Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
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After Waterloo, Buonaparte hurried back to Paris, and the next morning was virtually asked to abdicate by a deputation of the Chamber. This he did; and retired to Malmaison: but the Provisional Government, embarrassed by his proximity, sent General Becker to “accompany” him away to Rochefort and here the trapped little Titan, after a brief vain hope of running the blockade of English ships to America, trusted himself to his enemies, and embarked with his suite of forty on the Bellerophon, having first written to the Prince Regent these words:
“I come, like Themistocles, to cast myself upon the hospitality of the British people”—though, of course, Themistocles had never done that: but it was the day of large phrase, and reference to the classics.
Napoleon's hope, apparently, was some English country-seat, where he might lord and luxuriate a space, till the next lion-spring to France, and upheaval of the world.
What really happened we know: he was not allowed to land: but on the responsibility of the British Ministry was transferred, near Plymouth, to the Northumberland, and, with only three adherents, packed off to St. Helena.
Certainly, this was as high-handed a piece of business as possible; it was coarse, it was treacherous, it was savage—and it was wonderfully wise.
At all events, Bony raved largely: “I hereby solemnly protest in the face of Heaven and mankind,” wrote he, “against the violence that is done me. I voluntarily came on board the Bellerophon:—I am not the prisoner, I am the guest, of England. I came at the invitation of the Captain himself (this was true!) to place myself under the protection of England, with full trust in the sacred rights of hospitality. If the Government only wished to lay a snare for me, it has forfeited its honour, and disgraced its flag. An enemy who made war for twenty years against the English people has come spontaneously, in the hour of misfortune, to seek an asylum under their laws; what greater proof could he give of his esteem and confidence? And how has England replied? She pretended to hold out a hospitable hand: but when this enemy gave himself up, he was immolated! I appeal to History!”—and so on.
All this had not the least effect upon the British people, into whose soul the iron of Bony had well entered.
But what he said was quite true: and upon the French people it had an effect!
The Northumberland was not half-way to St. Helena when Buonaparte, throughout the length and breadth of France, acquired a glamour which was partly that of Romulus, the god, and partly that of Stephen, the martyr.
The Hero, murdered, becomes a Saint; then admiration rises into Awe, and veneration kindles into Religion.
Men said: “How has he been sacrificed—for us!” With this realisation of the sacrificial, the mind has reached out into the transcendent, and is in a state of Piety. There was instituted, indeed, no public worship and apotheosis of Buonaparte, as in the case Buddha, Mahomet, etc.:
but only because he was tthe god of a modern, western nation: and there was private worship and apotheosis enough.
By the time he reached St. Helena, at least seven Secret Societies had sprung into existence in Paris, at which the members, on entrance and exit, knelt uncovered before a statue of the hero.
The aim of all these associations was either the practical one of getting Napoleon out of St. Helena, or the vaguer one of revenge: and in both cases the mind turned naturally to one man: the Duke of Wellington.
The practical ones said in effect: “Hostage for hostage! let us seize their leader as they have seized ours: then, perhaps, we can exchange.” The vague ones said: “Man for man! let us seize their darling as they have seized ours: then, perhaps, we shall be comforted.”
For it was true that the Duke at that moment was as profoundly venerated (though less wildly adored) in England, as Napoleon in France.
Associated with those Secret Societies, or members of them, were, it is said, five members of the Provisional Government, six hundred and seventy-four ladies of the monde and Court, with old hands like Savary, Bertrand, Las Cases, Lallemand, the Duc de Rovigo, Gourgand, and Jacquiers of the Clarendon in London—Marshals, men with the Grand Cross, naval men, generals, old bed-chamber grooms, men-about-town, aristocrats, ouvriers, old Guards, the demimonde, every type of France.
It was the age of rough-and-ready “violence to the person”: in England, Sayer, the Bow Street officer, and the St. James' Watch House, knew well the 'prentice-kidnapping chimney-sweep; at Bartholomew Fair, wives were formally sold for seven-shilling pieces, with a wind-up of Blue Ruin and the cotillon; the Resurrection Men struck openly for higher pay, and “burked” (suffocated) to procure corpses; women abducted young boys and married them; the Prince Regent was playfully stoned in his phaeton, and had his eyes blacked by Lord Yarmouth; Buonaparte was kidnapped by the British Ministry. This conception, therefore, of the French Societies came naturally, was in the spirit of the air. And from the first they set about its execution with fanatic zeal.
In the end nothing of national importance came of it—unless we call “national” the destruction of Raddon Lighthouse. But because the whole incident so illustrates the seven-times tempered spirit of the Duke in that most awfully ticklish ordeal through which he had to pass, we give the details in fresh form.
One of these sworn enemies of the Duke was a young man of twenty-five, named Camille de Verdier, son of the Marquis de la Terville-Rochefoucauld, an emigré. The son, a fellow of iron grit, took to Republican views, and after seven years of exile in England, broke with his father, returned to France, and attaching himself to Court, was territorially reinstated. He dropped the de of his name, took part in the march to Moscow, was captured at Vittoria, brought to England, refused to be free on parole, escaped from the Medway hulk, was in the Staff at Waterloo, and accompanied Napoleon to Malmaison and Rochefort.
He was of strong character, but given to spasmodic passions. During his London life he had flamed for a fellow-exile, one Mdlle. d'Arblay, of Mansfield Street, a young lady of great beauty, once referred to in the Morning Chronicle as “that fair female of Family and Fashion whose genteel figure and elegant Paris deportment so adorn the magic Circle in which she shines.” This fair female had a head which thought, and a cold and ruthless heart, which yet could adore: her adoration being first Verdier, and secondly Napoleon, and that Republican France which had chased her parents: indeed, from her lips Verdier had caught a fiercer enthusiasm for the new Religion. She loved him: and on the death of her last parent, followed him to France. But when she yielded to his passion, the restless fellow almost ceased to pretend adoration; and they rather drifted apart.
On the 3rd February, 1816, he visited her at her house in the Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré. She came to him in the heavy salon Henri IV., stooping through a protracted curtsey; she being then a large, beautiful woman of twenty-seven years; Roman-profiled, with a flat forehead, lined from hair to nose with delicate frown; skin dead white; and blackest lax hair; and a plenteous figure of long-legged grace in her bosom-waisted robe.
She was all in black.
Verdier, who had not seen her for two months, kissed her perfunctorily, even while he said:
“Why the deuce are you in mourning, pretty Lise?”
They often talked together in English. “Why are you?” she replied.
He glanced at a brassard of crape on his left arm—a singular addition to a dandy attire of cut- away demi-surtout, tight pantaloons of stockinette, and splendid shoe-buckles; he being a rather small fellow, knit and agile, firm-lipped, with a wealth of wheaten hair, seraphically pretty, but with a sardonic stare of blue eye, and a habit of breathing a Jew's-harp whistle through white teeth-edges in a silent moment; and walking, his coat-tails swung freely from side to side.
In some minutes he had learned that Lise was a member of a Society called “Société du Sacrifice,” whose members bound themselves to wear mourning till “a certain illustrious Personage” had paid the forfeit of England's treachery.
He was surprised: for the same reason he wore mourning: and deeply as he knew the Parisian under-currents, he was not aware of any other Société than his own.
And he had this thought: if there are more than one, there may be more than two! For two months he worked hard, from La Villette to St. Cloud, with a grand idea, and a persistent industry: by the end of that time he was a member of seven Societies: there might be more, but he could glean no hint of them in casino, bureau, salon, cabaret, club, or Montmartre den. Now, however, he was satisfied. His dream was to amalgamate all those unearthed into a single force which would not fail.
The necessary formalities and precautions were, of course, innumerable, but the task not otherwise difficult; and at midnight of the 17th May, 1816, the first Chapter of the amalgamated bodies, present 1,217, at last took place in the caves of a lonely château at Garenne-Bezons, then country, now a Paris suburb. The members bore printed Notice Papers; a Board consisting of Presidents of the old Sociétés presided; the Society was named; a Roll read; Resolutions, Statutes, Agenda passed; and Officers elected. In the tangled old walled garden, before the portal, had been placed a stone statue of Napoleon, and in the dark cellar also, at the back of a rough-board estrade serving as platform, stood a gaunt crucifixion in wood of the Emperor on a black cross. The walls were draped in black. It illustrates the inherent crassness of the times, that members, in swearing, sipped from a chalice containing mixed blood and wine—a fit Napoleonic Sacrament, certainly; and after each subsequent meeting—they usually lasted till foreday—a veritable Black Sabbath of license appears to have transacted itself throughout the château (it was called Château Beconles-Giroflets, and still partly stands in the grounds behind an auberge). The President elected was M. Tombarelle, under the title of “Master” (he had been “Master” of two of the small Sociétés, and was a powerful Member of the Chamber); the Master Associate was the historic Lallemand; the Duc de Monflanquin was named Treasurer; Verdier's reward for his organising energies was the post of “Administrator”; the Secretary's name is somehow lost, but M. Albert Dupin, a gigantic naval man, who had been sub-lieutenant at Trafalgar, was made Sub-secretary and “Recruteur" (Recruiter?); Lise d'Arblay, with two others, were elected Soeurs Supérieures (the whole thing having a semi-religious character); while at the third Chapter, a man called Danda, a half-Spaniard, with a good deal of madness in his composition, was named Ship's-Captain.
By the end of June the Society was exceedingly wealthy; it had acquired the bleak Château Durand, seven miles from the Norman Coast near Montreuil, for its St. Helena; also, by secret purchase from the Government, it owned a splendid frigate-built two-decker of 1,080 tons, carrying 50 guns of 2 to 5,000 lbs. on spar and main deck, with a 500 lbs. weight of broad-side, and a twelve-knot speed. All the while, a Committee of Management was selling to members “Relics” of Napoleon—a piece of soap, a shoe, a brush, fetching prices like 25 to 40,000 francs—and funds accumulated beyond the possibility of use.
On the midnight of the 5th of August occurred the most sensational of the Chapters of the Society. In the midst of a speech by the Master, Verdier rushed with flushed brow into the room, leapt to the estrade, brushed the speaker aside, and waved before the members an English- printed sheet.
It was the Court Circular, and had been sent over by Jacquiers of the Clarendon. It contained the gossip that the Duke of Wellington meant to “escape from the no inconsiderable turmoil of the Life and Fashion of the Town during the whole month of September next, and had accepted an invitation of the Marquis and Marchioness of Elwell to pass four se'ennights in the placid and elegant Seclusion of Grandcourt.”
Grandcourt, Verdier said, was only twelve or fourteen kilometres from the South Coast! This was the awaited opportunity: and a scene of wild excitement ensued, till the assembly broke up on the Motion for an extraordinary Synod that day se'ennight, when drawings and plans would be submitted, and Resolutions adopted.
This was accordingly done; and by the end of the month, Verdier, Lise d'Arblay, big Dupin, the Marquis d'Artois, and three others, had chartered at Calais one of those sea-blue luggerprivateers used in the war, and passing through Dover, had installed themselves in London. They were the delegates of the Society: and to the brains of Verdier and Lise d'Arblay, in particular, the minuter planning of the undertaking seems to have been committed.
In the Morning Post of the 9th September appeared these words:
“—the amiable youth of Quality and Fashion, who has lately took the town by storm—who already has been satirised by a Rowlandson, and oded by a Walcot—whom Mr. Creaton, the auctioneer, must needs bless, Wigley's extol, and Tattersall's laud—the patron both of Cordiality and the Arts, etc.”
This panegyric referred to Verdier, who by this time was everywhere, and knew everyone. Long since, in London, he had acquired the knack of drink, and at the fifth of hock or port, with his sardonic smile, would see his man under the table. This alone made him something of a King. It was an age of notorieties, little social rags and alarums, easily gulled and dazzled. Verdier had set up for the Prince of Dandies (great Brummell had just gone under). He had £6 dinners at the Clarendon or Stephen's, followed by largesses of £1 bank-tokens for “perquisites” to waiters. He readopted his father's titles. He had denny, curricle, tilbury and chaise, and largely trotted his milk-white Hanoverian four-in-hand. He lounged at Owen's, the Bond Street pastry-cook, and danced at Almack's, and played macao at Brooke's, and whist in “the charmed circle of White's.” In three weeks he had fought two duels, and each time gallantly spared his man. One day he spurted, the admiration of the beau monde, on a gilt hobby-horse from Johnson's Repository in Long Acre to Bayswater, and back again to his rooms in Bolton Street, next door to Whattier's. Twice he did the 104 miles to Brighton and back in eight hours, breaking seven whips: and to what he did he took care to have witnesses. In the “Squeeze” at Rotton Row he went meteoric, siffling through his teeth-edges, amid the salutation of the crême de la crême. He was a man-about-town, to be met in the print-shops, at the Academy in Somerset Place, and where the new bibliomaniacs bid high, and at Miss Linwood's Leicester Square Exhibition of Needle-work, and at the Panoramas, and at Mrs. Salmon's the wax-works, and at the cock-pit, and the bull-baiting, and the prize-fight.
After three weeks, little transpired in the upper life of London which he did not hear; and into what friendship he chose he could enter.
His French associates, too, made a figure in the town, but not on the same scale; and Verdier appeared not to know them. As for Lise d'Arblay, she lay low in a house in Sweeting Alley near the Royal Exchange, only venturing out deep-veiled in the shade of an Oldenburg poke.
On the 4th September, at 9 a.m., the Duke of Wellington left Apsley house in his own travelling-coach and four, bound westward. London, then a large family (there were twelve millions in all Britain), knew, and came to howl: 'prentice and yoked milk-woman, the prevalent gipsy and the little coster-cart dog-drawn, Covent Garden basket-woman, wigged doctor, wigged parson, and the dandy who meant to return to bed till two, and an escort of light horse. And these, at the first sight of the curving beaver, roared and roared. He tipped a dry nod at the crowd, spoke some last words, foot on step, to a certain Lieutenant Opie, and, accompanied only by his host, Lord Elwell, was away, to be left by his escort-of-ceremony near Chiswick, but to be met at every station by the gentry and yeomanry of counties.
In the crowd, close by the berlin-door, was Verdier. They had not met, for the Duke was one of a set, of very high rank, who never frequented the Clubs, but would congregate in crony-circles at hotels, like naval Fladong's, military Stephen's, clerical Ibbetson's, and so on; and his habits were so regular, that a man in his “world” could readily avoid “knowing” him. So that, when the berlin rattled off, Verdier, with deep reverence, and out-waved hat, muttered: “To our better acquaintance, your Grace.”
But he was secretly uneasy: plans remained unmaterialised: and the time was at hand. However, that night, late, he knocked over a City beadle, lanthorn and all, with his racing curricle; and on a Sweeting Alley first-floor, solid with bourgeois mahogany, rushed, rather tipsy, into the presence of Lise d'Arblay.
“Victory, Lise,” he said, covering her face in his cocked hat where she sat at an old Antwerp harpsichord: “we have the whole.”
“You stifle me!” cried she, “I thought you never got fuddled.”
“In the legs, Lise, in the legs: never, damn me, in the head. I have been at that vile turfy hole of Limner's, and had three of port, two of negus, and four of gin-punch—give us a kiss, girl—”
“Faugh! you deteriorate in London,” said Lise: “could the Marquise de la Terville- Rochefoucauld hear her once chaste Camille, her most pious and intact Camille, recounting his gin-punches, what an ejaculation she'd let!”
“Be good enough to let the Marquise de la Terville-Rochefoucauld sleep sound in her grave, Lise. 'Tis all part of the game, is it not? Hark you, we've got this same illustrious Personage.”
“Why, yes. The man who will take down to him the War Office despatches I now know.”
“ Good, good,” went Lise softly.
“With him I have been tippling, and playing Under and Over Seven half the night.”
“Well, thank the good God, then! Who is he?”
“Lieutenant James Wootton Opie, of the Guards Artillery, Companion of the Bath, though never you'd dream it, Lise, Lise, I swear; a lout of lubberly demeanour replete with rodomontade and 'Odd Zookers!'; drinks purl and Sampson by the bumper as you water, my adored, and wears a tousled wig, and breeches-and-leg-boots, and a long face, and a big nose: so you have his portrait. I left him sitting in Limner's coffee-room, one leg sprawled to the devil in the air, his mouth bawling, his tongue lolling—”
“How did you discover—?”
“He was the last man the illustrious Personage spoke to on departing this morning: that gave me the thought, and at the Marchioness of Hertford's baIl to-night, I pumped Lord Sidmouth and he told me; then I unearthed the fellow himself at the London Tavern and 'Dash my wig! 'cried he, when I slapped his back, 'I thought I had killed you some years ago. By Goles, aren't you my friend Thingumbob, what's-his-name? eh, by Goles, damn me?' Well, I took him in tow, and he himself; told me he is despatch-officer to you know who. If once we get those despatches from him, you have the introduction you need.”
“But would this Opie be easily knocked on the head?”
“If necessary, I suppose. Is it necessary? We might get the papers from him somehow, and then lock him away somewhere till all is over.”
“But what a useless risk for no reason!” said Lise, with surprised eyes. “Locked away men escape, write, do a thousand things, I suppose? Dead men tell no tales.”
Her needle clicked in embroidery during a silence. “Ah, well, I suppose you are right,” said Verdier. “Knock the man on the head.”
“Never that, you know. We are not assassins, pretty. We can kill him in a duel, if necessary The first thing, of course, is to know the day and even hour of his departure Lise, you must make him your slave. Use the face and the smile, and twist the eyes about, eh? No need lying low any more: the great Personage is gone. Come out and shine for a week, my sibyl, and make the town talk. By the way, let's see the Grandcourt map: suppose we pass the night over it? time is going, going, Lise! You will need spend at least a se'en-night down there, before our men dare land. I want you to know every pebble from Grandcourt to the sea. The nights of the 19th and 20th will be moonless, one or other of those should be our night, without fault. Lise, Lise, those fair brows of thine have need to knit now to some purpose, and be wise as serpents and harmful as tigers, my Egypt Queen. All depends upon the lovely head —France—History—I. A French planet— how is that to your dainty liking? A Gallic Hindoostan—a Parisian Cathay. Come, there is something worth working for! And you and I can do it, if we like, I swear! Bring the drawing, then, and a tumbler of Jamaica—”
She sailed out, he tossing off a coat à la guillotine, low-collared to show stock and collar behind, drew gloves, loosened stays: and he sat siffling through his teeth-edges.
“Now,” said he, when she reappeared with coffee and plan, “we set to thinking, Lise, till our foreheads bladder out like Lord Derby's. Here is Grand-court Abbey, like a Maltese Cross: this drawing of Dupin's is certainly not exact, but it will do: here's the lake washing the south wing; here's the avenue of sycamores running south from the lake; here, twelve miles south, is the coast. Looking over the lake is the library. Two or three miles from the avenue lies the martello-
tower. As agreed, our men do not approach nearer the Abbey than the martello-tower, inside which they lie hid, till you bring the prisoner to them. Your idea of seizing him boldly in the Abbey, and killing every living thing is Napoleonic, Lise: but we must not be blind to the tremendous risk that some servant might escape to the villages, and have us overpowered before you reach the coast. There must be no risk. Not the least reason exists why the whole thing should not be certain as arithmetic beforehand: it is my will: I must have it so. Our problem, then, is to get the illustrious man from the Abbey to the martello at the right moment.”
“That's easy done as lighting the gas lights,” said Lise. “Provided you supply me with the Means, I have the whole schemed out in my head, and can have him like a mouse.”
“Say a trapped lion, audacious female. Give me kisses for that cruel, wanton heart. Do you love me still with the old flames, jade?”
“Ah, Camille—no, no. As if you merited such adoration—”
“Don't I love it, then, the love-sick soul? By Heavens, I saw a little dandyess this morning in the Mall—! There is something in the English type, after all— But to the business—the Means, you say. What means?”
After a silence she said: “Is this Lieutenant Opie married?
“Then I go down as his wife, privately married; and as his wife I take the despatches which you obtain from him; my entrée, for a definite reason, on a definite business, into the Abbey is the first End: and the despatches are the first Means.”
“That I understand: go on.”
“Has he any relatives, this Opie?”
“One, that I know of; ha, ha! and such an one, Lise!”
“'Pon my word, I only found it out this afternoon: tis exquisite: look here, Lise.” He reached for his coat, and drew one of Ackermann's prints from a pocket. It was a drawing by Woodforde of a girl in an Oldenburg poke: but beneath the poke was no human face, but the gross face of a pig. At the bottom appeared the words: “A Pig in a Poke.”
Lise uttered a dainty exclamation, half hypocritical, for the drawing was not new to her. It, and others like it, was then the rage in all the print-shops: and there ran a persistent rumour, and belief; in London that an actual pig-faced lady was then existing in some hidden nook of the town. Two or three even knew that in the rumour was truth.
“That lady,” said Verdier, “is the niece of Opie.”
Lise cried out: “Good, good! That is, if you can find her—”
“Oh, I know where she is. Of course, the drawing is an exaggeration: she is more like a rat than a pig, poor girl, and a good little soul, I'm told. I had it in great confidence from Willis, the old King's physician, at Whattier's. He has seen her. She is well-made, he avers, but has no chin, and is an imbecile—”
“Excellent! Where is she?”
“At Opie's house, No. 11 Bedford Square, next door to Lord Eldon's.”
“Oh, she is in Opie's keeping?”
'He is her only relative, and tenderly attached to her, Willis swears. He had her hidden in the country till the war was over, and then brought her here.”
“Could you kidnap her?”
“Easy enough. But why?”
“Don't you perceive what a Providence is in this creature? I have to get the vir illustrissimus from the Abbey to the martello: well and good; but that distance is no short one: I could not ask him to accompany me to the martello. I can ask him to accompany me into the long avenue, perhaps: his known gallantry makes that easy done. But from the avenue I could only get him further by evoking some passion of his mind: and I have long decided that that passion should be something in the nature of chivalry: how if he saw a cruelty in the doing and ran out to stop it, and the people committing it ran towards the martello? That is my general conception: the minutiæ can be planned as we proceed. But to make certain, the cruelty should be a shocking one, done by people of established ill-fame: and I have had the thought of gipsies, bearing a living person in a coffin to bury. But what living person? The best would be a relative of Opie's: for if I told the Duke, from the first, that a relative of Opie's had been kidnapped by gipsies, that would furnish a good reason for Opie's having entrusted the dispatches to me, his wife, since Opie would have gone hunting this lost relative; and also, if that relative had a striking peculiarity of person, and the peculiar coffined form was described before-hand to the Duke by, say, one of the gipsies disgusted with his tribe, then that would furnish an irresistible motive to the Duke to follow the miscreants; since, I suppose, the Duke and Opie are more or less friends—”
“Lise, you are Reason itself! See, hussy, I kiss your hand with kneeling: ah, that pleases her, then! 'Fore God, I do love you, Lise. But my head is full of. great affairs, my dear girl—you can't expect me to play the love-sick swain at such a juncture. It will do, that scheme of yours! I feel and perceive that it will. But the gipsies!— can they be trusted? and how would they behave to that poor afflicted female?”
“Oh, as to that, we cannot afford the luxury of qualms and compunctions, 'tis sure. She takes her chances. Charming, your considerateness, Camille, for all the world—and strange your mercilessness to one. What, you are not going? I am having some milk-punch brewed below stairs—”
“No! I am off. Quick and sure, girl! I have served under a man, Lise, who struck, when he struck, like Heaven's own Hammer: and I have his trick of Thunder, be Gad! Au r'voir!”
“But whither would you be flying at such an hour of the night?”
“The gipsies! But not now—”
“Yes— Oh, by the way, instal yourself to-morrow at the Foreign Hotel in Leicester Square, will you? At three I wait upon you there with Opie and some others to drink a dish of tea. Here— three signed cheques on Coutts'. Be sure retain the most genteel suite, with an apartment for carding: everything high-toned and elegant, no silver-plate—gold—and you in your gowns and ostrich-and-diamond headdress. And twist the eyes about, and let 'em see the white bust—au r'voir!”
Down he swaggered three steps at a time, and off he set, using the whip and siffling, flicking at everything, oil-lamp and belated staggerer, ward-constable, watchman, and darkling street-brawl. Soon he was careering in open country, and at about three in the morning sat on Hounslow Heath in one of those four-wheeled waggons, with tyres a foot wide, in which the poor, and the gipsy, travelled England. Around him spread a camp of fifty asses, panniers, dying fires, little carts and whiskies, mysterious sheeted masses, glints and streaks of romantic light, a baby-cry, and the free simplicity of the Bedouin. Here, at all times, were to be found three or four gipsy-camps.
Even with forty million inhabitants England is practically an uninhabited land. With twelve, there was “room for wandering.”
Before Verdier a man sat on a box, a sleeping child on each knee, a slipper and stocking on one leg, an ankle-jack and bandage on the other: a broad-faced, dark-bearded clown, whose wild black eyes had yet seen star-visions of which Fox and Selwyn, making yonder for Howard and Gibbs, the Jews, after a hard night at Brooke's, never once dreamed.
He and Verdier concocted and confabulated two whole fore-day hours: till Verdier, rising, said:
“You are certain, then, that you could handle a boat eight or ten miles on the sea?”
“Sure and certain, guv'nor: and done it oft and oft in the Cornwall reaches,” said the man. “So it is a bargain?”
“It is, guv'nor.”
“You'll be gentle, fellow, with that poor girl?”
“We will, guv'nor, we will.”
“Your name, sir?”
“Corrie LoveIl, guv'nor.”
“Well, I take you, Lovell, for an honest fellow.”
“Not much honesty about us poor folk, guv'nor: but faithful enough are we to those that cross our hand with the yellow stuff.”
“Very well said: you are an honest fellow. And now, the price of the whole.”
“Ah, that's it: the price, guv'nor—”
“Name a sum.
“Well, 'cod! taking all into consideration, I say— fifty golden guineas!”
“Tush! you have not to do with a St. Giles's pauper, fellow. Be somewhat less modest, sir.”
“Well, 'cod! you talk like a King, every inch: cod! I say a hundred and—twenty golden guineas!”
“You are mighty modest, friend! Well, say three hundred golden guineas for the whole, exquisitely done. You see, I am liberal. Here, meantime, are ten for earnest. The rest I hand you the moment that we step from the martello-tower and seize the gentleman: you can have one of your men hiding there, with mine, to receive it. Meantime, day and night from to-morrow, you have a man in waiting at Leicester Square near the Foreign Hotel.”
“Right! Only—here—a word in your ear: our tribe's been in this lair over a se'ennight, and the younger colts getting frisky to be away moorlanding. The wild blood, you know, and the straying itch, 'cod! Don't you keep 'em waiting too long—”
“You cat them into order. Three hundred golden guineas, sir. Zounds, I am sleepy. Till we meet again, Lovell—”
As he went away, he saw the scheme blossoming fair: nor could now even conceive of mishap. It was grey morning. Half-way towards his waiting curricle, he heard a singular sound—the roar of a lion; and turning, saw the square of a travelling-menagerie pitched close by the road.
It was so near him, that, at some spur of curiosity, he went and peered between two tarpaulin- flaps, to spy the animals.
Right before him, in a lion's cage, he saw a girl stand, whip in hand, evidently training the creature to do something: a darkly-flushed girl, hardly clad, with splendid golden eyes.
Had he not been stumbling drowsy, he would certainly have been adventurous: but he only muttered:
“Beauteous creature,” and went off nodding.
Two days afterwards (she so haunted him), he returned: but the menagerie was gone. It was his lot, however, to meet both menagerie and girl again.
Within three days Opie was as much under the spell of Lise d'Arblay as it was the duty of a Man of Fashion to be.
For when a pretty woman shows her ring, what can a poor man do?
Twice daily he visited “the Foreign”—before “the Squeeze,” and at night. At the Guards', on his entry now, his cheek-bones, new-rouged, drew from men the groan of “O Lord God!”, and the down-turned lips of comic nausea. It was as though rude old Blücher should smell sal- ammoniac, or an elephant wear ball-slippers. Opie's cheek-bones were no longer part of himself—his real self of dislocated teeth, all yellow, and rough exterior. He was nothing but a born soldier. After a wound at Salamanca, he had killed seven men, and then dropped. He could use his sword, he could drink, he could swear and be loud. Under his slashed bosom was, however, a kind and simple heart, and he would shower largesses upon the poor with vociferations, damn me, and curses. The Duke of Wellington secretly liked him, which proves that Opie was a gentleman somewhere inside. Each morning, with perfect tenderness, he would kiss a cheek which never, never received other kiss—his afflicted niece, that puckered, pink rat- face. He considered' it the duty of man to love, and win the heart, of every dashing female, ecod. Lise d'Arblay woke in his brain the lust of Cumberland corsets: but in this matter he achieved nothing: he had too much drunk. However, the lady was clearly his slave: for ogle she gave back ogle: a certain levity in her giggle no old campaigner could mistake: she intended to be adorable. Pity only that, after out-works and escarpment carried, he had to abandon the citadel for a time. On the 9th of the month, at a tête-à-tête in the afternoon, he said as much to her.
“My goodness, you are not leaving the town?” said Lise near him on a settee, splendid in tissue gown bordered with silver jonquils, and jewelled stomacher, a painting on satin before her which anon she bent to touch and finish.
“Alas! 'tis Fate's Decree, madam.”
“Then we part! Well, 'tis ever so—”
“For a time—” he touched her arm comfortingly—“for a time only: a se'ennight, ten days. madam, 'twill but add sauce to the goose when I have the honour to behold you again!”
“I also shall take myself off,” said Lise, weary and woe-begone: “I am sickened of the town.”
“Fie, fie. You wait—a se'ennight—ten days. Whither would you be going, flow?”
“Why, damn me—begging pardon before a lady— dull as stale porter, all of them! There you will find nothing just now agreeable to your inclinations. Have you seen the fashionable Brighton Herald, poking fun at the new gilt blocks of the Regent's yacht?”
“Oh—but—there is always the elegant Masquerade at the theatre, the novels, the gardens at Dandelion, the Assembly at the Rooms, the sprightly misses and beaux on the Cliffs, Parades, and Piers; at Bath, the pump-room,— “And in town! what have you! Ecod! The Satirical Prints! The Panharmonicon at Spring Gardens, and the Papyruseum at Soho! Vauxhall! why, Vauxhall alone, with its illuminations, bands, fire-works, and dancing—and the Park, odd Zookers! and the Clubs! and the fine writing, and the fine feeling, damn me; and the Rank, Fashion, Dash and Style of the town!—don't you go, now: zounds, you lose all, I swear, and gain nothing, madam.”
“I am firmly resolved, sir.”
“Then for how long? Madam, the question concerns my most intimate feelings.”
“Why, sir, you do me too much honour. I may be away a se'ennight—ten days—”
“Aha! And when do you go, now?”
“When do you go?”
“I go post the day after to-morrow morning at five by my private coach—“ Lise panted.
“Dear me, so soon?” said she: “the day after to-morrow morning at five? That is to say, on Thursday morning, the eleventh instant — at five? Is't so?”
“You have it! 'Tis so.”
“Must you go, sir? Heigh-ho!”
“I must, madam, damn me—begging pardon before a lady. You see, I am taking down some Departmental Despatches to my Chief at Grandcourt in Devon—”
“Then, sir, I shall certainly not be here to witness your departure. I bid adieu to London tomorrow morning, without fault.”
“Dash my wig!” thought Opie, “the female's love-sick as a mermaid. Why shouldn't I attack now?”
He attacked: but was interrupted by the announcement at the door of Lord Archibald Ingram: and soon Opie left the field to the new-coiner.
Ingram, of the Guards, was a fresh, tall, beardless youth, with a lung affection, and a stoop, and protective silk wrappings about the throat and chest. He was the brother of Lady Elwell, the hostess of the Duke of Wellington.
He had already been present at three of Verdier's choice dinners and all-night card-parties, and his young head and tongue were full of his new friendship with the Marquis de la Terville- Rochefoucauld, and the condescending amiable charms of Mdlle. d'Arblay—the Marquis's aunt.
Lord Archibald's “place” happened to be only twenty-three miles from Grandcourt; and the same hour that Verdier learned that fact, he had himself presented to the Guardsman, though without definite object.
But when he told Lise, she had said at once:
“That might be neatly turned to our account, surely. Would it not be a most desirable circumstance if the Duke were quite alone at Grandcourt, without host or hostess, on the 19th and 20th? It is well worth the trying for, at least.”
“Yes—proceed—I don't see—” said Verdier.
“If the Guardsman fell sick unto death at—what is the place?—Market Graddon—about the 17th, only twenty-three miles from Grandcourt, surely his sister, Lady Elwell, would go to him: and her husband might escort her for a day or two, leaving the illustrious guest alone. She at least would go, sure. We should be big boobies if we do not accomplish it.”
“Lise, Lise—but how have him sick, there and then?”
“D'Artois understands physic.”
“Set d'Artois up as a Harley Street quack— nothing is necessary save a wig, and a gold-top stick, for the cow-leech who attended my father had not even an Apothecary's Hall certificate. The Guardsman falls ill while drinking here; we put him to bed and call in d'Artois, who peremptorily orders him to the country, and is prevailed upon to accompany him to Market Graddon. D'Artois may then be trusted to have him at death's door by the 16th or 17th, and pack a messenger post to summon relatives at Grandcourt. 'Tis too easy to be resisted, and too safe to be neglected.”
Verdier sprang up: with a smile not untinctured disgust, he said, bowing:
'Lise, you would be a Richelieu, if you were not a Borgia. It shall be done.”
Guardsman was accordingly inveigled into the Circle at the Foreign Hotel, and played high, and won. After putting Opie to flight on the afternoon of the 9th, the boy dawdled long by the side of Lise, led by her through all the temperatures of passion, and was at last all one glow at the favour of a hardwon kiss, when a rowdy band of dandies, headed by Verdier, noisy, with wit, came up. Five, including Ingram and big Dupin, dined at the hotel, en famille; and about eleven, after supper, when Lise was ballad-singing to the new-fashioned Guitar, amid fumes of the new- fashioned Cigarro, some fourteen, all fuddled and gorged, including Opie and Lord Castlereagh, arrived to “spend the evening.” Then ensued Cordiality. On the central card-room table was a chased silver urn, with ladle, containing five gallons of Regent's Punch. Thither the men repaired to play through the night whist, faro, chicken hazard, rouge et noir, nap, Opie and Verdier being croupiers, while many and many a rouleau of Portugal gold changed hands, and the soft-footed waiters came and went, screwing and drawing with suavest pop. It was the Symposium.
About one, Opie, with waved glass and shut eyes, was bawling: “Sing Old Rose, and burn the Bellows.”
At three, young Ingram, with a start of soberness, cried out: “Oh, my heart!” and dropped forward upon his table, well drugged.
He was borne in the arms of Dupin to a bedroom, and Verdier himself drove to call a doctor. He returned with his accomplice, the Marquis d'Artois.
At five the Symposium broke up. By eight Lise d'Arblay was in the Exeter Coach, and away westward, her object being a knowledge of the country round Grandcourt, to be gained during the week before the 19th, and communicated to the frigate already cruising in those waters.
At five p.m. on the day of her departure, the Marquis d'Artois stood, watch in hand, over Lord Archibald Ingram, where he lay tossing under white dimity; the doctor had been bleeding and physicking him most of the day, and he said with truth:
“Your lordship is truly sick: and I now perceive that the disorder must end fatally, unless you promptly decide to leave the foetid atmosphere of the town.”
His lordship groaned.
“Why, I have no whither to go,” said he, “if it be not to my little place in Devon—”
“Then repair thither,” said the physician, “the journey will help to dislodge the disorder. If your lordship's seat is near Plymouth, I know a venerable and estimable practitioner in that town (though, I admit, uncertificated), to whose skilful hands I could recommend you with confidence.”
Verdier, sitting at the bed-head, whispered the sick lad:
“Try to get the fellow to accompany you himself: sound him first as to his fees, and then see. He is a Frenchman, with a certificate from the Faculty of Paris, and more expert than those lubberly country quacks.”
“Well, and what might be your fee to attend me to my little place, doctor?” asked Ingram. “What! and leave a lucrative practice—!” exclaimed d'Artois.
But he was prevailed upon: and the same evening went post westward, with the patient. Three hours later the Symposium reassembled at the Foreign. Opie, who had faithfully promised to spend with Verdier his last night in town, was there. There also, for the first time, were six Frenchmen in addition to Verdier, viz., Dupin, the Sub-secretary and Recruteur of the Société, an ex-officer of Cuirrassiers named Albert Corot, the artist Tissot, and a grizzled Grande Armée Adjutant, named Richepin; also the Duc de Bassano, and Caulaincourt.
The movements of Opie had been watched that day by the gipsy, Lovell. He had been seen to attend the War Office, and come out with a sealed packet, which he had taken home.
The Symposium raged. It struck midnight.
At that moment, some fifteen or twenty gipsies were about Opie's house, No. 11 Bedford Square. A broad-wheeled covered waggon, with four horses yoked in pairs by the collar-hames, and belied, waited round the corner in Charlotte Street. In Tottenham Court Road a watchman's rattle passed. But in the square not a soul but the gipsies; and no sound: only from Lord Edon's first-floor near a drunken solo: also, from between the two white-painted pillars with massive pediments before No. 11, went a low sound of picking and prising. Lovell was there, forcing the lock.
When the door flew back, he whistled, and the band entered and struck light. In a second-floor room they found a slatternly old woman in drunken sleep across a bed, and in the same bed the object of their search. One gipsy struck the woman into deeper sleep with a spiked bludgeon—a blow of which she died after some months. The twinkling rat-eyes regarded them without fear, and the mouth nf that aged-young visage wrinkled back in a smile. She rose at their bidding, they flurriedly dressed her, carried her down, closed the door, hurried her to the waggon, and drove away westward.
Meantime, the Symposium raged. Here was every device for gambling, the E.O. table, black- and-white-cocks, te-to-tum, wheel-of-fortune, dice, cards, prick-the-garter; there was champagne, port, hock, sparkling old punch. Opie, who proposed no sleep on that last night of good company and the upper circles, having the morrow for the coach-corner snooze, was at a faro table with Richepin, the Adjutant, ready for departure, in his pockets being pill-box, flask, light-blue Sèvres snuff-box—and the Despatches. Yonder, at the Mews in Little James Street, his sleepy guard, driver, and postillions were busied about the coach. The china clock on the mantelpiece pointed to half-past three.
Suddenly there pierced through thick layers of punch to the inmost core of Lieutenant Opie's brain, the sense of these words:
“Why, damn me, the fellow is cheating! I say it!
It was Richepin who spoke.
So momentous were the words, that to every fuddled brain reached the shock: and all play ceased.
Opie stared a full minute at the face of his accuser, his eyes all filmed with the vague rheums of fuddlement; then he smiled crookedly, while his freckled right hand slowly moved—toward the table; he grasped a pack of cards; and with strong directness sent them a flighty cloud into the face of Richepin.
Richepin bowed. The others stumbled round. “Had I not to be away in an hour,” said Opie, with a majestic deliberateness of staggering tongue, “I'd carve that rascal like a baron of beef—”
“Yes, you go without fighting me,” vociferated Richepin with strong French accent, “and I have you posted over the town for a base coward before sun-up—
“Gentlemen, gentlemen—” went Verdier.
“What's o'clock?” muttered Opie, with cool frowning peer at the clock. “Oh, damn me, I have time—”
“Can nothing be done, gentlemen?” said Verdier. “Nothing, sir,” answered Opie.
“Well, take your own way. I have the good fortune to be able to supply you with an excellent pair of swords.”
Below, the square was well packed with waiting phaetons and curricles. The party, after a babel of talk, trooped down. Verdier and Kier, a young beau of the East India College, were Opie's seconds, Bassano and Corot were Richepin's.
Richepin, a war-veteran, had besides acquired a Parisian fame for duelling; while Opie was no delicate imbiber of orgeat and forced-fruit at Owen's, and many a stout fellow who had proved him at boxing or quarter-staff, back-sword or wrestling-match, might have whispered the Frenchman:
The vehicles set off. The morning was without characteristic, save darkness; clouds, with a vague local smear of moonlight, covering the sky. The fresh air caught Opie's half-sobered head, and set him singing “Anthony Rowly.”
At tearing rate they went through the quiet streets, most making homewards, unenticed by so commonplace a thing as an affair of honour. Only the seven Frenchmen, Keir, Opie, and another Englishman, went together southwards and eastwards in five vehicles.
Down the Strand—through Blackfriars.
Opie, his head thrown back, his left leg in air, chortled deep and solemn:
“The Prince he would a-raking go,
Heigh-ho! said Rowly;
Whether the people would have him or no,
With a rowly-powly gammon and spinach:
Heigh-ho! said Anthony Rowly.”
They came to St. George's Fields, about where the New Kent Road now is; and they placed the carriage-lanterns in a ring. Opie pulled himself well together. He handed his coat to his driver, and said:
“In the pocket are some papers for the Duke: if I fall insensible you take them early in the morning to the War Office.”
Then the fighters stood with rolled shirt-sleeves on stubble. Opie was sober and cool, shook his sword testingly, swept a finger round the inside of his shirt-collar, spat on his palm, settled his chin, and with tentative plantings got a firm cock of the leg. The suggestion to drug him before the fight had been mooted among the French, but Verdier had refused.
The two measured swords, and fought, Richepin with great brusquerie, Opie with the cautious blade of a very old hand, who had learned to wait. The swords plied with brisk interaction for a space of perhaps three minutes; then they locked and jostled to edge, slipping, grinding, during ten intense and breathless seconds, till Richepin's wrist jerked aside, and with brisk passado Opie ran him through the heart.
“Oh, foul! foul!” cried six French throats, and at the same time Opie was surrounded by drawn blades.
For a moment he stood recoiled, infinitely startled, with averting hands: there was nothing foul about it! But with quick insight, he muttered, gasping:
“What, a conspiracy, you French curs?”
And fiercely bringing down his knuckles upon the eyes of Corot, he broke through, and was gone, the others after him. He reached his phaeton, and galloping off tossed to the ground Dupin, who had caught the reins.
Away he flew northward, to Theobald's Road, to Little James Street, where his coach was making ready; and with eager dispatch he was rattling westward through Piccadilly before 4.30.
“What could they have been after?” he sat wondering, singularly subdued now, and trembling like a frightened horse, he knew not why.
In reality this agitation was a presentiment of death. The Frenchmen had anticipated him on his road, and a little beyond Chiswick, five blackened faces—Verdier being absent—rushed from a hedge into the path of his galloping four-in-hand.
The “gentle thief”—both mounted highwayman and foot-pad—was so common, that when the coachman and two horses dropped shot, and the postillions ran yelling, Opie's first impulse was toward his pocket: but as he popped his head out of window, he received some slugs in his brain. The morning light was just then struggling with a rank and misty fore-day gloom. The lieutenant dropped backward with the sigh: “Well, my God, I am done for—”
They at once rifled his pockets, and one went riding hard to Hounslow Heath, where they handed the despatches to the gipsy, Lovell, for delivery into the hands of Mdlle. Lise d'Arblay at Wyemouth; and the same hour the gipsy-caravan started westward, having with them the despatches, and the lieutenant's afflicted niece.
Either the 19th or 20th was the day decided upon for the French attempt, and by the 13th Mdlle. d'Arblay had reached Wyemouth, the nearest town to Grandcourt.
On the left bank of the Wye stood the “Busy Bee” inn, which, however, was never busy: a roomy old house, having a large garden-lawn, provided with swings, and material for skittles, bowls, quoits, knock-'em-downs, and gaming. At the south end the lawn overlooked the sea; and in the south-east corner was a grotto of rough stones among tamarisk trees.
To the “Busy Bee” Mdlle. d'Arblay, as previously arranged, brought her portmanteau, and took a room; she then hired a stables' horse for a week, and for four days haunted the moor, the villages, the canal, and took note of everything which seemed of interest.
On the 17th Lovell's gipsy-band arrived tardy, and camped in a field a mile north of Grandcourt. Lovell and another at once hurried to the “Busy Bee” with despatches. Lise d'Arblay, anxiously on the look-out, ran down to the bar parlour, and took them to the grotto, where she heard the London news, and bow all had gone well, save the death of Richepin. She at once provided Lovell with money to hire a small sail-boat, giving him the notes she had made of the locality to take to the frigate, which, by arrangement, lay-to each day at three p.m. eight miles southwest of Wyemouth. Lise sent also a letter to Verdier, now on board, in which she definitely fixed the 20th as the Day, advising that on the 18th or 19th the seizing party should land at night to make themselves familiar with the ground in darkness, and adding that on the 20th, as soon as she had seen the Duke, she would send Lovell with a letter to tell them that all was well on her side, and would await the answer that they, too, were all ready, before proceeding to act.
On the afternoon of the 19th she ran from a back door to the grotto to meet Lovell for the last time, and give final directions. Through a little green door she passed into a hut of stones, opened another beyond, and there sitting on an ass under an arbour was the gipsy, his saddle being a wooden hurdle over straw, two bars of the hurdle serving as stirrups, so that his bent-up knees gave him the grotesqueness of a grasshopper bestriding a mouse. Over the animal's quarters were two wicker panniers secured by straps, one stuffed with cloth, trinkets, cutlery, and small- wares; in the other lived a child, sucking gingerbread.
Corrie Lovell pulled a reverent lock of hair beneath his ragged soft felt hat; while Lise d'Arblay took a watch from her bosom, and handed it to him.
“There, sir,” said she, “is a recognition of your services, which I give now, because you will have good use for it to-morrow. But first, is everything ready?”
“The two gipsies well drilled in their little comedy?”
“Trust me for that. Everything, in fact.”
“The coffin ready?”
“Everything, I tell you, lady, and our people only anxious to have it over.”
“And the girl is docile? Does she always begin to pound the coffin—lid when she hears the three taps above her head?”
“Oh, she's a glory, lady. You just teach her anything, and she does it. She's just like a little dog or a mouse. She's weak, weak in the head, lady.”
Lovell was amused.
“Well, that is all excellent,” said Lise. “Now, listen. To-morrow morning I go to Grandcourt: in the early afternoon I wish to send you with a letter to the frigate, and that letter I will place in a hollow where a stone is missing inside the martello-tower: you will be there to seek it, Lovell, precisely at one p.m. Now, supposing you take six hours at the most to reach the frigate and return to Grandcourt, that makes that you bring me an answer at seven at the latest. Now tell me the hours when you go for my letter, and when you bring the answer.”
“At One, lady; and at Seven.”
“Precise. Now, there are still two more hours to remember. At Nine, sir, your band passes the end of the avenue with the coffined form; at Nine. And at Half after Eight the two gipsies are in the avenue. ou comprehend? Now, what are the four hours appointed?”
“At One I go to the martello for your letter, lady,” said Lovell; “at Seven I bring you answer from the ship; at Half after Eight them two are in the avenue; at Nine the false funeral passes, lady.”
“Precise! And you have a watch, sir. You cannot fail.”
They then parted.
Meantime, the whole country-side was full of the consciousness that the great Duke was in it.
That night, the 19th, was excesssively dark. A certain Mr. Godfrey Golde, travelling near eleven from Newton to Seacombe, could not see his hand. Not only was there no moon nor stars, but there was no sky. The interspace seemed stuffed with a blackness like black cotton.
There was sound, however, if not sight: the continuous murmur of the near sea, chasing itself in long-drawn shallow surfs over a shelly bottom. The interwoven fugue and roundelay of their monotone filled the abysm of darkness with a primeval noising. There seemed nothing in the universe save a roar, and an ear.
Mr Golde was alone: and it was the last probability in the world that he should meet anyone. He was a thick-set man of twenty-eight years, with a pale, broad face, round which and the throat ran a bandage of short whisker and beard, the space between bottom lip and chin being nude of hair: a “sympathetic” face—but his grey eyes were prominent, heavy-lidded and phlegmatic, his walk heavy. He wore a snuff-coloured coat with brass buttons, and small-clothes, and “breeches,” with woollen stockings, and buckled shoes.
He was a person of rather timid temperament, and when he received a sudden slap in the face, three paces he recoiled, striking away something that tore his face with claws; till a seaward whirring of wings told of some belated and erring sea-fowl, foundered in the night.
“I wish I was well out of it,” Golde muttered, “if the very birds can't see, it isn't likely—” Suddenly this thought struck him: had not he, too, lost his way? For surely now the sea-roar was nearer than it should be. He stood still, stooped to feel if he stood on path or grass, then looked about, questioning the vanished world.
Seacombe Moor, lying between the villages of Newton and Seacombe and the town of Wyemouth, has the same general characteristics of the great West-of-England moors: treeless, almost pathless, desolate, choked with thistle, bracken, charlock, blue bugloss, the sparse grass near the shore showing interspaces of barren earth. Four miles north of the shore runs the Portland Canal, bisecting the moor.
But that Mr. Golde, a Newton miller, should lose the familiar foot-path to Seacombe, even in the densest night, was singular: he knit his brows, peering: this was not as it should be. Hobgoblins? He believed in them: for witches were still in England, and evil things of the air had been known to entice many a poor wight to baleful dooms on such weird nights—aye, in that very neighbourhood, too. If Golde had seen a ridden broomstick pitch sulphurous athwart the Erebus dark, leaving a trail and lingering sparks, his timorous awe could hardly have intensified. He cleared his throat with nervous effort.
But suddenly his heart lightened, and he resumed his plodding way: he had recognised what had led him astray.
It was the lights! Soon after setting out he had observed two far gleams, and though thinking it singular that he should see Seacombe lights from that point, and at such an hour, he had been mechanically steering his way towards them.
Only now he observed that their relative positions had changed, and as he looked afresh, one disappeared a minute, reappeared, and now was certainly in motion. It was not long before he decided that one was the light of a moving ship far out, and one of a stationary boat probably no farther than the line where the sea began to break into in-trooping surf. Golde said to himself: “They will be smugglers.”
He had to be at Seacombe very early in the morning for rendezvous with two farmers, and, already doubtful of a bed, struck off north-eastward with a will, guessing his way.
All at once, the night-airs seemed to bring to his ears from far a sound like laughing in another world, and immediately, a mixture of human voices, jargoning vague as the messages from Heaven heard in sea-shells.
The next moment he stumbled over some obstacle, fell upon his hands, heard a groan; and his hand, groping, encountered a face—all wet. Yet the night was dry.
He bent low. “Can you speak? Who are you?”
A groan. He crouched, and raised a man's head. He felt a beard—then a guernsey—then pantaloons wet to the waist, having apparently passed through the surf.
“How have you got into this, friend?” said Golde with half-a-thought of elf-king, and malign carnivals of mischief in the dark air: “I am afraid I can do little for you, whoever you are. Can't you speak at then?”
“Yes,” replied a voice, “soon—a little breath. I am dying, I have something—to say—do not leave me—”
Golde patted his head, saying:
“Very good—take your time, and do not excite yourself. There is no fear of my leaving you.
“Talk low. O God, I do feel bad. Listen—you are an Englishman. Your ear:—there is a French scheme to seize the Duke of Wellington to-morrow, and carry him off. I was in it. Yonder's the frigate, see. I am a Savoyard, I; my name is Dejoie. I have lived in England four years—about this part, too—a groom I was. Before then I was at the storming of Badajoz, where General Walker fell at the head of his brigade; I found him wounded in the breach, and carried him to our French hospital. He thanked me—gave me his address. Soon after, I was taken at Salamaflca, and brought prisoner to Dartmoor. I wrote to Walker, and he got me free. Then I came to Wyemouth—here four years groom to a Mr. Onslow—”
“What, you are not Mr. Onslow's Jean Dejoie—?”
“That's it—yes—damn me, I do feel so bad—”
Golde lifted higher the heavy head. “Is that better?”
“Oh, yes—aha. Talk low. Aha—feel a bit easier that way. Well, it is a secret Society in Paris, to seize the Duke: I joined: and the thing is sure—it cannot fail—can't explain why, now: ah, I'm going, going, going. . . . I got disgusted, I had rows with Danda, and I said I'd betray. I owe much, much to England. We landed to-night to go over the ground, and I thought to escape in the dark: but they suspected, they suspected: as I ran, God! I was shot—”
“I see, I see, poor lad. And are you the only soul who knows—?” asked Golde.
“And you, now. Another minute—it will be you alone. If they find out that, your life—” Golde felt a chill.
“Well, but they can't guess—I am revenged. You will be at Grandcourt: let it be before morning, and they are dished. Pah! now I am bleeding in the mouth: that's damned droll—”
He uttered not one other word, but after a stark throe lay still in Golde's arms.
“Ah dear, here is trouble come to meet folk,” thought Golde, “the poor man's dead, I suppose.” This momentous burden of tidings packed now upon his shoulders, his personal peril, and the dark presence of death, all dismayed him: and mixed with all, was the irksome sense of hurry and bother natural to an indolent fellow to whom comfort and slow routine were matters of importance. He was pale, flurried: and, to ascertain if the man were really dead, he fumbled among his small-clothes, found flint-and-steel box, and, without reflection, dashed them together.
A red wink cut the dark.
And instantly there answered it a shout of several voices not far off. For the French, chary of striking flashes, hiding their presence from the very air, and, of course, without visible lanthorn, were silently seeking the body of Dejoie in the neighbourhood of his fall, which they had seen. They had, however, considerably strayed, till Golde's flash revealed him bending over the body.
And the mere fact that, realising himself as doomed, Golde hurriedly dropped the body, and took, as they soon discovered, to his heels, was enough to assure them that he had the secret from the traitor, Dejoie.
And, first, they halted in a body to make sure that Dejoie was well dead.
Meantime, Mr Golde, who was no runner, ran that night, striking north-eastwards across the open; till at last, after some four hours of panting toil, he saw a line of faintly-twinkling lights, which could be only Seacombe. Surprised at Seacombe awake till now, he guessed some wake or fête in connection with the local pillow-lace making and straw-plaiting. He observed, however, that the line of lights was broken by a long gap of darkness in its centre—three lights, then the gap, then four lights; and the reason was soon explained, when he suddenly struck against some obstruction—a waggon which had blocked his field of vision.
He felt the wheels, moved laterally to avoid it, but came upon another, and another—a line of waggons. To make short work, he lifted a hanging canvas-flap, dived under a waggon, lifted another, and came out on the other side. And now, when he looked for the Seacombe lights, they all, to his mystification, had vanished.
He went groping, but felt nothing: by an indefinable sensation, however, he knew himself no longer in the open air, and noticed, too, an unusual odour. Then he had a shock: on a level with his own he saw two eyes, lambent amber with sable centres, suspended apparently in the darkness; their luminous gaze held him fascinated, till a sudden innovating voice shocked the silence, pouring forth in waves, shaking the black air with reverberations, while still, with never a blink, the great eyes regarded Golde. The miller cleared a nervous throat. And in a moment his ears were overwhelmed: for that pealing solo was joined by another, and another, and a fourth, till the contagion of thunder, caught from throat to throat, swelled into a chorus—before, behind, around—of roars, yells, voices of maniac laughter, maniac screams, and chuckled jabbering. Mr. Golde should have crossed himself: but was no Papist. In two minutes, however, the Babel subsided into silence, as a child is hushed to sleep; only a tormented howl, like the last sobs, would grow and wail itself away.
And in a flash the darkness was abolished, and Golde found himself in the hollow square of a travelling menagerie, while in the cage of the lion, whose eyes had frightened him, he saw a girl stand, torch in hand. She had entered from behind.
She was dressed in the most frivolous gauze, all spangled, showing white slippers, and a velvet cap with green feather: this to accustom the lion to a special garb during special feats. She fascinated Golde's gaze not less than had the lion; while, her hand on the tawny flank, she said, with firm lips:
Apollyon yawned a red cavern with stalactites, stretched, and rose. The girl drew forth an ebony flageolet, and blew two sharp notes. The lion ramped, and took the torch between his forepaws: he began to dance, while she, leaning, blew a soft, slow horn-pipe, he holding the torch-light like a flag, throwing fantastic shadows, and marking the close of every phrase of the melody by a sharp roar, like a shout. He towered two feet above her, round his enormous head floating and flapping a cloud of mane.
Two minutes it lasted, and then, suddenly, the lion, still ramping, stood motionless, like one struck into listening. For from the outer dark and distance of the moor a sound arose and grew. It resembled successive sharp strokes of the bow on the strings of the bass viol: it was the bay of a bloodhound: and the knees of Golde shook.
His hands were red with the blood of murdered Dejoie.
The lion, dropping the torch, fell to his fore-feet, and dashed to his bars. The girl's eyes, following, lighted for the first time upon the dim figure of Golde, standing there. She thought at first that the lion's rage was due to him, and catching up the torch was about to run out behind; but now the near voice of the blood-hound arrested her, and immediately the canvas flap where Golde had entered was thrust aside, the fierce-eyed head of the dog filled the aperture, and Apollyon shook his bars, sending forth a roar of menace that went quivering through the night.
Golde was all wonder at the sight of the bloodhound: for, even in that vague light, he knew it for “Ritter,” a dog of Mr. Onslow of Newton: and its presence in the hands of the Frenchmen on such a night produced upon his nerves a sense of the mysterious powers of evil.
As a matter of fact, the dog had been given by Mr. Onslow, about to go up to London, into the charge of a dog-keeper at Seacombe. Ritter had suffered a day of imprisonment, tied to a kennel, and as night drew on had filled the place with howlings, bounding from his string like a thing possessed.
By eleven he was galloping through the darkness, trailing a string, with sideward-glaring eyes, back to Newton.
Golde had just struck flint and steel over Dejoie, when the dog's pace slackened suddenly, and stopped. He uttered a yelp; stood sniffing; and started again, but in a changed direction.
By this time Golde was off over the moor.
The dog, on the other hand, made straight for the body: for that hand, now cold, had fed him. And when the French rushed towards the body, they found Ritter yelping, with thrown-back throat, over the dead man. A glint of flint and steel showed them their chance, and dragging away the reluctant dog, they were soon in its eager tow, it scenting the blood of its old friend on Golde's hand, with the instinct now that it was hunting down his murderer.
The lion-tamer stuck the torch in a sconce, and looked wonderingly forth between the bars at Golde and at the hound's head.
“What is it?” she cried, in a shouted whisper. “Oh! I am hunted by the very fiends!”
Golde's hands clasped. At that moment, a third face was added to the group, near the ground, where the hound was, beneath the waggon-flap. Both the lion-tamer and Golde glanced and saw it in the leaping flare.
Those eyes glared; the upper lip was long and perfectly pallid, fitting the inward-slanting teeth; a long chin-beard; greasy-black hair very thick, curled about the ears, in which hung ear-rings. From the shoulders, which now appeared, he was small-sized. This was Danda, the captain.
What happened was instantaneous. The girl beckoned vigorously, slid back the door of bars, and stood aside for Golde to spring within.
The blood-hound was straining at the string; Danda picking himself up preparatory to letting it free. Five other faces meanwhile had appeared beneath the waggon-flaps.
Golde flew toward the asylum; and Danda, now on his legs, released the hound. The race was furious as it was short. Golde had reached the waggon-stair, when he was aware of something rushing past him—over him—like a shadow—something huge, winged with swiftness—not towards the cage, but away from it: a cloud of bristling mane; a murmur of expectant joy.
Apollyon had slipped through the opening made for Golde.
There was a roar. The blood-hound, cowering in mortal fear, was face to face with the lion. Danda had shrunk back.
Ritter did not attempt to run, but stood whimpering, fascinated. In three perfectly-curved springs the lion had reached him, brooling boastfully. Then its loud glee gave place to a gurgle of vicious anticipation. For fully half a minute he stopped before the hound, without touching him.
Then he lifted, with perfect deliberation his thick paw, holding it over, still without touching. This action had in it something of the meaning of a smile.
Perhaps it inspired the dog with some touch of intolerable horror, perhaps with a spasm of hope—at any rate, he uttered a growl. And the growl brought on his swift doom. Apollyon was upon him.
Bones popped; and the delicious slush of the lion's sideward munch was heard in the stillness; and again the exploding bones.
Apollyon did not stop to finish: but guiltily slid through an opening between waggons, and went roaming the moor.
“You see what you have done now,” said the girl, with a resigned shrug, “this comes of being good to people.”
Her coolness astonished Golde.
She was of beautiful shape in close-clinging dress, and looked foreign, with black hair, and richly-flushed face, and full lips, and golden eyes. Her name was Margaret Ferris.
“Ah, miss,” whispered Golde, “hide a poor man! These men are acting like demons—they would be killing me—”
Margaret had thrown her back against the cage, looking at her slippered toes.
“Where is one to hide you?” said she, “1 don't see what I can do. There are only two men in the menagerie now, and they are asleep down yonder, drunk.”
The men rushed back, the captain foremost. Full in the torch-light stood Margaret and Golde; she leaning half-crossly, half-resignedly, he wringing hands.
Danda, his white upper lip intensely set, and two fellows near him, took aim. “Shoot the girl!” cried the captain.
Margaret apparently understood French, for she muttered a hurried “Oh, no, thank you!” and seized Golde's hand, crying, “Come on, then.”
Golde uttered a cry of pain: a shot had grazed his right arm; but two bullets aimed at the girl smashed against the bars.
She drew the back panel, and dragged Golde through. “A race then!” she cried, hilariously; and hand in hand they went running. Golde, a man with a good deal of flesh, was panting.
“Haven't you a weapon?” she asked.
“No,” he said between two breaths.
“We need not care for them. The night is as black as an Arab mare. They can't see us—and their blood-hound is gone.”
“My God!” the white-lipped captain was shrieking, “you have let them go!”
“'Twas the vile bars!” said Dupin, with a gesture of despair.
“You see the torch,” Verdier said, coolly touching his moustache with shapely forefinger. “Why lose time in raving?”
Verdier nodded toward the lion's cage. “What about it?”
“You want light, I suppose?”
“That's no good!” shrieked Danda; “that'll show us to them, not them to us.” Verdier, with a light spring, entered the cage, and held the flame to the woodwork. The boarding blackened, crackled, flamed.
“Fire—fire the whole!” cried the captain, his brain grasping the other's idea. “Let it burn!” Two minutes later Margaret and Golde noticed a glimmering, looked backward, and in the midst of a flare saw three shapes following hotly upon their track.
The woodwork was old, and in ten minutes the quadrangle was an undulating sea, sending out from its vivid focus a dusky glare over the moor. The night was rolled back, and every step of Golde and Margaret was now seen.
“It is a question of running, you see,” said she, dragging Golde's hand. “I could beat them I know.”
“They have weapons,” he panted. “They will shoot us, however fast we run.”
“They are not such very good shots, I think. Two of them hit the bars instead of me, as if one was not big and ugly enough to be hit.”
“But—where are you going?”
“Can't you guess?”
“No. They'd have you long before you got to Seacombe, anyway. You are blowing like an elephant. Poor old Jumbo—he'll be burned to death!”
They were now a long distance off: but even here the accumulated roar of the whole hecatomb reached them. The cage-fronts being barred, the French had fired them from the back. The animals, seeking to escape the fire behind, raged against the bars in front, and soon succumbed to the heat and fumes, except two tigresses. These were caged with a tiger, and as there was not room for all in front, a mêlée of spitting and tearing teeth ensued, the tigresses at length rushing through the flames at the back from the fangs of the ravening male. They ran different ways over the plain, and, with Apollyon, now made of Seacombe Moor a roaming-ground of the wild creatures of the wilderness.
“But where are we going to?” repeated Golde presently. “Are they gaining upon us?”
“They are six—we are two. Oh, and it seems a frightful distance, too! They will catch us, miss. Over hill and dale they went, and grass and gorse, hand in hand, with slackening trot.
“If that fire would only die down!” said Margaret, glancing behind. “It looks as if it were, I think. We should escape then, sure.”
“They are gaining on us, I know,” panted Golde. “As soon as they gain a little more, they will fire.”
“I should fire now, if I were in their place. We will beat them yet.”
“But that lion—suppose it meets us?”
“Pol wouldn't hurt me. He might make a short meal of them, if he came across them, once. I wonder if those two drunken brutes got burned in the fire, then?”
“I feel confident they are gaining, miss. I don't know at all where we are either. Seacombe should be over yonder.”
“We are not going to Seacombe, I tell you.”
“Well, I leave it to you. Where are we going to?”
“The canal, miss?”
“I'm hoping that the fire may die down, you see. If it does, we're sure of a barge on the banks somewhere about: then we're pretty safe, I should think.”
“They will swim in after us! They will get another barge!”
“Yes—you are always fearing something, aren't you? I've had worse things behind me than those men, you see. They won't swim after us if they don't see us go into the barge. Look! The fire's dying down.”
And over bill and dale they went, and grass and gorse, hand in hand, with slackening trot.
The sea of flame had died into a mere glow of embers, and the great gloom again lowered with sullen gradualness. Looking, the fugitives could still see the band steadily running them down; but they showed now like shadowy shapes, ready to pass away.
“There's water!” cried Margaret.
In a minute they were on the shelving, muddy bank, ran laterally, and presently saw in the dark a yet darker mass on the black water—a barge, covered with a tarpaulin, like some sheeted dead giant.
The canal hereabouts is a mere huge, deep ditch, its banks being the shelving ground itself. They heard tramping feet, and a voice give some order.
Margaret entered the water to the breast, and stood waiting.
“They are here!” hissed Golde, shrinking. “You go on, miss! “But aren't you coming, then?” she wailed. “Will you get me caught?” He tripped down the slush to her. In a moment they were swimming. The French were on the hillock which formed the south bank, and rushed downward, not knowing their nearness to water. One, well in advance, splashed into the stream, uttering a cry. The others halted short. The menagerie fire was dead.
“It is the canal!” said one. “They are going along the banks,” said Danda: some of you to right—some to left!
“If they are not in the middle of the canal now, on a barge or something—or swum across,” suggested Verdier.
But he was unheeded. Three ran right, two left. Verdier alone, uncertain, walked leisurely to the right.
“Don't blow so hard!” whispered Margaret.
The barge was low, laden with tin boxes closely packed. They found themselves on a deck almost flush, near the stern. Through the piled-up boxes a lane ran, ending at a trap-door, which they were able to see, because a light from some source beneath made of the opening a square of glimmer.
“That is all right,” whispered Margaret: “there are people on board. Let us go down and see.” They crept down by four steps, and found themselves in a space six feet square, the walls being formed by tin boxes, in a brazier in the centre a few embers, nearly dead, showed cracks of redness under coatings of fluff. Here lay a man on his face, beside him an empty bottle.
Margaret stirred him with her foot. He did not move. She bent to him, her wet hair trickling upon his face, she said: “I thought so. He is stone drunk, like those two louts at the menagerie. There's a 'benefit' at a public in Seacombe, where all our people are gone; and this man's mates, too, I suppose. Those left behind take it out in drink, you see.”
Golde, taking his breath, leant against the wall of tins.
“I wonder if we are safe now?” he said. “Unless they sight the barge.”
“I've brought you into a fine mess, haven't I?”
“You have. Jumbo's dead, certain. He cost 750 guineas in Provence, in France.”
“You take it coolly, too. Jumbo's the least of it, isn't he? The whole menagerie's gone—your living's gone. What are you going to do? Your life—”
“Don't tease,” she said, one hand at her hip, her feet crossed, she leaning; “where's the use of talking? The thing's done. I have been in escapades equal to this before now.”
“You are a brave lass—did you hear something?”
“A brave lass, and a kind one, and a taking one. If ever I get out of this—”
“If ever you do, I advise you to learn to swim faster.”
“Well, as for that—pah!”
Golde began sputtering something which, having fallen, drop by drop, to his ear, had collected and trickled into his mouth.
“What is it?” asked Margaret. “Oil—from one of these boxes, I should think.”
“How long are we to keep shivering here?” she said, after a minute. Beneath them had formed two lakes, sending out tentative rivulets. From the sleeping man came a snore.
“Those confounded men!” sighed Golde. “Who are they?” asked Margaret.
“They are Frenchmen.”
“I know that. I heard them speak. But what are they after you for?”
“They have a secret. They're bent upon something.”
“I don't see the good of telling you. They killed the man who told it me, and now want my life, and don't mean to rest till they get it, too. If I tell you, then you will be doomed—hark!”
“I am going to hear it, all the same.”
Golde's breast began heaving again. Verdier was running by, calling after the others in a shouted whisper. A cur's bark, too, was heard from the bow. He had been lying asleep, and was aroused now by the shouting of Verdier. The other five, who had separated east and west, hearing the persistent staccato of the dog, halted, listened, and started back. Midway they came upon Verdier, who, in disgust, had ceased to call.
“What's the matter?” said Danda.
“I hope you liked your run,” answered Verdier. “That dog is on board a barge. If they have not swum to the other side, that is where the man and woman are.”
“Into the water!” went Danda, in loud whisper; “board the barge! Dupin and Corot, to the other side.”
Margaret was now leaning over the starboard port-last hearkening. At the first sounds she had rushed upon deck. She heard Danda's order to board, and flew to the companion-way.
“Come,” she whispered with hurried breath, “we must get to the other side before them.” By some sense the cur now became aware of strangers on board, and ran aft, filling the darkness with noise. Golde laboured after her along the lane of boxes.
“We couldn't move some of these boxes, and hide among them?” he panted. “Oh, but that is nonsense. We haven't a year—”
They reached the bulwarks, but Margaret stopped, hearing a close splash. In fact, Dupin and Corot were near the other side to block escape. Verdier remained on the south bank, shirking the plunge. Three swam to board. All the time the cur, perched on the highest point of cargo, continued his querulous barking.
“Oh, they are before us !”—she put her mouth to Golde's ear. “What are we to do?”
“If we could hide—”
“Never mind—come on. We will risk it. They can't see in the dark—”
But now a roar was heard on the north bank, and eight hearts stopped an instant still. Margaret, however, quickly recovered herself.
“Don't be frightened,” she whispered, “it's only Pol. Come along.”
“No, miss, no, I'd rather not,” said Golde.
Now the voice of Danda was heard. “On board the barge! Every man!”
The lion had been wandering over the moor, returned to his burned cage, roamed again, and been attracted by the yelps of the cur. But the hearts which quailed at the first outbreak of his voice, quickly understood his impotence on the further shore. The five began to swim towards the barge.
“I hope you are satisfied,” said Margaret, calmly. “It is only a matter of moments now. I feel that they are coming.”
“I should go alone in your place, as you don't mind the lion,” answered Golde, all agues; “don't stop for me!”
She said nothing.
There was silence. The lion had ceased to roar the dog had slunk quiet. “Hark—a splash!” The whisper came from Golde's chest:
“But what are we to do? We can't stand like children, and be caught! We must do something.”
“What can we? The game seems up, miss!”
“I know! Have you a knife?”
She rushed down the companion-way, and from the belt of the sleeper drew a knife, and up again she flew.
“Quick, now,” she hissed, “help me with one of these boxes: they are full of oil! you tasted it, didn't you—?”
She began to tug out a projecting box: Golde, clasping the other end, whispered: “What are we up to now?”
“Come on—they've got the wrong ones to deal with—”
Struggling, they stepped and shuffled along the lane, laid the firkin on the bulwark; she stabbed the soft tin, ripped downward, prising open the rent. The fluid welled gurgling down upon the canal, where it ran far with nimble feet.
The men began to sputter, wondering in what strange stream they found themselves. In wild activity the two seized upon another firkin, bore it, stabbed, ripped. Golde now grasped her meaning, and toiled like a maniac. Another—in mad haste. Flop went gurgling the sobbing and buxom oil. Another! And plenteous grew the surface with superfluous grease.
“Now,” panted Margaret.
She flew down. There in the little brazier lay the cinders. She lifted the whole, ran up again, and cast cinders and brazier far.
Instantly the canal cried “Ho!”—an exclamation of shocked surprise—and burst—far and wide—into flame. From bank to bank, to east, to west, the nimble oil had run, and now lit the night with one vast lamp.
At the shock Margaret and Golde were thrown back; but recovered themselves, and stood looking.
Apollyon turned tail at the explosion, ran up the bank, and there halted, glaring back in half- defiant wonder. On the other bank stood Verdier— siffling.
The five had been swimming with one arm, the left holding aloft a pistol, and through the exclamation of the canal was heard, with telling clearness, the detonating pistols, as one after another banged at random in the fire, four harmlessly: but the fifth shot Corot, who sank.
“Down!,' cried Margaret. In the clear lamplight, Verdier, on the bank, was taking steady aim; but the bullet passed over their heads.
By now a gaudy spectacle presented itself on the water. The yellow flare-up, having lasted only an instant, subsided into an ethereal low conflagration of languidly curling and coiling gases, presenting a vast ball-room and carnival of fairy: zephyrs of fire, auroral sprites, rainbows, moving dreamily in infinite minuet, purple and rose, emerald and azure: and in the midst of phantom flames and volatile tints, four black heads, whose eyes must have been eaten away by the lazy lick of fiery tongues, but that by diving to the cool, and swimming, then rising for a hot breath, and diving, they reached the bank with burned and blistered faces.
Verdier hardly glanced at them, as, one by one, they came dripping up in dejected defeat, hands over faces, his eyes being fixed on the head of Margaret peeping, in the coloured lights, over the taffrail. He could see distinctly the broad arch of pencilled eyebrow, richly-flushed face, and alert eyes.
“She is a mighty clever girl, surely,” he said under his breath: “my beauty I saw on Hounslow Heath. I am not going to have her killed by these fellows. I take her back with me—”
Suddenly everyone uttered an exclamation; the fugitives sprang up.
For the flames, licking round the tar-seamed sides, had set the barge alight; and a fire, encompassing her shape, flared from the water's edge, looking a perfect ship of flame risen out of the lake of flame. Only, the ship burned a murky red, the lake melted into ever-varying visions of aquamarine and vivid green, vermilion and gold.
On the north bank Apollyon, who had run, and then stood glaring proud surprise, caught sight of Margaret as she sprang when the barge began to crackle. He uttered a cry like joy, ran, and commenced to trot backward and forward a little way, near the flame, whimpering, ducking his hairy head, looking always at her, longing to be near her again.
It was now a question of minutes before the fire should eat through the wood, and reach the barge-load of liquid conflagration.
Margaret's wide eyes flashed round: she rather pale, and scared. Golde was white as dough. They ran along the lane, she first.
“We must swim through the fire, that's all,” she said hurriedly, looking back. “We can. They did it.”
“Yes—get on—for God's sake, miss!” panted Golde. “My face will be ruined, though. My hair—”
An exclamation from Golde: “Oh, but there's that poor man down there—”
They had nearly reached the port bulwarks.
“We can't stop!” cried she. “He is drunk—we shall be blown up—”
“Wait—wait. We can hardly leave the poor man to die in that way.” Golde rushed, the breath wheezing through his short throat. He plunged down: there in smoky glare lay the sleeper.
Golde shook, lifted him. The head dropped back. The man was more dead than alive.
“So much for you!” panted Golde, and rushed up once more.
“Quick!” cried Margaret, as he hove in sight. “Here's luck!”
The flames were now visible above the bulwarks; the air grew dingy with reek. Golde believed that he had parted with “luck.” But she pointed: there, floating for'ard, lay a boat, her rope burned away, almost as high as the laden barge, around the boat also being a boat of flame.
To run over the cargo, and leap the fire-rim was not difficult. Margaret went first, having handed to Golde the knife of the drunken man, alighting clear in the centre. Then Golde's weight dropped clumsily, making the boat crank steeply. She righted herself with one scorched side almost quenched.
They rowed towards the north bank, every stroke sending the flaming water wheeling in a fairy dance of hues.
“Only look at Poll” cried Margaret gaily: “he's mad with joy!”
The lion was trotting by the water's edge, backward and forward a little way, whimpering like a dog, seeing her come. The nearer she came, the quicker, the shorter the runs, the thinner his whimpering cry.
Golde said nothing. He glanced at the lion, uncertain which was better, to be blown to the sky, or eaten by the wild beasts of the desert.
The French stood waiting the event. They had seen the leap of the fugitives, but thought it a leap into the water, the barge hiding the boat.
“It is useless to wait,” said Verdier; “they will gain the other side as you gained this. What you should do is to run along until you come to where the flame ceases, and there swim, and intercept them. You have plenty of light, at any rate. Stop—oh, they are in a boat! That girl—!”
He had drawn back, and seen the boat about to arrive. “Quick!” he cried, “they will escape you yet.”
“Fiends!” went Danda, his white upper lip set, chin-beard singed to stubble—“this way!”
“That lion—” muttered Dupin.
All started eastward along the hillock which formed the bank.
Apollyon, seeing Margaret near, dipped a thick paw into the water, and drew it back quicker than he put it in.
“Poor Pol!” she said, looking backward all the time at him.
Now a hole appeared in the bottom, and in reeled singing the inflamed water; Golde's oar parted, burned away at the thole-pin: but immediately the bow struck. Apollyon was frantically stepping above Margaret's head.
She leapt, knelt, an arm round his neck, head buried in his mane. Springing up, she remarked coolly.
“That barge hasn't gone off yet, then.”
But Golde did not hear, having already run some distance up the hill. “He is queer,” said Margaret to herself: “is he a coward, or what? Ah, but he ran back to save that drunken man at the risk of his own life, all the same. I can't make out—Come along, you—”
She grasped a lump of mane, and started after Golde, the lion trotting meekly by her. But Golde, with that tender regard for his skin, kept his distance, ever and again glancing backward.
The French had now swum across, only Verdier remaining on the south bank.
The fugitives ran, conscious of a good start, believing that the French would wait till the canal- fire burned out They struck at random over the moor, by ill-luck, somewhat easterly.
Golde was therefore amazed, on glancing sideways, to see four men running to intercept them. He waved, pointing them out, and pricked his run off to about north-west, she following.
The race recommenced: the French now without the power of shooting, their faces burned, one of their number dead, and the fugitives with an auxiliary worth ten men.
It was four to three: and the odds seemed in favour of the three.
But now something happened which changed the situation.
A chariot of flame was seen to rise and ride towards the sky; and immediately there burst, in heart-appalling detonation, a bang which caught and shook the earth of Seacombe Moor. The barge had gone to heaven.
Apollyon wrenched his mane free, and scuttled, his tail between his legs.
But while the ghost of that hubbub still hummed in the shocked ear, he stopped, looking back toward the source of sound, with lifted head; and doing so, saw the four French, standing paralysed by the shock.
All at once they moved; and as they moved, he roared.
“My goodness!” said Margaret to herself, “Pol is going to eat those men, as sure—” The lion, with beautifully-curved bounds, was at them, they showing vague in light now like a lamp which has watched all night, and smoulders dim toward morning.
At his approach the four scattered, like a globe of glass which receives a blow. The biggest was Dupin, and him the lion singled out Dupin ran his utmost The lion's blood was up. He sent out roar on roar.
The sight was too much for Margaret's high-strung inquisitiveness. She ran towards the scene a little way, forgetful of everything; ran, stopped, ran, holding her chin high to look. Golde halted, wondering at her rash approach to the French.
Apollyon was in a valley, Dupin on the top of a hillock about to descend. Lion and man were near now. The race had lasted five minutes. The lion bounded up the rising ground.
When he reached the top, he stopped baffled. Dupin had disappeared.
He thrilled the air with roars, ran this way and that after new prey, scouring a limited area, attracted first by one, then by another. At last he fixed upon Danda.
Margaret, excited, ran nearer to look.
Danda flew toward the canal: but the lion was at his heels: he turned, with wild eyes, with drawn sword; and a fierce fight ensued.
An “Oh!” burst from Margaret. The man was on his back. She ran nearer to look, stopping, and running. But before Apollyon could even scratch, he fell back with languid yelp. A bullet had entered his neck: for Verdier, at the first roar, had at last plunged from the further bank, knowing that his friends' pistols were useless.
“Oh, Poll” cried Margaret, woe-begone.
There, not twenty paces off, was she. Instantly, with intensely rapid run, Verdier was after her, and she flying. Golde, a longish distance off, also began to run slowly, looking over his shoulder.
“Stop! or I fire!” cried Verdier.
He had still one loaded pistol. But she did not stop: and he did not fire. Yet, swiftly as the light-limbed fellow covered the ground, she was surely stealing from him, when—suddenly—she stopped. Right before her she saw standing, as if waiting to receive her, Dupin.
Dupin had just picked himself out of the gorsy hollow into which he had plunged from Apollyon. He rushed to seize her.
But Verdier's arms were around her. He just touched her cheek with his lips, and laughed a little through panting breath, with the word:
The others ran round. Danda, in his white-hot impetuosity, without even stopping to kill Apollyon outright, had run to join the hunt.
She faced round, hot and defiant. “What is it you want me for?” Danda's scorched face wore a smile. Verdier whispered:
“No one will hurt you, you know.”
“But the man! After him!” cried Danda. Golde, a good distance off, stood looking. His face was sad.
“What'll they do with her, I wonder?” he mused. “Foolish woman. It is her own fault—” He added: “Still, I can hardly allow her to be taken away— alone—”
Now he saw three men running toward htm, and ran, too, but tentatively, in a backward- hankering trot.
“I could hardly be expected to let myself be caught,” he murmured.
Verdier had handed his remaining pistol to Danda, saying:
“You and two others shoot the man; I'll remain by the girl.”
The pistol was heard; but Danda, shooting as he ran, fired wide, and Golde guessed that the shot represented the last of their dry powder. He changed direction, bearing round nearer to Margaret.
“A man's first duty is to himself” he thought. And then again: “O dear me, I could hardly leave her like that.”
He fingered the knife taken from the drunken man. As he neared her, he saw her wave him away deprecatingly. He was then steering his run on a hillock-top indirectly towards her.
Had she implored his assistance with cries, Golde would have debated the risking of his skin; as it was, he made a bolt with a suddenness which startled himself straight upon girl and captors, knife in hand.
“Don't mind! Go back!” cried Margaret.
But Golde, in steady career, bore down upon the group. His knife slashed Verdier's shoulder, but his heel slipped at the arrest of his impetus, and in a moment Dupin was kneeling on his wheezing chest.
“Your sword into his throat!” cried Danda, running up.
But Verdier touched Dupin, saying, “Do not kill.”
“I should not have him killed here,” he said to Danda aside. “There is already one body on the moor, and there is the burned menagerie. Our ship, if seen from the coast, will be thought to be connected with all this, and the more so the more mischief we leave behind.”
“But—” began Danda. “Listen to me. We must not leave a dead body so far inland. Our secret may be scented. We must take them on board, and throw the man into the sea.”
“And not the girl?”
“I do not see the necessity.”
“As much as the man—as much as the man.”
“Oh, the man! he would be simply a year-long danger and burden. But the girl might act as attendant to the Duke on the voyage—”
Danda, always subservient to the cunning of Verdier, turned, saying: “Do not kill. To the ship. All forward!”
A man held Golde by each sleeve; another Margaret by the left arm, whilst Verdier walked by her right, arm around her waist. In front marched Danda with measured rhythmic step, as to sound of timbrel and flute. The canal flickered its last.
There was a stoppage—a protest from Margaret.
“I will not go,” she said, in fairly good French, “if this man does not take his hand from my waist.”
Verdier withdrew his hand, bowed, and smiled.
They came in a few minutes to the north bank. Some miles farther east was a canal-bridge, but in their scurry across the moor they had lost the whereabouts of everything.
They therefore swam across: and the march recommenced, the tramp of four miles over grass and gorse, with steady plod. Every now and again Verdier said something in English: but Margaret did not answer.
Suddenly there was an outcry in the night: a “Hi! Hi!” of several voices. The French stopped in alarm. Margaret understood, and sent out her voice, screaming:
“Help! Help! Help!”
“That cursed woman! Run!” hissed Danda.
Verdier covered her mouth. With the abandon of a naughty child, she let herself down on the ground saying:
“I will go no farther! Help! Help!”
“Hi! Hi!” came faintly, as if in answer.
It was the bargemen returned from the “benefit,” hailing their mate for the barge-boat. But boat, and barge, and mate had long since reached the land of No-Return.
Margaret shrieked. But the bargemen, after leaving Seacombe, had crossed the canal-bridge: the canal therefore intervened. They were, moreover, drunk, and did not even hear.
Verdier, though hardly taller than she, took the girl strongly in his arms. She struggled, but his grip was iron.
They set off at a trot. In less than an hour the lights of boat and ship appeared. At the water's edge they three times struck flint and steel—a signal. A faint grey of morning mingled with the east.
Beyond the reach of shallow surf the boat lay. Again Margaret resisted Verdier's attempt to lift her, and all forded through the swarming and loudly-rumouring froth.
In twenty minutes the boat reached the frigate, which barely forged through the water under jib and fore-topsail: a long raky craft, low amidships, two-decked and three-masted, port-holed for a battery of thirty-six guns on the main-deck, four in the stern, ten in the spar-deck; sharp in the bows and beam-sheer; built for speed. Up from her nose shot the steep bowsprit, like a boar-tusk. Under full spread of plain sail and courses she had the overcrowded look of a little girl who has put on a man's jacket.
The two-sailed pinnace ran alongside, and they stepped up the black-and-white side. Some fifty men leant on the long line of bulwark, looking. Danda sprang up, calling:
“Give her the sails, Anciaux. Must be well out by day-break. In half-an-hour hands to the Culte Napoléanique.”
Trumpeted shouts began to sound. From flying jib to spanker, from top-gallant to deck, she put on her array of whiteness, and began tripping briskly through the dark. Verdier had charge of the prisoners.
Here all were equals, all fanatics, not a quarter real sailors. Only so much discipline existed as was necessary for working the ship.
Verdier conducted Margaret down to the main deck, others bringing Golde. “What are we going to do with them?” asked one.
“Make them walk the plank.”
This suggestion met applause. It was the age of Avignon Massacres and Peterloos, a cruel age.
“The girl is to be saved,” said Dupin, winking; someone who knows a pretty face—”
The hint was shrugged at, Verdier here being the first among equals.
The cabin was very large, divided into apartments on both sides of the main corridor. Verdier pointed down a side-corridor:
“I should take the man down there. I caught the girl, you know, and shall look to her. All right, laugh, then. . . . Make the man walk the plank, if you like—if you have the sack. . . . I suppose it is wisest to kill him, if you decide so, poor wight. Personally—well, do as you choose!”
He bowed before Margaret, indicating the opposite passage, and she walked down it with him, the others calling ” Bonne chance!” while Dupin said:
“You, Faguelin, run and look for a sack.”
Verdier led her to an apartment with couches and rugs, a swing-lamp creaking in the centre. Her brows were knit. To “walk the plank”—What was that? It had something to do with “a sack.” Some kind of death, blind-folded, without air. She sat on a couch, her buxom perfection of form obviously fitted to and filling the stuck wet gauze, he beside her.
“Now, I want to be your friend,” he said, in English. “I am glad of that,” she answered, her manner changed almost to gentleness. “Did the man tell you our secret?”
“Is that true?”
“I very seldom tell lies.”
“Have you a sweetheart?”
“What is 'walking the plank'?”
“Have you a sweetheart?”
“Tell me first.”
“No, I sha'n't tell you. Are you going to have me for a sweetheart?”
“I don't know you. That depends.”
“You are adorable, and I adore you.”
“Why should you be cruel to that poor man?”
“Are you fond of him?”
“I hardly know him. He isn't my sort, I think. But why should you kill him?”
“I will tell you. We are patriots, devoted to France: and the man has a secret which, if divulged, would hurt France.”
“You can keep him a prisoner, as you keep me.”
“We keep you because you are adorable, and we like you. But in the case of the man, we have reasons.”
“You say you like me. Well, I am not what you take me for. But I will think over it—if you spare his life.”
“You are fond of him, then?”
“No, I tell you! No!” she said angrily. I don't know the man!”
“Well, but I can't spare him. You must be reasonable. The other gentlemen would not hear of it. I am not the master of the expedition.”
“Do spare him!”
“Don't be unkind. I can't.”
“Then, you do not really want—”
“Don't I? But I do. I am devilishly love-sick—those eyes, eh?—gold-coloured, with the wild look, eh . . . ?”
He was sitting sideways, bent forward, gazing at her face; she somewhat averted, with modest eyelids drooped, a faint smile concealing her absolute cunning.
A bell sounded through the ship. “I must go,” he said, “to prayers,” and laughed. “To what?”
“To prayers! We have a kind of worship here, you see. Our religion is a hero-worship, and—”
“I care nothing about your prayers.”
“Then, an revoir. I sha'n't be ten minutes gone. But I must lock you in, you know.”
She leapt like lightning. “You talk about being sick for me—!” her lips curling. “Well, aren't I, then?”
“You do not show it. You do everything to prove that you are telling lies.”
“Mustn't I lock you in, then?”
“You can, if you like. I don't care. But do it once—only once—and I never talk to you again.”
“What will you do, if I leave you at liberty?”
“What can I do? Except I jump into the sea! And I have had enough cold baths for one night, thank you.”
“Very well: I am your slave. Will you remember that?”
He took her hand, and kissed it; and overcame, and kissed her mouth: and she did not resist. He ran then, leaving the door ajar.
She peeped after him. From a door in the opposite side-corridor she saw men troop. The last turned the key. There, then, was Golde.
She began to walk distractedly. There was a port-hole in the apartment: she might jump through: the shore could not be far. But Golde?
She resolved, peeped out. The corridor was deserted. She stole along it swiftly. The men meanwhile had assembled in a good-sized round room, having a raised recess opposite the door. Danda was kneeling on one of the steps which led to this, a rapt stare in his eyes.
Here was the—Apotheosis. Daily, near sunrise, the frigate-crew, with the lack of humour characteristic of Frenchmen, celebrated the Prime or Matins instituted by the Paris Society called Culte Napoléanique.
Around hung “relics”: a spur, a gold epaulette, a handkerchief, a green uniform with red facings; in the shrine, most precious of all—the Waterloo coat, with the stains of the bitter flight. In the centre of the room stood a wooden crucifixion; and back against the boards, a bed. It was intended that here the Duke should sleep, under the stern and anguished brows.
The rite was simple. Danda, on the steps, intoned in a rapid guttural a kind of psalm, of which little more than the ever-recurring Name could be heard. The crowd stood with bent, uncovered heads, till, the canticle ended, every sword flashed from its scabbard. Instantly they fell into a procession two deep, taking up the refrain of the dirge, their tramp keeping time with the rhythm. Three times round they marched, then the inner file debouched inward, the outer outward; each of the inner, as he passed, placed his sword at the crucifix-foot; each of the outer put the coat in the shrine to his lips. Then, with perfectly-timed evolutions, singing the refrain, the files changed places, each repeating the action of the other; till, one by one, they filed out by the door.
Meantime, “Quick!” whispered Margaret, as she opened the door, “we can escape—” But where was Golde? The room was dim. Not there! Her hands met, wringing. There was a cupboard or store-room at a corner. She flew to it; looked in. Not there! Then—all at once—she knew: that was he—in the sack: a sack, reaching far below the feet, with running-string.
“It's me!” she panted, drawing the sack-mouth open: “we can escape!”
Golde stood before her bewildered.
“Come!” She took him by the hand.
Footsteps, voices were heard outside—the men returning. Retreat was cut of by sounds of laughter, bets as to whether Golde would reach the end of the plank before he fell.
Margaret glanced at the cupboard, pointed crazily, pushed Golde toward it. “I—” he stammered—“you go in!”
“You shall be saved!—when they are gone—the opposite passage—last door—a port-hole— jump into the sea. You have their secret—I—it doesn't matter—”
He hardly knew anything—his wits all gone—only he had a consciousness that some heroic drama was being enacted before his eyes: suddenly he was in darkness; the cupboard-door closed upon him.
As the men trooped in, Margaret settled to stillness within the sack. “Get it over quickly, sirs,” said Verdier.
“Tie up below his feet,” said Dupin.
One, not noticing the running-string now looser, drew it, tied it many times round the mouth. The sack, thus considerably shortened, yet remained longer than the body.
“Make him walk to the deck,” said one. “Lift him,” said Verdier; “get it over.”
“Hurry him away!” was heard the voice of Danda.
On deck, raw twilight preceding day was come. Things near were light, distance dark. The frigate walked steadily through smooth sea from the lessening coast.
About 10 ft. of a plank rested on the gangway, about 8 ft. projected over the sea. Here was the sport of the old buccaneers, flibustiers, marooners, and caravaleros, of Mansvelt, François l'Olonnois, Montbars, Morgan, Kidd, Avery. The sack was laid at the inner end of the plank, its inmate on her feet, without notion where she was, what was to happen: she knew that it was death. The French crowded round, chattering, two on the plank to steady it.
“Now—this way—walk, sir—”
Verdier guided her a few steps, and let her go. She continued to walk with cramped, staggering steps, thinking herself on the deck. There was hushed silence. Midway she stepped slant-wise on air, and fell with muffled cry.
Golde, on the main-deck below, had crept from his hiding-place, out into the corridor, and now crouched, looking through the port-hole of which she had told.
And the cry had hardly died, when his shoes and outer garments were tossed through the hole, and himself in the midst of the sea.
The sack sank far in the impetus of the fall. The ship forged forward in the twilight. Golde swam about in the region of the splash, with a wild sense of bereavement, of terror, and utter loneliness.
The weight of sack and occupant proved precisely the same as that of the water, and diving, he saw a vague wobbling five feet below the surface. He tore after it. Frantic were the struggles within the agitated bag: it rose a little, sank, rose, jerking and bulging in a hundred swift convulsions. Golde dived to the foot-end, and pushed it upward, gnawing wildly at the tense string; till he had to ascend, all gasps. It was now, however, or never. Another dive, and again he raised her; and selecting now one whorl of twine, with patient rabid gnaw of the dog-teeth, while the death-struggle above went on, he severed it. By now he had the crazy consciousness that the struggle was over, and again he was pumped: but with his last bursting effort, he tore wide the mouth, and shot up, rending the bag from her. He saw her sink from him, bluish face, and shut eyes: but in a moment had her at his breast.
By now Verdier, returned to Margaret, had found her vanished. The noise went abroad in the ship that she was hiding, and a search began.
They were ten knots from land; the morning of the 20th June—the Day—grew clear; the ship, crowded with sail, yet hardly leaning, moved through brindled water south-west.
The lay of the land hereabouts is, in general, also in this direction. Bounding Seacombe Moor on the west rises a chain of cliffs, which also forms the sea-front of Wyemouth, and overlooks the striking scenery of Wyemouth Sound. St Jude's Island, now fortified, lies in front; beyond, rising green from the water's edge, is Mount Eton Park, with masses of noble wood. Here and there along the coast the land juts in rocky points, some capped with forts and batteries; whilst, beyond all, lies the magnificent breakwater, midway between the bluffs of Spedding and Raddon Points, boldly interposing between the swell of Wyemouth Sound and the long ocean waves rolling in from the Atlantic. Ten miles out from Wyemouth, stands— on its black and jagged ridge of foam-frequented rock—Raddon Lighthouse.
This series of gneiss crags is the very home of tempest Sometimes the sea shoots white up the lighthouse column, to leap over the lantern-cupola; more often than not the lower half of the shaft is buried in a chaos of surf.
But that morning the sea's motion in the neighbourhood of the rocks was a mere sway and swing.
Margaret lived, opened her eyes on Golde's breast, looked into his face, saw yonder the grey ship steal away in mist—and understood. She glanced land-ward, saw St. Jude's Island, and knew that they could not swim half so far; though the water was warm.
She rapidly recovered. There, half-floating on the heave of the gently-breathing sea, lay the sack. She glanced at it, and again into his face, and smiled.
“You got away, then?” she said.
“I have to thank you for that, miss, as for one or two other little things,” answered Golde. “We must try for the lighthouse.”
The rocks were three hundred yards away. The two struck out, side by side, breasting the lazy effort of the swell, while Golde's chest laboured. Suddenly the sun was up, flooding the sea, and almost immediately Margaret, glancing sideward, saw a regiment of oars stalking over the water.
“Look—!” she cried out.
From the tops spy-glasses had detected the two heads toiling at the bigness of the sea, and a yawl was flurriedly lowered. As she dropped astern, Danda called orders that the frigate should continue her course, but not lose sight of the lighthouse.
The long oars went out, and it seemed a question of minutes before the fugitives sank riddled with shot.
The sky was a great spread of azure; but on the south-western horizon appeared a coppery cloud: and, as it were, a whisper of darkness ran round the world.
To the straining fugitives the distance seemed not less than infinite: there came a moment when shots began to hiss about them; but they reached a rock, clambered, ran upon slimy green, and had a moment's breath, where a ridge hid them. Then round a curve, and up the side of a sloping plateau of rock, on which stood the lighthouse. Here, once more, they were exposed, but the men, still at some distance, spent most of the shots upon the reef.
“This way,” panted Golde, and dashed up some little iron steps that led ten feet up the solid base of the lighthouse.
They came then to a trellis-work landing before a door, made like Egyptian doors, narrower at top.
They tried it by the handle. It was locked. A bullet smashed against its casing.
They began to bawl for help, beating madly. At the same time, they could not but be surprised, even in their dismay, at the sinister appearance of the sea: with perfect suddenness it began to swirl, and fret, and whiten among the rocks; the boat, near now, was pitching with quick agitations; and the shots went all over the rocks and lighthouse. That brazen cloud in the south had spread amazingly, and was now flying wide-winged. The day darkened.
From a window, seventy feet up, a face looked.
A minute later the door opened: the fugitives rushed in, and the man who had opened fell back, shot.
Golde banged the door. They were in a narrow, short passage, just high enough to admit them, made of oaken blocks, with courses of Cornish moor-stone, dove-tailed, and joggled, and cramped with iron. Two yards inwards, they came to a dark well, rising twenty-two feet, four feet in diameter. Up this ran steps, scelled into the well, and leading into the lowest of the four stories.
These stories consisted of the lower store-room, the upper store-room, the living, and the sleeping-room.
The lighthouse had the form of a long truncated cone; the period of its erection was 1760, a time when one or two stone lighthouses, like Smeaton's, had been built; but when men still shook the head, believing that nothing but wood could withstand wind and wave.
At such a time compromise was natural: and Raddon Lighthouse was, in fact, like Rudyerd's at the Eddystone, a composition of both wood and stone. The solid base was formed of squared oak balks, firmly fixed to a series of iron branches which were keyed into the rock of the reef; but to increase the weight and vertical pressure, numerous courses of stone were introduced.
Outside these solid timber-and-stone courses, strong upright timbers, scarfed together—i.e., with sides overlapping—were fixed, and continued to the roof. Outside these again, came another layer of stone from foundation to corona, constructed of circles of hewn blocks, all joggled and cramped together. The lighthouse had, therefore, the appearance of a stone structure from without, though it was lined with wood, and, in reality, contained more wood than stone in its make-up.
The place was perfectly still. They two seemed alone in it with the dead man. They mounted the well-steps, holding to a hand-rope. Half-way they heard bangings at the outer door.
The French were besieging.
Two now held the boat beyond the region of the eddies and sea-dash. The others clamoured round the door, and crowded on the outer iron stairs.
A storm was brewing. The sky grew busy and dark with clouds; the sea began to lash and sound; some leaden rain-drops fell.
The lighthouse door was cased with iron: iron panels, iron bolts. All the force of many Frenchmen could not avail to break it in.
“Back to the ship!” cried Danda; “batter the hole with cannon!”
But the frigate had vanished in gloom, and the yawl they could hardly still discern far from the white circle of reef, which now resounded to the thumps of the sea; spray, struck high, smartly stung the face.
Verdier said to one who was a mariner: “What of this storm?”
“It looks bad,” the sailor said. “You see the moon there, looking out . . . ghastly!—and the tide is rising. We shall have it—but I don't think for long. How about this door?”
“The lock: you will never get through by banging and violence: pick the lock.”
Danda, hearing the suggestion, flew to his knees, digging with his sword. The point broke off. “Let me try,” said Verdier, and knelt with a thick dirk inserted, probing and prising.
“Now push—hard!” he cried, scarlet-coloured.
Danda and Dupin urged, and they, with the portal, tumbled inward.
A “Bon, bon!” was answered by a clap of thunder, a lightning-wink. They trooped inward, Danda first, with drawn sword, and began to climb the well-hole steps.
Golde and Margaret were in the lower store-room, kneeling, peering over the edge. They could hardly see down the dark depth, but knew that the French were there, and coming. No light from the darkened day, though the outer door clapped to and fro. A wind came soughing up the well.
The flooring of the lower store-room, on which knelt Golde and Margaret, was 32 ft. above the rock; the bottom of the well about 'o ft. above it; the part below the well being the fundamental solid, outside which ran up the iron steps to the door. In the lower store-room the full shock of the billows was not felt, and there, usually, a dim light filtered through the thick red glass of two square little windows. Now it would have been quite dark, but for a lantern deposited by the dead light-keeper on the floor, by which Verdier, climbing, saw the head of Golde, and leaning aside to avoid Danda, who was before, fired in awkward pose. The bullet embedded itself in the upper store-room flooring.
The two leapt from their fascinated gaze of terror. Danda was not 6 ft. below; his left hand held his pointless sword.
“What shall we do?” she whispered. “Up—the stairs—”
It was a circular trap-door of iron, near the great hinges being an interval between slab and flooring large enough to admit the fingers. One on each side, they strained at the weight. As it yielded with reluctant shrieks, the wild eyes of Danda loomed above the darkness. Slowly up and up, then faster, it rose at the tugging jerks. It reached the perpendicular—there was a second's poise and uncertainty—they had too soon let go; but a quick touch slapped it above the ducking head of Danda upon his twice-snapped blade.
They looked at each other, trembling at recovered life. Then she, arm akimbo: “You will know me again when you see me!”
“It was a narrow shave, lass.”
“Somebody or other has got that slab on his head! I saw the eyes.”
“And a good thing, too,” remarked Golde. “But what is that—cannon?”
“I felt it before. I shouldn't wonder if the men on the ship are at the place with cannon-balls.”
“But, stop! listen! that can't be it.”
It was the shock of waves, hurling themselves upon the lighthouse, as if with malice. Above, a door slammed, windows rattled; the structure vibrated to its base.
Then a rumbling was heard above, like Titans moving furniture about for a house-flitting.
“That's thunder,” said Golde. “There is a big storm outside, if we could only see it. I wonder what those men will do next?”
“What can they do? They can't move this slab from those steps, with us standing on it. We are safe!”
“There is a staple, I see,” said Golde, “and a hasp. We should fasten it, I think.” He went away to look for some small object to place in the staple, and now Margaret felt the slab jerk up a little.
“They are trying to lift it,” she called.
Golde ran back.
“Why trouble?” she said; “they are only wasting their strength—”
“You are very brave and confident,” he said, looking about again. “I shouldn't mind if I had your pluck and go.”
“You are brave, too,” she answered, dropping her eyes; “but you have lived all your life in a house, I should think: you never had any call to show it. And you think too much of yourself, I daresay. I, now, have lived among lions, tigers—”
“I am a miller by trade, and my name is Golde.”
“Well, one does not require much pluck to grind the golden corn— Just listen!”
“It's the sea, I firmly believe,” said Golde.
“I like thunder: just hear how it rages a little, like Pol, and then goes muttering things in its throat”
“I can't help thinking of that poor man,” said Golde, returning with a long nail, found among square parcels piled to the ceiling, containing huge candles for the lantern.
“What poor man?” she asked.
“That light-keeper down there. He came to an untimely end, too.”
“Well, we were nearly as bad, you see. Isn't there more than one of them?”
“It's funny: there are usually three on a lighthouse, I believe. But the others haven't put in an appearance.
There had, in fact, been three: but the second had gone ashore to procure a doctor for the third, who now lay dying in the top room.
Verdier, eyes flashing, with long hair whiffed, was calling: “Who has more to spare? Pile it up!”
In his mind was this thought: “To outwit me! Well, we shall see—”
Two more flasks poured gunpowder upon a heap already made in the well. “Now, some string,” said Verdier.
One handed him twine. He laid a bit on the powder-heap.
The rest hurried away over the dead light-keeper. Verdier struck a flash, and saw an end of twine well lighted: as the other end was on higher level, the hemp burned rapidly upward. He rushed, slammed the door after him, and fled down to the rocks, where all stood clinging and drenched.
The picked lock was not ruined, and still fastened firmly. A small space, hermetically closed, was thus created. Either the walls must burst, or the slab at one end of the space, and the door at the other, must fly.
And presently the lighthouse shuddered, and the men saw the door dart from its fastenings, knock away the railings of the trellis-work landing, and plunge.
They hastened up the outer stairs, rushed into the passage, stumbling over the blackened light- keeper, looked up the well. The slab was gone.
They went—Verdier foremost, sword in hand— climbing the ladder-stair.
Yonder in the ceiling was a nearly circular dent where the iron disc had bumped into the wood. But little could now be seen: the slab had fallen back upon the lantern. From below they had been able to see the slab gone, only because the room was less utterly dark than the well.
They looked around, with swords ready to kill: but the fugitives had escaped to the upper storeroom.
“Let us pull up the stairs after us!” Margaret had said.
They, too, were a mere ladder, broad rungs slanting in broad uprights. Golde, kneeling, saw that they were fastened to a beam by hook-and-eye, knocked out the two hooks, and pulled. But they were also fastened to the flooring below.
“Stop, I will go down,” he panted.
He slid down. Voices and hurrying feet came up on hoarse soughs of the tempest fuming vehemently up the well. He groped on the floor. Ever and again the heavy ordnance of the sea shocked the lighthouse to its base.
To his intense relief he found the stair-foot not clamped, but fastened with hooks-and-eyes. He knocked out one hook, but the other was fixed in rust On his back he kicked at it.
“Quick!” he heard Margaret's loud whisper.
The hook yielded. He scrambled up, and the two were able to draw it, step by step. The alarm which had widened Margaret's eyes while he was below alone died out. They closed the hinging, oblong, wooden trap, and while they fastened the hasp, the besiegers swarmed into the room below.
The storm was now, perhaps, at its climax, and, without and within, day was turned to night. An octagonal ship's clock hung in the sleeping-room above, but the dying man there could not see it. Its hands pointed to eight.
The pursuers went striking flint-and-steel, searching among the candles, searching for the stairs, searching the ceiling. Golde and Margaret crouched near the trap-door listening.
“If we only had two pistols,” she whispered. “It would be a good thing,” assented Golde. “Let us go and look.”
They crept away. The room was divided by a partition, in which banged a door at every blow of the swinging sea. They butted against it in the dark. From far away reached them the wails of the dismal wind—lamentation and a voice in Ramah. This, and the rattling windows, and the banging door broke the perfect silence of the lighthouse. The men below spoke no word in intentness of search; the click of clashing steels was lost in the whoops of the wind tumbling up the flute of the well. Dupin had torn the wrapping from a parcel, seen candles, and lit one; but it was at once extinguished.
Verdier called: “There is the trap-door. Ah, they are above, then; they have drawn up the steps.”
“What shall we do?” bellowed Danda from the other end, above the organ-voices of the hurricane.
“Storm the door,” sang out Verdier's tenor.
“Splinter it with shot.”
“With shot!” cried Danda like an echo. “Hands this way.” They had reserved powder from the explosion to serve in case of need. Flint-and-steel struck until all had noted the position of the trap, and detonating pistols began to punctuate the cannonade of the sea and sobs of the wind.
“You, Dupin,” cried Danda through the din; “try to reach with your sword.”
Dupin, the tallest, made a sweep on tiptoe: but the sword cut a free curve, drawing him as it came down. The ceiling was 14 ft high. Meanwhile, the door was being riddled: but the wood was thick, though old. Ball and slug sank into, without ripping, it.
“Here, Huguenin, get upon Dupin's back,” called Verdier, “and hack the thing away. Danda snatched Huguenin's sword, mounted upon Dupin, and began hewing and driving. But his fury defeated itself: Dupin was now a quivering water-carrier, and now plunged and staggered: the under-surface splintered, but no more.
Verdier had meanwhile gone running, and returned burdened with a parcel of candles wrapped in thick blue paper, and tied.
“Come, help me,” he sang out, and to and fro they ran, piling parcels beneath the trap. Standing on the pile, they were now able to hack with ease. But only at first: for wrappings and candles began to break beneath their tramps, and soon they were slipping in a slushy bog of tallow, the separate candles stamped into a mere filth of fat, with hard base. It bore, yet did not bear: they floundering, picking themselves up, bumping together, but hacking with desperate steadfastness.
From without, the lighthouse at this time would have been seen deep-planted, like a tree, to half its height, in a steady bank of dashing foam.
Golde still carried the flint-and-steel by which he had seen the dying man on Seacombe Moor, and the two went searching the upper store-room. Here, once more, were piles of candles, with coils of rope, odds and ends of ship-tackle, biscuits, and tinned meats, and bags of vegetables; leaning in the inner room, the figure-head of some craft wrecked upon the rocks; there a fragment of spar; a pile of firewood. The place had a stale and settled stench, like the holds of rank old ships, redolent of bilge-water and fishy odours of the deep. A washing-tub contained clothes, but no water; bones, and the debris of fish, and empty cans, and cauldrons of pitch, and blocks, and casks, and lumps of putty, and kegs. In a cupboard at a corner of the inner room, Golde found three long knives; and, on a shelf Margaret two coils of twine, ending in copper- wire and large fish-hooks.
She put her mouth to Golde's ear with the word: “Fisk-hooks!”
And she handed him a coil of twine; he handed her a knife. They stole back with a certain glad and meaningful guiltiness to their station by the trap.
The clock in the sleeping-room above pointed to nine. The dying man listened to the tempest, to the noise below, and wondered placidly, with musing eyes.
The battery of the door grew slack, and ceased, a round splintered cavity in its under substance, but the upper surface intact.
“This is no use!” cried Danda. “A carronade of round-shot and canister would have banged the whole building to hell an hour ago—but for this cursed storm.”
Verdier smiled. He had in his mind a far more effective method than round-shot: but he feared danger to the Scheme; and, secondly, his Will was set that Margaret Ferris should acknowledge him, Camille, Marquis de la Terville-Rouchefoucauld, and be his slave.
“Some of you lay that slab there on the grease,” he cried. “The grease!” shouted Danda, like an echo.
Some ran and bore the blasted slab, which dropped with thick flop upon the slush. This, and the candles, were the only things in the room: yet with good generalship, Verdier had converted them into a perfectly-adapted engine.
“Now off with the shoes!” he called, that sweet tenor making chorus with the piping winds. Above knelt Margaret, with fishing-line and knife. The contest was resolving itself into a contest between the girl and Verdier for the life of Golde.
The men toiled, dogged, in silence, with stroke on stroke. On the upper side, some splinters cracked; and through a hole a sword-point stuck.
“This door will soon be gone,” said Golde, who heard the splinter crack: “hadn't we better try the room above?”
“We have time,” whispered Margaret: “we will fight them inch by inch, if it comes to that. But how do they do it? They must be on one another's backs.”
Thick fell the blows, and rapidly did the circular hole gape wider.
“Keep your eyes close,” whispered Margaret, “and make short work of their fingers.” This part of the upper store-room was not all blank darkness, like its inner chamber: for a crack in the trap-door above was filled with a light burning in the living-room, diffusing a glimmer: fingers, therefore, could be seen by the two, provided they looked close.
The hacking ceased. The middle piece of the door had dropped splintered; the remaining two pieces, fastened by hasp in front, and hinges behind, were narrow.
A clap on the floor told that fingers were there. Golde chopped tentatively: the hand vanished; a sound from the slab announced the backward drop.
“Sapristi!” said a voice, “they are slashing with knives.”
Golde, however, not a man of blood, had cut with reluctant nervousness. She, as if she divined, sidled to him, and loudly whispered:
“You must cut hard! Get their fingers off!”
Her heart was now hardened against these men to a perfect cold cruelty. Through the new opening, the wind came up vocal from the outer door, bearing all the noises of the storm, peals of thunder. Ever and anon the lighthouse swayed and trembled to the bombardment of the sea.
“Up!” sang the high voice of Verdier: “scale in a body—all together!”
“Together!” echoed Danda.
But in vain: they became aware, nearly all, that some diabolical thing was among them, a spiteful witch, with nails of steel—tearing at scalp, lips, cheeks. It came and went, bloodily, remorselessly, in mystery. The room was full of oaths, flights, hissing breaths, deep groans. Margaret was fishing—apostolically.
She knelt like boys who kneel with thread-and-pin for sprats, her body held backwards from reach of shot: and to every swing-out of the wire she had her catch of flesh or cloth, and in, with strong tug, she drew the prize, and out flew the pitiless hook again.
Once, as it went seeking, it met the palm of Verdier, who was wondering at the confusion, and came back ripping from thumb-root to middle finger.
He, a man intensely high-strung, could ill bear pain. He ran shrieking. But at once he understood.
“Back!” he called—“can't you see? they are fishing at you!”
They rushed back, rent hands, nostrils, lips, and gathered round him.
“Now, listen to me, sirs,” said he, speaking only just above the tumult of the elements, “one, or both, of them has a fishing-hook flying there; one, or both, a knife. Well, if we scale in a body, one of us will have his eyes torn, one his fingers cut. But the rest will be perfectly safe, if we be quick. We have them, then. When I say One—then rush.”
There was a pause. “Ready?”
“A moment,” said Huguenin, fingering a half-ear. “Ready now?—then—One!”
There was a swift, silent dash, and five pairs of hands on each side caught the flooring. The space would hardly admit of more, and Danda, .niad with impatience, found himself jostled out with others. The ten heads rose above the planking.
But Verdier had miscalculated, or else been purposely optimistic. Margaret dropped line, took knife. Two on her side, in quick succession, dropped back, stabbed through the temple, dead. The men had no foothold for the swinging feet—little enough hand-hold. They heaved with curved back, feet struggling upon emptiness—while Golde's knife chopped the fingers, ending in horizontal sweep like the guillotine, and Margaret's merciless blade sought the temples.
It was done in some instants: six dropped, with wounded hand, or dying groan. Of the ten, four only were left; but now, on a sudden, four new men, Danda among them, appeared at the edge.
Margaret's knife at that moment was in prone career for the head of Verdier. He already had one knee on the brink. . . . Down came the knife: but he caught her wrist with his bleeding hand. The others, on that side, were almost landed.
An intense agony of struggle ensued between man and girl. She writhed like an eel. “Beast! let me go!” came in the faintest hiss, like a snake's, from her lips. They swayed, she on both knees seeking to thrust him back; he, with one knee sideways on the edge, the other leg dangling in the void, the other hand clinging convulsively.
Thrice, with frantic vigour, she jerked him backwards, and still he held her like fate: then she tugged upward the hand that gripped the floor, jerked at him again, and now felt him going, and herself going with him.
But her outward thrusts affected the direction of fall; the opening was not wide; and her clutching hand caught Dupin's shoulder, just appearing above the opposite side.
A man less powerful than Dupin must have been wrenched away, or a grip less fierce than Verdier's: but Dupin clung struggling, Verdier, with grinning teeth, mantained his grasp, and the three wriggled a chaotic bundle, till Dupin's hold began to give, when Golde, stooping near with busy knife, realised the situation, and quick as instinct had his blade in Verdier's wrist: whereupon there was a cry of pain, and Margaret's hand was free.
And now that agility, by which she could leap to her toe upon a racing circus-horse, came to light. Like cat-o'-mountain, she nimbly scaled the struggling body of Dupin, skipped above his head, stabbed his shoulder, and he dropped.
“Come . . . !”
High rang her cry: for now several had gained the flooring, she almost among them: but the fugitives were nearest the stair; and up they flew, Margaret first, then Golde, then, in a moment, the French.
“Shoot!” shrieked Danda.
One only had ready pistol, and fired: but he stumbled in the dark over the steps of the lower room drawn up by the fugitives, and his slug buried itself in the floor. A moment afterwards there was dusky light, for Margaret had lifted the trap above: she gained the higher room; and Golde threw himself after her, the pursuers being still hardly half-way up.
The repinings of the storm came up, augmented now in fervent sighs and fluted voices, through the well-hole of the lighthouse.
The trap banged down. Golde fastened it. They looked long into each other's eyes. “You are hurt, I see,” he said, taking her hand.
It was covered with blood. “I don't feel hurt,” she answered, looking at it. It was blood from Verdier's torn palm. “That was a narrow—”
“Well, yes, it was. But some of them have got their sleeping-draught this time.”
“It is what they deserve, too,” remarked Golde.
“Listen! They are hacking at this door, now. And they've got the stairs to stand on this time.” All had now come up from lower to upper storeroom, save five dead. All were wounded. But now, through a crack above, they had a glimmer. The stairs, however, were narrow, making it necessary to recline in file in awkward poses, away from the trapdoor: nevertheless, the siege recommenced.
This trap seemed less massive, and soon began to feel the assault of stroke on stroke; but, being smaller, it was more awkward to get at. The clock in the sleeping-room above pointed to ten.
“That is where the light downstairs came from,” said Margaret, pointing to an open ship's- stove, whose smoke a tin tube carried away. On the fire stood a kettle, placed there by the dead light-keeper. This room was not divided by any partition. It contained a table covered with black oil-cloth, three canvas stools, a canvas easy-chair, a little shelf with the Bible, Prayer-book, Defoe, Bunyan. There were two telescopes, odd boots, a tin of biscuits, a hanging fitch, a pan of egg-shells, pipes, and stains of tobacco. All in the air was still the odour of old ships, and bitter old yeast, and the inveterate sea. A red-painted ship's-bucket, with coals, stood by the lowglowering stove, and two little pokers. The sills of the four deep, small windows were lined with peeling lead.
Margaret went looking about, while below Verdier, too, left the assault, and striking flashes, rummaged through the two apartments.
In the inner he found two fragments of spars, and running back, handed them to the two strongest Frenchmen, calling:
“Leave off swords!”
The two, half-reclining, began to pound upwards, steadying themselves with one arm. But their posture was so inconvenient, that the trap merely bounced to each bump.
Verdier stood contemplative. “Is it going?” he queried.
“Can't get at it,” answered one.
“Come down, then. Remove the steps!”
“The steps! ” echoed Danda, like swift-responding Echo. Down ran the men, struck out the bottom hooks, and lifted the stairs., trying to get the top hooks clear: but failed. Danda ran up to free them, forgetting that, if he succeeded, he would fall fourteen feet. But he could not: between the two side-pieces at the stair-top was a board at right angles to the steps, back of which were the hooks; and as the board nearly touched the trap-door, the band could not get at them from above; on trying, by placing the hand under, Danda could only touch the hooks with straining finger-tips, but not move them.
“The door is in the way!” he cried.
They were now in an impasse, unable to remove the stairs while the door was there; or to batter the door while the stairs were there.
Now, at the first sound of the club-blows, Margaret had started.
“They have got something besides swords now,” she said. “I thought they wouldn't keep on. But what shall we do?”
“We have knives,” answered Golde. “The knives nearly got us caught. Have you your fish-hook still?”
“No, I left it below: which was a forgetful thing, too.”
“Yes, stupid. I left mine, too, in the flurry. That door will soon be gone.”
“These men seem more like devils than humans.”
“Look! the kettle—”
“What of it?”
“Oh, you do ask . . . we pour the boiling water upon them!”
She ran, took the kettle, and looked in—with an exclamation of disgust. “It is dry!”
Some flat lime-stones rattled in the bottom. “Here's a bucket of water,” said Golde.
She looked round, ran to him, and, mouth at ear, whispered: “Boiling lead!”
Golde did not answer: but as she hurried to a window, muttered:
Well, all's fair in love and war, they say.”
She, meanwhile, reached up, feeling, but the window was beyond her height. “Please—lift me up,” she panted.
Golde ran, ponderously embracing the waist, holding her before him, face to window. “Wait—I am too heavy that way,” she said: “some girls have got no limbs, but I have, you see. I will get on your back.”
And riding him, she cut two squares of peeling lead, ripped them from the tacks, slid down then, cut them into slips, put them, in the kettle, on the fire. And the two pokers, too, she put into the fire.
Below, the voice of the tempest still came tumbling up the flute in wails and volleys of sighs; but the sounds of thunder had ceased; and the lighthouse seemed to tremble less to the massive swing of the sea: the climax had passed. In the room above the clock pointed to half-past ten.
“Take hold of the stairs!” called Verdier.
His own ripped palm and stabbed wrist were wrapped in his stock. They lifted the stair-foot. “Now, move!—that way, towards the window.”
They strained with the stair at right angles to its length. There was a creaking, a silent moment, then a pop, another, and the upper end fell in tumult.
“That's easy done,” muttered Dupin, fingering the spot where blood trickled and thickened on his woollen tunic.
“Fichtre! what's that?” someone called suddenly.
Chancing to look up, he had noticed a glowing something, big as a thumb-end, hang in the ceiling, and vanish.
“Place the two stairs one over the other,” called Verdier; “then stand on them, and batter up with the clubs!”
But one stair was hardly in position, when again that cry, “There it is!”
Under another spot the thumb had made its appearance, and vanished, having shed a momentary glow through the dark. All now stood agape, to look: and again they saw it come, and vanish, and yonder again, and vanish; at three spots in the ceiling, at two in the trap: a disappearing visitant, a finger of flame.
This will-o'-the-wisp was produced by the ends of two hot pokers, with which Margaret and Golde were burning holes. A “Quick!” from Verdier sent the French hurrying back to work; but while bent at the task of placing the second ladder evenly over the first, flame shot out of the middle of a man's back, lighting up the room, and a howl burst from his breast. He was followed by another, and another, the kettle of Margaret pouring a brew of inebriation, yet not of cheer. They scampered with howls, questions, curses.
Their headlong cries were audible above: when they scuttled the hot trickle ceased. Verdier, at flying speed, had rushed into the inner room. A flint-flash revealed part of a ship's figurehead lying there—a flat wooden mass, boldly curved on one of its three edges.
He heaved it up, and ran toward the ladders, now in position. His footfalls made no sound, for all shoes, slippery with tallow, had been taken off below. A glow from the stove made faintly visible the five holes, and sticking his sword into the figure-head, he held it flat against the ceiling, under the holes.
“Now!” he sang out—“all together! Charge! with club and sword!”
The contest had resolved itself into a contest between this fellow and the girl for the life of Golde.
They rushed thundering upon the trap. But for two of the holes the shape of the figure-head did not afford covering. In three, as Margaret poured her murderous tea, the shining fluid rose, scummed with dross, throwing out little flame-jets; so at the free holes, kettle in hand, she knelt, in graceful pose, pouring—not as a matron freely pours, in the afternoon, for her guests, but as a nurse measures out, lest she overcharge the dose, and hurt her care. As bang on bang raged upon the shuddering door, so howl on howl burst from the men beneath. With every drip—a flame; with every drip—a howl of bitterness: so sore the galling bouillon rankled, ravening like a lion, trenching and eating, with stench and smoke, the yeanling flesh.
As the door shattered upward, Margaret cried:
“Come! let's go in time, this time!”
And they were not too soon. The tortured French leapt with the agility of cats over the splintered wood, rabid for vengeance. But they saw the sleeping-room trap-door close upon them above, Margaret still with kettle in hand.
“Name of a dog! how many more of these doors and stairs?” cried Dupin, twisting.
“Get at them!” shouted Danda, a brand of red scar and blister on his cheek, “wrench the stairs away!”
They swarmed round the stair-foot, looking a ragged, defeated mob, most naked, all spotted and scarred by that plague of heat. But in the wild eyes of all was resolve. In a minute, they had the stairs from its fastenings, then piled chairs, and whatever they could find, upon it; and on these, recommenced the battery, with club and sword. It was eleven o'clock.
The fugitives stood by the dying man—a long-faced, pallid man, with long red beard, and cavernous eyes. Stooping, they could make out his features. He lay watching with wide and languid eyes, beholding Heaven open.
There were two more bedsteads like his—iron truckle-beds, without head-pieces, on castors, covered with rumpled bed-clothes.
Golde said at the man's ear: “Are you ill?”
He did not answer: his wide, placid eyes looked afar at the Vision.
Golde turned to Margaret.
“Look here, lass, how long is this going to last? Here is this poor man dying, you know. It wouldn't do for us to have him killed, would it?”
His voice had decision. He spoke pretty loudly. The thickly-battering clubs thundered upon the door.
At first Margaret did not answer: then she said: “I don't know what you are talking about.”
“This is my meaning,” said Golde: “there can't be many more steps for us to climb: my belief is, there is only one more. We've got to be taken, any way. And there is this poor man, dying here—”
“What about him?” said Margaret, pale and panting. “It's me they're after, you know, it isn't you they want. I'm going to put a stop to this.” She did not answer. But she laughed a little low laugh, bitter and scornful.
Golde dropped to his knees, took the long, wasted hand.
“Look here,” he said, “I want you to try and understand what I am going to say. That noise you hear there is made by some French devils who are storming the lighthouse, because they are after me. Can you understand? Try and let me know, now.”
The man nodded assent.
“The reason they are after me, is because I have found out a secret of theirs. And the secret is like this: they have a scheme on hand to get hold of the Duke of Wellington, and carry him away to France as a hostage. Can you hear me?”
The man nodded. “Very well,” said Golde, “you have the secret now: and if you get a chance, you will give warning of the matter to those on shore. The Frenchmen are not likely to hurt you, if they don't suspect that you know. So be careful, in case they find you. I do hope you will get strong and hearty again. Good-bye.”
He rose: but Margaret confronted him with clenched fists drawn threateningly back by her side.
“I am going to give myself up, miss—”
Her face was all inflamed, eyes ablaze. “Be reasonable, now,” he said: “you have no right to prevent me—”
“I have! Why have I suffered all this—?”
She began suddenly to cry into her hands.
“I shouldn't cry: though it's good of you, too,” said Golde, “and a touching thing. But as we ye got to be caught, anyway—”
“We haven't! I have thought of it. On a dark day like this there ought to be a light on the lighthouse: but there hasn't been anyone to light it, you see. The people on shore will know there is something wrong, and come off. We needn't be caught, if we only gain time—”
“But no one could land on the rock—” began Golde.
There was a sharp crack in the wood-work.
She caught his arm. “Promise me—see, there are the two beds! we can keep them back—for an age—” She ran toward a bed, dragging Golde. Her intensity—her quick reasonableness—thawed his decision. He helped her trundle a bed to the trap, castors upward, then the other, so that two sides of the beds met over the middle of the trap, the two outer resting on the floor. The sounds of battery came up muffled.
Blow on blow: but when the door was partly shattered, they came upon thicknesses of cloth, which the swords could merely pierce. They had, however, the stove-light: and Verdier, after an upward peer, leapt and seized a sheet, which came down. Soon others were leaping: the bare mattresses appeared: and they set to piercing them, straw whirling about.
“Fire the straw!” cried Danda. “No—stop!” sang out Verdier; “batter away the whole door Stroke on stroke. It was half-past eleven. The matresses thinned and disappeared, leaving squares of laths, and two iron sides.
They hacked at the laths with shrill janglings, but no other result. The squares were too small for the swords to play within. Margaret tried the kettle, but the lead had solidified. One man leapt, seized an iron side, pushed the other away, and got his rash head between. But he fell back convulsed, Margaret having smitten the two about his skull.
The jangling ceased then, and the French stood round Verdier near the fire.
“Every man off with his sword-belt,” he said; “when I give the word, everyone throw his belt over one lath, and hang his weight upon it—only let it be together: they have knives.”
The assault was soon over: at the weight, the laths bulged downward, and split from their fastenings, so that the two had only time to cut three sword-belts, when the bedsteads clashed into one chaos of shrilly jangling and vibratory laths. The next moment they were hasting up a narrow iron ladder, and the French clambering hotly over the opening. Margaret pushed at the door above: it would not yield: it was of metal; but when Golde helped, a light-ray came in, and they were on the other side before Verdier had dashed to the ladder's foot.
They fastened the trap, and found themselves in the lantern: an octagon eight feet high, stinking of the burnt candles of half a century. The roof, made of beams and massive planking, was covered with a crust of soot, and the whole was sere with the old heat of the lantern.
Margaret looking over the blue and white sea, said:
“We are at the top.”
Then beneath, and cried suddenly: “We are safe! That door—an army of Frenchmen couldn't beat it away.” Verdier, lying back on the stairs, had his head close beneath the door, tapping it with his knuckles.
“We can do nothing with that,” he muttered. Well, let her die then!”
And down with free swing he swaggered in haste crying in high rollicking tenor: “Back, sirs, we can do nothing with that! Fire the lighthouse!”
A cheer arose: the long up-hill task was over: and down pell-mell they leapt from sleeping to living-room, where was the stove.
Verdier, the last to leave, dimly discerned the light-keeper, stooped, and was met by the wide eyes. He was both annoyed, and touched with compunction. As he stood uncertain, his flushed face bent low, up trickled a streamlet of smoke. He put his arms under the man's, and running, lowered his feet, singing out:
“Hi! some of you take this man.”
Two received and dropped him in careless haste, the long-haired head bumping audibly. Verdier dropped into a smothered room, full of coughs and tears, the grey reek stained at three points with flame-jets. The hacked beds and straw had been piled near the wooden lining, with table and canvas-chairs, and kindled.
The tempest was practically over: but the viols of the winds, finding now free vogue through the four open valves came vehemently vapouring up the long flute in fervent voices and votive sighs, routing the smoke up and down and about. It needed only the opening of the summit trap-door for the draught to go pealing like an organ through the chimney, carrying with it the steady roar of the upward-bickering flames in which all was soon to welter.
Verdier cast flinching eyes around, surprised at the spread of the fire. “Better hurry down!” he called.
The whole interior was nothing more than a skilful piece of ship's-carpentry; the wood-work, moreover, was seasoned, and, toward the top, mere touchwood, on account of the nightly heat. The fire was no sooner kindled than it was raging, and the roof hot before the flames were near it.
Danda was heard through smoke and confusion: “Block up the trap-door! They will try to descend!”
“Absurd!” shouted Verdier: “look round you—”
Already the frantic fire had enveloped the room, climbing like a frightened monkey; and downwards too, with deliberate step, it walked.
Verdier, about to leap, once more noticed the light-keeper's face, now in brilliant light, and stooped to him. But something in the way in which the weight lay upon his effort caused him to glance: and now, with a low exclamation, he deposited the body. It was dead. He dropped hurriedly: the floor was crackling.
Already in the upper store-room they could see flame at the top of its tarred sides; and as the last man dropped to the lower store-room, down upon the floor of the upper tumbled the floor of the living-room.
And now was swift destruction, and noise, and trickling lead, and crackling glass, and dropping bolts, and holocausts of tallow, and the huge crash and downfall of flaring timbers. The body of the light-keeper was seen to come tumbling, and hang like a guy half-over the doorway of the upper store-room; again it had to fall; and again, as calcined bones, down the well.
Into the mouth of a Frenchman waiting his turn to descend the well, fell broth of pewter; and yelling he ran. And now an upward rage of draught proved the roof pierced, and down on a sudden tumbled roof and iron slab, lantern, and sleeping-room floor, one mass of ruin, upon the upper store-room floor; and down immediately fell this upon the lower store-room floor, filling the well with flame. But the last of the French had passed out to the exterior.
The fallen flames quickly kindled the casing at the bottom, while the upper flames stole downward with steady step. The rapturous meeting of the two was speedily accomplished, and immediately the whole tall interior was one furnace of liquid conflagration, uproariously brawling skyward at the blast of the thundering draught.
The gale, however, was over, and the lighthouse no longer half-planted in a mound of foam. But it remained far too rough for approach, and the French were prisoners.
They did not even trouble to look if any vestige remained of Golde and Margaret, their whole anxiety being now about themselves, for their boat could not be seen.
Up through the lighthouse top a clear column, plumed with smoke, flamed high. It shed a far glow through the sombrous day, its hot breath drying the clothes of the two fugitives.
When they had felt the roof hot they had understood, and looked into each other's faces, realising that now, at least, they were doomed, not knowing of any egress; till Margaret, running about, discovered a hook in the lantern-woodwork: outside ran a two-foot balcony, bounded by a railing in the massive corona: and instantly she was on it, Golde after her, the heat being now intolerable to him, who had only stockings.
Round the open space they ran, looking down the outer slope; as a jet shot up within the lantern, Margaret uttered the high cry:
To Golde's ineffable wonder, she legged over the railing, and vanished, seeming to hurl herself into the sea.
But running he saw her seated on a cornice-beading four feet down, hardly five inches wide, where to his flurried senses it seemed impossible that any creature could remain one second. The crackling lantern, however, was contributory to comprehension, and another glance showed that Margaret's weight hung chiefly, not upon the cornice, but upon a rod: the lightning-conductor.
It ran through staples, admitting an arm between it and the wall. Golde, hunted from behind, stepped over the edge, trusted his weight to the rod, reached the cornice, and with his arm above Margaret's, on the other side, clung on, sitting. But the rod, feeling unusual weight, bent its free top slightly outward. They felt it yield with a chill of intensest horror. Neither spoke. By this undecided stay they were held from the abyss of foaming rocks: and they avoided each other's eyes. Above them roared the stammering tongue of flame.
Unmeasured hours, full of shivering Hopelessness, like an Arctic Hell, passed over them. Afterwards, they were aware of voices, men hooting up through arched hands, shouts which the vague vogue of the wind through the gutted lighthouse would not let them discern. Margaret, vaguely conscious, heard Golde shouting in answer: but he, too, was incomprehensible to those he answered.
By now the interior of the wall was ink-black, dead, without a spark. The sea was almost as calm as it ever is round Raddon, and the French had long since reached the frigate.
The men who shouted had come from the shore, as soon as they considered that the falling tide would permit a landing. Among them was the light-keeper who had gone to procure a doctor.
But the shouting ceased; and the two despairing hearts saw the boat make again for shore. Hope, which had sprung at this human neighbourhood— though formless and unconscious how help could reach them pinnacled there so dizzily—died now.
“Well, my friend—” said Margaret with pale smile. “Ah, lass,” answered Golde.
More and more the lightning-conductor had given to their weight, the bend being obvious now. Their limbs, moreover, could not long hold on for very torpor. To be able to move but a muscle—this was their longing. But, as time passed, all longing resolved itself into a growing drowsiness. Though sleep were death, yet must they sleep: and for a long time their whole souls were concentred upon a slumbrous effort to restrain the leaden weight of their eyelids, and cling on still.
But after two hours a strange wakefulness of hope revived in them. There again was—the boat. They saw it, unless it were the last sweet dream. And this time there was no shouting. The men landed quietly, and entered the lighthouse.
The two waited, wondering, till they were startled by a whizzing hubbub which went fussing up, up, through the lighthouse-top. There was an aspiring light in the air—a silent burst of fire— a cascade of hues: it was a rocket. Its flight ended, it curved upon itself in the height, and plunged downward, to smite upon the lighthouse side. The stick-rope struck, in its slap against the wall, upon the cheek of Golde.
It was Margaret who, with slow trepidations, made the first descent, the men paying out to her weight. Her hands could just sustain her: and she, and then Golde, arrived at the ledge where the conductor met the reef.
To the hundred questions of their rescuers, they could return no answer. The muttered word “Frenchmen” was, however, at that day, almost an explanation. Some brown-brandy was poured down their throats, and they leaned foredone with drooped head upon the gunwale.
At four in the afternoon they were landed at Wyemouth.
On the Wye-bank was an embankment, through which three steps led into the garden of the “Busy Bee.”
Here the boat shipped oars, and one shook Golde, another Margaret. Their heads rested upon their arms: and they slept deep.
By much coaxing and shouting, they were got through the bowling green to the inn, moving with closed eyes, dragged feet, and hanging heads, each supported by two men, while some midnight murmurs came from a corner of Golde's mouth.
“Now, Mother Higgins, get us two beds for this lot,” said one of the men, arrived in the parlour. Mother Higgins, a stout old widow, asthmatic, with a redundant wealth of buxom chins, put a hand behind an ear, and said:
“Two beds!” shouted the waterman. “Oh, two beds. Who are they?”
“They are from the burnt lighthouse.”
“Oh, the lighthouse. They will pay for themselves, I suppose.”
“Now, Mother—is that a question, now? You know Mr. Golde, the miller, at Newton, don't you?”
“Oh, Golde. Well, Sarah, give the girl the back room on the first story, and put Golde into the empty a-top.”
Sarah led the way, and the two sleepers were pushed and manoeuvred up the stairs behind the bar. To Mrs. Higgins a stair was a feat not lightly to be undertaken; but Sarah did the kindly office of undressing Margaret of her still damp flimsies, and put her naked to bed like a sleepy child. Above, as the boatmen did the like for Golde, another murmur, like chloroform mumblings, came from his lips: but without articulation. In two minutes the pair, who, through a night and day had braved together a host of perils, together slept peacefully.
But not for long. The vitality of the girl arose. A thought, deep in her consciousness, shook her slumber. At about six in the afternoon her eyes opened. She lay in a state of vacuous languor. Her arms went up, her hands clasped over her head, and a while she lay so, profoundly meditating upon nothing. Then a stark jerk of the body; and a coarse free yawn: and a swift twist; and she lay now sideways, lithe as a panther, a perfect animal. One of her arms, dropping in lassitude from the stiff stretch, fell over the bed-side, and the palm met a chair. On the chair was a paper; and upon this her fingers unconsciously closed.
She was restless. Thought, as yet unborn in her, was working to birth. She stiffened arrantly again, and up went the paper in her out-shot fist. As she again relaxed, the fist fell into her left breast, grasping the leaf. Soon she becamc conscious that she held something. She looked at the crumpled ball, smoothed it out, and listlessly lifted it before imbecile eyes.
In a moment she was awake. Thought, recollection, rushed back upon her. She sat up. The paper was a leaf ruled in red, torn out of an account-book: and on it a bill for a week's board to someone called Lise d'Arblay: and it was the French name which had so acted as a shock.
She set to shouting. The housemaid, Sarah, a tall wench, came in. “Oh, I am famished!” said Margaret.
“So I should suppose, too, by accounts,” said Sarah. “What will you have? We have turkey poults, murinade pork, some mutton casserole, some turbot-and-smelts, an apple-tart, green peas, brocoli, endive, and potatoes.”
“I'll have all. Oh, do get it to me “Sha'n't be a minute,” said Sarah. “What is to become of Mr. —” called Margaret. “Golde?”
“He's upstairs asleep.”
Sarah presently returned with a heaped mixed platter. Margaret began to gorge, everything together, as was the fashion, plate on legs.
“You had a French female staying here, I think?” she said with full mouth.
“We had a female,” answered Sarah, “I don't know if she was a French one.”
“She spoke English?”
“Oh, yes! such a dandizette, clearly of the upper circles, more like a princess, my dear: her gowns, her worked pelisses, and the magnifical way she dispensed the regents! And for supper, seven-and-six port, dear me! And withal a most condescending polite lady of fashion, I'm sure —”
Margaret guttled industriously, silent. Then, across pork, mutton, turbot, peas, pickles, brocoli and potatoes:
“What was she doing here?”
“Don't know, I'm sure.”
“How long was she here?”
“Just a se'ennight.”
“When did she go?”
“This very morning.”
“In the storm?”
“Yes; but she is coming back: she left a portmanteau behind.”
“What did she do with herself while she was here?”
“She went a considerable deal on horseback. Would go about the moor every day; she frequented the neighbourhood, in fact.”
“But what for? Did she talk to anyone?”
“Not a creature hardly. Some mornings, at a certain hour, she used to go to the grotto down the garden, and—”
“You know the gipsy-men: two of them called once to see her; and in the grotto, after that, she used to talk to one—”
“A dandizette of fortune talking with gipsies—?”
“She told me she was taken with gipsies, they being such interesting poor creatures.”
“Did you know that the Duke of Wellington is at Grandcourt Abbey?”
“Oh, everybody knows that. A deputation of the Rank and Fortune of the County, with the Sheriff, a detachment of the S. Devon Militia, and the Plymouth Volunteer Cavalry waited upon him yesterday.”
“How far is it away?”
About a seven mile from here.”
“Was that the way the lady went this morning?”
“Was that the way? I think so—yes.”
At the last word, Margaret in one leap, was out of bed. “Quick!” she cried, “you have to lend me some clothes.” Sarah stared, but once pushed away, quickly returned with a bundle—shoes, linen, and a brown gown, ankle-long.
“What's it—?” she began.
Margaret was at once breathlessly at work. “Didn't Mr. Golde say anything to anybody about the Duke when he landed?” she panted.
“Oh, he!—he was fast asleep. No, he said naught. We do not even know the history of your escapades, or anything—”
“Then run — quick — and call the post-master for me!”
“She—'tis a female—can't come up—you oughtn't to exert yourself like that: you haven't had any rest to speak of—”
“Can't you do as I tell you? Call her! Stop— where is it Mr. Golde has his Mill?”
“Is that nearer Grandcourt than here?”
“About a three mile nearer, I should say.”
Margaret caught up the bill, rushed half-dressed to pen-and-ink on a table inside the big fireplace, and wrote:
“If I want you, I will come to your Mill for you.—Margaret Ferris.”
“Don't wake him,” she said, “his hunger will wake him. Put this on his pillow, so that he will see it. And now—quick—the post-mistress.”
Another push sent Sarah through the door. But Margaret was dressed and flying down the stairs, before Mother Higgins, all sighs, had toiled in uphill travail half their height.
“Are you the hostess?” cried she, with hurried breath, hardly stopping—“then you've got to tell everybody that some Frenchmen are trying to kidnap the Duke of Wellington, in as mean a way as possible.”
And down she flew through a side-door, across the fields, running.
Mother Higgins, on the stairs, stood staring where the phantom of the girl had been, quite bewildered.
“The Duke of Wellington?” she murmured: “trying to entrap the Frenchmen—as many as possible?—what in the world has that to do with me? The young female's crazy!”
He that hath ears to hear, let him hear!—Mother Higgins was deaf. She descended the steps in calculated detail, hoping that Mr. Golde was prepared to bear the charges of the fugitive girl.
By noon of that same day, the 20th, at a time when Golde and Margaret felt the lighthouse-top heating beneath their soles, Lise d'Arblay was at Grandcourt, it being still very dark, though the climax of the storm was passed.
News ran then so slow, that when it was heard, as it were from nowhere, it seemed to proceed, in Homeric phrase, Ýê Äéüò—from God. Post-chaise, mail-coach, stage-coach jingled merrily between inn-station and inn-station; but at the stations themselves, guard, driver, and “boys” took life leisurely, fortifying against the next bit of road. The poor outside passenger mingled democratically with the four or six inside fares in the parlours, and only when all had attained to glairy eyes and hot joy in the stomach, was the journey resumed.
The Duke of Wellington was hourly expecting Opie and the despatches: for no part of England, except the London region, had heard anything of the murder of the officer, and the disappearance of his niece, when the band of gipsies, with forced travel, were already at Seacombe Moor.
The Abbey lies twelve miles from the coast, seven from Wyemouth, in a garden of fertility, contrasting with the barren Moor three miles off. The sombre pile, cross-shaped, stands on a terraced lawn of artificial waters and flower-beds; the horizon being park and upland forest. The South wing, looking towards moor and sea, closely approaches the park, between the two being a tarn whose wavelets lap the darkly-mossed old stones, and from its south bank an avenue of sycamores leads away and away, directly southward through the park, the procession of trunks meeting at a far vanishing-point.
The Duke was alone with the servants: for Lord Elwell, his host, had two days previously accompanied his wife over the hills to Market Graddon, she having been summoned to the deathbed of her brother, the young guardsman, Lord Archibald, who was under the care of a French physician, D'Artois. When Lord Elwell demurred to go, the Duke had said:
“Very well, if you stay here on my account, I shall have to run off.”
And since those lips never uttered words which they did not mean, this threat settled the matter. His lordship went, and was not expected back for yet two days.
The Abbey Library overlooks the lake; and there, amid the double procession of busts and stained old glass, the Duke sat reading by lamplight when, at noon, “Mrs. Opie” was announced.
He ordered her to be admitted. When she appeared, he rose, with bows.
Now glints of silver, though few, mixed with his light hair: but he was never in fuller vigour, erect, without an ounce of flesh on that aquiline visage of blue hawk-eyes, which retained a singular boyishness. He had on a blue cut-away coat with silver buttons, light “trowsers,” a throat-wrapping of brown stock.
“I have the honour to be the bearer to your Grace of despatches on behalf of Lieutenant James Wootton Opie,” said Lise, seated near him, she in very telling Kendal bonnet, and rollioed travelling-gown, gold-clasped, which she held up, and patted with a riding-whip.
As she made her announcement, the steely eyes of the Duke, and the bold eyes of the woman met.
“So, then, what is become of poor Opie?” said he.
“Lieutenant Opie is in the greatest distress, your Grace. Your Grace may possibly have heard of his poor niece, who has the misfortune of a disfigurement of face?”
“Well, I have heard something. I thought it was rather a hoax of those newspaper-fellows.”
“A hoax? Why, no. It has been my pious task to watch over this interesting girl, in her seclusion, for some years. Lieutenant Opie, I may say, is devoted to his relative, in spite of the misfortune, or, perhaps, because of it. She has, alas, lately disappeared.”
“Is that so?”
“I had only left the house for an hour. When I returned, she was gone. So far, all search has been useless. It is credibly supposed that she has been kidnapped by a band of gipsies, for the purposes of exhibition about the country.”
“I am very sorry. Opie is a gallant fellow. So, then, he is looking about for the lady?”
“He is run wild, your Grace, with grief and rage, and has gone tearing harum-scarum into Bedford-shire, which is the chief haunt of the gipsies. He has asked me to present a thousand apologies at your Grace's feet for his incapacity to bear the despatches in person. With me, he felt, they were safe as with himself.”
The Duke was wondering what was the relation between Opie and the lady before him. She had called herself “Mrs. Opie”: she might be Opie's brother's wife, or something. He would not ask. But she volunteered:
“I should have informed your Grace that I am Lieutenant Opie's wife.”
The Duke bowed, but his eyes twinkled. A gold snuff-box came from his waist-coat pocket, and a pinch went up.
“So, then,” he said to himself “Opie had a wife hidden away somewhere, unknown to all of us. Or else, for some reason or other, the woman is lying like the devil to me.”
He said aloud:
“You and I may have met somewhere, then. I am getting rather an old fellow now, and the memory almost looks as if it wanted to be off. Still, I have a way of keeping a lovely face in my head, when I see it.”
That made her throw the head sideways, coquettishly, saying: “H'm. Your Grace is too indulgent to my poor face.” Then, in serious tone: “I should perhaps tell your Grace that I have been married some five years: but there are reasons—family reasons—which make it desirable that Lieutenant Opie's marriage should not, for the present, be known beyond a strictly limited circle.”
“Do not mention it,” said he. “Opie is by so much a luckier fellow than we all thought him. Well, now, but tell me — how did you get here?”
“I arrived by coach at Wyemouth this morning, and have rode to Grandcourt.”
“Then you must be very tired.” He pulled a bellrope. “I am rather in a difficulty, however. They have all gone away, and left me by myself: so you will have to put up with me for host.”
“I return, your Grace, to Wyemouth, at once.”
“I cannot let you do that, you know. I know those shabby coaches too well: they knock one up more than a day's march. I shall keep you here at least three days, then. Or since they will not let a man be host to a lady, why not let me instal you as hostess for the time being, and then you can consider me your guest. How would that do?”
He said it playfully. Lise smiled. A lackey entered.
“This lady will be here as mistress of the house for some days,” said the Duke: “just put her in the right hands, will you?” Then to Lise: “What I should do, would be to take a good big tumbler of mulled port—you will find an excellent cellar here— and then turn in, and have a good siesta.”
Lise sank and curved into a profound curtsey; handed him the despatches; and went after the lackey.
“She is French” — he tapped the snuff-box bottom—“the cut of the face, and something or other in the accent. So that fellow Opie had a wife hidden away from everybody.” He applied the aroma to one sideward nostril, then to the other. It was a mixture moistened and mixed by Fribourg & Treyer of the Haymarket, invented by that connoisseur, Lord Petersham, an exquisite secret, a breath from Arabia: and the box was most choice, of fretted gold: at this point the iron man and duke tended to luxury. “And a wife in rather good taste, too,” he said disjointedly between two inhalations. “Well, now—” He broke the Government Seals, and commenced a long study.
Outside Lise said: “Do not have my horse unsaddled for the present. I shall ride him presently.”
She made a pretence of eating, but took no siesta that day. At One, she was a-horse again, galloping for the martello-tower, two miles from Grandcourt. There she placed in the dark niche agreed upon with Lovell, the gipsy, this note:
“In the martello-tower this night (Wednesday), at half after nine. I must receive word not later than seven that all is ready on your side.—d'Arblay.”
She returned to the Abbey, and spent the interval between two and six at a bedroom window looking upon the lawn, and the sombre, windy day. Quiet, patient, she sat, hatted. Her cream- white was tinted now with yellow. Fear was at her—a Doubt huge as Being; at about six she became restless, and began to pace furiously, kicking her skirt before.
At about six, too, Margaret Ferris, in wild haste, started out from the “Busy Bee” across fields, big with her momentous warning. Lightly sped the swift limbs on their errand of good-will, her feet beautiful as the feet of him that bringeth glad tidings. She guessed that no attempt would be made, save under cover of night: and had hope. Besides, she had left the great news behind—the country-side would rise. She did not dream that the precious words, dropped into Mother Higgin's ears, were as lost as though shouted into some vague well.
But she would be in time! Unless some scheme, more subtle than she could conceive, were even then in working. “That man they call Verdier—” she muttered, panting. Verdier's cunning loomed terrible now in her eyes—she had felt it.
As she ran, a galloping ass passed her: on its back two panniers, and, with grasshopper knees, the gipsy, Lovell. He was making for Grandcourt, returned from the frigate, with Danda's notice to Lise that all was ready: and he was in haste, being late.
“A gipsy in a hurry?” thought Margaret: “who ever saw that? But a giptsy—!” She remembered the French lady's intimacy with gipsies. And this one took the way to Grandcourt— in a hurry. A fervent eagerness to reach the place before him arose in her. She dashed forward. She cried, “ Stop!”
The man, perfectly stolid, did not turn his head, though presently his gallop slackened into a shuffling amble. She, running hard, could hold her own; but her splendid wind began to fail.
The road wound near Newton village, half-way between Weymouth and the Abbey: and just here she saw patient under a tree a raw-boned butcher-boy's horse, a commonplace of that time, with meat-tray strapped to the one-stirrupped saddle. The boy had alighted for some purpose: and she, instantly on its back, urged forward the hack. The ass began to gallop again, but she, plying the stick, gained slowly, though it became evident that not much of a victory could result for either. The gipsy seemed to have become aware, without once looking back, that he was pursued, and the little ass went clattering into its bravest gallop. After about a mile they were nearly abreast, when she saw a bright something stick from a stuffing of cloth in the pannier nearest her. With quick wit, and circus-agility, she stooped and drew it—a knife.
She slackened pace; the ass forged ahead; and now, keeping to the other side of the path, she dashed once more into full speed. Catching up the ass again, she stooped, and with a slash, cut through the three pannier-straps on that side of the haunch: as it dropped, she caught it by a strap, and let it gently down. With an adroitness so swift was it accomplished behind the gipsy's back, that he had no notion of anything: and they had galloped a mile onward before Margaret, looking back, called out:
“You have dropped the basket with the child in it—behind!”
The gipsy, glancing at his haunch, uttered a mad exclamation. He turned, and flew backward, belabouring his animal, screaming a gibberish of imprecations, fist in air.
Margaret now counted that she would reach Grandcourt twenty minutes before him. But she had hardly started into fresh gallop when two roads opened before her; and down the one which did not lead to Grandcourt bolted the butcher-horse. She tore at his mouth of brass; she fought and whispered, flogged and coaxed: but in headlong career the old nag held his dogged course. This was his way home; and this his hour of rest from the day's toil.
Conscious of her influence over animals, Margaret clung on in the desperate hope of getting that stubborn mouth round: and in one final effort she pulled with hard backward strain: but now the old reins snapped.
Whereupon the wheezy nag, in free career, went scattering the muddy road homewards. No device could now check him: and in a great leap she alighted with elastic ease on the grass.
Backward she hurried to the Grandcourt road. The gipsy was still behind, and already late for the rendezvous at seven. Her feet grew light with the joy and rage of contest: if he beat, he would not beat by much, perhaps! She knew how to run, at any rate!
She was not, however, far gone, when the rotatory, clattery, spattery tramp of the donkey behind her was heard on the roadway. The gipsy drove straight to ride her down, and as he dashed past, leant back, shaking his fist and jargoning. A bend of hill hid him; but soon there rose before her the woods of Grandcourt.
The Duke had sent to ask Lise d'Arblay if she would join him (everyone dined early, about six), but she had declined on the ground of migraine. As the hour for Lovell's arrival drew on, her feverish solitude became intolerable; she descended into the grounds; when he was late she knew the anguish of the rack. It was twenty minutes to eight before, on the agreed west side, she saw him come galloping. At that moment Margaret was running up the avenue; but she had a longish detour round the lake.
Lovell handed to Lise Danda's note, and at the same time said:
“Is there anybody has any suspicion of this matter of yours, lady?” She glanced quick surprise. “No, I hope not Why so?”
“A woman gave me chase on the road, you see. She isn't far off, either. She's coming here certain. She cut off my basket with the brat, and made me late, you see. 'Cod! you should be careful, lady.”
Lise turned upon him a blanched face. “There must be some mistake. . . . No one knows—”
“Well, I tell you what I saw, lady. Is everything right for to-night?”
“Everything: Lovell, be punctual, I charge you, Lovell. You are sure she is coming here?”
“Well, we shall see. At half after eight, remember,—and nine. How does she look, this woman?”
“A young woman she is, active on the legs, and a brune, lady.”
Lise turned one way, Lovell the other. She walked across the lawn, and spoke to a footman in the hall.
“If a young woman comes, wanting to see the Duke, or having any message, send her into that room yonder to me. He will be unwilling, I think, to see anyone to-night, being busy with Government affairs.”
“Very good, madam.”
Lise was the mistress of the house. “Has the Duke returned to the library since dinner?” she asked. “Yes, madam.”
Lise, in a little arrassed music-room near, touched a harpsichord, an oboe, then a little piccolo, her own, brought from London, and played a bar. She then laid a book upon her placid lap, and waited ten minutes: and now before her appeared the face of Margaret, its hot damask flush parching three half-dried streamlets of sweat, the golden eyes, and wild.
In contrast, her own creamy face lay in profiled repose on the red-cushioned chair.
“You have been exerting yourself,” said she, “one sees that. Sit down, will you? Something is the matter.”
“Are you Lady Grandcourt?”
“There is no such person. There was a Lady Elwell, who is dead. Tell me—”
“Are you the mistress of the house?”
“Can I see—the Duke of Wellington?”
“I am afraid not”
“Oh, don't say that, pray, pray. I do so want to see himself.”
“He is busy. But he might see you, if the matter is important. Tell me—”
“I am foolish, you see. I suspect everybody and everything, just as if— But that man is so artful! That is why I want to see himself—”
“To which man do you refer? Tell me.”
“Some Frenchmen, who have a plot to kidnap the Duke—” A slim cry escaped Lise. Her lower lip trembled a little. But in a moment she was herself. “But that is rather a wild story, is it not? Whereabouts are these Frenchmen?”
“I don't know where they are now, but I know that they were on shore last night, because I've good cause to remember them! And I know that they mean to do what they are trying for.”
“You encountered them, then, last night?”
She told her whole story in outline, ending with the “Busy Bee,” the name “Lise d'Arblay,” the gipsy.
“There certainly seems something in what you say,” mused Lise. “You shall see the Duke and recount him all this—if I can persuade him to see you, that is. He is so careless of himself, you know. But we shall see. What is your name?”
“Well, will you wait here? I shall go straight now, and see. Meantime, be sure to say nothing to the servants, till you see the Duke—he would not, I know, like the house to be thrown into a state of alarm. You may have to wait some time, you know—an hour—two. It is quite an undertaking—Margaret— to put the wheels of that great machine into action. Meanwhile, I am going to send you some cake and wine!”
With friendly condescending nods she stepped away, holding the travelling-skirt. Margaret sat waiting. Something troubled her, something. With the first glance at Lise, a mistrust which had vanished, an instinctive enmity which had passed, had arisen in her. And now that she was alone, a feeling remained as if she were losing ground—and time. Something was awry, disturbing.
This something was the French accent of Lise, a thing so fugitive that one might hear it, and not know that one had heard it.
A footman entered with wine: and she, hardly knowing why, said:
“What is the name of the lady who was speaking to me just now?”
“Mrs. Opie,” said the man.
“Thank you. She is the mistress here?”
“No—well, yes; just for the time being, you know.”
“All right. I thank you.”
She waited at a window, looking out upon the lawn northwards. The evening grew from greys to browns: the day of summer storm was over; and the definite premonition of night was here.
But away in the West the sky was still tawny with lights and paints; and there in outspread, changing spectacle, as in some world-theatre, was enacted a great drama of colours and tragedy of hues. It was the one place of tints in the drab, and dun, and utterly still evening, in which not the pipe of a bird, or the breath of a wind, was heard.
The Duke had spent the day in reading the despatches, and making notes, less one half-hour in the great groined dining-hall over Regent cutlets and port. Soon after eight the coloured light in the vast cedared duskiness of the library failed. He laid down the magnifying-glass through which he had been tracking the words. At the same time his strong lips curved into a smile of pleasure.
He was fond of music: and a piccolo had begun to warble the Spanish Palama just beneath the library-window nearest him.
“Well, that is rather handsomely done,” he said to himself; and he took the snuff-box; and he tapped it; and he inhaled through alternate large holes of satisfaction; and the spice mingled with the melody in a charm.
He went presently to one of the narrow gothic mullions, and opened a half, peeping out. The lake lay beneath, lapping the wall. Among the cushions of a skiff he saw Lise reclining, flute at lips. He took his oak stick, and his curving low beaver, and through a corridor outside passed on to a marble platform in the lake.
This was even better than the hope of Lise d'Arblay. Far yonder, in another wing, Margaret waited, watching the darkening day.
Lise ceased her music, and laughed. Her paddle touched the water, and the shallop came grazing the landing-place.
“I had no idea that I was overheard, your Grace,” she said; “I have been spying about, and found this elegant lake, and this adorable wherry, too tempting. So I brought my piccolo.”
“You have brought me as well, you see: and I have heard both Mrs. Billington and Catalani, too, in my time; but that is siren-music.”
“Ah, your Grace, Ulysses did not listen to the sirens. He stopped his ears.”
“Well, but I am not Ulysses. And, besides, the fellow only managed to escape because the sirens did not play with piccolos.”
She threw back her head:
“I owe your Grace, then, to my piccolo: I must overlay it with gold.”
“Well, shall I step in?”
He stepped in. Lise had the paddle. The wherry glided out, curved languidly about, then almost reached the other side, near the avenue. A lazy species of flirtation went on meanwhile within it.
“I have been adoring the avenue,” said Lise. “I do not think I ever saw one so sumptuous.”
“Yes, it is supposed to be rather fine,” said he.
“But so bare! On a French chateau, from every opening would peep white nymph and faun, Pan and Sylvanus, satyr and hamadryad. Here, except the file of tree-trunks, there is—nothing!”
“There you are wrong,” he answered. “My friend, Elwell, has in quality what he lacks in quantity, you will find. A little way down one comes upon a rather fine thing by Turnerelli; then, farther on, there are some Graces by Nollekens; and if you keep on, you get to a thing by Chantry—”
A little cry . . “Chantry, your Grace?”
He nodded. “He is my ideal!—my darling! I should like to see it”
“Well, the only way is to go to it, then. That is easily done, too.” Is it far down?”
“Not too far. We will go.”
So they stepped out upon the south shore, and Lise furtively looked at her watch; and there was the leisurely walk down; and the halt before the Turnerelli; and the halt before the Nollekens; and the adoration of the Chantry. And out from the West faded the tragedy of hues, leaving only burnt-out emptiness and grey oblivion, as when a tragedy is past The night was nearly come.
It was before the Chantry that Lise remarked:
“Your Grace—I found this morning, on arriving at Wyemouth, that your Grace is quite the subject of gossip among the cronies.
“So? What is it about?”
“It appears that a wonderful rumour has got abroad that your Grace is to be kidnapped by a club of Frenchmen, who are connived at by their Government, and then kept as hostage for the release of Hero.”
“Ah, it would be rather a gallant thing for them to do,” answered he: “I wonder some of them have not their thought of that.”
She glanced at the angular face, admiring that perfection of sang-froid. “But they seem so monstrous serious!” she said. “They even forked out details,—and names! I heard that the plot is already in full go—the Frenchmen being in a ship off the coast—and assisted on shore by two English people: one, a female, called Margaret Ferris—”
“Ah, I had a Commissary General in the Peninsular called Ferris. It is really an Italian name, which they have turned into Scotch.”
“Remember it, your Grace,” she said, and laughed—“Margaret—Ferris. If ever you meet her, you will know your sworn enemy.”
Lise all the time was full of secret trouble at the thought of the girl waiting, waiting yonder: for who could tell what Margaret might take it into her head to do?
Suddenly, as if springing from the ground, two gipsies, a man and a woman, appeared a little farther down the avenue. They were very ragged, the man's clothes wet with blood. The woman, half-crouching to her knees, held out a supplicating palm.
“Oh, they are gipsies,” said Lise.
“Well, and how came you here?” asked the Duke. He took a listless step in their direction. The gipsies ran a little way, as if in fear.
“Don't run away,” he called, seeing their distress: but as he approached, they kept backing diffidently, slowly, half-crouchingly.
“The rascal is afraid of my stick, that is clear,” said he, taking a groat from his purse.
“Do you want to tell our fortunes?” called Lise. The gipsy-woman nodded enthusiastically, but kept backing. They were not far now from the end of the sombre avenue.
“Do you know,” said he, “they say that Buonaparte has great faith in the sayings of these rascals?”
Crow's-feet, just beginning to gather at his eye-corners, wrinkled up into amusement.
“Some people consider that one of the marks of his greatness,” said Lise.
“Ah yes, a great man,” he answered musingly: “but the charge I bring against him is that the fellow is not a gentleman. Here, you—what is it you want?”
The gipsy pointed to his belly, meaning hunger: to his blood-stained clothes. “Well, then, here is a fuppenny.”
The gipsy, leaning far forward, gingerly took the coin: then backed away. “And what is all the blood about?” asked the Duke.
The man began to pour out a voluble tale of wrong, keeping his leisurely-advancing from camp by the old woman; he had been beaten, robbed, and pursued by them nearly to the avenue.
And what was it all about?
It was because he would not consent to the burying alive of a poor weak-headed lady whom the tribe had stolen in London—a poor thing with the face of a rat—
The Duke glanced at Lise with concern. She was feeling, with tingling pleasures, the perfection of the gipsies' acting.
A few steps more, and they would be at the avenue-end.
Suddenly a perfect hullabaloo of jabbering gibberish, tongues contending in volubility, burst upon the ear: and immediately there passed by the avenue-end, along the open road, a crowd of apparently excited gipsies, evidently carrying some burden like a coffin, for in their midst was a longish space.
“There are they!” cried the gipsy-man to the Duke—“those are them, guv'nor! They are carrying her now to bury!”
He, with stick grasped tight, trotted prone at once. He raised his voice, calling “Stop!” At the sound a silence fell; every gipsy glanced backward: and distance all the while before the couple. He had been driven gipsies of his tribe, he and his in a body, they took to their heels. The Duke was after them.
Lise and the two gipsies came running after, she holding up her habit-skirt.
The band, either with design, or because of their burden, did not run fast. The Duke, hat pushed back on head, with uplifted stick, gained slowly upon them. But his run, too, was more leisurely than intense; and the road was winding. When the crowd was still twenty yards ahead, he was clean hidden from Grandcourt by a cliff-side. All the time he could hear a beating and kicking against boards, and divined the death-struggle in the coffin. When at last he was within striking distance, he had run a good way, and the noises in the coffin had ceased. As he was about to drop a blow, suddenly the whole band scattered like chaff, in swift flight over ditches, fields, hedges, dropping the melancholy burden at his feet.
He bent over a coffin of rough boards, at a loss what to do. The noises had ceased! And he had no means of opening the lid.
While he stood in doubt, Lise and the two gipsies came running. The male gipsy, marvellously well prepared for the exigency, held out a short poker.
The Duke with unexpected ease prised up the lid, threw it off, and saw death before him. There lay a young woman, absolutely chinless. He realised at once that this could only be the stolen niece of Opie; and a strong emotion of pity and indignation stirred his heart. In the gathering darkness he bent over the dead face, silently.
The girl had been taught to make a noise at a sound of three taps above her head: but the taps were never given: for, before the signal, the frail creature had begun to pound the boards, stifling, and had quickly died.
Lise d'Arblay put her hand on the poor slanting forehead, smoothing back the hair. But not a film dimmed her eye.
“And they've all her jewels and things in camp, and a pile of money and papers which they stole with her,” remarked the gipsy-man.
“Is that so?” said the Duke. “Yes, guv'nor.”
“How far is the camp?”
“About a two mile off—on the yon side of the martello-tower.”
“Then we will go.”
“They be many, guv'nor—we but two.”
“Well, but you are a host in yourself, sir. We will go.”
He bent once more over the body, replaced the lid, and pushed the coffin from the path, “I must look into this matter,” he said to Lise. “I think I should return to the house, if I were you, and get them to remove the body. You, sir, lead the way.”
The gipsy-man and he went on together, followed by the gipsy-woman. Lise stood there, her hands clasped cold and tight before her.
The Duke and his guide advanced through country which was a complete solitude. He might have been bound or murdered anywhere hereabouts with perfect security: but it was too near the Abbey for the cautious plans of the French.
After a time the gipsy said: “Yonder is the martello-tower.”
He pointed to a black truncated cone of masonry.
“Ah,” said the Duke.
It was nine-thirty o'clock. And down came brooding a night dark as the raven's wing.
The Duke bent over his watch. Something disquieted him, a vague trouble: for it was nine-thirty, and precisely then it was his way to take a twenty-minutes' arm-chair snooze, a kind of horsd'oeuvre to the night's sleep. He hated all departure from the routine of things.
“You say the gipsy-camp is on the other side of the tower?”
He spoke over his shoulder.
But he received no answer: he looked round: gipsy and gipsy-woman had vanished. A foreboding of something strange came to him then. He under-tapped the snuff-box with the middle-finger nail, and held the pinch suspended, thinking.
“Ah, I might have guessed that the fellow meant to be off,” he said. “Well, then, I must tackle the other rascals alone.”
He walked forward. The martello-tower lay some yards from the roadway, a squat rough-hewn chimney, black and scabrous and old, with Norman slits for windows and door. It stood the very symbol of ancient solitude on a heath sparse-grown with stubble. Around it, in the long past, had been a palisade festooned by chains, and three of the posts still stood, black with rot, to one hanging four eaten red links; beyond the posts a fosse, shallowed up almost to the level ground,
and choked with bracken, bramble, furze. A shelving hill-brow met the heath thirty yards beyond. It was between hill and tower that the Duke supposed the camp to lie.
He left the path, and commenced to traverse the stone-encumbered stretch of stubble. On loneliest Pyrennees, among wilds of Assaye, he had not imagined himself in solitude more complete: yet eyes regarded his every step; and on his appearance at the turn of the path, twelve men had crept out of the tower, crawling on the belly, into the shrub-choked fosse.
In his passage across, he walked quite near the ambush: and, in a moment, was surrounded. Up leapt the stick, and backward poised his body, and out cocked a leg; and, for a moment, the wild and gallant stare of the war-horse in action flashed round terrific upon the Frenchmen.
But only for a moment. The men had kept respectful distance. The stick dropped; his eyes resumed their calm. He said:
“Well now, what is it you men are after?”
All in a circle uncovered. Verdier stepped forward, bowing, polished, fashionably-dressed, hat in neatly-bandaged hand.
“Your Grace,” he said, and stopped, and began again: “your Grace—we are Frenchmen, members of a Society which might be called national, originally formed some twelve months since in Paris, with the chief object of securing your Grace's person as a hostage for the safety, and the release, of our Sovereign, Napoleon I. Your Grace's presence among us here and now represents the initial success of that enterprise. We need hardly point out to your Grace that resistance would be useless, in face of the numbers around your Grace; nor do we think it necessary to assure your Grace that your Grace has nothing but homage and consideration to expect from us, if your Grace will deign to accompany us. We are all your Grace's servants.”
“Well, and where is it you mean to take me to?”
“We have a frigate off the coast, and a boat near the shore. The only serious inconvenience to which we shall be compelled to subject your Grace will be a short ride through the surf on the back of one of our men.”
“Ah, and how far is it?”
Something over twelve miles, your Grace.”
“Well, then, let us be going.”
He stepped forward, pulling his hat a little over the eyes. The men formed in pre-arranged order about him, Verdier by his side, a head shorter than he. Before all marched little Danda with scorched beard, blistered face, stepping rhythmic, triumphal, as to sound of flute and tambour. Already the night was very black.
The road did not lead directly southwards, but east-and-south. And along it, in silence, with steady tramp, they went — with here a stumble, there a splash. One man behind carried a hamper of eatables, with which it had been thought that it might be proper to refresh the Duke, should opportunity offer on the road; another carried a half-veiled lanthorn, which hardly shed light.
In the Duke worked the resentful consciousness that the hour of his snooze was past. After a time, he said to Verdier:
“So, then, this is the gipsy-camp?”
“Your Grace will pardon the little ruse,” said Verdier, smiling in the dark.
“Ah, I was warned of you fellows, and should have looked out. But I do not say that it was not rather gallantly done. I must now set about and see how I am to get away from you.”
“No doubt your Grace will find that difficult.”
“Well, then, so much the better for your side.”
There was silence; and thinking that, in truth, he had been warned, he thought next of the warner, and frowned.
“Do you know a Mrs. Opie?” he said. “No, your Grace.”
“On your honour, sir?”
“Mrs. Opie, your Grace? No, sir.”
And now he was a little self-angry for suspecting a lady: and concluded that her presence with him in the avenue must have been mere coincidence.
As for Lise d'Arblay, sure of his capture, she had hurried back to the Abbey; made for the line of stables northward; found the crib where she had seen her horse stalled, left saddled by her directions. The livery-men were at supper. All was still. Soon she went cantering the lawn, making the detour for the avenue. She had to embark with the party, having followed on horseback behind: for, till the shore was reached, it was not judged prudent that she should be known to the Duke in her true character, so that, in case of mischance on the twelve-mile journey, she might be useful.
But as she went cantering the lawn, Margaret watching in growing weariness, saw her pass dimly, like a shadow, athwart the deepening night. Two hours she had waited. Most solemnly still the vast house was I—soundless within, soundless without. The world seemed mere uninhabited gloom, the haunt of ghosts. She had peeped into the corridor, but now not even a footman was visible. She stood her sentry-guard at the window, looking out, waiting. All of a sudden, she saw the shadow canter—and started. She could discern that it was a woman— and she knew what woman—she had no doubt. All her vague suspicion leapt now into rage. That woman had kept her waiting these hours, was supposed to be arranging an interview for her, and was out riding, away from the Abbey, in haste. A train of doubt, of thought, flashed through her: and she had an impulse, and was away—along the corridor—to the hall, spying about, meantime, for a servant: but the mansion seemed desolate as some enchanted castle. She flew after the horse, bent upon following. Her legs were still good for a run, anyway. She tracked the hoof- tramp to the avenue; and quite half-way down it her excellent powers availed her to run at utmost speed.
Hence she could discern that the horse, now at the end, turned to the left: but when she too, reached the open road, Lise was lost to both eye and ear. Margaret, still running, panting, but without conscious aim now, followed to the left.
As Lise cantered near the coffin, she pulled short, stricken with surprise. There, bending over the body, stood a man, a lanthorn-shine on his face.
He was very old, but stalwart, large-boned, tall; a mist of white hair floated from his uncovered head; his beard reached his middle. He looked like a prophet, or a madman. He had on nothing but a blanket, fastened over the left shoulder, from which a lank arm hung out.
Wondering at what produced upon her the impression of a vision, Lise galloped past, while two pipes of blunderbuss-slug, shot at her head, whizzed over the horse's haunches.
When Margaret, twenty minutes later, reached the spot, no aged man, and no dead body, were there.
There are two roads which, between them, clasp the domain of Grandcourt like two arms. By one, the southern, the Duke had gone to the martello; the other, the northern, runs round the north of Grand-court Park: and these two meet in a single road, half a mile beyond the tower. Along this single road the party walked a mile, and here the road again split into two, one of the branches being a mere footpath. This perhaps was why, on coming to that point, not noticing the footpath (their right way), they walked along the other some fifteen minutes.
Then the voice of Danda was heard: “Stop! we have come wrong somehow.”
A mass of masonry had confronted him at a turning. No such building, he knew, should be met on the right way.
A halt was made. The man with the lanthorn ran forward, and came back crying:
“It is some old castle.”
“What has happened is this,” said Verdier, “at the meeting of two paths we have taken the wrong one.”
“Back!” cried Danda.
“We might use the castle,” said Verdier; “it is the 'Castle' in the Report sent us: it has been deserted for centuries. Your Grace, we have taken the precaution to bring for your Grace's refreshment, and our own, some victuals. Might I ask—?”
“Very Well, if that is so. I am rather hungry,” said the Duke.
It was the day of impossible “suppers” after dinner, and heavy ones. The party moved forward. “That is, if we can get in, your Grace,” said Verdier.
But there was no difficulty, both bridges being down over bush-rank ditches. The building was baronial Norman, mostly ruins. One portcullis hung yet in the inner-curtain arch, but all trace of portals was gone. They traversed a courtyard of dislocated flags, then the donjon-gate into a corridor littered with debris of fallen walls, floorless rafters above, then a complexity of decay, seeking some table, or bench, or block, for the meal. The extent seemed specially vast for an ordinary castle: but after some minutes of ascents, descents, and wandering, they stood on some flat marble steps before the west-looking nave of an Abbey-chapel, a long-drawn lane of broken groins and compound-columns. It was now clear that they were in one of those religious establishments whose priors had been first barons, and ecclesiastics after: in which case the way to the frater was obvious. They therefore picked their way east to the chancel, then through the remains of the south transept, then by the east cloister across the standing walls of calefactory, slype, chapter-house and parlour, all well defined, and finally turned west into a large room which must have been the refectory: and here, certainly, in the centre, was a small table.
But the table was surprising: it did not seem old, and was made of rough logs; and as the lanthorn was deposited upon it, it was impossible to doubt—those were crumbs between the logs!
The French exchanged glances. One, with the lanthorn, examined the chamber. It bore unmistakable evidence of an occupant. Here and there hung carcasses—rat or rabbit, dog or cat. Along one wall, near the ceiling, ran a gallery of short stone balusters bellying almost into mutual contact: and over the balustrade hung—a blanket!
They saw, too, that the walls had been pierced by several holes, within which lay rusty muzzles of fowling-piece, musket, or blunderbuss, while from three larger orifices near the floor protruded a 24-pounder saker, a 17-pounder culverin, and a 33-pounder demi-cannon.
A clang—a click—a bolt pushed into its socket— and the blood went rushing to every heart. They had entered by a doorway still fitted with a door of old iron bars, facing which, in the opposite wall, was another similar door. It was this opposite door that now clanged.
And instantly, from the other door (of their entrance), a rich voice sang out: “Hands up! And out with your purses, or you are dead men all!”
Prompt upon this cry, from the opposite door a very different voice, a deep bass, shouted: “Up draw-bridge! Down portcullis! The castle is invested with tents! At them, my merry men! Harry—harry—the foe!”
“Well now, we are in for it,” said the Duke of Wellington.
Wild confusion ensued. One of the French fell dead; the Duke's hat went flying, shot away; and the man at the grating who had cried, “Out with your purses!” dropped a corpse.
These three shots came all from behind the door opposite the party's entrance, and were fired by an old man clad in a blanket, from which the lank arm stuck.
The man shot behind the other grating was a leader of highwaymen, who, passing over the desolate country-side towards Wyemouth, had happened upon the castle, and, some time before the French, had entered it to “spend the evening. Highwaymen” proper they were not, being without horses: they were called “foot-pads” or “wolf's-heads,” and were common in the country.
There was a quarter of a minute's silence, while everyone in the smoke and half-darkness wondered what was toward: when forth again from that bare arm flashed a pistol, of which some dozen lay loaded at his feet. And out again he cried:
“Harry, harry the foe!”
The minuter facts about any locality can only be acquired by residence in it: so that when Lise d'Arblay reported the situation of Castle Debonaire, she had stated that it had been long deserted: yet few residents in the country-side were ignorant of the hermit of the castle. He was said to be the last of the Debonaire race, and, from youth, had been deranged. For sixty years the castle had been his home, and for sixty years he had lived in the belief that it was in a state of siege, and his garrison suffering famine. The rock-boulders round represented to his frenzied eye the camp of a leaguering host. The old muzzles which pointed upon the refectory were parts of the battery which threatened invaders. Daily he sallied forth at the head of foraging party, or flying squadron, in search of provisions, and the carcass of rat or dog on the walls each represented the triumph of some sortie in the teeth of overwhelming odds. Woe to the peasant who encountered the hermit on these excursions: the shot which he had fired at Lise d'Arblay being his habit. He lived from a plot of potatoes and another of rye inside the outer curtain, and had laid up stores of unleavened cakes.
His shot at the foot-pads was supposed by them to be the Frenchmen's answer to the demand for money, and when out cracked the hermit's fourth shot, wounding another foot-pad, they, with rage in their shout, threw open the grated door, and rushed into the refectory, resolved upon war.
They were fifteen.
And at once the chamber was a hubbub of detonating pistols, smoky confusion, clashing swords, contending shouts: above all, the brazen-lunged bellow:
“White are the fields with tents! Harry, my merry men!—batter!—slay!”
Round the Duke had gathered a number of French, partly to protect, partly to guard him, Verdier among them. He, in their centre, stood, hatless, his gossamer hair lifting a little at the agitated air, eyes campaigning round, taking the measure of every detail, a certain light in them—like the light of battle.
“Well, we shall all soon be done for, if we do not look out,” he said.
Danda, in white-lipped intensity, was hacking furiously with others among the foot-pads. Bang, bang, the fire-arms before, and bang, behind, rang the hermit-shot.
And it was well for the Frenchmen that at that moment the leader of armies definitely ranged himself on their side.
“I sha'n't run off you know,” he said, “at least not just now. I will tell you what to do, if you like.”
Out above the tumult sang Verdier's tenor: “Follow the Duke's orders!”
And out like an echo the cry of Danda: “Duke's orders!”
And at once, where dismay and random ecstasy had reigned in the heads of the French, orderly obedience to a dominant mind supervened. The Duke was in command, leading, for the first time, a French brigade into action.
He stooped, and speaking low to two, said in French:
“You see the table: just lay it against the wall yonder on its side, and get behind it with your pistols.” And before they could move, he said to two others whose pistols his remarking eye had noted still undischarged: “Those two fellows at the end there—just cover them with your pistols, and pick them down the moment I give the word.” And before these could stir, he said to a fifth: “Just toss your coat over the lantern.”
At once the room was in darkness: for the foot-pads' light was in the dorter where they had been carousing, they having stolen down in the dark, on hearing sounds; nor had the hermit his lanthorn; for, arriving in his room, which opened on the gallery, he had spied the party over the balustrade, and descended in quivering haste to riddle them.
And quick, to the two commanded to level pistols, the Duke said:
“Now take me off those two rogues.”
He had calculated that the effect of the sudden darkness would be a momentary motionlessness of shock: and, in fact, the two targets marked to die fell together.
Meantime, two were able to drag the table unharmed, and crouch behind it.
A knowing eye, measuring the chances, would have discerned that already the few words of the Duke had rendered the battle hopeless for the foot-pads.
“Now,” he said, in confidential whisper to Verdier near, “just get quickly and quietly to the door there, and run your sword into that old man's belly.”
The shots had again begun to detonate at random from hermit and foot-pad. But a fearful shriek quickly announced that Verdier had done his work, and the long war of the hermit's life was warred.
“Three of you,” said the Duke, laying fingers on three shoulders in quick succession; but, as he touched the last, the man dropped shot. “You, then”—he touched another—“creep up yonder on the left ten paces toward the door, and get out your swords till I give the word. And you,” he said to another, “stand near the lantern till I say 'uncover,' then uncover, and run away behind the table.”
Three of the nine French were left. To these he cried, raising his voice:
“Well, now, you three, follow me up the right-hand steps to the gallery! And mind you don't break your necks.”
There were two narrow stone stairs against opposite walls, but in such ruin, that it would hardly have occurred to another to attempt their scaling. But the sagacious eye had seen, not only the possibility, but that the right flight, as one faced the gallery, was the better preserved. Up, then, they climbed, hands, knees, and feet, the brittle stone falling in powdery masses, shots whistling.
They had nearly reached the balcony, when he called: “Now then, the lantern: uncover!”
A man snatched the coat and scurried behind the table; the room burst into light; and now the foot-pads, if they had eyes, must have seen the position untenable: for there, for frontal attack, were three in entrenched post behind the table, muzzles pointed; outflanking their right, a light- brigade with swords; above, behind the bellied balusters, three threatened their left flank.
“Well, now, I think we may begin,” said the Duke.
But the robbers, twelve to nine, were disposed to fight like Britons: and four dashed upon the three swordsmen, with knives, with butt-ends, urgently, meaning business.
“Pick me that fellow down,” said the Duke to Danda, indicating one: but the fellow had spattered a French brain before ever Danda had fired, and missed.
Meanwhile, the men behind the table were not idle, and the foot-pads fell fast. Three, observing the other ruined stairway near, climbed with such frantic agility, that they nearly reached the top unnoticed: till the Duke said to his own three:
“You see those three: send them to the devil.”
They ran to the gallery-end to obey; and in a fierce conflict the French, being uppermost, played havoc with the scalers. Meanwhile, below, a general mélée took place, the other foot-pads having made a rush for the table; but they were now outnumbered, five to three, and swordless. The contest was short. The bodies of the scalers dropped. Below, the last two foot-pads took to their heels, covered with wounds.
But the fact of the situation was this: that the Duke stood alone near that gallery-end at which he had climbed, behind him an open door—that through which the hermit had seen the party. It was partly with an eye to it that the Duke had climbed the gallery.
Stealthily, unnoticed in the heat of fight, he felt behind the door-post, up and down; then behind the door. There was staple, there was socket. He examined the door: it was fairly stout and new: the handiwork of the hermit.
He waited till the last foot-pad scuttled. Then he lifted his voice, and spoke.
“Well, now,” he said, “I have saved the lives of some of you fellows. I think it would be only fair if I get off.”
Before they could recover from that stupor of amazement, he was gone.
“Shoot—shoot his legs!” shrieked Danda, but he was a century late.
“Sot!” went Verdier, his lips curling. At the same time the men below, running in confusion, happened to overturn the lantern on the floor, and tread. it into darkness. The Duke bolted the door.
“It ought to take them half an hour to get through that,” he said, his eyes twinkling with mischief. The door was of logs, round on one side, flat on the other.
His arms went up in a stretch; his mouth opened in a sleepy yawn.
Whither to go? Already the battery had commenced. A few steps over some very shaky flooring, and he came to a doorway on his right, opening into a kind of alcove in faint light, shed partly from a lanthorn's wick, turned low, and partly from dying embers in a grate. He entered, and to his delight discovered the form of a mattress, heaped with blankets. The hour of his nap being long past, he was desperately drowsy.
In furious haste hacked the swords.
“The fellows cannot get in for half an hour, let them beat about as they like,” he said. “Well, then, I think I will turn in, and get some sleep.”
He took off his coat, and spread it before the fireplace, propping it with his stick and some firewood twigs there, his object being to hide the light, should his time-estimate prove inaccurate.
He came to the bed. To his chagrin, in the middle lay in stiff sleep a body, which, peering, he instantly recognised—the afflicted girl, which the hermit had brought as rich trophy-of-war and laid upon his bed.
In furious haste hacked the swords.
“Well, then,” said he, “we must be bed-fellows my poor girl. You have had worse, I think, and I also.”
So he lifted her to the farther edge, and he extinguished the lanthorn, and he lay by her side, covering himself. And in an instant, he murmuring:
“Twenty minutes,” they were asleep together, quick and dead.
But his estimate proved wrong. Before half an hour, in little, more than a quarter, the French had gained entrance. As they fell in, with shouts, with clamour and heat, a nasal sound of midnight slumber came long-drawn from the living sleeper.
In rushed the French in the rayless dark, past the alcove-door, without suspecting its existence. Their whole effort, indeed, was to get upon the road again, to put swiftness and the ecstasy of chase into their legs, not dreaming that he could be hardy enough to linger there an instant, supposing him already hasting to Grandcourt.
Hasting or sauntering: for they remembered his coolness, his contemptuous way, with hope: and the way was long: one impassioned chase, and again he might be theirs.
But they were now fearfully handicapped, since their lanthorn lay shapeless in the refectory. With occasional flashes they made to some broken stairs, down which they stumbled. In the complexity of the ruins, they had lost the direction of the drawbridge, and now wandered at random in a wilderness of stone, just managing to keep together. At last Verdier, in advance, emerged upon a lane between guesten-hall and donjon leading to the courtyard. It was then seen that the abbey-garth must run at right angles to the court, whereas they had imagined the two in the same straight line.
Verdier sang out: and over the draw-bridge, and away along the road they dashed. The night outside was about as dark as within the ruins.
To the point where road and footpath met they ran, and thence along the single road, before it splits into the two roads embracing Grandcourt.
At that time, coming along this single road was Margaret Ferris, breathless, hasting she knew not whither, sure only that this way Lise had galloped. She running, and they running, in a minute she must have butted amongst them, but her light ears detected a multiple sound of feet on wet road, and immediately heard some words—in French!
They were these: “What if the Duke is in the castle all the time— behind us!”
That tenor—she knew it. She had only time to swerve, and stand still, when the men rushed by; but one, near the hedge, brushed her, and before she could start into flight, pulled up, and caught her arm.
“Here is someone,” he called—“halt!”
They came, surrounding her. The man said: “It is a woman.”
“Let me go! Let me go, will you?” cried she, struggling. Something in the voice caused Verdier to start.
But the bones of Margaret, he was certain, were among the lighthouse ashes. “Be quiet, you! no one is going to hurt you,” panted her custodian. Someone struck steel-and-flint, and she stood lit: but at the first sound of preparation, she had half-turned, and with swift wit, thrown skirt over head with her free hand. Her dress now was different to the gauze and spangles worn on the frigate, nor, in the momentary glint, was she recognised.
“Where are you from?” asked Verdier, in English. “The way you are going,” she answered, sullenly.
“Did you meet anyone?”
She had not. The glad possibility of misleading them occurred to her. “Someone passed me,” she said; “I think it was a man. He had a man's voice.”
“He spoke, then?”
“What did he say?”
“He asked if he was on the right road to Grandcourt.”
“How far back was that?”
“Not far. About five minutes before I met you.”
Off they darted, leaving her there.
So, then, they had had him, and he had escaped! this she gathered from the words overheard: “What if he is in the castle all the time—behind!” That, then, was where he really was! for if on that road, she must have met him. But where was “the castle”? She knew not: she had been only three days in the country-side. She had to find out, however, meet him, guide him from them: else they would lurk on the road, and retake him. At all events, she was going right, the castle being “behind” the French. She must trust to her luck, her wit. She had gathered herself to set off, when — a galloping tramp. She thought of Lise—“that Mrs. Opie”—as the invisible sounds galloped past. She started in the opposite direction.
As for Lise, she had made no mistake, like her friends, where the road divided into footpath and castle-road, but galloped along the footpath with keen outlook for the lanthorn, till surprise grew in her at their incredible rate of travel; finally she reached a point impossible to them on foot. By some unspeakable chance, she reasoned, she must have passed them, or they gone wrong, or—something. She had then turned back in headlong urgency, eyes wide in apprehension.
The French had nearly come to where the road splits into two to embrace Grandcourt, when her hoof-sounds overtook them.
“Lise, Lise, don't ride us down,” called Verdier.
“In the good God's name, what are you doing here?” she gasped, drawing up among them.
“My dear, raving will not help,” said Verdier. “Still, the news is not cheering. The prisoner has escaped, that is all.”
“Then, O my good God, I pity you! Nothing will ever wipe out your shame! You have betrayed France!”
“So I say, too!” cried Danda, “so I say, too!”
“But I say,” retorted Verdier, “that it is not a question of raving, but of recapturing the man.”
“That you will never do!” said Lise.
“A feminine view,” he answered. “We may. He is certainly not far ahead now, if he is ahead at all. The only question is—”
Without pause they had been trotting on, and came now to the point when the two Grandcourt roads meet.
“Halt!” said Verdier. “Well, what is the question?” said Lise. “This: supposing him to be on ahead, which of these two roads has he taken?”
“Divide your men, and send one party along each road.”
“A brilliant idea, Lise, but impossible. Six of our best fellows are gone. There has been a row—a fight. There are only six of us left.”
“If three go the north road, and three the south—” said Lise. “Three are no good. The Duke of Wellington is not going to allow himself to be ordered about for ten miles by three men. And we have no lantern: it was smashed in the fight. One party would never find the other, if we separate. We must stake all on one chance.”
“But you are losing time! Try the north road, then! As you came by the south, he is more likely to take the north now—I, meanwhile, will go by the south—”
“Good! I agree with you. The north, then! Come on—this way!”
Off, then, they rushed, Lise taking the southern road, past the martello, on to the avenue, then up it, all ears, head held low on her mane: no sound but the hoof-falls: back then she turned, galloping hot, scouring the road, past the martello, past the meeting of the ways, on by the single road.
Margaret now was not far from the meeting of footpath and castle-road, when again she heard the sounds of the on-coming horse behind.
“What does the woman mean?” she said to herself. And this time she felt absolutely that she must speak, must know more.
“Is that you, Mrs. Opie?” she shrilly called. Lise's horse reared, so sharply she reined—with alarm more than surprise: for she recognised the voice.
“Yes, it is Mrs. Opie,” she said—“and you, Margaret?”
“I waited for you, but you did not come.”
“My dear girl, a dreadful thing has happened—”
“Oh, I dare say!”
That tone of scornful rancour was convincing. “So, then, Margaret suspects, suspects me,” Lise thought: “let me remember that.”
“I suppose you know that your story of the Frenchmen has come true, Margaret, and that the Duke has been got away by them?”
“Yes, I know. I met the Frenchmen, you see. Haven't you sent any of the servants of the Abbey out looking for him?”
“I? No—I haven't had time.”
“But I, too, met the Frenchmen, Margaret, and overheard some of their talk. It appears that the Duke has escaped.”
“Everything you tell me I know already.”
“Then do you tell me something which I do not know. Where is the Duke now?”
“I can't say, I'm sure.”
“Are you out looking for him?”
“But yes, Margaret. Why else? other of us may find him.”
“I hope one of us may, yes.”
“Well, if you do, let me give you a hint. You know where the two roads meet near the martello- tower?”
“Well, the Frenchmen have gone by the north one, and there are lying in wait for him. So if you meet him, be certain to take him the south way, in order to cheat them.”
Lise, with absolute cunning, argued that Margaret, suspecting her now, would do the opposite, and, if she discovered the Duke, would not fail to lead him by the north road into the arms of the French.
And, in truth, Margaret only needed this counsel to be convinced that the north was, in fact, the road of safety: and said at once to herself:
“I would make him go the north road, all the same.”
“And where are you going now, Margaret?” said Lise. “I don't know, I'm sure.”
Where she was going to was—“the castle.” She had this knowledge which Lise had not: that the Duke had been to some “castle”; for in the galloping dialogue between Lise and Verdier had been no mention of the castle, whereas Margaret had overheard those words: “the castle behind.”
“I am going to turn back, Margaret,” said Lise. “Further on this way seems useless.” She started back in the direction of the martello; Margaret the other way, at a run. When she came to footpath and castle-road, not seeing the footpath, she kept still the wide road, and rapidly approached the castle.
Punctually at the end of the twenty minutes assigned himself the Duke opened his eyes, expecting to hear the French still hacking: but all was silence.
He lay for a time, then rose, and put on his coat. A draft in the coat-covered grate had blown the embers into a babbling whip of flame. With this he lit the hermit's lanthorn, covered the dead girl, went warily, and descended some stairs.
The French were still in the ruins, fumbling for an exit. Sounds reached him. He found a space between two walls, piled with debris at either end; over one pile he climbed, and crouched waiting, the lanthorn under his coat.
He knew exactly where lay court-yard and drawbridge, for he had noted all the changes of direction in the passage through castle and abbey, and summing up these, concluded that the chapel and frater would lie at about right angles to the castle.
He did not know that the French had been less observant, and having waited and heard nothing, he climbed from his hiding-place, and set out, steering his feet toward the court-yard. A little sooner, and he must have been caught: for, when he emerged, they had hardly run down the outer escarpment, and from the roadway some ordering voice came up faintly.
“Ah, they think I am off before them,” he said. “They have more zeal than discretion, I see: good soldiers, but bad generals. Well, then, I must only wait here till they get away.”
On a block of masonry near the donjon-portal he sat with bare head, hiding for a time the lanthorn between his legs.
He could wait as greatly as act. He sat elbow on knee, thumb and forefinger holding his chin, smiling a little, while thirty minutes passed. The lanthorn stood now before him, its light on his face.
“They will not come back,” he reasoned: “when they do not find me on the road, the natural thing for them to think will be that I have got home; then they will run off to their ship in a sweat, lest I have them taken up.”
Another fifteen minutes, and in, with feet of pelting swiftness, came Margaret.
With infinite surprise she saw him, open to any eye, the light on his lean visage. “My lord—” she panted—“are you the Duke?”
He dropped hand from chin, sat up leisurely, looked at her. He never forgot a face: and, as he did not know her, had never seen her. But he knew her name! This was that Margaret Ferris, the English auxiliary of the French, against whom he had been warned by Mrs. Opie.
“Well, now, Margaret,” he said, “what is it you are after?”
“I am glad you know my name, my lord,” she answered—” you have got to come with me at once!”
“Is that so? And where is it you want to take me to?”
“The Frenchmen—the Frenchmen—are on the south road—there is a north and a south road— and they are on the south road, going after you! You have got to come—quick—to the north road, and get home, before they come back.”
“Well, but suppose I like to remain here instead?”
“You mus'n't! They will come back and take you!”
His face, his heart, hardened against her. He had just reasoned that the French would not return.
“You know all about them, then?” he said. “I know, yes, my lord! They passed me on the road! I heard one of them—the most artful one, too—doubt whether you were ahead of them at all! He said that perhaps, all the while, you were hiding in the castle! It was that made me come here. They will be back and take you sure, if you do not hurry!”
“Ah, and who is that 'most artful one' you tell me about?”
“He is a man they call Verdier. They do everything he tells them.”
“Is that so? You know them all personally, then?”
“Haven't I cause, my lord? Didn't they chase me all over Seacombe Moor last night, and take me on board their ship with a man named Mr. Golde, and drive us up in the lighthouse, and burn the lighthouse down?”
“Is that so? Which lighthouse?”
“Raddon Lighthouse, my lord.”
This was categorical statement, chapter and verse. He disliked to have to doubt a woman's word.
“So Raddon Lighthouse is burnt down, then. I have not heard that.”
“You have not had time. And we are losing time now, sir.”
He looked at her, almost with admiration. “Well, now,” he said, “you are a very bold young woman.”
“I don't understand what you mean, sir.”
“Why not desert the enemy and come over to my side, Margaret?”
“I don't understand what you mean, my lord.”
“I knew your name, you see.”
“And what does that imply to your mind?”
“I don't know, sir.”
“Well, it implies this, you know: that I have been told all about you.” Still she had no notion what he was driving at. She said: “Won't you come now, my lord?”
“No, Margaret, certainly, I won't come now. It looks as if you were rather wasting powder and shot. And what is more, I won't let you go, either.”
What did he mean? Her hands met wringing. “Well, now, you see, you are distressed,” he said: “but it is your own doing. You have over-run into the enemy's lines. Sit down here.”
This he said with some sternness. She sat down at once by him, mouse-quiet “I do not call you a good actress, you know,” he went on after a minute. “You are very bold, but you show too much distress and eagerness.”
“I can't help it!”
“Well, that is an open confession. I like you; but then, when I had once told you that I had been warned against you—”
Now she understood—
“Oh, my lord! my lord!” she cried.
Surely in that cry was sincerity! It had the true ring of pang, of reproach, of wounded loyalty. “Have I pained you?” he asked, with sudden gentleness.
“My lord, my lord, who has been doing this?”
“Well, but I cannot tell you that.”
“But I know! It is that Mrs. Opie!”
“You know her, then?”
“Didn't I go to the Abbey, my lord, and tell her of the plot this evening? And didn't she leave rue waiting while she went to get you to see me? And while I was waiting, didn't I see her out riding on the lawn? And didn't I just meet her on the road, riding about?”
“You don't mean to say that she is against me, and on the side of the Frenchmen?”
“Yes, my lord, that is just what I do mean!”
“Ah, I thought there was something,” said the Duke.
He had to choose between the two women, and his mind was swinging round to faith in Margaret, and something like distrust in Lise.
“Well, now, Margaret, I am in a fix, you see,” said. he. “That lady, a guest in the house where I am staying, tells me that you are a naughty girl, and you tell me that she is naughty. I am afraid I shall have to disbelieve one or other of you. And it is rather difficult to choose. There are points that look black against you both.”
“But, my lord—look at me!”—her eyes filled with innocent tears—“do I look like one—” She could not go on. The words perished in her throat. She turned aside her head. He patted her on the shoulder.
“Never mind. We shall see. Suppose I cast in my lot with you, and say I will trust you?” She jumped up. “Oh, thank you, sir!”
“You won't betray me, then?”
“Oh, my lord—!”
“Well, then, let us go.”
He rose. Margaret brushed a sleeve across her eyes, and in a moment was all activity. She caught up the lanthorn. They moved towards the drawbridge.
“Well, now,” he said, “I am in your hands. You shall do with me whatever you like.”
“You are good, my lord. I always heard that you were good.”
“You are very likely good, too. I am sorry now that we quarrelled. You know why I did it, and you will forgive me.”
“Oh yes, sir!”
“And you are a mighty pretty girl, Margaret. Will you give the Duke a kiss?”
“I don't like to,” said she, pouting, with a reluctant movement of one shoulder. “Well, then, I must go without. But we will hold hands, if you like. The road is rough and wet.”
And very lovingly they went, hand in hand, she slightly in advance, dragging him a little in her greed, swinging the lanthorn over the receding path.
“You remind of a very pretty French girl I once met near Toulouse. There was rather a flirtation between us, I can tell you, Margaret. You are not French, are you?”
“Oh, my lord—!”
“No—don't be angry. I never do things by halves: I trust you entirely, having trusted you. The question was only accidental.”
On, over receding puddle and rough road, they went, to where castle-road met footpath, and on by the single road to where the two Grandcourt roads meet.
“And about these two roads?” said he. “You say the Frenchmen are on the south one.”
“You are quite sure?”
“Oh yes, sir.”
“How do you know?”
She knew that they were on the south, because Lise had told her that they were on the north: she had perfect moral certainty. But she felt that the reason that convinced her might not convince him: and it was urgently necessary that he should be convinced. The French by this time must be hasting back. She feared delay—and told a lie.
“I know, sir,” she said. “I saw them on the south road.”
“Very well, then. We will take the north.”
And along the north they proceeded.
The French had gone in eager hunt right to the north park-gates, four miles. They halted fatigued. Since four that afternoon, they had travelled over twenty miles.
“He is behind us, then,” said Verdier.
“But what of the man, who, according to the woman on the road, was ahead of us?” said Danda: “we should have met him.”
“He must have gone the south road: in which case, Lise will be able to tell us something of him.”
“Ah, but where is she? Back! we search the country till we find him! We burn and sack the Abbey—!”
As they set off again, there sounded approaching hoofs—Lise, who, after parting from Margaret, had taken, this time, the north road.
They warned her, and she drew up among them. “O my good God, he is nowhere on the south road,” she said. “Did you meet a man?”
“That is strange. A woman on the road told us there was a man.”
“Oh, that was Margaret Ferris. She lied.”
“Margaret Ferris. You ought to have killed that girl. She will ruin everything yet—if everything is not already ruined.”
“But we have no idea what girl you are talking about.”
“Oh, nonsense! the girl you took on board the frigate last night.”
“But—are you in earnest? It is impossible that she is not dead!”
“She would be dead if I had had a pistol a short while ago.” The men were stricken silent. Verdier bit his lip. “Come on! let us be on the move!” said Danda. The others went on. Verdier stood with hand on the horse's wet neck.
Lise,” he said, “ I cannot think that he has reached home. He had only some fifteen minutes' start, and unless he ran hard, we must have overtaken him. He is on the road now—or in the castle—”
“The old castle—we were there—”
“My good God, you did not tell me that! I might have gone there! What a mess a set of men, if left alone—”
“Do not rave, my dear girl. I think it is you who have now gone wrong in leaving the south road. He may go that way.”
“I am going back. I was so sure that you had him—”
“Better stay about here, and keep guard; we are now going into the south to wait. And don't go galloping about in that way: the hoofs make a row.”
He went running to join the others.
At that time Margaret, her right hand in the Duke's left, her left swinging the lanthorn, said “Stop! I thought I heard something, my lord!”
He glanced at her.
Your ears are light, in that case.”
“They have got to be. Didn't you hear anything, sir?”
“No. What was it like?”
“I don't know. It was something.”
“Well, we must not allow ourselves to be frightened by 'something.' There is nothing to fear, if your story is correct.”
But the whole of her story, she knew, was not correct. She was a little doubtful, frightened. “They may have split up their men into two lots,” she said, “and posted one lot on each road.”
“No, they won't do that. There are only six of the fellows left. And they very likely guess that I won't go with three without some fisticuffs. They are all, therefore, on the south road where you saw them.”
She was guiltily silent; then said:
“Suppose they have come over to this road, sir?” Again he glanced at her. She was pallid. Her hand trembled in his.
“You must not be afraid,” he said. “They would not do that, you know, without some reason. And if they were far gone on the south road when you saw them there, I think they would not have time to be here by now. Were they far gone?”
“Pretty far,” she said, and threw up her eye-whites in demure appeal, thinking: “Lord help me with this man this night!”
“Well now,” remarked he, “ I think we are getting on very well for the Abbey.”
“I don't like this lantern alight,” said Margaret irrelevantly.
“There again you are not yourself, Margaret. This now is the third time you have said that. If there is nobody to see us, by all means let us see ourselves.”
“You are very obstinate, sir,” she said with a sigh.
And through his mind, for one instant, passed the shadow of a questioning whether all these timidities were not mere cloaks to cover some hidden intent. Yet they had the look of genuineness. The half-thought passed. His pressure tightened in friendship on her hand a moment.
And on they went, approaching the approaching French: till Verdier, with intense hiss of exultation, whispered:
“There he comes!”
In the lanthorn-shine they saw him plod with calm deliberate step. The five flocked round Verdier, hanging breathlessly upon his whispers.
“Quick! Dupin, Carhaix, and Huguenin, on that side, under the hedge, well apart—twenty paces. When I whistle, run out and close. Come, Danda and Carnot—you and I on this side.”
They went crouching. And the lanthorn swung nearer; and nearer grew the wet squelch of feet. The Duke walked silent. He had trusted all to her, confident only in her tones, her frank glance. Yet he was a born aristocrat, with faith first in his own class; and in trusting the work-girl he had given a lady the lie, one against whom he could allege nothing, who had actually warned him against the guide he was blindly following.
Yet, in spite of inbred instincts, the simply human was strong in him, too, the frank good- fellowship of the hour, and broad trust in the heartiness of man. He struck a compromise within himself: and without distinctly charging Lise, contrived to rest confidently in Margaret.
Suddenly, the whole slow-built fabric of his trust collapsed. She had snatched her hand from his: a fatal movement. He could not but think it predesigned. Yet was perfectly involuntary—a gesture of panic, of frenzied terror.
Verdier's whistle had sounded—a quick succession of shrills.
They ran out, closing round the Duke. Up went the stick some inches, but dropped. He stood still in their midst, faint night airs musing among his uncovered hair.
She, in her fright, by an impulse of self-preservation, had stepped backward beyond the circle, and stood peering, the lifted lanthorn-shine luridly illustrating a face of distorted pallor.
For a minute intense silence. Then the Duke: “Well, I was behind you all the time, you see. You were after the deer before he broke cover: and gave yourself, and me, a walk.”
But now a low sobbing and lamentation was heard in the night, as Babylonish maidens, with dole and plaint, lamented upon the dead. Margaret's hands were over her face, the lanthorn hanging by a finger. And bitterly she sobbed:
“Oh, my dear lord, forgive me, sir! Oh, what shall I do, my lord, my lord? Forgive a poor girl, sir—Oh, I wish I had never laid eyes on you this night, my lord, my lord!”
But the face of the Duke was like white iron, and the granite rock.
The first movement was by Verdier. After a minute's tense suspension of silence, broken by Margaret's lament, he spurted at the girl, she not four yards from him. But prompt, with the alacrity of startled roes, she was off, having sighted him between her fingers. In an instant the source of her tears was dry, the streams paused on her cheek, and her soul was in her racing legs. Away they flew, on tip-toe, in impassioned run, a whirlwind of straining effort, Verdier intensely resolved, she desperate. Long it could not last: he felt himself fail, and her getting away from him, in spite of her quarrelling and flapping skirts and wildly-swinging lanthorn: he put hand to belt: a shot in the leg, low, in the calf. He steadied himself, ready to fire; but to her, too, thought by this time had come: away over the hedge, tossed awkwardly askew from the left hand, went the lanthorn into darkness. And she was ten yards ahead, lost to him now. He did not even fire.
The Duke was puzzled. Was it genuine, the race: and Margaret, after all, true? Crudely practical, he judged by results, and the results of her guidance were enough for him: he would never have given her the privilege of a second thought in his brain for ever, would have blotted her from his book of life, but for the race. It looked genuine: and there were the hearty sobs of the girl, her vivid grief . . . yet it seemed incredible that Verdier, if in earnest, should not shoot. The girl, if against them, would be a constant peril on the long tramp. Verdier's lovesick hesitation to shoot he could not divine: and when Margaret flung away the lanthorn, he decided that the object might be to keep the march dark, without insult to him, by a natural-looking ruse; when Verdier returned alone, without having once fired, the Duke smiled. Before the judgment- seat of his severity the girl stood damned. He banished her quickly from his thoughts.
It was dark, the Frenchmen few. Verdier therefore whispered two men to hold the prisoner's sleeves. The Duke felt the grips, and for a minute walked on so. Then he said:
“Well, you will have to behave like gentlemen, you know; or I shall knock some of you on the head.”
“Can we do anything for your Grace?” asked Verdier. “ These fellows will have to let me go.”
“But, your Grace—”
“Let me go. I won't run off.”
“We have your Grace's promise?”
“No, I won't run off.”
“Let go his Grace's arms,” said Verdier.
But Danda grumbled in his throat, doubtful and ill-content.
On they went, the Duke in the middle, three on each side, with respectful interval. Nothing could be seen. They only knew his presence by the steady sound of his tread, and the ear grew to recognise its accustomed beat among the other sounds. No one spoke.
In this way they tramped to the meeting of north and south roads, and on, eastward, by the single road.
Margaret had stopped her flight, and stood uncertain, wild-eyed, listening. She heard the on- coming march, and drew back breathlessly against the hedge. When they passed her, she followed timorously, keeping the sounds of the march within her ears.
Lise, too, from behind had seen the lanthorn-light, the capture, the short chase. She followed a good way behind Margaret, lest her hoof-sounds might reach the party.
Near castle-road and foot-path, the French began to strike flashes to avoid a second mistake. The foot-path went winding south a considerable distance between alternations of meadow-grass, cliff, hill-slope, and swamp. And along it, with steady tramp, went the party.
It was too narrow for triple file: so now three went first, then the Duke, then three, in single file, Danda leading, his short legs stepping in the dark their rhythmic, triumphal step. Behind Margaret came Lise, with lax bridle.
The brain of the walking girl grew busy. What was she to do? what could she? To walk tamely, with tears and weakness, to the shore, and see them accomplish their work, would help nothing. When she remembered that this was her doing, up she flung her hands, and let them drop, in an agony.
She wondered if Golde still stupidly slept: if not, he would have read her note, and be at his mill, awaiting her. She could very well guess the direction of Newton, but not how far it might be. The wonder was that the Abbey servants had not missed the Duke—but even so, they could guess nothing: they might even suppose him sitting up, writing, maybe. Her hope was, that parties of men, without knowing of the seizure, had taken gratuitous interest in the matter, spurred on by Golde, perhaps, or deaf Mother Higgins, and were out doing something.
But, meantime, her necessity was to act, she herself, Margaret. If she could retard their progress, that might be something: some delay, somehow— her thoughts began to centre upon this: it was well past midnight: if she could keep them on the move some hours. A morning which found them far from the shore would dawn full of hope.
But to keep them? That could only be done by making them wander, by turning them somehow from their path.
It looked impossible: but, in contradiction to this conclusion, just then the party actually did miscarry, and go tramping over marsh.
“We are off the path!” called Danda; “it is just there to the left. Follow the sound of my steps.” In a minute they were back.
But this opened her mind to the means by which the troop was guiding itself. She tingled with discovery. Here was no question of sight: the night was too confirmed. Each, except the foremost, walked by the sounds of the man before; the foremost by a species of instinct, the indefinite sensations of the ground, of bordering cliff or hillside. And he, too, was unconsciously influenced by the sounds behind.
Another sound, therefore, introduced among the tramp, continually tempting false, would surely prove a distracting factor, a misleading lure, in the ensemble of the foot-falls.
This thought struck her pallid. To introduce herself and mingle as one of them among them! and a stretched-out hand, a flutter of the skirt, would spoil her! And there was Yerdier—
She once caught, she doubted if any hope would remain. But she felt out on either hand, though her will still hung in suspension: two hill-sides shelved to the path; as yet she could do nothing. But she quickened her pace.
At this point Verdier called out:
“It would be better, I think, if each took hold of the man in front for guidance. If your Grace does not object—”
Verdier was behind Danda, separated by a man from the Duke. Margaret, now near enough to hear, was stepping with strained ears, throbbing heart, and at Verdier's proposal her face had a look of scare: it was just like a counter-answer to her thoughts.
“If your Grace does not object—” he repeated.
“Let us get on,” said the Duke, piercing the thought, without troubling to accuse it, “I told you that I would not run off.”
Verdier had the whim that this would be an inoffensive excuse for making doubly-sure of the prisoner, though, in fact, he had no doubt of the Duke's word; and at the penetration of his motive, and the refusal, his face screwed into a laughing grimace of self-conscious defeat, as who should say:
“He's done me!”
The march continued as before. And suddenly, Margaret, without knowing that she had resolved, found herself, with a pang of terror, in the thick of the act which she had only conceived.
Here, on one side, ran hill; on the other, a spread of wet land, half-moor, but sparsely tree- grown, lay dark. Over this she was now hasting, with cat-like care, stalking on intense tip-toe, yet quickly. And now she was abreast of the hindermost; and now of the Duke; and now of Danda, skirt picked high to thighs, her eyes wide with bigness of purpose.
Nearer!—her difficulty being the exact position of the foremost, and the slipping between him and the next. Had she known that the next was Verdier, her daring will might have failed. But by the concentrating of her whole soul, by ears ardent for accuracy, by nerves high-strung, trained to exact achievement, steadily sure, on the acme of alacrity, she did successfully slide between Danda and Verdier. And now, boldly, with strong manly step, outstriding like a soldier, she went marching between.
Little by little worked the sorcery of that seducing foot-fall, like the “beginning of sin.” There was a mere deviation from the path; then, could it have been seen, a most gradual curve and trend to the right; then, always to the right, a definite excursive drift from the original direction of march; then blank delusion, and complex vagrancy, and mazy error.
Twenty minutes, and beyond redemption they were lost — no real idea of direction left in them, like a stray flock, the pied-piper's rats flute-led to their drowning, believing in a lie.
She stepped from the curving file which they still formed; and, falling to the rear, no longer cautious, made a dark sound in a puddle. The result was marvellous. The man near heard, and followed it. And his sounds were followed by others, and theirs by others. And in an instant, the very spirit of delusion had them, playing with them, leading them by the nose, they no longer walking in file, but in a disorganised confusion, separated by varying intervals, each misled by the nearest sound, and misleading in turn through all the permutations of error; yet believing themselves all the while walking in file along the foot-path, southward.
The Duke was still in their midst, himself deluded. But it presently happened that none of the French were very near him; and it was then that he suddenly came, with a shock, to a standstill, striking an obstruction.
His hand felt up and down, meeting a substance damp, and smooth, and somewhat slimy; too smooth for bark, too soft for a hut-door. He moved a step aside, thinking to get clear, but there it still was; tried again, but it was there. With hand sliding along the substance, he began to step tentatively. Whatever the thing was, it was pretty extensive; and from the manner in which he was compelled to step, he concluded something circular. At last his sliding hand fell upon emptiness, and immediately struck something which yielded to the touch.
His hand, again put out, met nothing; but the arm, moved from side to side, was stopped by two edges. He now concluded that he had walked into a circular building, was at the door-way, and that what had yielded to the weight of his out-falling hand was the door.
A forward step, and he had this door, which came readily to his pull. Feeling along its surfaces, he found that the inner was soft, and damp, like the surface which had obstructed him, but the outer rough and gnarled.
And now he knew: he had walked into the interior of some colossal and hollow tree. It was an elm, the fame of the county, old as the Druids, and large as a small room, with a door made of its own bark, narrower a-top. It was a recognised resort of pic-nic parties in the neighbourhood.
“Well, now,” said he, “this comes in rather well. Here, I think, we shall be pretty safe.” He pulled the door upon himself. The closure was complete.
Lise had seen the giant trunk, but sent no report of it, it lay so remotely beyond the route; nor did she even know that it was hollow. For the French, without lanthorn, to refind the prisoner in this perfect retreat was impossible, even should they return striking flashes.
But they were now far away, having butted in a body against a stone hedge, before suspecting that anything was wrong. Then, like men awaking out of a dream, they felt that all was lost. A succession of flashes convinced them that the Duke was no longer among them.
“Where are we?” cried Danda, stamping furiously.
“We are where you have led us,” answered Verdier. I congratulate you, m'sieur.” He struck a flash, looking at a pocket compass.
“We have been travelling due west instead of due south, that is all,” he said.
“But the prisoner! the prisoner!”
“The prisoner is probably sleepy, m'sieur, and going home to his bed.”
Danda's white lip set. “Then it is your fault! it is you who believed an Englishman's word! it is you who said he was not to be held! Does he call himself a man of honour?”
“You are an idiot,” said Verdier coolly, “Something or other has happened. Gentlemen, whether they are Englishmen or not, do not break faith. He has not run away. He has missed us somehow in the dark. While we have been doubling about, he has perhaps gone straight. Something must have happened. He can hardly be such a cur—!”
He stopped: his brows knit: it was hard to conceive what could have happened. “But what are we to do now?” said Danda.
“We are to go back, at a swift run, till we find the foot-path again, then run northward. it is there, if anywhere, that we will meet him.”
And at a run they started back, but obliquely, passing some distance from the elm: the Duke, within it, did not hear their foot-steps.
Margaret at the first flash of steel-and-flint, had fled beyond ear-shot of their talk, and believed the Duke still in their midst. When they started back, she followed, thinking that her ruse had not kept them long astray, after all.
In fifteen minutes, stopped by a hill-side, they recognised the foot-path: and away northward they sped, silent and swift. Lise d'Arblay, meanwhile, was stepping contentedly southward on her nag, not suspecting the deviation.
The Duke fastened the door with a hook-and-eye, more secure here than in his Grandcourt bedroom. He leant, his legs crossed, tired, listening, smiling.
So he reclined a longish time. The French had already run back past the tree, before he started violently upright. Suddenly he remembered. . . . He had promised. . . .
“Well, this will never do,” he said.
He made at once two steps towards the door. But stopped. What had he promised? He remembered the very words:
“Let me go. I won't run off.”
The question which confounded him a moment was whether his accidental entrance into the tree, and the mere act of remaining there, could be called “running off.”
“Running” it certainly was not, nor was it even “off”: if he stayed, therefore, he would be well within the letter of his promise.
And the character of the persons to whom the promise was made did not escape his reflection. While half-recognising their gallantry, he judged them with all the severity of his austere mind. They were outrageous, they were criminal, they deserved to be hanged. In reality, they were a mere low rabble, vulgar brigands.
But his hesitation, his reflection, were only momentary. Soon he was at the door, and out, and away. . . .
He was rather scared, rather frightened. Suppose he could not find them? He called aloud. His memory, surely, had played him an odd trick: he must, in truth, be getting an old fellow. His perfect calm forsook him. Perhaps for the first time in his life—he was agitated.
There was a spirit as well as a letter: a man should be honest. . .
He ran calling, with bare head, in the same direction as his approach to the tree, thinking the French must be there, in advance. Finally, he, too, butted upon the stone hedge which had stopped them.
“This will never do,” he said again, severely.
He was wholly lost. How he had come to enter the tree at all, they travelling in single file along a foot-path, was more than he could comprehend. And where now was the foot-path was all a mystery. He had no compass, no flint-and-steel. He stood shut in, in the close prison of the darkness, his great heart anxious, wrinkles of trouble across his brow.
“The only way, then,” he said, “will be to run about and make a noise. These fellows will think . . .”
Again he started into a trot, calling, backward towards tree and foot-path When he reached this, he was stopped by the hill on its further side, and understood: this then, was it. By a wise guess he determined which was north, which south, and southward he turned, not dreaming that they were making rapid paces northward on his imagined track.
Now he quickened his trot, stick out-held obliquely in hand; and ever as he went, he called: “Hi, there! Hi! Hi! Hi!”
Now, Lise, after a time wishing to have some guiding sound, had quickened pace; then, hearing nothing, had gone yet faster; and now had arrived at the certainity of some calamity. She reined and sat troubled, and terrified, and angry, and puzzled.
Suddenly—behind her—she heard afar the dark Hi! Hi!
Of all the crazy improbabilities and distracting surprises of topsy-turvydom this, to her mind, was the most crazy. She knew the voice! Here was the Duke of Wellington, evidently alone, hurrying after his captors, calling anxiously for them!
Nearer grew the dark voice, with a “Hi, Frenchmen, Hi!” and a “Hi! Hi! Hi!”
Before this paradox reason succumbed. But one thing was clear: he believed them before, and she had decided that they must be behind.
It remained to her, either to reveal herself and tell him to change his course, or to hurry after her friends. Upon this latter she resolved, and, making a detour with noiseless slowness, re-found the footpath, and set off galloping northward.
The French were again near the meeting of footpath and castle-road, when Margaret, hanging behind them, all wonderment at this northward flight, drew out of the way of the cantering hoofs.
“That woman again,” she muttered: “now, anyway, he'll know the beast in her true colours, I should think!”
The French hailed: Lise drew up. “What has happened?” she asked.
“Happened!” replied Danda. “Your friend here let go hold of the man on his parole, and the English fox—”
Lise,” said Verdier, “ I think I told you not to make a row with your horse's hoofs.”
“Nonsense!” she cried angrily—“turn back—and fly, fly—he is on the road behind you— calling for you—!”
They were off southward, brushing past Margaret, unsuspecting, came to the point of their deviation, and on, with continuous sharp trot, beyond. From this point the path curves to the right, and loses itself in Seacombe Moor. The Duke had gone to its termination, then, meeting untracked bush, turned back, walking now, tired, hopeless of finding them. Occasionally still he lifted his voice in a 'Hi!”
“Well, then,” he muttered at last, “if not to-night—to-morrow.”
But presently afterwards on-coming feet reached his ears. He smiled. “Ah, I thought they would be looking up again somewhere,” he said. They were quite near before he said coolly:
“I am here, you see.”
Verdier stepped forward with invisible bows.
“We are most sorry, your Grace, if, by any blundering of ours, we have caused your Grace anxiety.”
“Well, now,” the Duke said to himself, “this fellow is a gentleman.”
“No, it was rather my own fault. I got into a hollow tree somewhere, and stayed in it too long.” He was among them again. But as the march reformed, he said:
“But my promise no longer holds good. Understand that I mean to run off, if I can.”
“Then may we now take hold of your Grace's arm?” said Verdier.
“No. I mean to say, if an extraordinary chance happens, as happened just now. Otherwise I shall stay with you. Let us be going.”
The march recommenced: three, then the Duke, then three; then, behind, Lise; then Margaret. They reached the Moor, and now the Duke walked in the middle of a narrow circle. Anon Verdier would strike a flash, and look at his compass. The course was south; eight miles, then the shore, then the boat, the frigate, and victory.
Abreast went Lise and Margaret. Anon a sound, dark and ghostly, broke the silence. The Duke faintly heard it, and wondered; Verdier heard it, and was angry; Margaret heard it, and it became intolerable to her.
It was the strike of a walking hoof against some stone, an occasional tramp on hard earth. Lise now kept nearer, resolved not to lose them again, guided by rare glints of Verdier's flint; and her hoof-sounds were heard,—always singly, and most vaguely, seeming to come from the depths of space, the bosom of nowhere.
Margaret they affected with irritation and a growing rancour; broke in upon her agonised effort to think; molested and embarrassed her. For now again the thought, “What am I to do?” tormented her. All the old hopes, of Golde, of rescue-parties, recurred, and turned to despairs. It was well on in the small hours: but long, long, before a ray pierced the blackness, the party would be on board the frigate. The shore couldn't be far off, and the boat: for here was Seacombe Moor. And she was following just like a little child, or an old woman, feeble, without wits in her. But something she would do, she vowed: straightway would run and do it. Only what? The possibility of again misleading them, in the then order of march, was gone. There was the boat—if something could be done to that! This was her thought, when again the hoof-sound from nowhere threw her into confusion.
“If I could only find out where you are, I would soon do for you!” she said, with shaken menace of head.
The boat! Again she began to think of this— And again a hoof-sound: but this time she knew where and how to make it cease for ever. The nag had neighed. The previous ghosts of sound were a different matter to this definite whinny: and Margaret turned to the left.
Lise had no idea that Margaret was now near the party. The cracking of a twig would have aroused all her suspicion: but Margaret approached with absolute caution, lifted skirts, dainty step. Soon the regular hoof-sounds were in her ears, a snort, then the laboured breathing. He passed close before her. Her warily-stretched hand touched his haunch.
And Lise only saved herself from a backward fall by a clutch of the lax reins: the horse, in a spasm, had reared straight, Margaret having buried in his haunch the knife from the gipsy's pannier.
Where her blow fell, whether into Lise or the horse, she did not care, nor know. But she was not long in doubt: out, as the nag dropped from the curvet, went its hind-legs in a kick of agony; and away went Margaret with them, and lay sprawling, moaning low.
What caused the curvet Lise did not know: the nag settled into its former walk, and she went unconscious that thick gore oozed from a profuse wound behind her.
Onward, over grass and gorse, with steady tramp, went the men.
They crossed the canal by a bridge perilously near Seacombe: but Seacombe lay in nepenthe profound as the last sleep.
A long way behind sprawled Margaret, half on her face, a hand on her hip, where the kick had fallen like a swung club. She was crying, but it was rather from rage, and soon the tears dried, and she began to think again, reverting to the boat: but it lay motiveless in her brain; then to Golde, and he lay motive-less in her brain; then to the boat, in vain. Suddenly she sat straight with a cry of pain, of joy: she had connected the boat and Golde, and had invented.
She blessed herself for having written to him that night. It would be impossible, she knew, to reach Wyemouth before the French the shore. Even of Newton she was not sure—how far it was, how far the shore was. But she sprang up, tried to estimate directions, and determined upon a course. She set out slowly, with limping difficulty, started into a forced run, had to stop, ran again, and found it now less painful. Finally, in virtue of that natural power of mind and body to rise to the necessity of the case, she was able to run continuously, though with distress.
Now, Golde, about midnight, had awoke ravening. A lamp burned in the room, and the first thing he spied was Margaret's note: he was to be at his mill. But a stronger reason urged Golde: the vacuous hole within him. The inn was silent: and though Newton meant a yearning trudge of three miles, yet a certain oyster-patty, neat's tongue, and veal-surprise at the mill offered speedier satisfaction than the process of rousing the inn. With the lamp he crept down, undid a back door, and went across fields. The mill stood well outside Newton on a very steep ground, timber-framed Elizabethan, dark with age, and had the look of madly struggling to keep its perpendicular, as a man tripping too fast downhill, tries to stop, projecting a leg. It had been added to, altered, and added to again; and salient bits and gables, oriels and tiny turrets with finials, made it an eccentricity almost droll. Within, the rooms were antic as possible, triangular, pentagonal, numerous, comically tiny; everything seemed to slant; things hung askew; door- bottoms did not run level with the flooring, nor either with the ceiling. At the back the old green wheel, and the works.
Golde uttered an “Ah!” after a crowded meal, and sat back lazily throeing with digestion. He had known how to enter and provide himself with light, food and porter, without waking his old housekeeper. When Margaret, guided by his light, began pounding at the door, he sat thus alone; and down he went.
Now her sustained fight against the sprain collapsed; and she almost fell upon him. He bore her up the inconsequent, crochety stairs, laid her in an easy-chair.
“I am sorry, miss,” he said, “to see you in that way.”
“The Duke—is taken”—her nose and forehead screwed together for pain.
“You don't say that, miss.”
“He is! By now he is not far from the sea. There isn't any hope left, unless you get there at once, as fast as ever a horse can take you.”
“There is no horse,” he said, “there's a little ass—”
“Oh, don't say you haven't a horse! An ass can't carry us both!”
“Wouldn't it be better if you stayed still, and rested, miss, a bit? You seem in pain enough, too.”
“That is nothing at all! A wretched nag kicked me. Can't you get a horse—?”
“We could, yes, by going into the village and knocking it up. Let me see—it is near two o'clock—”
“That's no use! we haven't an age to spare! You must go alone on the ass, then__”
“I tell you what we might do,” said Golde, whose slow mind now hit upon the right thought: “do you know those new-fangled hobby-horses that've come up?”
“Yes! have you one?”
“I have, miss.”
She jumped up. “Can it carry two?”
“Just what it was made for,” said Golde. “I bought it a bargain at the sale at Wyemouth two months since. And warmish exercise I have found it, too.”
“Be quick, then, Mr. Golde, do!” said Margaret. “Can it go as fast as an ass?”
“Equally, I should say. But what is it we are going to do when we do get there?”
“I will tell you. Bring a lantern, that's all.”
Golde got a lanthorn, descended to an old cellar, and came dragging the hobby-horse. He settled Margaret on the saddle in front, holding it upright, swung the lanthorn to the handle-bar, and sprang astride to his seat, making a backward dab at the ground with his toes. They were off, in long spurts of motion, Golde leaning far forward to the handlebar, spurning the ground with alternate feet, his legs going at a terrifically wide angle of urgency.
The light of the boat came into view, steady, and dainty, and clean. “Try and hide the lantern,” said Margaret.
Golde threw over it a red handkerchief.
“And how do you take to this kind of travelling, miss?” he said on heaving breaths. “It does jerk,” she answered.
For the bicycle—without crank, pedal, chain, or rubber tyre—was devoid of undulancy, and with every backward thrust of Go!de's toes at the scrubby ground,. the sudden spurt and spasm of the hobbyhorse shook them with strong jolt, like rowing on very rough sea with oars that ply, not together, but alternately. A faint light, however, from the covered lanthorn revealed the rudest spots, and guided a career of some six miles an hour.
Margaret said: “I did not think you took to sports and fashion, Mr. Golde.”
“It isn't so much that, miss,” Golde panted, “but when a man lives all alone by himself—”
“You don't mean you are not married?”
“No, miss, strange to say. It never happened to me, somehow. I suppose it is that no one ever took a fancy to me.”
“They will now, when they hear all you have gone through, and how you saved the Duke with your hobby—horse.”
“Ah, now you are joking!”
“No. A woman likes a man who has been through things, and seen adventures. You will have all the girls at Wyemouth and Newton wanting to live at the mill, Mr. Golde.”
Golde was intimately tickled.
“And much good they'll get of their wanting, too,” he said sheepishly. “The chances are that the one I should like won't have me.”
“Oh, but that's faint heart. Send me to her, and let me tell her of the lighthouse, and how you saved me out of the sack, and see.”
“You wouldn't have to go very far, then, miss.”
“Stop it, Mr. Golde! There is no need for that, you know.”
“I am serious, miss.”
“You are like all the men! The first thing that comes to the tongue.”
“Well, I don't know. I look upon you as a most brave lass, and a shrewd one, and a taking one. I should be a happy man to-morrow—”
“Hark! I hear the sea!”
“We are not far from it now.”
“Keep straight for the light, will you?”
“And what is it you propose to do when we get there?”
“Don't you see?” she said. “It is very late, isn't it? The Frenchmen have been wandering: they lost the Duke twice. The men in the boat must have expected them hours ago; they must think that something very bad has happened. If they see a false light in-shore now, going one way and another, like a boat tacking, and getting always nearer to him, what will they think?”
“Well, and a good plan, too,” said Golde. “They will think that a craft of some kind is coming to take them. Is that your meaning, miss?”
“Yes—and they will think that they must be a long way farther out than they supposed, and a long way nearer their ship. There can't be many in the boat, because a lot have already landed. And they won't know how many are coming to take them. It will be madness if they don't put out their light, and take a short cut to their ship.”
Now the frigate's port-light, too, very small, like red Mars, appeared; the hobby-horse was in the midst of the loud rumour of the frothy surf; and opposite burned the steady boat-light.
The strategy began: Margaret, in one hand, held high the uncovered lanthorn, that the vessel feigned might seem bigger; and Golde, spurning with alternate toes, sent the hobby-horse running obliquely eastward; then, with large-curving tack, westward; then eastwards, approaching always the shore. Before they reached the region of dry sand, the boat-light vanished. But they continued the alternate career till Golde's toes sank into wet sand, and Margaret quenched the lanthorn under her woollen shawl.
She had estimated with some accuracy the mind of the boatmen. They were only three: they had long been anxious: and they could not doubt that the tacking, growing light, which infinitely puzzled them, was hostile. Her estimate of their courage alone was at fault: they did, indeed, make for the frigate, but only in order to return with another boatful of armed and desperate men.
A mile inland with steady tramp, the Duke in their midst, came on the belated Frenchmen.
The light which the French saw, and thought their boat-light, was the lanthorn held high by Margaret.
Danda cried out: “We are there at last!” A moment after, they noticed the movement with amazement, their boat being sailless. Then the light tacked! and, their stupor at climax,— vanished!
“They can't be far off now,” Margaret said: “we had better get out of their way. We have done for them now, anyway.”
Golde rode towards the moor. “Hark!” whispered she. Then, with certainty: “Yes! here they come. We must get off this thing, Mr. Golde: it makes a noise.”
They dismounted and stood still. On came the sounds, and passed them close in voiceless tramp. Then from the shore vague words came up to them rolled in the noise of the waters.
There is nothing for them to do,” said she, not careful to whisper, since the surf filled the French ears, “even if the boat is there, the men in it would hardly hear a hail in the noise. And they're afraid to hail; and the boat, I think, isn't there.”
“There I agree with you, miss,” said Golde. “They are in a bad way, certainly. I could almost pity the poor brutes.”
Yes, I'd pity them!”
“I pity the poor Duke, anyway. He'll have a poor night's rest of it. They'll simply keep him a prisoner till the boat puts in an appearance again.”
“If we let them, you mean!” cried she, exultant and flushed: “just let them wait there an hour, and see if they don't get some bullets in their head!”
“It would be what they deserve, too,” remarked Golde. “And there is no doubt, miss, you have no lack of schemes passing in your head. What may the next be, if I might ask? I am ready for it, whatever it is.”
“How far is Seacombe from here, Mr. Golde?”
“I should say about a four mile.”
“It is the nearest town, isn't it?”
“Has it got a church in it?”
“A church and a chapel.”
“Well, then, let us go and ring up Seacombe quick, and bring it out upon these French beasts!”
“I am with you, miss. That is, if the boat doesn't put in an appearance while we are gone, and take them off.”
“But if it did, we couldn't do any good by standing about here. Let us go at once.”
“I don't know,” said Golde, “but it looks to me as if I saw a light out yonder a moment since. “I don't see any.”
“No, nor I now.”
“Come on, then—make your hobby-horse go, Mr. Golde! It's a race: and they'll have to look sharp, or we have them sure!”
Golde helped her up, mounted, and went rocking and toeing in the direction of Seacombe. But it was a race in an unsuspected sense. For, some feet off sitting stock still, Lise d'Arblay had heard every word, and, hearing, understood the cause of the boat's disappearance. Margaret had done this. Margaret had been with them all through, the secret cause of all their woes! Margaret was with them still, alert, hardened against them, bent upon their ruin! And she would succeed, too: only she had Lise to reckon with! Down upon the horse's haunch dashed her whip, and the panting nag was away.
Horse, then, against hobby-horse: and Seacombe was the goal. From the lanthorn Margaret soon took off her cloak, and the light was a guide to Lise behind. With quick invention, Lise had already decided what to say, what do, if she could reach the village three minutes in advance. Bitterly now she reproached herself for lacking some weapon, for the possession of which she would have forfeited her fortune, or a limb.
Upon the toiling bicyclists stole the galloping hoofs.
“It is clear, miss, that someone is after us on horseback,” panted Golde's labouring chest.
“Yes—I know who it is,” answered Margaret. “It is a beast of a woman who is the cause of all.”
“Yes. It is her horse that kicked me. She is the wife or mistress to that Verdier. He calls her Lise. The Duke thinks her name is Mrs. Opie, but it is D'Arblay.”
“It looks, miss, as if she will be beating us.”
“You mustn't let her! Do, pray, Mr. Golde!”
“I don't seem to see what she could do at Seacombe, even if she does put us behind a bit.”
“She is a vile woman, that. She will do something! She must have heard what we were saying in the dark!”
“Mightn't it be a good thing to cover over that lantern, miss?”
“It might. Why?”
“We offer a very fair target for a pistol, don't we?”
“But would you be able to see?”
“No, you are in the right there. Still, I think I should cover over that lantern, miss.” She covered it.
On came the spattering hoofs. Five minutes from the start Lise was two hundred yards behind; in seven they were abreast, and Seacombe three miles ahead. Side by side, ten yards apart they sped, Lise's whip plying, Golde spurting with all his careering legs, each a constant unconquerable presence with the other.
“Don't let her beat us!” Margaret tossed the hiss behind her.
A moment, and she was rolling on the ground, Golde with her: he had run into a gorsy depression. Ahead, as they lay, they heard the lessening hoof-beats.
She leapt up. “If we had had a light, you see—!”
Her first care was the lanthorn: it had been jerked some distance, but still burned.
“Ah, that was a nasty bit, miss,” said Golde. “I hope you have not met with an injury. We might still be able to get there within four or five minutes of her.”
And again they were up and off, this time lit, Lise being a thousand yards ahead. But something was wrong with the horse: she felt that. He no longer answered to the whip, save on his left haunch, when a throe beneath her, a slight kick-out, was the response. She began to know that her speed was slackening: there was a sense of failure, as if he yielded beneath her weight: she was not strongly and bravely borne. Yet be could not be so tired! she whipped and whipped. Once there was a tottering gait an instant; later he stumbled, nearly lifting her over his head. But he continued to run: and always the whip went.
It became clear to Margaret that they were rapidly gaining upon her. Never was Golde so in earnest: in his unconscious eagerness to gain her smile, his short power of wind seemed to multiply itself; and with widely-careering legs, in alternate rock and rush, navigating the encumbered heath, he went toiling on the toiling hobby-horse: toiling—for ominous creaks, and presently, as they stole near Lise, a singular clack of metal upon metal, were heard at every backward toe-thrust, the machine swaying in the middle at the jerk of each repeated impetus, like a thing protesting against the work demanded of it. But they were well within a mile of Seacombe. Golde, conscious of some weakness, did not relax, but even, with a certain merciless vehemency, put forth his last reserve of vigour; and while on this pitch of effort, once more heard the galloping hoofs abreast, heard them struggle an unconquerable presence, heard them yield defeated behind. He found breath to say:
“We shall leave her out on the moor yet, miss!”
And farther receded the hoof-beats during three minutes, till the hobby-horse quietly parted into a front and a back wheel, the front lying over Margaret. And Golde was at her side, lifting her, and she, with bruised arm, was saying: “It cannot be far off now; on foot, then!”
And before Lise reached them they were off the lanthorn with them. And when Lise dashed past, Golde knew that Seacombe could not be half a mile, and panted:
“We shall be there within five minutes of her yet!”
But even this final estimate proved wrong: for Lise had hardly cantered by, when her horse shivered through a horrible long heave of the flanks, tottered, dropped dead. He had been bleeding through the wound of Margaret's knife for nearly two hours. When the race began his eyes were glazed; his head hung low. It had hastened the end.
He fell upon Lise, who for some time lay shocked and fettered. The two ran by, believing her well on towards Seacombe. But three minutes after they began to run down the long street, Lise was still out on the moor.
So Golde and Margaret won the race of horse against hobby-horse from Wyemouth coast to Seacombe village.
But they did not know their victory: and with prone run down the silent street, made paces for the church.
It stood in meadow at the end, small but rich, Edward II. Decorated. Golde knew its position exactly. They passed through a gate up the steps of a frontage pierced by a rich and deeply- recessed Norman arch under a gable-niche containing a statue of St. John. Here Golde hoped for entrance. But, holding the lanthorn, saw only the brass knocker by which criminal fugitives gained sanctuary, and the locked keyless door, though the short iron bar hung unsecured.
“We shall have to knock up the sexton,” said Margaret.
“No, this way, miss, please,” answered Golde. “There is a door around there in the vestry, which it is more likely—”
Round they ran through old slant tomb-stones.
The vestry stuck out sideways, a cubical box against the church-wall. Golde found a small door, secured by a hook and eye, ran through a little north chantry of dainty Perpendicular, past a pulpit of corbel and crocket, and over storied grave-slabs in the nave floor. By an inner handle they opened and flung wide the portal for the entrance of Seacombe.
Not a sound in the village: it was past three; and the faintest breeze arose, premonitory of day. “This way, miss, for the steeple,” panted Golde.
It was square, battlemented, at the south corner of the façade, the only thing crudely modern in St. John's. One entered by a door within the church. They looked about for the ropes, and not seeing any, climbed a ladder-stair to the stage above; and here, through holes in a higher floor, came three ropes. They deposited the lanthorn near the door, and took each a rope. Suddenly Seacombe was awake, staring scare. Loud went jargoning the turbulent bells in affrighted clamour through the night. Fire! And out looked a thousand wondering heads, the savour of snoring beatitudes still fresh in the nostrils, to find for answer only darkness and the insistent alarum of the bells.
High through the reverberations, cried Margaret:
“I wonder what that woman is doing flow!”
“It remains to be seen!” bawled Golde.
It remained not long: before the first sound Lise was hasting down the street. She had visited it before, but was uncertain of the position of the church, when forth clashed the innovating clangour upon the timid silence. She flew, entered, passed the font, the line of blue mosaic beyond which women once might not advance, looking, spied the turret-door, peeped in. Light streamed down. She hurried up, not even careful to go soft in the tumultuous verberations which brayed through the narrow tower. She was at the door; looked in; the backs of both were toward her. She introduced an arm, straining to reach the lanthorn: it was too far; she entered, stood there with them an instant; and they did not see her.
Suddenly Margaret cried, “Look!”—but too late.
Lise was gone; they were in darkness. The door was closed upon them, and fastened outside. The turret was littered with rubbish, dust, ancient refuse. On the lowest floor stood in a corner a dust-heap of old torn documents, shavings of repairs, bits of cloth and wood. When Lise saw this, she smiled: it was what she needed. By armfuls she heaped it at the stair-foot, then held the lanthorn-dip steadily to the pile. A flame shot up. Outside were remote sounds of a crowd. The bells had ceased. She threw the lanthorn upon the burning heap and slipped out quickly, locking the door by a bang behind her. Into the church now streamed old and young, slovenly women half-nude, children. No fire, certainly, was in the village, and none knew what to make of the reveille. In some minutes the building was the thronged focus of the village: Babel reigned—a tempest of tongues. In rushed a plump rector, red-faced from his winey slumber, with one stocking, his night-dress bagging at the breeches-waist under small-clothes. Who had rung the bells, and for what, became the question. When the sexton entered, belated and dazed, and could give no account of things, it began to seem as if Beelzebub himself was abroad. Women screamed guesses across the church-breadth one to another. Parson and bell-man, apothecary and “post- master,” dignitaries all, assembled near the altar-screen. The object of Lise was time: a minute more or less might be everything. Only when the ferment grew superlative, and there was a movement of investigation towards the steeple, did she run up the pulpit-stairs, and in the circle of lonely marble stood.
Clustered pillars of Purbeck and carved bosses, fan-traceried roof and panel walls, all was a vagueness in the ruddy clair-obscure of chance lanthorns snatched by hurried hands. Only half observed Lise, till the parson roared “Silence!” and there was silence, and vacant mouths.
“My friends!” she began, filling the church. “It was I who rang the bells!”
Here was light, the beginning of light. The murmur hushed; she proceeded. It was essential, my friends, that I should arouse you. You know, don't you, that a menagerie has been on the moor, and was burnt down last night by some accident?”
“Aye! 'tis so! go on!”
“You think perhaps that all the men in it perished in the flames, or are gone where their business calls them—”
“No! no!—three of 'em are here now!”
This was a nonplus. She hesitated: but proceeded: “At any rate, there are two others of them, to my knowledge, not only alive, but near you now. I happened to be passing over the moor a while since, my friends, as I have to be at Lessing, nine miles hence, by early cock-crow; as I came along, I heard two people in the dark; I stole toward them, and heard their talk—a woman and a man they were. They averred that the menagerie had been set fire to by you Seacombe folk, and they were coming straight here to give you tit-for-tat,
by burning down Seacombe while you were in your beds, friends, beginning, they said, with the church. They found out that I was listening, and chased me, friends. I know they can't be far off, if they have not already set fire to something while I was ringing—”
At this point there was sensation, commotion: for now, in truth, the church was perceived to be full of a thin smoke.
Again arose the outcry of fire. Through the uproar screamed the voice of Lise:
“Friends! you see I told you true! and the incendiaries are in the village still! The only way to secure them is to form a cordon round the village, all of you, and wait for hours—till morning— to block their escape—”
But this suggestion was mostly unheard, the people now being turned toward the turret- door, where fast came oozing dark smoke from every cranny; when some rushed to open it, they found it locked and keyless; the sexton was impotent: the key had stood there for years, nor was there a duplicate that he knew of. The air thickened every moment to a darker grey, the lights showing lurid, the crowd jostling between and over the pew-backs, shoes falling off women fainting. Now a stout farrier shouted above the din, bidding some follow him: these crushed their way to the frontage, and ran down to the smithy, seizing upon crow-bars and sledges; hastened back then, made to the turret-door, and a vigorous bombardment began.
Lise, seeing this, and fearing the rescue of the two, coolly doomed the whole village, and hasted out.
And soon strange panic was added to the turmoil by a crush at the front, by a heart-startling rumour: the portal had been barred on the outside, and now a man came bellowing from the vestry that there, too, escape was barred, while above the turmoil and short-winded mêlée of the blinded people out clanged once more, with mystifying unexpectedness, the noisy bells, adding to distraction sound. For a real fire this time rang Golde and Margaret: for, as the sledge-men with unlooked-for quickness crushed a hole through the turret-door, the interior sent forth a belch of sparks and redundant smoke, hurling the crowd into a backward jam: and immediately it was seen that the inner surface of the door was well alight, and the steeple in flames.
Now it was the turn of the portal, blows thundering upon lock and wood-work, and at the vestry-door a thunder of blows; and above, the quarrelling bells; and within a hubbub of voices, gasps and screams. When the pent-up crowd at length streamed forth, a great mouth of flame had opened within between church and turret.
Outside, they assembled before the façade, filling the churchyard, spreading up the street, gaping at an up-gliding cloud of flushed smoke, through which thronged processions of sparks and flashes from turret-top and window-slit. Far it disparted the solemn dark with a scintillating mist, till a tongue of bright flame shot, and the fire-dawn was turned to red day.
Some talk had been going on about forming the recommended cordon: but before any movement could be made, two shapes appeared to the astounded crowd scampering round the turret-top. (Lise had long since disappeared, no one knew or asked whither.)
The man, seeming to stretch down arms of appeal, was answered by a shout of execration. The eyes of both were wide in panic. It was impossible to misunderstand the nature of the shouts below.
“It does look, miss, as if we were down for this time, and no mistake either,” heaved from Golde's short breast.
She was running round, he behind her, looking for the lightning-conductor, remembering the lighthouse. But lightning-conductors were not common: here was none. The turret was, however, covered from top to bottom with ivy, and this fact occurred to the girl's swift mind.
“Down by the ivy,” she panted, “it will break our fall.”
“Our necks, I think, you mean, miss,” answered Golde; “and a very safe way of doing it, too. Do, pray, don't think of that!”
“'Tis better than burning!”
“'Tis quicker, yes; and just as sure.”
Golde, as always, clung to life for as great a number of seconds as the heavens would grant it him: the turret was nearly eighty feet high.
“I am going—!” she called. “Oh, miss, miss—” cried Golde.
Her leg was actually over the top, but she stopped: for she had chosen the shortest side, separated from the church by a platform low down seven feet wide, but just beneath her was a Gothic window pouring out processions of sparks, and these had thinned the ivy above. At the sheer precipice her heart failed: and as she paused, she noticed what caused her to tingle: the window was on a level with the church-coping. If she could leap from one to the other—but the window was too small to admit a standing body the only possibility seemed to lie in the placing of a bar or a beam across, so to furnish a bridge.
With this thought, without a word, she flew down scorched stairs into thick smoke brightly lit by a streak of flame, which had even shot through the roof on one side. There hung the three bells.
The moment when the bell nearest the flaring side would drop to the very bottom was not far. In the burning room she looked wildly around: but no bar or beam met her sight: only the doomed and silent bells, waiting. She saw a ladder, indeed, but its three steps were only four feet long. Foiled, she ran back, to be met by a stone from below which cut her temple.
In the heart of the mob was not one gentle throe. A dramatic Providence, it seemed, was here at work, burning those who had thought to burn. And when humorous old Steve, the fiddler, he of the sharp face, bright eyes, and fumbling toothless mouth, hit upon the idea that Providence was weak alone, and threw a stone, this inspiration caught the whole mob. It chanced that a conical heap of broken stone for paving lay near, and this, once discovered by another genius, began to grow less, and went showering upwards, falling mostly short.
But a few reached, one cutting Margaret, and immediately another gave out a clang, striking on metal: and this sound drew her interest, and inspired her invention.
“Mr. Golde, here!” she cried: “let us see if we can move this—”
It was a rod, round above, square at bottom, ten feet high, at its summit a weather-cock glancing now with creaks at the gadding of the morning breeze.
Golde, without question, set to work at her bidding. They laid hold of the rod with desperate wrestle. It did not budge, being embedded in the masonry, and clamped to it by two rectangular cramps.
They desisted. The fire spread. Now a stone flew by.
“Well, miss, there is nothing in that,” panted Golde. “It is the only thing left,” she wept. Suddenly she vanished again, flew down, placed the ladder-steps beside the smallest of the bells, and with cheeks hot from the near flame, was about to mount, when the mass of metal disengaged itself from the eaten roof, and down with huge clatter tumbled, rending with it all the flame and burnt flooring in that corner. Back she leapt, dismayed by the bigness of the downfall; but in a moment was under another, mounted, and with furious effort disengaged the tongue from its socket. Faltering under the 85 lbs. weight, she again reached the top.
“Now, drive at that thing, Mr. Golde!” she cried, “and drop the bell-tongue on these people when you've done.”
Whereupon Golde, with this ponderous sledge, did drive, and the mason-work began to spatter, and the flaky old iron to fly, crack, and writhe and presently there were no cramps there worth mentioning, and the bar was nodding in a dusty hole.
“Now, miss, I think it will come to a pull,” gasped Golde, winded.
At their upward strain it yielded, and, one at either end, went rapidly down, and out at the Gothic window. The farther it went, the greater the strain to keep its outer end, though the lighter, up to the coping-level; but by the bell-tongue and their own hung weight, the other end rose and rose with jerks, and fell, with a push, upon the coping, a bridge secure.
The flooring was half consumed, three sides aflame, and as Margaret clambered to the sill, down crashed bellowing another of the bells. She let herself down at full length, and commenced a hand-walk across, a hollow space of fifty feet below. But now the mob, missing them, had edged round, and a rain of cruel missiles surrounded her, striking her back, her head, or flopping spent in her skirts, amid hoots and ribald jeers. Now Golde, too, trusted his weight over emptiness, going astride, clasping with the arms, winning himself along with slowest caution. When he was half-way across, Margaret stood waiting on the leads behind the coping. He reached her with bleeding jaw.
And now was the run, no longer from the fire, but the stones, round the coping, in search of descent. There were buttresses, but without foothold. They went balancing in close flight along the coping-top, making for the chancel-end, where it was dimmer, till Margaret cried:
Its flat roof lay thirty feet below—a deep drop: but here, too, covering vestry-roof and church- wall, grew thicknesses of ivy and white briony.
“Just let me try first, miss,” said Golde, “and see how it treats me. If it wasn't for those foolish men and women down there—”
“I may as well go first, Mr. Golde—”
“No, lass—remember your sprained leg. Just let me go, and receive you as you come.” He stepped hesitantly over the edge, and in a moment went clutching and tearing at the yielding masses of tendrils, bumping to a seat astounded as a fat monk from beneath whom, about to sit, the chair is pulled. And now came Margaret, all a disarray of wild skirts, and Golde, as he caught her impetus, fell with her, and together they rolled a little in the ivy there, tightly held, and lingeringly. Here they were secure from pebbles, and for some minutes sat so among exuberance and leaves, watching the square flame-pyramid at the turret-top.
“That boat must have come back by this, lass,” said Golde, and laid his hand on hers: “I have an idea that this is a bad business.”
For answer she jumped up, and at once went down the vestry-wall, tearing at the tendrils, in a drop of twenty-five feet. She alighted upon soft ivy-grown mould; and looked up to discern Golde hesitating: and soon he, too, was with her, a much-bumped man. They found themselves in the midst of the rough-handed and noisily-vengeful villagers of Seacombe.
“Drive un back into the turret—let un burn!” cried the snuff-man.
“Take 'em round to my shop, let's gi' 'em a pill a-piece!” said the apothecary. “Under the pump with them, and quench some of their fire!” cried the rough-nosed rector. “You silly fools!” shrilled Margaret.
“No, no, lass,” said Golde, who, meanwhile, was being roughly hustled, “listen to me, folks, please. You have got on the wrong track somehow—” he backed towards the vestry-door, and lifted himself on the step. The dusky light of lanthorns shone here and there on a rude visage, leaving vague interspaces of heads; while in buttress-recess, in the shadow of oak, or church, was the very blackness of darkness, though broad overhead the sparkling fume solemnly informed the night. “On the wrong track somehow— We are two perfectly innocent people—”
“Oh, aye—us'll show ye innocent soon!”
“Well, but you will give a man a chance to talk, I hope,” proceeded Golde: “violence is not likely to help you to the truth, and it's the truth you want, I daresay. You are thinking, I shouldn't wonder, some of you, that it was we who set fire to the church: and nice people were they that did it, and much luck may they expect, too—”
This was too ponderous for the occasion. The mob would not stand it.
“Oh, come on, ye it wur right enough: under the pump with 'em, as passon says!” cried some. But Margaret had no taste for the pump. She leapt to Golde's side. Her tongue went flying.
“I haven't got any patience with silly fools like you!” she screamed—“to believe the first lying Frenchwoman that comes and stuffs your head with a lot of lies, as if you oughtn't to have more sense! Whatever it was the woman told you wasn't true, can't you understand, not a word of it! She chased us across the moor because she heard us saying we were coming to get you to rescue the Duke, before the boat came back, and it was she who stole our lantern, and set fire to the church, and you have got to get ready now, the whole of you, and come with me and Mr. Golde to the shore to catch the Frenchmen who have kidnapped the Duke, that is, if we are not too late already, after all this time, just through your silliness in believing a lot of lies of a lying Frenchwoman, Englishmen like you—!”
But she spoke to brains already captured and prejudiced by Lise. There was a burst of derision, a movement of menace, shouts of contemptuous query:
“What about the menagerie?”
“Which menagerie?” screamed Margaret. “What has the menagerie to do with it? The Frenchmen—”
“Ben't ye two from the menagerie?”
“No!” cried one of the menagerie-men staying at Seacombe: “the girl is, but I don't think she'd set fire to a church. The man don't belong to us.”
“The man is Mr. Golde of Newton Mill!” cried a woman, who, having heard Golde's name, had peered and recognised him.
Well, here was contradiction, and no knowing what to believe. But the minds of the boors were hopelessly preoccupied by Lise's nicely-plausible story.
“What about burning down the whole of Seacombe?” bawled Steve, the fiddler. “I don't know what you are talking about!” Margaret cried. “Listen to me a little, can't you? The Frenchmen have kidnapped the Duke—”
“But this is stupidness! The Duke of Wellington, of course! What other Duke does anybody care anything about? Can't you understand, some of you? A lot of Frenchmen have come in a vessel to take the Duke to France, and they have got him from Grandcourt, they have him now at the shore, only they've no boat, because Mr. Golde has frightened away their boat with his hobby-horse; and we came to you to rescue him, only the vile French-woman shut us up in the tower, and set fire to the church—”
At last, here and there, a boorish mind opened to her earnest, prone, shrill pleadings. The crowd divided into a minority in favour of her improbability, and a majority in favour of Lise. The danger of the pump at any rate vanished. The parson adopted Margaret's side, for the pleasure of becoming alarmed at public affairs; the apothecary and the fiddler led the opposition. There was an interval of general noisy jargoning.
Then Margaret had a thought. “But where is that Frenchwoman?” she cried. “I don't suppose you have been silly enough to let her go!” Where was Lise? That became the question. It was soon known that she had disappeared, and this suspicious circumstance brought over adherents to the right side. Out went the rector's hand, shaking Golde's in a warm grip; some old dames came to tears with murmurs of “Poor thing! and to think, after all—”
At this point there was a clatter of broken chancel-windows heard, and out swarmed a belch of rufous smoke, throwing the crowd into backward rout. Margaret, running, too, was full of rage and inward fret. Everything seemed conspiring to delay the end for which, with so much strain, they had come to Seacombe.
But the rector lifted his sacred plumpness to a tomb-stone, and there was a speech. He said:
“I venture to address to you, dear friends, a brief, but pointed, discourse on this occasion. It would be folly, and an insult to the Understanding, if we refused to credit that there is some iota, or tittle, of Truth in the evidence of these witnesses, nor should we be either sensible or polite. Two, it has been wittily said, are better than One. And though it would be folly to deny a certain vagueness in these reports as to 'Frenchmen,' 'Frenchwoman,' and 'the Duke,' yet I, for my part, am ready to hold out to them the right hand of fellowship. Mr. Golde, it seems, is a Man of Respectability in the neighbouring Parish of Newton, and his Companion is known to the homeless men staying among us. While, therefore, deploring the great catastrophe which has resulted in the destruction of our dear old Church, let us beware lest we punish the Innocent for the Guilty. I therefore give my voice for investigating their Report. Let us go out. If there is, in truth, a Rescue to be effected, let us effect it. The French have felt the weight of British arms before, and run like curs before it; let them have a taste of Seacombe men to-night, if it be indeed true that they are near us. I myself, late as is the hour, offer myself as a volunteer—”
This was cheered. “But it won't be any good,” shrilled Margaret, “if you don't go now!” The rector took no notice of her impassioned cry.
“All who have fire-arms,” he went on, “let them—”
Truth is, there ain't no Frenchmen there,” shouted the fiddler: and this, too, was cheered. “No?” cried Margaret, “and who burnt down the lighthouse?”
This was very plausible. It won conviction.
They had been wondering at the cause of the lighthouse fire. “Those who have fire-arms,” went on the rector imperturbably in his slow gross bass, “let them assemble at the end of the street forthwith—”
“But which of us has fire-arms?” asked the fiddler.
There was no answer: a rusty match-lock leaned in the rector's kitchen; otherwise there was no gun in Seacombe.
But a humorous idea occurred to the fiddler. “What about the cannon?” he called. A full cheer, mixed with laughter, went up: and instantly, like wild-fire, a contagion of devilry spread through the mob of boors, the suggestion blending well with their humour of apathy and half-belief hardly one realising the affair as momentous.
At the mention of “the cannon,” they became volatile, rowdily adventurous, eager for a sortie, caught with laughter. Seacombe stood on the edge of a low cliff, and “the cannon” were three sakers which had lain on rotten carriages pointing from the cliff seaward since Armadadays, the jest and pride of the village, utterly disintegrated, light with age. But the rector was no longer heard: the mob had rushed to a decision, like the decision of a single man. A detachment ran off toward the cliff, some stopping to procure ropes. In a minute all were hastening different ways about the street and alleys. “Don't forget them flags, Tom!” shouted the butcher to the postmaster, who, after Waterloo, had decorated the tavern with two ensigns. “And, mind the flute, Steve!”
“And don't forget that drum o' yourn!” With these exhortations they dispersed, while the main body ran toward the village-end to wait.
A few minutes, and the rescue-party was ready, the rector in their midst, near him Golde and Margaret virtually prisoners, she sternly silent with rage and contempt. There were first three ringing cheers, and defiance to Frenchmen; and with lanthorns, and two flags flying, and the drum and flute making holiday, and three lads rattling galas on tin-pots, with a horn, two dust- bells, a watchman's rattle, and two of the cannons trundling behind, they started down the incline to the moor, a moving, junketing hubbub.
And it was thus that Seacombe set out toward four o'clock in the morning to confound the wiles of the French.
The morning came slowly, and there was still no sign of it when Seacombe arrived at the point of coast indicated by Golde and Margaret. Of Frenchmen now, however, there was nothing to be seen: and no wonder: for Seacombe had come out as to carnival, with drums and hilarities.
And there, as they stood, confusion of tongues ensued. Margaret alone was fixed in silence, pale lips tight, her brain all conflict and guesses. That boat, anyway, had had plenty of time to return, and take them. “They are gone, sure!” she muttered, the words cutting her heart like the keenest personal pang. If the boat had not come back, then the Duke, she reasoned, must be free! for he would refuse to run with them at the sounds of Seacombe, and they were too few to carry him, without a good fight! But she could not hope: nothing conceivable could have prevented the boat's return: the Duke, she believed, was asleep in the frigate's cabin.
But to make sure?
“You see,” the rector was saying, “we have put you to the proof: but here are no Frenchmen!”
“Stop—just lend me your lantern,” she said, snatching a lad's. “You have to follow me, all of you! We shall soon know—”
She went along the high-water mark, the lanthorn held over sands light-coloured, shelly, and toilsome. The villagers trudged behind with bent backs, examining the strand. But though silent now, they were well lit up to anyone in the darkness above. After a time Margaret fell eagerly to her knees, with the cry:
“Here is their track!”
This was a dry band of footprints in shapeless mêlée, a mere indication of feet The villagers peered, but with blank minds. At all events some party of men had been here, and their faith in Margaret grew.
A gleeful outcry from her: “They are still on land!”
The inference was hasty, but not groundless: for having edged farther down to the fallen tide- edge, in wet sand she saw three distinct foot-prints, the heels toward the sea.
She jumped up, crying: “It is that way they are gone!”
She pointed between west and north, following the direction of the trodden band. The whole company of smock-frocks, eager now, was ready to be off over the moor. “But stop,” said Margaret, “it is no good running about the moor, where they wouldn't have any business. If they are on shore, they are near the sea—”
“Along the sands, then,” said the rector. “But we don't want all those lanterns,” she went on; “why can't you put them out, and have some sense, and keep quiet like decent people?”
Seacombe was now more subdued; out went its lights, and in silence it followed Golde, who went swinging the lanthorn in front. The loud surf was in their ears: the talk by the track had been uttered in shouts.
For ten minutes they trudged. The wind was freshening, and a gentle rain began to fall. And now, once again, Margaret, with a cry, fell upon her knees: she had come upon another oblique track; and this time there could be no doubt: the toes pointed seaward, losing themselves at the line where the surf came gently rolling.
The significance of this was felt by the dullest yokel. Even higher up the drizzle had given consistency to the foot-prints. From end to end of the track hurried Margaret, her bosom crouching low, eyes shrewd as gimlets. There was a momentous silence. Golde, close to her ear, said:
“Miss; are they gone?”
“No!” she screamed, leaping from her scrutiny, “they are here somewhere! This is a false track! All the prints are the same size, made by a woman's shoes! She wants to make us think that they have gone on board—and they are here!”
Amid the silence which followed, a strange sound was heard: a splash, three splashes, quick- repeated.
“You hear?” cried Margaret—“there is the woman. Come — quick — this way — to the cliffs! All went after her, still westward, but also somewhat northward.
The splashes were made by Lise, who, standing on the bank above, and hearing Margaret's outcry of discovery, had started into a run to reach her friends. Treading in her riding-skirt, she had splashed, half falling, into a salt-water pool.
On returning from Seacombe she had run straight, and to her amazement found the French still by the shore, with no sign yet of the boat. Approaching them, in a deep man's-voice she had said: “Camille!” and when Verdier joined her, related what had happened. He determined to move away, told her where they would await the boat, and bid her hang behind, in case of danger from the village. The clamours of the yokels had soon reached her, and half the way from Seacombe she had followed them.
When they reached the first track, she was on the bank above, and when they surmised that the French were still on land, she ran forward, and made the false track by stepping back and fore without turning, so that her foot-marks pointed all sea-ward. Here she had waited, and on Margaret's discovery of her ruse, started towards the cliffs, with a three-fold splash which revealed her whereabouts.
She flew—they after her. It was essential that she should reach her party before the Duke could catch sound or sight of another soul on the moor. The cliffs, two miles to the west, were the aim of both pursued and pursuers: a mass of Portlandstone, rising abruptly from the moor, and following the coast-line, till you come almost to Wyemouth. Their eastern wall, a mile long, runs north and south over the moor, sloping down toward the north, till it gently meets the plain. The two faces, the south and the east, meet at right angles, the south or sea-face being honeycombed by a succession of roomy caves; while in the east face overlooking the moor there is also one hollow, known as “Scobble's Cave.”
It was towards this east face that the race was directed. But it was soon over. Lise ran north, making voluntary noises, and when the rescue-party was well started, shot off in a silent, gingerly run toward the high end of the cliff, where her friends should be waiting. The divergence was rapid, and soon the rector began to blow; the cannons, indeed, left behind, no longer impeded them, but the run, by common consent, slackened to a trot, and soon to a discontented walk.
“I shouldn't fret, miss,” said Golde, with a pat on Margaret's shoulder: “there is nothing for it but patience, and plenty of it, too.”
“Let me alone, Mr. Golde,” she answered wearily. “What patience can anybody have with people who can't run a yard?”
Lise now had approached the cliffs with flying heels, then slackened, listening eagerly for a sound of the French. They were to wait close against the cliff-face overlooking the moor, near the shore. But in the dense darkness preceding dawn she actually butted upon the sheer rock: whether they were north or south of her was uncertain: and every instant so precious! She began groaning “Camille! Camille!” in low guttural, walking warily. The drizzle fell heavily now.
“Thank the good God!” she gasped presently, as a sound reached her strained ears. The Duke had said:
“You see, now, it looks like coming to rain. You should have brought some tents with you, if you meant living out here on the moor.”
“Camille!” groaned Lise.
In a moment Verdier was with her.
“Another minute,” she said, “and all is over! There are men, many, many, searching for you— from Seacombe! Camille! For the good God's sake—”
She was livid with fright. “Isn't there a cave, or something, about here?” he asked.
“Yes! it must be further north—a little. Scoble's Cave—it is your hope—run—run!” Verdier pelted. He took a sudden interest in the rain.
“Your Grace,” he said hurriedly— “If your Grace will walk quickly with us this way, I think we can find your Grace shelter from this shower.”
And northward, in rapid walk, they moved, Verdier's hand groping against the wall for the narrow cave-mouth; while behind came Lise.
Up to now, neither sight nor sound of the rescue-party had reached the Duke: a short distance from the cliffs a series of hillocks blocked the general level of the moor from sight, hiding Margaret's lanthorn.
When therefore Verdier called: “In here—to the left,” the Duke walked into a long passage hardly wide enough to admit three abreast.
They went in file, Verdier last, then Lise.
“There is a pool of some sort,” she whispered at his ear, “you must not hesitate—you must go right through, and hide on the other side, far off. They will be certain to come in here.”
“Yes—it comes abruptly—walk fast, and you will be into it before you know, in the dark—”
“But — 'tis rather too much to expect of him, you know. He won't go through.”
“You must make him somehow!”
“Don't be absurd, my dear. He is getting frightfully moody and angry, as it is.”
“You must make him! If he could once be got well in—you must make him run—now.”
“And how, pray?”
For answer she slipped by him, and ran rapidly, but silently, cringing against the wall. Once, twice, she stumbled, with echoed sound. But she slid swiftly beyond the foremost, and beyond still ten yards: then stopped, and lanced a shrill cry of piercing distress.
The whole party, with mixed impulses, ran forward, the Duke eager as the rest. “Lise has wits,” muttered Verdier.
But Lise's cry was not all simulated: in it being mixed a note of real surprise, dismay. Suddenly, as she stopped her dark run, there had appeared before her—light! Terror seized her lest she should be seen, though, in fact, a bend hid her, and the light was of a kind which hardly revealed an object near it.
Still, as the Duke rescued himself from a stumble—his third in the short run—he was momentarily conscious of a female form,—Margaret's he was sure—rushing like a phantom in the opposite direction. The next moment they all dashed, spattering and struggling, into a morass.
Lise had called it “a pool", had said that the pursuers would be “certain to come in”; had spoken of it as being “in the dark”: and in each case there was misstatement, due to the fact that, in spite of her Intelligence-Department scrutiny, she did not really know the country-side. She had visited Scoble's Cave one day, and seen a black, oily tarn slumbering where the passage ended, and the rock opened in a circular vaulted cavern. The sun, shining up the passage, had shown her that the walls rose sheer out of the unctuous water; and she had noted a fetid ill-odour, like garlic and rotten eggs. But she did not know that the fluid surface was only an inch deep, and that far down lay a barelymoist swamp of decomposing phosphoric offal, sea-fowl refuse, putrid fish, algæ, all the carrions and waste-products of the sea; nor that above this mawkish and pestilent mass there arose, in darkness, a luminous exhalation, a white and garish haze of light; nor that, for no consideration would a yokel of the country-side enter this place by night.
At that time, when witches rode, and the mind was in a state ready to believe whatever is extraordinary, Scoble's Cave had a bad name. Individuals, supposed to have entered it, had vanished, never to be seen again. The definite suction of the morass was sufficient to account for this, but the fact itself, together with reports of strange sights seen here, inspired sensations of vague immense awesomeness in reference to the Cave. Wyemouth, however, was a good-sized town, and freer-minded, and the Cave was the stock resort of its fishermen on the way over the moor each Monday, Wednesday and Saturday, in the passage being deposited rolled seines,
creels, oars, logs, hand-nets, etc., while from time immemorial the tarn had been the repository of all the useless fish, and unsold, decaying residues of the hauls. It is doubtful, however, if even a Wyemouth fisherman would have entered the Cave by night; and it is possible that not a living soul had seen the wannish sheen which then emanated from it.
The morass is simply a phosphorus-swamp, precisely similar to that of Spendi, though for some reason less famous, its feeble luminosity being identical with that of a decaying haddock in the dark: for, originally a fish-pool formed by the sea's overflow into the cavern, in the course of ages it became a mere bog of fishy products.
But it was deep; and the French and the Duke were carried by their impetus almost to the middle. Some feet down, the substance is of the consistency of dough, and they were able to take some floundering steps: but then the full horror broke upon them: the insidious doom below, soft but strong, had caught their feet; the higher layers afforded no prise for upward effort; the marsh was sucking them in.
The more they floundered, the quicker the end. Huguenin, the first to plunge, had sunk in an agony of struggle to the chin, had gulped a first potion of the fatal filth, and was about to disappear. The Duke saw the backward hanging head; and knew that nothing could now save him. Most were still a chest above, he highest; all save him, fighting hard against the foul tomb that held and drew them. He had noted the effect of Huguenin's struggles, for objects within the mist of light were distinct, though all beyond lay dark: and he cried out:
“Don't dance about, any of you. That only makes the matter worse, it looks like.” They glanced at him: there he stood in the sickly nebulous glare, slowly sinking, his brow twitching. A minute before he had been weary, languid, sullen; now, in the sudden peril, his eyes lifted with interest, keen, but calm: so keen, that before he sank an inch, he had estimated every possibility of the situation so calm, that the working of his mind was quasi-disinterested, as a mathematician is concerned with his problem for its own sake.
But puzzlement twitched his wry-pulled forehead: the roof was out of reach; the walls were smooth, and out of reach.
Danda, in his angry struggles, was nearly gone. Huguenin had bubbled his cry, and perished.
“It rather looks as if we were in for it,” the Duke said to Verdier near him, “unless—”
“Well, your Grace?”
Verdier's cheeks were ashen. “Unless one of you has some twine.”
Of all things twine seemed the most useless: but one tossed a coil. To his oak-stick, floating near, the Duke tightly tied it, round and round, near the ferule; then, the stick horizontal in his uplifted arm, he oscillated it, taking aim, and cast it. The effort sank him an inch. It flew straight through the middle of the passage, and fell. He drew it back, slowly, with one manoeuvring hand: and back it came to him—but empty, and ineffectual.
And again he cast, and again it returned ineffectual; and then again, and it returned ineffectual: with every hurl he sank an inch.
“Ah,” said he, “the old stick is not turning out so good a friend as it has been. Well, then, we must only keep him on his travels.”
And again he cast with calm accuracy, and again it returned—but not alone. The curved end had caught in a wide-spaced wicker-work, and brought a creel with it.
Something of this kind he had expected, remembering his stumblings over obstacles in the passage, and their softness underfoot.
“Ah,” he said, “I thought there was something. Some more like that, and we shall get on very well.”
He drew in the creel: pushed it towards Verdier, to lift himself upon.
And out, with wrinkled, speculative brow, he cast again: but it returned ineffectual. Immediately, however, five, six creels were cast in swift succession by invisible hands. Lise had stood quivering and paralysed in the passage, till she comprehended the meaning of the stick-and-twine, and flung the creels.
“Well,” said he, “Margaret knows how to succour both her friends and her enemies.” Creel after creel came flying, and with them old sacks, logs, a swab, a tiller; and down as the floating objects sank beneath their weight, so up they won the feet from the reluctant clutch of the slush. In three minutes they were on the other side, no longer seven, but six.
Here was a passage in the rock, nearly opposite that of entrance. But passing through, they stopped simultaneously, gazing in the extremity of surprise: for each saw the other shrouded from neck to toe in a feeble halo, not of light, but of the mere scum and frivolous froth of light, like the shimmering ghosts of huge glow-worms: and so phantasmal, mournful, was the impression, that when Verdier laughed, it was with a certain nervous tremor.
Through the passage, clearly visible to one another, they came out on a level space between two spurs of the gentle slope at the back of the seaward-looking cliffs.
Verdier here called Danda aside, proposing the ascent of a bill, in order to sight the light or boat or frigate. And up the slope they began to trudge.
By now, Seacombe had arrived at the mouth of Scoble's Cave, and there was a prompt movement to hurry past. It was the rector who called out:
“They may be in there!”
Seacombe did not relish the suggestion. Even Golde did not volunteer to enter. “We had better look!” said Margaret; and she entered, followed by Golde and the rector. Lise, having heard their approach, had slipt out of the passage to the moor. They passed through, and the moment the miasma shone before them, Golde cried out:
“Miss, miss, come back—!”
The rector, a local man, gave no second look, but ran back to scarce the villagers with awful news, followed soon by the two. They had seen a fearful thing: the creels and bags slowly sinking under the luminous haze were now barely indicated in dusky vagueness, and seemed the backs of drowned men: while still sticking straight up in the sheen was the right hand of the perished Frenchman.
And Seacombe ran, haltingly, obliquely, away from the cliff toward the shore, scared by the horror that the maliceful pooi had claimed yet another band of victims. But near the shore, with eyes wide in awe and pity, they stopped, doubtful, excited, and looked back.
And as they looked, an appalling spectacle met their gaze. Poised in mid-air they beheld six forms, like headless phantasms in shrouds, as it were, of the fugitive pollen of moonshine, wavering in a wan lilac luminosity.
It was impossible to doubt that these were the ghosts of the men lately perished. The French and the Duke stood on the hill-brow just climbed; but any outline of the hill itself was invisible in the blackness, and they seemed to hang suspended in air.
And suddenly, the Duke, for some purpose, raised his luminous stick in what seemed to Seacombe a menacing gesture: and with the action, Seacombe was gone—scattered like chaff—in headlong panic homeward, Golde and Margaret with the rest.
And it was thus that Seacombe, having gone out with timbrils and with dances to defeat the wiles of the French, returned singly and in fear, having seen a sight.
The six shimmering men looked for the light of boat or ship, but saw only darkness. Here was a mystery before which the French stood aghast and helpless: and the speedy advent of morning, their terror before, became their hope.
Both, they believed, must for some reason be hiding their lights, and could not be distant: with the earliest beams, the situation would change.
They descended, since it rained a little, to take shelter in the west passage of Scoble's Cave, walking in loose order, hardly now keeping any surveillance: for all were visible from the neck downward, and the Duke, the tallest, was distinguishable.
And so they went, till, in the descent, they came to a path between bare cliffs, and now fell into single file, four, then the Duke, then one, at varying intervals. The Duke had designedly stepped into the path at the moment when one only was behind him. His brows were twitching; a smile, half scorn, half mischief, curved his lips; something worked in his mind: he was going to escape.
He was weary now of the adventure.
“I must turn in somewhere,” he said to himself “and get some good sleep.” His presence here was due to a promise: but it had been qualified by the condition: “unless some extraordinary chance offers.” The passage through the luminous morass was that: he decided to use the luminous morass.
His means were simple and sure as possible: he made himself invisible. First, he went treading with studious noiselessness; then, at a sharp turn of the defile, he stood, and quickly, but without haste, threw off his coat, of which the inmost lining was hardly damp, except at the tails, which were wet through by the surface-fluid. With it he covered his legs, lining outward, and was now invisible, save for a triangular spot on his waistcoat, and a hint of light on the tail-lining; so, as the man behind turned the corner, he laid his waistcoat, lining outward, over the sheening tails. He had vanished, the hand which held the coat being behind it. He stood back against the rock over his stick. The whole was accomplished with whirlwind-rage, juggler-coolness. The man behind came, passed, and seeing a longish interval, slightly quickened his pace. The Duke put on his waistcoat, and, the coat still about his legs, followed their sounds down the winding path. He heard them enter the Cave-passage so close was he, and a moment stopped, thinking: Wyemouth should be his aim, and his shortest way over the moors. But he had no intention of being recaptured this time, and the open moor, with his glowing spots, might mean recapture. The shore, on the other hand, was full of possibilities—windings, crannies, caves: and he turned southward into the narrowing interval between two hills, till, through a split, he emerged upon the sands, and walked rapidly westward toward Wyemouth.
It was not till Verdier addressed some remark to him in the cave that they awoke. That he should slip them now, when he had stood in garments of light—this added to their stupor a touch of madness, a rage of incredulity. The simple method of the sagacious and many-counselled mind did not occur to them. Danda was like a maniac. Verdier, in prone rush, cried:
“Come on! he can't escape!”
He ran up the hill-path alone, to the cliff-brow, whence both the hill's slope and a reach of shore were visible; the slope was smooth and treeless grass: the Duke was not there. Along the shore he had already passed behind a bluff: Verdier saw nothing save a lanthorn-gleam near the shore. But it vanished so instantaneously that he thought it an illusion of fancy. He ran back down the hill.
That lanthorn-gleam had vanished under Margaret's shawl. She had not run far from the spectacle of the men shimmering aloof in shrouds of moonshine. Her mind was strongly rational—she was “hard-headed.” She had stopped to look back, panting, but impudent, like a frightened-off dog, which yet rallies and faces round, head erect, ready to fly again. The rest ran on, all scattered, Golde with them, leaving her alone. As she stood looking, rather wild-eyed, frightened, defiant, the French moved to descend: and with their movement the spell broke. She gave forth a little sob, mixed with laughter.
“Bah! why it's them!” she said—“they are not drowned—though one of them is. It's that pool which makes them like that!”
The French, in their intense scrutiny of the sea, had not noticed her lanthorn.
She remained wondering what she was now to do, once more alone. Her hip, as soon as she found time to think of it, began to pain her again.
“Oh, I do wish Mr. Golde would come back,” she thought: “I don't think a man ought to run like that.”
Wearied and at a loss, she stood uncertain; then along the shore, she saw something: two coattails and a walking-stick taking a stroll by themselves—the Duke. She thought it must be a Frenchman sent for some purpose along the beach, and covered her lanthorn.
Soon she saw Verdier appear at the cliff-brow, and again covered the lanthorn. He ran back hurriedly.
“Something must have happened,” she thought, “I am not going to stand here, and do nothing.” And at once she ran to the beach, and along it; by the cleft through which the Duke had passed she entered the level space between two hills, and away yonder to the north saw the French running about like ghosts gone mad, widely separated. Her heart bounded with a vague premonition of good, and, eager to know, she went trotting ever nearer, when footsteps were heard behind, someone dashed by her with heels of furious speed, and sounds of—a skirt.
She, too, doubled her run, treading noiselessly in moist marl.
“Come! come!” cried Lise imperiously, within hailing distance of the French. They flocked round her. She had gone shoreward to spy for the boat's light, and seen the faint luminosity which promenaded: the Duke had passed close to her, unsuspectingly; she had divined that it could not be one of her friends, and who it was.
“He is gone along—along the shore!” she gasped, in accents of agony, plainly audible to Margaret, her face distorted, pallid as death: “along the shore—quick—by the back of the hills— run—far forward—there are the clefts—wait on the shore—in a cave till he come—”
Without a second's delay they were gone.
The cliffs and their hills behind are arranged in separate masses, with valleys and clefts, by which is passage from moor to beach. For the French to fore-run and intercept was therefore easy, they running straight along the moor, he walking all the long sweeps of the fore-shore.
But Margaret had heard, and never did her feet put on such shoes of swiftness. The French had hardly dashed into westward race, when she was off southward to the sands. This time, anyway, there would be no mistake! Off then, she flew with the heels of a young hind, laughing to scorn the hip-pain, no longer careful to hide the swinging lanthorn.
But Lise saw the lanthorn, and knew well that it represented the weak spot of all their hope— Margaret Ferris. But for Margaret all had long been well, and over. Yet Margaret, this time, must be stopped—else good-bye to everything. And Lise had no gun to shoot her dead.
But she had an instant brain: she could intercept Margaret as the men were intercepting the Duke! running at the back to emerge upon the shore ahead of her—if she were swift! And she, too, went flying.
And somewhat in advance of Margaret she did come out upon the sands, and a minute waited for the on-hasting lanthorn. It happened low down, near the tide-rim, where the sand was less toilsome. When Margaret was within a yard of her spring, Lise had her, crying in her deep, intense, and panting guttural:
“Not this time, Margaret Ferris!”
She might as well have sought to bar the progress of a cyclone. The tussle, filled with the hissing of infuriate cats, lasted not a minute. Down upon the head of the Frenchwoman crashed the lanthorn: and Margaret flew forward, the other lying weeping in the sand.
Long before the Duke was in sight, the French were waiting behind a large rock on the sand, till he should come.
He was walking leisurely, not far from the sea-edge. The fine roll of the surf was good to him to hear. He had put on his coat again, feeling fairly secure, thinking of nothing but a bed, and the splendid perseverance of the ever-preaching sea. The morning breeze fanned his hair.
Margaret hasted upon him with furious expedition, then suddenly, at the last moment, tentatively. She was not quite sure of her reception. Unfortunately, she had broken her lanthorn upon Lise, and he could not see her honest face, nor she his.
“My lord—” she said, quite close.
He half-turned his head, continuing his walk. He knew the voice.
“Well now, Margaret,” he said.
“My lord—stop, will you?—there is not an instant to be lost.” He walked on, neither faster, nor slower, without answer. Then, all at once, the full tragedy of the situation broke in upon her—the possibility that he might not listen to her this time: the one thing that she had not taken into account.
“My lord, don't you believe what I say to you?” she wailed.
He did not answer.
“Don't you believe what I say, sir?”
“Well, and what is it you say, Margaret?”
“The Frenchmen are on in front, my lord—they have run on in front behind the cliffs to wait for you—they must be in front now, waiting—will you turn back with me, my lord?”
Her head was screwed round, vainly seeking, with agonized interest, to peer into his face. It was as hard as the marble images of it which now frown upon the public places of England.
They walked on a minute, she not knowing what in the world to do. He said:
“It does not look, Margaret, as if your side was going to beat.”
“You are right, my lord,” she answered—“it won't, not if you keep walking on like this another five minutes.”
“Is it that you still pretend that you are on my side, then?”
“What other side should I be on, my lord?”
“On the enemy's, I gather. What if I tell you that I saw you in the cave?”
“Which cave, sir?”
He did not answer. He meant the momentary phantom of Lise rushing through the passage. “You never saw me in any cave, sir,” she said; “you might have seen Mrs. Opie. She is lying yonder in the sand now. I've killed her, I hope.”
“She is not, then, asleep at Grandcourt, Margaret?”
“Will you come with me, my lord?”
“Or out with a party of the servants looking for the Duke of Wellington, eh?”
“Won't you come? Do, sir! Pray, do, my lord! I promise you—I promise you—if you will only trust me, just this once more—my lord—”
“You are impudent. And your impudence makes you rather a bad ally to your friends.”
“Ah, sir, what a man you are!”
“Have you a mother?”
“No one dependent on you?”
She was surprised. “No, sir.”
“Well, do you know where I am going now?”
“You are going among the Frenchmen!”
“No. I am going to Wyemouth. And I am going to take you with me, to give you a lesson. You have put your own head into the noose, Margaret.”
“I shouldn't mind if you would keep yours out of it, sir. But I don't know what noose it is you mean.”
“The noose means the House of Correction, Margaret, and the Constable!”
Saying it, he caught her wrist in an iron grip.
And now she began to cry, suppressing her sobs, lest the Frenchmen should hear. Only, she said, wailing:
“Oh, this is too hard of you, my lord!—believe me, I would have died to save you, sir!” And in that cry something there was which reached and wounded him—sorely for an instant: and at that moment—once more — in spite of everything, she had conquered him. He believed her.
An instant only: his stubborn heart would not yield. For two minutes longer he walked silent, his grasp on her wrist, hearing the convulsive catches of her breath. Then, all in a moment, she was free and running, her hand wrenched from his: and he a prisoner.
The stick went up, and dropped listlessly.
“Does your grace admit yourself a prisoner?” asked Verdier. He did not answer. He was thinking of something else: of Margaret, mortally angry with her — or with himself. Verdier asked again:
“Does your grace admit—?”
“Let me see,” he said sharply, “how many are, there of you?—five. Well, very well.” The faintest hint of grey was in the east, but over sea and land darkness; nor as yet could any sign of ship or boat be seen; and to fill the time before the light, they set out to return to the secrecy and shelter of Scoble's Cave, drizzle still falling.
The Duke walked preoccupied, his head bent. Had he not done her wrong? She had told him right! Perhaps knowing that he would not now believe, and therefore persist in going wrong? Was she, then, a Machiavel of craft? or a very angel of kindly purposes? If he had wronged her, he had wronged her quite beyond pardon!
She, all the time, was hanging behind, at safe distance, limping, hands clasped before. She had heard some mention of Scoble's Cave among the party, and knew that thither they were returning. When they turned into the cleft of the cliffs leading to the Cave's western passage, she would not venture after them on that side; yet they were like a magnet to her; she could not leave them: and ran round to the Cave's east passage.
Here she thought herself alone: but two minutes before, Lise having also accompanied the return, but in advance, had run round, like Margaret, to this east passage, to wait and be near.
And so at the inner end of the passage, the two women met; and in the luminosity of the morass saw each other's face.
Margaret gave a little cry of joy, a cruel cry. In that moment she forgot everything but one. They had come running; and the men, walking very slowly, were still some way off, when the women looked into each other's eyes.
They wasted no words, feeling the meaning of this meeting. The long contest would end here. The Brahmin doctrine of “the Ferine Soul” found illustration in their stare. The true hatred—the hatred of hell—is when woman meets woman.
Neither had a weapon: but Nature is always armed: here were the thews to embrace, and the hands to squeeze, and the claws to rake.
Margaret flew at her with the cry of “Beast!” and at the same time the lady of fashion became a mere Fury, blood-thirsty, visage all inflamed. They became involved in a mere chaos of distracted intensities, pounding, tearing hair, clothes, flesh, pushing and pulling, tugging at the windpipe, and finally rolling together on the narrow space between passage-end and morass.
The aim of Margaret was to get her enemy into the morass itself. But it was not so easy: both were strongly built: one an athlete, the other large, a woman-of-the-world, and venomous. When they fell an entanglement of womanhood, it was difficult to say which was uppermost. At all events, Margaret made a grand effort to lift herself, and succeeded: but as she rose, Lise rose with her; and as with one heave of the whole frame, she thrust Lise forth, Lise had her still; and together, with simultaneous cry, they splashed, still struggling wildly, locked in maddest ecstasy, a considerable distance from the edge.
Either, by herself, must have perished, choked with filth, unless quick help came; thus desperately locked, all the help of man could avail them nothing.
When their cry shrilled out, the men were in the cave-passage on the other side: all rushed in, and at the edge stood looking, helpless and amazed.
“Let go each other!” shouted Verdier, pale as marble.
He might as well have shouted to the Portland rock. The mire had the women well by the feet; they had sunk to the neck; and still they struggled, seeking to destroy each other. The minute before the fatal slime must bubble in their gaping mouth was come.
The Duke with the rest, stood looking, his brain working mightily. He was asking himself questions of the most awful abstract import, grappling with doubts as to the relative powers of God and Man in the face of certain eventualities; and, at the very same time, was weighing like a judge, with nicest quick subtlety, evidence as to a host of minute details.
His measuring eye had seen at a glance that no human power could save both women, so fixedly locked. But he could save one—if he chose: one at the expense of the other. Only, had he the right? That was his bold question: and boldly his capacious intellect expanded to the breadth of it, and answered—Yes.
He would do a murder. “Just give me your pistol,” he said coolly to one.
The man hesitated.
“No—I won't shoot you,” said the Duke—“make haste!” There was need for frightful urgency. The women were nearly gone. Yet when he had the pistol, he, too, hesitated.
For there was another question to be solved! The question of—which? One of the women was here doing noble duty; one engaged in an attempt against himself heinously wrong. But which? The wife of his friend, Opie?—or Margaret, who had led him, to his certain knowledge, into the arms of his enemies; who, to his certain knowledge, had lied to him?
He hesitated—and there was need for haste.
It was a terrible moment for him. His soul wrought intensely. To do right now—to see as the Judge of all the Earth saw—this was his effort, his task. By one of those mysterious travails of the spirit, akin to the operation of Intuition—by the fierce working of that affinity with Truth which is the chief trait of every noble mind—he decided, and decided well.
The pistol sounded, and a shriek rang through the cave. “Oh, Lise! Lise! Lise!” cried Verdier, when the smoke had thinned, covering his face, with passionate sobs.
In spite of the relaxing of Lise's arms Margaret was about to perish, her chin already sunken, when, once more, the Duke's action—so intense as to resemble tempest, so calmly exact as to resemble the planetary intercourse—saved her. He threw off his long coat, calling upon the French for theirs. Then, with his own hurrying hands tied them sleeve and sleeve; a moment later a coat-tail fell with nicest calculation before Margaret's face, and as she caught it, they drew her, holding high their end.
The Duke pulled her up, seated her on a block of rock. She was fainting, her colour ghastly, eyes closed. He bent over her assiduously, gently. But it was quite harshly that he said:
“How do you feel?”
She heard that voice and smiled She knew what had happened! He had killed her enemy. for her! He had believed in her at the last!
“Well, now, how do you feel?”
She would not answer; she wanted him to on asking; she smiled. “Well, you have gone rather near to it this time, Margaret; you must now set about and come round again.”
“Ah, my lord—” she sighed, and smiled.
The voice of Danda was heard. “We must be going! Bring the girl too!”
“And why the girl?” said the Duke.
“She is our prisoner, your Grace; our prisoner last night, and escaped Verdier through his paroxysm of grief.
“Is that so . . .? . . . Well, but she can't go now. You must wait.”
The white exhalation of the morass was nearly invisible now, merging in vaguest silver into the growing day, as a veiled bride faints upon the bosom of her lord. It was morning. Margaret would not move.
“Now—” said Verdier. “Can you come now?” said the Duke gently.
“Yes, my lord.”
She rose bedraggled, with bruises, but erectly tall, a great brightness in her golden eyes. They went out. It was late September, and the morning had come suddenly: already it was magnificently broad and bright.
Southward through the cleft they. came upon the beach, and here were startled by the sight of a man some distance away. He ran from them a little, then stopped, looking. Margaret recognised Golde, and waved her hand.
Golde, like her, had not run far from the phantoms: but by the time he recovered himself had lost her. He ran about a little, and, from an elevation sighted the lanthorn-shine: but it disappeared: she had seen Verdier at the cliff-brow and covered it. And since then he had been seeking her painfully over moor and shore.
All eyes now turned seaward: there lay a little fleet of little boats anchored beyond the surf- line, Wyemouth craft, and there all night, unknown to the French, had lain. But of their own boat, of the frigate, no trace.
At this, however, they hardly wondered: for the shape of the bay in which they stood afforded limited purview of the sea.
“We shall sight them from the headland there,” said Danda—“come on.”
“I hope the boat isn't on the sea at all now,” said Verdier, “she might well get noticed by someone. We can take one of those craft there, as soon as we sight the frigate.”
“Why the devil did the frigate hide her lights?” queried Danda. “There was some reason or other, I suppose,” Verdier said nonchalantly, and siffled through his teeth-edges. Then: “Your Grace must be exceedingly hungry and tired!”
He did not answer. “Ah, well,” whispered Danda, “we will soon give him bed and breakfast,” and his inward- tending upper lip, longer than his chin, tightened viciously.
They walked westward, Margaret and the Duke in the centre. Golde following small, at a perfectly safe distance.
The musical caw of a large snow-white bird, scarlet-legged, was on high; over-sea a flight of gulls swung, skating the air with alternate wingtip dipped in the brine; in the neap-tide surf was a certain quietude now; and down by the water-edge lay rank abundance of brown seaweed twine; and all in the blithe fresh morning was the sea, the sea.
Round the curve of sand they went to a thin promontory, rising toward its end, whence was wide prospect of the sea; and near it the little fleet of boats, useful in case their own were not in sight.
And at the terminating bluff of gneissoid rocks, rugged and seamed with wet algæ, they stood, exposed to possible prying eyes, but no longer careful, since it was beyond doubt that all, at last, was safe.
But for some minutes they looked everywhere, and did not see the frigate.
Murmurs, hisses, curses, arose and multiplied. But to one another they said nothing, nor looked at one another, feeling now the intolerably harsh frown of Fate. Danda's face, quaint as a bat's, was a rigid pallor. The boat was not visible: the frigate was not visible. Here was a touch of the Inscrutable: this way lay—Madness.
“Well, your Grace—” Verdier said at last, with a wry and pale attempt at laughter. He was interrupted by a cry from Margaret. She had fixed her eyes, by a natural instinct, upon the scene of her great struggle with Verdier—the lighthouse. There it stood, black and burnt, distant and solitary. Her powers of vision were excellent. And suddenly:
“There—there's their ship, my lord!” she cried, pointing—“oh, my lord, my lord—!” Her jubilant hands clapped with cruel glee. What she called “their ship” was five bow-timbers sticking above the water on Raddon Rocks. For, almost immediately after the boat had returned to the frigate during the night to procure more men, the frigate had run upon the lighthouse rocks.
That guiding light the Frenchmen had themselves quenched. . . .
At that laugh of Margaret, Verdier fixed her with a look of hate.
“Well, certainly, Margaret,” said the Duke, “it rather looks as if our side were going to beat, after all.”
Our side! He coupled her lovingly with him now! A sweet pain, like mixed honey and peppermint, went rankling in her heart.
But Verdier was a fellow of invincible mind, persistent, quick-willed, great in desperation. No sooner had he made out the wreck through screwed-up eyes, than he was resolved. He called Danda aside; whispered:
“I am off to Wyemouth—the French barque that hailed us two days since was bound there—is there now. I shall get her. That cave there—take the Duke: and wait till I send the barque's boat to this point.”
Turning to the Duke, he said:
“Your Grace, I am going away for a time. But your Grace sees that there will be four of us left. And your Grace is one, unarmed. Will you go with them to save a row? I am dreadfully sorry to put your Grace to all this annoyance—”
“A general should disband his army, and let go his prisoners, when he has nothing to give them to eat,” said the Duke. “Well, but I will go with the four, to see what becomes of you.”
Verdier slipped down and ran along to the sands. Here he sent a flying shot at Golde, who, however, had retreated before him, keeping that safe distance of his. Verdier disappeared through a cleft, making over the moor for Wyemouth. The others came slowly along the headland.
“Do you see that man yonder on the beach, my lord?” asked Margaret.
The Duke, bending down his ear to her, looked.
“Yes, I see.”
“That is Mr. Golde, sir.”
“And who is Mr. Golde, Margaret?”
“He is the man who went through all the adventures with me last night, and the night before, my lord.”
“Is that so? Well, then, he must be an admirable fellow.”
“He is not a bad kind of man, sir. But he doesn't like getting killed.”
“I see that—I see. That is why the fellow is hanging off over there.”
“But I shouldn't like you to think he is a coward, my lord. There is nobody braver when it comes to the push. And he is very kind-hearted, and good.”
“Well, Mr. Golde is a happy man, Margaret, since you like him so much.”
“But this is what I wanted to say, my lord: that you needn't be kept bothering with these men any more, because there are three of us now, and only four of them.”
“Well, but I don't wish to see you and Mr. Golde shot down, Margaret. The four have guns, and we have none.”
“But are we to go on quietly, and do nothing, sir?
“It is rather a good thing to know how to wait sometimes, Margaret.”
“They say that is how you won the battle of Waterloo, sir.”
“Well, there is something in that.”
“But, my lord—there is that Verdier who has just run off I can't tell you, sir, what a beastly artful man that is.”
“He seems to me rather a gallant fellow. If I had the judging of the rascal, I should condemn him to be hanged, and then go to his funeral afterwards.”
“But, my lord—won't you listen to me? He is a most cunning man, that man! and whatever it is he is gone to do, he will do. I could see it in his face.”
“And have you something to propose, then?”
“Yes, my lord! When we get to the cave-mouth, I am going to run. They can't come after me, because not enough of them will be left to guard you. They can only shoot at me. Will you stand in front and prevent them, sir?”
“Why, yes. But what is it you mean to be after when you have run off?”
“Mr. Golde ought to have followed that Verdier, sir: but he didn't think of it. He is not very much a one for thinking of things. I want to run and tell him to hurry off to Wyemouth, and rouse the people against Verdier. I believe that is where Verdier has gone to. He has gone to see if he can get a ship!”
“Well, but suppose you get shot?”
“You are not going to let them, sir!”
“Well, then, we shall see.”
The four were parleying hotly in French; and so, all talking, they crossed the sands to the cave. It opened in a roomy area beyond a passage ten yards long. They entered in double file: two, then the prisoners, then two. It was when the last were five yards within the passage that Margaret whispered, without looking at him:
“Now, my lord!”
He saw that the order of march was about as unfavourable as possible; that it would have been better strategy if she had started some seconds earlier; that the passage was too broad. He regretted his consent, perceiving danger: there were four pistols: somebody was going to be shot: he or she. Round glared his strong sure eyes, drinking in every possibility of the instant, and quickly he stooped to her with:
He was the fraction of a second late. She was gone.
The two hinder men shouted an exclamation, one staggering, struck by her rush, she herself falling upon her hands beyond him.
“Shoot!” shrieked Danda, who had been of the van, but now of the rear, all having turned.
As one pointed, the weapon was vigorously struck downward; and by the time the man who had been staggered was prepared to fire, the Duke was before the four, facing them, yet seeing through the back of his head, as it were, the progress of Margaret. There came an instant when he perceived that he must guard her from three different shots at the same time. From one he saved her by a strike-out of the left fist, from the second by a downward sweep of the right hand. Before he could deal with the third, the percussion-cap was exploded, and he knew it; but the round-shot, passing through his right palm, fell spent on her skirt, just as she flew round the corner, and disappeared.
They made a rush to follow: but the Duke's arms, stretched across the passage, barred them.
“No,” he said, “you may as well let her be off now. If you go after her, I shall run away.” They saw the crucified and sacrificial palm, dripping, the hard glint in his eye—and desisted. He went with them into the interior.
Margaret flew. And Golde, seeing her come, ran to meet her—with suspicious glances at the cave-mouth, for he had heard the pistol-shot afar.
“We have got to go to Wyemouth at once, Mr. Golde!” she said: “their ship is wrecked on the lighthouse, and that Verdier is gone to get another, you see—oh, I wish we had the hobby-horse now—”
“There is a French ship in Wyemouth Roads, too,” said Golde. “I have been hunting for you all the morning, lass.”
“Have you—? I thought you wouldn't be far. . . Come!”
They started, steering their run for a cleft in the cliffs not far from the cave-mouth. The earth and its birds, sun and sea, were wide awake now, all blithely brisk, alert; but the men and women were still asleep; the shore was as deserted as at midnight; and far and near over all the land was hardly a human sound.
A little way they ran together, their nimble tread up-borne by the soft and passive sand, till Margaret stopped suddenly short, and with wide and solemn eyes stared into the wide and solemn eyes and bloodless face of Golde.
“O God, Mr. Golde!” she whispered, “what is that?”
She did not wait for answer: but flew back to cave just escaped—with winged feet—into the mouth, down the passage.
“That" was a multiple roar of wild beasts—of two tigresses, of a lion—the escaped menagerie beasts, which, knowing themselves in inhabited country, had herded within this cave, frightened, for a day and a night, famished now, mad with pangs. On the entrance of the French and the Duke they saw a meal from God.
Precisely what happened Margaret could never analyse: it was a whirl of frenzy. The cave was crowded with reverberations. One man was already rent to pieces, and close against the furthest wall she saw through the half-dark the Duke beneath the fangs of Apollyon.
At her cry—that voice which, alone of voices, they feared—the three beasts turned upward an emerald glow of eyes, paused in their jubilee, and cowered. But only for an instant: Nature was stronger in them than their fears. One tigress, springing from a wriggling crouch, brought down Danda in his flight, and above all sounds rang the intensity of his dying shrieks; while the other,
wanton for slaughter, daintily discarded her first victim, and instantly had another man beneath ravening claws and hanging jowl.
Now Golde, too, appeared in the mêlée, his chest heaving at the weight of a huge pointed rock in his arms; and as one of the tigresses, with instant fastidiousness, dragged the last of the French beneath her talons, down upon her skull crashed the stone, and she fell dead.
The Duke, from the first, had sought the wall, and when he fell beneath the lion's rush, fell only as to the legs, the wall supporting his back. Then Margaret's cry was heard, and Apollyon, more timorous of her than the tigresses, looked up with hurried guilt, and hurriedly turned again to finish, and fly: but the snatch of his teeth carried with it the Duke's stick only: he had lost a moment, and in the next was faced by the eyes of Margaret.
What, at that instant, filled the Duke's mind was the daring of the girl.
“Pass that pistol there,” he said, pointing to a weapon on the ground—“then run.” She did not pass the pistol: but with a menace of crimson rage dashed her fist into the lion's face, and he, with a throat-murmur ran, and some distance away stood facing her, half-defiantly. At the same time she beheld the living tigress about to spring upon Golde, and with aggressive stamp, cried:
“Ah, you Fan! you dare!”
The tigress backed a step, while a shot from the Duke entered its skull. Margaret, seeing him take another pistol from the ground, now said:
“He won't hurt, my lord—if you will please spare the poor brute's life—he belongs to me—” Apollyon was backing away towards the wall.
One only of the four French, saved by Golde's rock, had run out unharmed; and the next day was in the Wyemouth House of Correction.
Golde, Margaret, and the Duke went leisurely eastward across the sands, and northward over the moor toward Seacombe, for a horse to take the Duke to Grandcourt.
“To think that that foolish beast, Pol, should have torn your hand like that, my lord,” said Margaret, pointing to the bullet-wound in his palm.
“Ah,” said he, and smiled, “the fellow mistook me for a Frenchman, you see.” Then, turning to Golde on the other side of him: “That was gallantly done with the stone, Golde.”
Golde was timorously tingling at his nearness to the Great, with a constant tendency in his hand to go up and snatch off his hat.
“It was a privilege, your Grace, to be able to save that poor man's life. Though they have served me some ugly turns, too, these men—your Grace.”
“Oh, my lord, my lord!” cried Margaret—“there—there—is where Mr. Golde rode the hobbyhorse!”
“Is that so? Which hobby-horse?”
As her hand fell, it fell somehow into his: and she told him, while Golde tingled and tingled, of the tacking ride, and of the race with Lise, and of the polyglot alarum of the bells, and of how Seacombe, having gone out with timbrels and with dances, returned singly, and in fear. It was not a walk, but a saunter through the blithe broad morning, she limping a little, the dry clasp of his hand filling her with comfort, her tongue loosed.
“And oh, my lord, I am so glad you saved Pol's life! Do you know why—chiefly?”
“No. Tell me.”
“Because when that Verdier goes back to the cave, Pol will make short work of him.”
“And it would be little more than what that man deserves, too,” hazarded Golde.
“Ah, but I rather fancy Pol will come off second in that battle,” said the Duke.
He walked looking far away over the moor, with wrinkled speculative brow, smiling all the time. Something he wanted to say, and did not like to say it. At last he ventured bluntly:
“I am coming to the wedding.”
Margaret's heart gave a big bound—and Golde's. “Which wedding, sir?” she said, her eyes on the ground.
“Well, you have been telling me about it all the time, Margaret, and did not know. You must let me hear. And you, Golde.”
“And thanks to your Grace, too, for saying it!” said Golde.
She did not answer. She was white as a corpse. They were near Seacombe now. And half-an- hour later, when the Duke rode northwards, they two, on the slope of the hill, stood watching. And as he disappeared on the yon side of the bridge, Golde, who held her hand, turned his mouth and touched her lips, most timorously, gently, half-expecting her to spit and hiss like cats.
But she bore it tamely, with cast-down eyes, a little disgust in her nether lip. And presently an awful sigh came from her lifted bosom; and she said:
“Ah, Mr. Golde! I never expected that it would come to this.”
They walked back into Seacombe hand in hand.
It was still early; and about this time Verdier returned to the cave. The Duke's prophecy proved correct: he had no sooner perceived the half-eaten bodies of his comrades, and the crouching lion, than Apollyon fell dead. At nine o'clock he was sitting out at the promontory-end, legs dangling, a hand supporting his chin, siffling through the teeth-edges, brooding with melancholy under-glance upon the frigate's timbers on Raddon Rocks. And now, round a point of land came the stately French barque, crowded with white wide sails, like a countrywoman in Sunday-best, all starch and crinoline. Verdier had won her captain by a fabulous bribe: and at the sight of her, he threw back the head, all red, and laughed madly.
Roy Glashan's Library
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