H. C. BAILEY
I. THE COMPLETE HERO
II. THE HOUSE OF WAVERTON
III. A MAN OF MANY WORLDS
IV. A GENTLEMAN'S PURSE
V. THE WORLD'S A MIRACLE
VI. HARRY IS NOT GRATEFUL
VII. GENEROSITY OF A FATHER
VIII. MISS LAMBOURNE LOOKS SIDEWAYS
IX. ANGER OF AN UNCLE
X. YOUNG BLOOD
XI. ABSENCE OF MR. WAVERTON
XII. IN HASTE
XIII. DISTRESS OF A MOTHER
XIV. SPECTATORS OF PARADISE
XV. MRS. BOYCE
XVI. THE AFFAIR OF SIR GEORGE
XVII. RETURN OF MR. WAVERTON
XVIII. HARRY IS DISMISSED
XIX. ALISON FINDS FRIENDS
XX. RETURN OF CAPTAIN McBEAN
XXI. CONSOLATIONS BY A FATHER
XXII. TWO'S COMPANY
XXIII. THE HOUSE IN KENSINGTON
XXIV. QUEEN ANNE IS DEAD
XXV. SAUVE QUI PEUT
XXVII. VIRTUE IS ITS OWN REWARD
XXVIII. IN THE TAP
XXIX. ALISON KNEELS
XXX. EMOTIONS BY MR. WAVERTON
XXXI. CAPTAIN McBEAN TAKES HORSE
XXXII. PERPLEXITIES OF CAPTAIN McBEAN
XXXIII. REMORSE OF COLONEL BOYCE
XXXIV. HARRY WAKES UP
THE COMPLETE HERO
Harry Boyce addressed Queen Anne in glittering verse. She was not present. She had, however, no cause to regret that, for he was tramping the Great North Road at four miles by the hour—a pace far beyond the capacity of Her Majesty's legs; and his verses were Latin—a language not within the capacity of Her Majesty's mind. Her absence gave him no grief. In all his twenty-four years he could not remember being grieved by anyone's absence. His general content was never diminished at finding himself alone. He chose the Queen as the subject of his verses merely because he did not admire her. She appeared to him then, as to later generations, a woman ineffectual and without interest; a dull woman physically, mentally, and perhaps morally; just the woman upon whom it would be hardest to make an encomium of any splendour. So he was heartily ingenious over his alcaics, and relished them.
From this you may divine much that you have to know about the soul of Harry Boyce. It was more given to mockery than enthusiasms, apter to criticisms than devotion, not very gentle nor very kind, and so quite satisfied with itself and by itself. To be sure, it was yet only twenty-four.
You discover also other things less fundamental. He was something of a scholar, as scholarship was reckoned in those placid days. He had even some Greek—more than Mr. Pope and quite as much as Mr. Addison. His Latin verses would have brought him a fellowship at Merton if he had been willing to take Holy Orders, "I may take them indeed; but how believe they have been given me?" quoth he to the Warden with a tilt of one eyebrow. Whereat the Warden, aghast, wrote him off as a youth unreasonable, impracticable, and impish. Many others had the same opinion of Harry Boyce before the world was done with him. Few of them saw in his antics the uncertain spasms of too tender a conscience. But you must judge.
Of course he was poor. He could only boast a bob wig, a base thing, which, for all the show it made, might have been a man's own hair. He wore no sword. His hat lacked feather and lace. His coat and breeches were but black drugget, shiny at each corner of him and rusty everywhere. His stockings were worsted, and darned even on his excellent calves. His shoes had strings where buckles should have been, and mere black heels—and low heels at that. As you know, he could walk at a round pace with them—a preposterous, vulgar thing. There was nothing in him to give this poverty a romantical air. To be sure, he had admirable legs, but the rest was neither good nor bad. He was of the middle size and a wholesome complexion. You would look at him long and see nothing rare enough to be worth looking at. If you looked longer yet you might begin to be surprised: his so ordinary face was extraordinary in its lack of expression.
The man who owned it must be either very dull of heart and mind, or self-contained and of self-control beyond the common. But whatever the heart might be, no one ever took the eyes for the eyes of a fool. They were keen, alert, perpetually on guard. There is a letter extant—it was indeed a dear friend who wrote it—which mocks at Harry for his "curst stand-and-deliver stare." But it is a queer thing that most men had to know Harry Boyce a long time before they remarked that his eyes were not quite of the same colour. The common English grey-green-blue was in both of them, but one had a bluer glint than the other. The oddity, when it was discovered, seemed to make the challenge of the eyes more defiant and more baffling, as though they gleamed from the shadow of a mask.
Not that anyone cared yet whether he wore a mask or his soul in that placid, ordinary face. Who should care a pinch of snuff for "a scholar just from his college broke loose" with a penny farthing in his pocket, who had to pioneer young gentlemen through their Horace and their Tully for his bed and board? When you meet him, Harry Boyce was happy in having caught for his pupil a young fellow who had not merely money but brains, and so sublime a condescension that Harry was not sent away from table with the parson when the puddings came. Mr. Geoffrey Waverton was pleased to have a value for him, and defended him from his natural duty of being gentleman usher to Lady Waverton. So, Mr. Waverton having taken horse, Harry was free to go walking.
It was late in a wet autumn, and all the clay of Middlesex slippery as butter and, withal, affectionate as warm glue. Harry kept to the highway. Though its miles of mud and water were, on the surface, even worse than the too green meadows or the gleaming brown furrows of plough land, a careful man could count upon its letting him go no further than knee deep. When he came to Whetstone, Harry's feet were brown, shapeless, weighty masses, but he had not lost either shoe, and he was still in hopes of reaching Barnet and a pint of small beer before it was time to struggle back. At the worst a dry throat and wet legs were a cheap price for escaping the voice of Lady Waverton, who, in the afternoons, read the romances of Mlle. de Scudery aloud.
He could see the tufts of smoke above Barnet and its church on the hill-top. He was winding down to the bottom of the valley from which that hill rises, when eloquence arrested him. He may at other times have heard profanity as copious, but never profanity so vehement or at such speed. The orator was a woman.
Harry stood to listen with critical admiration. Madame mixed the ugly and the pleasant rarely; she made a charming grotesque. Her mind was very far from nice and provided her with amazing images; but she had a pretty, womanly voice, and hard though she drove it, it would not break to one ugly note. Disgusting epithets, mean threats, poured out in mellow music. Harry splashed on round the corner. He was eager to see her.
In the morass at the cross-lanes by the green, a coach was stuck—a coach of splendour. It was a huge thing as big as a room, half glass, half gold and garter blue, and it swayed luxuriously on its great springs. Six horses heaved at it in vain with great splashing and squelching, and a whole company of servants, some mounted, some afoot, struggled with them.
The profane woman had half her body and two gesticulating arms out of the coach window. She was plainly neither a drab nor in liquor. Harry halted out of range of the splashes to examine and enjoy her. She had been comely, and still could hold a man's eye with her curves of neck and bosom. The piquant features must have been adorable before they sharpened and her cheeks faded and the lines came. Her abundant hair must once have been gold, and was not yet altogether grey.
"You filthy slug," said she. "Samuel! Stand to it, I say. Damme, I'll have a whip about that loose belly of yours! Now pull, you swine, pull. Odso, flog the black horse. You, devil broil your bones, lay on to him. What now? Od rot you, Antony, you'll see no money this month, you—" She became unprintable. As she took breath again, she saw Harry Boyce calmly contemplative. "You dog, who bade you stand and gape? Go, give a hand there, I say."
Harry touched his hat. "By your leave, ma'am, I am too busy admiring you."
"William, put that rogue into the ditch," said she.
All this while a man in the coach had been writing, calmly intent upon his tablets as though there was not a sound or a rage within a mile. He now stood up, and, while his lady was still execrating through one door of the coach, he opened the other and came out. Two of the servants, obedient to the lady's oaths, were approaching Harry, who waited them with calm and a swinging stick. The man waved his hand at them and they turned tail. But he had no further interest in Harry. He stood to watch the struggles of his horses and his men. He was of some height, and, though past middle age, bore himself with singular grace and vigour. He had still a rarely handsome face—too handsome, by far, for Harry's taste. The features were of an impossible, absurd perfection. There was something superhuman or fatuous, at least something vastly irritating, in his assured calm, his air of blandly confident supremacy.
He walked on to the leaders and, with a gesture and a word, set the whole team pulling at an angle. Meanwhile the lady had earnestly continued her abusive orders, but none of the servants now professed to heed her. Dragging the horses on, or labouring hand and shoulder at the wheels, they were now effective, and they watched the man's eye as though it were an inspiration. Wondering why he did, Harry, too, put his weight on a wheel. The horses found a footing in the mire, the coach was dragged on to the higher, firmer ground beyond.
My lady subsided. The man came back to the coach and touched his hat to Harry. "I'm obliged for your help, sir," he said, and climbed in. They drove away towards London.
As the servants swung to their saddles, "Who's your obscene lady?" said Harry.
"What, don't you know him, bumpkin?"
"She will never be him. Her shape is all provocative she."
This humble wit was not remarked. His ignorance occupied them, "Oh Lud, not to know the Old Corporal!"
One of Harry's eyebrows went up. "That the Old Corporal? Faith, I am sorry for him."
He received a handful of mud in his face. With a cry of "Rot your impudence," they splashed off.
While he wiped the mud out of his eyes, Harry felt a very comfortable self-satisfaction. It was agreeable to pity His Grace of Marlborough. For the Duke of Marlborough was still the greatest man in Europe, the greatest man in the world—credibly the greatest man that ever lived. A pleasant fool, to marry such a wife and to keep her.
Harry Boyce at no time in his life had much admiration for human eminence. In this, his hungry youth, he was set upon despising rank and power, great fame and pure virtue, as no more than the luck of fools. He would always atone by finding sympathy and excuses for any rogue's roguery. Highly fortified in this faith by the exhibition of Marlborough's matrimonial happiness, he trudged back.
The delay over the coach had left him no time for small ale at Barnet. Mr. Waverton, though amiably pleased to deliver Harry from attendance on his mother, required constant attendance on himself. He would be, in his superb way, disagreeable if Harry were not in waiting when he was wanted to take a hand at ombre. Harry liked Mr. Waverton well enough, as well as he liked anybody, but found him in the part of offended majesty intolerable. So there was some hard walking back to Whetstone. On the way his temper was not sweetened by two horsemen at the gallop who gave him a shower-bath of mud.
As he came through the village, behold another coach labouring up to the high road from Totteridge lane. This had but four horses, no array of outriders, no gilt splendours. It was a sober, old-fashioned thing, and it rumbled on at a sober gait. "Some city ma'am," Harry sneered at it, "much the same shape as her horses."
But half an hour after he saw it again. Where the road was dark through a thicket it had come to a stand. "Oh Lud," said Harry, "here's more fair madames in the mud. They may sit on it till they hatch it for me." But he wondered a little. It was indeed nothing very strange in such an autumn to find a coach stuck upon the highway. But two for one afternoon, two so near was a generous provision. And hereabouts, where the road ran level and high, was a strange place for a coach to choose to stick. "Madame seems to be a gross girl," quoth Harry.
And then he saw what made him step out. There were two men on horseback by the halted coach—two men with black upon their faces which must be masks, and that in their hands which must be pistols.
"Egad, the road's joyful to-night," said Harry. "And two and one make three," and he began to run, and arrived.
Of the two highwaymen one was dismounted. The other, holding his friend's horse, held also a pistol at the coachman's head, muttering lurid threats of what he would do if the coachman drove on. The dismounted man was half inside the coach where two women shrank from him, and thence his blusterous voice proceeded, "Now, my blowens, hand over, or I'll rummage you. A skinny purse? Come, now, you've more than that. What's under your legs, fatty? Stand up, I say. Ay, hand out the jewel-box. Now, my tackle, what ha' you got aboard? What's under that pretty tucker?" He threw the jewel-case out into the mud and, leaning across one woman, reached with a fat, foul hand to the younger bosom beyond.
He was prevented by a whistle and a cry, "Behind you, Ben." His companion announced the arrival of Harry.
Ben came out of the coach with an oath and thrust his pistol into Harry's face. "Good e'en to you, bully. Now cut and run or I'll drill you. Via, my poppet."
Harry looked along the pistol and stood fast. The highwayman was no bigger than he, and bloated. "I am studying arithmetic, Benjamin," said he.
"Burn your eyes, be off with you; run while you may."
Harry laughed and swung his stick at the mud. "But, I wonder, is it addition or subtraction? Is it two and one makes three, or—"
"Kick the bumpkin into the ditch, Ben," the man on horseback advised.
"Off with you," Benjamin thrust him back, and in the act the pistol wavered. Harry slashed with his stick at the pistol hand. A yell, an oath, and the shot came together—a shot which went into the mud and sent it spattering about them. Harry sprang away from Benjamin's rush and brought his stick down on the hindquarters of the horses. They plunged forward, and the man in the saddle, wrestling with them, let off another aimless shot. Harry dodged round them and lashed them again, and they bolted down the road. He returned to fling himself upon Benjamin, who was ramming another charge into his pistol. "It seems to be subtraction, Benjamin," said he, embracing the man fervently. "One from two leaves one," and they swayed together, and he found Benjamin's body soft.
Benjamin, panting, cursed him. "Od rot you, why must you meddle, bully? What's your will, burn you? Ha' done now, and—" Benjamin went down on his back in the mud with Harry on top of him. "Ugh! What's the game, bully?"
"I think you call it the high toby," said Harry delicately and began to sing to the tune of a catch:
"Oh, three merry men, three merry men, three highwaymen were we. You in a quag and he on a nag and I on top of the three."
"Lord love you, are you on the road?" Benjamin cried. "Why, rot you, did you want a share then? You should ha' said so, bully. Come on now, my dear, let's up. We do be gentlemen and share fair enough."
"I warrant you I am having my share," Harry laughed; "and I like it very well. But oh, Benjamin, there would have been nought to share if I had not come up. No fun at all, Benjamin." He wrenched the pistol away. "'Tis I have made the business joyous. You are a dull fellow by yourself."
"Rot you," said Benjamin frankly. "When Ned comes back he'll shoot you like vermin."
On which they both heard horses, and both, according to their abilities—Benjamin in the mud, and Harry keeping a sure hold of him—wriggled to look for them.
Harry laughed. It was certainly not a returning Ned. These horses came from the other way, and there were four of them and each had a rider. "I fear your Ned will come too late, Benjamin—if, by the grace of God, he comes at all." So said Harry, chuckling, and to his amazement Benjamin also laughed. Why should Benjamin find consolation in the coming of this posse? It was not credible that they could be allies of his. Highwaymen did not work in gangs of half a dozen.
The four horsemen, urged by the shots or by what they saw, came at a gallop and reined up almost on top of Harry and Benjamin. One of them, a little man with a lean, brown face, called out, "By your leave, sir! What's this?"
"It's a rude fellow, sir," Harry said. "I fear a lewd fellow. By trade a highwayman. The highway, indeed, is his life's love, his adored mistress. Observe how he cleaves to it." He compressed Benjamin, who squelched, into the mud, and rose, standing on Benjamin's chest and stomach.
Benjamin groaned, and the eyes behind his mask rolled towards the little man.
"Filthy dog," that little man said with sincere disgust. "Can I serve you, sir?" he touched his hat to the women in the coach.
"Why, Benjamin has a friend, one Ned. Ned hath a pistol or so and two horses which have bolted with him. But he may yet persuade them to bring back his pistols and him. Now, if you would be so good, it would be convenient in you to ride on and destroy Ned."
"It's a pleasure, sir," the little man showed his teeth. "And the fat rogue there, can I help you with him? Shall we take him on to the constables?"
"Oh, I thank you, but my Benjamin is docile. I'll e'en tie him up with his garters, and all will be well."
The little man scowled at Benjamin. "I shall hope to be at his hanging," he said incisively. "Sir, your most obedient! Ladies!" he bobbed at them and rode off, his three companions close about him in eager talk.
As they went, Benjamin let out a cry of anguish: "Captain!"
The little man and his company used their spurs.
Harry looked at their hurry and then down at Benjamin.
"Now why did you call him that, my Benjamin?" said he. "Indeed, why did you call on him at all?"
From behind the mask Benjamin's prominent eyes stared sullenly. He said nothing.
Harry shook his head. "I feel that I do not know you, Benjamin. I must see more of you," With which he fell upon the man again and twitched off the mask. The wig came with it. Benjamin was revealed the owner of a big, bald, shiny head with a face which was puffed and purple. "You were right, Benjamin," said Harry sadly, "You were kind. To wear a mask was charity, nay, decency—what breeches are to other men. That obese and flaccid nose—pah, let us talk of something else." He lay upon Benjamin and tugged at his sword-belt. Benjamin writhed and groaned. His sword was caught underneath him, the hilt deep in the small of his back. Harry hauled the sword-belt off at last and gripped at Benjamin's wrists. He began to struggle again. "Do not be troublesome or I'll tap the beer on your brain. So." He hauled the belt taut about the fighting arms and made all fast. Then he sat himself on Benjamin's legs, which thus ceased to be turbulent, and, taking off the garters, therewith tied the ankles together.
Sighing satisfaction, Harry picked up the pistol and sword, spoils of victory, and rose at his leisure. He contemplated the hapless highwayman with benign interest for a moment, and turned to the coach. "You are still there, ladies? Benjamin is flattered and so am I. But the play is over. He will not be amusing for some time, and at any moment he may be profane. I see him bursting with it. Pray drive on and remove your chaste ears." He restored to them the jewel-case.
"Put him up on the box, sir," the younger woman cried.
"I beg your pardon, madame?"
"We will take him to the constables at Finchley."
"But why? He is beautiful there, my Benjamin, and I doubt he was never beautiful before. And I have planted him so firmly. I think if we leave him there he may grow and blossom. Do not dig him up again yet. Imagine Benjamin in flower! A thing to dream of."
"You are pleased to be witty, sir. Come, we have lost time enough. Put the rogue up, and do you mount with us."
Harry became aware that this young woman had a brow of pride. It was ample and broad and, after the Greek manner, it rose almost in a line with her admirable nose. A noble head, to be sure, but alarming to a mere human man. So Harry thought, and he touched his hat and said: "Madame, your most humble. Pray what do you want with my Benjamin? Your gentle heart would never have him hanged."
Her eyes made Harry feel that he was impudent, which, unhappily, amused him. "I desire the fellow should be given up to the law, sir," she said coldly. "Have you anything against it?"
"Oh, ma'am, a thousand things, with which I'll not weary you. For I see that you would not understand. You are very young (as I hope). Perhaps you may soon grow older (which I pray for you). Let this suffice then. My Benjamin may deserve a hanging. Who knows? We are not God, ma'am, neither you nor I. Therefore I have no mind to be a hangman. And you—why, you are young enough to wait another occasion. And so I give you good-night. Home, coachman, home."
The young woman stared at him as though he were grovelling stupidity, and then lay back on her cushions with a "You will drive on, Samuel."
Harry made his bow, and then, as the coach began to move, there was a cry: "Alison! Alison! It is not right!" The older woman leaned forward, and for the first time he remarked a gentle, motherly face, much lined and worn. "Sure, sir, you will ride with us," she said, and he liked the voice. "We may carry you home."
Harry smiled at her. "Nay, ma'am. I am too dirty for such fine company."
"Drive on," said Mistress Alison. And the coach rolled away.
Harry looked down at the wretched Benjamin, whose eyes answered with apprehension and anxiety. "What's the game?" said Benjamin hoarsely. "I say, master—what d'ye want with me?"
Harry did not answer. He was finding that motherly face, that pleasant voice, curiously vivid still. This annoyed him, and he forced himself back with a jerk to the oddity of events. "A queer business, my Benjamin," he said. "Who was your captain, I wonder?"
Benjamin scowled. "I know nought o' no captain."
"Ah, I thought you did. But I fear you have annoyed the captain, Benjamin. Now what had you done—or what had you not done?"
"It's not fair, master," Benjamin whined. "You do be making game of me, and me beat."
"I am rebuked, Benjamin. Good-night."
"Oons, ye won't leave me so?" Benjamin howled. "I ha' done you no harm, master. Come now, play fair. What d'ye want of me?"
"Nothing, Benjamin, nothing. I like you very well. You are a beautiful mystery. Pleasant dreams."
The hapless Benjamin howled after him long and loud. Thereby Harry, who had a musical ear, was spurred to his best pace. "It's a vile voice," he reflected; "like Lady Waverton's. The marmoreal Alison was right. He would be better hanged. But so also would Lady Waverton. She will acridly want to know why I am late. Well! It will be a melancholy satisfaction not to tell her. That will also annoy Geoffrey, who'll magnificently indicate that I owe him an apology. The poor Geoffrey! He is so fond of himself!"
His evening was as pleasant as he had anticipated. He won two shillings from Lady Waverton at ombre, which made her angry; and lost them to Geoffrey, which made him melancholy. For Mr. Waverton loved (in small things) to be a martyr.
THE HOUSE OF WAVERTON
Mr. Waverton had an idea in his head. That was not the least unusual. It was, unhappily, a wrong one. That was not unusual either. We must have a trifle of Latin. Mr. Waverton, studying Horace, desired to translate, Civium ardor prava jubentium "the wicked ardour of the overbearing citizens." In vain Harry urged that he was outraging grammar. Mr. Waverton did not believe him, did not want to believe him—the same thing. Mr. Waverton was convinced that he had an insight into the soul of Horace which Harry's pedantic eyes could not share. He explained, as one explains to a dull child, the rare poetic beauty of the sentiment which he had produced. The hero whom Horace was celebrating, you know, was the man superior to the common herd. Now common men (as even Harry might be aware) are all overbearing. It is this quality in the vulgar which most distresses fine souls (like Mr. Waverton) who desire nothing but their just rights.
"I dare say it is," Harry yawned. "If Horace had wanted to mean that, he would have said so."
"I often think, Harry, you dry scholars have no sense for the thought of a poet," said Mr. Waverton elegantly, and lay back in his chair and surveyed Harry.
He was a handsome lad and knew how to set it off. He had height and bulk—almost too much of that indeed, and so made light of it by a careless, lounging ease. At this time he was only twenty-two, but of a precocious maturity. He had the self-possession—as well as the full-bottomed wig—of experience and worldly wisdom, and would have liked to hear you say so. In its dark aquiline style his face was finely moulded and imposing, and already it had a massive gravity. "A mighty grand fellow indeed," said Lady Dorchester once, "if only his mouth had grown since he was a baby." It has to be admitted that Mr. Waverton's mouth, a small, pretty feature, was oddly assorted with the haughty manner in which the rest of him was constructed. The ladies who lamented that were, for the most part, consoled by his eyes—large, dark eyes of a liquid melancholy. But my Lord Wharton complained that they looked at him like a hound's.
Mr. Waverton was an only son, and fatherless. He had also great possessions. From his house of Tetherdown all the fields that he could see stretching away to the Essex border were of his inheritance. His mother was no wiser than she should have been. She consisted spiritually of admiration for herself, for the family into which she had married, and the son whom she had borne. "After all," said Harry Boyce in moments of geniality, "it's wonderful the boy has come out of it so well."
Mr. Waverton, thanks to vacillation of himself and his mother, doubt as to what career, what manner of education, what university, could be worthy his talents, went up to Oxford at last and (for those days) very late. After doing nothing for another year or two, he decided (which was also unusual for a gentleman of means in those days) that he had a genius in pure literature. Therefore Harry was hired to decorate him with all the elegances of Greek and Latin.
The appointment was considered a great prize for a lad so awkward as Harry Boyce. It might well end in a luxurious competence—a stewardship, for example, and marriage with my lady's maid. "That is, if you play your cards well, sirrah," the Sub-Warden felt it his duty to warn Harry's difficult temper.
"Oh, sir, I could never play cards," said Harry, for the Sub-Warden was a master at picquet. "I am too honest."
Yet he had not fallen out with Mr. Waverton. It is probable that he was careful to keep on good terms with his bread and butter. But he had always, I believe, a kindness for Geoffrey Waverton, and bore no ill will for his parade of supremacy. Tyranny in small things, indeed, Mr. Waverton did not affect. He had a desire to be magnificent. Those who did not cross him, those who were content to be his inferiors, found him amiable enough and, on occasion, generous....
"Shall we try another line, Mr. Waverton?" said Harry wearily.
"I have a mind to make an epigram," Mr. Waverton announced. "The arrogance of the vulgar, the—the uninstructed—perhaps I lack the mot juste, but quand meme—the mansuetude of the loftier mind. A fine antithesis that, I think." He stood up, walked to the window, and looked out. Away down the hill the fields lay in a mellow mist, the kindly autumn sun made the copses glow golden; it was a benign scene, apt to encourage wit. Mr. Waverton lisped in numbers, but the numbers did not come. He turned to seek stimulus from Harry. "You relish the thought?"
"It is a perfect subject for your style," said Harry.
Mr. Waverton smiled, and turned again to the window for productive meditation.
A third man came lounging in, unheard by Mr. Waverton's rapt mind. He opened his eyes at the back which Mr. Waverton turned upon Harry and the space between them. "Why, Geoffrey, have you been very stupid this morning? And has schoolmaster stood you in the corner? Well done, Mr. Boyce. I always told you, spare the rod and spoil the child. Shall I go cut a birch for you?"
"I wonder you are not tired of that old jest, Charles," said Waverton with a dignity which did not permit him to turn round.
"Never while it annoys you, child."
"Mr. Waverton is in labour with a poem," Harry explained.
"And it's indecent in me to be present at the ceremony? Well, Geoffrey, postpone the birth." He sat himself down at his ease in Geoffrey's chair. He was a compact man with only one arm. He looked ten years older than Geoffrey and was, in fact, five. The campaign in Flanders which had destroyed his right arm had set and hardened a frame and face by nature solid enough. That face was long and angular, with a heavy chin and an expression of sardonic complacency oddly increased by the jauntiness of its shabby brown wig.
Waverton turned round wearily upon the unwelcome guest. "Well, Charles, what is it?"
"It is nothing. My dear Geoffrey, if I had anything to do or anything to say why should I come to you?"
"Merci, monsieur," Waverton smiled gracious indulgence.
Mr. Hadley chuckled, and in French replied: "Yes, let's talk French; it embellishes our simple wit and elevates our souls above the vulgar."
There is reason to believe that Waverton liked his French better in fragments than continuously. He still smiled condescension, but risked no other answer.
"Come, Geoffrey, what's the news?" Mr. Hadley reverted to English. "Could you say your lessons this morning? And did you wear a new coat last night?"
"You may go if you will, Harry. Mr. Hadley will be talking for some time," Waverton said. "Indeed, he may, perhaps, have something to say."
Harry was used to being turned out for any reason or none. He well understood that Waverton was not fond of an audience when he was being laughed at. "If you please," he said, and made his bow to Mr. Hadley.
"Why, what's the matter? I don't bite. You are too meek for this life, Mr. Boyce." He looked at Harry with some contempt in his grey eyes. "Oons, you're a man and a brother, ain't you? Sit down and be hearty. Lud, Geoffrey, why do you never have a pipe in the room?"
"It's death to a clean taste, your tobacco smoking, and I value my wine."
"Value it, quotha! Ay, by the spoonful. You ha' never known how to drink since they weaned you. And you, Mr. Boyce, d'ye never smoke a pipe over your Latin?"
"I hope I know my place, Mr. Hadley," Harry said solemnly.
Charles Hadley stared at him. "Hear the Scripture, Mr. Boyce: 'What shall it profit a man though he gain a pretty patron and lose his own soul?'"
"You are very polite, sir," said Harry.
"Upon my honour, Charles, this is too much," Mr. Waverton cried in noble indignation. "Mr. Boyce is my friend, and you'll be good enough to take him as yours if you come to my house."
Charles Hadley was not out of countenance. He eyed them both, and his sardonic expression was more marked. "You make a pretty pair," said he. "When two men ride a horse, one must ride behind. Eh, Mr. Boyce? I wonder. Well, Geoffrey, it's a wicked world. Had you heard of that?"
"The world is what you make it, I think," said Mr. Waverton with dignity.
"Oons, I could sometimes believe you did make it. A simple, pompous place, Geoffrey, that is kind to you if you'll not laugh at it. And full of petty, pompous mysteries. Maybe you make the mysteries too, Geoffrey. Damme, it is so. It's perfectly in your manner," he chuckled abundantly. "Come, child, what were you doing on the highway yesterday?"
Harry stared at him. "When you have finished laughing at your joke, perhaps you will make it," said Waverton. "Pray let us have it over before dinner."
"My dear child, why be so touchy? Were you bitten? Well, you know, this morning one of my fellows brings in a miserable wretch he had found on the road by Black Horse Spinney. The thing was half-dead with wet and cold. He had been lying there all night—so he said, and it's the one thing I believe of him. He was found trussed as tight as a chicken in his own sword-belt and his own garters. Damme, it was a fellow of some humour had the handling of him. He had not been robbed, for there was a bag of money at his middle. He professed that he could tell nothing of who had trussed him or why he was set upon. He would have nought of law or hue and cry. Egad, empty and shivering as he was, he wanted nothing but to be let go. A perfect Christian, as you remark, Geoffrey. Now, you or I, if we had been tied up in the mud through one of these damned raw nights, would take some pains to catch the fellow who did the trussing. But my wretch was as meek as the Gospels. So here is a silly, teasing mystery. Who is the footpad that is at the pains of tying up a fellow and never looks for his purse? Odds fish, I did not know we had a gentleman of such humour in these parts. I suspect you, Geoffrey, I protest. There's a misty fatuousness about it which—"
"By your leave, sir," a servant appeared, "my lady waits dinner."
"Then I fear we shall pay for it," said Hadley, and stood up.
"You dine with us, Charles?" Mr. Waverton was not hearty about it.
"I'll give you that pleasure, child. Well, Mr. Boyce, what do you make of my mystery?"
Harry had to say something. "Perhaps your friend was carrying more than guineas," he said.
"What then? Papers and plots and the high political? I don't think it. If you saw him—a mere tub of beer—and a leaky tub this morning, for he had a vile cold in the head and dribbled damnably."
"I give it up then. Have you let him go?" They were moving out in the corridor and Hadley did not answer. "Is he gone?" Harry said again.
Hadley turned round upon him. "Why, yes. Does it signify?"
"I wonder who he was," said Harry.
Upon that they entered the drawing-room of Lady Waverton. It was congested and dim. The two oriel windows were so draped with curtains of pink and yellow that only a faint light as of the last of a sunset filtered through. The wide spaces were beset with screens in lacquer, odd chairs, Dutch tables, and very many cabinets,—cabinets inlaid with flowers and birds of many colours; cabinets full of shells, agates, corals, and any gaudy stone; cabinets and yet again more cabinets full of Eastern china. In the midst Lady Waverton reclined.
She had been handsome in a large, bold style, and might still have been but for excessive decoration. Her dress was voluminous white satin embroidered in a big pattern of gold and set off with black. It was low at her opulent bosom, to the curves of which the eye was directed by black patches craftily fixed. There were many more patches on her face which, still only a little too full and too loose, had its colours laid on in sharp and vivid contrasts. Her black hair was erected in symmetrical waves high above her brow, and one ringlet was brought by glossy, frozen curls to caress her bosom. She held out the whitest of hands drooping from a large but still fine arm for Mr. Hadley to kiss.
"You are a bad fellow, Charles Hadley," she pouted. "You make me feel old."
"There's a common childish fancy, ma'am."
"You never come to see me now. And when you do come, 'tis not to see me."
"A thousand pardons. Mr. Boyce delayed me awhile with the beauties of his conversation."
"Mr. Boyce?" she looked at Harry as if wondering that he dared exist. "Go and see why they do not bring in dinner."
Having thus diminished Harry, she proceeded, without waiting for him to be gone, to criticize him. "You know, I would never have a chaplain in the house. This tutor fellow is of the same breed, Charles. They tease me, these men which are neither gentlemen nor servants. Faith, life's hard for the poor wretches. They are torn 'twixt their conceit and their poverty. They know not from minute to minute whether they will fawn or be insolent. So they do both indifferent ill."
Harry, who chose not to hear, was opening the door. There came in upon him a woman—the young woman of the coach. Even as he recoiled, bowing, even as he collected his startled wits, he was aware of the singular beauty of her complexion. Its delicacy, its life, were nonpareil. The first clear process of his mind was to wonder how he had contrived not to remark that complexion when first he saw her.
Lady Waverton lifted up her voice. "Alison! Dear child! And are you home at last? It's delicious in you. You seek us out first, do you not? My sweet girl!" Alison was engulfed. Conceive apple blossom in the embraces of a peony.
The apple blossom emerged with a calm, "Dear Lady Waverton."
"You are a sad bad thing. I writ you five letters, I think, and not one from you."
"You are so much cleverer than I am. I had nothing to say." Alison's voice was sweet and low, but too sublimely calm for perfect comfort in her hearers. "So here I am to say it and make my excuses," she dropped a small curtsey, "my lady. Why, Geoffrey, I thought you had been back at Oxford!"
Mr. Waverton came forward, smiling magnificence. "I am delighted to disappoint you, Alison."
"Nay, never believe her, Geoffrey," Lady Waverton lifted up her voice and was arch. "I vow she counted on finding you here. Why else had she come? I know when I was a toast I wasted none of my time going to see old women," she languished affectionately at the girl.
"Dear Lady Waverton,"—if it was possible, Alison's voice became calmer than ever—"how well you know me. And how cruel to expose me. If Geoffrey had his mother's wit, faith, I should never dare come here at all."
"It is not my wit which you need ever fear, Alison," Geoffrey's eyes were ardent upon her.
"Why, you are merciful. Or is it modest?"
"I can be neither, Alison. I am a man."
"My dear Geoffrey, I am sorry for all your misfortunes." She turned from him to Mr. Hadley, who was content in a corner. "Have we quarrelled?"
"We never loved each other well enough."
"Is that why I am always very glad to see Mr. Hadley?"
"It is why he can tell Miss Lambourne that she looks divinely beautiful."
"That means inhuman, sir."
"Which is not my fault, ma'am."
Geoffrey was visibly restive at his exclusion, "Charles never could pay a compliment without a sting in it."
"That is why they are agreeable, sir," said she.
"That is why they are true," said Hadley in the same breath, and they laughed together.
Lady Waverton interfered imperiously. "Alison, dear, come sit by me and tell me all about yourself."
"Faith, not with the gentlemen to listen," said she, and was saved by Harry and the butler, who came in together announcing dinner.
Lady Waverton rose elaborately. "Give me your arm, Charles. My dear Alison—"
"But who is this?" Alison said, and she stared with placid, candid interest at Harry. With equal composure Harry stared back. But there was no candour in his expressionless face. For he had become keenly aware of her beauty. It was waking in him desire and already something deeper and stronger, and he vehemently resented the disturbance. He had no wish to be troubled by any woman, and for this woman, judging her on her behaviour, he felt even a little more contempt than the store which he had for all her sex. It was cursedly impertinent in her to be such a joy to the blood. She stood there, her eyes level with his eyes, and dared to look as strong as he—slighter to be sure, but not too slight for a woman, and delectably deep bosomed. There was life and laughter in that calm Greek face, and the vivid, delicate colour of it maddened him. The great crown of black hair was just what her brow needed for its royalty. He could find no fault in the irksome wench. Even her dress, dark grey as her eyes, perfectly became her, perfectly pleased in its generous modesty. And she knew of her power too. There was a mocking confidence in every line of her.
"But who is this, Lady Waverton?" she was saying again.
Lady Waverton tried to draw her on. "'Tis but Geoffrey's new factotum."
"My good friend, Harry Boyce, Alison," said Geoffrey with a patronly hand on Harry's shoulder.
Harry made his bow.
"Faith, sir, we have met before," she smiled.
"No, ma'am," Harry bowed again. "I have never had an honour, which, sure, I could not forget."
Her brow wrinkled. Lady Waverton swept her on, and Harry in the rear had the pleasure of hearing Lady Waverton say: "A poor, vulgar wretch, my dear. An out-at-elbows scholar which Geoffrey met at Oxford and keeps out of charity. He is too soft of heart, dear boy, and such creatures stick to him like burrs."
The dinner-table was a blaze of silver, but otherwise not bountifully provided. Lady Waverton looked down it with pride. "I am of Mr. Addison's mind, my dear," she announced. "Do you remember? 'Two plain dishes with two good-natured, cheerful, ingenious friends make me more pleased and vain than all your luxury.'"
"Why, then, you must now be sore out of countenance," Alison protested. "For I am not good-natured and I vow Mr. Hadley is not cheerful." Mr. Hadley's face, set in contemplation of the food, shed gloom and apprehension. "But perhaps Mr. Boyce is ingenious."
"I hope so," said Hadley.
It was Harry's task to carve, which dispensed him from answering the girl or even looking at her. One not abundant fowl and a calf's head smoked before him. Under a heavy fire of directions from Lady Waverton he did his duty.
Miss Lambourne may have suddenly grown weary of Lady Waverton's eloquence upon the daintiest bits of these unexciting foods. She may have been waiting for the moment when Harry would have no occupation to prevent him listening to her. While my lady was still explaining the superiority of her calf, as bred and born in the house of Waverton, to all other calves, just when Harry had finished his work, Miss Lambourne broke out: "Faith, I was almost forgetting my splendid story. I wonder, now, have any of you met any ventures on the North Road?"
Harry began to eat. Charles Hadley ceased an anxious examination of his plate and looked at her. Lady Waverton cried out: "Dear Alison! Don't tell me you have been stopped. Too terrible! I vow I could never bear it. I should die of shame. They tell me these rogues are vilely impudent to a fine woman."
Geoffrey exhibited a tender agitation. "Why, Alison, what is it? Zounds, I cannot have you go travelling alone! You must give me news when you make a journey, and I'll ride with you."
"Thank you for your agonies. But the virgin in distress found her knight-errant duly provided. He rose out of the mud romantically apropos. To be sure, I think he was mad. But that is all in the part. The complete hero. Geoffrey, could you be a little mad?"
"More than a little," said he with proper ardour. "Pray don't torture us, Alison. Let us hear."
"It's on my mind that I am going to hear news of my funny friend," said Hadley solemnly. "Don't you think so, Mr. Boyce?"
Harry, who had been eating with the humble zeal appropriate to a poor scholar, looked up for a moment: "Why, sir, I can't tell at all. If you say so, indeed—" and he went on eating.
"Come, are you in it too, Mr. Hadley?" Alison cried.
"In it, odds life, I am bewilderingly out of it," quoth Hadley, and again told his tale of the mysterious man found tied up in the mud who knew nothing of his assailants and wanted no vengeance on them.
"That's our Benjamin," Alison laughed. "Oh, but you did not let him go?"
"Not let him go, quotha! For what I know, he was a poor, suffering martyr, though to look at his nose, I doubt it. And yet he was fool enough. Nay, how could I stay him?"
"Why, send him to gaol for a rogue and a vagabond. Should he not?" she invited the suffrages of the table.
"Dear Alison, to be sure, yes," Lady Waverton murmured. "These fellows must be put down."
"You owed it to yourself to look deeper into the matter, Charles," said Geoffrey gravely.
"Come, Mr. Boyce, your sentence too," Alison cried, wicked eyes intent upon him.
He met them with bland meekness. "Indeed, ma'am, I can't tell. It's Mr. Hadley's affair."
"From a virtuous woman, good Lord deliver us," Hadley groaned. "You would make a rare hanging judge, Alison. Now, i' God's name, let's have your tale. What's the rogue to you?"
"Oh, sir, a great joy. Why, he gave me the only knight-errant ever I had. A vile muddy one, to be sure, but poor maids must not be choosers. We were driving home, Mrs. Weston and I, and by Black Horse Spinney we were stopped by two highwaymen. They had just begun to be rude, when out of the mud comes my knight-errant, bold as Don Quixote and as shabby withal, and with a pretty wit too—which is not much in the way of knight-errants, I think. He scared the highwaymen's horses and set them bolting with the one fellow which held them, then he knocked the other down, took his pistol, and tied the rogue up in his own garters. Oh, the neatest knight-errant ever you saw. Then we bade him put the fellow on the box and drive on with us. But monsieur was haughty, if you please. He wanted none of our company. Off he packed us, for me to cry my eyes out for love of him. Which I do heartily, I warrant you."
"Alison!" Geoffrey cried, and laid his hand on hers.
"Faith, yes, give me sympathy. I have loved and lost—in the mud. To be sure, I can ne'er be my own woman again till I find him and give him—a brush, I think, and maybe a pair of breeches too, for his own can never recover their youth. Dear Geoffrey, help me to find him."
Geoffrey had taken his hand away in a hurry. He contemplated her with cold reproof. It did not trouble her. She was giving all her attention to Harry; gay, malicious eyes challenged him to declare himself, mocked him for his modesty, vaunted what she had to give.
"Damme, this is madder and madder yet," Hadley broke in. "Who is your Orlando Furioso that's a champion of dames and too haughty to ride in their carriage; that ties up highwaymen and forgets to tell the constable where he left 'em? Odso, I thought I knew most of the fools in these parts, but there's one bigger than I know."
"Dear Alison—I could never have survived it—but you are so strong—and what a person! My dear, I could not bear to think of him. A rude, low fellow, to be sure," Thus Lady Waverton coherently.
Alison laughed. "I doubt I'm not so delicate," Then she leaned towards Harry. "Well, and you? Come, Mr. Boyce, why leave yourself out?"
"I beg pardon, ma'am?"
She made an impatient sound. "And what do you think of my hero?"
"I wonder who the gentleman was, ma'am," Harry said.
Her eyes fought a moment more with his bland, meaningless face. "Faith, I think he's a fool for his pains," said she.
"Grateful woman," Hadley grunted. "Humph. Spretae injuria formae, ain't it, Mr. Boyce? Give miss a construe."
Harry gave a deprecating cough instead.
"Oh, be brave, sir," she jeered.
"I am afraid it means 'the insult of slighting your beauty,' ma'am," said Harry meekly.
Lady Waverton straightened her back and looked ice at him. But the butler was at her elbow, whispering. "Colonel Boyce?" she repeated. "What Colonel Boyce? Who is Colonel Boyce?
"It might be my father," Harry suggested.
"Why, Harry, I never knew you had a father," Waverton sneered amiably.
"Is your father a colonel?" Lady Waverton was torn between incredulity of such presumption and rage at it.
"Not that I know of, my lady. But he has always surprised me."
"Shall we have him in, Geoffrey?" said Lady Waverton.
"My dear mother!" Geoffrey waved his hand to the butler. "Ask the gentleman to be so good as to join us."
Mr. Hadley turned in his chair, and over the remnants of the fowl and the calf's head directed a grim smile at Harry. "Thank you for a very pleasant dinner," said he.
A MAN OF MANY WORLDS
There came in a man of many colours. Dazzled eyes, recovering from their first dismay, might admit that his splendours were harmonious. A red coat with gold buttons, a waistcoat of gold satin embroidered in blue, breeches of blue velvet with golden garters were topped by a face burnt brown and a great jet-black periwig. He carried off all this with airy ease. "My lady, your most humble and devoted," he bowed to Lady Waverton. "Harry, dear lad," he held out his hands, and Harry, rising, found himself embraced and kissed on both cheeks.
"Colonel Boyce is it?" said Lady Waverton with some emphasis on the title.
"In the service of your ladyship," he laughed, and bowed to her again, and turned upon the company. "Pray present me, dear lady." She made some stumbling about it, but Colonel Boyce appeared to enjoy himself with an "I account myself fortunate, ma'am," for Miss Lambourne; with a "My boy's friends are mine, sir—and his debts too," for Geoffrey; and to Mr. Hadley, "You have served, sir?" with a look of respect at the empty sleeve.
Hadley nodded. "Ay, ay. The red field of honour. Well, there's no life like it."
"That's why I left it," Hadley grunted.
"Come, sir, draw up a chair and join us," Geoffrey said. "Be sure you are very welcome."
"Ten thousand thanks." Without enthusiasm Colonel Boyce looked at the calf's head. "But—egad, I am sorry for it now—but I have dined."
"At least you'll drink a glass of wine with us?"
"Oh, I can't deny myself the pleasure, sir." He drew up a chair, Geoffrey reached at a decanter, and so Lady Waverton rose and Alison after her.
Colonel Boyce started up. "But no—not at that price. Damme, that would poison the Prince's own Tokay. Nay, you are too cruel, my lady. I come, and you desolate the table to receive me. Gad's life, ma'am, our friends here will be calling me out for my daring to exist."
Lady Waverton was very well pleased. "Sir, you will let me give you a dish of tea. I warrant the men were already sighing to be rid of us."
"Then I vow they be blind," quoth Colonel Boyce, and opened the door, from which he came back with a laugh to his glass of port. Over drinking it he went through all the tricks of the connoisseur and ended with a cultured ecstasy.
"I see you are a man of the world, Colonel," Hadley sneered.
"A man of many worlds, sir," the Colonel laughed easily.
"I wonder which this is?"
"Why, this is the world of good company and good fellowship—" he smiled and bowed to Geoffrey—"of sound wine and sound learning."
"Sir, you are very good. But I hope my wine is better than my scholarship. This is our man of learning," he slapped Harry on the shoulder. "And Harry counts me a mere trifler, a literary exquisite, an amateur of elegances."
"If your scholarship has the elegance of your wine, Mr. Waverton, you do very well. I doubt my Harry is no judge of the graces. He has always been something of a plodder."
"Have I?" Harry found his tongue. "How did you know?"
The Colonel laughed. "He has me there, the rogue. The truth is, gentlemen, I have not seen him in these six years. Damme, Harry, you are grown no fatter."
"Servitors don't make flesh," said Harry.
"And soldiers don't make money. Still; there's enough for two now, boy."
"I am glad you have been fortunate," the tone suggested that though the father had quite enough for two; there would be none to spare for the son.
"Why, sir," Waverton was grandly genial, "I hope you don't mean to rob me of Harry. He's the most useful fellow, and, I promise you; I value him."
"Thank you very much," said Harry.
"I'll take you into my confidence, Mr. Waverton," the Colonel leaned across the table.
"Then I'll take my leave," said Hadley.
"No need, sir. At this time, we all know, there are higher claims on a man than a friend's or a father's."
"I feel like a pawn," Harry complained.
"Egad, sir, a pawn may save a queen or check a king."
"But do you suppose it enjoys it?"
"Are you away to the war, sir?" Geoffrey smiled. "I doubt our Harry has no turn for soldiering."
"You are always right, Mr. Waverton," Harry nodded at him.
"It is not only soldiers who fight our battles, Mr. Waverton," said the Colonel with dignity. "There's danger enough for a quick wit and a cool judgment far behind the lines. And you need not go to Flanders to find the war. It's flaming all over England, all over—France," he dropped the last word in a lower tone, as if his heat had carried him away and it was a blunder. He flung himself back and emptied his glass, and looked gloomily at the empty decanter. "Why, Mr. Waverton, you have made me into a babbler. It's time you delivered me to the ladies."
"Aye, aye," Hadley yawned. "Let's try another of the worlds."
They marched out, but the Colonel and Waverton, waiting on each other, were some distance behind the other pair.
"You must know I have often had some desire for the life of action," said Mr. Waverton.
To which the Colonel earnestly, "I have never known a man more fit for it," and upon that they entered my lady's drawing-room.
Miss Lambourne was singing Carey's song of the nightingale:
"While in a Bow'r with beauty blest The lov'd Amintor lies, While sinking on Lucinda's breast He fondly kiss'd her Eyes. A wakeful nightingale who long Had mourn'd within, the Shade Sweetly renewed her plaintive song And warbled through the Glade."
On the coming of the men the wakeful nightingale broke off her plaintive song abruptly.
Lady Waverton, who was again at full length on her couch, then opened her eyes. "Delicious, delicately delicious," she sighed. "Why did you stop, dear?" she controlled a yawn. "Oh, the men! Odious creatures!" she rose on her elbow and looked at them, and looked down at her dress and patted it.
Colonel Boyce accepted the challenge briskly, and marched upon her. "Egad, my lady, your name is cruelty."
"Who—I, sir? I vow I never had the heart to see any creature suffer."
"Nay, your very nature is cruelty. You exist but to torture us."
"Good lack, sir," says my lady, well pleased, "and must I die to serve your pleasure?"
"Why, there it is. We can neither bear to be with you nor to be without you. I protest, ma'am, your sex was made for our torture. 'Tis why you parade it and delight in it."
"Lud, sir, you are mighty rude," my lady simpered. "I parade my sex? Alack, my modesty!"
"Modesty—that's but another weapon to madden us. Fie, ma'am, why do you clothe yourself in such beauty but to flaunt upon our senses that sex of yours?" My lady was duly shocked and hid behind her fan. "Aye, there it is! We catch a whiff of paradise and straightway it is denied us. Our nightingale there is silent when we draw near. Our Venus here hides herself when our eyes would enjoy her. As His Grace said to me, you women are like heaven to a damned soul."
"You are a wicked fellow," said Lady Waverton with relish.
Geoffrey at his elbow put in, "'His Grace,' Colonel?"
"The Old Corporal, Mr. Waverton. The Duke of Marlborough."
"You have served with him, sir?"
Colonel Boyce gave a laugh of genial condescension. "Why, yes, Mr. Waverton, I stand as close to His Grace as most men."
After a moment of impressive silence, the Wavertons vigorously directed the conversation to the Duke of Marlborough. Colonel Boyce made no objection. In the most obliging manner he admitted them to a piquant intimacy with His Grace's manners and customs. He mingled things personal and high politics with a fascinating air of letting out secrets at every word; and, throughout, he maintained a tantalizing discretion about his own position. My lady and Mr. Waverton were more and more fascinated.
So that Miss Lambourne had good opportunity to try her maiden steel upon Harry. As soon as he came in, he withdrew himself to a cabinet of medals in a remote corner. Mr. Hadley approached the harpsichord and reached it just before it fell silent. Miss Lambourne looked up into his face.
"Yes, shall we lay our heads together?" said he.
"But I doubt mine would turn yours."
"If you'll risk it, ma'am, I will."
"La, sir, is this an offer? I protest I am all one blush."
"Then your imagination is bolder than mine, ma'am. I mean—"
"Oh, fie for shame! To disgrace a poor maid so! To betray her weakness! It is unmanly, Mr. Hadley. Sure, my father (in the general resurrection) will have your blood. I leave you to your conscience, sir," which she did, making for Harry.
Mr. Hadley, remaining by the harpsichord, contemplated them, and with his one hand caressed his chin. "It's a fascinating family, the family of Boyce," said he to himself.
Miss Lambourne sat herself down beside Harry before he chose to be aware of her coming. He started up and obsequiously drew away.
"You are very coy, Mr. Boyce," said the lady.
Harry replied, with the servile laughter of a dependent, "Oh, ma'am, you are mocking me."
"Tit for tat"—Alison's eyes had some fire in them.
"Lud, now, don't be tedious. Sir, the house of Waverton is entranced by your splendid father: and Charles Hadley (as usual) is entranced by himself. You have no audience Mr. Boyce. Stop acting, and tell me—what is wrong with me?"
Harry considered her with calm criticism. "It's not for me to tell Miss Lambourne that she is too beautiful."
"Indeed, I thought you had more sense."
"Too beautiful," Harry persisted deliberately; "too beautiful to be good company."
"That will not serve, sir. You are not so inflammable. Being more in the nature of a tortoise."
"If you had a flaw or so: if your nose had a twist; if your cheeks had felt the weather; if—I fear, ma'am, I grow intimate. In fine, if you were less fine, you would be a comfort to a man. But as it is—permit the tortoise to keep in his shell."
"I advise you, Mr. Boyce—I resent this."
Harry bowed. "I dare to remind you, ma'am—I did not demand the conversation."
"The conversation!" Her eyes flashed. "What do I care if a lad's impudent? Perhaps I like it well enough, Mr. Boyce. There is more than that between you and me. You have done me something of a service, and you'll not let me avow it nor pay you. Well?"
"Well, ma'am, you're telling the truth," said Harry placidly.
The lady made an exclamation. "I shall bear you a grudge for this, sir."
"I am vastly obliged, ma'am."
The lady drew back a little and looked at him full, which he bore calmly. "I suppose I am beneath Mr. Boyce's concernment."
"Not beneath, ma'am. Above. Above. Do you admire the Italian medals? They are of a delicate restraint," He turned to the cabinet and began to lecture.
Miss Lambourne was not repulsed. He maintained a steady flow of instruction. She waited, watching him.
By this time Colonel Boyce was growing tired of his Duke of Marlborough and his State secrets, and seeking diversion. "Odds fish, it's a hard road that leads to fortune. You are happy, Mr. Waverton. You were born with yours."
"I conceive, sir, that every man of high spirit must needs take the road to fame."
"A dream of a shadow, Mr. Waverton," said the Colonel, with melancholy grandeur. "'Take the goods the gods provide you,'" he waved his hand at the crowded opulence of the room and then, smiling paternally, at Miss Lambourne.
Lady Waverton simpered at her son. He chose to ignore the hint. "Why, Colonel, if a man is happily placed above vulgar needs, the more reason—"
"Vulgar needs! Oh, fie, Mr. Waverton. A divine creature." Colonel Boyce looked wicked, and his easy hand designed in the air Miss Lambourne's shape.
Lady Waverton tittered. Geoffrey blushed, and "You do me too much honour sir, indeed," he stammered.
Colonel Boyce turned smiling upon Lady Waverton. "I vow, ma'am, a man hath twice the modesty of a maid."
"You are a bad fellow," said Lady Waverton, very well pleased.
"You go too fast, sir;" with so much mirth about him Geoffrey feared for his dignity. "There is nothing between me and Miss Lambourne."
The Colonel shook his head. "I confess I thought better of you, sir. What, is miss her own mistress?"
"Miss Lambourne has no father or mother, sir."
"And her face is her fortune? Egad, 'tis the prettiest romance!"
Geoffrey and his mother laughed together. "Not quite all her fortune, sir. She is the only child of Sir Thomas Lambourne."
"What! old Tom Lambourne of the India House?" Colonel Boyce whistled. He looked with a new interest at her as she stood by Harry, absorbing the lecture on medals, and as he looked his face put on a queer air of mockery. This he presented to Geoffrey. "Something of a plum, sirrah. Well, well, some folks have but to open their mouths."
Mr. Waverton, not quite certain whether the Colonel ought to be so familiar, concluded to be pleased, and laughed fatuously. During which music the butler announced "Mrs. Weston."
Lady Waverton and Geoffrey exchanged a glance of disgust. Lady Waverton murmured, "What a person!" It escaped their notice that Colonel Boyce had stiffened at the name. His full face lost all its geniality, all expression. He was for the first time singularly like his son.
Mrs. Weston was Alison's companion of the coach, a woman of middle age, inclining to be stout; but her face was thin and lined, belying her comfortable aspect,—a wistful face which had known much sorrow, and had still much tenderness to give.
Lady Waverton put out a languid and supercilious hand. "I hope you are better."
"Thank you. I have not been ill."
"Oh, I always forget."
"Your servant, ma'am." Geoffrey bowed.
"Oh,"—Lady Waverton turned on her elbow. "Colonel Boyce—Mrs. Weston, Alison's companion. Faith, duenna, I think."
"Your most obedient, ma'am." Colonel Boyce bowed low.
Mrs. Weston stared at him, seemed to try to speak, said nothing, and hurried across the room.
"Alison, dear, are you ready?" her voice sounded hoarse.
"Am I ever ready?" Alison laughed. "Weston, dear, we are finding friends here;" she pointed to Harry.
Colonel Boyce had followed. He laid his hand on Harry's shoulder: "My son, ma'am," said he.
Mrs. Weston's eyes grew wide, and her face was white and drawn, and she swayed. As Harry bowed to her, a lacquered box was swept off the table with a great clatter, and Colonel Boyce cried, "Odds life, Harry, you are a clumsy fellow. Here, man, here," and made a great commotion over picking it up.
Alison had her arm about Mrs. Weston: "Why, Weston, dear, what is it? Are you seeing a ghost?" She laughed. "Pray, Mr. Boyce, come to life."
"I ask pardon, ma'am." Harry rose with the box.
"'Bid me to live and I will live,'" said the Colonel, with a grand air.
"Come away, dear, come," Mrs. Weston gasped, in much agitation.
"Why, Weston, he is not our highwayman, you know," Alison was still laughing, and then seeing her distress real, took it in earnest. "You are shaken, poor thing. Come!" She mothered the woman away and, turning, called over her shoulder—
"Revanche, Mr. Boyce." There was an explanation to Lady Waverton: poor Weston had been so alarmed by the highwaymen that she was not fit to be out of her bed, and anything alarmed her; even Mr. Boyce; so dear Lady Waverton must forgive them. And Geoffrey took them to their carriage.
"What a person!" said Lady Waverton.
Mr. Hadley came out of his corner and looked Harry up and down with dislike. "Let me know when you play the next act, Mr. Boyce," he said, and turned to Lady Waverton. "My lady, I beg leave to go with my friends."
A GENTLEMAN'S PURSE
In a small, bare room Colonel Boyce sat himself down on a pallet bed and made a wry face at his son. "My poor, dear boy," he said, and shifted uneasily, and looked round at the stained walls and shivered. "It's damp, I vow it's damp," he complained.
"Oh yes. It's damp after rain, and it's hot after sun, and it's icy after frost. It's a very sympathetic room," said Harry.
"They are barbarians, these Wavertons. I vow they give their horses better lodging."
"Oh yes. I am not worth so much as a horse," said Harry.
"Lud, Harry, don't whine,"—his father was irritated. "Have some spirit. I hate to hear a lad meek."
"I thought you did," said Harry.
The Colonel laughed. "Oh, I am bit, am I? Tant mieux. But why the devil do you stay here?"
"Now why the devil do you want to know?" said Harry.
"No, that is not kind, boy."
"Oh, Oh, are we kind?"
"My dear Harry, I have not seen you for six years, and I have not come now to quarrel."
"Then why have you come?" said the affectionate son.
"You are a gracious cub." Colonel Boyce would not be ruffled. "When I saw you last, Harry—"
"You borrowed a shilling of me. I remember I was glad that I had not another."
"You can have it back with interest now. There is plenty in the purse, Harry, and half of all mine is yours."
"You have changed," Harry said. "Odds life, Harry, bear no grudges. I dare say I was hard in what you remember of me. Well, things were hard upon me and I lived hard. You shall find me mellow enough now."
"Hard? I don't know that you were hard. I thought you were as cold as ice. I believe, sir, I am still frozen."
"Egad, Harry, you must have had a curst childhood."
"Oh, must we be sympathetic?" said Harry.
"You're right, boy. The past is past. 'Tis your future which is the matter. So again—why do you stay here?"
Harry laughed. "They give me bed and board, and a shilling or two by the month."
"Bed?" His father shifted upon it. "A bag of stones, I think. And for the board—bread of affliction and water of affliction by what I saw of the remains. Egad, Harry, they are savages, these Wavertons."
"I did not hear you say so to madame. And Geoffrey is not a bad fellow as far as he has understanding."
"A dolt, eh? He might take a woman's eye, though. These big dreamy fellows, the women hanker after them queerly. Take care, Harry." He looked knowing. "Bed and board—bah, you can do better than that. Now what do you think I have been doing?"
"Something profitable, to judge by your genial splendours. Have you turned highwayman?"
"You all talk about highwaymen in this house," said the Colonel with a frown and a keen glance.
"Why, are you really a colonel?"
"Faith, you may come see my commission,"—Colonel Boyce was not annoyed,—"and, egad, share my pay." He pulled out a fat purse and thrust some guineas upon Harry. "Don't deny me now, boy," he said, with some tenderness.
"I never meant to," said Harry, and counted them. "But how long have you been a soldier? I never knew you were anything."
"I have been with his Grace of Marlborough in every campaign since Blenheim. Do you think it's a good service, Harry?" he smiled at his own opulence.
"For a versatile man," said Harry, and looked at his father curiously.
"Why, I can take the field as well as another. Egad, when Vendome fell back from Oudenarde I was commanding a battalion. But it is not in the field that my best work is done."
"Faith, I had guessed that," Harry said.
"You have a sharp tongue, Harry. It's a dangerous weakness. Be careful to grow out of it. Then I think you may do well enough."
"In your profession, sir? To be sure, you flatter me."
"In my profession—" His father looked at him keenly. "I am not sure. Maybe you can do better, which will be well enough. Now, what can you do? You can use a sword, I suppose, though you wear none?"
Harry shrugged. "I know the rigmarole, the salutes; I could begin a duel, par exemple. It's the other man who would end it."
"Duels—bah, only dolts are troubled with them. You must learn to hold your own in a flurry. You can ride, I suppose?"
"If the beast has a mane."
"Humph. You speak French?"
"As we speak it in England."
"Yes." His father nodded. "When a man is no fool, he finds his profit in not doing things too well. Well, Harry, are you Whig or Tory—Jacobite or Hanoverian?"
"Whichever you like, sir."
"By the Lord, you take after me mightily. Now look 'e, thus it is. The Queen grows old. She eats too well and drinks too well, and she has the gout. It's common among all who know her ways that she cannot last long. The poor soul will not be wise at dinner. But even if she should last, we are in an odd case. For Anne hath a conscience as well as a stomach, and it seems they grow together. As the old lady gets fatter, she feels remorse. When she's tearful after dinner now she asks her women what right she has to be queen and keep a good cellar while her poor half-brother Prince James lives in exile on vin ordinaire."
Harry shrugged his shoulders. "'Poor, dear lad,' says she, 'and to be sure I am a sad, bad woman. But I think I'll die a queen.' What then, sir?"
"I don't say you are wrong, Harry. She's more like to drown the lad in tears than right him. And meanwhile our rightful king, James the Pretender, is left to his vin ordinaire. Faith, it's a proper liquor, for rightful heirs which can't right themselves. And yet there is a chance. The Queen has always been religious, and when a woman hath religion she may play the devil with your reason any minute. But here is what's more likely. You know when an old fellow hath played the knave with some wardship or some matter of trust, often he holds fast to it all his life and then seeks to commend himself to the day of judgment by bequeathing his spoils to those from whom he stole them. Well, it's whispered among them that know her that Madame Anne will do her possible to make Prince James King when she is gone."
"A dead Queen is but a corpse," said Harry. "When she is gone 'twill not be for her to say who shall reign."
"That's half a truth. You know the law is so that Prince George of Hanover should be the King. About him no man knows anything save that he hath a vile taste in women. I do suspect Marlborough is in the right—he has a nose for men—when he saith there is nought to know. Well, we tried a Dutchman once for our King and liked him ill enough. Who is to say that we shall like a German better? Now Prince James—he is half an Englishman at least, though they say he has his father's weakness for priests. I'll not hide from you, Harry, that I am in the confidence of some great men. It's laid upon me to go to France with an errand to Prince James."
"I suppose that is high treason, sir."
Colonel Boyce smiled queerly. "You see how I trust you, Harry. Bah, you are not frightened of words. Who is the worse for it, if I find out what's Monsieur's temper and how he would bear himself if he were King?"
"And what he would pay any kind gentlemen who chose to turn Jacobites apropos."
"If you like." Colonel Boyce laughed. I promise you, Harry, there are great men in this. Now I need a trusty fellow to my right hand: a fellow who can talk and say nothing: a fellow who is in no service but mine: and all the better if he hath some learning to play the secretary. So I thought of you. And since it may carry you to something of note, I chose you with right good will."
"Do you wonder that you surprise me?"
"I profess you're not generous, Harry. It's true enough, I have done little for you yet. But the truth is I could do nothing. As soon as I have it in my power, I come to you—"
"And offer me—a game at hazard."
"Why, Harry, you're not a coward?"
"Faith, I can't tell. Perhaps I will go with you. But I have no expectation in it."
"I suppose you have some here," his father sneered. "What do they call you? You seem to be something better than Master Geoffrey's valet and a good deal worse than my lady's footman."
"Why, I believe you have lost your temper." Harry laughed. "Oh, admirable sight! Pray let me enjoy it! The father rages at his son's ingratitude!"
But Colonel Boyce had quickly recovered his equanimity. "They used to tell me that I was a cold fellow. But I vow you are a very fish. So you have half a mind to stay here, have you? Well, I bear no malice."
"It is only half a mind," Harry said. "Are you in a hurry?"
"Oh, you may sleep on it. Damme, I suppose there is little to do here but sleep. What does Master Geoffrey want with you? He is old to keep a tame schoolmaster."
"I listen to his poetry."
"Oh Lud!" said Colonel Boyce, with sincere sympathy. "I suppose they are wealthy folk, your Wavertons. Do they keep much company?" Harry shrugged. "Who is this Mrs. Weston?"
"I never saw her before." Harry paused, and then with a laugh added—"before yesterday."
"That's a fine woman, her mistress. Do you do anything in that quarter, sirrah?"
"Why should you think so?"
"She was willing enough that you should try."
"She is meat for my betters," said Harry meekly.
"For Master Geoffrey?" The Colonel looked knowing. "Do you know, Harry, I think Master Geoffrey is a pigeon made to be plucked. Well. What was the pretty lady's talk about highwaymen?"
Harry looked at his father for some time. "The truth is, I don't understand Benjamin," he said at last. "I wonder if you will. Faith, sir, here is a pretty piece of family life. The good son confides in his father alone of all the world."
"Go on, sir," Colonel Boyce chuckled. "I play fair."
So Harry told his tale of Benjamin and Benjamin's companion and their disaster. It was that appearance in the crisis of the fight of other gentlemen on horseback which most interested Colonel Boyce. "So they went in pursuit of the fellow who had fled and they never came back again." He looked quizzically at his son. "These be very honest gentlemen."
"Why, sir, I thought nothing of that. They were plainly travelling at speed. I suppose they missed him, and had no time to waste in searching."
"Then why o' God's name did he not come back to help his fellow? He was mounted, he was armed, and only you and your cudgel against him. Bah, Harry, do not be an innocent. Consider: these fellows went after him at speed. He cannot have been far away. It is any odds that he had his bolting horses in hand before he had gone two furlongs. Then—allow him some sense—then he must have turned and come back for his friend. And then these other honest gentlemen swept down on him. Well. Why have you heard no more of them or him?"
"Faith, sir, you are right," Harry conceived for the first time some admiration for his father. "I had missed that: and, egad, it is the chief question of the puzzle. But—"
"Puzzle! Oh Lud, there's no puzzle. They were all one gang, these fellows."
Harry laughed. "Then there was not much honour among the thieves. They abandoned their Benjamin to me with delight."
"Ah, bah, you do not suppose they were out for such small game as your pretty miss. They would not work in a gang to stop a simple, common coach, be it never so rich. Come, Harry, use your wits. Did you hear of any great folks on the road yesterday?"
Harry made an exclamation. "Odds life, sir, you would make a great thief-catcher. You have hit it. There was your friend, the Duke of Marl-borough, stuck in the mud below Barnet Hill." And he told that part of the story.
"Humph. So they came too late," his father said. "You see how it is. This gang was charged to stop his Grace, and was something slow about it. The two first, your Benjamin and his friend, I suppose they should have held the Duke's fellows in play till the others came up. They missed him, or they shirked it, and instead, tried to stay their stomachs with some common game. The rest of the gang would be well enough pleased that you should baste Benjamin while they hurried on after the Duke. Did you mark any of them, what like they were?"
"Not I. I was too busy with Benjamin."
"And your pretty miss, eh? A pity. But it's well enough for your first affair."
"First? Why, am I to spend my life tumbling with gentlemen of the road?"
"And a profitable, pleasant life too, if you use your wits."
Harry opened his eyes. "Do you know it well, sir? Now, what I don't understand is why a gang of highwaymen should appoint to set upon the Duke of Marlborough. It's dangerous, to be sure—"
"You will understand why, if you come to France," said Colonel Boyce, with a queer smile. "There be many would pay high for a sight of his Grace's private papers," and he laughed to himself over some joke. "Nay, but you have done very well, Harry," he condescended. "I like this business of leaving Benjamin tied up on the road. 'Tis damned nonsense, to be sure, but it has an air, a distinction. Your pretty miss will like that. And I judge you have not told the Wavertons you were the hero, nor let miss tell them. 'Tis your little secret for yourselves. A good touch, Harry. Odds life, I begin to be proud of you. I suppose you will soon go pay your respects—to Mrs. Weston." He laughed heartily.
Harry was not amused. "Do you know, I think I like you much less than you like me," he said.
Colonel Boyce seemed very well content.
THE WORLD'S A MIRACLE
Colonel Boyce was established in the house, a guest of high honour.
Harry, dazed at the mere fact, could not be very sure how it had happened or why. The Wavertons, mother and son, had assaulted the Colonel with hospitality—for a night—for another—for longer and longer—and he, appearing at first honestly dubious, remained with a benign condescension.
There is no doubt that, in an honourable way, Lady Waverton was fascinated by Colonel Boyce. She saw nothing coarse in his highly-coloured manners, suspected no guile in his flattery or his parade of importance. Harry, who had never supposed her a wise woman, was surprised by her complete surrender. He had credited her with too much pride to succumb to flattery, which was to his taste impudently gross. But he was not yet old enough to allow that other folks might have tastes wholly unlike his own, and he had himself—it is perhaps the only trait of much delicacy in him—a shrinking discomfort under praise.
Colonel Boyce took his victory with a complacency which Harry thought oddly fatuous in a man so acute.
"Egad, the old lady would go to church with me to-morrow if I asked her;" he laughed, and seemed to think that in that at least my lady showed sense.
"You had better take her, sir," said Harry, with a sneer. "I know she has a good dower. And a fool and her money are soon parted."
"Damme, Harry, you are venomous!" For the first time in their acquaintance Colonel Boyce showed some signs of smarting. "What harm have I done you? No, sir, you have a nasty tongue. I intend the old lady no harm, neither. What if she has a tenderness for me? I suppose that does not make me a fool."
"To be sure, sir, I did not know your affection was serious." Harry laughed disagreeably.
"I believe you would not miss a chance to say a bitter thing though it ruined you, Lud, Harry, if you can't be grateful, don't be a fool too. What a pox are your Wavertons to me? I don't value them a pinch of snuff. What I am doing, I am doing for you. You know what you were when I found you—no better than a footman out of livery. Now, they treat you like a gentleman."
"And all for the beaux yeux of my father. Well, it's true, sir. But I don't know that I like any of us much the better for it."
To his great surprise his father looked at him with affectionate admiration. "Egad, you take that tone very well," said he. "It's a good card. Maybe it's the best with the women."
Harry had to laugh. "I think you have the easiest temper in the world, sir."
"Aye, aye. It has been the ruin of me."
And so they parted the best of friends. Indeed Harry had never liked his father so well or felt so much his superior. Thus from age to age is filial affection confirmed.
But he had to allow some adroitness in his father. Not only Lady Waverton, but Geoffrey too, succumbed to the paternal charms. That was the more surprising. Geoffrey, behind his vanity and his affectation, was no fool. He had also a temper apt to dislike any man who made a show of position or achievement beyond his own. Yet he hung upon the lips of Colonel Boyce. What they gave him was indeed a pleasing mixture—secrets about great affairs flavoured with deference to his ingenious criticisms. There was something solid about it, too. The Colonel, displaying himself as a man of much importance, perpetually hinted that only the occasion was needed for Mr. Waverton to surpass him by far, and to that occasion he could point the way. It appeared to Harry that his father had in mind to enlist Geoffrey for the proposed mission to France, or some other scheme unrevealed. And being unable to see any reason for wanting Geoffrey as a man, he suspected that his father wanted money.
He saw clearly that nobody wanted him, and was therewith very well content. At this time in his life he asked nothing better than to be left alone with his whims and the open air. He covered many a mile of sticky clay in these autumn days, placidly vacant of mind, and afterwards accounted them the most comfortable of his life.
Mr. Waverton's house was set upon a hill, at one end of a line of hills which now look over the wilderness of London, falling steeply thereto, and upon the other side, to northward and the open country, more gently. In the epoch of Harry Boyce those hills were all woodland—pleasant patches still remain,—and if the need of great walking was not upon him he was often pleased to loiter through their thickets. It was on a wild south-westerly day when the naked trees were at a loud chorus that Alison came to him.
The dainty colours of her face laughed from a russet hood, russet cloak and green skirt wind-borne against her gave him the delight of her shape.
"'Stand, sir, and throw us that you have about you,'" she cried.
"You're poetical, ma'am."
"I vow not I. I say what I mean. There's an unmaidenly trick. And, faith, I am here to rifle you, Mr. Boyce."
"Wish you joy, ma'am. What of?"
"Of your conceit, to be sure. Have you anything else?"
"I have nothing which could be of any use to Miss Lambourne. So God knows why she runs after me."
"Oh, brave!" Miss Lambourne was not out of countenance. "'Tis a shameless maid indeed which runs after a man"—she made him a curtsy. "But what is the man who runs away from a maid?"
Harry Boyce cursed her in his heart. She was by far too desirable. The rain-fraught wind had made the dawn tints of her clearer, lucent and yet more delicate. Her grey eyes danced like the sunlight ripples of deep water. Her lips were purely, brilliantly red. She fronted him and the wind, flaunting the richness of her bosom, poised and strong. She seemed the very body of life. For the first time he felt unsure of himself. "Did you come to call names, ma'am?" he growled.
"I allow you the privileges of a gentleman, Mr. Boyce."
"Gentleman? Oh Lud, no, ma'am. I am an upper servant. Rather better than the butler. Not so good as the steward."
"It won't serve you, sir. You have insulted me, and I demand satisfaction." She drew off her gauntleted glove and flicked him in the face with it. "Now will you fight?"
"Oh, must we slap and scratch then?" Harry flushed darker than the mark of the glove. "I thought we had been fighting."
Miss Lambourne laughed. "You can lose your temper then? It's something, in fact. Yes, we have been fighting, sir, and you don't fight fair."
"Who does with a woman?" Harry sneered. "I cry you mercy, ma'am. You are vastly too strong for me. Let me alone and I ask no more of you."
To which Miss Lambourne said, very innocently, "Why?" Harry looked up and saw her beautiful face meek and appealing, with something of a demure smile in the eyes. "Come, sir, what have I asked of you? You have done me something of a great service. There was a man handling me—do you know what that means? "—she made a wry face and gave herself a shaking shudder—"You rid me of him, and with some risk to your precious skin. Well, sir, I am grateful, and I want to show it. Odds life, I should be a beast did I not. I want to thank you and to sing your praises—to yourself also perhaps. And you are pleased to be a churl and a boor."
"In effect," said Harry coolly. "Egad, ma'am, let me have the luxury of hating you. For I am the Wavertons' gentleman usher and you are the nonpareil Miss Lambourne, vastly rich and—" he ended with a shrug and a rueful grin.
"And—?" Miss Lambourne softly insisted.
"And damnably lovely. Lord, you know that."
"I thank God," said Miss Lambourne devoutly.
"Is it true, Mr. Boyce—do the meek inherit the earth?" She held out her hands to him, one bare, one gloved, she swayed a little towards him, and her face was gentle and wistful. "Nay, sir, I ask your pardon. Call friends if you please and will please me."
Harry lost hold of himself at last. The blood surged in him, and he caught at her and kissed her fiercely.
It was he who was embarrassed. As he stood away from her, eyeing her with a queer defiant shame, she smiled through a small matter of a blush, and breathing quickly said: "What does it feel like, sir?"
"The world's a miracle," Harry said unsteadily and would have caught her again.
She turned, she was away light of foot, and in a moment through the wind he heard her singing to a tune of her own the child's rhyme:
"Fly away, Jack, Fly away, Jill, Come again, Jack, Come again, Jill."
HARRY IS NOT GRATEFUL
Where the lane from Fortis Green crosses the high road there stood an ale-house. On the wettest days, and some others, the place was Harry's resort. Not that he had a liking for ale-house company—or indeed any company. But within the precincts of the Wavertons' house tobacco was forbidden and—all the more for that—tobacco he loved with a solid devotion. The alehouse of the cross roads offered a clean floor, a clean fire, air not too foul, a tolerable chair, a landlord who did not talk, and until evening, sufficient solitude. There Harry smoked many pipes in tranquillity until the day when on his entry he found Mr. Hadley's sardonic face waiting for him. He liked Charles Hadley less than many men whom he more despised. Nobody in a position just better than menial can be expected to like the condescending mockery which was Mr. Hadley's metier. But Harry—it is one of his most noble qualities—bore being laughed at well enough. What most annoyed him was Mr. Hadley's parade of a surly, austere virtue. He did not doubt that it was sincere. He could more easily have forgiven it if it had been hypocritical. A man had no business to be so mighty honest.