highwayman, “your deal -”
“Lash me to the mast!” roared the bandaged robber of the sea, taking a pair of dice from his pocket and shaking them about in his closed hand. “Roll for me, my beauties—roll high for your favorite uncle .... what is it—bigDick?”
“Three!” cried the highwayman, “Three.”
The pirate grasped his cutlass but, changing his mind, folded his arms and locked hideously over his bandage as his "opponent threw five.
' “By my skull!” muttered the seaman, reaching angrily for the dice. “Am I to be thwarted of Mr. Flint’s company just as I’ve at last worked it out so we won’t be crowded in my grave? Roll for me, you little angels—roll for your handsome uncle—come eleven .... What do you say to that, Jel—Turpin? Eleven it is.”
“As to that,” sneered the highwayman, “accidents will happen.”
For a moment the ghosts glared hideously into each other’s faces.
“Roll,” said the pirate contemptuous-
“Six,” muttered the highwayman, doing so.
“Rake me fore and aft!” roared the pirate, “vivit post funera virtus—which means that though the undertaker have you, virtue will emerge triumphant. Give me the dice—this is the time we throw the grappling irons into each other.”
“I’m dry as a skeleton,” ejaculated the other.
“Well said. What ho! Landlord. What of the rum?”
“C-coming, gents,” cried the voice of Abraham Fish, and a moment later he appeared with two steaming glasses which looked extraordinarily like the beverage known as “something warm.” “Boots and Bottles!” said the highwayman taking a sip. “Tell me, rogue —and if thou liest may the saints protect thee. Dost know a fellow by the name of Flint?”
“I d-d-d-o, sir.”
“No so much d-d-d-o and more talk,” muttered the pirate, fingering his cutlass.
“Where doth he abide, rogue?” asked the portly shade of the lamented Turpin.
“Down the road, a good, a good threequarter mile from here.”
“’Tis well. And tell me, donkey-face —what say they of Master Flint in these parts?”
“Nothing good, your honor. He be very close with his money.”
“Ha, ha!” roared the pirate. “Scutj tie the frigate! but he’ll be closer still ! when he lies beside me in the grave.” !
“He was here, gents, only an hour | since.”
“Gumph and Snuckles!” cried the redj bearded Turpin, drawing both pistols again. “Have we missed the scoundrel then?”
“Enough of talk,” said the pirate. “Let’s to the dice. Then, when ’tis decided, we’ll on to Master Flint’s house, drag him out by the heels, and make ‘ him answer to a tribunal of ghosts the charge that he has robbed and hounded the poor, tortured the helpless and scoured the lives of his fellow men.”
“Hear! hear!” said the highwayman. “For though in our day we’ve murdered many and robbed a goodly number more .... we never yet took money from the poor. And so, my lad, it is your roll— then to the merry gentlemen with good Master Flint between us.”
“A last threw,” muttered the pirate, shaking the dice. “By the jolly Roger!
I never failed at love nor gambling yet.
If you love me, my beauties—roll ’em high—if you love me give me my little Flint to fondle and strangle in my mouldy -”
'T'HERE was a cry and a horrible rattie of a man’s throat. With his face so pallid that its gleaming surface challenged the fiery horror of the ghostly visitors, Josephus Flint staggered forward and fell upon his knees.
“Squirks!” roared the highwayman, covering him with both pistols and upsetting a chair by catching it with his spurs.
“Sink me, by Jupiter!” bellowed the j pirate, dropping the dice and picking ¡ up the cutlass.
“Throw him in the fire!—'Stir it up, j landlord.”
“Mercy!” shrieked the miser, impiorj ing it with clasped, trembling hands. I “Awful spirits of the past .... have ! mercy.”
“Who is the blackguard?” criedthe pirate.
“Wax and Waistcoats!” roared the highwayman. “What’s his name?” i
“Flint,” said the landlord, peering in! to the miser’s lowered face.
“WHAT!” shouted the pirate. “Rake me -——”
“Prime my cocking piece!” cried the highwayman, endeavoring to pull back the firing pins of his pistols, and, considering his life’s calling, displaying an extraordinary ignorance of their mechanism.
“Mercy,” moaned the miser, “ ghost. -of the bygone past, mercy.”
“What mercy have you shown to others?” said the pirate, noisily sharpening his cutlass against the heel of his boot. “Stand up till I cut your throat.” “I’ll make it right!” cried the miserable Flint, shaking and quivering like a leaf in a gale: “I’ll pay the money back. Don’t bury me alive. . .alive”. . . He fell forward clutching at his throat and coughing.
“Poison him,” suggested the highwayman unfeelingly, still deeply engrossed in the obstinate nature of his fire-arms.
“Spirits sent to haunt me from the grave.” whimpered the miser, “see my repentance. I have been cruel .... I have extorted money from the poor .... mercy .... mercy . . . . ”
“Boil him in oil,” said the highwayman, handing a pistol to the landlord to see if he could unravel its complexity.
“Hold!” said the pirate, dramatically, pinning the cutlass into the floor and missing his right big toe by the fraction of an inch. “We must deal with this malefactor recte et suaviter. The villain has confessed—he offers restitution . . . . Let us hear him out, for it is lex terrae to allow a prisoner to speak for himself before you hang him. Look you, Flint—would’st save thy hang-dog life?”
“Mercy,” moaned the cringing miser. ¡ “Very well,” said the pirate, adjusting a pair of glasses over the blood! stained bandage. “Turpin—I see some ink and a quill upon the shelf. Pray give it to the hound .... good .... and now, Master Flint, rise up.” He prodded the miser with the point of his cutlass, causing him tc squeal like a stuck pig. “Sit down there.”
“There,” repeated the highwayman, grasping the sorry figure by his shoulders and shoving him so violently into the chair by the table, that every bone in his body was jarred, his teeth meeting with the click one hears when a boxer catches a gaping opponent an “uppercut” on the jaw.
“You swear,” said the pirate, “that you will tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so -”
“Here’s the remains of a candle,” said the highwayman, carrying the tenacious bit of tallow to the table and thrusting the barrel of an uncocked pistol into the miser’s ear.
“Write,” said the pirate.
“Take it down,” echoed the highwayman.
“ ‘I hereby swear,’ ” dictated the follower of the black flag, slowly, “ ‘that I have grossly over-charged the following of my tenants’—Landlord, recite the names; and if you value your donkey s ears, leave not out one.”
“Leave out not one,” corrected the highwayman.
“As far as I remember, gents,” said the landlord, who had apparently grown quite used to his uncanny visitors, “the names are -”
“Take 'em down, by Venus!” thundered the pirate.
“Ned Clarke,” went on the inn-keeper, “Widow McGregor, Sam Heeling, Joe Green, Silas Walker, Brown the chemist, and Martin Sutherland.”
“Got that, yellow face?” said the pirate, as the stuttering pen finished its scratchy journey over the surface of a large sheet of note-paper. “Now then, write on—‘and therefore I agree to refund one-half of all rents charged for the last five years and further to reduce all rents to one-half their present amount ’ ’
With whimpering tears, the miser wrote on for half an hour as the pirate, who was extraordinarily well informed on Mr. Flint’s private affairs, dictated his repentance for the usury he had charged, the securities he had stolen on petty loans, and in fact, thoroughly covered the whole avenue of lawful crimes which had made one man’s wealth by the misery of others.
“Now sign,” said the pirate, sternly.
“In blood,” said the red-headed highwayman.
“Ink,” corrected the chief inquisitor, motioning his fellow shade to be quiet. “Landlord, sign as witness .... good
“And now,” moaned the miser wringing his hands, “let me home. . . . I’m worn and old ... . my blood’s all chilled and my bones be shaking with the ague
“One moment,” said the highwayman, “you have a daughter?”
THE miser said nothing, but his shriv-*■ elled lips mouthed impotent nothings, his eyes turning weakly away from the horrible bearded face with its
I glowing sword cut.
! “She has a lover,” went on the gentleman of the road.
“I deny it,” cried Flint; “a villainous jackanapes as wants nought but mv money.”
“You lie,” bellowed the pirate.
“Write,” said the late Turpin,
I “Take it down,” added his friend.
I , “ T hereby agree,’ ” dictated the outi of the seas, “ ‘to the immediate marj riage of my daughter Barbara to Jerry
i--■’ what’s his other name, Turpin?”
I “Now damme!” said the highwayman, “I never asked him that.”
I “It is of no consequence^—proceed: ‘to I Jerry, and to show my joy in such a I happy union I herewith endow my I daughter with the sum of one thousand ! pounds.’ ”
1 “Mercy,” whined the miser.
“Write,” said the highwayman, “or we’ll slaughter you and let the buzzards have your carcass for their Xmas meal.”
“Very good,” said the pirate, examining the complete document and replacing his spectacles in their case. “I shall leave this with the local magistrate and .... Listen, Turpin .... I hear the horn. Our time above the earth is finished and the coach is calling us ... . Flint— in place of your sordid soul let me advise mens conscia recti, and do not forget how brief is the span of life to expiate your many crimes. Take warning, Master Flint, and all of those who live like you, that he who prospers by the misery of others lives after death in constant torture of remorse. Let the spirit of your repentance exceed the act .... For I warn you, should you fail to fulfil this long overdue expiation, that a traveller on the mighty Sahara could more easily escape the rays of the sun than you could avoid the clutch of our ghostly, ghastly, grizzly revenge . . . . Turpin—away!’
“Lead on, old fellow,” said the highwayman, pocketing his pistols and following the high-minded pirate from the room.
Heedless of the jingling spurs, and the excited jabbering of poor Jack Fish, who had been waiting outside in a wild fantasia of delight: heedless of the voices of the departing ghosts mingling with the landlord’s and one that sounded strangely like Jerry’s .... Flint sat trembling at the table, gazing with unseeing eyes into the eerie blackness of the room.
The obstinate candle uttered a final gasp and went out .... A breath of wind down the chimney stirred the charred ashes of the fire ....
From the downs came the howl of the lonely hound.
VMAS Sunday Morning.
Clanging on the frosty air the old church bell rang out its call to service, and soon the tranquil street, smothered in snow, was dotted with villagers emerging from their cottages.. Quietly, as befitted the day, but with hearts brim-full of human kindness, these humble sharers of a simple destiny uttered the old, old Yuletide greeting: and as they made their way through the deep drifts of snow sparkling like diamonds in the sunlight, the pleasant odor of cooking goose and roasting turkey from busy kitchens, reminded them that temporal pleasure would follow hard upon the heels of spiritual exercise.
Even the old church, decked with holly and evergreens, took on a festive look as a golden ray of sunlight irreverently stole in through St. Peter’s Window, and rested on the bald pate of the rector, who was in such rare form, when he chanted the responses, that everyone said it was as good as an Archbishop and twice as natural. Though, not to be outdone by the cloth, Jacob Funnle read the lesson impressively and rolled the old Hebrew names about with magisterial dignity.
But the choir was the thing!
It sang so lustily that the sainted windows rattled as if in a gale (Dr. Jellybud singing two notes higher and several notes louder than anyone else) while red-checked girls who sat in the two front rows indulged in the usual pretence of maidenly bashfulness (but made a pretty joyful noise for all that) and tried to keep their eyes off that handsome tenor, George Smith, the chemist’s assistant.
The anthem was announced. It w'as a Te Deum that started with a long note on the organ followed by a dynamic, triple fortissimo. Wagnerian outburst on the word “We.” But just as the nineteen members of the choir had come in on a terrific “We” in nineteen variations of the pitch, something happened, and the whole thing came to a sudden stop.
The Rector rubbed his eyes; Jacob Funnle put on his spec-tables, took them cff and wiped them, and put them on again; Sam Heeling turned completely around forgetting all about his organ, while the boy who pumped it walked right into the centre of the chancel where he could get a good view. Only Joe Green who had got away to a won-
derful start in the Te Deum went all i the way through to “the goodly fellow! ship of the Prophets” before he realized i that he was the only one singing.
Coming up the centre aisle with Barbara (whose absence from the choir had been greatly lamented) on his arm, and Jerry walking on the other side, was Josephus Flint. Behind them, carrying a Bible and looking furtively to each side, was Smithers, the aged servitor.
If The Fiddlers Three had picked itself up and gone for a stroll, or if the church steeple had started turning summersaults, the inhabitants of Windbridge could not have been more surprised. In absolute silence they watched the old miser, who had never been in the church before, enter an empty pew whble Barbara found the place for him in the book, and Jerry stood up beside her so straight and handsome that the spell of the chemist’s assistant over the sopranos was broken for ever.
HpHERE is no saying how long this tableau might have gone on if Dr. Jellybud had not risen magnificently to the occasion. Seizing the anthem book and emitting a stentorian “WE” he started the Te Deum off in so high a key that though the whole pack followed gamely after him there probably never was a choir before nor since that made such faces or such extraordinary sounds, (for the rest of the day most of them could only speak in a whisper) ; and as for Sam Heeling. ... as soon as the boy had resumed pumping, he headed the Doctor off in every key known to Christian and Pagan musical composition, failing utterly but establishing an undying reputation for virtuosity and sportsmanship.
Under this extra inspiration the Rector’s plea for the collection on behalf of the poor was so eloquent and moving that the women produced a veritable snow flurry of handkerchiefs, and men jingled sixpences together in their pockets hardly able to restrain their eagerness to be up and at the collection bags. When it came the turn of Josephus Flint he put in four half crowns. It’s true he was so overcome with giddiness directly afterwards that he was forced to sit down, while old Smithers patted his back and did his best to revive him; but he gave the four half-crowns, for so it is written in the annals of Windbridge.
But when the service was over what a pent-up flood of good feeling broke loose! They shook old Flint’s hand and crowded around his daughter as if he were the village’s life-long benefactor.
Just as the miser was breaking away from the crowd, Dr. Octavius Jellybud bore down on him and, refusing to accept any excuses, he took the old man off to dinner; the ubiquitous Funnle following close behind with Barbara on his arm, Jerry and Miss Jellybud coming along behind them, and Old Smithers, bringing up the rear, wagging his head and expressing mumbled doubts about the whole business.
WHAT a dinner!
Of course there may have been other Xmas dinners just as sumptuous as the Jellybuds’, but to this day whenever the Rector refers to the Babylonian feasts of Balshazzar the minds of the congregation invariably visualize that famous repast at the Doctor’s. It is a fact, not a figtire of speech, that the table groaned with good things and the more it groaned the louder everyone lamrhed.
For. even if the viands have been equalled (which I strongly doubt) you would have to search a long time to find a merrier party. At the place of honor was Ned Clarke, his sturdy frame bearing his dignity of years like the fine old Oak he was: opposite him was the Widow McGregor, whose satracious Scottish comments on the day still live among the before-mentioned annals of the village; then there was Jacob Funnle at one end of the table so full of anecdote and good humor that it was extraordinary where he found room to • put the army of good things which he . ate; but he had a rival. . . . Sam Heel| ing was there with his wife, and throw: ing off the cares of choir leadership he g >t off so many side-splitting jokes (most of which had survived the test of time) that it was an absolute miracle anyone got a mouthful down without choking to death. Nor was the Rector far behind Funnle and Heeling, but “got off” one, himself (with considerable prompting by his wife) that made Abraham Fish, who was sitting opposite him, declare he would have made a fortune as an innkeeper.
Out in the kitchen the buxom cook of The Fiddlers Three was in full charge, laughing louder than anyone else, and—since who wants to dine at an inn on Xmas?—there was Nancy the bar-and-house-maid helping to wait on the table, looking as pretty and appetizing as a northern snow apple. And as the Doctor was never a man to do thing by halves, a separate table was set, where poor Jack Fish sat chuckling softly to himself, with old Smithers as a dinner partner, the latter keeping his head cocked to one side listening for the voice of his master and mumbling delightedly every time he heard it.
There was a toast to the lovers, Barbara blushing so prettily that every man grew envious of Jerry on the spot, while Jerry’s reply caused the Widow McGregor to whisper audibly that he “wasna’ unlike Sandy McGregor hisse! ’ but na sae intelligent looking.”
There was a second toast to the Doctor’s sister—and was there ever a soul deserved it more than that busy little woman of a hundred household cares?
waiting and smiling on everyone.....
finding such pleasure in the giving of pleasure. . . . losing herself in the sublime sympathy for others.
There was a third toast for Josephus Flint, and though he did not reply, his twitching features showed he was Naming that gold is not the only treasure of his life.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the toast-master, no less a personage than Jacob Funnle, “I give you our host.”
Is it anything against the little Doctor—that, as he looked around the group of happy, glowing faces, his twinkling eyes were suddenly dimmed? Was he less a man because his lips trembled slightly when he said how happy it all made him? There he stood
at the head of the table, one hand playing with an enormous watch chain and the other stroking the head of the melancholy Nero who was resting his front paws on the table and looking as mournful as if the whole cost were com ing out of his personal pocket. ... There the Doctor stood, and there we shall leave him.
Would, in this first Xmas of Peace, that more hearts swelled up with good will to men, as did that of the sturdy little family Doctor that Sunday many years ago.
ÇO this little story of the village by the downs comes to its close.
Flint did everything he promised, anc, more, but I don’t think he ever enjoyed giving. On Xmas Eve, attended by Smithers, he always went to The Fiddlers Three and bought a glass of beer all round, but he made sure to be home before midnight. Sometimes he would go to visit Barbara and Jerry in Surrey and would always have a gift for little Octavius and little Jacob, but he seemed happier in his own drearyhome in company with the toothless Smithers who looked upon him as the kindest master in the country.
As to the Merry Gentlemen, carping skeptics have tried to maintain that the ghostly visitors weren’t ghosts al all. It has even been said that in the books, for that date, of Willy Clarkson, the ageless theatrical costomier of Wardour St., London, the following items occur:
One large sized pirate complete with cutlass.
One stout highwayman complete with pistols, phosphorus, grease paints, etc.
But the villagers of Windbridge willhave none of it.
If you have any doubts, yourself, why not watch the sparks emerging from
the chimney's on a Xmas Eve?.....
Note the direction of the wind and follow them into the dark. Perhaps you will find the place where they keep the ghosts of departed stage coaches.
If you do. . . . don’t fail to look for a yellow gig with glaring red wheels: for it once belonged to the last of the old family doctors.