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Title: The Plague of Ghosts and Other Stories
       (a Project Gutenberg Australia compilation)
Author: Rafael Sabatini
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 0801371.txt
Language: English
Date first posted: December 2008
Date most recently updated: December 2008

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Plague of Ghosts and Other Stories
       (a Project Gutenberg Australia compilation)
Author: Rafael Sabatini



CONTENTS:

(The source of each story appears after the title)

The Risen Dead       ('The Storyteller' December 1907)
The Bargain          ('The Storyteller' July 1908)
The Opportunist      ('Premier Magazine' July 1920)
The Plague of Ghosts ('The Storyteller' September 1907)
The Sword of Islam   ('Premier Magazine' Auguest 1914. Reprinted in
                      'A Century of Sea Stories', 1934. Reprinted in
                      'The Fortunes of Casanova and Other Stories' 1994 as
                      'Brancaleone's Terms')
The Poachers         ('Premier Magazine' December 1915)
The Sentimentalist   ('Premier Magazine' December 1919)
Duroc                ('Weekly Tale-Teller' October 1915)
Kynaston's Reckoning ('Premier Magazine' November 1914)
Jack o'Lantern       ('Strand Magazine' 1937)


* * *



                            THE RISEN DEAD

Sir Geoffrey Swayne was hanged at Tyburn.

A merry, reckless, roaring soul had been Sir Geoffrey, and if it was
said of him that in ten years he had never gone sober to bed, yet was
it confessed that he was a pleasant, humorous gentleman in his cups,
just as he was a pleasant, humorous gentleman in all the other
traffics that made up his rascally life. If he lost his money at the
tables, he did so with an amiable smile in his handsome eyes and a
jest on his lips. If at intervals, more or less regular, he would beat
his wife, periodically kick his servants down stairs, and
systematically grind the faces of his tenants, yet all these things he
did, at least, with an engaging joviality of demeanour.

In short, he was a very affable, charming scoundrel, and all England
was agreed that he richly deserved his end. And yet, the humour of the
thing--and it was just such a jest as Sir Geoffrey would have relished
had it been less against himself--lay in the fact that although none
of the rascally things he had done could be considered by the law of
England reason enough for hanging him, the crime for which he was
hanged--that of highway robbery--was the one crime it had never
occurred to him to commit.

The thing had fallen out in this wise:

Sir Geoffrey, riding Londonwards, from his home near Guildford, one
evening in late March, had been held up on Wandsworth Common by a
cloaked figure on a huge grey mare. The failing light had gleamed from
the barrel of a pistol, and the highwayman's tone had been one that
asked no arguments, admitted of no compromise. But Sir Geoffrey in the
course of his blustering career had become a useful man of his hands.
One blow of his heavy riding-crop had knocked aside the highwayman's
pistol, another had knocked in the highwayman's head and tumbled him
headlong from his saddle.

Sir Geoffrey was master of the situation, and, mightily pleased by it,
he bethought him of the spoils of war, which were his by right of
conquest. Without a qualm--nay, with a laugh and the lilt of a song on
his lips--Sir Geoffrey had dragged the stricken tobyman into the
shelter of a clump of trees, and exchanged his own spavined horse for
the fellow's splendid mare, on which he had blithely pursued his road.

But before he had gone a couple of miles he had caught the sounds of a
numerous party galloping behind and rapidly gaining on him. Now Sir
Geoffrey's conscience--if so be he owned one--was at rest. He had done
no wrong, leastways no wrong that should make him fear the law, and so
he rode easily, never thinking of attempting to outdistance the party
which came on behind--a thing he might easily have done had he been so
inclined, bravely mounted as he was.

So the others came on, hailed him, and when he paused to ask them what
they craved, came up with and surrounded him.

'We have you this time, "Scudding Tom,"' they cried, and fell to
ill-using him, pulling him down from his horse, and bestowing upon him
epithets for which he was utterly at a loss to account. But he was not
a patient man. He had been assaulted, and it was a thing he would not
suffer, although, as he plainly saw, they were sheriff's men that had
set upon him. So he blithely laid about him, and contrived to crack a
couple of heads before they had bound him and flung him, helpless,
down upon the road, livid, blasphemant, and vastly furious.

A stout rubicund gentleman, in black with silver lace, who had stood
well apart whilst the fighting had been in train, came forward now,
swelling to bursting point with his own importance, and denounced Sir
Geoffrey for the tobyman who had robbed him an hour ago. He was, he
said, Sir Henry Talbury of Hurlingston, in the County of Kent, one of
his Majesty's Justices of the Peace. He had been to collect certain
sums of money in London, and was returning with a leather bag
containing a hundred guineas, of which this ruffian had relieved him.

Sir Geoffrey heard him, and having heard him realized the situation,
spat from his mouth the filthy rags with which he had been gagged, and
spoke--

'You pot-bodied fool,' said he, for he had a rare virulence of tongue
upon occasion. 'You gross, beer-fattened hodman, let me free of these
bonds, and get you back to your pigs at Hurlingston ere I have you
flayed for this business. I am Sir Geoffrey Swayne, of Guildford, as
you shall learn more fully to your bitter sorrow.'

The little man's fat face lost some of its plethoric colour, but it
was in rage that he paled, and not in any fear that Sir
Geoffrey--being tightly bound and helpless--might inspire him.

'Are ye so, indeed,' he snapped, and his little eyes looked evil as a
rat's. 'I have heard of ye, for a gaming, dissolute scoundrel.'

'Oh 'sblood!' panted Sir Geoffrey, writhing in his bonds. 'You shall
be spitted for this, like the Christmas goose you are.'

'And so, 'tis to highway robbery that your debaucheries have brought
ye?' The little man sniffed contemptuously. 'I'm nowise surprised, and
ye shall hang as a warning to other scapegraces.'

And hang he did as Sir Henry promised him. Under the flap of his
saddle they had found a bag with Sir Henry Talbury's name upon it and
the hundred guineas he had mentioned contained in it. It was in vain
that Sir Geoffrey told the true story of his meeting with the tobyman,
thus explaining how he had come by the grey mare--which had proved his
undoing, for it was the mare, not the man, that had been recognized.
The fellow who rode that great, grey beast was known to the
countryside as 'Scudding Tom', and nothing more, his identity never
having been revealed. The court, whilst praising his ingenuity,
laughed at his tale. They realized that he was Sir Geoffrey Swayne--he
had brought a regiment of witnesses to swear it--but they were no less
satisfied that Sir Geoffrey and 'Scudding Tom' were one and the same
person. It sorted well with his general reputation, and besides Sir
Henry swore to him as being the man who had robbed him, and whether he
swore in good faith or out of revenge for the things Sir Geoffrey had
said to him when he was overpowered, it might be difficult to say.

But Sir Geoffrey was hanged, and the world was done with him, although
Sir Geoffrey was nowise done with the world, as you shall hear. His
lands--or what was left of them out of all that he had gamed
away--were forfeit to the Crown, and his widow stood thus in peril of
destitution. Not even his handsome body did they leave. For when it
was cut down, still warm, from the gallows, it was sold to Dr.
Blizzard, a ready purchaser of such commodities for dissecting
purposes.

But the old doctor had bought more than he knew of this time, for upon
the insertion of the knife into one of Sir Geoffrey's legs--the point
at which the doctor had elected to start his work--Sir Geoffrey had
suddenly sat upright on the slate table, stretching his limbs, and
letting forth a volley of blood-curdling imprecations, which all but
slew the doctor by the fright they gave him.

Then, memory of past events returning to his wakening mind, the rake
had checked himself, blenched a little and looked awesomely about him.
The doctor, quivering in every nerve, his teeth rattling in his head,
vainly sought to crush himself behind a tallboy, to protect himself
from the material, and pattered long-forgotten prayers to heaven for
protection against the immaterial--for, scientist though Dr. Blizzard
was, he could not here discriminate with which he might have to do.

'Rat me!' spluttered Sir Geoffrey, still looking about him, 'and is
this hades?' He shivered, for he was naked. 'It is colder than I would
have credited from what they told me,' said he. He caught sight of the
doctor's scared, grey face, horn-rimmed spectacles, and wig gone
rakishly awry in the efforts the man made to conceal himself.

'Faith!' he pursued with a chuckle, 'but it's a place of surprises.
You've a monstrous mild look, sir, for Satan--neither tail, nor cloven
hoof, nor pitchfork? Gad's my life! but you're a disappointment.'

He swung himself down from the table, and found his limbs so cramped
that he howled a second in pain.

At last, perceiving what manner of resurrection was this, the doctor
took heart and came forward. 'God 'a mercy!' said he, 'I've heard of
such things, but I'd never have believed it.'

'You've an odd turn of speech, old Lucifer. Are you a devil, or are
you not?'

'I'm no devil,' the doctor answered testily.

'Then who the devil are you?'

'Man, you were hanged at Tyburn this morning,' quoth the doctor a
trifle irrelevantly.

'Was I so? Egad! I was coming to think that I had dreamed it.'

'Oh, it was no dream. You were hanged. You are Sir Geoffrey Swayne.'

'Then I'm in hades, after all. But of your pity lend me a cloak, for
it seems I'm more in danger of being frozen here than burned.'

The doctor gave him the garment he craved, and explained the
situation. Sir Geoffrey was incredulous. The doctor heaped up
arguments, cited precedents.

'It is recorded,' he said, 'of a woman, in the reign of Edward III,
regaining consciousness after having hanged for four-and-twenty hours,
and of another woman at Oxford a hundred years ago who came to life
again after having hanged for half-an-hour, besides other instances
I've read of, yet discredited until now.'

The doctor was waxing excited, and Sir Geoffrey had much ado to
restrain him from running out to tell all London of this resurrection.

'I'm dead,' he told the doctor, with a grin, 'and dead you'll leave
me, or, by heaven, it's dead you'll be yourself. I was hanged, and
there's an end to it--leastways until I've had a talk with that
Kentish lout they call Sir Henry Talbury.'

He told the doctor the true circumstances of his case, and he so
succeeded in convincing him of the truth of it that the old man was
won over to befriend him, and put him in the way of having justice
done him after all. But that night Sir Geoffrey sickened of a fever,
and was forced to keep his bed some days, so that a week had passed
before he was able to leave the doctor's house, and make his way to
Hurlingston.

Blizzard lent him ten guineas and made him a present of a suit of
black Camlett, a hat, and a brown /roquelaure/, his own clothes having
been reduced to rags by the violence that had attended his arrest.
Thus equipped, Sir Geoffrey arrived at Maidstone at six o'clock in the
evening of the first Monday in April. From Maidstone to Hurlingston
was a distance of some four miles, which Sir Geoffrey covered afoot,
reaching Hurlingston Manor as dusk was falling.

He stepped briskly up the long white drive that wound its way between
regiments of trees, to the clearing that fronted the grey, severely
architected house. From long French windows to the left a shaft of
light, emerging through half-drawn curtains, fell with a golden glow
upon the lawn. One half of the window itself stood open, for it had
been warm as a day of summer. Sir Geoffrey paused, and his eyes roved
towards that glowing aperture. He hesitated in his original intention
of boldly asking for Sir Henry. He turned aside, and still pondering,
he drifted rather than walked, until he was in line with the opening,
and able to look into the room. A second he stared with dilated eyes,
then with a sharp indrawing of breath he sped forward, nor stopped
until he was crouching at the window, peering into the room.

Within sat the Justice of the Peace, like a toad with its legs wide,
and his wig on his knee. He was sucking contentedly at a long-stemmed
pipe, and at his elbow was a decanter and a half-filled glass of
sparkling yellow wine. His huge dome-like head shone in the light of a
pair of candles that stood in their massive silver sticks on either
side of the papers spread out in front of him.

Before him stood a woman all in black--a tall, nobly-proportioned
woman, with a high nose and a handsome, high-bred face. She was
speaking, and her fine eyes were full of supplication. Sir Geoffrey
drew nigh and listened as he deemed he had the right to, for the woman
was Lady Swayne.

'Sir,' she was saying, 'of your charity I do implore you again that
you investigate this matter, and as sure as you're sitting there you
shall discover that Sir Geoffrey was no robber, whatever may have been
his sins. Sir Henry, you have made a widow of me. Do not make me a
beggar also. I ask for justice--tardy justice--that my husband's
estates be not confiscated from me.'

Sir Henry withdrew his pipe from his gross lips.

'Madam,' said he, 'your husband was found guilty by judge and jury. He
was "Scudding Tom," the highwayman--there's never a doubt of it.'

The curtain rings rang harshly on the ensuing silence. The woman
turned her head and screamed; the man looked up and gasped for breath.
His face blenched, the pipe dropped from his nerveless fingers and
broke into a dozen fragments on the floor; for there, between the dark
green curtains, the lamplight falling full upon his face, which
gleamed a ghostly white against the black background of the night,
stood the wraith of Sir Geoffrey Swayne.

He stood there, enjoying the sensation his advent had created, a
sardonic grin on his white face, a glitter mighty evil in his bold,
black eyes.

The woman was the first to gather sufficient courage to address the
apparition. Sir Henry had a desire to crawl under the table, and if he
did not indulge it, it was because his limbs, palsied with fright,
refused their office.

'Is that you, Geoffrey?' the woman whispered hoarsely, craning
forward, her face white to the lips. 'Speak!'

And then a cunning notion shot through Sir Geoffrey's subtle mind. Of
what avail to protest his innocence? What proofs had he? A judge and
jury had found him guilty; the thing was done with. He must play a
subtle game if he would retrieve his lands from confiscation, and the
nature of it was at once apparent to him.

He stepped airily forward a pace or two, and the curtains fell
together behind him with a shudder.

'My name, madam, is not Geoffrey. It is Jack--Jack Haynes, better
known to the vulgar as "Scudding Tom," gentleman of the road. Your
servant, madam, and yours, sir.' He made a leg first to the lady, and
then to the knight.

Sir Henry's colour was returning. It came back in a flood until it
seemed as if he were doomed to apoplexy. A grunt escaped him. He
sought words in which to utter his amazement, his perplexity and his
dawning dismay. But the woman was beforehand with him. She had stared
a moment at her husband in unbelief. Then, as if convinced--and well
she might be, knowing Sir Geoffrey hanged--she swung round upon Sir
Henry, her arm dramatically outstretched.

'You have heard him, Sir Henry,' she cried. 'You have heard what he
says. Will you believe me now, when I tell you again that you were
mistaken? Here is the proof I needed. Will you do me justice now?'

'Wait, madam,' growled the knight. Then to the man: 'What brings you
here?' he demanded.

'I am tardily come, sir,' answered the other, 'but I could not come
before. I--I was detained. Yet am I here now, and, it seems, still in
time to do some good. I am come to tell you that it was I who robbed
you of your hundred guineas, and not Sir Geoffrey Swayne, whom you
have hanged for the deed. 'Tis said that I resemble him, and indeed it
must be so since you swore to him as being the man who robbed you.
'Twas an unlucky thing for him that when I held him up he should have
knocked me from my mare and bestridden her himself, for the mare was
well known--and belike 'twas the mare convinced men so easily that he
was "Scudding Tom". So much for the ways of justice!'

Sir Henry stared at him with fallen jaw, and his thoughts were far
from pleasant. This fellow was indeed the very image of Sir Geoffrey,
so like in figure, feature and in voice, that neither he nor the man's
own wife could have sworn that he was not Sir Geoffrey himself, but
for the unquestionable fact that Sir Geoffrey was hanged a week ago.
The sight of that incredible likeness convinced him of the error there
had been. The man he hanged was the very counterpart of this one.
Small blame to him, then, for having sworn away the other's life. Yet
a sudden choler stirred the fat old knight, as much against himself
for the life he had sworn away, as against this fellow for having been
the cause of it.

He heaved himself to his feet, acting upon a sudden impulse. His
neglected wig tumbled from his knee and lay on the ground beside the
pieces of his shattered pipe, whilst its owner lurched across the room
in the direction of the bell-rope.

'Whither away, Sir Henry?' came Sir Geoffrey's voice suavely; and,
moved to look over his shoulder, the knight's progress was arrested,
and his heavy underlip shuddered in affright against his teeth, for he
was staring into a levelled pistol. 'I have not walked into the lion's
maw without precautions, sir,' said he. 'I'll trouble you to sit.'

But the woman, who had been considering him with scrutinizing eyes,
raised a hand and waved it imperiously to Sir Henry.

'Ring the bell, sir,' she bade him briskly.

'Madam,' smiled Sir Geoffrey, 'be not harsh with me. Besides, upon
what charge would you have me taken?'

'Upon the charge of highway robbery,' thundered the knight.
Nevertheless he sat down, as he was bidden. 'By your own confession,
it was you who robbed me on Streatham Hill.'

'Bloodthirsty tyke,' returned the other. 'Have you not hanged one man
already for that deed? Gads, my life, sir, you may not hang two men in
England for one man's offence.'

Sir Henry considered him a moment, writhing under the insolence of the
fellow's tone. 'Your resemblance to the late Sir Geoffrey is very
thorough,' said he drily. 'It is little blame to me for my mistake.
But if we have hanged one man for your robbery of me, yet there are
counts enough besides, against you on which to hang you as well.'

'Maybe; but you'll drop the subject, or there'll be one count
more--the death of Sir Henry Talbury.'

His lips smiled, but his tone was resolute, his eyes alert. Sir Henry,
finding the subject as little to his own taste as it was objectionable
to his visitor, dropped it there and then. Sir Geoffrey crossed to the
door and turned the key.

'Sir,' said he, 'and you, madam--for Sir Geoffrey I am sorry, though
the world has it he was a nasty rogue. But I am here to prove that, at
least, he was not the thing for which they hanged him. He was no
robber. Restitution must be made to his widow. I have his death upon
my conscience. I'll not have more.'

'Why, there we are at one,' Sir Henry agreed. 'Since I have seen and
heard you, it is my wish, no less than yours, that Lady Swayne should
not suffer more than already she has done. Will you depose?'

'Let me have pen, ink and paper, and it shall be done at once.'

Sir Henry supplied his needs, and Sir Geoffrey sat down to write.

'You'll be so good as to sit there--as far from the bell as the width
of the room will allow,' he bade the knight. 'Make an attempt to have
me apprehended, and I shall take a look at the colour of your
brains--if so be you have any.'

'Damme, you knave----'

'Peace, sir. Do you not see that I write?'

They left him to it, Sir Henry and Lady Swayne sitting silently in his
presence, whilst his quill scratched its way across a sheet of paper,
his pistol beside him on the table ready to his hand.

At last the confession that should save Sir Geoffrey's lands, now that
it could no longer save his life, was accomplished. When it was done,
he rose and went to ring the bell, then admitted the servant who
answered the summons, and relocked the door when he was inside. In the
presence of the magistrate, the lady, and the lackey, he swore to and
signed his depositions, and they appended their signatures as
witnesses. He emptied the sand-box over it, and, bowing to them, his
bearing grave, his lips mocking, he strode off in the direction of the
window by which he had entered. He paused, his hand upon the curtains,
and looked back over his shoulder.

'Lady Swayne,' said he, 'I have done you some service this night. Let
your gratitude see to it that I may go my ways without fear of
pursuit.'

She nodded her assurance. His roving eye smiled a moment on the
knight.

'Good-night, old beer-barrel,' said he, and so leapt out into the
darkness, and was gone.

Lady Swayne shivered a little, and, moving to the table, took up the
paper he had written and studied it a while. The bewildered lackey
unlocked the door and departed at a curt nod from his master. A thin
smile parted the lips of the woman, it was almost as a faint
reflection of the smile that had haunted Sir Geoffrey's face.

'Madam,' said Sir Henry, with a rough attempt either at seeking or at
giving consolation, 'you'll bear me no deep ill-will for my error. I
deplore it grievously. I shall ne'er forgive myself. And yet, madam,
the estates shall remain yours--have no doubt of that; and if all they
say be true, belike you'll enjoy them better alone than in Sir
Geoffrey's company. He was no over-pleasant mate for any woman; a
bullying, drunken, wife-beating scoundrel, who----'

'Sir,' she broke in, 'he was my husband. Will you be so good as to
ring? I'll be departing now.'



It was a week before Sir Geoffrey found his way home to Guildford. He
had tarried by the way until the last of Dr Blizzard's guineas was
exhausted. One night, at last, he strode, as bold and debonair as
ever, across the threshold of his home and bade a servant, who was new
to him, to conduct him at once to Lady Swayne.

He stood in his wife's presence, the door closed; they two alone.

'Helen, my girl,' he cried--for on occasions he could be a very lover
to the wife he had so often beaten--'you played your part bravely at
Hurlingston. It is as much to you, sweetheart, as to myself that I owe
this re-unition. I'm with you again, my girl; and if I may not safely
live in England, we'll sell the old home and begin life anew in a new
world.'

She let him say no more. She had risen, and was regarding him from
under knitted brows, her lips compressed, her bosom heaving under its
black satin bodice.

'Mr. Haynes,' said she, at last, 'have your wits deserted you?'

His jaw fell, the boldness left his air and glance. 'God 'a mercy!' he
gasped. 'Were you deluded too, then? Did you not recognize me? Helen,
I am Geoffrey Swayne.'

'Go tell it to fools, man,' said she. 'Geoffrey Swayne was hanged at
Tyburn, as all the world knows.'

'Aye, hanged was I, and yet I came to life again.'

'A likely story--such things are common happenings,' she smiled
ironically.

He took a step forward, his brow black as thunder now. 'Madam,' he
snarled, 'you are fooling me. You know me, yet will not own to me. Saw
you not the writing of my depositions? Knew you not the hand? And if
that were not enough to convince you, look you on this.' He thrust
back the hair from his brow, revealing a long livid scar above the
temple. But the sight of that identifying mark left her unmoved.

'Sir Geoffrey had just such another scar,' said she quietly. 'He came
by it in this very room, one night when he was drunk. He had raised
his whip to strike me, but lost his balance and fell, cracking his
head against that hand-iron. Aye, your likeness to Sir Geoffrey is
very amazing, yet are you not Sir Geoffrey,' she continued. 'You are
Mr Haynes, known to the vulgar as "Scudding Tom", gentleman of the
road, against whom there remains sufficient to hang you. Bear you that
in mind,' she added impressively, 'nor push me too far, lest I forget
my gratitude.'

He was upon her like a panther. He caught her wrist until it seemed he
must snap it, all the blackguard in him risen like scum to the surface
of his vile nature.

'Madam, you shall be whipped,' he promised her through his teeth. But
the bell-rope was within her reach. Too late he sought to drag her
from it. She had caught it in her free hand, and his dragging her sent
a clanging peal reverberating through the house.

He let her go, and fell back quivering with rage, his face ashen. She
recovered, and spoke coldly to him.

'Mr Haynes,' said she, 'I will forgive you this out of consideration
for the service you have rendered me. I will even do more. You spoke
just now of seeking your fortune in the New World. I counsel you to
follow so excellent an intention. In England you go hourly in danger
of capture, and "Scudding Tom" will unquestionably hang if he be
taken.'

The door opened, and a servant stood before her. She bade him wait
outside until she summoned him again. Then, to her husband, she
continued:

'So follow my advice, and get you to America, as you proposed. In
return for the service you did me by your depositions, I'll pay you
half-yearly the sum of fifty pounds for life, so long as you remain
out of England; and here you have your first six months' pension,
which will enable you to get you beyond seas. Go now, and God be with
you, and lead you into better ways of life. You have widowed me by
your evil courses, and a widow I'm like to remain.' Her tone was full
of a meaning he did not miss. He stared a moment, then his eyes moved
to the roll of notes on the table before him, where she had placed
them.

Fury had failed him; he sought to cajole.

'Helen, my girl,' he began. But the heart of the too-often beaten wife
had been broken overlong ago to be still sensible to prayers of his.

'Robert!' she called, raising her voice, and instantly the servant
reappeared. 'You will re-conduct this gentleman, and lend him a horse
to ride to Bristol. Give you good-night, sir.'

With distorted features, Geoffrey Swayne turned to fling out of the
room. But she called him back. 'You've forgotten something,' said she,
and she pointed to the notes upon the table. A moment he looked at her
almost furtively, a suggestion of crouching in his attitude, something
akin to that of a hound that had been whipped. Then he took the notes
and thrust them into his pocket.

In silence he went out of the room, and so out of her life.



                             THE BARGAIN

Mr Hawkesby stirred in his great chair and, half awake, opened his
eyes to blink at the fiery reflection of the evening sun, which glared
at him from the glass of his tall, well-furnished bookcase.
Incuriously he looked round to see what had disturbed his slumbers,
then he leapt wideawake to his feet, so violently that a little shower
of powder rained from his carefully dressed hair to settle upon the
neck and shoulders of his velvet coat.

Leaning against the solid mahogany table, midway between the open
window and the chair in which Mr Hawkesby had rested, stood a man, a
stranger, in a suit of homespun the worse for wear, ragged stockings,
and a pair of silver-buckled shoes all spattered with mud and dirt.
Hawkesby's face paled, for nature had not made him overvaliant. His
first thought was that he had to do with a thief--and a thief who knew
what he was about, for in the handsome, inlaid secretaire yonder
reposed a bag containing three hundred guineas--rents collected that
morning by Mr Hawkesby's bailiff.

The stranger raised a hand in a mild gesture of supplication.

'I beg that you'll not be alarmed,' said he, his manner that of a
gentleman. 'I'm no robber. You'll be Mr Hawkesby?'

'I am,' answered the man of the house, his voice sharp. 'How came you
here?'

The stranger waved a white, slender hand, a hand at odd variance with
his clothes, in the direction of the open window and the blossom-laden
trees of the orchard beyond. 'That way,' he said.

'Oh, that way?' Mr Hawkesby mimicked him; for, seeing him so tame, his
own courage was returning fast. 'And what may you be wanting with me,
my man?'

The other left his position by the table, and took a step towards the
young squire. Mr Hawkesby retreated towards the bell-rope.

'Keep your distance, my man,' said he, his tone less arrogant.

'Don't ring, Mr Hawkesby!' cried the other in a tone of such sudden
alarm that Hawkesby paused, his fingers on the rope. 'I've come to ye
for shelter. 'Tis a hunted man I am this day.'

'You're glib enough with my name,' said Hawkesby. 'What may yours be?'

'Look me in the face, sor, an' ye'll never need to ask,' answered the
other with a smile that was between sorrow and jauntiness. Hawkesby
looked as he was bidden, and he saw that the man wore his own hair,
black as coal and tied in a queue, from which a few escaping strands
had matted themselves about his brow. It was a fine, distinguished
countenance, but Hawkesby was not aware that his eyes had ever
encountered it before. He said so, and a whimsical smile lifted the
corners of the intruder's close-lipped mouth.

'Black hair, black eyes,' he recited, 'arched eyebrows, hooked nose,
thin lips, sallow complexion, a mole on the right of the chin, and a
scar over the right temple'--he pushed back his matted hair, and
showed a milk-white line--'stands five foot ten, and is of a slender
shape. Have ye read that description nowhere of late, Mr Hawkesby?'

Hawkesby fell back a pace.

'Egad!' he exclaimed, and then again, 'Egad!'

'Just so,' said the Irishman, with a shrug.

'Then you're----'

'Miles O'Neill, your most obedient, Mr Hawkesby,' said the Irishman,
making a leg.

In a quiver of apprehension, not of the man but of the things that
might result from the man's presence, Hawkesby now approached his
visitor.

'In Heaven's name, why are you here, Mr O'Neil?' quoth he, and his
face was pale, his blue eyes wide with horror.

'I lay at Appleby last night--at Mr Robertson's,' said the fugitive.
'He tould me that should I need shelter farther south, I'd find it at
your hands. I was for rachin' Lancashire, and I'd niver have throubled
ye, but that from Orton hither I have been followed.'

'Followed?' cried Hawkesby in alarm. 'Followed hither? And by whom?'

'By a dhirty rogue who caught a glimpse of me as I was lavin' Orton.
Shure, an' he dodged me footsteps ivery moile of the foive. Half a
moile from here I led him through a confusion of lanes, and lost him.
Glory be to God! There's a thousand guineas on my head, but the
earning of them'll not be his, the dhirty shpy.'

'How knew you this to be my house? How knew you me?'

'More by luck than controivance, faith! I was hidin' in the orchard
there, and seein' a window convaniently open, I bethought me that
beloike I'd find closer hiding-room within doors. By your coat-of-arms
over the fireplace yonder I saw that I'd found luck for the first
toime since I joined the Prince's banner.'

Hawkesby looked at him out of eyes that did not exactly beam with
welcome. He had contrived to keep the Tories in ignorance of his
connection with the Cause, for all that it might be a matter of common
knowledge in the ranks of Charlie Stuart's followers. His had been but
a half-hearted devotion, for he was by no means a man of rash impulse.
His head governed his heart always; it governed it now, and he
misliked the risk he might be running in harbouring this notorious
rebel.

Still, the man before him looked in sore need of aid. His face was
pale, and there were black lines beneath his eyes that lent them a
haggard look. In what sorry condition were his garments we have
already seen. Yet he bore himself with a certain jauntiness; when he
spoke of being hunted he did so with a devil-may-care manner that
should have earned him sympathy from a stone image. Hawkesby was not
altogether insensible to this, and he felt, too, that he would be for
ever shamed did he turn this fugitive out of doors without more ado.
So, however reluctant he may have been at heart, outwardly at least he
made a decent show of befriending O'Neill. He invited him to rest in
the great easy-chair, whilst he went in quest of food and wine.

'For, I take it, you'll welcome refreshment, Mr O'Neill,' said he.

'It's little enough of it I've had since the shlaughter at Culloden,'
laughed the Irishman as he dropped into the great chair and stretched
his dusty legs luxuriously.

Hawkesby fetched him some cold pigeon-pie, a loaf, and a flask of
French wine, and, setting the things before him on a small table, he
bade his visitor fall to. O'Neill did so with a will, and when he had
eaten he turned a scornful eye upon the slender, lily-shaped glass his
host had set before him.

'Have ye no such thing as a bumper, now, about the house, Mr
Hawkesby?' quoth he. 'There's a health I'd be after dhrinkin' with all
me heart.'

Hawkesby rose with a shrug of impatience to fetch the thing his guest
craved. O'Neill filled it to the brim, and emptied it twice in brisk
succession--thereby exhausting the flask. He drank first to Mr
Hawkesby's long life, and next to the Duke of Cumberland's short
shrift. Hawkesby fetched more wine--a brace of flasks this time. The
rebel's eyes sparkled at sight of them.

''Tis a power of dust gets in your throat a-walkin',' said he. 'Aye,
an' the weather's hot an' all. Here's long loife to ye agin, Mr
Hawkesby.' And again was a bumper poured down that amazing gullet.
'Ye're not drinkin' yerself,' he expostulated, making himself mightily
at home.

'If you'll pardon me,' said the other stiffly, 'it is not my habit of
an afternoon.'

'By me sowl, ye should acquire it, thin,' was the laughing answer, and
O'Neill emptied the second flagon into his tall glass. 'Ye're missin'
a power of loife!'

Hawkesby sat himself on the arm of a chair, and craved news of the
Prince.

'Where left you his Highness?' quoth he. 'Is he still in the heather,
know you, or has he contrived to ship for France?'

But the question did no more than suggest a fresh toast to the rebel.
He raised his glass to the light, and eyed the blood-red colour of the
wine with a fond glance.

'Here's a health to his Hoighness, where'er he may be!' He drained his
bumper. '/Super naculum!/', he laughed, as he turned it up, and made a
bead on his thumbnail.

'You've a fine thirst, sir,' said Hawkesby a trifle tartly.

'An' it's yourself would have the same, bedad, if ye'd run with the
Scots from Culloden. But it's an iligant wine,' he added politely as a
further reason.

'The battle should never have been delivered as it was,' said
Hawkesby, who, like many another, could criticize what he could never
have had a hand in doing. 'The Prince should have fallen back behind
Nairn Water.'

'Maybe,' quoth the Irishman pensively. 'But ye'll allow it's an ill
thing to fall back on water or behind it.' And he reached for the
wine, to add point to his meaning. 'I'll give ye the sow's tail to
Geordie!' said he, and with that the flagon was emptied.

Hawkesby affected not to notice that again the wine was done, lest
hospitality should force him to fetch more. A gallon of good French
claret should be, he thought, enough for any man; and Hawkesby was
careful by nature to the point of stinginess. Once more he sought to
draw his guest into talking of the Cause, and he did so with moderate
success for a little while. But presently O'Neill sank back in his
chair and fetched a sigh.

'Shure, talkin's dhry work,' said he, and he held a flask to the light
to make certain it was empty.

The hint was over-broad to be ignored. Hawkesby fetched another brace
of bottles from his cellar, swearing to himself, however, that they
should be the last. He was beginning to dislike his guest exceedingly.
There were more toasts when he returned. If O'Neill had been half the
fighter that he was the drinker, surely the side he fought for should
have been victorious at Culloden. He pledged all manner of men and all
manner of events; it was 'long loife' to this, and 'bad cess' to that,
until his last bumper stood before him and he appeared at a loss for a
subject. Indeed, there was by then an ominous flush to his cheek and a
sparkle in his eye that had not been there when first he had clambered
into Mr Hawkesby's room.

Hawkesby began mightily to fear for him now--and more for himself.
Here was a plight! The man was a rebel with a thousand guineas on his
head; he had been recognized and followed from Orton to this
neighbourhood. What if he were to become too drunk to move, and so
were to be found in Mr Hawkesby's house? He began to expostulate with
his guest. He spoke of caution, and as politely as he could he
suggested to O'Neill that there was danger for him in drinking as he
was doing. He went so far even as to seek to remove the last bumper.
But O'Neill's hands shot out at that sign of danger, and his fingers
encircled the glass in a resolute clutch.

'Bedad!' he hiccoughed. 'The man was hanged that left his dhrink
behind him.'

'I'm thinking, sir, that should the same fate overtake you it will not
be from the same cause,' was Hawkesby's irritable answer. But the
Irishman was not to be offended. He emptied his glass, and got
unsteadily to his feet. His wits were surely all soaked in wine by
now, for he waved his hand in the air and broke suddenly into song.


                   It's Geordie he came up to town,
                   Wi' a bunch o' turnips in his crown;
                   Aha, quo' she, I'll pull them down,
                   And turn my tail to Geordie!


'For Heaven's sake, sir!' gasped Hawkesby, in very real affright;
'You'll have the house about my ears. Silence, man, if you value your
life at a farthing! Are you not afraid?'

'Afraid?' roared O'Neill; and it almost seemed for a moment that he
was offended. Then he laughed aloud and long, and for an answer broke
into another Jacobite ditty----


               O that's the thing that ne'er can be,
               For the man's unborn that'll daunton me!
               O set me once----


Abruptly his song ceased. His mouth remained opened--nay, fell
wider--and his eyes stared with a sudden look of horror past his host
at the window to which Hawkesby had his back. With a premonition of
what was afoot, Hawkesby swung round, then stood, his face livid,
scarce breathing in his affright.

Leaning on the sill of the open window was a man of swarthy
complexion, whose face was rendered villainous now by the leering grin
with which he surveyed the room's occupants.

A three-cornered hat was set rakishly upon his loose, untidy hair, and
he wore a scarlet riding-coat of velvet, very soiled and frayed, with
tarnished gold lace and dirty, torn ruffles. Seeing himself observed,
he waited for no invitation to enter, but set his hands upon the sill
and vaulted lightly into the room. He was a tall, powerfully built
man, and he flourished a long, gleaming pistol.

'Mr Hawkesby, your servant, sir,' he leered, with an ironical bow. 'Mr
O'Neill, your very humble servant.' And coolly stepping aside he
locked the door.

Hawkesby looked askance at O'Neill. The Irishman's knees had been
loosened, either from drink or from fright, and he had sunk limply to
a chair, where he sat staring foolishly at the intruder.

'Bedad!' he muttered at last in a thick voice. 'Ye're as persevering
as a shpider. I t'ought I'd losht ye, me friend.' And as he spoke his
hand went fumbling towards the breast of his coat. The bully's weapon
came level with his brows.

'I'll trouble you to put that pistol on the table,' said he, with a
snarl; and O'Neill sheepishly relinquished the weapon he was slyly
drawing.

Hawkesby stepped to the bell. His was the courage of despair. He
braced himself, and--

'What do you want, my man?' he demanded, with pretended firmness.

'Just your friend, O'Neill, yonder,' said the fellow, with a grin.
'He's worth a thousand guineas to me.' Hawkesby laid a hand on the
bell-rope. 'Oh, ring away, Mr Hawkesby; ring away!' the ruffian airily
encouraged him. 'Fetch in your servants; fetch in the whole town to
see how you shelter and befriend a rebel.'

Hawkesby's hand fell back to his side. The affair looked ugly. He
turned to O'Neill to see how the rebel took matters, hoping in his
heart that the fellow would surrender before more harm was done. But
O'Neill made no shift to move. Instead, he was settling himself more
comfortably in his chair. He eyed the spy with a from-head-to-foot
glance of contempt.

'An' who the dickens may you be, me man?' quoth he.

'I'm a loyal subject of King George's.'

'Bedad, ye look it, sor,' answered O'Neill, as bold as brass; 'ye look
it; and ye look, too--if one may judge by externals--as if there
moight be a price on your own dhirty head.'

Hawkesby, watching the bully, saw the shot strike home. The fellow's
eyes dropped uneasily, he shuffled where he stood, and there was a
pause before he answered, still truculent, but with half the assurance
gone out of him:

'You'll be leaving my affairs alone, and you'll be treating me
respectfully. The constable'll be none too inquisitive if I hand over
to him the notorious Mr O'Neill.'

'Maybe; but Mr O'Neill'll be after arousin' the constable's
inquisitiveness,' said the rebel, with an ugly look. It was plain he
saw the weak spot in his opponent's hide. Hawkesby was thinking
briskly. An idea had come to him--an inspiration. He had accounted
himself lost, for the sheriff would want to know where O'Neill had
been captured, and the bully, not a doubt of it, would inform him. He
was cursing the hospitality he had extended to this drunken fugitive;
he had begrudged it when he saw how dear it was like to cost him in
wine; how much more, then, did miserly Mr Hawkesby not begrudge it now
that he saw how dear it was like to cost him in good gold
guineas?--for clearly this fellow must be bought off. His voice, cold
and precise, cut into the momentary silence.

'It is quite clear,' said he to the spy, 'that you are in no condition
yourself to approach the constable. You'll need to go before the
sheriff, and there'll be awkward questions asked.'

'I'm no fool,' snapped the spy, 'and you'll not make me one. They'll
welcome me very cordially when I take them Mr O'Neill. They'll not ask
many questions--saving, perhaps, as to whereabouts I came upon him.
Why, if they had a grievance against me--which I'm not saying that
they have--this day's work should earn me a pardon.'

'That's as it may be,' sneered O'Neill.

'Just so; but you'll not alter it with talking.'

'I might alter it with something else,' interpolated Hawkesby, in a
tone that drew the brisk attention of the others. 'Listen to me, now.
If you yield up Mr O'Neill, and even if no questions are asked
concerning yourself, the Government's a mighty slow paymaster. You may
wait a long time for your thousand guineas.'

'True,' the man confessed.

'Will you strike a bargain with me, now? What'll you take, money
down?'

The fellow looked up, licking his lips--it was a lick of anticipation.

'You speak me very fair,' said he, his head on one side, his glance
shifting from one to the other of the men. 'I'll take five hundred
guineas for my bargain.'

'Don't listen to the thafe!' said O'Neill contemptuously.

'You shall have a hundred,' was Hawkesby's answer.

The man laughed scornfully. 'You're jesting,' said he. 'Come, now; say
four hundred, and Mr O'Neill may go his ways for me.'

'One hundred,' repeated Hawkesby doggedly. It was in all conscience
money enough to pay for having entertained O'Neill. More he would not
give, betide what might. But neither would the other abate further.
Seeing Hawkesby resolute:

'Come, Mr O'Neill,' said he at last, his pistol raised to enjoin
obedience, 'we had best be moving.'

'Aye,' said O'Neill gloomily, 'I'm thinkin' we had. I'm much obliged
to you, sor----' he began, turning to Hawkesby. But Hawkesby broke in
excitedly:

'No, no! You must not go.'

'Well, well,' said the bully, 'you shall have him for three hundred
guineas. Now that's reasonable. He's worth a thousand to any man.
Three hundred guineas, money down, and he's yours.'

Hawkesby stood with his shoulders to the mantelshelf, his face very
white, his lips very tight. He must clear himself from this position.
His neck would certainly be stretched if O'Neill were taken in his
house. Yet, three hundred guineas was a deal of money! And then the
devil--or else something that the spy had said--breathed a wicked
suggestion into his miserly soul.

'Three hundred guineas is all that I have by me,' said he, in a hard
voice. 'Yet you shall have the money.' And thus the bargain was
concluded, and Hawkesby took a heavy bag from the secretaire, where it
was locked, and banged it on the table. The spy peered at the yellow
contents, weighed it appreciatively in his hands.

'I'll take your word for the amount,' said he, and with a flourish of
compliments he took his leave, and departed by the way he had come.
Hawkesby, meanwhile, turned a deaf ear to O'Neill's warnings. At last,
when the man had disappeared, the rebel leapt to his feet. In his
excitement he seemed completely sobered.

'Mr Hawkesby,' said he, 'I'm eternally your debtor. Yet forgive me if
I tell ye ye've done a mad thing.'

'How?' asked Hawkesby, his eyebrows going up and his hand toying idly
with the pistol O'Neill had placed on the table when the spy had
bidden him.

'In allowing that ruffian to depart with the money. You should have
kept him here till I was gone. It is odds he'll go fetch the
constable, and still seek to earn his thousand guineas.'

'Aye,' said Hawkesby, with a singular smile. 'It is odds he will.'

'Then, bedad, give me the pishtol, and let me after him before he's
clear of the orchard.' And, making shift to go, O'Neill held out his
hand for the weapon. Instead, the muzzle was presented at his head.

'Stand where you are, Mr O'Neill,' said Hawkesby, in a voice of steel.
There was no timidity about him now. He was safe and brave behind his
pistol. He backed across the room, the weapon levelled at the rebel,
who eyed him with fallen jaw. For the third time in that afternoon
Hawkesby's hand went to the bell-rope. This time his fingers closed
upon it, and peal after peal went reverberating through the house.

'What are ye doin'?' gasped O'Neill.

Hawkesby showed his teeth in a ghastly smile, his face livid.

'Mr O'Neill,' said he, and his voice was crisp and cold, 'if that
ruffian fetches the constable, he'll be too late. You heard what he
said. You are worth a thousand guineas to any man. You are worth that
sum to me. I've bought you, and I'm--going to sell you again. I've
driven a shrewd bargain in you.'

The rebel stared at him a moment, unbelief in his face. Then he drew
himself up, the last vestige of his drunkenness departed, and a
singular smile--a mocking, cynical, yet exultant, smile--upon his hawk
face.

'So that is your loyalty to the Cause; that your devotion to the
Prince?' said he. 'Bedad! If ever Charlie comes to his own he shall
hear of this. But since it's so--why I'm glad it's so. You are mighty
well served, Mr Judas Iscariot Hawkesby; three hundred guineas is a
mort of money to lose over any man.'

'It's hardly lost,' sneered Hawkesby. Then, as O'Neill moved to the
window, 'Stand, or I fire!' he shouted.

'Foire, and be hanged,' said O'Neill. And Hawkesby, angered and
desperately afraid of losing his prey, fired one barrel after the
other. But the only sound that broke the stillness of the room was the
click of the hammer on the empty pan and O'Neill's soft contemptuous
laugh. The pistol was not loaded.

There came a sound of feet, and a knocking at the door.

With a last laugh O'Neill dropped from the sill and sped through the
orchard like a hare, to vanish in the twilight. Hawkesby, shaking in
every limb with the fear that had come upon him born of an awful
thought that had arisen in his mind, sprang to open. In flowed a
stream of servants, and after them, walking briskly, stained with
dust, came Mr Robertson of Appleby. At sight of him, Hawkesby checked
the words that were on his lips. He caught his visitor by the lapel of
his coat and drew him aside. His habit of caution was with him now,
excited though he was.

'Did Miles O'Neill lie at your house last night?' he whispered.

Robertson stared at him a moment. 'No,' said he at last; 'but it is
odd you should ask, for I came to tell you that Miles O'Neill was
taken last night at Penrith. I heard of it this morning.'

'I have been robbed!' screamed Hawkesby. 'Robbed of three hundred
guineas.'

They saw the disorder of the room, with its strewn flagons, and they
opined him drunk. By the time he had convinced them he was sober it
must have been too late, for his ingenious visitors were never taken.



                           THE OPPORTUNIST

To follow the early career of Capoulade down its easy descent of the
slopes of turpitude were depressing and unprofitable. He had reached
the stage at which he pocketed his pride and--like the adaptable
opportunist that he was--passed from the artistic plane of swindling
to the clumsier methods of purse-cutting and housebreaking. The
pursuit of the latter brought him one night into the domicile of
Monsieur Louvel.

Old Louvel was a man of fortune and the owner of an unique collection
of old Italian jewels, and this was the lure that attracted Capoulade.
Did rumour prove well founded he hoped to derive enough profit from
this night's work to enable him to lead, hereafter, a life of ease and
honesty in some foreign land; for Capoulade was disposed enough to be
honest once it should cease to be worth his while to be dishonest.

He stood in Louvel's room at dead midnight, facing the press which he
had been at considerable preliminary pains to ascertain was the
repository of the treasure that was to make him honest--a treasure
useless to Louvel, a mere hoard of artistic miserliness. Six steps
across the room; twenty seconds to cut a panel; five minutes to secure
the booty and make good his retreat--that was all that he now asked of
Fortune to the end that his salvation might be wrought. Yet niggardly
Fortune denied him even that little.

For even as he took his first steps towards the press a loud knock
fell upon the street door. It reverberated through the silent house,
it found an echo in Capoulade's heart, and sent an icy chill through
the marrow of his spine.

The knocking was repeated, vigorous and insistently; and Capoulade
groaned to reflect how soundly they must sleep, how fine and rare the
opportunity that was being ruined for him.

Then came other sounds--shuffling steps of slippered feet descended
the stairs; the street door was opened. Voices sounded awhile, then
the slippered feet reascended, accompanied now by a heavy, booted
tread.

Physically Capoulade was a coward, but morally he possessed the
courage of ten men. So averse was he from going empty-handed from that
treasure-chamber that he decided at all costs--despite his thudding
heart and chattering teeth--to remain until this newcomer should have
gone either to bed or back to the streets from which he had been so
inopportunely admitted.

A moment later he repented this decision in a passion of alarm. The
steps were approaching the very room in which he stood. A shaft of
light entered under the closed doors and thrust out along the gleaming
parquet to Capoulade's feet. Swift and silent as a shadow, he crossed
to where a curtain masked an alcove, and there he hid himself, prayers
on his lips and a knife in his hand, desperate and vicious as a
cornered rat.

The door opened, and old Louvel, in nightcap and white quilted
dressing-gown, advanced, candle in hand. He was followed by a tall,
showily dressed young gentleman, Theodore Louvel, his son, who filled
in Lyons the high office of agent to M. Turgot, the
Comptroller-General.

In silence the old man crossed to the press, unlocked the double doors
and threw them wide.

'There,' he exclaimed, anger quivering in his voice, 'let the evidence
of your own eyes satisfy you.'

He held the candle aloft, so that its light shone upon rows of
shelves--all empty.

His son took a step forward, staring. From behind his curtain
Capoulade stared, too, in amazement and chagrin.

'But what does it mean?' cried Theodore at last. 'What, then, has
become of the treasure?'

There was a dry, contemptuous laugh from his father.

'Ask yourself rather than me,' he croaked. 'You have not by any chance
kept an account of the sums of which you have drained me in the last
two years? When I remonstrated with you, you laughed. When I sought to
restrain you by refusing you the money which you demanded, then, like
a dutiful son, you threatened my life. Thus, you said, you should
inherit that which I withheld.'

He turned his vulture face upon his son, and a smile of mockery,
ineffably bitter, twisted his lipless mouth.

'I have given you the rope you needed, and you have hanged yourself.
In two years you have had from me five hundred thousand livres--and
all is gone. I sold my treasures little by little, and there is
nothing left.'

'I'll not believe it!' cried Theodore.

Louvel shrugged his narrow shoulders.

'Believe it or not, it is true. There is nothing for you. You may kill
me now, if you will. I have seen to it that my death, at least, shall
not profit you.'

With black, scowling brows Theodore faced his father, pondering him as
if he would read the mind behind that cynical old mask.

'It is a lie!' he said at last, between his teeth. 'How do you live if
you have nothing--eh? Answer me that.'

The old man leisurely closed the press and placed the candle on the
table.

'You would, perhaps, deprive me of the little I have retained to
ensure me from perishing of hunger?'

'Ah! You confess, then, that all is not as you represent it?' was the
quick retort. 'You can save me from this ruin that impends--and save
me you shall--you must! Do you hear? You must!'

'You had better kill me, and take what you can find,' the old man
mocked him. 'I would as soon perish by your hand as starve. The deed,
too, would set a fitting climax to our relations.'

'Will you not understand that it is but a loan that I require?'

'It has always been a loan.'

'This time I will repay--I swear it.'

'You swear it? /Farceur!/ Out of your beggarly salary from the
Comptroller-General?'

Theodore took a turn in the room, his face as white as his powdered
hair, his eyes anxious. At length he paused.

'It is but ten thousand livres I need, and it is the price of my
salvation from ruin and shame.'

'So has it always been,' sneered his father.

'But I will repay you, I say!' was the vehement, almost frenzied
answer. He plucked a paper from his pocket. 'Listen!' he insisted.
'You are acquainted with Madame Lobreau?'

There was nobody in Lyons to whom that lady's name was not familiar.
Under years of her capable management the Grand Theatre of Lyons had
been raised from a mere puppet-show until it might have rivalled the
most brilliant playhouses of the capital, not excepting the famous
Comédie Française.

'Do you propose to murder her in her bed and steal her jewels?'

Theodore swore furiously under the spur of this sarcasm.

'Will you listen to me seriously?' he demanded. 'This lady holds her
managerial privilege from the Comptroller-General, in whose power it
lies to deprive her of her theatre. I am the Comptroller's agent in
Lyons, and it lies within my power to dispossess her. Now, it has
occurred to a certain Monsieur de Noirmont that, considering the
handsome yields of the Grand Theatre, it should be worth his while to
deal liberally with me to the end that I might enable him to step into
Madame Lobreau's shoes. I trust I have made myself clear?'

'Yes, yes.'

Old Louvel was always ready to be interested in schemes that promised
profit. The proposal to dispossess Madam Lobreau of the fruits of her
labour and talent was a rascally one. But at heart old Louvel himself
was a rascal, worthy father of his worthless son.

'Then listen to this,' rejoined Theodore. He unfolded his paper and
read aloud:


  In consideration of the Grant Theatre of Lyons being placed under
  my control and management, I hereby agree to pay the Sieur
  Theodore Louvel the sum of 10,000 livres, and further to allow him
  an annuity of 8,000 livres for as long as the said Grant Theatre
  shall continue under my management.              Henri de Noirmont


Old Louvel, who had stood hand on ear while his son read the
agreement, pursed his lips like one in thought.

'Let me see it,' he requested. His son delivered him the paper, and
the old man examined it, assuring himself of its genuineness. Then he
pondered again.

'Very well,' he said slowly at last. 'You shall have the ten thousand
livres by tomorrow evening as a loan, but this agreement remains in my
hands as security until I am repaid.'

Theodore protested blusteringly. But his father held so stubbornly to
the condition that the Comptroller's agent was forced in the end to
submit.

'But I must have the money early in the morning. Monsieur--er--the man
in whose debt I stand has given me until noon tomorrow to find the
money.'

'If by noon tomorrow Madame Lobreau is no longer manager of the Grand
Theatre the money will be at your disposal. Tell me,' he added, 'how
soon may I expect to be repaid?'

'I shall place M. de Noirmont in possession of the theatre in a
fortnight. I dare not do it sooner, for the sake of appearances.'

'Very well.'

The old man locked away the document in a secretaire, took up the
candle, and re-conducted his son.

After Capoulade had heard the street door close upon the departing
Theodore and the old man mount the stairs on his way back to bed, he
crept out of his alcove.

His feelings were those of a man who has been swindled. He had come
there at the peril of life and limb to possess himself of old Louvel's
collection of Italian gems, only to learn that these had already been
sold to pay the gaming debts of that villain Theodore. He was
naturally indignant.

He advanced moodily towards the window and opened it with caution. He
paused in the act of bestriding the sill, and chuckled softly at his
own inspiration. He took the night into his confidence.

'To make opportunity your slave is the whole philosophy of life,' he
said.



Next morning he waited upon Madam Lobreau at her residence,
representing himself as an actor fallen upon evil days.

'You are come,' she greeted him, offering him a chair, 'to seek my
help. Hélas, monsieur, you come too late!'

'Madame,' loftily answered that tatterdemalion, 'you are entirely at
fault.' He sat down with the air of one who has the right to do so. 'I
do not come to seek your aid, but to offer you mine.'

He stemmed her questions with a gesture which--were he the actor he
had announced himself--might have made his fortune as /Sganarelle/. No
man was ever more sensitive to his surroundings than Capoulade, and
already he was saturated by the theatrical atmosphere in which he
found himself.

'Madame,' he announced dramatically, 'you have been dispossessed of
your theatre.'

'Is it known already?' she exclaimed.

'Not to the world at large. But to me--Capoulade--even the very reason
of it is known.'

'Monsieur,' she protested, bridling, 'I have heard enough and more of
these trumped-up reasons. A cruel, an infamous swindle has been
perpetrated to rob me of my rights--the rights earned by years of
labour.'

'Adversity, madame, is blunting the edge of your judgement.'

And in lordly gesture he waved the dirty ruffles that hung like
weeping willows over his dirtier hands.

'The reasons known to me are not the lying, trumped-up reasons
expressed to you and to be laid before the Comptroller-General by your
enemies. The reasons that I bring you are the real ones.'

And he proceeded to disclose to her the infamous compact existing
between Louvel and a certain M. de Noirmont.

Madame Lobreau went white and red by turns as she listened.

'But yes,' she cried. 'It is no more than I might have suspected. You
convince me that it is the truth. If we could but lay proof of it
before the Comptroller-General, how I should trample upon those that
would ruin me!'

Capoulade launched his thunderbolt.

'Madame,' said he, pulling a paper from his pocket, 'the proof is
here. Listen to the agreement signed by Monsieur de Noirmont.'

She heard it in amazement, and, what time he was reading the terms of
that scandalous contract, subconsciously she was taking stock of him,
and neither his shabby raiment nor his keen, wolfish face was of a
quality to inspire her with confidence.

'Monsieur,' she asked him, when he had finished reading, 'how does it
happen that you are in possession of this document?'

He looked at her out of his keen black eyes, scenting the suspicion
that was awake in her. He wisely deemed it a time for frankness.

'Madame,' said he, 'I am here to serve you--that is my guarantee that
you will not betray me. I am not exactly an actor. Such parts as in my
time I have played have been played upon that broad stage we call the
world. In short, madame'--and he dropped his eyes in a delicate
assumption of shame--'I am just a thief.'

'And you stole this paper from M. Louvel?' she asked.

He bowed.

'It occurred to me that by appropriating it I might at once perform a
worthy action and compensate myself for my trouble.'

'But how compensate yourself?' she enquired, knitting her brows.

Capoulade explained that such a document should not be without its
marketable value. She agreed, and offered to purchase it for a /louis
d'or/. Capoulade gasped.

'Twenty francs, madame?' Then he laughed. 'Perhaps it has not occurred
to you that I might easily get a thousand times that sum from M.
Louvel.'

'Then in your own interests you had best take it to M. Louvel,' was
the uncompromising answer.

Capoulade rose with great dignity.

'I am an honourable man, madame,' he informed her, 'and I prefer to be
on the side of honour. Therefore I come to you, for I should prefer to
deal with you.'

'But if you find me unreasonable you would no longer scruple to go to
M. Louvel?'

'I should scruple, madame, but I should go,' said Capoulade.

Thereafter they bargained for the best part of an hour, the
negotiations being protracted by madame's distrust of Capoulade. It
was not until he rose to leave her that she made up her mind.

'Very well, sir,' she said. 'You shall have a thousand livres; five
hundred now in exchange for that document, and my note of hand for the
other five hundred, payable when I am once again in possession of the
theatre.'

Capoulade considered.

'If I agree, madame,' he asked, 'how do you propose to act?'

'Why, I shall go straight to Paris and place the matter before the
Comptroller-General.'

'You might bungle the affair,' he objected, 'in which case I should
lose five hundred livres. I insist, madame, upon accompanying you, and
you must consent to be guided by my advice.'

She made some demur at first, but ended by agreeing, reflecting that
his advice might, after all, be useful.

Madame Lobreau took a post-chaise that very evening, and, accompanied
by Capoulade, now in a suit of black and looking almost respectable,
she set out for Paris.

She possessed some little influence, and by exerting it she obtained,
three days later, an interview with M. Turgot, the
Comptroller-General. Accompanied ever by Capoulade, she was ushered
into the great man's room in the Tuileries.

There, for once in his life, the little rogue was rather out of
countenance. He was overawed by the splendour of his surroundings, and
not a little scared by the elegant man with the weary face and
wide-set eyes who sat at the ormolu-encrusted writing-table.

'I am come to tell you, monsieur, that your agent in Lyons is a
rogue,' was madame's uncompromising opening. 'He abuses the authority
which you have vested in him by selling appointments for his own
profit.'

Now, it happened that Monsieur Turgot placed the utmost confidence in
Louvel. He flashed his searching glance upon the pair, and Capoulade
shivered.

'You allude, madame, to the revocation of your licence for the Lyons
theatre,' said the Comptroller in a voice that was as weary as his
countenance. 'My agent gives the soundest reason for the step, which I
approve whilst deploring its necessity.'

Madame breathed gustily.

'May one enquire your agent's reason, monsieur?'

Monsieur took up a paper.

'Amongst others, madame, he finds that a class of play is being
encouraged in which the new and unhealthy doctrines of the rights of
man, and the like, are being exploited.'

'But, monsieur, that is utterly false.'

'I must prefer my agent's judgement,' said that composed and weary
gentleman.

Madame gasped as if for breath. Then:

'If I can lay proof before you, monsieur, that Louvel has dispossessed
me so that he may earn a bribe, what then, monsieur?'

'Such an abuse of authority shall be punished.'

'Good,' said madame, with satisfaction. 'Will you give yourself the
trouble to read this?'

And she produced Capoulade's document.

Monsieur Turgot perused it with frowning eyes. He turned it about in
his fingers.

'You pretend that this is genuine?' he said contemptuously.

'Certainly, monsieur,' snapped Capoulade.

The Comptroller's eyes were levelled upon him for a moment.

'Who is this?' he enquired.

'My secretary, monsieur,' replied madame.

'Ah! And how does this document, if genuine, come to be in your
hands?'

Again it was Capoulade who interposed.

'It--it was--procured, monsieur.'

'Procured, was it? Now listen to me, both of you. In view of your
categorical accusation of Monsieur Louvel, I shall summon him to
Paris. If he prove guilty he shall be fitly punished and your theatre
shall be restored to you. But if, as I suspect, this document is a
forgery, then the law shall deal with you both, and rigorously.'

Madame Lobreau was assailed by momentary panic, partly allayed,
however, by Capoulade's show of confidence.

'Sir,' he said, 'may I, in the interests of justice, venture upon a
suggestion?'

'In the interests of justice all suggestions are welcome,' replied M.
Turgot sardonically.

Capoulade bowed.

'Then, monsieur, I would very respectfully submit to your
consideration that not Monsieur Louvel's word but only the subsequent
events themselves can prove whether this document is true or false,
and I would suggest, again very respectfully, that you allow the
events to speak.'

M. Turgot frowned thoughtfully.

'And how long do you suggest that the matter should lie in this
suspense?' he asked.

'A fortnight, monsieur, should prove long enough,' said Capoulade.

The Comptroller pondered the matter yet a moment.

'Be it so,' he said, and upon that dismissed them.

The fortnight that ensued was for Madam Lobreau a period of
considerable anxiety, which not all Capoulade's assurances sufficed to
allay. When, at the end of it, there came a summons from Monsieur
Turgot, that anxiety was converted into positive alarm. She obeyed it,
nevertheless, and Capoulade went with her to the Tuileries once more.

Monsieur Turgot was very grave, and his manner less weary and sardonic
than when last they had seen him.

'Madame,' he announced, 'I have here a letter from my Lyons agent,
Theodore Louvel--a letter received five days ago--in which he
announces to me that he has found in a certain Monsieur Noirmont your
successor at the Grand Theatre.'

'Ah!' said Capoulade.

'Immediately upon receiving it I desired Monsieur Louvel to wait upon
me. I judge no man unheard. He has just arrived, and is awaiting
audience. I deemed it well that you should be present at the
interview.'

Nervously madame expressed her gratitude. Capoulade trembled a little.

Theodore Louvel was introduced--raffishly elegant and impudently at
ease, no whit discouraged by the presence of Madame Lobreau, though
guessing she was there as a plaintiff.

'A complaint has been lodged against you, monsieur,' said the
Comptroller, when Louvel had made his bow and his compliments. 'It is
alleged by Madame Lobreau that the reasons you urged for dispossessing
her of the theatre are ill-founded.'

Theodore smiled deprecatingly.

'Of course, monsieur, but I can affirm that I had no interests to
serve other than those of his Majesty.'

'Naturally,' said Monsieur Turgot. 'And yet madame goes so far as to
say that you were bribed by M. Noirmont.'

'That,' replied Theodore, 'is an obvious calumny.'

'True,' said Monsieur Turgot. 'And yet madame's story is oddly
circumstantial. She can even tell me the sum paid by this Noirmont. It
was, she says, ten thousand livres.'

Louvel's aplomb fell from him for a moment. He stood chap-fallen, and
his colour changed. But his recovery was swift. He repudiated the
charge with all the heat of offended virtue.

'Look at this, monsieur,' said the Comptroller, 'and tell me if you
have ever seen it before.'

He held out the document which Capoulade had sold to Madame Lobreau.

Louvel took it nervously, but as he scanned it he recovered his
composure. He almost laughed when he placed it on the Comptroller's
writing-table.

'An impudent and an obvious forgery, monsieur. Noirmont's very name is
misspelt.'

'Yet,' was the slow answer, 'this document, if forged, as you say, is
oddly prophetic. It has been in my hands a fortnight--a fortnight, do
you understand? Can you explain how it came to foretell so accurately
the name of the man to whom the control of the Lyons theatre has since
been granted by you?'

'Why--why----' faltered Louvel; and there he paused, staring in dismay
at the smiling Comptroller. He was utterly bewildered--utterly without
answer to so incredible a statement. 'But that is not possible,
monsieur,' he cried out at last.

'I tell you that it is so, monsieur. You cannot explain the
circumstances, eh? It is at once mysterious and convincing--a
remarkable combination. Be good enough to wait in the ante-room,
Louvel. We shall talk of this again.'

The dumbfoundered agent stumbled blindly out of the room in the wake
of the servant summoned by M. Turgot. Then for some moments the
Comptroller wrote rapidly, watched in silence by Madame Lobreau and
Capoulade.

'There, madame,' he said at last, 'is an order to my new agent in
Lyons to restore you possession of your theatre. In all the
circumstances I will ask no questions about this document you brought
me. I confess that I am curious, but if I knew all perhaps my duty
would not permit me to deal with you as generously as I desire to
deal.'

Bewildered, but clear, at least, upon the all-important fact that she
was once more in possession of her theatre, Madame Lobreau expressed
her thanks and took her leave.

'What did he mean?' she asked Capoulade when they were outside the
palace.

Capoulade grinned. In his immense relief he was proud of his exploit.

'Why, you see, Louvel was right,' he confessed. 'You see, that
document--/enfin/, I wrote it as well as I could from memory, after
hearing Monsieur Theodore read it to his father. I am afraid my
spelling----'

'You wrote it?' Her voice became shrill. At last she understood. 'Then
it was a forgery. Why, you have swindled me.'

'Ah, no, madame. I undertook that your theatre should be restored to
you, and I have your note of hand for five hundred livres payable when
that shall be accomplished. It is accomplished, madame. But,' he
added, as an afterthought, 'I must improve my spelling.'



                         THE PLAGUE OF GHOSTS

Capoulade had made the discovery that honesty is the best policy. He
was in hiding in an alley near the Carousel at the time, and in hourly
expectation of capture and harsh treatment as an anti-climax to his
three years' career of ingenious and successful crime.

He was persuaded that from this Paris, to which an evil hour had
brought him, there could be no escape, for he was well-informed that
M. de Sartines' ubiquitous agents were diligently seeking him. So he
set his wits to work, and resolved upon a course whose boldness would
have appalled a stouter but less ingenious spirit. If he would find
safety he must look for it under the very wing of the Minister of
Police. Such was the resolve he took. Dishonesty, he realized, was
stale, it was failing him in his adversity, and he would mark his
scorn of that fair-weather friend by abandoning its pursuit, and
ranging himself hereafter on the side of law and order--always
provided that M. de Sartines should prove the astute opportunist he
was reputed.

The brilliant notion once conceived, he was not the man to delay its
execution. The same spring day, whose waking hours had been devoted to
its conception, saw him, towards noon, in the ante-chamber of the
famous Minister. Thus far he had penetrated without hindrance, and he
now sent M. de Sartines a message to the effect that a certain M.
Quélaure, whose acquaintance with criminal methods was vast, sought to
place his services at the Lieutenant-General's disposal.

From the ante-chamber to the chamber is but a step; yet it was the one
step in his journey from the Carousel to the presence of M. de
Sartines which Capoulade had expected to find fraught with difficulty.
Instead, he found it astonishingly, discomposingly, easy. He had not
been waiting more than a few moments when an usher approached him with
the message that M. de Sartines would see him at once.

He took a deep breath, like a man about to plunge into deep waters,
and he might have been observed to pale a little. Here was the
situation he had boldly sought; yet, despite his unparalleled
effrontery, he did not relish it now that it had arrived. The notion
which had seemed a finely daring one two hours ago, seemed now
incalculably rash, and he found himself wishing that he had given it
longer consideration before so recklessly proceeding to act upon it.

Thus, feeling very much as the fly may have felt after it had accepted
the spider's invitation to walk into its parlour, he stepped into the
famous policeman's office. At a littered writing-table he beheld a
richly apparelled gentleman, in the prime of life, with a hooked nose
and a pair of eyes grey and wide-set that were submitting him to an
undisguised and searching scrutiny.

'Monsieur Capoulade,' said that gentleman, in the most affable voice
in the world, 'I have been expecting you for some days, although I had
not presumed to hope that you would do me the honour of a spontaneous
visit.'

Capoulade felt his knees sinking under him, as many another criminal
had done in the presence of that dread man from whom nothing seemed
concealed. 'Monsieur----' he gasped, and there he stopped, his cheeks
blanched and his ferrety eyes as wide as he could make them. What,
indeed, remained for him to say? Sartines laughed musically.

'You are surprised that I should know you?' murmured the Minister,
with a lift of the eyebrows, and it flashed through the little
rascal's mind that if ever he had need of effrontery, he had need of
it now.

His aplomb returned. 'Immensely flattered,' he answered, with a bow.

Sartines' smile broadened. He liked self-possession, accounting it one
of the qualities that make for worldly success.

'I understand from your message--although you sent it under a /nom de
guerre/--that you are seeking service with me, and that you suggest
that your acquaintance with criminal methods should render you a
valuable agent?'

'Yes, monsieur,' answered Capoulade, a world of mingled hope and
despair in his mind. 'I am sick of crime, and I have a mind not only
to be honest, but to make war upon the dishonesty of others.'

Sartines settled himself comfortably in his chair, and for ten minutes
Capoulade could make nothing of the conversation that ensued, which
was now serious, now rallying on the Minister's part. Suddenly the
Lieutenant-General asked a question.

'Monsieur Capoulade, are you interested in ghosts?'

Capoulade's eyes dilated slightly.

'Monsieur, I have never met one.'

'I can afford you the opportunity,' was the Minister's calm reply. 'If
you care to avail yourself of it, I have employment for you, if
not--there is always the Châtelet.'

Capoulade shuddered, and moistened his lips.

'I should have preferred, monsieur, that you could have entrusted me
with some affair in which I should have to deal with ordinary mortals;
but if you give me to choose between the Châtelet and the ghost, why,
then, I must take the ghost.'

'Then it is settled. My information is that the Château de la
Blanchette, in Maine, is infested by a plague of ghosts. You should be
acquainted with the place, for I understand that you burgled it six
months ago.'

'I knew nothing of the ghosts, or I should have hesitated,' rejoined
Capoulade, with an effrontery that provoked a smile from Sartines.

'You know now,' said the Minister, 'and if you are anxious for an
affair with ordinary mortals, you shall have that as well. A deal of
spurious silver is circulating in Maine at present, and my agents
trace its source to the town of La Blanchette. Since you are going
there to rid the Château of its plague of ghosts, I will further
entrust it to you to rid me the town of this plague of coiners. I
should not be surprised if the elucidation of one mystery affords the
explanation of the other. Former agents of mine have failed over this
same task. To you shall belong the honour of succeeding. I may take it
that you accept?'

Sartines was justified in his assumption, for poor Capoulade was
between the sword and the wall, and must be content with any terms
that were offered him. And so, entrusted with this double mission, he
left Paris for Maine that very afternoon.

He travelled by post without incident as far as Chartres; and here his
luck came signally to his assistance, thrusting him into conversation
with a neighbour who had joined the coach at the post-house of that
city. In itself this was a trivial matter, a daily happening among
travellers; but in Capoulade's case it had this much of interest that
ere they had been acquainted an hour the conversation between them had
turned upon the supernatural. It was this new travelling-companion--a
healthy, hearty, rubicund fellow, of some forty summers--who had
introduced the subject. And Capoulade had not allowed it to be lightly
thrust aside by other topics. Ghosts were concerning him very closely
just then, and he was of a mind to discover all that he could
concerning their habits. His companion seemed no less anxious to
pursue the subject, with the consequence that Capoulade had presently
mastered the facts--surprising by virtue of the coincidence they
covered--that his name was Coupri, that he was the intendant of the
Sieur de la Blanchette, and that he was on his way to the Château de
La Blanchette to investigate a matter of supernatural apparitions with
which the place was said to be plagued.

'Nobody has resided at the Château for the past five years with the
exception of a Monsieur Flaumel and his son, who are acting as
stewards. They are honest fellows both, and the estate has thriven
under their rule, of which they render my master a six-monthly
account. Of the ghosts they know nothing, and refuse to believe in
their existence. But six months ago M. de la Blanchette's two children
went down there with a nurse, intending to remain for the vintage.
Three nights was all they could endure, and they were obliged to
return to Paris lest the children's minds should suffer from the
terrors to which they were nightly submitted. A month ago Madame de la
Blanchette, herself, accompanied by a maid, went to Maine in
consequence of her doctor having ordered her a few weeks in the
country. She slept at La Blanchette one single night, and returned to
Paris next morning, vowing that nothing would ever cause her to set
foot again across that accursed threshold. It is in consequence of
this that my master is sending me down to see what I can discover.'

Capoulade looked at his stolid, merry face, and envied the man his
courage. 'You are not--not afraid?' he suggested.

'Afraid?' roared the other. 'Fichtre! I am taking a brace of pistols
to bed with me. I promise you I shall solve this mystery.'

Capoulade sidled closer to him. Here, indeed, was the very comrade he
needed. He put on a sober, mysterious air.

'I perceive that you are sceptical,' said he, a note of reproof in his
voice. 'It is a dangerous attitude in which to approach the
supernatural. Your patience, monsieur,' he cried, waving aside the
other's threatened interruption. 'You are referring to matters of
which my knowledge may be more extensive than your own. I am an
investigator of the supernatural.'

'A what?' exclaimed Coupri, making of his companion a closer scrutiny
than hitherto. There was about Capoulade, with his unpowdered black
hair tied in a stiff queue, and his keen, sallow, almost wolfish face,
an air that lent colour to his amazing statement.

'I am an investigator of the supernatural,' he repeated. 'I have made
it the subject of some profound researches, which have taught me, at
least, that it is an ill thing to approach such a task as yours in the
spirit of mockery by which I deplore to see you actuated.'

Some of the high colour left Coupri's healthy cheeks.

'But, name of a name, monsieur!' he gasped, 'am I to understand that
you believe--that your studies have made you a believer in such
things?'

'A staunch believer,' said the rogue impressively, 'convinced against
my will, converted by mortal terror from such unbelief as is inspiring
you to make a jest of the matter. Your pistols are very well, my
friend, if there is chicanery at work--and, indeed, I do not say that
there is not. But such weapons will prove of little avail if it should
be a question of--of the impalpable.'

In Coupri's eyes the matter of the ghosts of La Blanchette began to
assume formidable proportions. He sat glum and silent for a moment;
then he laughed, to convince himself that it was a laughing matter.

'Bah!' he scorned. 'All may be as you say, but at La Blanchette I am
convinced that there is nothing but trickery, and I shall deal with it
with powder and lead. They will prove great exorcizers.'

But despite this outward fanfaronade his mind was grown uneasy, and of
this Capoulade was quick to detect the signs on the fellow's honest
countenance.

'Monsieur,' said he, speaking very seriously, 'if I were not afraid of
presuming upon our slight but interesting acquaintance'--here he bowed
to his companion--'I would suggest that you take me with you to La
Blanchette. You might find the fruits of my studies of service.'

He had timed his proposal excellently, and it was pounced upon with
flattering eagerness by his fellow-traveller. 'Together,' ended the
honest Coupri, 'we cannot fail to solve this mystery, I with my
natural weapons if the ghosts be flesh, you with your supernatural
ones if they be spirits.'

Thus was the matter arranged between them, and Capoulade concluded
from the adroitness with which he had worked to the end he desired,
that M. de Sartines might congratulate himself upon his new agent.

They arrived at La Blanchette on the morrow, and Coupri made no secret
of the business that had brought him, presenting Capoulade to the
elder Flaumel as a fellow-servant who had been chosen to accompany
him.

Flaumel frankly laughed at them.

'Come now,' said he, with scornful amusement, 'to what old wives' tale
has the sieur been listening? There are no ghosts at La Blanchette.
Jacques and I have dwelt here these ten years, and never sound nor
sight of them has disturbed our slumbers. A night, a couple of nights
at the most, will convince you, mon cher.'

'Madame de la Blanchette has ordered us not to stir from the château
until I can present her with some explanation of these disturbances. I
hope the ghosts will take an early opportunity of manifesting
themselves, or my stay may be protracted. The sieur wishes to make
holiday here with madame. He considers that it is time he occupied
this château of his. But madame refuses to accompany him until the
mystery has been cleared up.'

Flaumel shrugged his narrow shoulders.

'My explanation--the only explanation,' said he, 'is that madame had
the /migraine/ when she was here.'

'But what of the nurse and the children?' cried Coupri.

'Pish!' he sneered. 'The nurse was no doubt frightening them with some
ghost stories, and succeeded in frightening herself as well. The
sleeping apartments are gloomy enough for the rest.'

And with fresh expressions of his scorn, the old steward passed on to
other matters and asked for news of the sieur. Capoulade had been
scrutinizing him closely, but had seen in his demeanour nothing to
excite suspicion. Besides, why should the fellow have set himself
wantonly to frighten women and children--assuming that he had a hand
in the apparitions?

He was a slender man, whose countenance had been mellowed by age into
a set of benignity, oddly contrasting with the villainous countenance
of his son Jacques. Capoulade looked at the younger Flaumel's low
forehead, flat nose, and eyebrows between which there was no division,
and mentally pronounced him a knave to be watched.

He spent the remainder of the day roaming the grounds, where all was
green with the fresh, pale green of spring, and Coupri went with him,
but talked little. They supped with the two Flaumels--there was no
woman at La Blanchette--and when they had supped, it was the elder
Flaumel who lighted them to their rooms.

Coupri had insisted that he should lie in the chamber occupied by
madame during her recent visit, and he further insisted Capoulade
should have a room in its immediate neighbourhood. To this Flaumel
made no difficulty, and Coupri was conducted to the bedroom known as
the sieur's chamber. It was a lofty apartment, panelled in oak to a
man's height, and half-filled by the great canopied bed. Facing the
bed, above the wainscot, stood a life-sized portrait of the present
Sieur de la Blanchette's great-grandfather--a rakish gentleman of the
time of the fourteenth Louis. Seen in the yellow, flickering light of
their tapers, the apartment wore a sombre, gloomy air--in itself
almost enough to complete the rout of Coupri's courage. Nevertheless,
it was with a brave display of being at his ease that he drew the
pistols from his bosom and laid them on a chair at his bedside.

'If any ghost disturbs me, my good Flaumel, I will see how it takes a
charge of lead.'

Wishing him good-night, and still laughing over that last pleasantry,
Flaumel withdrew, and escorted Capoulade to his room across the
corridor. That done, he stepped back and rapped on Coupri's door. The
intendant opened it at once.

'Monsieur Coupri,' said the steward, between seriousness and mockery,
'I must confess that, after all, I am not quite easy concerning you.
You are sleeping so far from our apartments, my son's and mine. I am
satisfied that you will not be troubled, and yet, perhaps it is best
to be prepared for anything. If you will step down the corridor with
me I will show you where Jacques and I are lodged, so that you may
call us should you require anything.'

Troubled by this half-descent from his lofty scepticism on the part of
Flaumel, Coupri went willingly with the steward, to be shown the
whereabouts of the latter's quarters. That done, he returned to his
chamber, closed and securely locked the door; then taking a copy of
Monsieur Le Sage's droll story of 'Le Diable Boiteux' from his pocket,
he flung himself, fully dressed as he was, upon his bed, his pistols
within easy reach, and disposed himself for his vigil.

For best part of an hour he read undisturbed, and reassured by the
peace of the room, his late qualms might have been dissipated but that
whenever he looked about him, peering into the shadows that lay thick
about the chamber, the gloom of the place chilled his courage anew.

Suddenly the stillness was broken. Reclining on his elbows he lay and
listened, and he felt his flesh creeping as he did so. There was a
sound as of someone faintly scratching on the wainscot opposite; and
for all that his eyes were on the spot, he saw nothing.

'A mouse,' he sneered aloud, as if seeking to encourage himself with
the sound of his own voice. 'What a poltroon I become!'

The next instant he had fallen back with a stifled scream. A rush of
cold air had swept past him, extinguishing his candle in its passage.
Again he strove to master himself, and for all that his pulses
thundered fearfully, he put forth his hand and groped for his pistols.
Clutching one of them, he sat up and waited, his teeth chattering in
his head. He wished in a subconscious sort of way that Capoulade was
nearer than across the corridor, and that there were no locked doors
between them. Then he ceased to wish anything, ceased to think
anything, as a grim horror took him and held him spellbound. Fronting
the bed at a man's height from the floor, a white, luminous patch was
spreading, like a phosphorescent cloud, and out of it boomed a horrid
groaning sound followed by a shriek of hellish laughter.

The sweat stood in icy beads on Coupri's brow. He bethought him of
prayers learned in childhood, and he pattered them in a frenzy. Then
from out of the luminous cloud a form began to shape itself, a figure
immensely tall, swathed in a winding sheet, and--horror of
horrors--surmounted by a hideously grinning skull with eyeballs of
glowing fire. And the shrieks of it filled the chamber and froze the
very marrow in Coupri's bones.

Then in a flash his late scepticism recurred to him, and with it his
resolve to test the ghost with lead. Mechanically almost he raised his
pistol, and blazed with both barrels at the apparition. A burst of
laughter answered him; next a glowing skeleton hand slipped from the
cerecloth and held out two bullets which it let fall on to the parquet
floor. Coupri heard the double thud of their fall, then, with a
scream, he swooned.

When he recovered there were lights in his room, and Capoulade and the
two Flaumels were at his bedside. Their questions as to what had
happened he could but answer with entreaties that they should let him
depart at once from that hideous chamber, and so in the end it was
arranged that he should spend the remainder of the night in
Capoulade's room and Capoulade's company.

But it was not until next morning, not until the comforting light of
day had dispelled the horror of the night, that Coupri could be
induced to tell his companion what had chanced. Capoulade listened
attentively and very gravely, but when the end of the story came his
glance brightened a little. After they had broken their fast, he took
Coupri for a ramble through the grounds, and then it was that he
communicated an idea that had occurred to him.

'Does it not seem somewhat strange that a spirit being a thing
impalpable, a thing of no substance to be affected by bullets, should
yet have the wherewithal to grasp those same bullets and fling them
back?'

'Ask me not,' groaned the intendant. 'Who am I that I should explain
these marvels? Never again will I doubt; never again will I mock.'

'My good Coupri, you go too fast. To doubt unreasonably is assuredly
an ill thing, but in this case I will make bold to say that nothing
has happened yet to warrant any change from your late scepticism.'

'Nothing?' gasped Coupri. 'Do you say nothing has happened?'

'I will add, Coupri, that, with your permission, it is I who will
sleep in the sieur's bedchamber tonight--I hope to some purpose.'

Coupri, like the good soul that he was, sought to dissuade the young
man; but Capoulade would not be dissuaded; he insisted that in the
Sieur de la Blanchette's interests, it was Coupri's duty to further
him in this last attempt to solve the mystery of this plague of
ghosts; and Coupri let him have his way.

He had yet to contend with the opposition of the two Flaumels, when
they met at supper. After last night's happening, following as it did
upon the two former scares, they seemed, themselves, to have abandoned
their scornful attitude, and they entreated Capoulade not to expose
himself. But he was firm in his determination.

'I cannot believe Coupri's preposterous story,' was his astonishing
declaration. 'The poor fellow has been the victim of a morbid
imagination. The proof lies in the fact that we could find no bullets
when we searched the chamber, although he swears he saw them cast
there.'

Flaumel shrugged his shoulders, and Capoulade drawing a brace of
pistols from his pocket proceeded to load them under the eyes of the
company. He placed them on the table, and the talk proceeded
desultorily until Flaumel rose to make fast the doors.

From the hall they heard him calling, agitation quivering in his
voice, and Coupri and Capoulade started up and ran out to him. He was
standing on the steps outside the door, and when they came up he told
them of a white, shrouded figure that had passed round the corner of
the house. They started in pursuit, but though they made the tour of
the château they saw no indication of Flaumel's vision.

'Mon Dieu!' groaned the old man, as they were re-entering the hall.
'Am I too become a visionary, or is the place really accursed?'

Capoulade's answer was one of contemptuous incredulity.

'Monsieur Flaumel, for shame! I had thought better of you. You are
becoming the victim of these old wives and their fancies. I am for
bed.'

He re-entered the dining-room, passing the younger Flaumel, who was
coming forth in quest of his father, and taking up his pistols,
Capoulade accompanied the others to the floor above. At parting with
Coupri, he exacted a promise that should he hear a shot he would at
once repair to him.

'But,' he added, 'do not keep awake to listen for it; for the odds are
greatly against your hearing it. I shall laugh at you in the morning.'

With that they parted, and Capoulade entered his bedroom and closed
the door. He set the pistols he had carried on a chair, as Coupri had
done the night before, and his candle beside them. Then he lay on the
bed and waited.

Two hours went by, and Capoulade was beginning to fear disappointment,
when, suddenly, there came, as on the previous night, the scratching
on the wainscot to attract his attention. But instead of looking in
the direction of the sound, he furtively peered behind him. He saw
what he had expected. One of the panels of the wainscot at the head of
the bed slid silently aside, leaving an open gap. Then came the rush
of cold air which had so frightened Coupri, and Capoulade was in
darkness.

He lay quite still and watched the luminous cloud appear, and as he
watched his thoughts were very busy, but no thrill of fear unnerved
him. The gibbering, howling skeleton grew clearer. Capoulade smiled
grimly in the dark, and left the pistols on the chair untouched. From
his breast-pocket he drew a fresh one, levelled it with a steady hand,
and fired one barrel at the apparition.

A frightful scream rang through the chamber--no shriek of laughter
this--and the ghost tumbled forward and down a height of some six
feet, striking the floor with a thud.

In an instant Capoulade had his candle alight again, and he was
leaning over the prostrate form, which had ceased to glow now that the
candle's yellow light was upon it. He stooped and pulled aside the
sheet, then rolled the figure over on its back and plucked away the
cardboard death's head.

Beneath that mask the ashen face of the younger Flaumel was revealed,
and in one of his clenched hands Capoulade found two bullets. Above
the wainscot, where the Sieur de la Blanchette's portrait usually
stood, a black gap now yawned.

In that moment the door opened, and Coupri, looking very white, stood
on the threshold.

'/Voila!/' said Capoulade, pointing to the figure. 'I've laid the
ghost. But he'll recover to answer M. de Sartines' questions yet.'
Then, suddenly, his hand went up, levelling his pistol once more and
covering the elder Flaumel, who entered. 'Throw down that pistol, or
you're a dead man,' he commanded savagely, and the old man obeyed him.

When father and son were fast under lock and key, Capoulade added one
or two words of explanation to make things clear to Coupri's slow
mind.

'Last night, after you had laid your pistols down, Flaumel called you
from the room on pretext of showing you where they lodged. Whilst he
was doing this, his son was drawing the bullets from the charges of
your pistols. They did the same by me tonight, when the old man led us
round the château to hunt a spectre. But I had a third pistol in
reserve to exorcize the ghost with.'

'But,' stammered Coupri, still bewildered, 'to what end should they
have sought to frighten all who came to the château?'

'Who shall say? There are men whose minds never rise above
childishness.'

But Coupri shook his great head. 'No, no,' said he, 'that is no
explanation. It must be that, for some purpose, they wanted to have
the château to themselves, as during the past five years.'

Capoulade looked at him, then he smote his thigh with his hand, and
swore a great oath. 'You have said it,' he cried, for he had suddenly
remembered his second task--the discovery of the coiners who were
pouring spurious silver into Maine. He now recalled Sartines' words,
that the elucidation of one mystery would probably afford the
explanation of the other.

They made search in the château, and at last, in a secret chamber, to
which they found access through the passage opened by the Sieur de la
Blanchette's picture, discovered crucible and moulds and other
implements of that nefarious craft, beside a quantity of base coin in
bags. All this, together with their two prisoners, they conveyed to
Paris.

M. de Sartines complimented Capoulade upon his address and definitely
enrolled him in his army of secret agents. And if Capoulade kept back
one of those bags of Flaumel's coins, to the end that he might obtain
good value for bad money, it must be remembered that the transition
from dishonesty to honesty is not accomplished all at once.



                         THE SWORD OF ISLAM


Ordinarily Dragut Reis--who was dubbed by the Faithful 'The Drawn
Sword of Islam'--loved Christians as the fox loves geese. But in that
summer of 1550 his feelings acquired a far deeper malignancy; they
developed into a direct and personal hatred that for intensity was
second only to the hatred which the Christians bore Dragut.

The allied Christian forces, under the direction of their emperor, had
smoked him out of his stronghold of Mehedia; they had seized that
splendid city, and were in the act of razing it to the ground as the
neighbouring Carthage had been razed of old.

Dragut reckoned up his losses with a gloomy, vengeful mind. He had
lost his city; and from the eminence of a budding Basha in the act of
founding a kingdom he had been cast down once more to be a wanderer
upon the seas.

He had lost three thousand men, and amongst them the very flower of
his fiery corsairs. He had lost some twelve thousand Christian
slaves--the fruit of many a desperate raid by land and water. He had
lost his lieutenant and nephew, Hisar, who was even now a captive in
the hands of his inveterate enemy, Andrea Doria. It is little wonder
that he lost his temper, too. But he recovered it quickly, that he
might set about recovering the rest. He was not the man to waste his
days in brooding over what was done. Yesterday and today are but as
pledges in the hands of destiny.

So he returned thanks to Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful, that
he was still alive and free upon the seas, with three galeasses,
twelve galleys, and five brigantines; and bent his energetic,
resourceful, knavish mind to the matter of making good his losses.

Meanwhile, he had been warned by the Sultan of Constantinople, the
Exalted of Allah, that the Emperor Charles, not content with the
mischief he had already wrought, had, in letters to the Grand Signior,
avowed his intent to pursue to the death 'the pirate Dragut, a corsair
odious to both God and man.' He knew, moreover, that the emperor had
entrusted the task to the greatest seaman of the day--to the terrible
Admiral of Genoa, Andrea Doria, and that the Genoese was already at
sea upon his quest.

Now, once already had Dragut been captured by the navy of Genoa, and
for four years, which it afforded him little satisfaction to remember,
he had toiled at an oar aboard the galley of the admiral's nephew,
Gianettino Doria. He had known exposure to heat and cold; naked had he
been broiled by the sun, and frozen by the rain; he had known aching
muscles, hunger, and thirst; filthy, crawling things, and the
festering sores begotten of the oarsman's bench; and his shoulders
were still a criss-cross of scars where the bo'sun's whips had lashed
him to revive his flagging energies.

All this had Dragut known, and he was not minded to renew the
knowledge. It behoved him, therefore, to make ready fittingly to
receive the admiral.

And by way at once of replenishing his coffers, venting a little of
his vengeful heat, and marking his contempt for his Christian
pursuers, he had made a sudden swoop upon the south-western littoral
of Sicily. Beginning at Gergenti, he carried his raid as far north as
Marsala, leaving ruin and desolation behind him. At the end of a week
he stood off to sea again with the spoils of six townships and some
three thousand picked captives of both sexes.

He would teach the infidel Christian dog to allude to him as 'the
pirate Dragut, a corsair odious to both God and man.' He would so, by
the beard of Mahomet!

He put the captives aboard a couple of his galleys, in charge of his
lieutenant, Othmani, and despatched them straight to Algiers, to be
sold there in the slave market. With the proceeds Othmani was to lay
down fresh keels. Until these should be ready to reinforce his little
fleet, Dragut judged it well to avoid encounters with the Genoese
admiral, and with this intent he kept a southward course along the
coast towards Tripoli.

Towards sunset of the day on which Othmani's galleys set out alone for
Algiers, a fresh breeze sprang up from the north and blew into the
corsair's range of vision a tiny brown-sailed felucca, as it might
have blown a leaf in autumn. It was hawk-eyed Dragut himself who,
lounging in the poop of his galley, first sighted this tiny craft.

He pointed it out to Biretta, the renegade Calabrian gunner, who was
near him.

'In the name of Allah,' quoth he, 'what walnut-shell is this that
comes so furiously after us?'

Biretta, a massive, sallow fellow, laughed.

'The fury is not hers, but of the wind,' said he. 'She goes wherever
it blows her. She'll be an Italian craft.'

'Then the wind that blows her is the wind of Destiny. Haply she'll
have news of Italy.'

He turned on his heel and gave an order to a turbaned officer below.
Instantly the brazen note of a trumpet rang out, clear above the creak
and dip of oars. As instantly the rowers came to rest, and from the
side of each galley six-and-twenty massive yellow oars stood out,
their wet blades glistening in the evening sunlight.

Thus the Moslem fleet waited, rocking gently on the little swell that
had arisen, and its quality was blazoned by the red and white ensign
charged with a blue crescent, which floated from the masthead of
Dragut's own galley.

On came the little brown-sailed felucca, hopelessly driven by what
Dragut accounted the breeze of Destiny. At last, when she was in
danger of being blown past them, Dragut crossed to meet her. As the
galley's long prow ran alongside of her, grappling-hooks were deftly
flung to seize her at mast and gunwale, and but for these she must
have been swept over by those gigantic oars.

From the prow, Dragut himself, a tall and handsome figure in
gold-broidered scarlet surcoat that descended to his knees, his snowy
turban heightening the swarthiness of his hawk face, with its
square-cut black beard, stood to challenge the crew of that
ill-starred felucca.

There were aboard of her six scared knaves, something betwixt seamen
and lackeys, whom the corsair's black eyes passed contemptuously over.
He addressed himself to a couple who were seated in the
stern-sheets--a tall and every elegant young gentleman, obviously
Italian, and a girl, upon whose white, golden-headed loveliness the
corsair's bold eyes glowed pleasurably.

'Who are you?' he demanded shortly, in Italian.

The willowy young man answered for the twain, very composedly, as
though it were a matter of everyday life with him to be held in the
grappling-hooks of a Barbary pirate.

'My name is Ottavio Brancaleone. I am from Genoa on my way to Spain.'

'To Spain!' quoth Dragut, and he laughed. 'You steer an odd course for
Spain, or do you look to find it in Egypt?'

'We have lost our rudder,' the gentleman explained, 'and we were at
the mercy of the wind.'

'I trust you have found it as merciful as you hoped,' said Dragut. He
leered at the girl, who, in affright, shrank nearer her companion.
'And the girl, sir? Who is she?'

'My--my sister.'

'Had you told me different you had been the first Christian I ever
knew to speak the truth,' said Dragut, quite amiably. 'Well, well 'tis
plain you're not to be trusted to sail a boat of your own. Best come
aboard, and see if you can do better at an oar.'

'I'll not be trespassing on your hospitality,' said Brancaleone, with
that amazing coolness of his.

Dragut wasted no time in argument. It was not his way. Of the
grinning, turbaned corsairs who swarmed like ants upon the prow he
flung a half-score down into the felucca. Brancaleone had time to stab
but one of them before they overpowered him.

The prize proved far less insignificant than at first Dragut had
imagined. For, in addition to the eight slaves acquired--and the girl
was fit to grace a sultan's harem--they found a great chest of newly
minted ducats, which it took six men to heave aboard the galley, and a
beautifully chiselled gold coffer full of gems of price. They found
something more. On the inside of the coffer's lid was engraved the
owner's name--Amelia Francesca Doria.

Dragut snapped down the lid with a prayer of thanks to Allah the One,
and strode into the poop cabin, where the girl was confined.

'Madonna Amelia,' he called softly, to test her identity. She looked
up at once. 'Will you tell me what is your kinship with the Admiral of
Genoa?'

'I am his granddaughter, sir,' she answered, with something fierce
behind her outward softness, 'and be sure that he will terribly avenge
upon you any wrong that is done to me.'

Dragut nodded and smiled.

'We are old friends, the admiral and I,' said he, and went out again.

A mighty Nubian bearing a torch--for night had now descended with
African suddenness--lighted him to the galley's waist, where, about
the mainmast, lay huddled the seven pinioned prisoners.

With the curved toe of his scarlet slipper the corsair touched Messer
Brancaleone.

'Tell me, dog,' said he, 'all that you know of Messer Andrea Doria.'

'That is soon told,' answered Brancaleone. 'I know nothing, nor want
to.'

'Therein, of course, you lie,' said Dragut. 'For one thing, you know
his granddaughter.'

Brancaleone blinked, and recovered.

'True, and several others of his family. But I conceived your question
to concern his movements. I know that he is upon the seas, that he is
seeking you, and that he has sworn to take you alive, and that when
they take you--as I pray God they will--they will so deal with you
that you shall implore them of their Christian charity to hang you.'

'And is that all you know?' quoth Dragut, unruffled. 'You did not,
peradventure, sight this fleet of his as you were sailing?'

'I did not.'

'Do you think that with a match between your fingers you might
remember?'

'I might invent,' said the Italian. 'I have told you the truth, Messer
Dragut. Torture could but gain you falsehood.'

The corsair looked searchingly into that comely young face, then he
turned away as if satisfied. But as he was departing Messer
Brancaleone called him back. The Italian's imperturbability had
suddenly departed. Anxiety amounting almost to terror sounded in his
voice.

'What fate do you reserve for Madonna Amelia?' he asked.

Dragut considered him, and smiled a little. He had no particular
rancour against his prisoner; indeed, he was inclining to admiration
for the cool courage which the man had shown. At the same time, there
was no room for sentiment in the heart of the corsair. He was quite
pitiless. He had been asked a question, and he answered it without
malice.

'Our lord the Sublime Suleyman,' said he, 'is as keen a judge of
beauty as any living man. I do the girl the honour of accounting her a
gift worthy even of the Exalted of Allah. So I shall keep her safe
against my next voyage to Constantinople.'

And then Brancaleone's little lingering self-possession left him
utterly. From his writhing lips came a stream of vituperation,
expressions of his impotent rage, which continued even after the
Nubian had struck him upon the mouth and Dragut had taken his
departure.

Next day a slave on Dragut's galley who had been taken ill at his oar
was, in accordance with custom, unshackled and heaved overboard.
Brancaleone, stripped to his delicate white skin, was chained in the
fellow's empty place. There were seven men to each oar, and
Brancaleone's six companions were all Christians and all white--or had
been before exposure had tanned them to the colour of mahogany. Of
these, three were Spaniards, two were Italian, and the other was a
Frenchman. All were indescribably filthy and unkempt, and it was with
a shudder that the delicately nurtured Italian gentleman wondered was
he destined to become as they?

Up and down the gangway between the rowers' benches strode two Moslem
bo'suns, armed with long whips of bullock-hide, and it was not long
ere one of them, considering that Brancaleone was not putting his
share of effort into his task, sent that cruel lash to raise a burning
weal upon his tender flesh. He was sparingly fed with his
half-brutalized companions upon dried figs and dates, and he was given
a little tepid water to drink when he thirsted, which was often. He
slept in his shackles on the rowers' bench, which was but some four
feet wide, and, despite the sheepskins with which that bench was
padded, it was not long ere the friction of his constant movement
began to chafe and blister his flesh.

In the scorching noontide of the day he collapsed fainting upon his
oar. He was unshackled and dragged out upon the gangway. There a
bucket of sea-water was flung over him to revive him, and the
too-swift healing action of the salt upon his seared flesh was a
burning agony. He was put back to his oar again with the warning that
did he permit himself a second time the luxury of swooning he would
have the whole ocean in which to revive.

On the third day they sighted land, and towards evening the galleys
threaded their way one by one through the shoals of the Boca de
Cantara into the spacious lagoon on the north-east side of the Island
of Jerbah, and there came to rest.

It was Dragut's intention to lie snug in that remote retreat until
Othmani should be ready with the reinforcements that were to enable
the corsair to take the seas once more against the Admiral of Genoa.
But it would seem that already the admiral was closer upon his heels
than he had supposed, and that, trackless as are the ocean ways, yet
Andrea Doria had by some mysterious means contrived to gather
information as he came that had kept him upon the invisible spoor of
his quarry.

Not a doubt but that the folk on that ravaged Sicilian seaboard would
be eager to inform the redoubtable admiral of the direction in which
the Moslem galleys had faded out of sight. Perhaps even that empty
felucca left tossing upon the tideless sea had served as an index to
the way the corsairs had taken, and perhaps from the mainland, from
Monastir, or one of the other cities now in Christian hands, a glimpse
of Dragut's fleet had been caught, and Doria had been warned. Be that
as it may, not a week had Dragut been anchored at Jerbah when one fine
morning brought a group of friendly islanders with the alarming news
that a fleet of galleys was descending upon the island from the north.

The news took Dragut ashore in a hurry with a group of officers. From
the narrow spur of land at the harbour's mouth he surveyed the
advancing ships. What already he had more than feared became absolute
certainty. Two-and-twenty royal galleys were steering straight for the
Boca de Cantara, and the foremost was flying the admiral's ensign.

Back to his fleet went Dragut for cannon and slaves, and so feverishly
did these toil under the lash of his venomous tongue, and of his
bo'suns whips, that within an hour he had erected a battery at the
mouth of the harbour and fired a salute straight into the Genoese line
as the galleys were in the very act of dropping anchor. Thereupon the
fleet of Doria stood off out of range, and hung there, well content to
wait, knowing that all that was now required on their part was
patience. The fox was trapped, and the sword of Islam was like to be
sheathed at last.

Forthwith the jubilant Doria sent word to the Emperor that he held
Dragut fast, and he despatched messengers to the Viceroys of Sicily
and Naples asking for reinforcements with which, if necessary, to
force the issue. He meant this time to leave nothing to chance.

Dragut, on his side, employed his time in fortifying the Boca de
Cantara. A fort arose there, growing visible under the eyes of the
Genoese, and provoking the amusement of that fierce veteran, Doria.
Sooner or later Dragut must decide him to come forth from his
bottle-necked refuge, and the longer he put off that evil day the more
overwhelming would be the numbers assembled to destroy him.

Never since Gianettino Doria had surprised him in the road of
Goialatta, off the coast of Corsica, on that famous occasion when he
was made prisoner, had Dragut found himself in so desperately tight a
corner. He sat under the awning of the poop of his galley, and cursed
the Genoese with that astounding and far-reaching fluency in which the
Moslem is without rival upon earth. He pronounced authoritatively upon
the evil reputation of Doria's mother and the inevitably shameful
destiny of his daughters and their female offspring. He foretold how
dogs would of a certainty desecrate the admiral's grave, and he called
perfervidly upon Allah to rot the bones and destroy the house of his
arch-enemy. Then, observing that Allah remained disdainfully aloof, he
rose up one day in a mighty passion, and summoned his officers.

'This skulking here will not avail us,' he snarled at them, as if it
were by their contriving that he was trapped. 'By delay we but
increase our peril. What is written is written. Allah has bound the
fate of each man about his neck. Betide what may, tonight we take the
open sea.'

'And by morning you'll have found the bottom of it,' drawled a voice
from one of the oars.

Dragut, who was standing on the gangway between the rowers' benches,
whipped round with an oath upon the speaker. He encountered the
languid eyes of Messer Brancaleone. The repose of the last few days
had restored the Italian's vigour, and certain thoughts that lately he
had been thinking had revived his courage.

'Are you weary of life?' quoth the infuriated corsair. 'Shall I have
you hanged ere we go out to meet your friends out yonder?'

'You're very plainly a fool, Messer Dragut,' was the weary answer.
'Hang me, and you hang the only man in all your fleet who can show you
the way out of this trap in which you're taken.'

Dragut started between anger and amazement.

'You can show me a way out of this trap?' he cried. 'What way might
that be?'

'Strike off my fetters, restore me my garments, and give me proper
food, and I'll discuss it with you.'

Dragut glowered.

'We have a shorter way to make men speak,' said he.

Brancaleone smiled, and shook his head.

'You think so? I might prove you wrong.'

It was odd what a power of conviction dwelt in his languid tones. The
corsair issued an order and turned away. A half-hour later Messer
Brancaleone, nourished, washed, and clothed, once more the elegant,
willowy Italian in his doublet of sapphire velvet and in pleasantly
variegated hose of blue and white, stepped on to the poop-deck, where
Dragut awaited him.

Seated cross-legged upon a gorgeous silken divan that was wrought in
green and blue and gold, the handsome corsair combed his square black
beard with fretful fingers. Behind him, stark naked save for his white
loin-cloth, stood his gigantic Nubian, his body oiled until it shone
like ebony, armed with a gleaming scimitar.

'Now, sir,' growled Dragut, 'what is this precious plan of
yours--briefly?'

'You begin where we should end,' said the imperturbable Genoese. 'I
owe you no favours, Messer Dragut, and I bear you no affection that I
should make you a free gift of your life and liberty. My eyes have
seen something to which yours are blind, and my wits have conceived
something of which your own are quite incapable. These things, sir,
are for sale. Ere I part with them we must agree the price.'

Dragut pondered him from under scowling brows savagely. He could
scarce believe that the world held so much impudence.

'And what price do you suggest?' he snarled, half-derisively, by way
of humouring the Genoese.

'Why, as to that, since I offer you life and liberty, it is but
natural that I should claim my own life and liberty in return, and
similarly the liberty of Madonna Amelia and of my servants whom you
captured; also, it is but natural that I should require the
restoration of the money and jewels you have taken from us, and since
you have deprived us of our felucca, it is no more than proper that
you should equip us with a vessel in which to pursue the journey that
you interrupted. Considering the time we have lost in consequence of
this interruption, it is but just that you should make this good as
far as possible by presenting me with a craft that is capable of the
utmost speed. I will accept a galley of six-and-twenty oars, manned by
a proper complement of slaves.'

'And that is all?' roared Dragut.

'No,' said Brancaleone quietly. 'That is but the restitution due to
me. We come now to the price of the service I am to render you. When
you were Gianettino Doria's prisoner, Barbarossa paid for you, as all
the world knows, a ransom of three thousand ducats. I will be more
reasonable.'

'Will you so?' snorted Dragut. 'By the splendour of Allah, you'll need
to be!'

'I will accept one thousand ducats.'

'May Allah blot thee out, thou impudent son of shame!' cried the
corsair, and he heaved himself up in a fury.

'You compel me to raise the price to fifteen hundred ducats,' said
Brancaleone smoothly. 'I must be compensated for abuse, since I cannot
take satisfaction for it as between one honourable Christian gentleman
and another.'

It was good for Dragut that his feelings suddenly soared to a pitch of
intensity that defied expression, else might the price have been
raised even beyond the figure of the famous ransom that Barbarossa had
paid. Mutely he stood glowering, clenching and unclenching his sinewy
hands. Then he half-turned to his Nubian swordsman.

'Ali----' he began, when Brancaleone once more cut in.

'Ah, wait,' said he. 'I pray you calm yourself. Remember how you
stand, and that Andrea Doria holds you trapped. Do nothing that will
destroy your only chance. Time enough to bid Ali hack off my head when
I have failed.'

That speech arrested Dragut's anger in full flow. He wheeled upon the
Genoese once more.

'You accept that alternative?'

Brancaleone met his gaze blandly.

'Why not? I have no slightest fear of failure. I have said that I can
show you how to win clear of this trap and make the admiral the
laughing-stock of the world.'

'Speak, then,' cried Dragut, his fierce eyes kindling.

'If I do so before you have agreed my terms then I shall have nothing
left to sell.'

Dragut turned aside and strode to the taffrail. He looked across the
shimmering blue water to the fortifications at the harbour's mouth;
with the eyes of his imagination he looked beyond, at the fleet of
Genoa riding out there in patient conviction that it held its prey.
The price that Brancaleone asked was outrageous. A galley and some two
hundred Christian slaves to row it, and fifteen hundred ducats! In all
it amounted to more than the ransom that Kheyr-ed-Din Barbarossa had
paid for him. Yet Dragut must pay it or count his destiny fulfilled.
He came to reflect that he would pay it gladly enough to be out of
this tight corner.

He came about again. He spoke of torture once more, but in a
half-hearted sort of way; for he did not himself believe that it would
be effective with a man of Brancaleone's mettle.

Brancaleone laughed at the threat and shrugged his shoulders.

'You may as profitably hang me, Messer Dragut. Your infidel
barbarities would quite as effectively seal my lips.'

'We might torture the woman,' said Dragut the ingenious.

On the words Brancaleone turned white to the lips; but it was the
pallor of bitter, heart-searing resolve, not the pallor of such fear
as Dragut had hoped to awaken. He advanced a step, his
imperturbability all gone, and he spat his words into the face of the
corsair with the fierceness of a cornered wildcat.

'Attempt it,' said he, 'and as God's my witness I leave you to your
fate at the hands of Genoa--ay, though my heart should burst with the
pain of my silence. I am a man, Messer Dragut--never doubt it.'

'I do not,' said Dragut, convinced. 'I agree your terms. Show me a way
out of Doria's clutches, and you shall have all that you have asked
for.'

Trembling still from his recent emotion, Brancaleone hoarsely bade the
corsair call up his officers and repeat his words before them.

'And you shall make oath upon this matter,' he added. 'Men say of you
that you are a faithful Moslem. I mean to put it to the test.'

Dragut, now all eagerness to know what plan was stirring in his
prisoner's brain, unable to brook further suspense in this affair,
called up his officers, and before them all, taking Allah to witness,
he made oath upon the beard of the Prophet that if Brancaleone could
show him deliverance, he, on his side, would recompense the Genoese to
the extent demanded.

Thereafter Dragut and Brancaleone went ashore with no other attendant
but the Nubian swordsman. It was the Genoese who led the way, not
towards the fort, as Dragut had expected, but in the opposite
direction. Arrived at the northernmost curve of that almost circular
lagoon, where the ground was swampy, Brancaleone paused. He pointed
across a strip of shallow land, that was no more than a half-mile or
so in width, to the blue-green sea beyond. Part of this territory was
swampy, and part was sand; vegetation there was of the scantiest; some
clumps of reeds, an odd date palm, its crest rustling faintly in the
breeze, and nothing else.

'It is really very simple,' said the Italian. 'Yonder lies your way.'

A red-legged stork rose from the edge of the marsh and went circling
overhead. Dragut's face empurpled with rage. He deemed that this
smooth fellow dared to mock him.

'Are my galleys winged like that stork, thou fool?' he demanded
passionately. 'Or are they wheeled like chariots, that I can sail them
over dry land?'

Brancaleone returned him a glance that was full of stupefaction.

'I protest,' said he, 'that for a man of your reputation you fill me
with amazement. I said you were a dull fellow. I little dreamed how
dull. Nay, now, suppress your rage. Truth is a very healing draught,
and you have need of it.

'I compute, now, that aboard your ships there will be, including
slaves, some three thousand men. I doubt not you could press another
thousand from the island into your service. How long, do you think,
would it take four thousand men to dig a channel deep enough to float
your shallow galleys through that strip of land?'

Dragut's fierce eyes flickered as if he had been menaced with a blow.

'By Allah!' he ejaculated; and gripped his beard. 'By Allah!'

'In a week the thing were easily done, and meanwhile your fort there
will hold the admiral in play. Then, one dark night, you slip through
this canal and stand away to the south, so that by sunrise you shall
have vanished beyond the skyline, leaving the admiral to guard an
empty trap.'

Dragut laughed aloud now in almost childish glee, and otherwise
signified his delight by the vehemence with which he testified to the
unity of Allah. Suddenly he checked. His eyes narrowed as they rested
upon Brancaleone.

''Tis a scurvy trick you play your lady's grandsire!' said he.

The Genoese shrugged.

'Every man for himself, Messer Dragut. We understand each other, I
think. 'Tis not for love of you that I do this thing.'

'I would it were,' said the corsair, with an odd sincerity. And as
they returned to the galleys it was observed that Dragut's arm was
about the shoulders of the infidel, and that he spoke with him as with
a brother.

The fact is that Dragut, fired with admiration of Brancaleone's
resourcefulness, deplored that so fine a spirit should of necessity be
destined to go down to the Pit. He spoke to him now of the glories of
Islam, and of the future that must await a gentleman of Brancaleone's
endowments in the ranks of the Faithful. But this was a matter in
which Brancaleone proved politely obdurate, and Dragut had not the
time to devote to his conversion, greatly as he desired it. There was
the matter of that canal to engage him.

The Italian's instructions were diligently carried out. Daily the fort
at the Boca de Cantara would belch forth shot at the Genoese navy,
which stood well out of range. To the admiral this was but the barking
of a dog that dared not come within biting distance; and the waste of
ammunition roused his scorn of that pirate Dragut whom he held at his
mercy.

There came a day, however, when the fort was silent; it was followed
by another day of silence, in the evening of which one of the
admiral's officers suggested that all might not be well. Doria agreed,
laughing heartily in his long white beard.

'All is not at all well with that dog Dragut,' said he. 'He wants us
within range of his guns. The ruse is childish.'

And so the Genoese fleet continued well out of range of the empty
fort, what time Dragut himself was some scores of miles away, speeding
for the Archipelago and the safety of the Dardanelles as fast as his
slaves could row.

In the words of the Spanish historian Marmol, who has chronicled the
event; Dragut had left Messer Andrea Doria 'with the dog to hold.'

Brancaleone accompanied the Moslem fleet at first, though now aboard
the galley which Dragut had given him in accordance with their
agreement. And with the Genoese sailed the lovely Amelia Francesca
Doria, his chest of gold, the jewels, and the fifteen hundred ducats
that Dragut--grimly stifling his reluctance--had paid him. On the
second day after leaving Jerbah, Messer Brancaleone and the corsair
captain parted company, with mutual expressions of goodwill, and the
Genoese put about and steered a north-westerly course for the coast of
Spain.

It was some months ere Dragut learnt the true inwardness of Messer
Brancaleone's conduct. He had the story from a Genoese captive, the
captain of a carack which the corsair scuttled in the Straits of
Messina. This fellow's name, too, was Brancaleone, upon learning which
Dragut asked him was he kin to one Ottavio Brancaleone, who had gone
to Spain with the admiral's granddaughter.

'He was my cousin,' the man answered.

And Dragut now learnt that in the teeth of the opposition of the
entire Doria family, the irrepressible Brancaleone had carried off
Madonna Amelia. The admiral had news of it as he was putting to sea,
and it was in pursuit not only of Dragut, but also of the runaways,
that he had gone south as far as Jerbah, having reason to more than
suspect that they were aboard one of Dragut's galleys. The admiral had
sworn to hang Brancaleone from his yardarm ere he returned to port,
and his bitterness at the trick Dragut had played was increased by the
circumstance that Brancaleone, too, had got clear away.

Dragut was very thoughtful when he heard that story.

'And to think,' said he afterwards to Othmani, 'that I paid that
unconscionable dog fifteen hundred ducats, and gave him my best galley
manned by two hundred Christian slaves that he might render himself as
great a service as ever he rendered me!'

But he bore no malice. After all, the Genoese had behaved generously
in that he had left Dragut--though not from motives of generosity--the
entire glory of the exploit. Dragut's admiration for the impudent
fellow was, if anything, increased. Was he not, after all, the only
Christian who had ever bested Dragut in a bargain? If he had a regret
it was that so shrewd a spirit should abide in the body of an infidel.
But Allah is all-knowing.



                             THE POACHERS

They were a hangdog-looking pair as they rode into Liphook on that
sunny morning of May. One was short and weedy, with bony shanks and a
hungry countenance, the other was a little taller and a deal bulkier,
but bloated of face and generally flabby. They were dressed in a
soiled and tawdry imitation of their betters, and each looked every
inch the gallows-bird that he was.

They drew rein on the little patch of rugged turf before the Lame Dog,
and the portly Nathaniel, without dismounting, called for a nipperkin
of ale, whilst the weedy Jake--who had received some elements of
education, and was never weary of parading his scholarliness--became
engrossed in the contents of a bill nailed to the post that bore the
sign of the inn.

It had for title the arresting phrase, 'One Hundred Guineas Reward.'
It began with WHEREAS, and ended with GOD SAVE THE KING, all in fat
letters. In between there were some twenty lines of matter in smaller
type, with the name of THOMAS EVANS boldly displayed amidst it.

Ominous as was this advertisement to the rogue who, under the style of
Captain Evans, had now for some months been working the Portsmouth
road, it nevertheless filled Master Jake with envy. It spoke of fame
and success in his own line of industry, such as seemed far indeed
beyond the reach of himself and his colleague.

They were a pair of London foists--to use the term of their own
thieves' cant--a couple of sneaking pickpockets who never should have
attempted to soar to higher things, and who were bitterly regretting
their recourse to robbery in the grand manner. So far it had not
proved profitable; at least, not commensurately with its perils.
Yesterday evening, grown bold under the spur of necessity, they had
attempted to demand toll from the London coach--thereby usurping the
privileges of Captain Evans himself; but they had bungled the matter
through inexperience, and had been ignominiously driven off by the
guard's blunderbuss. Indeed, but that the guard himself was so scared
that he could not keep his limbs from shaking, they might have brought
away a charge of lead apiece for their pains.

You will now understand Jake's feelings of envy as he scanned that
proclamation. He felt that it would be many a year before the justices
honoured himself in like fashion, before his own unkempt head became
worth a hundred pounds to any man who could come and fetch it.

In his nasal, sing-song, cockney tones, he proceeded labouredly to
read the advertisement aloud for the benefit of his unlettered
associate. He was interrupted by the advent of the ale. When they had
paid for it, they had but fourpence left between them, and, unless
fortune were singularly benign, they were very likely to starve.
Sullen and downcast, they departed and rode on side by side with no
word passing between them. For sixpence either would have cut the
throat of the other that morning. They turned out of the highway into
a pleasant, well-hedged by-road a little way beyond Liphook, and they
ambled slowly forward in the dappled shade with the fragrance of
hawthorn all about them. It was their unspoken hope that here they
might chance upon some lonely wayfarer--preferably of the weaker sex,
or at least someone who would give no trouble. And the very next turn
in the road brought them face to face with one who, in the distance,
looked a likely quarry. This was a slight gentleman astride of a tall,
roan mare with a white blaze. He was dressed all in black, like a
parson, yet with more worldliness and elegance than would have been
proper in a parson. The three-cornered hat over his auburn bag-wig was
pulled down to shade his eyes; for our gentleman was reading. The roan
was proceeding at a walk, the reins loose upon her neck, whilst her
rider, gripping her flanks easily with his knees, was deeply engrossed
in the book he held, which was a translation of the diverting
adventures of a Salamanca student named Gil Blas.

Our rascally twain sighted him from afar, and by common impulse drew
rein, and looked at each other. Jake winked portentously. Nat nodded,
and licked his lips. Then, again by common impulse, they quietly
backed their screws round the corner they had just turned, and there,
out of sight of that solitary and studious wayfarer, they waited. They
had one pistol between them, and it was Jake--the gunner of the
expedition--who had charge of this. He drew it, looked to the priming,
breathed on the barrel, and rubbed it on his threadbare sleeve to
increase its lustre.

Round the corner plump into that ambush rode our student, and----

'Stand!' thundered Jake, levelling his weapon.

The rider looked up, checking instantly as he had been bidden, and
displaying a keen, wolfish face that did not seem to tone quite well
with his studious habits and demure apparel. Indeed, a certain
raffishness hung about him despite his clothes. He seemed compounded
of an odd blend of courtier and lackey.

He considered the rogues who challenged him, and they found his
expression disconcerting.

He displayed none of the sudden terror they had hoped and expected to
inspire. Instead, his glance was vaguely contemptuous in its nice
mingling of amusement and surprise. Calmly he closed his book and
slipped it into his pocket, whilst from under his left arm he took the
heavy riding-crop that had been tucked there.

'What's this, you rabbit-suckers?' he demanded.

Jake thrust his pistol a couple of inches nearer, as if to insist upon
its presence.

'It's this,' said he, 'and it's your purse we want. Come, sir,
deliver!'

'Now, here's impudence, ecod!' was the amusedly scornful answer. 'Am I
to be hunted on my own preserves by a couple of poaching tykes?'

He moved suddenly. Swift and abruptly as a flash of lightning his
heavily loaded crop smashed down upon the dirty hand that held the
barker, and knocked the weapon into the dust. Then he had plucked a
pistol from his own holster, and thus in the twinkling of an eye made
himself master of the situation.

Jake nursed his injured hand, grimacing with pain. Nathaniel snatched
up his reins, stricken with sudden panic. But his flight was arrested
as soon as conceived.

'Stand, hog!' our gentleman summoned him; 'or I'll turn you into bacon
with a bullet.'

They stood at his mercy, and he surveyed them with that sardonic eye
of his.

'On my life, you're a fine pair of tobymen!' he admonished them. He
read their true natures as easily as he had read the diverting history
of the Salamanca student. ''Twas an ill hour in which you left your
town kennels, you rats, to turn gentlemen of the pad and take toll in
the heroic manner! Turn out your pockets, you cony-catchers, and let
us see how you have thriven! Turn 'em out, I say, and hand over your
poachings!'

They obeyed him with a ludicrous alacrity, and revealed the miserable
state of their affairs. Our gentleman in black surveyed with an eye of
scorn the copper coins in Nathaniel's dirty palm.

'How long have ye been poaching upon my preserves?' he demanded.
Receiving no answer: 'Speak out, you muckrakes!' he bade them. 'I am
no sheriff's officer. I am Captain Evans, of whom you may have heard.'

Jake needed but this confirmation of what already he had suspected. He
fell to fawning upon the notorious gentleman of the pad, and proceeded
to relate a moving tale of misfortune. The Bow Street runners had been
on their trail in town, and they had taken to the country for a change
of air and of method. So far, however, they had not prospered as
highwaymen. They had robbed a parson two days ago, but his purse had
held but three poor shillings, of which all that remained was the
fourpence Nathaniel had displayed. Finally came the admission that
they were hungry; and thus a business begun with a fiercely bellowed
'Stand and deliver!' ended now in a piteous whine for alms.

Captain Evans considered them. At length he addressed Nathaniel.

'Get down, pig-face,' he commanded, 'and fetch me that barker!'

Obediently Nathaniel dismounted, picked up the fallen pistol, and
delivered it to the captain. Evans dropped it into his pocket. Then,
restoring his own weapon to its holster, he took the heavy crop, and,
tucking it under his arm again, he finally addressed these rogues.

'Ye inspire me with little confidence,' said he. 'Still, I have a
better notion. If I were to toss you a guinea, you would be in no
better case when that was eaten. I'll do better by you, and,
meanwhile, I'll mend your emptiness. Follow me, but at a distance, for
I'd not have it thought I keep such rat-bitten company!'

On that he wheeled his mare about, and rode off briskly along the road
by which he had approached. The twain looked at each other.
Nathaniel's prominent eyes asked an obvious question.

'Ay,' said Jake; and they set out to follow.

The captain led them a half-mile or so down that by-way, then for a
short distance along a narrow, grassy lane to a cottage that stood
back in a little patch of land--a little, white-washed house set in a
miniature orchard, as innocent-looking a retreat as could have been
conceived. Within the gate he waited for them to come up with him, and
when the horses had been stabled in a lean-to, he conducted them
within doors to what was at once the kitchen and the living-room. He
bade them to table, and, having set meat and drink before them, took
his own seat apart, and smoked thoughtfully while they noisily
satisfied their hunger.

From time to time he would fling them a disdainful glance, and from
time to time they would steal awed looks at him, noting his boots of
fine leather and his silver spurs, the cut of his handsome black coat,
and the extravagance of his ruffles--which, incidentally, were not as
clean as they might have been, although that was too nice a point for
our tatterdemalions.

Captain Evans was a man of ideas. It was not for nothing that he had
been reading the adventures of Gil Blas that morning. He had been
greatly taken with the description of the retreat of the robbers who
captured the Salamanca student, and he was romantic enough to desire
on a lesser scale to organize a somewhat similar band in the pleasant
county of Hampshire--at least, the notion assailed him when he came to
consider how he might turn these two starveling thieves to account.
They were to form the nucleus of the band, which he would rule as
captain absolute. Thus, you see, he was concerned with improving upon
the heroic traditions of the high toby.

He unfolded his scheme to the twain, when at last they had fed. It was
as yet a little vague and inchaote in its details, but the main lines
it should follow were plainly indicated, and he expected it to be
greeted with enthusiasm. At the conclusion he addressed himself more
particularly to Nathaniel.

'Well, pig-face,' he questioned, 'how does it seem to you?'

'My name,' said the flabby rogue, 'is Nat.'

'Maybe, but pig-face becomes you better. Will ye work with me?'

And he looked from one to the other.

Jake agreed with alacrity to the plan, profoundly honoured to serve
under so illustrious a leader. Nathaniel, more reluctant because
resentful of the lack of respect shown him by the captain, required to
be persuaded by his fellow. But in the end it was settled; the twain
were to be enrolled under the captain's banner.

The nature of the active service upon which they were to adventure had
yet to be considered, and the captain promised to consider it
forthwith. Meanwhile, since they showed signs of slumber as a result
of their gross overfeeding, he let them rest for today and recuperate
their energies.

'Ye'll be snug and safe here, so that ye lie close,' he assured them,
rising. Then he issued an order, 'Now that ye've eaten, clear the
table and wash the platters clean. 'Twill be some employment for you
while I'm gone. I shall be back tonight.'

With that he left them.

They heard the hoofs of the roan go padding down the lane, then at
last Nathaniel loosed his pent-up wrath.

'I'll be triply durned,' said he, 'if I turn scullion to any ruffling
cove of the pad! Wash the platters!' He snorted angrily. 'Skewer my
vitals, do I look like a scullery wench?' He rose in his rage at the
indignity. 'And he called me pig-face, the dirty thief! And--and you,
Jake, ye fool, let him beguile you with his smooth cant into promising
to serve with him! Fine service, i' faith! Us'll risk our necks while
his lordship takes the plunder. If ye've an ounce of sense in your
ugly head, ye'll come away with me this instant!'

Jake raised his weasel face, and looked at his fellow with shrewd,
narrowing eyes.

''Tis the way o' fools and drunkards,' he moralized, 'that they must
think all the world in their own case. Sit down, you cackling Tom o'
Bedlam, and listen! I know ye're an unscholarly, ignorant cove that
can't read for yourself. But didn't I read ye what it said on a paper
outside the Lame Dog at Liphook this morning? Didn't ye hear that the
Guvviment be offering a hundred guineas for the capture o' this
ruffling cove?' He paused a moment to give more effect to what he was
about to add. Then he closed one eye slowly. 'Us'll earn it,' he said
softly.

Nathaniel stared, his mouth gaping, his eyes bulging. Then he smacked
his dusty breeches, and again invited someone to skewer his vitals.
Thereafter they discussed the matter.

Captain Evans returned towards evening, and he came at a breakneck
gallop, which in itself might have warned his newly enrolled followers
that something was wrong. He was breathing heavily when he entered the
kitchen, where the twain awaited him, and his face gleamed white in
the gathering dusk. He dropped to a chair, and mopped his face with a
handkerchief; raised a wig, and mopped his cropped head as well.

''Od's life, my lads, a near thing!' he panted.

The sense of peril oozed from him like perspiration, and, catching the
infection of it, they sat still, watching him, and awaiting his
explanation.

''Twas that sleuth from Bow Street, Baldock--the shrewdest catchpoll
in the country. He's been on my heels this month past and more. I
fooled him once out o' sheer wantonness, and it is an unforgiving dog,
without humour. But I'll fool him again ere all is done. He has never
seen my face save once, and then it was so disguised that he'd never
recognize it. Yet this evening he was within an ace of laying me by
the heels. There was a trap set for me. I had taken a fat purse 'twixt
this and Petersfield, and I was returning, when I stopped for a pint
of claret at a roadside inn. But for a friendly ostler who gave me a
hint, I'd have had more than my pint of claret, and 'tis odds ye'd
never again have seen Captain Evans, unless ye went to his hanging.'
He stretched his legs, and breathed more easily. 'Give me to drink,
one o' ye. There should be ale in the cupboard there.'

It was Jake who did him the service he asked, and fetched a jar from
the cupboard. There was little left in it, no more than a cupful, but
the captain drained it gratefully. Then he fished out of his pocket a
green silk purse with a glint of gold showing through the meshes--a
purse which he had taken that afternoon.

'And now, my lads, we must part company,' he informed them. 'The
sleuths are too hot upon the scent, and the moment were ill-chosen for
the association we had thought of. If we stick together you will but
increase my danger, whilst I shall bring danger upon you, too. I am
for the West Country for a season, until the Portsmouth Road is clear
of Baldock and his runners. 'Twas but to warn you that I returned
tonight. You must fend for yourselves, my lads: and here's to help you
on your way.'

On the word he flung the silk purse on to the table, where it fell
with a mellow clink.

His generosity, both in this and in having taken risks to return to
warn them, must have touched hearts less vile. Them, however, it left
unmoved, save by greed and the sense of the need for urgent action.
Jake fastened a lean claw upon the purse, and his eyes were two
glistening beads.

''Tis very generous of you, captain,' said he; and it almost seemed
that he sneered.

Captain Evans rose.

'And now, fare you well,' he said.

As he spoke the pair of them leapt at him. Taking him utterly by
surprise, they bore him struggling to the ground under their combined
weight. He was strong and agile, and almost a match for the pair of
them--almost, but not quite. The fight that ensued was fierce and
long-drawn. The captain writhed and twisted, grappled, kicked, and
smote at them, and before he was overpowered that savage, silent
scrimmage had swept across the length of the kitchen floor, raising a
cloud of dust, knocking over chairs and table in its furious course.
But in the end they had him helpless, bound hand and foot; sweating
and panting from his exertions, wigless, dusty, and with disordered
garments, glaring at them with furious eyes.

Nathaniel righted one of the chairs that had been knocked over. They
forced the captain into it, and bound him firmly to it with cords
which they had prepared. Thus powerless, his white face writhing with
anger and contempt, he cursed them fiercely for a moment.

'What are ye at all?' he asked them thereafter. 'Could I be mistook?
Are ye a couple of dirty catchpolls who have tricked me into believing
ye are upright men?'

The flabby Nathaniel, who, winded by his labours, had dropped wearily
to a chair, had a miserable pretext ready.

'Ye called me pig-face!' he said, with a show of being offended.

'I see,' said the captain. 'And it was that led you to remember that I
am worth a hundred guineas to any that can take me.'

He was on the point of adding something more, but it occurred to him
that invective was not likely to help him here, that never had he been
in more desperate plight since once when the constables had actually
fastened their talons on him. What saved him then was his presence of
mind, his ready wit. And that was the only weapon that remained him
now. He took their measure accurately. He saw that they would no more
be loyal to each other than they had been to him did they perceive a
course of profitable disloyalty. His first aim must be to separate
them so that he might deal with each in turn. He threw back his head,
and laughed--a thing so unexpected that it set them staring at him in
alarm.

'Faith,' he said, 'the situation has its humour! I've been a fool, and
I'm no such curmudgeon, after all, as not to know that a fool must
blame only himself, and pay the reckoning.'

''Tis the proper spirit,' said Jake. And he proceeded diligently to
empty the captain's pockets.

They yielded him another purse, a gold snuff-box with a jewelled
crest, a watch, a couple of valuable rings, and, finally, a brace of
barkers. He piled the plunder on the table, and Nathaniel fell to
inspecting it, chuckling.

The captain watched them, his wits busy.

'Perhaps ye've chosen wisely,' said he presently. 'Ye make better
thief-takers than tobymen. Ye'll turn king's evidence against me, thus
save your dirty necks, and pocket the reward that Baldock covets. Ay,
'twas shrewdly thought.' He coughed. 'Gad, the dust is thick in my
throat. Give me a drink.'

'The ale is done,' said Jake, who had his suspicions of the captain's
amiable philosophy.

'Ay, plague on't,' growled Nathaniel, lifting the jar.

'True,' said Evans. 'I had forgot. But there's a bottle of brandy
upstairs in my bedroom--in one of the drawers of my chest.'

Nathaniel's eyes glowed sombrely.

'Go fetch it, if ye will. Ye'll need to break the lock, maybe; for I
cannot mind me where I left the key.'

Nathaniel departed without further persuasion. They heard him at work
overhead, and the smash of woodwork told of the ardour of his search.
Since, as a matter of fact, there was no such bottle as the captain
suggested, that search was likely to be protracted.

The captain looked at Jake.

'Seize this chance,' he said softly. 'Set me free, and I'll pay you
twice the sum the Crown is offering for me. More, Jake, I'll make your
fortune ere all this is done.'

Jake scowled, displaying not the slightest sign of compliance. But
then the captain had not expected any.

'And who's to warrant me that?' sneered the rogue at last, when he had
overcome his surprise at the impudence of the proposal.

The captain nodded his head in the direction of the table.

'Why, there,' he exclaimed, 'you have a good two hundred guineas'
worth at the least. 'Tis twice as much as the reward, and more easily
earned. Sweep it into your pocket, man, and let us begone while that
drunken fool is busy above stairs. Make haste, man! Cut me these
cords!'

He watched the slow kindling of Jake's eye, the gradual loosening of
his mouth, and he was satisfied that the rascally idea he had released
was biting deep into the scoundrel's brain. Then followed precisely
what the captain had expected. Jake moved furtively towards the table,
his lips twitching, his whole countenance alert and somewhat scared.
He swept the two purses and the rest of the plunder into his pockets.
Then he took up the pistols and examined them. One was his own weapon,
of which the captain had dispossessed them on their first encounter.
It was loaded and primed, and so he dropped it also into his pocket.
The other one was a barker that the captain had emptied that afternoon
to scare the postilion of the gentleman he had robbed. It had not
since been reloaded, and it may have been due to this that Jake laid
it down again.

Then, without another word or so much as another glance at the
prisoner, he stepped quickly and softly to the door.

Seeing this, the captain raised his voice in protest.

'Ye'll never leave me, Jake!' he cried, in simulated horror.

Jake leered at him over his shoulder in silence. Then he pulled the
door open, passed out, and closed it gently after him.

The captain smiled to himself and waited. He heard Jake leading a
horse into the open, while the fool above stairs continued his quest
for the phantom bottle. In another moment hoofs went thudding down the
lane, gathering speed as they receded. The captain laughed outright.
So far things had sped excellently, and he was rid of one of his
enemies. True, the thing had been achieved at considerable cost. But
our tobyman was no niggard with the fruits of his ventures.

Minutes passed, then down the stairs, breathing noisily and swearing
fluently, came Nathaniel.

'Skewer my innards,' said he, as he entered, 'I can't find no plaguey
bottle.' Then he stopped short and looked about him. 'Jake!' he
called. And then, 'Where's Jake?' he enquired.

'Gone,' said the captain.

'Gone!' echoed Nathaniel, uncomprehending. 'Gone where?' He rolled
forward into the room.

'Why, to some stuling-ken, belike, to dispose of the plunder. He went
off with it what time ye were rummaging for the brandy.' He laughed at
the other's blank face. 'Ye're a confiding soul--nay, a durned
confiding soul.'

Nathaniel rolled his eyes to the table, and saw its emptiness of all
save the pistol.

'Ye don't mean that he's bubbled me!' he cried, on a whimpering note.

'What else?' wondered Captain Evans.

'That he's not coming back?' Nathaniel insisted, still disbelieving
his senses.

'Oh, he may be coming back. But if I were you, I should pray that he
may not, or at least I shouldn't stay for him.'

'What d'ye mean?'

'Gad!' said the captain. 'I vow ye're the flabbiest fool that ever cut
a purse. What do I mean? Why, isn't it plain? If he comes back at all,
he'll come back with Baldock, and take you together with myself,
turning king's evidence against the pair of us, and thus making sure
of the hundred guineas reward in addition to all the rest.'

It was a blow that winded Nathaniel. His face turned first purple,
then pale. To express his amazement, his realization, and his
poisonous rage, he swore with a most disgusting fluency. Then he
paused.

'I'll not believe it!' he cried. 'He'll never be so dirty a tyke as
that.'

'You've but to stay if you desire to ascertain precisely how far his
villainy will go.'

'But, man----' Nathaniel checked. His eyes alighted on the pistol
lying on the table. 'Nay, now. He'd never have left his barker if he
meant such business as that.'

'The barker! Ha!' said the captain, with an odd inflection; and he
added sharply, 'Look at it!'

Nathaniel snatched it up.

'Unloaded!' said he; and with that his last, lingering, hopeful doubt
was dissipated.

Utter consternation invaded his soul, and overspread his face. To
linger here now was to await certain capture, as the captain so
shrewdly had warned him.

'Odds rot the plaguey thief!' he snarled. 'If ever I meet him ag'in,
I'll----'

He stopped. He had no words in which to express the horrors he would
perpetrate upon the person of his treacherous associate. Then,
abruptly, he snatched up his ragged hat, pressed it upon his no less
ragged head, and made for the door.

Now, this was not at all as the captain desired it. He did not himself
believe for a moment that Jake would undertake any such desperate
adventure as to fetch Baldock. He was convinced, in fact, that Jake
would be perfectly and wisely satisfied with the result of his
treachery to his comrade as it stood, and would avoid a risk in which
he might well lose all, and find his way to the gallows in addition.

Nevertheless, he had no desire to be left pinioned there as he was. He
had rid himself of one of his captors, and was about to rid himself of
the other, and he flattered himself that he had contrived the thing
with a rare thoroughness; but, before Nathaniel abandoned him, he must
see to it that he was set at liberty.

'Hold!' he shouted. 'Are ye going to leave me here to fall into his
hands?'

Nathaniel shrugged, and lifted the latch.

'Is this how you repay me for warning you? For you'll admit that but
for my warning you 'ld never ha' smoked his full intentions. You'd ha'
lain in Petersfield Gaol with me this night. And would ye desert me
now?'

'Each for himself,' said Nathaniel callously, and opened the door.

Then the captain played his trump-card.

'Are ye going to put another hundred guineas in that weasel's dirty
pockets?' he cried.

Nathaniel checked at that. He turned, his face grimly resolute.

'No, by gad! No, sink me!' he declared.

'Come, now, that is better. Besides, my friend, I can show you how to
overtake him yet, and turn the tables on him.'

'How?' quoth Nathaniel, with fresh eagerness.

'How?' said the captain; and he smiled. 'Gad! There's not a drawer or
ostler in an inn on all the Portsmouth Road but is my friend. They'll
set me on his track, and when we've got him---- But bestir, man; we'll
talk of that as we go!'

Nathaniel produced a knife, and slashed away at the prisoner's bonds.
Evans rose, and stretched himself, a little numb from the pressure of
the cords upon his arms and legs. He straightened his disordered
garments, and bent down to dust his breeches.

'Give me my wig, Nat,' he said, pointing to it where it lay in a
corner of the room.

Nathaniel, unsuspecting, stooped to do his bidding, nor rose again.
For, swift as a cat, the captain leapt upon him from behind, and bore
him to the ground, wielding in his right hand the empty pistol which
he had snatched up from the table.

Pinned there, prone, with the captain's knee in the small of his back,
Nathaniel squealed like a stricken rabbit, what time the captain
mocked him.

'You pig-faced foist!' he said. 'You to play the tobyman! You to rob
in the grand manner! You to ruffle it on the pad! Odds my life, you
dirty thieving dawcock, I hope this will cure you of all such vanity.
And you thought you could hold Captain Evans--you! Bah!'

The captain tapped him sharply over the head with the butt of the
empty pistol, and rose, leaving him stunned where he lay. Then he
adjusted his wig, took up his hat and riding-crop, and left the
cottage.

But in the lean-to an unpleasant surprise awaited him. The horses
stabled there were the two screws upon which Nat and Jake had ridden.
His own roan mare with the white blaze was gone, and he realized that
it was Jake who had taken her. In an exceeding ill-humour, and
breathing redoubled vengeance now that his chances of overtaking Jake
to effect it were considerably diminished, the captain rode off on the
better of those two sorry nags.

He made straight for Liphook and the Lame Dog, hoping there to pick up
news that should set him on the track of the renegade. The news he
found was of another kind.

'It is well for you, captain, that ye didn't come a half-hour ago,'
was the greeting he received from Tom, the drawer.

And thereupon the fellow told his tale:

'There was a gentleman here who swore he had been robbed this very
afternoon twixt this and Petersfield. With him was Baldock, the
thief-taker, who swore 'twas yourself had robbed the gentleman, and
likewise swore to lay you by the heels. And then, whilst they were in
the taproom, up rides a down-at-heel scarecrow of a fellow on your own
roan mare, captain. The gentleman who had been robbed was sitting by
the window, and no sooner does his eye light on this traveller than up
he jumps in a great heat, swearing that this was the man who had
robbed him.

'"Are ye sure?" cried Baldock, all of a shake in his eagerness.

'"Certain sure," says the gentleman. "I couldn't be mistook; though
the rascal's face was masked there was no mask on the nag, and I 'ld
recognize that white blaze anywhere."

'That was enough for Baldock. He whistled, and in the twinkling of an
eye they had that scarecrow off the mare, and they was going through
his pockets. And there, sure enough, it seems, they found some rings
and other things of which the gentleman had been robbed this very day.

'The rogue swore that he was not Captain Evans. He told a wild tale of
how he had come by those trinkets. He protested that he had himself
captured Captain Evans, and that he had him bound fast in a place to
which he offered to lead Baldock. But the Bow Street runner laughed at
him.

'"Ye've bubbled me afore, Captain Evans," says he, "and I'll be
blistered if ye bubble me again! I have ye safe this time." And they
carried the poor devil off to London.'

The captain's laughter pealed forth.

'I was sorry for the poor rogue,' said the drawer, 'and I might ha'
helped him. But, o' course, it weren't for me to be doing that at your
expense, captain.'

'Small need for sorrow on his account, Tom,' the captain assured him.
'The rogue is well served for his impudence in setting up for a
ruffler of the pad. The high toby is a place for gentlemen, egad, and
he was no better than a poacher. What of the mare, Tom?'

'They took her along.'

The captain sighed.

'I've paid dear for my folly. Still, when all is said---- Bah! Give me
a pint of claret, Tom, and lace it well with brandy. I am somewhat
shaken by this adventure.'



                          THE SENTIMENTALIST

Captain Evans--to give him the rank he had assumed for decorative
purposes and without having any real claim to it--rode out of
Godalming alone and early one fragrant summer morning, leaving his
younger brother, Will--in conjunction with whom he was in the habit of
'working', as the term was, the Portsmouth Road--snugly abed at the
Black Boar Inn. He was bound for Petersfield, or, rather, for the Fox
and Hounds, which invites custom a mile or so to the north of that
prosperous little township, and he rode in answer to an urgent message
from Tim, the ostler, whom he subsidized to keep him informed of such
movements upon the road as it imported him to know in the way of
business. Tim had bidden him to be at the Fox and Hounds not later
than noon, intimating that he would then have an important
communication for our captain. But the captain, having risen early,
found himself breasting the slopes in the neighbourhood of Thursley by
nine o'clock--as recorded by a watch which a week ago had been the
property of the Bishop of Salisbury, and which could not, therefore,
be suspected of inaccuracy.

It followed that the captain had an hour or so to spare over and above
the necessary time in which to complete the journey without undue
exertion, and no sooner had he realized this than he caught sight of a
yellow chaise coming into view on the brow of the hill above him. A
man of quick decision--which, after all, is the first essential of
success in his difficult calling--the captain swung his mare to the
right, and vanished down a narrow lane that opportunely offered
itself. Fifty yards down this lane he halted, swung aside again, and,
putting the roan at a low fence on his left, landed in a meadow. He
rode gently back towards the road, took up a position behind a clump
of trees, and waited, vigilant and invisible.

The carriage came lumbering down the hill, a two-horse post-chaise,
yellow as a buttercup in the morning sun, betraying nothing of its
contents. More pressed for time, the captain might have allowed the
hired vehicle to go unmolested. It was not his way in these days to
take risks where he was not sure of profit; but with an hour or so on
his hands, and the very freshness of the morning stimulating his young
blood to high adventure, he resolved to investigate at closer
quarters.

Back he went by the way he had come, and along the lane out into the
open road, there to turn and trot in the wake of the coach, which was
heading for Godalming. At a pace that, without being hot enough to
alarm the travellers, yet steadily lessened the distance between
himself and the chaise, Captain Evans drew alongside. It was his
intent--and in accordance with his usual practice--first to
reconnoitre, and then, if satisfied, to ride ahead and turn to deliver
the attack.

He was the last man to shirk a hazard, but he had long since realized
that for success on the high-toby, as on the field of battle, prudence
and the elimination of the unnecessary risk is as essential as
courage. He had, you see, an orderly mind even in disorderliness,
probably resulting from the fact--to be read in Mr Whitehead's 'Life'
of him--that he had been bred up for the law by his father, a
prosperous Welsh farmer. For the rest, he had found the law more
amusing in the breach than in the practice, and the open road more
attractive than a musty attorney's office.

He drew, then, alongside of the coach, and looked boldly in, as any
other traveller might have done. Nor was there anything of the ruffian
in his appearance to alarm those who might come under his inspection.
He was dressed with sedate elegance in a riding-suit of grey, with
silver lace, and the lustrous brown hair under his three-cornered hat
was neatly clubbed.

To his vexation, he found that the curtains of the chaise were drawn,
which would make his projected adventure more of a leap in the dark
than ever. But even as he looked one of the curtains was whipped
aside, and straining through the window came the head and shoulders of
as delicious a piece of young womanhood as ever the captain--something
of a dilettante in these matters--had contemplated with satisfaction.
She seemed a part of that sweet, fragrant summer morning; at least,
she found in it a very proper setting. Her complexion, now somewhat
pale, was as delicate as a dog-rose; her eyes, which were very wide,
were as blue as the flawless sky overhead; her hair was an aureole of
sunbeams; and, to complete the lovely appeal of her, from parted lips
came a cry for assistance. On her shoulder he observed, in his swift,
comprehensive glance, a man's lean brown hand endeavouring to force
her back into the chaise.

'Help!' she cried to him. 'Help! Oh, sir, deliver me!'

'Deliver you?' says the captain, taken aback. 'To be sure I will.' And
then he added, 'I am the very angel of deliverance, so I am!' which
was neat and quick of him, although the humour of it must of necessity
escape her.

Another moment--time to pluck a barker from his holster--and he was
roaring 'Stand!' in his grandest manner to the postboy.

The chaise rattled and creaked to a standstill, and the captain swung
down from the saddle and threw open the door with an air. Here was
romance, and it was for him to play his part in it. Out of the chaise
came a fiery buck, in fine clothes and a mighty temper, using language
that left no doubt that he must be either a great gentleman or a
pickpocket. Considering a certain raffishness that hung about him and
the deep-bitten lines in his face, which advertised an age beyond the
first seeming, the captain placed him without hesitation outside the
former class, and came promptly to the conclusion that he could have
no business on so fine a morning in a chaise with that gracious little
lady.

The froth of foulness being blown off, we come to the ale of his
opening interjection.

'Who the devil are you, sir, and what the devil d'ye mean interfering
between a gentleman and his wife?'

'I'm not his wife, sir!' cried the lady. 'Don't believe him.'

'I shouldn't dream of doing so, indeed,' says Captain Evans. 'Be good
enough to honour me with your commands, ma'am, and depend upon their
instant execution. I take it you want to be rid of this gentleman's
company?'

'I do, sir--I do!' she cried, hands pressed fervently together in
appeal to this potential rescuer, and fear in her glance.

'You hear the lady and you see,' said the captain. 'I hope you'll not
stop to argue.'

The buck swore most unbecomingly through his teeth, threatened to do
horrible things to this intruder, but kept his fierce eyes on the
gleaming barrel of the captain's pistol.

'Sink me now!' he ended. 'D'ye make yourself this lady's champion?'

'It's a fine morning for knight-errantry, whatever.'

'Knight-errantry, d'ye say? Faugh! Look now! I don't know who the
devil you may be, but since you come so cursedly interfering----' He
broke off and glared at the captain. 'Now, why the devil should I be
taking you into our confidence?' he wondered savagely.

'To save the lady the trouble,' suggested the captain.

'Knight-errantry!' sneered the buck again; and then a gleam of
inspiration came into his bold eyes. 'You play knight-errant with a
pistol! Faugh!'

'I'll play it with anything you please.'

The morning sun and the little lady had between them got into the
captain's blood, so that business was quite forgotten.

'Will you? Will you take a turn with me as one gentleman with another,
so that we may settle this matter of your unwarranted intrusion in my
affairs?'

'You mistake,' said the captain. 'It's the lady's affairs I'm
intruding in, and not unwarranted, but by her invitation, whatever.'

The gentleman sneered.

'You are splitting straws.'

'Shall I be splitting your windpipe?' says Evans, without heat.

'Let us to it, then,' says the gentleman.

'With all my heart.'

Thereupon the gentleman peeled off his laced coat and put it across
the window, so that it hung half on one side, half on the other, of
the open chaise door. The captain observed that it was a mighty fine
coat, and wondered from force of professional habit what the pockets
might contain.

Then the buck lugged out his small sword and stood waiting. The
captain's preparations were less elaborate. He restored his pistol to
its holster and came forward sword in hand. The little lady, standing
now in the door of the chaise, with fluttering bosom and eyes in which
fear was deepening into terror, cried out at this.

'Oh, sir, oh, sir, why do you consent?'

'I am wondering myself, ma'am.'

'Get your pistol again, sir. He will surely kill you. He is a
dreadful--dreadful man.'

'The last one I killed was much dreadfuller--yes, indeed,' said the
captain. He lied in this for the sheer humour of it, for in all his
wild career he had never yet made himself guilty of taking life. With
that he made a leg very prettily. 'Are you ready, sir? Then on guard,
if you please.'

The buck flashed the lady a malicious glance--a glance which said as
plainly as words, 'I'll deal with you presently, my girl, and you
shall pay for having brought this upon me'--and so fell on guard.

In his readiness to fight, the captain found confirmation of his first
judgement of the fellow as an adventurer embarking upon a shady
enterprise. A gentleman sure of himself and his position would have
taken any way but this to settle such a matter as the present one.
Further, this same readiness to fight argued a confidence in himself
based, no doubt, upon skill and experience. Now, the captain was no
less confident of his own powers, being himself a considerable man of
his hands; but he realized at once that, unless this affair were to
have in one way or the other an issue more serious than he could
desire, he must end it almost before it were begun.

It was a trick that had done him good service aforetime, and it did
not fail him now. Scarcely had the blades touched each other in the
first engagement than the captain dropped his point, whirled it under
and round his opponent's hand, and then straightened his arm. It was
all done in one movement with the speed of lightning, and at the end
of it--almost before the fine gentleman realized that a disengage had
taken place--there was a foot or so of the captain's blade well home
in his sword-arm.

The fellow uttered a howl of pain and rage, and the sword dropped from
his nerveless hand. Captain Evans wiped his steel with a dainty lace
kerchief, then sheathed it, and tossed the handkerchief away with an
air. Then he addressed his adversary, who was swearing and groaning
and clamouring for help to staunch his wound, all in one.

'I think, sir, you're lusty enough to help yourself,' said he.

Thereupon our gallant, evidently in mortal terror lest he should bleed
to death, pulls a handkerchief from the breast of his shirt, and,
holding one corner of it in his teeth and the other in his left hand,
sets about putting a bandage about his arm, going down on one knee by
the side of the ditch for greater ease in doing so.

'Ma'am,' said the captain, 'there's a scoundrel disposed of, and you
may continue your journey in peace. To ensure it I'll escort you some
part of the way, if you'll suffer me.'

'Oh, sir!' said she consentingly, whereupon the captain slammed the
door of the chaise, swung himself up into the saddle again, and
ordered the postboy to proceed.

But at the first crack of the whip up jumped the wounded buck,
suddenly realizing what was taking place. In expectation of this, the
captain had pulled his mare squarely across the road to bar the
other's way.

'My coat!' screams the other in a frenzy. 'My coat, sir, if you
please!'

Now, it seemed to Captain Evans, as it must seem to you, more than
ordinarily singular that a gentleman in the buck's position, a
gentleman who apparently had lost so much that morning, should be so
supremely concerned with the trifling loss of a coat. So impressed,
indeed, was the captain that when miss would have thrown the gentleman
his garment he interposed, and bade her retain it as a keepsake.

'You're a deal too hot,' he informed the buck. 'You'll be the better
for a cooling.'

And with that rode off in the wake of the chaise, leaving our fine
gentleman in shirt and breeches, the incarnation of dismay and rage.

A mile or so they may have ridden, miss ever and anon putting her head
from the window to cast a remark at her escort, and her escort doing
his best to answer her becomingly, when at last she gave the order to
halt.

'Sir,' she said, 'could you not tether your horse behind and ride with
me? I feel that I owe you explanations.'

'Madame,' quoth he, very gallantly, 'I could no more be guilty of
forcing a lady's confidence than of refusing so charming an
invitation.'

And he proceeded to do as she suggested.

'You'll think that I have behaved very oddly, sir, in claiming your
assistance,' she began, as soon as he was settled at her side.

'Since dealing with the object of your trouble, ma'am, I think the
behaviour very natural. What I don't understand is how you came to be
running off with that fellow--for that, I suppose, was the situation.'

Round eyes looked at him in enquiry, and also in surprise at his
penetration.

'He called himself your husband, ma'am,' the captain explained, 'which
I took to be an anticipation of his hopes.'

'Oh, sir, I must tell you everything, and cast myself upon your mercy.
Perhaps you will then direct me how to act.'

With that she told her story--told it with downcast eyes and troubled
countenance, her hands listlessly folded in her lap. The gentleman's
name was Lake--Mr Julian Lake he called himself--and, met by chance at
Ranelagh in the first instance, he had followed her down into the
country to Petersfield, where she dwelt with her guardian, Sir Henry
Woodbridge. He had come into her life in a moment of crisis. A young
gentleman--whose name she left out of her story--to whom she was
promised in marriage, and to whom she was deeply attached, had run off
with a lady whose identity she also refrained from disclosing. And
then Mr Lake had swooped down upon her, an impetuous whirlwind of a
lover, with an air of the great world about him to dazzle her, and, as
women will in her case, she had snatched at this chance of showing her
false lover how little she was troubled by his defection. With her
consent, Mr Lake had written to her guardian; and her guardian, for
reasons which he had omitted to disclose to her, had replied, refusing
to receive the fellow or countenance his suit. Thereupon Mr Lake had
proposed the elopement, and in despair she had consented.

They had set out from Petersfield soon after dawn that day. Mr Lake
had made arrangements for their marriage at Guildford. But with every
mile that they rode together the sense of what she was doing, and the
fear of it, increased in the heart of Miss Helston, until in the end,
being fully if tardily awake to the folly of entrusting her life to a
man of whom, after all, she knew nothing, and for whom she felt no
more than a simulated affection, having its roots in pique, she
frankly told him so, and begged him to order the chaise to be put
about, and either to conduct her or send her back to her guardian. It
was then that Mr Lake revealed himself for the adventurer that he
really was. Miss Helston was--or would be presently, on attaining full
age, to which she was very near--a lady of very considerable wealth,
and so you conceive the rage and chagrin begotten in the heart of our
gentleman, who had been congratulating himself upon the snug
acquisition of her fortune. His conduct had been abominable. He had
allowed her to perceive that he would stop at no violence short of
murder to compel her to carry out her undertaking to marry him, and
but for the captain's very timely arrival on the scene, Miss Heston
trembled to think what might have become of her.

It was a very moving tale, and Captain Evans, who was a little prone
to sentiment, was deeply touched. Then he grew practical.

'And what's to be done now?' quoth he.

Miss looked at him with those melting, questioning eyes of hers. They
had clattered through Godalming while her tale was a-telling, and were
holding amain on the road to Guildford, the unreflecting postboy
intent upon carrying out his original instructions, without regard to
the change of passengers that had taken place.

'What--what do you advise?' she asked pathetically.

'Why, that you carry out your earlier intention of returning to
Petersfield and your guardian. What else can you do, whatever?--unless
you have friends with whom you would prefer to stay awhile until you
can make your peace with Sir Henry.'

'No, no!' she said. 'I'll go back to him. I'll go back to
Petersfield.'

Greatly relieved, the captain gave the necessary order. The chaise
went about, and set out to return in its tracks. And then the captain
bethought him of that important engagement of his for noon that day
with the ostler of the Fox and Hounds at Petersfield--an engagement
blown out of his mind by the events, and no longer to be kept with any
degree of punctuality. It was striking one as they clattered for the
second time over the cobbled streets of Godalming.

'I--I am very hungry' says miss pathetically. It was not a cry to
which a man of heart could close his ears. 'I haven't tasted food
today,' she added. And at that he called himself a brute, and awoke to
the fact that his own appetite was keen enough.

They drew up, by his order, at the Swan--a house at which he was
unknown--and in a private room which he commanded above-stairs they
sat down a half-hour later to the best dinner the house could provide
and a bottle of the landlord's best Burgundy. Having drunk a generous
share of it, Captain Evans came to account the time well lost, and the
business appointment at Petersfield a matter of small consequence
compared with the sweet delight of protecting and ministering to this
choice, helpless wisp of womanhood. That satisfaction with things as
they were was soon to increase to thankfulness, and he was to see in
all that had happened the hand of Providence befriending him. It was
the chamberlain of the inn who came presently to enlighten him.

'I hear, sir,' he said, in the course of his ministrations, 'that the
Portsmouth Road will be safer for travellers after today. That pest of
the highway, Captain Evans, is likely to be laid by the heels before
night.'

'And is that so?' says the captain, with sharp interest. 'Now, that's
mighty good hearing--yes, indeed.'

'You're right, sir. A gentleman just arrived from Petersfield tells me
that the sheriff and his men had spread a net for the rascal, in which
he must have been taken before this.'

The captain poured himself the remainder of the wine with a steady
hand.

'Yet what all the world knows Captain Evans himself may discover,'
said he.

'Too late for that, sir. He'll be took by now,' said the chamberlain
with confidence as he withdrew.

The captain raised his glass to pledge the lady who all unconsciously
had been the means of saving him from what he now surmised to be a
bait trapped for him by that scoundrel Tim. Aloud, he toasted her safe
return, a toast to which she responded almost gaily.

Her spirits, too, had improved under the invigorating influence of
meat and wine, and the dark cloud that had hung over her since morning
began at last to lift. She took an optimistic view of the future, and
envisaged a return to Sir Henry's house without any serious
misgivings. When he knew all he would forgive the escapade. What
troubled her far more at the moment, she confessed, was how adequately
to return thanks to her preserver.

'You have been to me the best friend that ever I had,' she told him,
'for you came to me in the hour of my greatest need, and never
hesitated to afford me your assistance.'

He looked into the dainty face, with its so delicate complexion and
eyes of blue, over which the lids were shyly and alluringly
fluttering, and heaved a sigh.

'I am thinking we have been good friends to each other,' said he. 'It
will be something for me to remember afterwards.'

'Afterwards?' says Miss.

'To be sure, afterwards--when you and I have gone our separate ways
again, having each of the other just the memory of this day.'

'It will be a very grateful memory to me,' said she; and he saw the
faintest cloud gathering again about her eyes.

'And a sweet one to me,' said he, and sighed again.

Now, it may have been that sigh of his that touched her, or the
Burgundy that had emboldened her, or both working conjointly.

'We shall meet again, of course,' says she. 'We--we should be friends
after what has happened--after the way in which you have befriended
me.' And she looked at him with such ravishing candour for a moment
that he was put out of breath and out of countenance.

'You--you make too much of the little service I have done you,' said
he, faltering.

She frowned, and as her eyes were lowered he observed a sudden
deepening of the colour in her cheeks, and realized how ungracious his
words must have sounded. She pushed back her chair and rose.

'Miss Helston,' he exclaimed, 'you must not misunderstand. I----'

'I do not, sir. Your honest sincerity is very charming to me after
what I have suffered at the hands of your sex. I could not fail to
appreciate it deeply.'

But the sarcasm in the words cut him sharply, the more sharply because
he must suffer it in silence. What was there he could say?

She crossed to the window and looked out upon the sunlit inn-yard. A
coach came clattering into it at that moment.

'Shall we be resuming our journey, sir?' said she. 'We have some way
to ride--that is, if I may still count upon the honour of the escort.'

He got to his feet.

'Now, why do you say that to me?' he growled, half resentfully, 'Can't
you see that I would----'

Her sharp outcry interrupted him. She swung to him, showing a white,
scared face: her bosom raced.

'Sir Henry--my guardian!' she cried. 'He is here! He saw me! And there
are people with him!'

Captain Evans received the news with positive relief. It would make an
end to a situation that was beginning to occasion him some anxiety.

'In that case, ma'am, your troubles will be at an end.'

'Will they?' She looked at him, and then the door opened, and from the
threshold a tall, lean, sardonic gentleman stood regarding them with a
smile that was not quite pleasant.

Captain Evans blenched. But it was not the sardonic countenance of Sir
Henry that occasioned his disorder; it was another face perceived over
Sir Henry's shoulder, the round, jolly face of Sir Thomas Blount, the
sheriff of the county; nor did he pause to think under the moment's
shock that his own face could not be as well known to Sir Thomas as
was Sir Thomas's to him. He saw that behind the sheriff there were
several men, and he accounted himself lost. Somehow they had trapped
him when he failed to walk into the trap at Petersfield. Perhaps they
had come upon Mr Lake, and he had assisted them with information. With
his glance he measured the distance to the window, mentally calculated
its height from the ground, and strove to imagine what might await him
in the inn-yard should he take the desperate decision to go that way.
Meanwhile the drawling voice of Sir Henry Woodbridge--a voice that
sorted excellently with the gentleman's sardonic countenance--was
speaking.

'It would appear, then, that we arrive in time. I say it would appear
so. And for your sake, Mr Lake, I sincerely trust that appearances do
not deceive me, otherwise it will be for my friend Sir Thomas Blount
to deal with you.'

He sauntered forward. The more corpulent sheriff rolled after him.

'Egad, yes, my buck,' gurgled the latter. 'Ye're caught red-handed in
the hideous act of abduction. I've heard of you. I know something of
your affairs, Mr Lake, and if you've had the services of a parson with
this lady I promise you it shall go hard with you.'

Then forth trilled Miss Helston's laugh, and there was no mistaking
its naturalness and freedom from anxiety.

'Why, Sir Henry,' she addressed her guardian, 'this is not Mr
Lake----'

'Of course not,' sneered Sir Henry the sardonic, and from that Captain
Evans, whose courage had revived upon discovering that he was not
himself the object of the sheriff's pursuit, very promptly took his
course.

'My dear,' he said, on a note of romantic sorrow, 'what purpose can it
serve to deny my identity?'

'But----' she began, and there she checked. Something compelling in
her preserver's glance interrupted her, and imposed--almost seemed to
beg--silent acquiescence. And meanwhile there was Sir Henry sneering.

'No purpose at all, sir. You very foolishly left the gentleman's
letter behind you, Mary. It only remains for you to tell me whether
you are yet married, whether this'--and he waved a slender hand
towards the table from which they had risen--'was the wedding feast
which we so inconsiderately interrupt?'

'We are not, sir,' said the captain, and, remembering what she had
told him, added, 'We were to have been married at Guildford.'

'I remember that you mentioned it in your letter, Mr Lake. I am
relieved by the tense you employ. It is very well for you, sir, that
you can place it in the subjunctive and conditional perfect. My
dear----' He crooked his arm, and proffered it to his ward, with
something between mockery and command. Then, melting a little from his
sarcastic haughtiness, 'Come, child,' he added, 'you shall yet come to
thank me for saving you in time from this broken gamester.'

'Ay, ay; but are ye sure that you can take his word for't?' broke in
the bustling little sheriff. 'I've been bubbled once today, when I
should have been able to put my hand on that rascal Evans----'

'I am sure that I can take hers,' Sir Henry interrupted. He stood
squarely before his errant ward, and looked into her pale face with
its troubled eyes, that were now aswim with tears. 'Tell me, Mary--in
a word, yes or no--are you married to him?'

'No,' she faltered. 'I am not.'

'That is enough, then. Let us be going.'

'Faith, it may be enough for you, Sir Henry,' quoth the officious
Blount, 'but it is not enough for me. Abduction is a serious crime, Mr
Lake, as you shall learn. Fetch him along, my lads,' he bade his men.
'We'll lodge him snugly in Guildford Gaol for tonight. He's a poor
substitute for Captain Evans, but we'll take him along.'

At that she flung away from her guardian's arm, and came running to
her preserver, fear, misery, and bewilderment all blending in the
appealing eyes lifted to him.

'Oh, why----' she was beginning, when again he checked her.

'Believe me, my dear, Sir Thomas knows his business. Protests would
never avail to turn him aside from it. He is, as you observe, a very
conscientious and perspicacious gentleman. Pray let him have his way
without waste of words. Good-bye!'

He bore her hand to his lips, and felt it tremble almost convulsively
in his grasp. More than his actual words, his glance, so pregnant with
a meaning that she could not read, commanded her silence,
and--whatever else might baffle her--made her realize that this was
the course which he desired that things should take.

And so they parted, she to return to Petersfield in her guardian's
coach, he to be haled away a prisoner in a hired chaise to Guildford.
Until they had left Godalming behind them, it had been his dread lest
Sir Thomas should summon and question the postboy who had driven him
that morning. Fortunately, the bustling sheriff neglected that detail
as of no account, never conceiving that the postboy's story could do
other than confirm the matter which the runaways themselves did not
attempt to deny.

Captain Evans spent the night in Guildford Gaol, wondering where
exactly his knight-errantry would land him. He was visited on the
following morning by the sheriff. Sir Thomas was not in the best of
humours.

'You are in luck, Mr Lake,' he said sourly.

'I've not yet perceived it,' said the captain.

'But you will. I cannot proceed against you unless Sir Henry
Woodbridge prosecutes, and Sir Henry declines to do so.'

The captain sighed relief.

'That's vastly kind of him.'

'Kind! He doesn't do it to be kind to you, sir. He declines to
prosecute because he realizes that to do so would be to blow upon the
fair fame of his ward, Miss Helston. Out of consideration for the lady
he must forgo demanding upon you the punishment you deserve. It was a
fortunate thing for you, my lad, that he overtook you in time to
prevent the marriage. If he had found her your wife, I believe she
would have been your widow by now. Sir Henry can be mighty hot, for
all his cool ways. Remember that, sir, and let it serve as a warning
to you in the future. And now be off. I've work to do. I've to be on
the heels of that damned tobyman Evans, who gave me the slip
yesterday, and you're partly to blame for that.'

'Oh, Sir Thomas!' cried the captain, and his tone was pained. 'I swear
you do me an injustice there. It's no fault of mine if you didn't gaol
your highwayman.'

'It will be if you keep me talking here,' snapped Sir Thomas, and on
that departed.

Captain Evans went off in a hired chaise to Godalming once more, and
there sought his brother Will at the Black Boar. His arrival startled
Will out of the deep dejection into which he had sunk, and he came to
his feet with an oath at sight of his brother.

'How did you escape?' he cried.

'Escape?' echoed the captain. It was impossible that Will should have
knowledge of his adventure. 'Escape what?'

'The trap that was laid for you at Petersfield.'

'Trap! Was it a trap?'

'Of course it was. That scoundrel Tim had sold you to the sheriff, and
his men were waiting for you until night at the Fox and Hounds.
Indeed, for all I know, they may be waiting for you still. Gadslife,
Tom, I'd forsaken all hope of ever seeing you again. Where have you
been?'

'With the sheriff,' says the captain.

'With the sheriff?'

'Ay--Sir Thomas Blount. I slept at Guildford Gaol, and parted from him
there two hours ago. Let me explain.'

'I confess it's necessary.'

The captain told his story. 'So that, you see,' he ended, 'what time
the sheriff and his men were waiting to take me, there was I safely
hidden in the sheriff's own hands. Humorous, wasn't it?'

But Will was blind to the humour of it. He looked reproachfully at his
brother.

'I suppose this ninny of a runaway girl beglamoured you, till you
nearly lost your neck in the business.'

''Pon my soul, Will, that's ungracious, seeing that she saved me.'

'Saved you? Pshaw! If you hadn't allowed her to get you into danger
there would have been no need for her to have saved you. You're an
incorrigible sentimentalist.'

'I admit it. But it's been the salvation of me this time. And you're
not to suppose that I neglected business completely. You'll remember
that I came off with Mr Lake's coat.'

'Oh, Lake's coat!' sneered Will.

The captain dropped a bag of soft leather on the table. It squelched
down with a melodious chink.

'There's fifty guineas in that; it was in one of his pockets. And
here's a snuff-box--a pretty thing of gold and brilliants worth at
least half as much. I thought I'd like it as a keepsake. Perhaps I am
a sentimentalist.'

Will was mollified.

'But you've nothing of the girl's,' he complained.

'Nothing--tangible,' said the captain, and sighed. 'After all, you're
no doubt right. I am an incorrigible sentimentalist. I must be.' And
he sighed again.



                                DUROC

Duroc came down the Rue de la Harpe so stealthily that his steps
scarcely made a sound. He moved like a shadow, and when at last he
came to a halt before the house of the Citizen Representative
Clairvaux it was as if he had totally effaced himself, as if he had
become part of the general gloom.

There he paused considering, his chin in his hand; and perhaps because
the ground-floor windows were equipped with bars, he moved on more
stealthily than ever along the garden wall. Midway between two of the
lanterns slung across the narrow street and shedding a feeble yellow
light he paused again.

He stood now at a point where the shadows were deepest. He listened
intently for a moment, peered this way and that into the night, and
then went over the wall with the swift silent activity of an ape. He
found the summit of that wall guarded by a row of iron spikes, and on
one of these, for all his care, Duroc left a strip of his breeches.

The accident annoyed him. He cursed all /chevaux de frise/,
pronouncing them a damnably aristocratic institution to which no true
patriot could be guilty of having recourse. Indeed from the manner in
which the Citizen Representative Clairvaux guarded his house it was
plain to Duroc that the fellow was a bad republican. What with bars on
its windows and spikes on its walls, the place might have been a
prison rather than the house of a representative of the august people.
Of course, as Duroc well knew, the Citizen Representative had
something to guard. It was notorious that this modest dwelling of his
in the Rue de la Harpe was something of a treasure-house, stored with
the lootings of many a /ci-devant/ nobleman's property, and it was
being whispered that no true patriot--and a Citizen Representative
into the bargain--could have suffered himself to amass such wealth in
the hour of the nation's urgent need.

Duroc advanced furtively across the garden, scanning the silent,
sleeping house. Emboldened by the fact that no light or faintest sign
of vigilance showed anywhere, he proceeded so adroitly that within
five minutes he had opened a window and entered a room that was used
by the deputy as his study.

Within that room he stood quite still, and listened. Save for the
muffled ticking of a clock no sound disturbed the silence. He turned
and very softly drew the heavy curtains across the window. Then he sat
down upon the floor, took a small lantern from his breast and a
tinder-box from his waistcoat pocket. There was the sharp stroke of
steel on flint, and presently his little lantern was shedding a yellow
disc of light upon the parquetry floor.

He rose softly, placed the light on a console, and crossed the room to
the door which stood half open. He listened again a moment then closed
the door and came back, his feet making no sound upon the thick and
costly rugs that were flung here and there.

In mid-chamber he paused, looking about him, and taking stock of his
luxurious surroundings. He considered the painted panels, the inlaid
woods, the gilded chairs and the ormolu-encrusted cabinets--all
plundered from the hotels of /ci-devants/ who were either guillotined
or in flight, and he asked himself if it was in this sybaritic fashion
that it became a true republican to equip his home.

He was a short, slender man, this Duroc, whose shabby brown garments
looked the worse for the rent in his breeches. He wore a fur bonnet,
and his lank black hair hung in wisps about his cheeks and neck. His
face was white and wolfish, the jaw thrust forward and ending in a
lean square chin; his vigilant quick-moving eyes were close-set and
beady as a rat's; his thin lips were curled now in a sneer as he
considered the luxury about him.

But that attitude of his was momentary. Duroc had not come there to
make philosophy but to accomplish a purpose, and to this he addressed
himself forthwith. He took up his lantern, and crossed to a tall
secretaire that was a very gem of the court-finisher's art in the days
of Louis XIV. Setting the lantern on top of it, he drew from his
pocket a bunch of skeleton keys, gripping them firmly so that they
should not rattle. He stooped to examine the lock, and then on the
instant came upright again, stiff and tense in his sudden alarm.

A knock had fallen upon the street door, and the echo of it went
reverberating through the silent house.

Duroc's lips writhed as he breathed an oath.

The knock was repeated, more insistent now. To the listening Duroc
came the sound of a window being thrown up. He heard voices, one from
above, the other replying from the street, and guessed that the
awakened Clairvaux was challenging this midnight visitor before coming
down to open.

Perhaps he would not come. Perhaps he would dismiss this inopportune
intruder. But that hope was soon quenched. The window rasped down
again, and a moment later the flip-flop of slippered feet came
shuffling down the stairs and along the passage to the door. A key
grated and a chain clanked--this Clairvaux made a Bastille of his
dwelling--and then voices sounded in the passage. The door of the
house closed with a soft thud. Steps and voices approached the room in
which Duroc still stood immoveable, listening.

At last he stirred, realizing that he had not a moment to spare if he
would escape detection. He turned, so that his back was to the door,
snatched up his lantern and pressed it against his breast, so that
while it might still light him forward, its rays should not strike
backwards to betray him. Then in three strides he gained the shelter
of the heavy velvet curtains that masked the window. Behind them, his
back to the casement, he extinguished at last the light.

The door opened an instant later. Indeed had Clairvaux who entered,
candle in hand, in nightcap and quilted dressing-gown, bestowed an
attentive look upon the curtains he would have detected the quiver
that still agitated them. After him came a tall young man in a long
black riding-coat and a conical hat that was decorated by a round
tricolour cockade to advertise his patriotic sentiments. Under his arm
he carried a riding-whip, whose formidable quality as a weapon of
offence was proclaimed by its round head in plaited leather with
silver embellishments. He placed it upon a table beside his hat, and
the thud with which it dropped to the wood further announced its
quality.

The Citizen Representative, a short, stiffly built man whose aquiline
face was not without some resemblance to that of his visitor, flung
himself into a gilt armchair upholstered in blue silk near the
secretaire that but a moment ago had been the object of Duroc's
attention. He threw one knee over the other and drew his quilted
dressing-gown about his legs.

'Well?' he demanded, his voice harsh. 'What is this important
communication that brings you here at such an hour as this?'

The man in the riding-coat sauntered across to the fireplace. He set
his back to the overmantel, and the ormolu clock with its cupids by
Debureau, and faced the deputy with a smile that was almost a sneer.

'Confess now,' he said, 'that but for your uneasy conscience, my
cousin, you would have hesitated to admit me. But you live in the
dread of your own misdeeds, with the blade of the guillotine like a
sword of Damocles suspended above you, and you dare refuse no
man--however unwelcome in himself--who may be the possible bearer of a
warning.' He laughed an irritating laugh of mockery.

'Name of a name,' growled the deputy, 'will you tell me what brings
you, without preamble?'

'You do not like preambles? And a representative! Now that is odd! But
there, Etienne, to put it shortly, I am thinking of emigrating.'

It was the deputy's turn to become mocking.

'It was worth while being aroused at midnight to hear such excellent
news. Emigrate by all means, my dear Gustave. France will be well rid
of you.'

'And you?' quoth Gustave.

'And I no less.' The deputy grinned sardonically.

'Ah!' said his cousin. 'That is excellent. In such a case, no doubt,
you will be disposed to pay for the privilege. To carry out this plan
of mine I need your assistance, Etienne. I am practically penniless.'

'Now that is a thousand pities.' The deputy's voice became almost
sympathetic, yet slurred by a certain note of sarcasm. 'If you are
penniless, so am I. What else did you expect in a member of the
National Convention? Did you conceive that a representative of the
sacred people--an apostle of Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity--could
possibly have money at his disposal? Ah, my good cousin, I assure you
that all that I possessed has been offered up on the sacred altar of
the nation.'

Gustave looked at him, and pursed his lips. 'You had better reserve
that for the National Assembly,' he said. 'It may sound convincing
from the rostrum. Here----' he waved a hand about him at all the
assembled splendours, 'it sounds uncommonly like a barefaced lie.'

The deputy rose with overwhelming dignity, his brows contracted.

'This to me?' he demanded.

'Why not?' wondered Gustave. 'Come, come, Etienne. I am not a child,
nor yet a fool. You are a man of wealth--all the world knows it, as
you may discover to your cost one fine morning. These are days of
fraternity, and I am your cousin----'

'Out of my house,' the deputy broke in angrily. 'Out of my house this
instant.'

Gustave looked at him with calm eyes. 'Shall I then go and tell the
National Assembly what I know of you? Must I denounce you to the
Committee of Public Safety as a danger to the nation? Must I tell them
that in secret you are acting as an agent of the emigrés, that you
plot the overthrow of the august republic?'

Clairvaux's face was livid, his eyes were bulging. He mastered himself
by an effort. 'Denounce all you please,' he answered in a suffocating
voice. 'You'll leave your own head in the basket. Sainte Guillotine!
you fool, am I a man of straw to be overthrown by the denunciations of
such a thing as you? Do you think to frighten me with threats of what
you will do? Do you think that is the way to obtain assistance from
me?'

'Seeing that no other way is possible,' flashed Gustave.

'Out of my house. Go, denounce me! Go to the devil! But out of here
with you!'

'Take care, Etienne!' The other was breathing hard, and his eyes
flamed with anger--the anger of the baffled man. 'I am desperate, I am
face to face with ruin. I need but a thousand francs----'

'Not a thousand sous, not a single sou from me. Be off!' And Clairvaux
advanced threateningly upon his cousin. 'Be off!' He caught him by the
lapels of his riding-coat.

'Don't dare to touch me!' Gustave warned him, his voice shrilling
suddenly.

But the deputy, thoroughly enraged by now, tightened his grip, and
began to thrust the other towards the door. Gustave put out a hand to
the table where his hat and whip were lying, and his fingers closed
upon that ugly riding-crop of his. The rest had happened almost before
he realized it; it was the blind action of suddenly overwhelming fury.
He twisted out of his cousin's grasp, stepped back, holding that
life-preserver by its slender extremity, swung it aloft and brought
the loaded end whistling down upon the deputy's nightcapped head.

There was a horrible sound like the crunching of an egg-shell, and the
Citizen Representative dropped, fulminated by the blow, and lay in a
shuddering, twitching heap, whilst the colour of this nightcap changed
slowly from white to crimson under the murderer's staring eyes.

Gustave stood there, bending over the fallen man, motionless while you
might count ten. His face was leaden and his mouth foolishly open
between surprise and horror of the thing he had done.

Not a sound disturbed the house; not a groan, not a movement from the
fallen man. Nothing but the muffled ticking of the ormolu clock and
the buzzing of a fly that had been disturbed. Still Gustave stood
there in that half-crouching attitude, terror gaining upon him with
every throb of his pulses. And then quite suddenly a voice cut sharply
upon the stillness.

'Well?' it asked. 'And what do you propose to do now?'

Gustave came erect, stifling a scream, to confront the white face and
beady eyes of Duroc, who stood considering him between the parted
curtains.

In a long silence he stared, his wits working briskly the while.

'Who are you?' he asked at last, his voice a hoarse whisper. 'How come
you here? What are you? Ah! A thief--a housebreaker!'

'At least,' said Duroc drily, 'I am not a murderer.'

'My God!' said Gustave, and his wild eyes turned again upon that
tragically grotesque mass that lay at his feet. 'Is he--is he dead?'

'Unless his skull is made of iron,' said Duroc. He came forward in
that swift, noiseless fashion of his, and dropped on one knee beside
the deputy. He made a brief examination. 'The Citizen Representative
represents a corpse,' he said. 'He is as dead as King Capet.' He rose.
'What are you going to do?' he asked again.

'To do?' said Gustave. 'Mon Dieu! What is there to do? If he is
dead----' He checked. His knavish wits were racing now. He looked into
the other's round black eyes. 'You'll not betray me,' he cried. 'You
dare not. You are in no better case than I. And there is no one else
in the house. He lived all alone. He was a miserly dog, and the old
woman who serves him will not be here until morning.'

Duroc was watching him intently, almost without appearing to observe
him. He saw the man's fingers suddenly tighten upon the life-preserver
with which already he had launched one man across the tide of the Styx
that night.

'Put that thing down,' he commanded sharply, 'put it down at once, or
I'll send you after your cousin.' And Gustave found himself covered by
a pistol.

Instantly he loosed the grip of his murderous weapon. It fell with a
crash beside the body of the man it had slain.

'I meant you no harm,' panted Gustave. 'Do you know what wealth he
hoards in these consoles, in that secretaire? You do, for that is what
you came for. Well, take it, take it all. But let me go, let me get
away from this. I--I----' He seemed to stifle in his terror.

Duroc's lipless mouth distended in a smile.

'Am I detaining you?' he asked. 'Faith, you didn't suppose I was going
to drag you to the nearest /corps-de-garde/, did you? Go, man, if you
want to go. In your place I should have gone already.'

Gustave stared at him almost incredulously, as if doubting his own
good fortune. Then suddenly perceiving the motives that swayed the
other, and asking nothing better for himself than to be gone, he
turned and without another word fled from the room and the house, his
one anxiety to put as great a distance between himself and his crime
as possible.

Duroc watched that sudden scared flight, still smiling. Then he coolly
crossed the room, took up the dead man's candle and placed it upon the
secretaire. He pulled up a chair--there was no longer any need to
proceed with caution--sat down, and producing his keys and a
chisel-like instrument he went diligently to work to get at the
contents of this secretaire.

Meanwhile Gustave had gone like a flash the length of the Rue de la
Harpe, driven ever by his terror of the consequences of his deed. But
as he neared the corner of the Cordeliers he was brought suddenly to a
halt by the measured tread of approaching steps. He knew it at once
for the march of a patrol, and his consciousness of what he had done
made him fearful of meeting these servants of the law who might
challenge him and demand to know whence he was and whither he went at
such an hour--for the new reign of universal liberty had imposed stern
limitations upon individual freedom.

He vanished into the darkness of a doorway, and crouched there to wait
until those footsteps should have faded again into the distance. And
it was in those moments as he leaned there panting that his fiendishly
wicked notion first assailed him. He turned it over in his mind, and
in the gloom you might have caught the gleam of his teeth as he smiled
evilly to himself.

He was his cousin's heir. Could he but fasten the guilt of that murder
upon the thief he had left so callously at work in the very room where
the body lay, then never again need he know want. And the thief, being
a thief, deserved no less. He had no doubt at all but that the fellow
would never have hesitated to do the murder had it been forced upon
him by circumstances. He reflected further, and realized how aptly set
was the stage for such a comedy as he had in mind. Had not that fool
compelled him to drop the very weapon with which the deputy's skull
had been smashed?

No single link was missing in the chain of complete evidence against
the thief. Gustave realized that here was a chance sent him by
friendly fortune. Tomorrow it would be too late. In seeking his
cousin's murderer the authorities would ascertain that he was the one
man who stood to profit by the Citizen Representative's death, and
having discovered that they would compel him to render an account of
his movements that night. They would cross-question and confound him,
seeing that he could give no such account as they would demand.

He was resolved. He must act at once. Not three minutes had sped since
he had left that house, and it was impossible that in the meantime the
thief could have done his work and taken his departure.

And so upon that fell resolve he flung out of his concealment, and ran
on up the street towards the Cordeliers, to meet the advancing patrol,
shouting as he went--

'Au voleur! Au voleur!'

He heard the patrol quickening their steps in response to his cry, and
presently he found himself face to face with four men of the National
Guard, who, as it chanced, were accompanied by an agent of the section
in civilian dress and scarf of office.

'Down there,' he cried, pointing back down the street. 'A thief has
broken into the house of my cousin--my cousin the Citizen
Representative Clairvaux.' He gathered importance, he knew, from this
proclamation of his relationship with one of the great ones of the
Convention.

But the agent of the section paused to question him.

'Why did you not follow him, citizen?'

'I am without weapons, and I bethought me he would probably be armed.
Besides I heard you approaching in the distance, and I thought it best
to run to summon you, that thus we may make sure of taking him.'

The agent considered him, his white face--seen in the light of the
lantern carried by the patrol--his shaking limbs and gasping speech,
and concluded he had to deal with an arrant coward, nor troubled to
dissemble his contempt.

'Name of a name!' he growled, 'and meanwhile the Citizen
Representative may have been murdered in his bed.'

'I pray not! Oh, I pray not!' panted Gustave. 'Quickly, citizens,
quickly! Terrible things may happen while we stand here.'

They went down the street at a run to the house of Clairvaux, whose
door they found open as Gustave had left it when he departed.

'Where did he break in?' asked one of the guards.

'By the door,' said Gustave. 'He had keys, I think. Oh, quick!'

In the passage he perceived a faint gleam of light to assure him that
the thief was still at work. He swung round to them, and raised a
hand. 'Quietly!' he whispered. 'Quietly, so that we do not disturb
him.'

The patrol thrust forward, and entered the house in his wake. He led
them straight towards the half-open door of the study, from which the
light was issuing as if to guide them. He flung wide the door, and
entered, whilst the men crowding after him came to a sudden halt upon
the threshold in sheer amazement at what they beheld.

At their feet lay the body of the Citizen Representative Clairvaux in
a raiment that in itself seemed to proclaim how hastily he had risen
from his bed to come and deal with this midnight intruder; and there
at the secretaire, now open, its drawers broken and their contents
scattered all about the floor, sat Duroc, white-faced, his beady rat's
eyes considering them.

Gustave broke into lamentations at sight of his cousin's body.

'We are too late! Mon Dieu! We are too late! He is dead--dead. And
look! Here is the weapon with which he was slain. And there sits the
murderer--caught in the very act--caught in the very act. Seize him!
Ah, /scélérat/,' he raged, shaking his fist in the thief's white,
startled face. 'You shall be made to pay for this!'

'Comedian!' said Duroc shortly.

'Seize him! Seize him!' cried Gustave in a frenzy.

The guards sprang across the room, and laid hands upon Duroc to
prevent him having recourse to any weapons.

Duroc looked up at them, blinking. The his eyes shifted to Gustave,
and suddenly he laughed.

'Now see what a fool a man is who will not seize the chances that are
offered him,' he said. 'After that scoundrel had bludgeoned his cousin
to death I bade him go. He might have made good his escape, and I
should have said no word to betray him. Instead he thinks to make me
his scapegoat.'

He shrugged, and rose under the hands of his captors. Then he pulled
his coat open, and displayed a round leaden disc of the size of a
five-franc piece bearing the arms of the republic.

At sight of it the hands that had been holding him instantly fell
away.

The agent of the section stepped forward frowning.

'What does this mean?' he asked, but on a note that was almost of
respect, realizing that he stood in the presence of an officer of the
secret service of the republic, whom no man might detain save at his
peril.

'I am Duroc of the Committee of Public Safety,' was the quiet answer.
'The Executive had cause to doubt that the Citizen Representative
Clairvaux was in correspondence with the enemies of France. I came
secretly to examine his papers and to discover who are his
correspondents. Here is what I sought.' And he held up a little sheaf
of documents which he had separated from the rest. 'I will wish you
good-night, citizens. I must report at once to the Citizen-Deputy
Marat. Since that fellow has come back take him to the Luxembourg. Let
the committee of the section deal with him tomorrow. I shall forward
my report.'

Gustave shook himself out of his sudden paralysis to make a dash for
the door. But the guards closed with him, and held him fast, whilst
Duroc of the Committee of Public Safety passed out, with dignity in
spite of his torn breeches.



                         KYNASTON'S RECKONING

Under the date of the 18th August 1660, you will find the following
entry in the diary of Mr Samuel Pepys: 'Captain Ferrers took me to the
Cockpitt play, the first that I have had time to see since my coming
from sea, "The Loyall Subject," where one Kinaston, a boy, acted the
duke's sister, but made the loveliest lady that ever I saw in my
life.'

Edward Kynaston was short of stature, and of a lithe and stripling
grace, golden-headed, with a milk-and-rose complexion that any woman
might have envied, and a countenance so delicately beautiful that it
provoked from Mr Pepys the above ejaculation, and, further (on the 2nd
of January following), this tribute: '. . . I and my wife to the
theatre, and there saw "The Silent Woman." Among other things there
Kinaston, the boy, had the good turn to appear . . . in fine clothes,
and in them was clearly the prettiest woman in the house.'

This Kynaston had been discovered by Sir William Davenant--the same
who boasted himself to be the son of Master William Shakespeare--and
such were his histrionic gifts and personal beauty that even when
women were admitted at last to the English stage he continued for some
time thereafter to be entrusted with the principal female roles, since
no woman could be found to compare with him in the performance of
them.

Some years later (on the 9th February, 1669) we find Mr Pepys writing
as follows: 'To the King's Playhouse, and there saw "The Island
Princesse," which I like mighty well as an excellent play; and here we
find Kinaston to be well enough to act again; which he did very well
after his beating by Sir Charles Sedley's appointment.'

It is with this beating and its consequences that my story is
concerned. Ned Kynaston was by now in his twenty-second year, and
whilst he was still engaged in the main for female parts, yet upon
occasion he would play the youthful gallant--and have every woman in
the house enamoured of him.

In what way Sedley offended him we do not know, nor does it greatly
matter. We do know that Sedley was very prodigal of offence, and
although at this time a man well advanced in the forties, yet age had
not sobered him or given him dignity. He was still quite the most
outrageous of all the rakes about the court of that prince of rakes,
their sovereign. The audacity of his intrigues was second only to that
of his royal master. It has been made the subject of a lampoon by his
brother rake, my Lord Rochester. Once when, as a result of what
Anthony Wood calls his 'indecent and blasphemous behaviour', he had
raised a riot in the Cock Tavern in Covent Garden, and had been haled,
together with my Lord Buckhurst and some others, before Sir Robert
Hyde--Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, sitting in Westminster
Hall--Sir Robert caustically commended to him the perusal of a book
entitled /The Compleat Gentleman/--a recommendation which galled him
worse than the fine of £500 by which it was accompanied.

Pepys, too, tells us of a 'frolic and debauchery' of Sedley's and
Buckhurst's, 'running up and down all the night, almost naked in the
streets, and at last fighting and being beat by the watch and clapped
up all night.'

It is not difficult to conceive that so turbulent a rake may have got
foul of the players at the King's Theatre, and thus provoked Kynaston.
Be that as it may, Kynaston chose to appear on the stage made up in so
life-like a portrait of Sir Charles, and so naturally counterfeiting
his accent and his posturings, that the whole house was convulsed with
it when it had assured itself that it was not Sir Charles himself who
strutted there upon the boards.

You imagine, I hope, the fine passion into which Sedley was flung when
he knew of it. Those who overheard his threats to have the actor's
life say that he foamed at the mouth in uttering them. But he did not
take the direct way to achieve his purpose expected by those who were
witnesses of his ravings. He did not send his friends and the length
of his sword to Kynaston. How could he? Blackguard though he was by
instinct and behaviour, it yet remained that by birth he was a
gentleman; and it could not have become a gentleman to have so
forgotten what was due to himself as to have condescended to cross
swords with a rogue and a vagabond of an actor. Besides, Kynaston, for
all his slight frame and almost womanish beauty, was of an extremely
virile spirit, and of a singular address in all the exercises of his
age. He played--as indeed you shall see--as pretty a rapier as any man
in these islands.

So Sir Charles took another way--the way of the gentleman with the
plebeian. He sent a couple of hired bullies to waylay Kynaston in the
park one morning. They fell upon him, broke his sword with their
cudgels, and so belaboured him that he was left almost for dead when
they made off before the advent of those who ran belatedly to the poor
actor's assistance.

Such was the resentment of town and Court--for Kynaston was a
universal favourite--that for once the King frowned upon one of those
who modelled their conduct upon his own august pattern. But beyond a
transient coolness, his Majesty did not see fit to visit any other
punishment upon Sedley, and Kynaston, seeing that there was none to
avenge him, considered, so soon as he was restored to health, how best
he might avenge himself.

The cowardly assault had raised in him such a thirst for vengeance as
naught but Sedley's blood could assuage. He must take steps to make it
impossible for the rake to do aught but set aside his gentleman's
estate and measure swords with him; that much accomplished, at
whatever cost or consequences, Kynaston was resolved to kill him
without mercy.

He was about his murderous purpose on that sunny February morning on
which Sir Lionel Faversham tells us that he met him outside the
Dolphin in the Strand. He was dressed in a black camlet suit, very
sober and simple, yet of an elegance that heighted his distinguished
air. 'Actor though he was,' says Faversham, 'I'll swear that no
courtlier figure might you see in Whitehall.'

Faversham found him pacing there like a sentry, with a heavy
riding-whip tucked under his arm.

'Whither away, Ned?' he greeted him.

Kynaston tossed his golden curls, and with his whip he pointed across
to the Dolphin.

'I am staying for Sir Charles Sedley,' he replied in that gentle and
wonderfully musical voice of his. 'If you'll tarry here awhile, you'll
see a reckoning paid, and a rakehell carried home to bed. 'Twill
divert you, Sir Lionel.'

'Odds my life, lad! Are ye clean mad?' cried Faversham.

Having a very real affection for the young man, and foreseeing for him
the worst possible consequences from such an affair, he set himself
urgently to turn him from his purpose. They wrangled there awhile, and
in the end, Sir Lionel's good sense prevailing, Kynaston suffered
himself to be led away. Faversham carried him off to his own lodging
in King Street, and kept him there out of mischief until the morrow.
By then the actor's rage had so far cooled that he lent an ear to the
reasonable counsel of his host.

'I'll be advised by you, Sir Lionel,' he said at parting, 'and I
abandon all thought of repaying him in his own coin. 'Tis stupid
currency when all is said. Yet, sink me, it shall be the worse for
him! For you are not to suppose that I shall forgo the reckoning. I'll
present it in another form, and, when I do, you shall see Sedley
pilloried to the mock of the town.'

Faversham accounted all this to be no more than the vapourings of a
histrionic temperament, the last flicker of the flame of the actor's
resentment; and he deemed himself confirmed in this judgement when, as
the weeks went by, the whole affair was permitted by Kynaston to fall
into oblivion. Confidently he accounted the incident closed, which but
shows that, despite his friendship for Kynaston, his knowledge of him
did not go very deep.

It would be about a month after these events that town and Court were
set agog by the advent of a new beauty at Whitehall in the person of
Caroline Countess of Chesterham. Her coming had been heralded in
advance in a letter from the septuagenarian Lord Chesterham to his old
friend Faversham, who had been cornet of horse in a regiment commanded
by his lordship at Naseby. He wrote from the remote wilds of Cornwall,
whither he had retreated some years before, to announce that he had
married a young wife.

What the town said of it is neither here nor there, and, in any case,
is very readily imagined. Also, it is readily imagined with what
curiosity the town looked forward to his announced visit, and to see
this girl whose beauty he extolled at such length in another letter
addressed to Lady Denham. His lordship wrote that, although he had
never thought to forsake his hermitage again, yet having taken so
young a bride he was sensible of the duty that he owed her, and that
since it was her desire to see something of the great world, he could
not find it in his heart to deny her.

A handsome house was made ready for them in Pall Mall by a steward,
and a posse of servants sent ahead. And a few days later the news was
put about that they had arrived.

Among the first to pay their devoirs were, of course, Sir Lionel
Faversham and Sir John and Lady Denham. To receive them they found,
however, none but the bride, installed in a nobly proportioned
drawing-room whose windows looked out upon the park.

They had naturally assumed from his lordship's letters that she would
be country-bred, but they found little to confirm the assumption in
her appearance and her manners. She was of striking, of superb
beauty--tall, straight, and slender, with a carriage of such grace and
supple dignity that a queen might have been proud of it. If a fault
there was in that glorious, gipsy-tinted face it was that it too
closely matched her bearing. It was cold and proud, and it derived a
something almost of boldness from the steady glance of her magnificent
sombre eyes. Her gown was in the very latest mode of France, and her
abundant, lustrous black hair, intertwined with a string of pearls,
was dressed in the very noontide of fashion, whilst a round black
patch--that very latest of fashion's mad conceits--sat roguishly upon
her chin, and yet another on her cheek 'neath her left eye. Her voice
was low and cultured and very rich, and none could have been more
infinitely and nobly at ease than she when she explained the absence
of her septuagenarian bridegroom.

She informed her visitors that within ten miles of town they had been
overtaken by a courier, who brought them word that his lordship's
brother had a seizure, and was not expected to live, whereupon his
lordship had gone posting back at once, leaving his wife to end the
journey alone and to await him in London, whither he would follow as
soon as might be. She brought a little note from him to Lady Denham,
in which he implored the latter's good offices of her--a charge which
Lady Denham very amiably accepted, entirely ravished by the grace and
dignity of Lady Chesterham.

Faversham tells us that he withdrew perturbed in spirit. He had
conceived his old friend to have committed the regrettable imprudence
of giving rein to an infatuation for some rustic Hebe, whereas instead
he was driven to fear that he had fallen a prey to an adventuress of
talent, who would not be long in covering him with that ridicule which
so often falls to the lot of the old man who marries a young wife--the
Pantaloon in the Comedy of Life.

The events most certainly nourished these fears of his, and did credit
to his discernment. Presented at Whitehall by Lady Denham, Lady
Chesterham created a greater sensation than in its day had been caused
by the advent there of Barbara Palmer. Her triumph was to be read in
the hostility with which the women received her. Metaphorically they
recoiled before her. That cold assurance, amounting almost to
boldness, which Faversham had detected in her bearing, proved
repellant to the majority of her own sex. They discovered in her
something almost approaching raffishness, which disconcerted their own
more veiled immodesty. And then there was her astounding popularity
with the men to quicken the venom of the ladies of the Court. The
latter looked on with noses at a disdainful angle, whilst they
stripped her character to its last rag, tore her reputation into
tatters.

Yet she thrived amazingly in the assiduous court that was paid her by
the brothers, fathers, and husbands of her instinctive enemies. The
sultan Charles himself was vastly taken with her--which, after all,
considering his temperament, was not wonderful. He went the length of
visiting her in her splendid mansion in Pall Mall, a matter which
caused Faversham to wring his hands in despair, and pray that her
husband's brother might get his dying done with as much despatch as
possible.

But there was worse to follow. All day, and often far into the night,
a line of chairs and coaches stood before her doors, and in her
ante-chambers, such was the press of courtiers that you might have
deemed yourself at Whitehall.

In her social tastes she proved herself extremely catholic. Not merely
were beaux and men of fashion welcomed; soon her rooms were thronged
with wits and poets, painters, writers of plays, and even one or two
actors haled thither in the train of Sir George Etheredge, who himself
belonged to two worlds. To all she was alike gracious, until in the
end, inevitably, she came to manifest to one a special favour. And
this one, to Faversham's dismay, was none other than Sir Charles
Sedley, that devourer of hearts, that heartless blighter of
reputations. And the worst of it was that the first advances came
undoubtedly from her. She it was who ogled the rake and lured him on
to pay his assiduous court.

Soon her name, coupled with Sedley's, was on the gay town's lips.
Faversham--immensely daring--breathed a warning to her. She measured
him with her bold black eyes, 'twixt raillery and scorn.

'I protest I find him vastly amusing,' said she.

'I pray Heaven, madam, you may always say so,' said Faversham
impressively.

'You are more devout than witty, sir, which is to say, you are a
dullard,' was the fleeting answer with which she quitted him.

Some days later, in the Rhenish Wine House, which was full of company
at the time, Sir Lionel came face to face with Ned Kynaston. The actor
had a flushed, excited air, and his eyes were bright.

'What's this I hear of Sedley, Sir Lionel?' he cried out, in a voice
that drew attention. 'They are coupling his name with Lady
Chesterham's. But an hour ago I all but had a duel on my hands through
it.'

Faversham's lips tightened. He froze. Were matters indeed gone so far
that her name was thus flung about a wineshop? Yet because of his
affection for Kynaston he tempered the rebuke that had arisen to his
lips.

'Lady Chesterham's affairs,' he replied gravely, 'are her own and Lord
Chesterham's, who, no doubt, will demand an account of any who
presumes to lend her name to scandal-mongers.'

'Faith, then, he'll need to be returning soon, or he'll find his work
done for him by another. Curse me, Sir Lionel, I tell you no man shall
say a word against her ladyship in my hearing but I'll ram his lies
down his dirty throat with the point of my cane!'

Faversham took him by the arm.

'Be silent, Ned!'

'Silent?' roared Kynaston. 'Shall I be silent what time that foul
fellow Sedley's verses upon her are being sung up and down the town?
I'll do more than write verses in her honour to prove myself her
slave!' And he declaimed, adapting:


            I'll sing my praise of thee in trumpet sounds,
            And write my homage down in blood and wounds.


Faversham's grip upon his arm tightened. He dragged him out of the
tavern into the pale February sunshine.

'Art mad, Ned?' he growled. 'Another word in that strain in public,
and I shall quarrel with you. If you respect the lady as you pretend,
afford by silence some testimony of that respect.'

But the mischief was done. Kynaston had been abundantly overheard. His
words were, of course, repeated. The women got hold of the story, and
it suffered nothing in their fierce retelling of it. This bold wanton
was so lost to decency, so greedy of admirers, that even players were
admitted to sun themselves in her smiles. As for Kynaston, there were
no limits to what was said of him. It was most plausibly suggested
that, availing himself of the opportunity her lack of circumspection
was affording him, he meant to oust Sedley from her favour, and thus
take vengeance upon Sedley for the beating he had received by his
appointment. Since her tastes were admittedly base, it was deemed not
impossible that he might prove victorious in this contest, though, to
be sure, it would be a victory that could bring him but little glory.
Thus the ladies.

That pretty tale overran the town like wildfire. It came to Sedley's
ears, and set him in a seething passion. In this he went off to Lady
Chesterham's.

'Madam, what is't I hear?' he burst out at sight of her.

From the couch where she reclined she eyed him languidly.

'I see that you are come to set me riddles,' she drawled. 'But I warn
you that they weary me.'

'Riddles?' quoth he. 'Ay, a riddle in sooth. 'Tis said that you favour
that low fellow Kynaston; that you receive him here; that he has the
temerity to proclaim himself the champion of your good name!'

'Does he so?' she cooed. 'I vow 'tis vastly sweet in him.'

'Vastly sweet?' he roared. 'Fan me, ye winds! Do you realize what it
means? Would you have him blast your fair repute, madam?'

She considered him with half-closed eyes, smiling insolently over the
edge of her gently moving fan.

'Do you desire to be alone and absolute in the enjoyment of that
privilege?' quoth she.

He looked at her blankly a moment, speechless. Then he stamped his
foot.

''Tis not to be borne!' he cried.

'Who bids you bear it, sir, whatever it may be?' she countered
scornfully. 'Did I bid you to come pestering me with your sheep's eyes
and your sighs and your silly speeches? If the dear lad please me,
what is't to you, pray? Who gave you rights upon me? La, now! I
protest you weary me.'

'Caroline!' he began unsteadily. He advanced and stood over her,
glowering down into that mocking, gipsy-tinted face. He swallowed, and
began again. 'You are to understand, madam, that it is not safe to
play fast-and-loose with me.'

The jewelled fingers of her fine long hand moved her fan gently to and
fro again. Her lip curled.

'You are a mirror of the politenesses, sir.'

'Curse me, madam, I do not aim at politeness!'

'In that case you will be the less put about.'

'Ha! You rally me! You make a mock of me!' he raved, beside himself
with anger. 'You have brought me to this--to this! And now----'

He flung his arms wide and let them fall again, his face very pale.

She sat bolt upright.

'Sir Charles,' said she, 'I was warned of your presumption and your
ill-repute.'

'If that dog Kynaston has dared malign me----'

'Believe me, 'twere impossible--beyond the compass of his invention.
It is time, Sir Charles, you understood that you have no right or
claim upon me beyond such as it may be my pleasure to confer. Such
rights belong only to my husband.'

'Damn your husband, madam!' he snapped in his rage.

She rose, frowning.

'Sir Charles, you forget the respect due to me,' she rebuked him, with
a great dignity, her face forbiddingly cold. 'You have my leave to
go.'

He gaped foolishly, stricken by her sudden iciness.

'Forgive me!' he pleaded. 'I--I am a little disordered. I----'

'Faugh!' she broke in. 'I could forgive your being disordered, but I
cannot forgive you for being maudlin and tiresome. Heaven be my
witness I never could endure a tiresome man. I give you good-day.'

He flung out in a rage, not trusting himself to say another word. In
his heart he cursed her for a wanton who had but lured him on that she
might subject him to this humiliation. But anon, as he cooled, he came
to consider that perhaps he had been precipitate. His vanity argued
that her self-respect must have compelled her to resent the
too-masterful tone he had taken with her. He had been foolish; he had
displayed no more tact or judgement than an oaf.

Hence it happened that he came contritely to her house upon the
following morning, intent to make his peace with her, confident of his
power to do so. He reflected that no cloud would ever have troubled
their relations but for that rascal Kynaston. The very thought of the
fellow was enough to fling Sir Charles into a fresh passion. But he
curbed his mood, bethinking him that to give way to it was to suffer
defeat in the end. After all, Kynaston was most rarely handsome, and
he had gifts--Sir Charles deemed it prudent to admit his enemy's
strength--which might entrap the heart of a wilful, headstrong woman
such as Caroline Chesterham. Women were such fools in these matters,
he considered. They never could distinguish between a rogue and a
gentleman.

He entered the spacious hall at the foot of the main staircase--a hall
which served the purpose of the mansion's principle ante-chamber. Here
he found the usual company assembled, but, if anything, more numerous
than usual, which put him out of temper. Yet perhaps she would do him
the honour of granting him immediate and private audience?

He approached one of her splendid servants, and slipped a guinea into
the fellow's hand and a message into his ear. The lackey pocketed the
coin, and vanished. He returned almost at once.

'Her ladyship's compliments, Sir Charles, and she desires to be
private until she announces herself disposed to receive.'

Vexed, Sir Charles turned aside, and fell into absent-minded talk with
Buckhurst. Ten minutes passed, and then there was a sudden stir in the
courtly groups about the hall.

Down the stairs, serene and graceful, came a young man in a suit of
heliotrope satin edged with silver, a wealth of lace at wrist and
throat, his plumed hat under his right arm, and an ebony cane dangling
from his left wrist. His hair fell in a shower of golden ringlets, a
bunch of them caught in a heliotrope ribbon on a level with his left
ear.

It was Ned Kynaston. As Sir Charles stared incredulously he could
scarcely believe his eyes. A red mist rose at last before them; he
felt a tightening at the throat. He and some twenty of the first
gentlemen of the town were left there to cool their heels like lackeys
whilst she was private with this low-born fellow, who descended now as
self-assured and supercilious as though the house belonged to him.

Men nudged one another, and Sir Charles felt every eye turned upon
him. He told himself that he was become their laughing stock.

Then, on the fourth step from the foot of the stairs, Kynaston paused.

'Her ladyship's compliments, gentlemen, to you all,' he
announced--ladies there were none present at this levee--'and she bids
me beg you to hold her excused, as she desires to rest herself this
morning.'

This was too much for Sedley. Rudely he shouldered his way through the
throng to the foot of the stairs, and every eye was upon him, every
face betrayed its gleeful expectancy of a scene.

'So,' he growled, hoarse with passion, 'you play the lackey, do you,
Kynaston? Faith, I never saw you better fitted with a part to suit
you.'

The actor, still on that fourth step--a position which gave a certain
advantage over his enemy--paused to take snuff daintily before
replying.

'Ha, Sir Charles!' he said, in his clear, bell-like voice, and never
had an audience hung more intently upon his words. 'I have a word for
you in addition to what I have announced already.' He shut his
snuffbox with a snap, and dusted fragments of the Burgamot from his
ruffles. 'If her ladyship does not receive this morning the fault, Sir
Charles, is yours. I see no reason to spare you the humiliation you
seek when you thrust yourself in here despite her ladyship's definite
dismissal of you yesterday. Yet her ladyship would have spared it you,
and 'twas to that end--that she might not be forced to single you
out--that she determined today, being informed of your presence, to
deny herself to all.'

Mad with anger and mortification, intent only upon insult, Sir Charles
flung forward with the retort:

'You lie, you dog of a play-actor!'

That was Kynaston's great opportunity. In a flash he took it; took it
like one who has been waiting in leash for it. His right hand swung
up, and he caught Sir Charles a buffet full upon the cheek, that
knocked him into the arms of Sir John Ogle.

There was a pause until Sedley recovered from his astonishment. Then,
bellowing blasphemy, he lugged at his sword. Instantly a dozen hands
fastened upon him.

'Not here, Charles!' cried Buckhurst. 'We'll not suffer it in her
ladyship's house. You shall not make her name the talk o' th' town.
Elsewhere, Charles! Elsewhere! Not here!'

Thus they--his own friends--committed him to it. He glared at
Kynaston, who, leaning now upon his cane, looked down upon him with a
crooked smile.

'You dog!' he roared. He was foaming at the mouth, his handsome,
dissipated face aflame with passion. 'I'll kill you for this! My
friends shall wait upon you!'

'You sent your friends to me once before. Faith, they were the friends
I should expect in you,' drawled the actor.

Through Sedley's furious mind there flashed then a suspicion that all
this was an elaborate trap in which he was caught. But still he did
not realize its details.

'It shall be cold steel this time!' he bellowed. 'Get measured for
your coffin.'

The meeting took place at eight o'clock next morning in Leicester
Fields, and it presented some unusual features. In the first place,
Ned Kynaston did not come to the ground with his friends, as is
prescribed by all sound authorities on the formalities of the duello.
And when Faversham and Etheredge, who had consented to act for him,
made their joint appearance at five minutes to eight, their principal
was not yet come.

Sedley, stripped to shirt and breeches, was already there with
Buckhurst and Ogle. Also there was such a throng of spectators that
every rank of life was represented. This was a matter that increased
Sedley's fury. If he must disgrace himself and soil his sword in the
blood of an actor, he would, at least, have desired to have been
private. However, being thrust into so unworthy a position, he must
perforce bear himself as best he could. He turned to Faversham with a
sneering laugh.

'Odds death, Sir Lionel!' quoth he. 'Is your friend like to keep us
waiting longer? I've gotten an appetite from this early rising, and
I'm in haste to get to breakfast.'

That taunt was followed by others that became more and more barbed as
time passed and still there was no sign of Kynaston. Faversham tells
us that, mortified, he was on the point of offering to take his
principal's place when at last a chair was espied advancing from St
Martin's Lane.

It must be Kynaston at last! But when the bearers had set it down and
raised the roof, out stepped, not Kynaston, but Lady Chesterham, to
the dumbfoundering of every man present. Instantly she ran to Sedley.

'Sir Charles!' she cried, a note of appeal in her voice, and tears in
her lovely eyes. 'Forgive me for what I have done. There will be no
fighting this morning.'

Sir Charles looked down at her. He was very white, and his lips were
twitching.

'Madam,' he muttered at last, 'let me beg you to take some thought for
your name, and withdraw.'

'My name!' she cried. 'What care I for my name? I can take thought for
nothing but his life, Sir Charles.' (A spasm rippled over Sedley's
face.) ''Tis my fault. 'Twas I bade him bear that message to you. I'll
not have him murdered for what was of my doing.'

'Did he send you hither?' snapped Sedley.

'Send me? Not he, poor lad. He's safe enough, and no harm can come to
him. But you shall not fight him.'

'By Heaven, madam, shall I take a blow? And from such a dog as that?'
quoth he. 'The quarrel was of his seeking.'

'Nay, 'twas of yours; 'twas you gave him the lie. What could he do,
poor boy?' She looked up at him in distress and appeal; but he
remained unmoved before it, mindful only of his wrongs.

'Madam, let me entreat you to withdraw.'

'Not until I have your promise that you will spare him. Why are you so
set on killing him? What is his life to you?'

'What is it to you, madam?' countered Sedley fiercely, himself
forgetful now of spectators.

But if he was lost to shame she was a thousand times more so.

'He is everything to me,' she answered; 'and I care not who hears me!
If he dies, I shall die. If you wish to kill me, kill him. Ah, bethink
you, he is so young, so gentle, and so lovely----'

Perhaps that plea was ill-considered. Sir Charles stepped back, his
face set and scowling.

'This is idle, madam. Worse than idle. You humiliate yourself in
vain.' And he waved a hand to the assembled throng, all greedily
watching this extraordinary scene.

'You are resolved to fight, in spite of all that I have said?' she
demanded tragically.

'Madam, I am!'

'Be it so, then!' she answered, in a sudden fury. 'In that case you
shall fight me!' And before Faversham knew what she was about she had
snatched the sword from his side. Flourishing it, she advanced upon
Sedley. 'On guard, sir!' she challenged him.

'Madam, you are mad,' he answered; and he believed it. 'I implore you
to be more circumspect. There are those who hear you----'

'I desire them to hear me,' she answered, and her voice seemed to take
on a deeper note. 'And they shall see me, too,' she added.

And then the amazing thing took place. She tore off her plumed hat,
and with it tore away her lofty mass of lustrous black hair, leaving
in its place a ripple of golden locks about her neck. She flung off
the long black cloak in which she had been wrapped; her furbelow fell
away about her feet; and forth from that burst chrysalis, under the
eye of the gaping company, stepped Ned Kynaston himself.

Kynaston indeed it was, and yet even now the face was hardly his own:
it was still in part transformed by the darkened eyebrows, the
olive-tinted cheeks, the patches under lip and eye, and other cunning
touches which the theatre had taught that masterly player of feminine
roles, and which had gone to make him in real life what so often he
had been upon the stage--the loveliest lady that ever Mr Pepys saw in
all his life.

Like a ripple over water ran the truth through the assembled crowd,
and after its first gasp under the shock of that revelation a great
peal of laughter broke upon the morning air.

Sedley looked on, white to the lips, cut and wounded to the very soul
of him. He had no delusions on the score of the laughter. It was
himself was the object of it; he it was who had been fooled to the
very top of his bent; he who must die under the ridicule that would
convulse the town. Had he not made love to Caroline Chesterham? Had he
not written verses in her honour? Had he not languished and sighed and
fondled her hand by the hour? Had he not come to fight this very duel
out of jealousy aroused by her?

With a snarling cry he hurled himself upon the actor. But meanwhile
Kynaston had kicked aside the discarded furbelow and cloak, and stood
free to receive this onslaught--graceful, alert, and poised like a
fencing-master.

Faversham would have interposed. But the actor waved him away.

'In Heaven's name,' he laughed, 'let him have what he came for.'

The blades met and jarred, then Sedley's was deflected; there was a
twinkling disengage, and Kynaston's point flew straight and unhampered
at the region of his opponent's heart. Within an inch of the body it
paused, and Kynaston drew back his arm. As all saw, he had spared his
enemy. Sedley came on again, and for the second time the actor got
within his opponent's guard, yet again he checked his point at the
very moment of touching the other's body. If aught had been wanting to
complete Sedley's humiliation it was afforded in that fine display of
fence, and the almost contemptuous mercy with which it was
accompanied.

The end came soon. Kynaston, supremely the master, made a fresh
opening, went in for the third and last time, and transfixed his
adversary's sword-arm.

Perforce that was the end, and Kynaston went off to breakfast with his
seconds; whilst the crowd dispersed to put this amazing story about
the town.

'I shall look to you, Sir Lionel,' said the actor, when they had got
to table, 'to make my peace with my Lord Chesterham should this affair
ever come to his ears. You'll have guessed by this that 'twas I,
myself, who wrote the letters of introduction which I brought to you
and to Lady Denham. No doubt 'twas a gross libel on his lordship, who,
belike, has no thought whatever of marrying again.' Then he sighed and
laughed in one. 'Odds life! That house in Pall Mall and the rest of it
will cost me a year's earnings. But Sedley's is the heavier reckoning.
I promised you it should be heavy.'

Heavy it was, indeed. Sedley left town immediately, unable to face the
ridicule in store for him, and for a year thereafter he abode quietly
in the country, no man knowing where. Nor does it transpire that he
ever attempted to pit himself against Ned Kynaston again.



                            JACK O'LANTERN

Jack o'Lantern was the name bestowed upon him by the Bow Street
runners whom his elusiveness was exasperating. His real identity was
as unknown to them as his countenance, which he covered with a black
visor, whenever operating. The speed of his movements was such that he
seemed to multiply himself. No sooner was the hue-and-cry raised in
Kent for the robbery of a nobleman on Gad's Hill at noon, than they
heard of him holding up the Oxford coach beyond Watford in the
evening. They identified him by a general description: his genteel
methods; his good shape and his military exterior; a laced hat cocked
over the right eye, an elegant, full-skirted coat, a steinkirk and so
on. He rode a bay mare, presenting, however, no peculiar
characteristics.

On that afternoon in May when just beyond Kentish Town he relieved
Squire Kendrick of a purse of fifty guineas, a gold snuffbox, a
diamond ring of price and a handsome small-sword that took his fancy,
he was led by his ill-starred meeting with Mr Richard Lessingham to
depart from his usual practice of setting out at once to put a score
of miles between himself and the scene of the outrage.

He could not have chosen a worse moment for the encounter. At the best
of times Mr Richard Lessingham would have proved an awkward customer,
for, like most men endowed with a strong dash of rascality, he was a
considerable fellow of his hands. Today he happened to ride in a
furious temper, feeling that life had declared war upon him, and all
but looking for an opportunity to deliver battle.

He was the nephew and heir presumptive of that wealthy nawab Sir John
Lessingham, who, following a fashion and a taste for the district,
common in his day with so many of his kind, had built himself out of
the plunder of the Indies a handsome house in a handsome park on the
north side of Highgate Hill. For any inheritance beyond the baronetcy
and the little estate that went to adorn it, Richard Lessingham must
depend upon the relations between his uncle and himself. Sir John had
been more than generous with him. He desired that his nephew and heir
presumptive could cut a prominent figure in the world of fashion
wherein, himself, he had failed. For English Society looked askance on
these nawabs and their suspiciously acquired wealth. To this end he
made the lad a princely allowance. But it had not proved liberal
enough to meet the extravagances of a vain, ostentatious, and
fundamentally worthless nature. Horses and cards and other
extravagances had run Mr Richard heavily into debt.

On the first occasion the nawab had relieved the obligations with a
laugh. The name of Lessingham would gather lustre from being well
gilded. Later he had relieved obligations again, but he had not
laughed. Later still he had stormed whilst paying, and warned his
nephew that he would pay no more excesses of the allowance. The
warning, however, was powerless to curb extravagances that by this
time had become settled habits. All that had resulted was that when
next Richard found his debts submerging him, instead of seeking his
uncle, he had sought--on the advice of a fellow-member of White's to
whom he had lost a deal of money at ombre--a certain Mr Nicholas
Magdalen, who in a back office in Essex Street was amassing an
incalculable fortune by the benevolent assistance of young gentlemen
of quality in financial distress.

Mr Magdalen, an elderly little man with a moist, red face and greasy
black hair that straggled untidily about a skull-cap, had displayed a
solicitude of the friendliest. He could not have been more distressed
over his new client's plight if Richard had been his own child. He
invited him to dismiss all concern. There was neither sense nor right
in that a fine young gentleman of his quality and a future baronet
should be plagued over a matter of a mere couple of thousand pounds.
His little short-sighted eyes beamed through his horn-rimmed
spectacles as he thanked his gods that it was in his power to play the
fairy godfather. The money should be paid to Mr Lessingham's bankers
without fail in the morning. He would, of course, make a charge for
the accommodation. One had to live. But--again thanking his gods--Mr
Magdalen was no usurer, like some that he could name. Thirty per
centum was the uttermost interest he would consent to take,
considering how good must be the security that Mr Lessingham would
supply.

It became necessary to explain to the ignorant but immensely relieved
Mr Lessingham the exact meaning of the term 'security'. His relief was
diminished by the explanation. Dismay finally replaced it.

'But I have no property. No property whatsoever.'

Mr Magdalen's smile was reassured. 'Not /in esse/, as we say. No. But
/in posse/, my dear sir, there is Lessingham Park, which your uncle
has entailed to go with the title.'

'But that's not mine yet.'

The benign smile of Mr Magdalen became broader. 'The prospect is
enough, my dear sir. It would not be enough for everybody. Nor would I
do this for everybody; for, of course, the risk is considerable. If
you should predecease your uncle, the post-obit will be so much waste
paper. But we can provide for that risk in the rate of interest. I am
afraid I must make it sixty per centum. But, then, you'll not account
that unreasonable, considering . . .'

'What is a post . . . What d'ye call it?'

Mr Magdalen gently explained the nature and effect of the post-obit.

'Ecod!' said Mr Lessingham to this wealth of instruction into
mysterious and unsuspected ways of finance.

He departed with the assurance that the cash would be at his disposal
on the morrow, and he came back again in six months' time not only
gloomily to confess that he could not find a matter of twelve hundred
pounds due for interest, but that he had pressing debts for another
thousand and didn't know where the devil to seek it.

Mr Magdalen's undiminished benignity at once dispelled his
apprehensions.

'No cause to distress yourself, my dear young friend. We add the
interest to the principal, and that's the end of the matter. Forget
it. Amuse yourself. As for your present debts, I will provide the
thousand pounds at once.'

Six months later, Mr Lessingham found himself owing something over two
thousand pounds for interest, whilst one or two creditors were
pressing him for debts which in all amounted to about eight hundred
pounds. It began to be borne in upon the dull wits of the nawab's
nephew that a morass awaited him at the bottom of the easy slope to
which he had set his feet. The benignity of Mr Magdalen on this
occasion did not suffice to allay his very real anxieties, especially
when he discovered that whilst Mr Magdalen would again be content to
add interest to principal, he was by no means prepared to advance the
further moneys so immediately necessary. The little estate, he pointed
out, was not worth above twenty thousand pounds, and the risks
attached to post-obit made it impossible to increase the capital
liability already incurred.

Mr Lessingham was appalled. He made a mental calculation and presented
the results to Mr Magdalen. That he was capable of it shows the extent
to which his education in financial matters had lately improved.

'Ecod, sir! At this rate in a couple of years' time Lessingham Park
will be your property, and all that I'll have had will have been a
matter of three thousand pounds. Blister me!'

'Sir John may die before then,' said Mr Magdalen hopefully.

'Damme! Sir John won't die in the next ten years. God knows he's hale
enough for another twenty.' Mr Lessingham sucked his breath in sudden
terror. 'What'll be owing you in twenty years at this thieving rate?'

With pursed lips Mr Magdalen opined that it might be rather more than
the whole fortune of the nawab. But he begged Mr Lessingham to dismiss
such gloomy conjectures. Mr Lessingham, however, could not dismiss
them.

'Sold myself for a mess of pottage, ecod!' said he, and black, vicious
despair looked out of his livid face at the benevolent little usurer.
A snarl crept into his voice. 'I've a mind to . . .'

'Now wait a moment. Wait a moment,' Mr Magdalen begged him. 'Between
friends there are always ways of arranging matters, and I hope, Mr
Lessingham, sir, that you will consider me your friend. There's a
proposal I might make to you that I give you my word I wouldn't make
to another man living. 'Pon honour I wouldn't. Have you . . . hem
. . . have you ever thought of marriage, Mr Lessingham, sir.'

'Marriage!' sneered the young gentleman. He became cynical. 'I've
never met a lady well enough dowered.'

'That', said Mr Magdalen, 'is where I might help you.'

'Faith, ye're a marriage-broker, then, as well as a moneylender? If
your rate of interest is as unconscionable . . .'

'There's no rate of interest at all. The lady is perhaps the
wealthiest heiress in England, and her dowry will be . . . ah . . .
princely.'

Mr Lessingham's handsome face was darkened in a scowl.

'Let me know more of this. Be plain with me.'

Mr Magdalen was plain. And forth came a proposal which had already
been made to a half-dozen other young gentlemen of title, actual or
prospective, in straitened circumstances. Mr Magdalen possessed a
daughter who would one day inherit the ill-gotten millions in which
his only joy had been that of accumulating them. It would, however, he
felt, be vain to leave her the wealthiest woman in England unless at
the same time he could assure for her a place in those exalted social
circles where wealth enabled life to be lived at its fullest and most
brilliant.

It had become an obsession with the little usurer. The fact that in
the past five years the proposal had been declined by the needy
noblemen to whom it had been made, had merely served to sharpen Mr
Magdalen's desire to a desperate keenness.

On the understanding that he made the offer subject to the lady's own
consent--a consent which he opined, with an appreciative eye for Mr
Lessingham's attractive exterior, was not likely to be refused--he
invited Mr Lessingham to consider how happy an issue from all his
troubles lay for him in marriage with so well-dowered a lady. He did
so with confidence, gloating secretly over the fact that Mr Lessingham
was in a vice far tighter than that in which he had held any of the
gentlemen who had declined him. Nevertheless Mr Lessingham was prompt,
outraged and virulent in damning the moneylender for his impudence. As
foul-mouthed as a drayman, he practised no decency in his comments
upon Mr Magdalen's probable ancestry. But when he came to express
assumptions concerned with Mr Magdalen's only descendant, the
moneylender checked him suddenly.

'Say nothing that will make it impossible for you to change your
mind,' he warned him, in a thin, hard voice from which all benignity
had departed. And at once he turned the screw of the vice in which he
held his debtor. 'There's a matter of two thousand five hundred pounds
for interest that was due from you yesterday. I don't wish to be hard,
Mr Lessingham, sir, but unless I have the money by four o'clock this
afternoon, I shall wait upon Sir John with the post-obit in the
morning, and ask him if he would wish to redeem it.'

To Mr Lessingham this was a blow between the eyes. For a moment it
almost stunned him. Recovering, he was first violent, then plaintive,
then violent again. But Mr Magdalen, now tight of lip and hard of eye,
remained unmoved, and the end of the matter was that Mr Lessingham
went off to Highgate and Sir John with ruin staring him in the face.
For he knew his uncle too well to doubt that the disclosure of how he
had raised money on the prospect of the nawab's death would put an end
to all his hopes of inheriting a shilling beyond the wretched little
estate that went with the title.

At all costs that knowledge must be kept from Sir John.

In sheer despair, rather than consent to marry the daughter of that
greasy little thief in Essex Street he chose the lesser evil of an
appeal to the already exasperated nawab.

He may or may not have been mistaken in making his prayer more or less
in the form of an accusation. It was Sir John's hardness towards him,
he urged, that had driven him into the clutches of a rascally
moneylender. To extricate himself completely he needed at once a
matter of six or seven thousand pounds. The nawab's reply amounted to
a sketch of his nephew's character as succinct as it was accurate and
blistering, at the end of which he bade him go to the devil.

Mr Lessingham accounted that to marry Magdalen's daughter would be
tantamount to obeying this injunction. But if he was to avoid the ruin
of his hopes and the immediate possibility of debtor's gaol, there was
no choice but to consent to make this probably greasy wench the future
Lady Lessingham. It would be necessary to humble himself to the dust
so as to obtain from Mr Magdalen a renewal of the offer he had so
insolently rejected; and he must lose no time. It must be done at once
if he would prevent Mr Magdalen's journey to Lessingham Park tomorrow
with the post-obit.

He came raging to the summit of Highgate Hill. Without eyes for the
fine prospect, with London under a haze at his feet, and the broad
ribbon of the Thames visible for a dozen miles with its burden of
shipping, he spurred his big black horse down the slope towards
Holloway.

It was at the foot of the hill that Jack o'Lantern met him, and, to
his undoing, was tempted to arrest his headlong course.

At the sight of the black-visored horseman and the levelled pistol, Mr
Lessingham stood, as he was bidden. But as for delivering, it came to
him as a climax of irony to swell his already excessive rage that such
an invitation should be issued to a man in his desperate case.

Jack o'Lantern was, of course, not to know this. Nor had he any means
of perceiving that the horseman he had brought to a standstill was a
reckless, dangerous fellow at the best of times, and in particularly
savage mood this afternoon. By the time he might have suspected it, he
was beyond suspecting anything. For, with sudden, lightning speed, Mr
Lessingham's heavy riding-crop had crashed into his temple and knocked
him senseless from the saddle.

When the highwayman recovered consciousness, he was lying on the turf
of a meadow beyond a belt of trees by which the horses were tethered,
with his assailant sitting cross-legged and watchful beside him.

Mr Lessingham had taken the natural precaution of depriving him of his
weapons. He had drawn a second pistol from its holster, and he had
removed the sword the highwayman was wearing, a pretty piece of
workmanship with a mother of pearl handle and for pommel a milky
crystal the size of a pigeon's egg, that might have been a moonstone.
It was attached to a baldrick of red Spanish leather adorned with a
pattern of oak-leaves in gold bullion, and by this it was now slung
from Mr Lessingham's own shoulder. To make sure that the rascal had no
other weapon about him, Mr Lessingham had gone through his pockets.
Amongst some lesser effects, he had found a gold snuff-box, and a
heavy purse of red silk mesh that was stuffed with guineas and
contained in addition a diamond ring of price. Perceiving no sin in
robbing a thief, Mr Lessingham's easy conscience regarded these
valuables as a windfall, and he transferred them to his own pocket.
After that he sat down to await the man's recovery, and he smiled as
he waited, for it seemed to him that nothing could have been more
opportune. The encounter which had so infuriated him had ended by
bringing inspiration. It prompted an easier way to deliverance from
his difficulties than that to which he had been so dejectedly riding.

Jack o'Lantern sat up, straightened his wig on an aching head and in
doing so became aware of the lump on his brow. He looked about him
with eyes that were still dazed, met the derisive smile of Mr
Lessingham and awakened a little further.

'What the devil . . .' he began, and checked there.

'Give yourself no concern, my friend,' said his captor. 'The worst has
happened to you, unless you show no more sense than a woodcock.'

The highwayman's eyes alighted on the baldrick with the oak-leaves
pattern. He felt in his pockets. Then his lip curled.

'So that's what you are,' said he. 'A dog that eats dog.'

Mr Lessingham laughed joyously, as a man will whose soul has suddenly
been delivered of a burden of care. 'A mastiff that dines on poodles,
if you will. But a tobyman by proxy, and that for one occasion only,
provided you show sense. In that case you may go your ways to the
devil when you've served my turn. In any other you'll ride with me to
the Bridewell.'

Jack o'Lantern gathered up his legs and embraced his knees. Out of a
lean, keen young face, wide of mouth and tip-tilted of nose, a pair of
astute eyes calmly took the measure of Mr Lessingham. Whatever the
rascal's emotions, he kept a mask upon them, and fear was certainly
not amongst them.

'Could you be plainer?' he asked.

'As plain as you please. Early tomorrow we take the road together,
hereabouts. That belt of trees will supply the screen we'll need, and
we'll wait for a certain hackney coach that'll be coming from London
on its way over the hill there. There'll not be many hackneys come as
far as this, so we're not likely to be mistook, besides ye'll not stir
until I've seen who rides in it. When I give you the word, you'll halt
it. You'll require the traveller to strip himself and hand you his
clothes besides anything else in the way of baggage that he may have
with him. When you've delivered these to me, you may go your ways. Is
it clear?'

'Clear enough, codso! I'm to pull chestnuts from the fire for you, so
as if any fingers is burnt it'll be mine. But what do I get for doing
it?'

'It's what'll you get for not doing it. The gallows. That's what
you'll get.'

'Spoke like a gentleman,' said Jack. Then he passed a hand over an
aching brow. 'Ye've got a pistol at my head. I must stand and deliver,
I suppose. Do the dirty work ye're too fine to do for yourself.'

'I'm glad ye're sensible. And speaking of pistols, an empty one will
serve your turn tomorrow. Our subject is an old man, and the hackney
driver's only thought will be to keep a whole skin. So don't be
building any false hopes.'

'Ye take no chances,' said Jack with the suspicion of a sneer.

'None, as you'll find. Remember it. For tonight you'll be my guest for
bed and supper.'

'I had a notion that it was you might be mine, being as ye've filched
my purse,' said Jack.

Mr Lessingham got up. 'I'll trouble you to keep a civil tongue, my
lad. Get that into your brain-pan, and let it simmer there. Come on
now. Up with you.'

Jack o'Lantern came slowly to his feet. He stood swaying a little, a
hand to his head again.

'Odsbud! I'm giddy. Lend me your arm, sir.'

A smile twisted Mr Lessingham's full, cruel lips. 'I'll lend you
nothing. Step out ahead, and no tricks, you rogue, or you'll forfeit
your only chance of postponing acquaintance with the gallows. You'll
not slip through my fingers; not if you were as slippery as Jack
o'Lantern himself.'

Jack's only answer to that was a wistful smile. He went forward
staggering a little, Mr Lessingham following closely, his riding-crop
in readiness. Thus they reached the horses, untethered them, mounted,
and picked their way through the trees to the road.



With the highwayman leading by half a length, so that the eye of this
captor who took no chances was upon his every movement, they came, as
dusk was closing in, to the Bull at Islington, where Mr Lessingham had
resolved that they should lie the night, in readiness for the morrow's
business of waylaying Mr Magdalen.

They left their horses with the ostler in the yard, and strode forward
towards an open side-door from which the light was shining, the
highwayman leading ever, with Mr Lessingham close upon his heels.
Voices met them, coming from a room at the far end of the passage by
which they were advancing, and what Jack o'Lantern heard made him
check in his stride. The movement was instinctive, but so momentary
that he seemed merely to have stumbled.

'And a bay mare, ye say, sir? I'll wager my bones that'd be Jack
o'Lantern, as sure as my name be Tom Bowles.'

Impelled by his follower, Jack perforce went on, and as he reached the
open door, the answer came delivered in a voice that was shrill with
rage.

'Jack o'Lantern or another. What's the odds? A crying scandal to you
all that such things should be done in daylight. In broad daylight. On
the King's highway. It shows the worth of your vigilance. It shows the
worth of all these measures of which Sir Henry Fielding makes a boast.
Measures that were to clear the country of this vermin. Why, things
were no worse a hundred years ago.'

The speaker was still inveighing when Jack came to the doorway. And
Jack was not encouraged when in this speaker, a portly gentleman in
high leather gaiters and a short skirted frock under the tails of
which his hands were now thrust, he recognized the victim of his
robbery that afternoon.

Squire Kendrick's face was inflamed with the anger into which he had
lashed himself whilst denouncing the outrage suffered. For audience he
had a couple of rustics, the landlord in shirt sleeves and apron, a
man who held a constable's staff and a couple of tough-looking fellows
who at a glance might be recognized for Bow Street runners.

It was not the sort of company into which Jack o'Lantern would
normally have cared to thrust himself. Yet now he swaggered in, a
smile on his lips, a jauntiness in his step, fully approved by Mr
Lessingham who followed more closely than ever upon the parlour's
sanded floor. Heads were turned to see who came, and the landlord was
detaching himself from the group to give welcome to these new guests,
when Jack's hearty hail momentarily arrested them.

He had taken a swift step aside, away from his companion, and tossed
up his head with a laugh of satisfaction.

'Well met, my hearties,' he greeted the Bow Street men, 'and in the
very nick of time. If it's Jack o'Lantern ye're hunting, I'll be
claiming the reward. For here you have him, led by the nose into your
very arms for you.' And he flung out a hand to indicate Mr Lessingham.

There was a moment's silent, round-eyed amazement. Then it was Squire
Kendrick who moved. His head craned forward on his stout neck, and his
eyes bulging, he advanced on Mr Lessingham. Mr Lessingham, more taken
aback than any of them by what he accounted a futile impudence, was
uttering a fleeting laugh when Squire Kendrick flung out an accusing
arm.

'Seize him,' he roared. 'I recognize him.' And at the word the Bow
Street runners were upon Mr Lessingham like hounds upon a stag.

He struggled, panting and snarling in their arms, turning a face of
fury upon the squire.

'What do you mean, you pot-bellied dotard? You recognize me?'

The Squire was upon him, whilst the runners held him.

'I mean this, you impudent rogue. This!' He seized the sword-belt of
Spanish leather with the pretty oak-leaf pattern, upon which the
ready-witted Jack o'Lantern had counted when he so boldly made his
staggering announcement. 'I may not recognize your face, for that was
masked; but, ecod! I recognize my own baldrick, ay, and the sword of
which you robbed me this very afternoon, you damned hedge-creeper.'

The constable rolled forward importantly. 'Here. Give way whiles I
search him.'

Lessingham abandoned the struggle, commanding himself now that he
began to recognize that violence would not get him out of this trap.
Forth from his pockets they brought a gold snuff-box on the lid of
which was the squire's crest, a hand holding aloft an oak-leaf, and a
heavy purse in which, in addition to the guineas, there was a diamond
ring of price which had left the squire's finger three hours ago.

Mr Lessingham strove desperately to be calm. 'It looks like evidence,
but it isn't. I can explain it all.'

'Ecod! so you shall,' chortled the squire. 'At Bow Street tomorrow
morning. Keep your lies for the magistrate. Away with him.'

'Tomorrow morning will be too late, you fools,' Lessingham was
suddenly beside himself, thinking of what would happen in the morning.
'I have an engagement to keep tonight. An important engagement. You
shall hear me now, sir.'

They drove him to frenzy with their mockery until the squire, wearying
of the sport, bade them away with the rascal.

The constable was looking round. 'But where's the gentleman that took
him?' he asked.

He was answered by a clatter of departing hoofs on the kidney stones
outside. Jack o'Lantern was proving true to his fame. And it was on
the big black horse that he rode away, leaving the bay mare as further
evidence against Mr Lessingham.



THE END




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