THE GREEN FLAG.
ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE.
THE GREEN FLAG.
THE CROXLEY MASTER.
THE LORD OF CHATEAU NOIR.
THE STRIPED CHEST.
A SHADOW BEFORE.
THE KING OF THE FOXES.
THE THREE CORRESPONDENTS.
THE NEW CATACOMB.
THE DEBUT OF BIMBASHI JOYCE.
A FOREIGN OFFICE ROMANCE.
THE GREEN FLAG
When Jack Conolly, of the Irish Shotgun Brigade, the Rory of the Hills
Inner Circle, and the extreme left wing of the Land League, was
incontinently shot by Sergeant Murdoch of the constabulary, in a little
moonlight frolic near Kanturk, his twin-brother Dennis joined the
British Army. The countryside had become too hot for him; and, as the
seventy-five shillings were wanting which might have carried him to
America, he took the only way handy of getting himself out of the way.
Seldom has Her Majesty had a less promising recruit, for his hot Celtic
blood seethed with hatred against Britain and all things British.
The sergeant, however, smiling complacently over his 6 ft. of brawn and
his 44 in. chest, whisked him off with a dozen other of the boys to the
depot at Fermoy, whence in a few weeks they were sent on, with the
spade-work kinks taken out of their backs, to the first battalion of the
Royal Mallows, at the top of the roster for foreign service.
The Royal Mallows, at about that date, were as strange a lot of men as
ever were paid by a great empire to fight its battles. It was the
darkest hour of the land struggle, when the one side came out with
crow-bar and battering-ram by day, and the other with mask and with
shot-gun by night. Men driven from their homes and potato-patches found
their way even into the service of the Government, to which it seemed to
them that they owed their troubles, and now and then they did wild
things before they came. There were recruits in the Irish regiments who
would forget to answer to their own names, so short had been their
acquaintance with them. Of these the Royal Mallows had their full
share; and, while they still retained their fame as being one of the
smartest corps in the army, no one knew better than their officers that
they were dry-rotted with treason and with bitter hatred of the flag
under which they served.
And the centre of all the disaffection was C Company, in which Dennis
Conolly found himself enrolled. They were Celts, Catholics, and men of
the tenant class to a man; and their whole experience of the British
Government had been an inexorable landlord, and a constabulary who
seemed to them to be always on the side of the rent-collector. Dennis
was not the only moonlighter in the ranks, nor was he alone in having an
intolerable family blood-feud to harden his heart. Savagery had
begotten savagery in that veiled civil war. A landlord with an iron
mortgage weighing down upon him had small bowels for his tenantry.
He did but take what the law allowed, and yet, with men like Jim Holan,
or Patrick McQuire, or Peter Flynn, who had seen the roofs torn from
their cottages and their folk huddled among their pitiable furniture
upon the roadside, it was ill to argue about abstract law. What matter
that in that long and bitter struggle there was many another outrage on
the part of the tenant, and many another grievance on the side of the
landowner! A stricken man can only feel his own wound, and the rank and
file of the C Company of the Royal Mallows were sore and savage to the
soul. There were low whisperings in barrack-rooms and canteens,
stealthy meetings in public-house parlours, bandying of passwords from
mouth to mouth, and many other signs which made their officers right
glad when the order came which sent them to foreign, and better still,
to active service.
For Irish regiments have before now been disaffected, and have at a
distance looked upon the foe as though he might, in truth, be the
friend; but when they have been put face on to him, and when their
officers have dashed to the front with a wave and halloo, those rebel
hearts have softened and their gallant Celtic blood has boiled with the
mad Joy of the fight, until the slower Britons have marvelled that they
ever could have doubted the loyalty of their Irish comrades. So it
would be again, according to the officers, and so it would not be if
Dennis Conolly and a few others could have their way.
It was a March morning upon the eastern fringe of the Nubian desert.
The sun had not yet risen, but a tinge of pink flushed up as far as the
cloudless zenith, and the long strip of sea lay like a rosy ribbon
across the horizon. From the coast inland stretched dreary sand-plains,
dotted over with thick clumps at mimosa scrub and mottled patches of
thorny bush. No tree broke the monotony of that vast desert. The dull,
dusty hue of the thickets, and the yellow glare of the sand, were the
only colours, save at one point, where, from a distance, it seemed that
a land-slip of snow-white stones had shot itself across a low foot-hill.
But as the traveller approached he saw, with a thrill, that these were
no stones, but the bleaching bones of a slaughtered army. With its dull
tints, its gnarled, viprous bushes, its arid, barren soil, and this
death streak trailed across it, it was indeed a nightmare country.
Some eight or ten miles inland the rolling plain curved upwards with a
steeper slope until it ran into a line of red basaltic rock which
zigzagged from north to south, heaping itself up at one point into a
fantastic knoll. On the summit of this there stood upon that March
morning three Arab chieftains--the Sheik Kadra of the Hadendowas, Moussa
Wad Aburhegel, who led the Berber dervishes, and Hamid Wad Hussein, who
had come northward with his fighting men from the land of the Baggaras.
They had all three just risen from their praying-carpets, and were
peering out, with fierce, high-nosed faces thrust forwards, at the
stretch of country revealed by the spreading dawn.
The red rim of the sun was pushing itself now above the distant sea, and
the whole coast-line stood out brilliantly yellow against the rich deep
blue beyond. At one spot lay a huddle of white-walled houses, a mere
splotch in the distance; while four tiny cock-boats, which lay beyond,
marked the position of three of Her Majesty's 10,000-ton troopers and
the admiral's flagship. But it was not upon the distant town, nor upon
the great vessels, nor yet upon the sinister white litter which gleamed
in the plain beneath them, that the Arab chieftains gazed. Two miles
from where they stood, amid the sand-hills and the mimosa scrub, a great
parallelogram had been marked by piled-up bushes. From the inside of
this dozens of tiny blue smoke-reeks curled up into the still morning
air; while there rose from it a confused deep murmur, the voices of men
and the gruntings of camels blended into the same insect buzz.
"The unbelievers have cooked their morning food," said the Baggara
chief, shading his eyes with his tawny, sinewy hand. "Truly their sleep
has been scanty; for Hamid and a hundred of his men have fired upon them
since the rising of the moon."
"So it was with these others," answered the Sheik Kadra, pointing with
his sheathed sword towards the old battle-field. "They also had a day
of little water and a night of little rest, and the heart was gone out
of them ere ever the sons of the Prophet had looked them in the eyes.
This blade drank deep that day, and will again before the sun has
travelled from the sea to the hill."
"And yet these are other men," remarked the Berber dervish. "Well, I
know that Allah has placed them in the clutch of our fingers, yet it may
be that they with the big hats will stand firmer than the cursed men of
"Pray Allah that it may be so," cried the fierce Baggara, with a flash
of his black eyes. "It was not to chase women that I brought 700 men
from the river to the coast. See, my brother, already they are forming
A fanfare of bugle-calls burst from the distant camp. At the same time
the bank of bushes at one side had been thrown or trampled down, and the
little army within began to move slowly out on to the plain. Once clear
of the camp they halted, and the slant rays of the sun struck flashes
from bayonet and from gun-barrel as the ranks closed up until the big
pith helmets joined into a single long white ribbon. Two streaks of
scarlet glowed on either side of the square, but elsewhere the fringe of
fighting-men was of the dull yellow khaki tint which hardly shows
against the desert sand. Inside their array was a dense mass of camels
and mules bearing stores and ambulance needs. Outside a twinkling clump
of cavalry was drawn up on each flank, and in front a thin, scattered
line of mounted infantry was already slowly advancing over the
bush-strewn plain, halting on every eminence, and peering warily round
as men might who have to pick their steps among the bones of those who
have preceded them.
The three chieftains still lingered upon the knoll, looking down with
hungry eyes and compressed lips at the dark steel-tipped patch.
"They are slower to start than the men of Egypt," the Sheik of the
Hadendowas growled in his beard.
"Slower also to go back, perchance, my brother," murmured the dervish.
"And yet they are not many--3,000 at the most."
"And we 10,000, with the Prophet's grip upon our spear-hafts and his
words upon our banner. See to their chieftain, how he rides upon the
right and looks up at us with the glass that sees from afar! It may be
that he sees this also." The Arab shook his sword at the small clump of
horsemen who had spurred out from the square.
"Lo! he beckons," cried the dervish; "and see those others at the
corner, how they bend and heave. Ha! by the Prophet, I had thought it."
As he spoke, a little woolly puff of smoke spurted up at the corner of
the square, and a 7 lb. shell burst with a hard metallic smack just over
their heads. The splinters knocked chips from the red rocks around
"Bismillah!" cried the Hadendowa; "if the gun can carry thus far, then
ours can answer to it. Ride to the left, Moussa, and tell Ben Ali to
cut the skin from the Egyptians if they cannot hit yonder mark.
And you, Hamid, to the right, and see that 3,000 men lie close in the
wady that we have chosen. Let the others beat the drum and show the
banner of the Prophet, for by the black stone their spears will have
drunk deep ere they look upon the stars again."
A long, straggling, boulder-strewn plateau lay on the summit of the red
hills, sloping very precipitously to the plain, save at one point, where
a winding gully curved downwards, its mouth choked with sand-mounds and
olive-hued scrub. Along the edge of this position lay the Arab host--a
motley crew of shock-headed desert clansmen, fierce predatory slave
dealers of the interior, and wild dervishes from the Upper Nile, all
blent together by their common fearlessness and fanaticism. Two races
were there, as wide as the poles apart--the thin-lipped, straight-haired
Arab and the thick-lipped, curly negro--yet the faith of Islam had bound
them closer than a blood tie. Squatting among the rocks, or lying
thickly in the shadow, they peered out at the slow-moving square beneath
them, while women with water-skins and bags of dhoora fluttered from
group to group, calling out to each other those fighting texts from the
Koran which in the hour of battle are maddening as wine to the true
believer. A score of banners waved over the ragged, valiant crew, and
among them, upon desert horses and white Bishareen camels, were the
Emirs and Sheiks who were to lead them against the infidels.
As the Sheik Kadra sprang into his saddle and drew his sword there was a
wild whoop and a clatter of waving spears, while the one-ended war-drums
burst into a dull crash like a wave upon shingle. For a moment 10,000
men were up on the rocks with brandished arms and leaping figures; the
next they were under cover again, waiting sternly and silently for their
chieftain's orders. The square was less than half a mile from the ridge
now, and shell after shell from the 7 lb. guns were pitching over it.
A deep roar on the right, and then a second one showed that the Egyptian
Krupps were in action. Sheik Kadra's hawk eyes saw that the shells
burst far beyond the mark, and he spurred his horse along to where a
knot of mounted chiefs were gathered round the two guns, which were
served by their captured crews.
"How is this, Ben Ali?" he cried. "It was not thus that the dogs fired
when it was their own brothers in faith at whom they aimed!"
A chieftain reined his horse back, and thrust a blood-smeared sword into
its sheath. Beside him two Egyptian artillerymen with their throats cut
were sobbing out their lives upon the ground. "Who lays the gun this
time?" asked the fierce chief, glaring at the frightened gunners."
Here, thou black-browed child of Shaitan, aim, and aim for thy life."
It may have been chance, or it may have been skill, but the third and
fourth shells burst over the square. Sheik Kadra smiled grimly and
galloped back to the left, where his spearmen were streaming down into
the gully. As he joined them a deep growling rose from the plain
beneath, like the snarling of a sullen wild beast, and a little knot of
tribesmen fell into a struggling heap, caught in the blast of lead from
a Gardner. Their comrades pressed on over them, and sprang down into
the ravine. From all along the crest burst the hard, sharp crackle of
The square had slowly advanced, rippling over the low sandhills, and
halting every few minutes to re-arrange its formation. Now, having made
sure that there was no force of the enemy in the scrub, it changed its
direction, and began to take a line parallel to the Arab position.
It was too steep to assail from the front, and if they moved far enough
to the right the general hoped that he might turn it. On the top of
those ruddy hills lay a baronetcy for him, and a few extra hundreds in
his pension, and he meant having them both that day. The Remington fire
was annoying, and so were those two Krupp guns; already there were more
cacolets full than he cared to see. But on the whole he thought it
better to hold his fire until he had more to aim at than a few hundred
of fuzzy heads peeping over a razor-back ridge. He was a bulky,
red-faced man, a fine whist-player, and a soldier who knew his work.
His men believed in him, and he had good reason to believe in them, for
he had excellent stuff under him that day. Being an ardent champion of
the short-service system, he took particular care to work with veteran
first battalions, and his little force was the compressed essence of an
The left front of the square was formed by four companies of the Royal
Wessex, and the right by four of the Royal Mallows. On either side the
other halves of the same regiments marched in quarter column of
companies. Behind them, on the right was a battalion of Guards, and on
the left one of Marines, while the rear was closed in by a Rifle
battalion. Two Royal Artillery 7 lb. screw-guns kept pace with the
square, and a dozen white-bloused sailors, under their blue-coated,
tight-waisted officers, trailed their Gardner in front, turning every
now and then to spit up at the draggled banners which waved over the
cragged ridge. Hussars and Lancers scouted in the scrub at each side,
and within moved the clump of camels, with humorous eyes and
supercilious lips, their comic faces a contrast to the blood-stained men
who already lay huddled in the cacolets on either side.
The square was now moving slowly on a line parallel with the rocks,
stopping every few minutes to pick up wounded, and to allow the
screw-guns and Gardner to make themselves felt. The men looked serious,
for that spring on to the rocks of the Arab army had given them a vague
glimpse of the number and ferocity of their foes; but their faces were
set like stone, for they knew to a man that they must win or they must
die--and die, too, in a particularly unlovely fashion. But most serious
of all was the general, for he had seen that which brought a flush to
his cheeks and a frown to his brow.
"I say, Stephen," said he to his galloper, "those Mallows seem a trifle
jumpy. The right flank company bulged a bit when the niggers showed on
"Youngest troops in the square, sir," murmured the aide, looking at them
critically through his eye-glass.
"Tell Colonel Flanagan to see to it, Stephen," said the general; and the
galloper sped upon his way. The colonel, a fine old Celtic warrior, was
over at C Company in an instant.
"How are the men, Captain Foley?"
"Never better, sir," answered the senior captain, in the spirit that
makes a Madras officer look murder if you suggest recruiting his
regiment from the Punjab.
"Stiffen them up!" cried the colonel. As he rode away a colour-sergeant
seemed to trip, and fell forward into a mimosa bush. He made no effort
to rise, but lay in a heap among the thorns.
"Sergeant O'Rooke's gone, sorr," cried a voice. "Never mind, lads,"
said Captain Foley. "He's died like a soldier, fighting for his Queen."
"Down with the Queen!" shouted a hoarse voice from the ranks.
But the roar of the Gardner and the typewriter-like clicking of the
hopper burst in at the tail of the words. Captain Foley heard them, and
Subalterns Grice and Murphy heard them; but there are times when a deaf
ear is a gift from the gods.
"Steady, Mallows!" cried the captain, in a pause of the grunting
machine-gun. "We have the honour of Ireland to guard this day."
"And well we know how to guard it, captin!" cried the same ominous
voice; and there was a buzz from the length of the company.
The captain and the two subs. came together behind the marching line.
"They seem a bit out of hand," murmured the captain.
"Bedad," said the Galway boy, "they mean to scoot like redshanks."
"They nearly broke when the blacks showed on the hill," said Grice.
"The first man that turns, my sword is through him," cried Foley, loud
enough to be heard by five files on either side of him. Then, in a
lower voice, "It's a bitter drop to swallow, but it's my duty to report
what you think to the chief, and have a company of Jollies put behind
us." He turned away with the safety of the square upon his mind, and
before he had reached his goal the square had ceased to exist.
In their march in front of what looked like a face of cliff, they had
come opposite to the mouth of the gully, in which, screened by scrub and
boulders, 3,000 chosen dervishes, under Hamid Wad Hussein, of the
Baggaras, were crouching. Tat, tat, tat, went the rifles of three
mounted infantrymen in front of the left shoulder of the square, and an
instant later they wore spurring it for their lives, crouching over the
manes of their horses, and pelting over the sandhills with thirty or
forty galloping chieftains at their heels. Rocks and scrub and mimosa
swarmed suddenly into life. Rushing black figures came and went in the
gaps of the bushes. A howl that drowned the shouts of the officers, a
long quavering yell, burst from the ambuscade. Two rolling volleys from
the Royal Wessex, one crash from the screw-gun firing shrapnel, and then
before a second cartridge could be rammed in, a living, glistening black
wave, tipped with steel, had rolled over the gun, the Royal Wessex had
been dashed back among the camels, and 1,000 fanatics were hewing and
hacking in the heart of what had been the square.
The camels and mules in the centre, jammed more and more together as
their leaders flinched from the rush of the tribesmen, shut out the view
of the other three faces, who could only tell that the Arabs had got in
by the yells upon Allah, which rose ever nearer and nearer amid the
clouds of sand-dust, the struggling animals, and the dense mass of
swaying, cursing men. Some of the Wessex fired back at the Arabs who
had passed them, as excited Tommies will, and it is whispered among
doctors that it was not always a Remington bullet which was cut from a
wound that day. Some rallied in little knots, stabbing furiously with
their bayonets at the rushing spearmen. Others turned at bay with their
backs against the camels, and others round the general and his staff,
who, revolver in hand, had flung themselves into the heart of it.
But the whole square was sidling slowly away from the gorge, pushed back
by the pressure at the shattered corner.
The officers and men at the other faces were glancing nervously to the
rear, uncertain what was going on, and unable to take help to their
comrades without breaking the formation.
"By Jove, they've got through the Wessex!" cried Grice of the Mallows.
"The divils have hurrooshed us, Ted," said his brother subaltern,
cocking his revolver.
The ranks were breaking, and crowding towards Private Conolly, all
talking together as the officers peered back through the veil of dust.
The sailors had run their Gardner out, and she was squirting death out
of her five barrels into the flank of the rushing stream of savages.
"Oh, this bloody gun!" shouted a voice. "She's jammed again."
The fierce metallic grunting had ceased, and her crew were straining and
hauling at the breech.
"This damned vertical feed!" cried an officer.
"The spanner, Wilson!--the spanner! Stand to your cutlasses, boys, or
they're into us." His voice rose into a shriek as he ended, for a
shovel-headed spear had been buried in his chest. A second wave of
dervishes lapped over the hillocks, and burst upon the machine-gun and
the right front of the line. The sailors were overborne in an instant,
but the Mallows, with their fighting blood aflame, met the yell of the
Moslem with an even wilder, fiercer cry, and dropped two hundred of them
with a single point-blank volley. The howling, leaping crew swerved
away to the right, and dashed on into the gap which had already been
made for them.
But C Company had drawn no trigger to stop that fiery rush. The men
leaned moodily upon their Martinis. Some had even thrown them upon the
ground. Conolly was talking fiercely to those about him. Captain
Foley, thrusting his way through the press, rushed up to him with a
revolver in his hand.
"This is your doing, you villain!" he cried.
"If you raise your pistol, Captin, your brains will be over your coat,"
said a low voice at his side.
He saw that several rifles were turned on him. The two subs. had
pressed forward, and were by his side. "What is it, then?" he cried,
looking round from one fierce mutinous face to another. "Are you
Irishmen? Are you soldiers? What are you here for but to fight for
"England is no country of ours," cried several.
"You are not fighting for England. You are fighting for Ireland, and
for the Empire of which it as part."
"A black curse on the Impire!" shouted Private McQuire, throwing down
his rifle. "'Twas the Impire that backed the man that druv me onto the
roadside. May me hand stiffen before I draw trigger for it.
"What's the Impire to us, Captain Foley, and what's the Widdy to us
ayther?" cried a voice.
"Let the constabulary foight for her."
"Ay, be God, they'd be better imployed than pullin' a poor man's thatch
about his ears."
"Or shootin' his brother, as they did mine."
"It was the Impire laid my groanin' mother by the wayside. Her son will
rot before he upholds it, and ye can put that in the charge-sheet in the
In vain the three officers begged, menaced, persuaded. The square was
still moving, ever moving, with the same bloody fight raging in its
entrails. Even while they had been speaking they had been shuffling
backwards, and the useless Gardner, with her slaughtered crew, was
already a good hundred yards from them. And the pace was accelerating.
The mass of men, tormented and writhing, was trying, by a common
instinct, to reach some clearer ground where they could re-form. Three
faces were still intact, but the fourth had been caved in, and badly
mauled, without its comrades being able to help it. The Guards had met
a fresh rush of the Hadendowas, and had blown back the tribesmen with a
volley, and the cavalry had ridden over another stream of them, as they
welled out of the gully. A litter of hamstrung horses, and haggled men
behind them, showed that a spearman on his face among the bushes can
show some sport to the man who charges him. But, in spite of all, the
square was still reeling swiftly backwards, trying to shake itself clear
of this torment which clung to its heart. Would it break or would it
re-form? The lives of five regiments and the honour of the flag hung
upon the answer.
Some, at least, were breaking. The C Company of the Mallows had lost
all military order, and was pushing back in spite of the haggard
officers, who cursed, and shoved, and prayed in the vain attempt to hold
them. The captain and the subs. were elbowed and jostled, while the men
crowded towards Private Conolly for their orders. The confusion had not
spread, for the other companies, in the dust and smoke and turmoil, had
lost touch with their mutinous comrades. Captain Foley saw that even
now there might be time to avert a disaster. "Think what you are doing,
man," he yelled, rushing towards the ringleader. "There are a thousand
Irish in the square, and they are dead men if we break."
The words alone might have had little effect on the old moonlighter.
It is possible that, in his scheming brain, he had already planned how
he was to club his Irish together and lead them to the sea. But at that
moment the Arabs broke through the screen of camels which had fended
them off. There was a Struggle, a screaming, a mule rolled over, a
wounded man sprang up in a cacolet with a spear through him, and then
through the narrow gap surged a stream of naked savages, mad with
battle, drunk with slaughter, spotted and splashed with blood--blood
dripping from their spears, their arms, their faces. Their yells, their
bounds, their crouching, darting figures, the horrid energy of their
spear-thrusts, made them look like a blast of fiends from the pit. And
were these the Allies of Ireland? Were these the men who were to strike
for her against her enemies? Conolly's soul rose up in loathing at the
He was a man of firm purpose, and yet at the first sight of those
howling fiends that purpose faltered, and at the second it was blown to
the winds. He saw a huge coal-black negro seize a shrieking
camel-driver and saw at his throat with a knife. He saw a shock-headed
tribesman plunge his great spear through the back of their own little
bugler from Mill-street. He saw a dozen deeds of blood--the murder of
the wounded, the hacking of the unarmed--and caught, too, in a glance,
the good wholesome faces of the faced-about rear rank of the Marines.
The Mallows, too, had faced about, and in an instant Conolly had thrown
himself into the heart of C Company, striving with the officers to form
the men up with their comrades.
But the mischief had gone too far. The rank and file had no heart in
their work. They had broken before, and this last rush of murderous
savages was a hard thing for broken men to stand against. They flinched
from the furious faces and dripping forearms. Why should they throw
away their lives for a flag for which they cared nothing? Why should
their leader urge them to break, and now shriek to them to re-form?
They would not re-form. They wanted to get to the sea and to safety.
He flung himself among them with outstretched arms, with words of
reason, with shouts, with gaspings. It was useless; the tide was beyond
his control. They were shredding out into the desert with their faces
set for the coast.
"Bhoys, will ye stand for this?" screamed a voice. It was so ringing,
so strenuous, that the breaking Mallows glanced backwards. They were
held by what they saw. Private Conolly had planted his rifle-stock
downwards in a mimosa bush. From the fixed bayonet there fluttered a
little green flag with the crownless harp. God knows for what black
mutiny, for what signal of revolt, that flag had been treasured up
within the corporal's tunic! Now its green wisp stood amid the rush,
while three proud regimental colours were reeling slowly backwards.
"What for the flag?" yelled the private.
"My heart's blood for it! and mine! and mine!" cried a score of voices.
"God bless it! The flag, boys--the flag!"
C Company were rallying upon it. The stragglers clutched at each
other, and pointed. "Here, McQuire, Flynn, O'Hara," ran the shoutings.
"Close on the flag! Back to the flag!" The three standards reeled
backwards, and the seething square strove for a clearer space where they
could form their shattered ranks; but C Company, grim and
powder-stained, choked with enemies and falling fast, still closed in on
the little rebel ensign that flapped from the mimosa bush.
It was a good half-hour before the square, having disentangled itself
from its difficulties and dressed its ranks, began to slowly move
forwards over the ground, across which in its labour and anguish it had
been driven. The long trail of Wessex men and Arabs showed but too
clearly the path they had come.
"How many got into us, Stephen?" asked the general, tapping his
"I should put them down at a thousand or twelve hundred, sir."
"I did not see any get out again. What the devil were the Wessex
thinking about? The Guards stood well, though; so did the Mallows."
"Colonel Flanagan reports that his front flank company was cut off,
"Why, that's the company that was out of hand when we advanced!"
"Colonel Flanagan reports, sir, that the company took the whole brunt of
the attack, and gave the square time to re-form."
"Tell the Hussars to ride forward, Stephen," said the general, "and try
if they can see anything of them. There's no firing, and I fear that
the Mallows will want to do some recruiting. Let the square take ground
by the right, and then advance!"
But the Sheik Kadra of the Hadendowas saw from his knoll that the men
with the big hats had rallied, and that they were coming back in the
quiet business fashion of men whose work was before them. He took
counsel with Moussa the Dervish and Hussein the Baggara, and a woestruck
man was he when he learned that the third of his men were safe in the
Moslem Paradise. So, having still some signs of victory to show, he
gave the word, and the desert warriors flitted off unseen and unheard,
even as they had come.
A red rock plateau, a few hundred spears and Remingtons, and a plain
which for the second time was strewn with slaughtered men, was all that
his day's fighting gave to the English general.
It was a squadron of Hussars which came first to the spot where the
rebel flag had waved. A dense litter of Arab dead marked the place.
Within, the flag waved no longer, but the rifle stood in the mimosa
bush, and round it, with their wounds in front, lay the Fenian private
and the silent ranks of the Irishry. Sentiment is not an English
failing, but the Hussar captain raised his hilt in a salute as he rode
past the blood-soaked ring.
The British general sent home dispatches to his Government, and so did
the chief of the Hadendowas, though the style and manner differed
somewhat in each.
The Sheik Kadra of the Hadendowa people to Mohammed Ahmed, the chosen of
Allah, homage and greeting, (began the latter). Know by this that on
the fourth day of this moon we gave battle to the Kaffirs who call
themselves Inglees, having with us the Chief Hussein with ten thousand
of the faithful. By the blessing of Allah we have broken them, and
chased them for a mile, though indeed these infidels are different from
the dogs of Egypt, and have slain very many of our men. Yet we hope to
smite them again ere the new moon be come, to which end I trust that
thou wilt send us a thousand Dervishes from Omdurman. In token of our
victory I send you by this messenger a flag which we have taken. By the
colour it might well seem to have belonged to those of the true faith,
but the Kaffirs gave their blood freely to save it, and so we think
that, though small, it is very dear to them.
HOW THE GOVERNOR OF SAINT KITT'S CAME HOME.
When the great wars of the Spanish Succession had been brought to an end
by the Treaty of Utrecht, the vast number of privateers which had been
fitted out by the contending parties found their occupation gone. Some
took to the more peaceful but less lucrative ways of ordinary commerce,
others were absorbed into the fishing fleets, and a few of the more
reckless hoisted the Jolly Rodger at the mizzen, and the bloody flag at
the main, declaring a private war upon their own account against the
whole human race.
With mixed crews, recruited from every nation, they scoured the seas,
disappearing occasionally to careen in some lonely inlet, or putting in
for a debauch at some outlying port, where they dazzled the inhabitants
by their lavishness, and horrified them by their brutalities.
On the Coromandel Coast, at Madagascar, in the African waters, and above
all in the West Indian and American seas, the pirates were a constant
menace. With an insolent luxury they would regulate their depredations
by the comfort of the seasons, harrying New England in the summer, and
dropping south again to the tropical islands in the winter.
They were the more to be dreaded because they had none of that
discipline and restraint which made their predecessors, the Buccaneers,
both formidable and respectable. These Ishmaels of the sea rendered an
account to no man, and treated their prisoners according to the drunken
whim of the moment. Flashes of grotesque generosity alternated with
longer stretches of inconceivable ferocity, and the skipper who fell
into their hands might find himself dismissed with his cargo, after
serving as boon companion in some hideous debauch, or might sit at his
cabin table with his own nose and his lips served up with pepper and
salt in front of him. It took a stout seaman in those days to ply his
calling in the Caribbean Gulf.
Such a man was Captain John Scarrow, of the ship _Morning Star_, and yet
he breathed a long sigh of relief when he heard the splash of the
falling anchor and swung at his moorings within a hundred yards of the
guns of the citadel of Basseterre. St. Kitt's was his final port of
call, and early next morning his bowsprit would be pointed for Old
England. He had had enough of those robber-haunted seas. Ever since he
had left Maracaibo upon the Main, with his full lading of sugar and red
pepper, he had winced at every topsail which glimmered over the violet
edge of the tropical sea. He had coasted up the Windward Islands,
touching here and there, and assailed continually by stories of villainy
Captain Sharkey, of the twenty-gun pirate barque, _Happy Delivery_, had
passed down the coast, and had littered it with gutted vessels and with
murdered men. Dreadful anecdotes were current of his grim pleasantries
and of his inflexible ferocity. From the Bahamas to the Main his
coal-black barque, with the ambiguous name, had been freighted with
death and many things which are worse than death. So nervous was
Captain Scarrow, with his new full-rigged ship, and her full and
valuable lading, that he struck out to the west as far as Bird's Island
to be out of the usual track of commerce. And yet even in those
solitary waters he had been unable to shake off sinister traces of
One morning they had raised a single skiff adrift upon the face of the
ocean. Its only occupant was a delirious seaman, who yelled hoarsely as
they hoisted him aboard, and showed a dried-up tongue like a black and
wrinkled fungus at the back of his mouth. Water and nursing soon
transformed him into the strongest and smartest sailor on the ship.
He was from Marblehead, in New England, it seemed, and was the sole
survivor of a schooner which had been scuttled by the dreadful Sharkey.
For a week Hiram Evanson, for that was his name, had been adrift beneath
a tropical sun. Sharkey had ordered the mangled remains of his late
captain to be thrown into the boat, "as provisions for the voyage," but
the seaman had at once committed it to the deep, lest the temptation
should be more than he could bear. He had lived upon his own huge frame
until, at the last moment, the _Morning Star_ had found him in that
madness which is the precursor of such a death. It was no bad find for
Captain Scarrow, for, with a short-handed crew, such a seaman as this
big New Englander was a prize worth having. He vowed that he was the
only man whom Captain Sharkey had ever placed under an obligation.
Now that they lay under the guns of Basseterre, all danger from the
pirate was at an end, and yet the thought of him lay heavily upon the
seaman's mind as he watched the agent's boat shooting out from the
"I'll lay you a wager, Morgan," said he to the first mate, "that the
agent will speak of Sharkey in the first hundred words that pass his
"Well, captain, I'll have you a silver dollar, and chance it," said the
rough old Bristol man beside him.
The negro rowers shot the boat alongside, and the linen-clad steersman
sprang up the ladder. "Welcome, Captain Scarrow!" he cried. "Have you
heard about Sharkey?"
The captain grinned at the mate.
"What devilry has he been up to now?" he asked.
"Devilry! You've not heard, then? Why, we've got him safe under lock
and key at Basseterre. He was tried last Wednesday, and he is to be
hanged to-morrow morning."
Captain and mate gave a shout of joy, which an instant later was taken
up by the crew. Discipline was forgotten as they scrambled up through
the break of the poop to hear the news. The New Englander was in the
front of them with a radiant face turned up to Heaven, for he came of
the Puritan stock.
"Sharkey to be hanged!" he cried. "You don't know, Master Agent, if
they lack a hangman, do you?"
"Stand back!" cried the mate, whose outraged sense of discipline was
even stronger than his interest at the news. "I'll pay that dollar,
Captain Scarrow, with the lightest heart that ever I paid a wager yet.
How came the villain to be taken?"
"Why, as to that, he became more than his own comrades could abide, and
they took such a horror of him that they would not have him on the ship.
So they marooned him upon the Little Mangles to the south of the
Mysteriosa Bank, and there he was found by a Portobello trader, who
brought him in. There was talk of sending him to Jamaica to be tried,
but our good little Governor, Sir Charles Ewan, would not hear of it.
'He's my meat,' said he, 'and I claim the cooking of it.' If you can
stay till to-morrow morning at ten, you'll see the joint swinging."
"I wish I could," said the captain, wistfully, "but I am sadly behind
time now. I should start with the evening tide."
"That you can't do," said the agent with decision. "The Governor is
going back with you."
"Yes. He's had a dispatch from Government to return without delay.
The fly-boat that brought it has gone on to Virginia. So Sir Charles
has been waiting for you, as I told him you were due before the rains."
"Well, well!" cried the captain in some perplexity, "I'm a plain seaman,
and I don't know much of governors and baronets and their ways. I don't
remember that I ever so much as spoke to one. But if it's in King
George's service, and he asks a cast in the _Morning Star_ as far as
London, I'll do what I can for him. There's my own cabin he can have
and welcome. As to the cooking, it's lobscouse and salmagundy six days
in the week; but he can bring his own cook aboard with him if he thinks
our galley too rough for his taste."
"You need not trouble your mind, Captain Scarrow," said the agent.
"Sir Charles is in weak health just now, only clear of a quartan ague,
and it is likely he will keep his cabin most of the voyage.
Dr. Larousse said that he would have sunk had the hanging of Sharkey not
put fresh life into him. He has a great spirit in him, though, and you
must not blame him if he is somewhat short in his speech."
"He may say what he likes, and do what he likes, so long as he does not
come athwart my hawse when I am working the ship," said the captain.
"He is Governor of St. Kitt's, but I am Governor of the _Morning Star_,
and, by his leave, I must weigh with the first tide, for I owe a duty to
my employer, just as he does to King George."
"He can scarce be ready to-night, for he has many things to set in order
before he leaves."
"The early morning tide, then."
"Very good. I shall send his things aboard to-night; and he will follow
them to-morrow early if I can prevail upon him to leave St. Kitt's
without seeing Sharkey do the rogue's hornpipe. His own orders were
instant, so it may be that he will come at once. It is likely that Dr.
Larousse may attend him upon the journey."
Left to themselves, the captain and mate made the best preparations
which they could for their illustrious passenger. The largest cabin was
turned out and adorned in his honour, and orders were given by which
barrels of fruit and some cases of wine should be brought off to vary
the plain food of an ocean-going trader. In the evening the Governor's
baggage began to arrive--great iron-bound ant-proof trunks, and official
tin packing-cases, with other strange-shaped packages, which suggested
the cocked hat or the sword within. And then there came a note, with a
heraldic device upon the big red seal, to say that Sir Charles Ewan made
his compliments to Captain Scarrow, and that he hoped to be with him in
the morning as early as his duties and his infirmities would permit.
He was as good as his word, for the first grey of dawn had hardly begun
to deepen into pink when he was brought alongside, and climbed with some
difficulty up the ladder. The captain had heard that the Governor was
an eccentric, but he was hardly prepared for the curious figure who came
limping feebly down his quarter-deck, his steps supported by a thick
bamboo cane. He wore a Ramillies wig, all twisted into little tails
like a poodle's coat, and cut so low across the brow that the large
green glasses which covered his eyes looked as if they were hung from
it. A fierce beak of a nose, very long and very thin, cut the air in
front of him. His ague had caused him to swathe his throat and chin
with a broad linen cravat, and he wore a loose damask powdering-gown
secured by a cord round the waist. As he advanced he carried his
masterful nose high in the air, but his head turned slowly from side to
side in the helpless manner of the purblind, and he called in a high,
querulous voice for the captain.
"You have my things?" he asked.
"Yes, Sir Charles."
"Have you wine aboard?"
"I have ordered five cases, sir."
"There is a keg of Trinidad."
"You play a hand at picquet?"
"Passably well, sir."
"Then anchor up, and to sea!"
There was a fresh westerly wind, so by the time the sun was fairly
through the morning haze, the ship was hull down from the islands.
The decrepit Governor still limpid the deck, with one guiding hand upon
the quarter rail.
"You are on Government service now, captain," said he. "They are
counting the days till I come to Westminster, I promise you. Have you
all that she will carry?"
"Every inch, Sir Charles."
"Keep her so if you blow the sails out of her. I fear, Captain Scarrow,
that you will find a blind and broken man a poor companion for your
"I am honoured in enjoying your Excellency's society," said the captain.
"But I am sorry that your eyes should be so afflicted."
"Yes, indeed. It is the cursed glare of the sun on the white streets of
Basseterre which has gone far to burn them out."
"I had heard also that you had been plagued by a quartan ague."
"Yes; I have had a pyrexy, which has reduced me much."
"We had set aside a cabin for your surgeon."
"Ah, the rascal! There was no budging him, for he has a snug business
amongst the merchants. But hark!" He raised his ring-covered band in
the air. From far astern there came the low, deep thunder of cannon.
"It is from the island!" cried the captain in astonishment. "Can it be
a signal for us to put back?"
The Governor laughed. "You have heard that Sharkey, the pirate, is to
be hanged this morning. I ordered the batteries to salute when the
rascal was kicking his last, so that I might know of it out at sea.
There's an end of Sharkey!"
"There's an end of Sharkey!" cried the captain; and the crew took up the
cry as they gathered in little knots upon the deck and stared back at
the low, purple line of the vanishing land.
It was a cheering omen for their start across the Western Ocean, and the
invalid Governor found himself a popular man on board, for it was
generally understood that but for his insistence upon an immediate trial
and sentence, the villain might have played upon some more venal judge
and so escaped. At dinner that day Sir Charles gave many anecdotes of
the deceased pirate; and so affable was he, and so skilful in adapting
his conversation to men of lower degree, that captain, mate, and
Governor smoked their long pipes, and drank their claret as three good
"And what figure did Sharkey cut in the dock?" asked the captain.
"He is a man of some presence," said the Governor.
"I had always understood that he was an ugly, sneering devil," remarked
"Well, I dare say he could look ugly upon occasions," said the Governor.
"I have heard a New Bedford whaleman say that he could not forget his
eyes," said Captain Scarrow. "They were of the lightest filmy blue,
with red-rimmed lids. Was that not so, Sir Charles?"
"Alas, my own eyes will not permit me to know much of those of others!
But I remember now that the adjutant-general said that he had such an
eye as you describe, and added that the jury was so foolish as to be
visibly discomposed when it was turned upon them. It is well for them
that he is dead, for he was a man who would never forget an injury, and
if he had laid hands upon any one of them he would have stuffed him with
straw and hung him for a figure-head."
The idea seemed to amuse the Governor, for he broke suddenly into a
high, neighing laugh, and the two seamen laughed also, but not so
heartily, for they remembered that Sharkey was not the last pirate who
sailed the western seas, and that as grotesque a fate might come to be
their own. Another bottle was broached to drink to a pleasant voyage,
and the Governor would drink just one other on the top of it, so that
the seamen were glad at last to stagger off--the one to his watch, and
the other to his bunk. But when, after his four hours' spell, the mate
came down again, he was amazed to see the Governor, in his Ramillies
wig, his glasses, and his powdering-gown, still seated sedately at the
lonely table with his reeking pipe and six black bottles by his side.
"I have drunk with the Governor of St. Kitt's when he was sick," said
he, "and God forbid that I should ever try to keep pace with him when he
The voyage of the _Morning Star_ was a successful one, and in about
three weeks she was at the mouth of the British Channel. From the first
day the infirm Governor had begun to recover his strength, and before
they were halfway across the Atlantic, he was, save only for his eyes,
as well as any man upon the ship. Those who uphold the nourishing
qualities of wine might point to him in triumph, for never a night
passed that he did not repeat the performance of his first one. And yet
be would be out upon deck in the early morning as fresh and brisk as the
best of them, peering about with his weak eyes, and asking questions
about the sails and the rigging, for he was anxious to learn the ways of
the sea. And he made up for the deficiency of his eyes by obtaining
leave from the captain that the New England seaman--he who had been cast
away in the boat--should lead him about, and, above all, that he should
sit beside him when he played cards and count the number of the pips,
for unaided he could not tell the king from the knave.
It was natural that this Evanson should do the Governor willing service,
since the one was the victim of the vile Sharkey and the other was his
avenger. One could see that it was a pleasure to the big American to
lend his arm to the invalid, and at night he would stand with all
respect behind his chair in the cabin and lay his great stub-nailed
forefinger upon the card which he should play. Between them there was
little in the pockets either of Captain Scarrow or of Morgan, the first
mate, by the time they sighted the Lizard.
And it was not long before they found that all they had heard of the
high temper of Sir Charles Ewan fell short of the mark. At a sign of
opposition or a word of argument his chin would shoot out from his
cravat, his masterful nose would be cocked at a higher and more insolent
angle, and his bamboo cane would whistle up over his shoulders.
He cracked it once over the head of the carpenter when the man had
accidentally jostled him upon the deck. Once, too, when there was some
grumbling and talk of a mutiny over the state of the provisions, he was
of opinion that they should not wait for the dogs to rise, but that they
should march forward and set upon them until they had trounced the
devilment out of them. "Give me a knife and a bucket!" he cried with an
oath, and could hardly be withheld from setting forth alone to deal with
the spokesman of the seamen.
Captain Scarrow had to remind him that though he might be only
answerable to himself at St. Kitt's, killing became murder upon the high
seas. In politics he was, as became his official position, a stout prop
of the House of Hanover, and he swore in his cups that he had never met
a Jacobite without pistolling him where he stood. Yet for all his
vapouring and his violence he was so good a companion, with such a
stream of strange anecdote and reminiscence, that Scarrow and Morgan had
never known a voyage pass so pleasantly.
And then at length came the last day, when, after passing the island,
they had struck land again at the high white cliffs at Beachy Head. As
evening fell the ship lay rolling in an oily calm, a league off from
Winchelsea, with the long, dark snout of Dungeness jutting out in front
of her. Next morning they would pick up their pilot at the Foreland,
and Sir Charles might meet the King's ministers at Westminster before
the evening. The boatswain had the watch, and the three friends were
met for a last turn of cards in the cabin, the faithful American still
serving as eyes to the Governor. There was a good stake upon the table,
for the sailors had tried on this last night to win their losses back
from their passenger. Suddenly he threw his cards down, and swept all
the money into the pocket of his long-flapped silken waistcoat.
"The game's mine!" said he.
"Heh, Sir Charles, not so fast!" cried Captain Scarrow; "you have not
played out the hand, and we are not the losers."
"Sink you for a liar!" said the Governor. "I tell you I _have_ played
out the hand, and that you _are_ a loser." He whipped off his wig and
his glasses as he spoke, and there was a high, bald forehead, and a pair
of shifty blue eyes with the red rims of a bull terrier.
"Good God!" cried the mate. "It's Sharkey!"
The two sailors sprang from their seats, but the big American castaway
had put his huge back against the cabin door, and he held a pistol in
each of his hands. The passenger had also laid a pistol upon the
scattered cards in front of him, and he burst into his high, neighing
laugh. "Captain Sharkey is the name, gentlemen," said he, "and this is
Roaring Ned Galloway, the quartermaster of the _Happy Delivery_.
We made it hot, and so they marooned us: me on a dry Tortuga cay, and
him in an oarless boat. You dogs--you poor, fond, water-hearted dogs--
we hold you at the end of our pistols!"
"You may shoot, or you may not!" cried Scarrow, striking his hand upon
the breast of his frieze jacket. "If it's my last breath, Sharkey, I
tell you that you are a bloody rogue and miscreant, with a halter and
hell-fire in store for you!"
"There's a man of spirit, and one of my own kidney, and he's going to
make a very pretty death of it!" cried Sharkey. "There's no one aft
save the man at the wheel, so you may keep your breath, for you'll need
it soon. Is the dinghy astern, Ned?"
"Ay, ay, captain!"
"And the other boats scuttled?"
"I bored them all in three places."
"Then we shall have to leave you, Captain Scarrow. You look as if you
hadn't quite got your bearings yet. Is there anything you'd like to ask
"I believe you're the devil himself!" cried the captain. "Where is the
Governor of St. Kitt's?"
"When last I saw him his Excellency was in bed with his throat cut.
When I broke prison I learnt from my friends--for Captain Sharkey has
those who love him in every port--that the Governor was starting for
Europe under a master who had never seen him. I climbed his verandah,
and I paid him the little debt that I owed him. Then I came aboard you
with such of his things as I had need of, and a pair of glasses to hide
these tell-tale eyes of mine, and I have ruffled it as a governor
should. Now, Ned, you can get to work upon them."
"Help! help! Watch ahoy!" yelled the mate; but the butt of the pirate's
pistol crashed down on his head, and he dropped like a pithed ox.
Scarrow rushed for the door, but the sentinel clapped his hand over his
mouth, and threw his other arm round his waist.
"No use, Master Scarrow," said Sharkey. "Let us see you go down on your
knees and beg for your life."
"I'll see you--" cried Scarrow, shaking his mouth clear.
"Twist his arm round, Ned. Now will you?"
"No; not if you twist it off."
"Put an inch of your knife into him."
"You may put six inches, and then I won't."
"Sink me, but I like his spirit!" cried Sharkey. "Put your knife in
your pocket, Ned. You've saved your skin, Scarrow, and it's a pity so
stout a man should not take to the only trade where a pretty fellow can
pick up a living. You must be born for no common death, Scarrow, since
you have lain at my mercy and lived to tell the story. Tie him up,
"To the stove, captain?"
"Tut, tut! there's a fire in the stove. None of your rover tricks, Ned
Galloway, unless they are called for, or I'll let you know which of us
two is captain and which is quartermaster. Make him fast to the table."
"Nay, I thought you meant to roast him!" said the quartermaster.
"You surely do not mean to let him go?"
"If you and I were marooned on a Bahama cay, Ned Galloway, it is still
for me to command and for you to obey. Sink you for a villain, do you
dare to question my orders?"
"Nay, nay, Captain Sharkey, not so hot, sir!" said the quartermaster,
and, lifting Scarrow like a child, he laid him on the table. With the
quick dexterity of a seaman, he tied his spread-eagled hands and feet
with a rope which was passed underneath, and gagged him securely with
the long cravat which used to adorn the chin of the Governor of
"Now, Captain Scarrow, we must take our leave of you," said the pirate.
"If I had half a dozen of my brisk boys at my heels I should have had
your cargo and your ship, but Roaring Ned could not find a foremast hand
with the spirit of a mouse. I see there are some small craft about, and
we shall get one of them. When Captain Sharkey has a boat he can get a
smack, when he has a smack he can get a brig, when he has a brig he can
get a barque, and when he has a barque he'll soon have a full-rigged
ship of his own--so make haste into London town, or I may be coming
back, after all, for the _Morning Star_."
Captain Scarrow heard the key turn in the lock as they left the cabin.
Then, as he strained at his bonds, he heard their footsteps pass up the
companion and along the quarter-deck to where the dinghy hung in the
stern. Then, still struggling and writhing, he heard the creak of the
falls and the splash of the boat in the water. In a mad fury he tore
and dragged at his ropes, until at last, with flayed wrists and ankles,
he rolled from the table, sprang over the dead mate, kicked his way
through the closed door, and rushed hatless on to the deck.
"Ahoy! Peterson, Armitage, Wilson!" he screamed. "Cutlasses and
pistols! Clear away the long-boat! Clear away the gig! Sharkey, the
pirate, is in yonder dinghy. Whistle up the larboard watch, bo'sun,
and tumble into the boats, all hands."
Down splashed the long-boat and down splashed the gig, but in an instant
the coxswains and crews were swarming up the falls on to the deck once
"The boats are scuttled!" they cried. "They are leaking like a sieve."
The captain gave a bitter curse. He had been beaten and outwitted at
every point. Above was a cloudless, starlit sky, with neither wind nor
the promise of it. The sails flapped idly in the moonlight. Far away
lay a fishing-smack, with the men clustering over their net. Close to
them was the little dinghy, dipping and lifting over the shining swell.
"They are dead men!" cried the captain. "A shout all together, boys,
to warn them of their danger." But it was too late. At that very
moment the dinghy shot into the shadow of the fishing-boat. There were
two rapid pistol-shots, a scream, and then another pistol-shot, followed
by silence. The clustering fishermen had disappeared. And then,
suddenly, as the first puffs of a land-breeze came out from the Sussex
shore, the boom swung out, the mainsail filled, and the little craft
crept out with her nose to the Atlantic.
THE DEALINGS OF CAPTAIN SHARKEY WITH STEPHEN CRADDOCK
Careening was a very necessary operation for the old pirate. On his
superior speed he depended both for overhauling the trader and escaping
the man-of-war. But it was impossible to retain his sailing qualities
unless he periodically--once a year, at the least--cleared his vessel's
bottom from the long, trailing plants and crusting barnacles which
gather so rapidly in the tropical seas. For this purpose he lightened
his vessel, thrust her into some narrow inlet where she would be left
high and dry at low water, fastened blocks and tackles to her masts to
pull her over on to her bilge, and then scraped her thoroughly from
rudder-post to cut-water.
During the weeks which were thus occupied the ship was, of course,
defenceless; but, on the other hand, she was unapproachable by anything
heavier than an empty hull, and the place for careening was chosen with
an eye to secrecy, so that there was no great danger. So secure did the
captains feel, that it was not uncommon for them, at such times, to
leave their ships under a sufficient guard, and to start off in the
long-boat, either upon a sporting expedition or, more frequently, upon a
visit to some outlying town, where they burned the heads of the women by
their swaggering gallantry, or broached pipes of wine in the market
square, with a threat to pistol all who would not drink with them.
Sometimes they would even appear in cities of the size of Charleston,
and walk the streets with their clattering side-arms--an open scandal to
the whole law-abiding colony. Such visits were not always paid with
impunity. It was one of them, for example, which provoked Lieutenant
Maynard to hack off Blackbeard's head, and to spear it upon the end of
his bowsprit. But, as a rule, the pirate ruffled and bullied and
drabbed without let or hindrance, until it was time for him to go back
to his ship once more.
There was one pirate, however, who never crossed even the skirts of
civilisation, and that was the sinister Sharkey, of the barque _Happy
Delivery_. It may have been from his morose and solitary temper, or, as
is more probable, that he knew that his name upon the coast was such
that outraged humanity would, against all odds, have thrown themselves
upon him, but never once did he show his face in a settlement.
When his ship was laid up he would leave her under the charge of Ned
Galloway--her New England quartermaster--and would take long voyages in
his boat, sometimes, it was said, for the purpose of burying his share
of the plunder, and sometimes to shoot the wild oxen of Hispaniola,
which, when dressed and barbecued, provided provisions for his next
voyage. In the latter case the barque would come round to some
pre-arranged spot to pick him up, and take on board what he had shot.
There had always been a hope in the islands that Sharkey might be taken
on one of these occasions; and at last there came news to Kingston which
seemed to justify an attempt upon him. It was brought by an elderly
logwood-cutter who had fallen into the pirate's hands, and in some freak
of drunken benevolence had been allowed to get away with nothing worse
than a slit nose and a drubbing. His account was recent and definite.
The _Happy Delivery_ was careening at Torbec on the south-west of
Hispaniola. Sharkey, with four men, was buccaneering on the outlying
island of La Vache. The blood of a hundred murdered crews was calling
out for vengeance, and now at last it seemed as if it might not call in
Sir Edward Compton, the high-nosed, red-faced Governor, sitting in
solemn conclave with the commandant and the head of the council, was
sorely puzzled in his mind as to how he should use this chance.
There was no man-of-war nearer than Jamestown, and she was a clumsy old
fly-boat, which could neither overhaul the pirate on the seas, nor reach
her in a shallow inlet. There were forts and artillerymen both at
Kingston and Port Royal, but no soldiers available for an expedition.
A private venture might be fitted out--and there were many who had a
blood-feud with Sharkey--but what could a private venture do?
The pirates were numerous and desperate. As to taking Sharkey and his
four companions, that, of course, would be easy if they could get at
them; but how were they to get at them on a large well-wooded island
like La Vache, full of wild hills and impenetrable jungles? A reward
was offered to whoever could find a solution, and that brought a man to
the front who had a singular plan, and was himself prepared to carry it
Stephen Craddock had been that most formidable person, the Puritan gone
wrong. Sprung from a decent Salem family, his ill-doing seemed to be a
recoil from the austerity of their religion, and he brought to vice all
the physical strength and energy with which the virtues of his ancestors
had endowed him. He was ingenious, fearless, and exceedingly tenacious
of purpose, so that when he was still young, his name became notorious
upon the American coast. He was the same Craddock who was tried for his
life in Virginia for the slaying of the Seminole Chief, and, though he
escaped, it was well known that he had corrupted the witnesses and
bribed the judge.
Afterwards, as a slaver, and even, as it was hinted, as a pirate, he had
left an evil name behind him in the Bight of Benin. Finally he had
returned to Jamaica with a considerable fortune, and had settled down to
a life of sombre dissipation. This was the man, gaunt, austere, and
dangerous, who now waited upon the Governor with a plan for the
extirpation of Sharkey. Sir Edward received him with little enthusiasm,
for in spite of some rumours of conversion and reformation, he had
always regarded him as an infected sheep who might taint the whole of
his little flock. Craddock saw the Governor's mistrust under his thin
veil of formal and restrained courtesy.
"You've no call to fear me, sir," said he; "I'm a changed man from what
you've known. I've seen the light again of late, after losing sight of
it for many a black year. It was through the ministration of the Rev.
John Simons, of our own people. Sir, if your spirit should be in need
of quickening, you would find a very sweet savour in his discourse."
The Governor cocked his episcopalian nose at him.
"You came here to speak of Sharkey, Master Craddock," said he.
"The man Sharkey is a vessel of wrath," said Craddock. "His wicked
horn has been exalted over long, and it is borne in upon me that if I
can cut him off and utterly destroy him, it will be a goodly deed, and
one which may atone for many backslidings in the past. A plan has been
given to me whereby I may encompass his destruction."
The Governor was keenly interested, for there was a grim and practical
air about the man's freckled face which showed that he was in earnest.
After all, he was a seaman and a fighter, and, if it were true that he
was eager to atone for his past, no better man could be chosen for the
"This will be a dangerous task, Master Craddock," said he.
"If I meet my death at it, it may be that it will cleanse the memory of
an ill-spent life. I have much to atone for."
The Governor did not see his way to contradict him.
"What was your plan?" he asked.
"You have heard that Sharkey's barque, the _Happy Delivery_, came from
this very port of Kingston?"
"It belonged to Mr. Codrington, and it was taken by Sharkey, who
scuttled his own sloop and moved into her because she was faster," said
"Yes; but it may be that you have lever heard that Mr. Codrington has a
sister ship, the _White Rose_, which lies even now in the harbour, and
which is so like the pirate, that, if it were not for a white paint
line, none could tell them apart."
"Ah! and what of that?" asked the Governor keenly, with the air of one
who is just on the edge of an idea.
"By the help of it this man shall be delivered into our hands."
"I will paint out the streak upon the _White Rose_, and make it in all
things like the _Happy Delivery_. Then I will set sail for the Island
of La Vache, where this man is slaying the wild oxen. When he sees me
he will surely mistake me for his own vessel which he is awaiting, and
he will come on board to his own undoing."
It was a simple plan, and yet it seemed to the Governor that it might be
effective. Without hesitation he gave Craddock permission to carry it
out, and to take any steps he liked in order to further the object which
he had in view. Sir Edward was not very sanguine, for many attempts had
been made upon Sharkey, and their results had shown that he was as
cunning as he was ruthless. But this gaunt Puritan with the evil record
was cunning aid ruthless also. The contest of wits between two such men
as Sharkey and Craddock appealed to the Governor's acute sense of sport,
and though he was inwardly convinced that the chances were against him,
he backed his man with the same loyalty which he would have shown to his
horse or his cock.
Haste was, above all things, necessary, for upon any day the careening
might be finished, and the pirates out at sea once more. But there was
not very much to do, and there were many willing hands to do it, so the
second day saw the _White Rose_ beating out for the open sea. There
were many seamen in the port who knew the lines and rig of the pirate
barque, and not one of them could see the slightest difference in this
counterfeit. Her white side line had been painted out, her masts and
yards were smoked, to give them the dingy appearance of the
weather-beaten rover, and a large diamond-shaped patch was let into her
foretopsail. Her crew were volunteers, many of them being men who had
sailed with Stephen Craddock before--the mate, Joshua Hird, an old
slaver, had been his accomplice in many voyages, and came now at the
bidding of his chief.
The avenging barque sped across the Caribbean Sea, and, at the sight of
that patched topsail, the little craft which they met flew left and
right like frightened trout in a pool. On the fourth evening Point
Abacou bore five miles to the north and east of them. On the fifth they
were at anchor in the Bay of Tortoises at the Island of La Vache, where
Sharkey and his four men had been hunting. It was a well-wooded place,
with the palms and underwood growing down to the thin crescent of silver
sand which skirted the shore. They had hoisted the black flag and the
red pennant, but no answer came from the shore. Craddock strained his
eyes, hoping every instant to see a boat shoot out to them with Sharkey
seated in the sheets. But the night passed away, and a day and yet
another night, without any sign of the men whom they were endeavouring
to trap. It looked as if they were already gone.
On the second morning Craddock went ashore in search of some proof
whether Sharkey and his men were still upon the island. What he found
reassured him greatly. Close to the shore was a boucan of green wood,
such as was used for preserving the meat, and a great store of barbecued
strips of ox-flesh was hung upon lines all round it. The pirate ship
had not taken off her provisions, and therefore the hunters were still
upon the island.
Why had they not shown themselves? Was it that they had detected that
this was not their own ship? Or was it that they were hunting in the
interior of the island, and were not on the look-out for a ship yet?
Craddock was still hesitating between the two alternatives, when a Carib
Indian came down with information. The pirates were in the island, he
said, and their camp was a day's march from the Sea. They had stolen
his wife, and the marks of their stripes were still pink upon his brown
back. Their enemies were his friends, and he would lead them to where
Craddock could not have asked for anything better; so early next
morning, with a small party armed to the teeth, he set off, under the
guidance of the Carib. All day they struggled through brushwood and
clambered over rocks, pushing their way further and further into the
desolate heart of the island. Here and there they found traces of the
hunters, the bones of a slain ox, or the marks of feet in a morass, and
once, towards evening, it seemed to some of them that they heard the
distant rattle of guns.
That night they spent under the trees, and pushed on again with the
earliest light. About noon they came to the huts of bark, which, the
Carib told them, were the camp of the hunters, but they were silent and
deserted. No doubt their occupants were away at the hunt and would
return in the evening, so Craddock and his men lay in ambush in the
brushwood around them. But no one came, and another night was spent in
the forest. Nothing more could be done, and it seemed to Craddock that
after the two days' absence it was time that he returned to his ship
The return journey was less difficult, as they had already blazed a path
for themselves. Before evening they found themselves once more at the
Bay of Palms, and saw their ship riding at anchor where they had left
her. Their boat and oars had been hauled up among the bushes, so they
launched it and pulled out to the barque.
"No luck, then!" cried Joshua Hird, the mate, looking down with a pale
face from the poop.
"His camp was empty, but he may come down to us yet," said Craddock,
with his hand on the ladder.
Somebody upon deck began to laugh. "I think," said the mate, "that
these men had better stay in the boat."
"If you will come aboard, sir, you will understand it." He spoke in a
curious, hesitating fashion.
The blood flushed to Craddock's gaunt face. "How is this, Master Hird?"
he cried, springing up the side. "What mean you by giving orders to my
But as he passed over the bulwarks, with one foot upon the deck and one
knee upon the rail, a tow-bearded man, whom he had never before observed
aboard his vessel, grabbed suddenly at his pistol. Craddock clutched at
the fellow's wrist, but at the same instant his mate snatched the
cutlass from his side.
"What roguery is this?" shouted Craddock, looking furiously around him.
But the crew stood in knots about the deck, laughing and whispering
amongst themselves without showing any desire to go to his assistance.
Even in that hurried glance Craddock noticed that they were dressed in
the most singular manner, with long riding-coats, full-skirted velvet
gowns and coloured ribands at their knees, more like men of fashion than
As he looked at their grotesque figures he struck his brow with his
clenched fist to be sure that he was awake. The deck seemed to be much
dirtier than when he had left it, and there were strange, sun-blackened
faces turned upon him from every side. Not one of them did he know save
only Joshua Hird. Had the ship been captured in his absence? Were
these Sharkey's men who were around him? At the thought he broke
furiously away and tried to climb over to his boat, but a dozen hands
were on him in an instant, and he was pushed aft through the open door
of his own cabin.
And it was all different to the cabin which he had left. The floor was
different, the ceiling was different, the furniture was different.
His had been plain and austere. This was sumptuous and yet dirty, hung
with rare velvet curtains splashed with wine-stains, and panelled with
costly woods which were pocked with pistol-marks.
On the table was a great chart of the Caribbean Sea, and beside it, with
compasses in his hand, sat a clean-shaven, pale-faced man with a fur cap
and a claret-coloured coat of damask. Craddock turned white under his
freckles as he looked upon the long, thin high-nostrilled nose and the
red-rimmed eyes which were turned upon him with the fixed, humorous gaze
of the master player who has left his opponent without a move.
"Sharkey!" cried Craddock.
Sharkey's thin lips opened, and he broke into his high, sniggering
"You fool!" he cried, and, leaning over, he stabbed Craddock's shoulder
again and again with his compasses. "You poor, dull-witted fool, would
you match yourself against me?"
It was not the pain of the wounds, but it was the contempt in Sharkey's
voice which turned Craddock into a savage madman. He flew at the
pirate, roaring with rage, striking, kicking, writhing, foaming.
It took six men to drag him down on to the floor amidst the splintered
remains of the table--and not one of the six who did not bear the
prisoner's mark upon him. But Sharkey still surveyed him with the same
contemptuous eye. From outside there came the crash of breaking wood
and the clamour of startled voices.
"What is that?" asked Sharkey.
"They have stove the boat with cold shot, and the men are in the water."
"Let them stay there," said the pirate. "Now, Craddock, you know where
you are. You are aboard my ship, the _Happy Delivery_, and you lie at
my mercy. I knew you for a stout seaman, you rogue, before you took to
this long-shore canting. Your hands then were no cleaner than my own.
Will you sign articles, as your mate has done, and join us, or shall I
heave you over to follow your ship's company?"
"Where is my ship?" asked Craddock.
"Scuttled in the bay."
"And the hands?"
"In the bay, too."
"Then I'm for the bay, also."
"Hock him and heave him over," said Sharkey.
Many rough hands had dragged Craddock out upon deck, and Galloway, the
quartermaster, had already drawn his hanger to cripple him, when Sharkey
came hurrying from his cabin with an eager face. "We can do better with
the hound!" he cried. "Sink me if it is not a rare plan. Throw him
into the sail-room with the irons on, and do you come here,
quarter-master, that I may tell you what I have in my mind."
So Craddock, bruised and wounded in soul and body, was thrown into the
dark sail-room, so fettered that he could not stir hand or foot, but his
Northern blood was running strong in his veins, and his grim spirit
aspired only to make such an ending as might go some way towards atoning
for the evil of his life. All night he lay in the curve of the bilge
listening to the rush of the water and the straining of the timbers
which told him that the ship was at sea and driving fast. In the early
morning someone came crawling to him in the darkness over the heap of
"Here's rum and biscuits," said the voice of his late mate. "It's at
the risk of my life, Master Craddock, that I bring them to you."
"It was you who trapped me and caught me as in a snare!" cried Craddock.
"How shall you answer for what you have done?"
"What I did I did with the point of a knife betwixt my blade-bones."
"God forgive you for a coward, Joshua Hird. How came you into their
"Why, Master Craddock, the pirate ship came back from its careening upon
the very day that you left us. They laid us aboard, and, short-handed
as we were, with the best of the men ashore with you, we could offer but
a poor defence. Some were cut down, and they were the happiest. The
others were killed afterwards. As to me, I saved my life by signing on
"And they scuttled my ship?"
"They scuttled her, and then Sharkey and his men, who had been watching
us from the brushwood, came off to the ship. His mainyard had been
cracked and fished last voyage, so he had suspicions of us, seeing that
ours was whole. Then he thought of laying the same trap for you which
you had set for him."
Craddock groaned. "How came I not to see that fished mainyard?" he
muttered. "But whither are we bound?"
"We are running north and west."
"North and west! Then we are heading back towards Jamaica."
"With an eight-knot wind."
"Have you heard what they mean to do with me?"
"I have not heard. If you would but sign the articles--"
"Enough, Joshua Hird! I have risked my soul too often."
"As you wish. I have done what I could. Farewell!"
All that night and the next day the _Happy Delivery_ ran before the
easterly trades, and Stephen Craddock lay in the dark of the sail-room
working patiently at his wrist-irons. One he had slipped off at the
cost of a row of broken and bleeding knuckles, but, do what he would, he
could not free the other, and his ankles were securely fastened.
From hour to hour he heard the swish of the water, and knew that the
barque must be driving with all set in front of the trade wind. In that
case they must be nearly back again to Jamaica by now. What plan could
Sharkey have in his head, and what use did he hope to make of him?
Craddock set his teeth, and vowed that if he had once been a villain
from choice he would, at least, never be one by compulsion.
On the second morning Craddock became aware that sail had been reduced
in the vessel, and that she was tacking slowly, with a light breeze on
her beam. The varying slope of the sail room and the sounds from the
deck told his practised senses exactly what she was doing. The short
reaches showed him that she was manoeuvring near shore, and making for
some definite point. If so, she must have reached Jamaica. But what
could she be doing there?
And then suddenly there was a burst of hearty cheering from the deck,
and then the crash of a gun above his head, and then the answering
booming of guns from far over the water. Craddock sat up and strained
his ears. Was the ship in action? Only the one gun had been fired, and
though many had answered, there were none of the crashings which told of
a shot coming home. Then, if it was not an action, it must be a salute.
But who would salute Sharkey, the pirate? It could only be another
pirate ship which would do so. So Craddock lay back again with a groan,
and continued to work at the manacle which still held his right wrist.
But suddenly there came the shuffling of steps outside, and he had
hardly time to wrap the loose links round his free hand, when the door
was unbolted and two pirates came in.
"Got your hammer, carpenter?" asked one, whom Craddock recognised as the
"Knock off his leg shackles, then. Better leave the bracelets--he's
safer with them on."
With hammer and chisel the carpenter loosened the irons.
"What are you going to do with me?" asked Craddock.
"Come on deck and you'll see."
The sailor seized him by the arm and dragged him roughly to the foot of
the companion. Above him was a square of blue sky cut across by the
mizzen gaff, with the colours flying at the peak. But it was the sight
of those colours which struck the breath from Stephen Craddock's lips.
For there were two of them, and the British ensign was flying above the
Jolly Rodger--the honest flag above that of the rogue.
For an instant Craddock stopped in amazement, but a brutal push from the
pirates behind drove him up the companion ladder. As he stepped out
upon deck, his eyes turned up to the main, and there again were the
British colours flying above the red pennant, and all the shrouds and
rigging were garlanded with streamers.
Had the ship been taken, then? But that was impossible, for there were
the pirates clustering in swarms along the port bulwarks, and waving
their hats joyously in the air. Most prominent of all was the renegade
mate, standing on the foc'sle head, and gesticulating wildly. Craddock
looked over the side to see what they were cheering at, and then in a
flash he saw how critical was the moment.
On the port bow, and about a mile off, lay the white houses and forts of
Port Royal, with flags breaking out everywhere over their roofs.
Right ahead was the opening of the palisades leading to the town of
Kingston. Not more than a quarter of a mile off was a small sloop
working out against the very slight wind. The British ensign was at her
peak, and her rigging was all decorated. On her deck could be seen a
dense crowd of people cheering and waving their hats, and the gleam of
scarlet told that there were officers of the garrison among them.
In an instant, with the quick perception of a man of action, Craddock
saw through it all. Sharkey, with that diabolical cunning and audacity
which were among his main characteristics, was simulating the part which
Craddock would himself have played had he come back victorious. It was
in _his_ honour that the salutes were firing and the flags flying.
It was to welcome _him_ that this ship with the Governor, the
commandant, and the chiefs of the island were approaching. In another
ten minutes they would all be under the guns of the _Happy Delivery_,
and Sharkey would have won the greatest stake that ever a pirate played
"Bring him forward," cried the pirate captain, as Craddock appeared
between the carpenter and the quartermaster. "Keep the ports closed,
but clear away the port guns, and stand by for a broadside. Another two
cable lengths and we have them."
"They are edging away," said the boatswain. "I think they smell us."
"That's soon set right," said Sharkey, turning his filmy eyes upon
Craddock. "Stand there, you--right there, where they can recognise you,
with your hand on the guy, and wave your hat to them. Quick, or your
brains will be over your coat. Put an inch of your knife into him, Ned.
Now, will you wave your hat? Try him again, then. Hey, shoot him! Stop
But it was too late. Relying upon the manacles, the quartermaster had
taken his hands for a moment off Craddock's arm. In that instant he had
flung off the carpenter, and, amid a spatter of pistol bullets, had
sprung the bulwarks and was swimming for his life. He had been hit and
hit again, but it takes many pistols to kill a resolute and powerful man
who has his mind set upon doing something before he dies. He was a
strong swimmer, and, in spite of the red trail which he left in the
water behind him, he was rapidly increasing his distance from the
pirate. "Give me a musket!" cried Sharkey, with a savage oath.
He was a famous shot, and his iron nerves never failed him in an
emergency. The dark head appearing on the crest of a roller, and then
swooping down on the other side, was already half-way to the sloop.
Sharkey dwelt long upon his aim before he fired. With the crack of the
gun the swimmer reared himself up in the water, waved his hands in a
gesture of warning, and roared out in a voice which rang over the bay.
Then, as the sloop swung round her head-sails, and the pirate fired an
impotent broadside, Stephen Craddock, smiling grimly in his death agony,
sank slowly down to that golden couch which glimmered far beneath him.
HOW COPLEY BANKS SLEW CAPTAIN SHARKEY
The Buccaneers were something higher than a mere band of marauders.
They were a floating republic, with laws, usages, and discipline of
their own. In their endless and remorseless quarrel with the
Spaniards they had some semblance of right upon their side.
Their bloody harryings of the cities of the Main were not more barbarous
than the inroads of Spain upon the Netherlands--or upon the Caribs in
these same American lands.
The chief of the Buccaneers, were he English or French, a Morgan or a
Granmont, was still a responsible person, whose country might
countenance him, or even praise him, so long as he refrained from any
deed which might shock the leathery seventeenth-century conscience too
outrageously. Some of them were touched with religion, and it is still
remembered how Sawkins threw the dice overboard upon the Sabbath, and
Daniel pistolled a man before the altar for irreverence.
But there came a day when the fleets of the Buccaneers no longer
mustered at the Tortugas, and the solitary and outlawed pirate took
their place. Yet even with him the tradition of restraint and of
discipline still lingered; and among the early pirates, the Avorys, the
Englands, and the Robertses, there remained some respect for human
sentiment. They were more dangerous to the merchant than to the seaman.
But they in turn were replaced by more savage and desperate men, who
frankly recognised that they would get no quarter in their war with the
human race, and who swore that they would give as little as they got.
Of their histories we know little that is trustworthy. They wrote no
memoirs and left no trace, save an occasional blackened and
blood-stained derelict adrift upon the face of the Atlantic.
Their deeds could only be surmised from the long roll of ships who never
made their port.
Searching the records of history, it is only here and there in an
old-world trial that the veil that shrouds them seems for an instant to
be lifted, and we catch a glimpse of some amazing and grotesque
brutality behind. Such was the breed of Ned Low, of Gow the Scotchman,
and of the infamous Sharkey, whose coal-black barque, the _Happy
Delivery_, was known from the Newfoundland Banks to the mouths of the
Orinoco as the dark forerunner of misery and of death.
There were many men, both among the islands and on the Main, who had a
blood feud with Sharkey, but not one who had suffered more bitterly than
Copley Banks, of Kingston. Banks had been one of the leading sugar
merchants of the West Indies. He was a man of position, a member of the
Council, the husband of a Percival, and the cousin of the Governor of
Virginia. His two sons had been sent to London to be educated, and
their mother had gone over to bring them back. On their return voyage
the ship, the _Duchess of Cornwall_, fell into the hands of Sharkey, and
the whole family met with an infamous death.
Copley Banks said little when he heard the news, but he sank into a
morose and enduring melancholy. He neglected his business, avoided his
friends, and spent much of his time in the low taverns of the fishermen
and seamen. There, amidst riot and devilry, he sat silently puffing at
his pipe, with a set face and a smouldering eye. It was generally
supposed that his misfortunes had shaken his wits, and his old friends
looked at him askance, for the company which he kept was enough to bar
him from honest men.
From time to time there came rumours of Sharkey over the sea. Sometimes
it was from some schooner which had seen a great flame upon the horizon,
and approaching to offer help to the burning ship, had fled away at the
sight of the sleek, black barque, lurking like a wolf near a mangled
sheep. Sometimes it was a frightened trader, which had come tearing in
with her canvas curved like a lady's bodice, because she had seen a
patched foretopsail rising slowly above the violet water-line.
Sometimes it was from a coaster, which had found a waterless Bahama cay
littered with sun-dried bodies. Once there came a man who had been mate
of a Guineaman, and who had escaped from the pirate's hands. He could
not speak--for reasons which Sharkey could best supply--but he could
write, and he did write, to the very great interest of Copley Banks.
For hours they sat together over the map, and the dumb man pointed here
and there to outlying reefs and tortuous inlets, while his companion sat
smoking in silence, with his unvarying face and his fiery eyes.
One morning, some two years after his misfortunes, Mr. Copley Banks
strode into his own office with his old air of energy and alertness.
The manager stared at him in surprise, for it was months since he had
shown any interest in business.
"Good morning, Mr. Banks!" said he.
"Good morning, Freeman. I see that _Ruffling Harry_ is in the Bay."
"Yes, sir; she clears for the Windward Islands on Wednesday."
"I have other plans for her, Freeman. I have determined upon a slaving
venture to Whydah."
"But her cargo is ready, sir."
"Then it must come out again, Freeman. My mind is made up, and the
_Ruffling Harry_ must go slaving to Whydah."
All argument and persuasion were vain, so the manager had dolefully to
clear the ship once more. And then Copley Banks began to make
preparations for his African voyage. It appeared that he relied upon
force rather than barter for the filling of his hold, for he carried
none of those showy trinkets which savages love, but the brig was fitted
with eight nine-pounder guns, and racks full of muskets and cutlasses.
The after-sailroom next the cabin was transformed into a powder
magazine, and she carried as many round shot as a well-found privateer.
Water and provisions were shipped for a long voyage.
But the preparation of his ship's company was most surprising. It made
Freeman, the manager, realise that there was truth in the rumour that
his master had taken leave of his senses. For, under one pretext or
another, he began to dismiss the old and tried hands, who had served the
firm for years, and in their place he embarked the scum of the port--men
whose reputations were so vile that the lowest crimp would have been
ashamed to furnish them. There was Birthmark Sweetlocks, who was known
to have been present at the killing of the logwood-cutters, so that his
hideous scarlet disfigurement was put down by the fanciful as being a
red afterglow from that great crime. He was first mate, and under him
was Israel Martin, a little sun-wilted fellow who had served with Howell
Davies at the taking of Cape Coast Castle.
The crew were chosen from amongst those whom Banks had met and known in
their own infamous haunts, and his own table-steward was a haggard-faced
man, who gobbled at you when he tried to talk. His beard had been
shaved, and it was impossible to recognise him as the same man whom
Sharkey had placed under the knife, and who had escaped to tell his
experiences to Copley Banks. These doings were not unnoticed, nor yet
uncommented upon in the town of Kingston. The Commandant of the
troops--Major Harvey of the Artillery--made serious representations to
"She is not a trader, but a small warship," said he.
"I think it would be as well to arrest Copley Banks and to seize the
"What do you suspect?" asked the Governor, who was a slow-witted man,
broken down with fevers and port wine.
"I suspect," said the soldier, "that it is Stede Bonnet over again."
Now, Stede Bonnet was a planter of high reputation and religious
character who, from some sudden and overpowering freshet of wildness in
his blood, had given up everything in order to start off pirating in the
Caribbean Sea. The example was a recent one, and it had caused the
utmost consternation in the islands. Governors had before now been
accused of being in league with pirates, and of receiving commissions
upon their plunder, so that any want of vigilance was open to a sinister
"Well, Major Harvey," said he, "I am vastly sorry to do anything which
may offend my friend Copley Banks, for many a time have my knees been
under his mahogany, but in face of what you say there is no choice for
me but to order you to board the vessel and to satisfy yourself as to
her character and destination."
So at one in the morning Major Harvey, with a launchful of his soldiers,
paid a surprise visit to the _Ruffling Harry_, with the result that they
picked up nothing more solid than a hempen cable floating at the
moorings. It had been slipped by the brig, whose owner had scented
danger. She had already passed the Palisades, and was beating out
against the north-east trades on a course for the Windward Passage.
When upon the next morning the brig had left Morant Point a mere haze
upon the Southern horizon, the men were called aft, and Copley Banks
revealed his plans to them. He had chosen them, he said, as brisk boys
and lads of spirit, who would rather run some risk upon the sea than
starve for a living upon the shore. King's ships were few and weak, and
they could master any trader who might come their way. Others had done
well at the business, and with a handy, well-found vessel, there was no
reason why they should not turn their tarry jackets into velvet coats.
If they were prepared to sail under the black flag, he was ready to
command them; but if any wished to withdraw, they might have the gig and
row back to Jamaica.
Four men out of six-and-forty asked for their discharge, went over the
ship's side into the boat, and rowed away amidst the jeers and howlings
of the crew. The rest assembled aft, and drew up the articles of their
association. A square of black tarpaulin had the white skull painted
upon it, and was hoisted amidst cheering at the main.
Officers were elected, and the limits of their authority fixed. Copley
Banks was chosen captain, but, as there are no mates upon a pirate
craft, Birthmark Sweetlocks became quartermaster, and Israel Martin the
boatswain. There was no difficulty in knowing what was the custom of
the brotherhood, for half the men at least had served upon pirates
before. Food should be the same for all, and no man should interfere
with another man's drink! The captain should have a cabin, but all
hands should be welcome to enter it when they chose.
All should share and share alike, save only the captain, quartermaster,
boatswain, carpenter, and master-gunner, who had from a quarter to a
whole share extra. He who saw a prize first should have the best weapon
taken out of her. He who boarded her first should have the richest suit
of clothes aboard of her. Every man might treat his own prisoner, be it
man or woman, after his own fashion. If a man flinched from his gun,
the quartermaster should pistol him. These were some of the rules which
the crew of the _Ruffling Harry_ subscribed by putting forty-two crosses
at the foot of the paper upon which they had been drawn.
So a new rover was afloat upon the seas, and her name before a year was
over became as well known as that of the _Happy Delivery_. From the
Bahamas to the Leewards, and from the Leewards to the Windwards, Copley
Banks became the rival of Sharkey and the terror of traders. For a long
time the barque and the brig never met, which was the more singular as
the _Ruffling Harry_ was for ever looking in at Sharkey's resorts; but
at last one day, when she was passing down the inlet of Coxon's Hole, at
the east end of Cuba, with the intention of careening, there was the
_Happy Delivery_, with her blocks and tackle-falls already rigged for
the same purpose. Copley Banks fired a shotted salute and hoisted the
green trumpeter ensign, as the custom was among gentlemen of the sea.
Then he dropped his boat and went aboard.
Captain Sharkey was not a man of a genial mood, nor had he any kindly
sympathy for those who were of the same trade as himself. Copley Banks
found him seated astride upon one of the after guns, with his New
England quartermaster, Ned Galloway, and a crowd of roaring ruffians
standing about him. Yet none of them roared with quite such assurance
when Sharkey's pale face and filmy blue eyes were tuned upon him.
He was in his shirt-sleeves, with his cambric frills breaking through
his open red satin long-flapped vest. The scorching sun seemed to have
no power upon his fleshless frame, for he wore a low fur cap, as though
it had been winter. A many-coloured band of silk passed across his body
and supported a short, murderous sword, while his broad, brass-buckled
belt was stuffed with pistols.
"Sink you for a poacher!" he cried, as Copley Banks passed over the
bulwarks. "I will drub you within an inch of your life, and that inch
also! What mean you by fishing in my waters?"
Copley Banks looked at him, and his eyes were like those of a traveller
who sees his home at last. "I am glad that we are of one mind," said
he, "for I am myself of opinion that the seas are not large enough for
the two of us. But if you will take your sword and pistols and come
upon a sand-bank with me, then the world will be rid of a damned
villain, whichever way it goes."
"Now, this is talking!" said Sharkey, jumping off the gun and holding
out his hand. "I have not met many who could look John Sharkey in the
eyes and speak with a full breath. May the devil seize me if I do not
choose you as a consort! But if you play me false, then I will come
aboard of you and gut you upon your own poop."
"And I pledge you the same!" said Copley Banks, and so the two pirates
became sworn comrades to each other.
That summer they went north as far as the Newfoundland Banks, and
harried the New York traders and the whale ships from New England.
It was Copley Banks who captured the Liverpool ship, _House of Hanover_,
but it was Sharkey who fastened her master to the windlass and pelted
him to death with empty claret-bottles.
Together they engaged the King's ship _Royal Fortune_, which had been
sent in search of them, and beat her off after a night action of five
hours, the drunken, raving crews fighting naked in the light of the
battle-lanterns, with a bucket of rum and a pannikin laid by the tackles
of every gun. They ran to Topsail Inlet in North Carolina to refit, and
then in the spring they were at the Grand Caicos, ready for a long
cruise down the West Indies.
By this time Sharkey and Copley Banks had become very excellent friends,
for Sharkey loved a whole-hearted villain, and he loved a man of metal,
and it seemed to him that the two met in the captain of the _Ruffling
Harry_. It was long before he gave his confidence to him, for cold
suspicion lay deep in his character. Never once would he trust himself
outside his own ship and away from his own men. But Copley Banks came
often on board the _Happy Delivery_, and joined Sharkey in many of his
morose debauches, so that at last any lingering misgivings of the latter
were set at rest. He knew nothing of the evil that he had done to his
new boon companion, for of his many victims how could he remember the
woman and the two boys whom he had slain with such levity so long ago!
When, therefore, he received a challenge to himself and to his
quartermaster for a carouse upon the last evening of their stay at the
Caicos Bank he saw no reason to refuse.
A well-found passenger ship had been rifled the week before, so their
fare was of the best, and after supper five of them drank deeply
together. There were the two captains, Birthmark Sweetlocks, Ned
Galloway, and Israel Martin, the old buccaneers-man. To wait upon them
was the dumb steward, whose head Sharkey split with a glass, because he
had been too slow in the filling of it. The quarter-master has slipped
Sharkey's pistols away from him, for it was an old joke with him to fire
them cross-handed under the table and see who was the luckiest man.
It was a pleasantry which had cost his boatswain his leg, so now, when
the table was cleared, they would coax Sharkey's weapons away from him
on the excuse of the heat, and lay them out of his reach.
The captain's cabin of the _Ruffling Harry_ was in a deck-house upon the
poop, and a stern-chaser gun was mounted at the back of it. Round shot
were racked round the wall, and three great hogsheads of powder made a
stand for dishes and for bottles. In this grim room the five pirates
sang and roared and drank, while the silent steward still filled up
their glasses, and passed the box and the candle round for their
tobacco-pipes. Hour after hour the talk became fouler, the voices
hoarser, the curses and shoutings more incoherent, until three of the
five had closed their blood-shot eyes, and dropped their swimming heads
upon the table.
Copley Banks and Sharkey were left face to face, the one because he had
drunk the least, the other because no amount of liquor would ever shake
his iron nerve or warm his sluggish blood. Behind him stood the
watchful steward, for ever filling up his waning glass. From without
came the low lapping of the tide, and from over the water a sailor's
chanty from the barque. In the windless tropical night the words came
clearly to their ears:--
A trader sailed from Stepney Town,
Wake her up! Shake her up! Try her with the mainsail!
A trader sailed from Stepney Town
With a keg full of gold and a velvet gown.
Ho, the bully Rover Jack,
Waiting with his yard aback
Out upon the Lowland Sea.
The two boon companions sat listening in silence. Then Copley Banks
glanced at the steward, and the man took a coil of rope from
the shot-rack behind him.
"Captain Sharkey," said Copley Banks, "do you remember the _Duchess of
Cornwall_, hailing from London, which you took and sank three years ago
off the Statira Shoal?"
"Curse me if I can bear their names in mind," said Sharkey. "We did as
many as ten ships a week about that time."
"There were a mother and two sons among the passengers. Maybe that will
bring it back to your mind."
Captain Sharkey leant back in thought, with his huge thin beak of a nose
jutting upwards. Then he burst suddenly into a high treble, neighing
laugh. He remembered it, he said, and he added details to prove it.
"But burn me if it had not slipped from my mind!" he cried. "How came
you to think of it?"
"It was of interest to me," said Copley Banks, "for the woman was my
wife, and the lads were my only sons."
Sharkey stared across at his companion, and saw that the smouldering
fire which lurked always in his eyes had burned up into a lurid flame.
He read their menace, and he clapped his hands to his empty belt.
Then he turned to seize a weapon, but the bight of a rope was cast round
him, and in an instant his arms were bound to his side. He fought like
a wild cat, and screamed for help. "Ned!" he yelled. "Ned! Wake up!
Here's damned villainy! Help, Ned!--help!"
But the three men were far too deeply sunk in their swinish sleep for
any voice to wake them. Round and round went the rope, until Sharkey
was swathed like a mummy from ankle to neck. They propped him stiff and
helpless against a powder barrel, and they gagged him with a
handkerchief, but his filmy, red-rimmed eyes still looked curses at
them. The dumb man chattered in his exultation, and Sharkey winced for
the first time when he saw the empty mouth before him. He understood
that vengeance, slow and patient, had dogged him long, and clutched him
The two captors had their plans all arranged, and they were somewhat
elaborate. First of all they stove the heads of two of the great powder
barrels, and they heaped the contents out upon the table and floor.
They piled it round and under the three drunken men, until each sprawled
in a heap of it. Then they carried Sharkey to the gun and they triced
him sitting over the port-hole, with his body about a foot from the
muzzle. Wriggle as he would he could not move an inch either to the
right or left, and the dumb man trussed him up with a sailor's cunning,
so that there was no chance that he should work free.
"Now, you bloody devil," said Copley Banks, softly, "you must listen to
what I have to say to you, for they are the last words that you will
hear. You are my man now, and I have bought you at a price, for I have
given all that a man can give here below, and I have given my soul as
"To reach you I have had to sink to your level. For two years I strove
against it, hoping that some other way might come, but I learnt that
there was no other. I've robbed and I have murdered--worse still, I
have laughed and lived with you--and all for the one end. And now my
time has come, and you will die as I would have you die, seeing the
shadow creeping upon you and the devil waiting for you in the shadow."
Sharkey could hear the hoarse voices of his rovers singing their chanty
over the water.
Where is the trader of Stepney Town?
Wake her up! Shake her up! Every stick a-bending!
Where is the trader of Stepney Town?
His gold's on the capstan, his blood's on his gown,
All for bully Rover Jack,
Reaching on the weather tack
Right across the Lowland Sea.
The words came clear to his ear, and just outside he could hear two men
pacing backwards and forwards upon the deck. And yet he was helpless,
staring down the mouth of the nine-pounder, unable to move an inch or to
utter so much as a groan. Again there came the burst of voices from the
deck of the barque.
So it's up and it's over to Stornoway Bay,
Pack it on! Crack it on! Try her with stunsails!
It's off on a bowline to Stornoway Bay,
Where the liquor is good and the lasses are gay,
Waiting for their bully Jack,
Watching for him sailing back,
Right across the Lowland Sea.
To the dying pirate the jovial words and rollicking tune made his own
fate seem the harsher, but there was no softening in those venomous blue
eyes. Copley Banks had brushed away the priming of the gun, and had
sprinkled fresh powder over the touch-hole. Then he had taken up the
candle and cut it to the length of about an inch. This he placed upon
the loose powder at the breach of the gun. Thin he scattered powder
thickly over the floor beneath, so that when the candle fell at the
recoil it must explode the huge pile in which the three drunkards were
"You've made others look death in the face, Sharkey," said he; "now it
has come to be your own turn. You and these swine here shall go
together!" He lit the candle-end as he spoke, and blew out the other
lights upon the table. Then he passed out with the dumb man, and locked
the cabin door upon the outer side. But before he closed it he took an
exultant look backwards, and received one last curse from those
unconquerable eyes. In the single dim circle of light that ivory-white
face, with the gleam of moisture upon the high, bald forehead, was the
last that was ever seen of Sharkey.
There was a skiff alongside, and in it Copley Banks and the dumb steward
made their way to the beach, and looked back upon the brig riding in the
moon-light just outside the shadow of the palm trees. They waited and
waited watching that dim light which shone through the stem port. And
then at last there came the dull thud of a gun, and an instant later the
shattering crash of an explosion. The long, sleek, black barque, the
sweep of white sand, and the fringe of nodding feathery palm trees
sprang into dazzling light and back into darkness again. Voices
screamed and called upon the bay.
Then Copley Banks, his heart singing within him, touched his companion
upon the shoulder, and they plunged together into the lonely jungle of
THE CROXLEY MASTER
Mr. Robert Montgomery was seated at his desk, his head upon his hands,
in a state of the blackest despondency. Before him was the open ledger
with the long columns of Dr. Oldacre's prescriptions. At his elbow lay
the wooden tray with the labels in various partitions, the cork box, the
lumps of twisted sealing-wax, while in front a rank of bottles waited to
be filled. But his spirits were too low for work. He sat in silence
with his fine shoulders bowed and his head upon his hands.
Outside, through the grimy surgery window over a foreground of blackened
brick and slate, a line of enormous chimneys like Cyclopean pillars
upheld the lowering, dun-coloured cloud-bank. For six days in the week
they spouted smoke, but to-day the furnace fires were banked, for it was
Sunday. Sordid and polluting gloom hung over a district blighted and
blasted by the greed of man. There was nothing in the surroundings to
cheer a desponding soul, but it was more than his dismal environment
which weighed upon the medical assistant. His trouble was deeper and
more personal. The winter session was approaching. He should be back
again at the University completing the last year which would give him
his medical degree; but, alas! he had not the money with which to pay
his class fees, nor could he imagine how he could procure it.
Sixty pounds were wanted to make his career, and it might have been as
many thousand for any chance there seemed to be of his obtaining it.
He was roused from his black meditation by the entrance of Dr. Oldacre
himself, a large, clean-shaven, respectable man, with a prim manner and
an austere face. He had prospered exceedingly by the support of the
local Church interest, and the rule of his life was never by word or
action to run a risk of offending the sentiment which had made him.
His standard of respectability and of dignity was exceedingly high, and
he expected the same from his assistants. His appearance and words were
always vaguely benevolent. A sudden impulse came over the despondent
student. He would test the reality of this philanthropy.
"I beg your pardon, Dr. Oldacre," said he, rising from his chair;
"I have a great favour to ask of you."
The doctor's appearance was not encouraging. His mouth suddenly
tightened, and his eyes fell.
"Yes, Mr. Montgomery?"
"You are aware, sir, that I need only one more session to complete my
"So you have told me."
"It is very important to me, sir."
"The fees, Dr. Oldacre, would amount to about sixty pounds."
"I am afraid that my duties call me elsewhere, Mr. Montgomery."
"One moment, sir! I had hoped, sir, that perhaps, if I signed a paper
promising you interest upon your money, you would advance this sum to
me. I will pay you back, sir, I really will. Or, if you like, I will
work it off after I am qualified."
The doctor's lips had thinned into a narrow line. His eyes were raised
again, and sparkled indignantly.
"Your request is unreasonable, Mr. Montgomery. I am surprised that you
should have made it. Consider, sir, how many thousands of medical
students there are in this country. No doubt there are many of them who
have a difficulty in finding their fees. Am I to provide for them all?
Or why should I make an exception in your favour? I am grieved and
disappointed, Mr. Montgomery, that you should have put me into the
painful position of having to refuse you." He turned upon his heel, and
walked with offended dignity out of the surgery.
The student smiled bitterly, and turned to his work of making up the
morning prescriptions. It was poor and unworthy work--work which any
weakling might have done as well, and this was a man of exceptional
nerve and sinew. But, such as it was, it brought him his board and One
pound a week--enough to help him during the summer months and let him
save a few pounds towards his winter keep. But those class fees!
Where were they to come from? He could not save them out of his scanty
wage. Dr. Oldacre would not advance them. He saw no way of earning
them. His brains were fairly good, but brains of that quality were a
drug in the market. He only excelled in his strength, and where was he
to find a customer for that? But the ways of Fate are strange, and his
customer was at hand.
"Look y'ere!" said a voice at the door. Montgomery looked up, for the
voice was a loud and rasping one. A young man stood at the entrance--
a stocky, bull-necked young miner, in tweed Sunday clothes and an
aggressive neck-tie. He was a sinister-looking figure, with dark,
insolent eyes, and the jaw and throat of a bulldog.
"Look y'ere!" said he again. "Why hast thou not sent t' medicine oop as
thy master ordered?"
Montgomery had become accustomed to the brutal frankness of the northern
worker. At first it had enraged him, but after a time he had grown
callous to it, and accepted it as it was meant. But this was something
different. It was insolence--brutal, overbearing insolence, with
physical menace behind it.
"What name?" he asked coldly.
"Barton. Happen I may give thee cause to mind that name, yoong man.
Mak' oop t' wife's medicine this very moment, look ye, or it will be the
worse for thee."
Montgomery smiled. A pleasant sense of relief thrilled softly through
him. What blessed safety-valve was this through which his jangled
nerves might find some outlet. The provocation was so gross, the insult
so unprovoked, that he could have none of those qualms which take the
edge off a man's mettle. He finished sealing the bottle upon which he
was occupied, and he addressed it and placed it carefully in the rack.
"Look here!" said he, turning round to the miner, "your medicine will be
made up in its turn and sent down to you. I don't allow folk in the
surgery. Wait outside in the waiting-room if you wish to wait at all."
"Yoong man," said the miner, "thou's got to mak' t' wife's medicine
here, and now, and quick, while I wait and watch thee, or else happen
thou might need some medicine thysel' before all is over."
"I shouldn't advise you to fasten a quarrel upon me." Montgomery was
speaking in the hard, staccato voice of a man who is holding himself in
with difficulty. "You'll save trouble if you'll go quietly. If you
don't you'll be hurt. Ah, you would? Take it, then!"
The blows were almost simultaneous--a savage swing which whistled past
Montgomery's ear, and a straight drive which took the workman on the
chin. Luck was with the assistant. That single whizzing uppercut, and
the way in which it was delivered, warned him that he had a formidable
man to deal with. But if he had underrated his antagonist, his
antagonist had also underrated him, and had laid himself open to a fatal
The miner's head had come with a crash against the corner of the surgery
shelves, and he had dropped heavily on to the ground. There he lay with
his bandy legs drawn up and his hands thrown abroad, the blood trickling
over the surgery tiles.
"Had enough?" asked the assistant, breathing fiercely through his nose.
But no answer came. The man was insensible. And then the danger of his
position came upon Montgomery, and he turned as white as his antagonist.
A Sunday, the immaculate Dr. Oldacre with his pious connection, a savage
brawl with a patient; he would irretrievably lose his situation if the
facts came out. It was not much of a situation, but he could not get
another without a reference, and Oldacre might refuse him one. Without
money for his classes, and without a situation--what was to become of
him? It was absolute ruin.
But perhaps he could escape exposure after all. He seized his
insensible adversary, dragged him out into the centre of he room,
loosened his collar, and squeezed the surgery sponge over his face. He
sat up at last with a gasp and a scowl. "Domn thee, thou's spoilt my
neck-tie," said he, mopping up the water from his breast.
"I'm sorry I hit you so hard," said Montgomery, apologetically.
"Thou hit me hard! I could stan' such fly-flappin' all day. 'Twas this
here press that cracked my pate for me, and thou art a looky man to be
able to boast as thou hast outed me. And now I'd be obliged to thee if
thou wilt give me t' wife's medicine."
Montgomery gladly made it up and handed it to the miner.
"You are weak still," said he. "Won't you stay awhile and rest?"
"T' wife wants her medicine," said the man, and lurched out at the door.
The assistant, looking after him, saw him rolling, with an uncertain
step, down the street, until a friend met him, and they walked on arm in
arm. The man seemed in his rough Northern fashion to bear no grudge,
and so Montgomery's fears left him. There was no reason why the doctor
should know anything about it. He wiped the blood from the floor, put
the surgery in order, and went on with his interrupted task, hoping that
he had come scathless out of a very dangerous business.
Yet all day he was aware of a sense of vague uneasiness, which sharpened
into dismay when, late in the afternoon, he was informed that three
gentlemen had called and were waiting for him in the surgery.
A coroner's inquest, a descent of detectives, an invasion of angry
relatives--all sorts of possibilities rose to scare him. With tense
nerves and a rigid face he went to meet his visitors.
They were a very singular trio. Each was known to him by sight; but
what on earth the three could be doing together, and, above all, what
they could expect from _him_, was a most inexplicable problem.
The first was Sorley Wilson, the son of the owner of the Nonpareil
Coalpit. He was a young blood of twenty, heir to a fortune, a keen
sportsman, and down for the Easter Vacation from Magdalene College.
He sat now upon the edge of the surgery table, looking in thoughtful
silence at Montgomery and twisting the ends of his small, black, waxed
moustache. The second was Purvis, the publican, owner of the chief
beer-shop, and well known as the local bookmaker. He was a coarse,
clean-shaven man, whose fiery face made a singular contrast with his
ivory-white bald head. He had shrewd, light-blue eyes with foxy lashes,
and he also leaned forward in silence from his chair, a fat, red hand
upon either knee, and stared critically at the young assistant. So did
the third visitor, Fawcett, the horse-breaker, who leaned back, his
long, thin legs, with their boxcloth riding-gaiters, thrust out in front
of him, tapping his protruding teeth with his riding-whip, with anxious
thought in every line of his rugged, bony face. Publican, exquisite,
and horse-breaker were all three equally silent, equally earnest, and
equally critical. Montgomery seated in the midst of them, looked from
one to the other.
"Well, gentlemen?" he observed, but no answer came.
The position was embarrassing.
"No," said the horse-breaker, at last. "No. It's off. It's nowt."
"Stand oop, lad; let's see thee standin'." It was the publican who
spoke. Montgomery obeyed. He would learn all about it, no doubt, if he
were patient. He stood up and turned slowly round, as if in front of
"It's off! It's off!" cried the horse-breaker. "Why, mon, the Master
would break him over his knee."
"Oh, that be hanged for a yarn!" said the young Cantab. "You can drop
out if you like, Fawcett, but I'll see this thing through, if I have to
do it alone. I don't hedge a penny. I like the cut of him a great deal
better than I liked Ted Barton."
"Look at Barton's shoulders, Mr. Wilson."
"Lumpiness isn't always strength. Give me nerve and fire and breed.
That's what wins."
"Ay, sir, you have it theer--you have it theer!" said the fat, red-faced
publican, in a thick suety voice. "It's the same wi' poops. Get 'em
clean-bred an' fine, an' they'll yark the thick 'uns--yark 'em out o'
"He's ten good pund on the light side," growled the horse-breaker.
"He's a welter weight, anyhow."
"A hundred and thirty."
"A hundred and fifty, if he's an ounce."
"Well, the Master doesn't scale much more than that."
"A hundred and seventy-five."
"That was when he was hog-fat and living high. Work the grease out of
him and I lay there's no great difference between them. Have you been
weighed lately, Mr. Montgomery?"
It was the first direct question which had been asked him. He had stood
in the midst of them like a horse at a fair, and he was just beginning
to wonder whether he was more angry or amused.
"I am just eleven stone," said he.
"I said that he was a welter weight."
"But suppose you was trained?" said the publican. "Wot then?"
"I am always in training."
"In a manner of speakin', no doubt, he _is_ always in trainin',"
remarked the horse-breaker. "But trainin' for everyday work ain't the
same as trainin' with a trainer; and I dare bet, with all respec' to
your opinion, Mr. Wilson, that there's half a stone of tallow on him at
The young Cantab put his fingers on the assistant's upper arm, then with
his other hand on his wrist, he bent the forearm sharply, and felt the
biceps, as round and hard as a cricket-ball, spring up under his
"Feel that!" said he.
The publican and horse-breaker felt it with an air of reverence. "Good
lad! He'll do yet!" cried Purvis.
"Gentlemen," said Montgomery, "I think that you will acknowledge that I
have boon very patient with you. I have listened to all that you have
to say about my personal appearance, and now I must really beg that you
will have the goodness to tell me what is the matter."
They all sat down in their serious, business-like way.
"That's easy done, Mr. Montgomery," said the fat-voiced publican.
"But before sayin' anything we had to wait and see whether, in a way of
speakin', there was any need for us to say anything at all. Mr. Wilson
thinks there is. Mr. Fawcett, who has the same right to his opinion,
bein' also a backer and one o' the committee, thinks the other way."
"I thought him too light built, and I think so now," said the
horse-breaker, still tapping his prominent teeth with the metal head of
his riding-whip. "But happen he may pull through, and he's a
fine-made, buirdly young chap, so if you mean to back him, Mr. Wilson--
"Which I do."
"And you, Purvis?"
"I ain't one to go back, Fawcett."
"Well, I'll stan' to my share of the purse."
"And well I knew you would," said Purvis, "for it would be somethin' new
to find Isaac Fawcett as a spoil-sport. Well, then, we will make up the
hundred for the stake among us, and the fight stands--always supposin'
the young man is willin'."
"Excuse all this rot, Mr. Montgomery," said the University man, in a
genial voice. "We've begun at the wrong end, I know, but we'll soon
straighten it out, and I hope that you will see your way to falling in
with our views. In the first place, you remember the man whom you
knocked out this morning? He is Barton--the famous Ted Barton."
"I'm sure, sir, you may well be proud to have outed him in one round,"
said the publican. "Why, it took Morris, the ten-stone-six champion, a
deal more trouble than that before he put Barton to sleep. You've done
a fine performance, sir, and happen you'll do a finer, if you give
yourself the chance."
"I never heard of Ted Barton, beyond seeing the name on a medicine
label," said the assistant.
"Well, you may take it from me that he's a slaughterer," said the
horse-breaker. "You've taught him a lesson that he needed, for it was
always a word and a blow with him, and the word alone was worth five
shillin' in a public court. He won't be so ready now to shake his nief
in the face of everyone he meets. However, that's neither here nor
Montgomery looked at them in bewilderment.
"For goodness' sake, gentlemen, tell me what it is you want me to do!"
"We want you to fight Silas Craggs, better known as the Master of
"Because Ted Barton was to have fought him next Saturday. He was the
champion of the Wilson coal-pits, and the other was the Master of the
iron-folk down at the Croxley smelters. We'd matched our man for a
purse of a hundred against the Master. But you've queered our man, and
he can't face such a battle with a two-inch cut at the back of his head.
There's only one thing to be done, sir, and that is for you to take his
place. If you can lick Ted Barton you may lick the Master of Croxley,
but if you don't we're done, for there's no one else who is in the same
street with him in this district. It's twenty rounds, two-ounce gloves,
Queensberry rules, and a decision on points if you fight to the finish."
For a moment the absurdity of the thing drove every other thought out of
Montgomery's head. But then there came a sudden revulsion. A hundred
pounds!--all he wanted to complete his education was lying there ready
to his hand, if only that hand were strong enough to pick it up. He had
thought bitterly that morning that there was no market for his strength,
but here was one where his muscle might earn more in an hour than his
brains in a year. But a chill of doubt came over him. "How can I fight
for the coal-pits?" said he. "I am not connected with them."
"Eh, lad, but thou art!" cried old Purvis. "We've got it down in
writin', and it's clear enough 'Anyone connected with the coal-pits.'
Doctor Oldacre is the coal-pit club doctor; thou art his assistant.
What more can they want?"
"Yes, that's right enough," said the Cantab. "It would be a very
sporting thing of you, Mr. Montgomery, if you would come to our help
when we are in such a hole. Of course, you might not like to take the
hundred pounds; but I have no doubt that, in the case of your winning,
we could arrange that it should take the form of a watch or piece of
plate, or any other shape which might suggest itself to you. You see,
you are responsible for our having lost our champion, so we really feel
that we have a claim upon you."
"Give me a moment, gentlemen. It is very unexpected. I am afraid the
doctor would never consent to my going--in fact, I am sure that he would
"But he need never know--not before the fight, at any rate. We are not
bound to give the name of our man. So long as he is within the weight
limits on the day of the fight, that is all that concerns anyone."
The adventure and the profit would either of them have attracted
Montgomery. The two combined were irresistible. "Gentlemen," said he,
"I'll do it!"
The three sprang from their seats. The publican had seized his right
hand, the horse-dealer his left, and the Cantab slapped him on the back.
"Good lad! good lad!" croaked the publican. "Eh, mon, but if thou yark
him, thou'll rise in one day from being just a common doctor to the
best-known mon 'twixt here and Bradford. Thou art a witherin' tyke,
thou art, and no mistake; and if thou beat the Master of Croxley,
thou'll find all the beer thou want for the rest of thy life waiting for
thee at the 'Four Sacks.'"
"It is the most sporting thing I ever heard of in my life," said young
Wilson. "By George, sir, if you pull it off, you've got the
constituency in your pocket, if you care to stand. You know the
out-house in my garden?"
"Next the road?"
"Exactly. I turned it into a gymnasium for Ted Barton. You'll find all
you want there: clubs, punching ball, bars, dumb-bells, everything.
Then you'll want a sparring partner. Ogilvy has been acting for Barton,
but we don't think that he is class enough. Barton bears you no grudge.
He's a good-hearted fellow, though cross-grained with strangers. He
looked upon you as a stranger this morning, but he says he knows you
now. He is quite ready to spar with you for practice, and he will come
any hour you will name."
"Thank you; I will let you know the hour," said Montgomery; and so the
committee departed jubilant upon their way.
The medical assistant sat for a time in the surgery turning it over a
little in his mind. He had been trained originally at the University by
the man who had been middle-weight champion in his day. It was true
that his teacher was long past his prime, slow upon his feet, and stiff
in his joints, but even so he was still a tough antagonist; but
Montgomery had found at last that he could more than hold his own with
him. He had won the University medal, and his teacher, who had trained
so many students, was emphatic in his opinion that he had never had one
who was in the same class with him. He had been exhorted to go in for
the Amateur Championships, but he had no particular ambition in that
direction. Once he had put on the gloves with Hammer Tunstall in a
booth at a fair and had fought three rattling rounds, in which he had
the worst of it, but had made the prize fighter stretch himself to the
uttermost. There was his whole record, and was it enough to encourage
him to stand up to the Master of Croxley? He had never heard of the
Master before, but then he had lost touch of the ring during the last
few years of hard work. After all, what did it matter? If he won,
there was the money, which meant so much to him. If he lost, it would
only mean a thrashing. He could take punishment without flinching, of
that he was certain. If there were only one chance in a hundred of
pulling it off, then it was worth his while to attempt it.
Dr. Oldacre, new come from church, with an ostentatious Prayer-book in
his kid-gloved hand, broke in upon his meditation.
"You don't go to service, I observe, Mr. Montgomery" said he, coldly.
"No, sir; I have had some business to detain me."
"It is very near to my heart that my household should set a good
example. There are so few educated people in this district that a great
responsibility devolves upon us. If we do not live up to the highest,
how can we expect these poor workers to do so? It is a dreadful thing
to reflect that the parish takes a great deal more interest in an
approaching glove fight than in their religious duties."
"A glove fight, sir?" said Montgomery, guiltily.
"I believe that to be the correct term. One of my patients tells me
that it is the talk of the district. A local ruffian, a patient of
ours, by the way, matched against a pugilist over at Croxley.
I cannot understand why the law does not step in and stop so degrading
an exhibition. It is really a prize fight."
"A glove fight, you said."
"I am informed that a 2oz. glove is an evasion by which they dodge the
law, and make it difficult for the police to interfere. They contend
for a sum of money. It seems dreadful and almost incredible--does it
not?--to think that such scenes can be enacted within a few miles of our
peaceful home. But you will realise, Mr. Montgomery, that while there
are such influences for us to counteract, it is very necessary that we
should live up to our highest."
The doctor's sermon would have had more effect if the assistant had not
once or twice had occasion to test his highest, and come upon it at
unexpectedly humble elevations. It is always so particularly easy to
"compound for sins we're most inclined to by damning those we have no
mind to." In any case, Montgomery felt that of all the men concerned in
such a fight--promoters, backers, spectators--it is the actual fighter
who holds the strongest and most honourable position. His conscience
gave him no concern upon the subject. Endurance and courage are
virtues, not vices, and brutality is, at least, better than effeminacy.
There was a little tobacco-shop at the corner of the street, where
Montgomery got his bird's-eye and also his local information, for the
shopman was a garrulous soul, who knew everything about the affairs of
the district. The assistant strolled down there after tea and asked, in
a casual way, whether the tobacconist had ever heard of the Master of
"Heard of him! Heard of him!" the little man could hardly articulate in
his astonishment. "Why, sir, he's the first mon o' the district, an'
his name's as well known in the West Riding as the winner o' t' Derby.
But Lor,' sir,"--here he stopped and rummaged among a heap of papers.
"They are makin' a fuss about him on account o' his fight wi' Ted
Barton, and so the _Croxley Herald_ has his life an' record, an' here it
is, an' thou canst read it for thysel'"
The sheet of the paper which he held up was a lake of print around an
islet of illustration. The latter was a coarse wood-cut of a pugilist's
head and neck set in a cross-barred jersey. It was a sinister but
powerful face, the face of a debauched hero, clean-shaven, strongly
eye-browed, keen-eyed, with huge, aggressive jaw, and an animal dewlap
beneath it. The long, obstinate cheeks ran flush up to the narrow,
sinister eyes. The mighty neck came down square from the ears and
curved outwards into shoulders, which had lost nothing at the hands of
the local artist. Above was written "Silas Craggs," and beneath,
"The Master of Croxley."
"Thou'll find all about him there, sir," said the tobacconist. "He's a
witherin' tyke, he is, and we're proud to have him in the county. If he
hadn't broke his leg he'd have been champion of England."
"Broke his leg, has he?"
"Yes, and it set badly. They ca' him owd K, behind his back, for that
is how his two legs look. But his arms--well, if they was both stropped
to a bench, as the sayin' is, I wonder where the champion of England
would be then."
"I'll take this with me," said Montgomery; and putting the paper into
his pocket he returned home.
It was not a cheering record which he read there. The whole history of
the Croxley Master was given in full, his many victories, his few
Born in 1857 (said the provincial biographer), Silas Craggs, better
known in sporting circles as the Master of Croxley, is now in his
"Hang it, I'm only twenty-three!" said Montgomery to himself, and read
on more cheerfully.
Having in his youth shown a surprising aptitude for the game, he
fought his way up among his comrades, until he became the
recognised champion of the district and won the proud title which
he still holds. Ambitious of a more than local fame, he secured a
patron, and fought his first fight against Jack Barton, of
Birmingham, in May 1880, at the old Loiterers' Club. Craggs,
who fought at ten stone-two at the time, had the better of fifteen
rattling rounds, and gained an award on points against the Midlander.
Having disposed of James Dunn, of Rotherhithe, Cameron, of Glasgow,
and a youth named Fernie, he was thought so highly of by the fancy
that he was matched against Ernest Willox, at that time
middle-weight champion of the North of England, and defeated him in a
hard-fought battle, knocking him out in the tenth round after a
punishing contest. At this period it looked as if the very highest
honours of the ring were within the reach of the young Yorkshireman,
but he was laid upon the shelf by a most unfortunate accident. The
kick of a horse broke his thigh, and for a year he was compelled to
rest himself. When he returned to his work the fracture had set
badly, and his activity was much impaired. It was owing to this
that he was defeated in seven rounds by Willox, the man whom he had
previously beaten, and afterwards by James Shaw, of London, though
the latter acknowledged that he had found the toughest customer of
his career. Undismayed by his reverses, the Master adapted the
style of his fighting to his physical disabilities and resumed his
career of victory--defeating Norton (the black), Hobby Wilson, and
Levi Cohen, the latter a heavy-weight. Conceding two stone, he
fought a draw with the famous Billy McQuire, and afterwards, for
a purse of fifty pounds, he defeated Sam Hare at the Pelican Club,
London. In 1891 a decision was given against him upon a foul when
fighting a winning fight against Jim Taylor, the Australian middle
weight, and so mortified was he by the decision, that he withdrew
from the ring. Since then he has hardly fought at all save to
accommodate any local aspirant who may wish to learn the difference
between a bar-room scramble and a scientific contest. The latest
of these ambitious souls comes from the Wilson coal-pits, which have
undertaken to put up a stake of 100 pounds and back their local
champion. There are various rumours afloat as to who their
representative is to be, the name of Ted Barton being freely
mentioned; but the betting, which is seven to one on the Master
against any untried man, is a fair reflection of the feeling of
Montgomery read it over twice, and it left him with a very serious face.
No light matter this which he had undertaken; no battle with a
rough-and-tumble fighter who presumed upon a local reputation.
The man's record showed that he was first-class--or nearly so. There
were a few points in his favour, and he must make the most of them.
There was age--twenty-three against forty. There was an old ring
proverb that "Youth will be served," but the annals of the ring offer a
great number of exceptions. A hard veteran full of cool valour and
ring-craft, could give ten or fifteen years and a beating to most
striplings. He could not rely too much upon his advantage in age.
But then there was the lameness; that must surely count for a great
deal. And, lastly, there was the chance that the Master might underrate
his opponent, that he might be remiss in his training, and refuse to
abandon his usual way of life, if he thought that he had an easy task
before him. In a man of his age and habits this seemed very possible.
Montgomery prayed that it might be so. Meanwhile, if his opponent were
the best man who ever jumped the ropes into a ring, his own duty was
clear. He must prepare himself carefully, throw away no chance, and do
the very best that he could. But he knew enough to appreciate the
difference which exists in boxing, as in every sport, between the
amateur and the professional. The coolness, the power of hitting, above
all the capability of taking punishment, count for so much. Those
specially developed, gutta-percha-like abdominal muscles of the hardened
pugilist will take without flinching a blow which would leave another
man writhing on the ground. Such things are not to be acquired in a
week, but all that could be done in a week should be done.
The medical assistant had a good basis to start from. He was 5ft. 11
ins.--tall enough for anything on two legs, as the old ring men used to
say--lithe and spare, with the activity of a panther, and a strength
which had hardly yet ever found its limitations. His muscular
development was finely hard, but his power came rather from that higher
nerve-energy which counts for nothing upon a measuring tape. He had the
well-curved nose and the widely opened eye which never yet were seen
upon the face of a craven, and behind everything he had the driving
force, which came from the knowledge that his whole career was at stake
upon the contest. The three backers rubbed their hands when they saw
him at work punching the ball in the gymnasium next morning; and
Fawcett, the horse-breaker, who had written to Leeds to hedge his bets,
sent a wire to cancel the letter, and to lay another fifty at the market
price of seven to one.
Montgomery's chief difficulty was to find time for his training without
any interference from the doctor. His work took him a large part of the
day, but as the visiting was done on foot, and considerable distances
had to be traversed, it was a training in itself. For the rest, he
punched the swinging ball and worked with the dumb-bells for an hour
every morning and evening, and boxed twice a day with Ted Barton in the
gymnasium, gaining as much profit as could be got from a rushing,
two-handed slogger. Barton was full of admiration for his cleverness
and quickness, but doubtful about his strength. Hard hitting was the
feature of his own style, and he exacted it from others.
"Lord, sir, that's a turble poor poonch for an eleven-stone man!" he
would cry. "Thou wilt have to hit harder than that afore t' Master will
know that thou art theer. All, thot's better, mon, thot's fine!" he
would add, as his opponent lifted him across the room on the end of a
right counter. "Thot's how I likes to feel 'em. Happen thou'lt pull
through yet." He chuckled with joy when Montgomery knocked him into a
corner. "Eh, mon, thou art coming along grand. Thou hast fair yarked
me off my legs. Do it again, lad, do it again!"
The only part of Montgomery's training which came within the doctor's
observation was his diet, and that puzzled him considerably.
"You will excuse my remarking, Mr. Montgomery, that you are becoming
rather particular in your tastes. Such fads are not to be encouraged in
one's youth. Why do you eat toast with every meal?"
"I find that it suits me better than bread, sir."
"It entails unnecessary work upon the cook. I observe, also, that you
have turned against potatoes."
"Yes, sir; I think that I am better without them."
"And you no longer drink your beer?"
"These causeless whims and fancies are very much to be deprecated, Mr.
Montgomery. Consider how many there are to whom these very potatoes and
this very beer would be most acceptable."
"No doubt, sir, but at present I prefer to do without them."
They were sitting alone at lunch, and the assistant thought that it
would be a good opportunity of asking leave for the day of the fight.
"I should be glad if you could let me have leave for Saturday, Dr.
"It is very inconvenient upon so busy a day."
"I should do a double day's work on Friday so as to leave everything in
order. I should hope to be back in the evening."
"I am afraid I cannot spare you, Mr. Montgomery."
This was a facer. If he could not get leave he would go without it.
"You will remember, Dr. Oldacre, that when I came to you it was
understood that I should have a clear day every month. I have never
claimed one. But now there are reasons why I wish to have a holiday
Dr. Oldacre gave in with a very bad grace. "Of course, if you insist
upon your formal rights, there is no more to be said, Mr. Montgomery,
though I feel that it shows a certain indifference to my comfort and the
welfare of the practice. Do you still insist?"
"Very good. Have your way."
The doctor was boiling over with anger, but Montgomery was a valuable
assistant--steady, capable, and hardworking--and he could not afford to
lose him. Even if he had been prompted to advance those class fees, for
which his assistant had appealed, it would have been against his
interests to do so, for he did not wish him to qualify, and he desired
him to remain in his subordinate position, in which he worked so hard
for so small a wage. There was something in the cool insistence of the
young man, a quiet resolution in his voice as he claimed his Saturday,
which aroused his curiosity.
"I have no desire to interfere unduly with your affairs, Mr. Montgomery,
but were you thinking of having a day in Leeds upon Saturday?"
"In the country?"
"You are very wise. You will find a quiet day among the wild flowers a
very valuable restorative. Have you thought of any particular
"I am going over Croxley way."
"Well, there is no prettier country when once you are past the
iron-works. What could be more delightful than to lie upon the Fells,
basking in the sunshine, with perhaps some instructive and elevating
book as your companion? I should recommend a visit to the ruins of St.
Bridget's Church, a very interesting relic of the early Norman era.
By the way, there is one objection which I see to your going to Croxley
on Saturday. It is upon that date, as I am informed, that that
ruffianly glove fight takes place. You may find yourself molested by
the blackguards whom it will attract."
"I will take my chance of that, sir," said the assistant.
On the Friday night, which was the last night before the fight,
Montgomery's three backers assembled in the gymnasium and inspected
their man as he went through some light exercises to keep his muscles
supple. He was certainly in splendid condition, his skin shining with
health, and his eyes with energy and confidence. The three walked round
him and exulted.
"He's simply ripping!" said the undergraduate.
"By gad, you've come out of it splendidly. You're as hard as a pebble,
and fit to fight for your life."
"Happen he's a trifle on the fine side," said the publican. "Runs a bit
light at the loins, to my way of thinking'."
"What weight to-day?"
"Ten stone eleven," the assistant answered.
"That's only three pund off in a week's trainin'," said the
horse-breaker. "He said right when he said that he was in condition.
Well, it's fine stuff all there is of it, but I'm none so sure as there
is enough." He kept poking his finger into Montgomery as if he were one
of his horses. "I hear that the Master will scale a hundred and sixty
odd at the ring-side."
"But there's some of that which he'd like well to pull off and leave
behind wi' his shirt," said Purvis. "I hear they've had a rare job to
get him to drop his beer, and if it had not been for that great
red-headed wench of his they'd never ha' done it. She fair scratted the
face off a potman that had brought him a gallon from t' 'Chequers.'
They say the hussy is his sparrin' partner, as well as his sweetheart,
and that his poor wife is just breakin' her heart over it. Hullo, young
'un, what do you want?"
The door of the gymnasium had opened and a lad, about sixteen, grimy and
black with soot and iron, stepped into the yellow glare of the oil lamp.
Ted Barton seized him by the collar.
"See here, thou yoong whelp, this is private, and we want noan o' thy
"But I maun speak to Mr. Wilson."
The young Cantab stepped forward.
"Well, my lad, what is it?"
"It's aboot t' fight, Mr. Wilson, sir. I wanted to tell your mon
somethin' aboot t' Maister."
"We've no time to listen to gossip, my boy. We know all about the
"But thou doan't, sir. Nobody knows but me and mother, and we thought
as we'd like thy mon to know, sir, for we want him to fair bray him."
"Oh, you want the Master fair brayed, do you? So do we. Well, what
have you to say?"
"Is this your mon, sir?"
"Well, suppose it is?"
"Then it's him I want to tell aboot it. T' Maister is blind o' the left
"It's true, sir. Not stone blind, but rarely fogged. He keeps it
secret, but mother knows, and so do I. If thou slip him on the left
side he can't cop thee. Thou'll find it right as I tell thee. And mark
him when he sinks his right. 'Tis his best blow, his right upper-cut.
T' Maister's finisher, they ca' it at t' works. It's a turble blow when
it do come home."
"Thank you, my boy. This is information worth having about his sight,"
said Wilson. "How came you to know so much? Who are you?"
"I'm his son, sir."
"And who sent you to us?"
"My mother. I maun get back to her again."
"Take this half-crown."
"No, sir, I don't seek money in comin' here. I do it--"
"For love?" suggested the publican.
"For hate!" said the boy, and darted off into the darkness.
"Seems to me t' red-headed wench may do him more harm than good, after
all," remarked the publican. "And now, Mr. Montgomery, sir, you've done
enough for this evenin', an' a nine-hours' sleep is the best trainin'
before a battle. Happen this time to-morrow night you'll be safe back
again with your 100 pound in your pocket."
Work was struck at one o'clock at the coal-pits and the iron-works, and
the fight was arranged for three. From the Croxley Furnaces, from
Wilson's Coal-pits, from the Heartsease Mine, from the Dodd Mills, from
the Leverworth Smelters the workmen came trooping, each with his
fox-terrier or his lurcher at his heels. Warped with labour and twisted
by toil, bent double by week-long work in the cramped coal galleries or
half-blinded with years spent in front of white-hot fluid metal, these
men still gilded their harsh and hopeless lives by their devotion to
sport. It was their one relief, the only thing which could distract
their minds from sordid surroundings, and give them an interest beyond
the blackened circle which enclosed them. Literature, art, science, all
these things were beyond their horizon; but the race, the football
match, the cricket, the fight, these were things which they could
understand, which they could speculate upon in advance and comment upon
afterwards. Sometimes brutal, sometimes grotesque, the love of sport is
still one of the great agencies which make for the happiness of our
people. It lies very deeply in the springs of our nature, and when it
has been educated out, a higher, more refined nature may be left, but it
will not be of that robust British type which has left its mark so
deeply on the world. Every one of these raddled workers, slouching with
his dog at his heels to see something of the fight, was a true unit of
It was a squally May day, with bright sunbursts and driving showers.
Montgomery worked all morning in the surgery getting his medicine made
"The weather seems so very unsettled, Mr. Montgomery," remarked the
doctor, "that I am inclined to think that you had better postpone your
little country excursion until a later date."
"I am afraid that I must go to-day, sir."
"I have just had an intimation that Mrs. Potter, at the other side of
Angleton, wishes to see me. It is probable that I shall be there all
day. It will be extremely inconvenient to leave the house empty so
"I am very sorry, sir, but I must go," said the assistant, doggedly.
The doctor saw that it would be useless to argue, and departed in the
worst of bad tempers upon mission. Montgomery felt easier now that he
was gone. He went up to his room, and packed his running-shoes, his
fighting-drawers, and his cricket sash into a hand-bag. When he came
down, Mr. Wilson was waiting for him in the surgery. "I hear the doctor
"Yes; he is likely to be away all day."
"I don't see that it matters much. It's bound to come to his ears by
"Yes; it's serious with me, Mr. Wilson. If I win, it's all right.
I don't mind telling you that the hundred pounds will make all the
difference to me. But if I lose, I shall lose my situation, for, as you
say, I can't keep it secret."
"Never mind. We'll see you through among us. I only wonder the doctor
has not heard, for it's all over the country that you are to fight the
Croxley Champion. We've had Armitage up about it already. He's the
Master's backer, you know. He wasn't sure that you were eligible.
The Master said he wanted you whether you were eligible or not.
Armitage has money on, and would have made trouble if he could. But I
showed him that you came within the conditions of the challenge, and he
agreed that it was all right. They think they have a soft thing on."
"Well, I can only do my best," said Montgomery.
They lunched together; a silent and rather nervous repast, for
Montgomery's mind was full of what was before him, and Wilson had
himself more money at stake than he cared to lose.
Wilson's carriage and pair were at the door, the horses with blue and
white rosettes at their ears, which were the colours of the Wilson
Coal-pits, well known, on many a football field. At the avenue gate a
crowd of some hundred pit-men and their wives gave a cheer as the
carriage passed. To the assistant it all seemed dream-like and
extraordinary--the strangest experience of his life, but with a thrill
of human action and interest in it which made it passionately absorbing.
He lay back in the open carriage and saw the fluttering handkerchiefs
from the doors and windows of the miners' cottages. Wilson had pinned a
blue and white rosette upon his coat, and everybody knew him as their
champion. "Good luck, sir! good luck to thee!" they shouted from the
roadside. He felt that it was like some unromantic knight riding down
to sordid lists, but there was something of chivalry in it all the same.
He fought for others as well as for himself. He might fail from want of
skill or strength, but deep in his sombre soul he vowed that it should
never be for want of heart.
Mr. Fawcett was just mounting into his high-wheeled, spidery dogcart,
with his little bit of blood between the shafts. He waved his whip and
fell in behind the carriage. They overtook Purvis, the tomato-faced
publican, upon the road, with his wife in her Sunday bonnet. They also
dropped into the procession, and then, as they traversed the seven miles
of the high road to Croxley, their two-horsed, rosetted carriage became
gradually the nucleus of a comet with a loosely radiating tail.
From every side-road came the miners' carts, the humble, ramshackle
traps, black and bulging, with their loads of noisy, foul-tongued,
open-hearted partisans. They trailed for a long quarter of a mile
behind them--cracking, whipping, shouting, galloping, swearing.
Horsemen and runners were mixed with the vehicles. And then suddenly a
squad of the Sheffield Yeomanry, who were having their annual training
in those parts, clattered and jingled out of a field, and rode as an
escort to the carriage. Through the dust-clouds round him Montgomery
saw the gleaming brass helmets, the bright coats, and the tossing heads
of the chargers, the delighted brown faces of the troopers. It was more
dream-like than ever.
And then, as they approached the monstrous, uncouth line of
bottle-shaped buildings which marked the smelting-works of Croxley,
their long, writhing snake of dust was headed off by another but longer
one which wound across their path. The main road into which their own
opened was filled by the rushing current of traps. The Wilson
contingent halted until the others should get past. The iron-men
cheered and groaned, according to their humour, as they whirled past
their antagonist. Rough chaff flew back and forwards like iron nuts and
splinters of coal. "Brought him up, then!" "Got t' hearse for to fetch
him back?" "Where's t' owd K-legs?" "Mon, mon, have thy photograph
took--'twill mind thee of what thou used to look!" "He fight?--he's
nowt but a half-baked doctor!" "Happen he'll doctor thy Croxley
Champion afore he's through wi't."
So they flashed at each other as the one side waited and the other
passed. Then there came a rolling murmur swelling into a shout, and a
great brake with four horses came clattering along, all streaming with
salmon-pink ribbons. The driver wore a white hat with pink rosette, and
beside him, on the high seat, were a man and a woman-she with her arm
round his waist. Montgomery had one glimpse of them as they flashed
past; he with a furry cap drawn low over his brow, a great frieze coat
and a pink comforter round his throat; she brazen, red-headed,
bright-coloured, laughing excitedly. The Master, for it was he, turned
as he passed, gazed hard at Montgomery, and gave him a menacing,
gap-toothed grin. It was a hard, wicked face, blue-jowled and craggy,
with long, obstinate cheeks and inexorable eyes. The brake behind was
full of patrons of the sport-flushed iron-foremen, heads of departments,
managers. One was drinking from a metal flask, and raised it to
Montgomery as he passed; and then the crowd thinned, and the Wilson
cortege with their dragoons swept in at the rear of the others.
The road led away from Croxley, between curving green hills, gashed and
polluted by the searchers for coal and iron. The whole country had been
gutted, and vast piles of refuse and mountains of slag suggested the
mighty chambers which the labour of man had burrowed beneath. On the
left the road curved up to where a huge building, roofless and
dismantled, stood crumbling and forlorn, with the light shining through
the windowless squares.
"That's the old Arrowsmith's factory. That's where the fight is to be,"
said Wilson. "How are you feeling now?"
"Thank you, I was never better in my life," Montgomery answered.
"By Gad, I like your nerve!" said Wilson, who was himself flushed and
uneasy. "You'll give us a fight for our money, come what may.
That place on the right is the office, and that has been set aside as
the dressing and weighing room."
The carriage drove up to it amidst the shouts of the folk upon the
hillside. Lines of empty carriages and traps curved down upon the
winding road, and a black crowd surged round the door of the ruined
factory. The seats, as a huge placard announced, were five shillings,
three shillings, and a shilling, with half-price for dogs. The takings,
deducting expenses, were to go to the winner, and it was already evident
that a larger stake than a hundred pounds was in question. A babel of
voices rose from the door, The workers wished to bring their dogs in
free. The men scuffled. The dogs barked. The crowd was a whirling,
eddying pool surging with a roar up to the narrow cleft which was its
The brake, with its salmon-coloured streamers and four reeking horses,
stood empty before the door of the office; Wilson, Purvis, Fawcett and
Montgomery passed in.
There was a large, bare room inside with square, clean patches upon the
grimy walls, where pictures and almanacs had once hung. Worn linoleum
covered the floor, but there was no furniture save some benches and a
deal table with an ewer and a basin upon it. Two of the corners were
curtained off. In the middle of the room was a weighing-chair.
A hugely fat man, with a salmon tie and a blue waistcoat with birds'-eye
spots, came bustling up to them. It was Armitage, the butcher and
grazier, well known for miles round as a warm man, and the most liberal
patron of sport in the Riding. "Well, well," he grunted, in a thick,
fussy, wheezy voice, "you have come, then. Got your man? Got your man?
"Here he is, fit and well. Mr. Montgomery, let me present you to Mr.
"Glad to meet you, sir. Happy to make your acquaintance. I make bold
to say, sir, that we of Croxley admire your courage, Mr. Montgomery, and
that our only hope is a fair fight and no favour, and the best man win.
That's our sentiments at Croxley."
"And it is my sentiment, also," said the assistant.
"Well, you can't say fairer than that, Mr. Montgomery. You've taken a
large contrac' in hand, but a large contrac' may be carried through,
sir, as anyone that knows my dealings could testify. The Master is
ready to weigh in!"
"So am I."
"You must weigh in the buff." Montgomery looked askance at the tall,
red-headed woman who was standing gazing out of the window.
"That's all right," said Wilson. "Get behind the curtain and put on
your fighting kit."
He did so, and came out the picture of an athlete, in white, loose
drawers, canvas shoes, and the sash of a well-known cricket club round
his waist. He was trained to a hair, his skin gleaming like silk, and
every muscle rippling down his broad shoulders and along his beautiful
arms as he moved them. They bunched into ivory knobs, or slid into
long, sinuous curves, as he raised or lowered his hands.
"What thinkest thou o' that?" asked Ted Barton, his second, of the woman
in the window.
She glanced contemptuously at the young athlete. "It's but a poor
kindness thou dost him to put a thread-paper yoong gentleman like yon
against a mon as is a mon. Why, my Jock would throttle him wi' one bond
lashed behind him."
"Happen he may--happen not," said Barton. "I have but twa pund in the
world, but it's on him, every penny, and no hedgin'. But here's t'
Maister, and rarely fine he do look."
The prize-fighter had come out from his curtain, a squat, formidable
figure, monstrous in chest and arms, limping slightly on his distorted
leg. His skin bad none of the freshness and clearness of Montgomery's,
but was dusky and mottled, with one huge mole amid the mat of tangled
black hair which thatched his mighty breast. His weight bore no
relation to his strength, for those huge shoulders and great arms, with
brown, sledge-hammer fists, would have fitted the heaviest man that ever
threw his cap into a ring. But his loins and legs were slight in
proportion. Montgomery, on the other hand, was as symmetrical as a
Greek statue. It would be an encounter between a man who was specially
fitted for one sport, and one who was equally capable of any. The two
looked curiously at each other: a bull-dog, and a high-bred clean-limbed
terrier, each full of spirit.
"How do you do?"
"How do?" The Master grinned again, and his three jagged front teeth
gleamed for an instant. The rest had been beaten out of him in twenty
years of battle. He spat upon the floor. "We have a rare fine day
"Capital," said Montgomery.
"That's the good feelin' I like," wheezed the fat butcher. "Good lads,
both of them!--prime lads!--hard meat an' good bone. There's no
"If he downs me, Gawd bless him!" said the Master,
"An' if we down him, Gawd help him!" interrupted the woman.
"Haud thy tongue, wench!" said the Master, impatiently. "Who art thou
to put in thy word? Happen I might draw my hand across thy face."
The woman did not take the threat amiss. "Wilt have enough for thy hand
to do, Jock," said she. "Get quit o' this gradely man afore thou turn
The lovers' quarrel was interrupted by the entrance of a newcomer, a
gentleman with a fur-collared overcoat and a very shiny top-hat--
a top-hat of a degree of glossiness which is seldom seen five miles from
Hyde Park. This hat he wore at the extreme back of his head, so that
the lower surface of the brim made a kind of frame for his high, bald
forehead, his, keen eyes, his rugged and yet kindly face. He bustled in
with the quiet air of possession with which the ring master enters the
"It's Mr. Stapleton, the referee from London," said Wilson.
"How do you do, Mr. Stapleton? I was introduced to you at the big fight
at the Corinthian Club in Piccadilly."
"Ah! I dare say," said the other, shaking hands. "Fact is, I'm
introduced to so many that I can't undertake to carry their names.
Wilson, is it? Well, Mr. Wilson, glad to see you. Couldn't get a fly
at the station, and that's why I'm late."
"I'm sure, sir," said Armitage, "we should be proud that anyone so well
known in the boxing world should come down to our little exhibition."
"Not at all. Not at all. Anything in the interests of boxin'. All
ready? Men weighed?"
"Weighing now, sir."
"Ah! Just as well that I should see it done. Seen you before, Craggs.
Saw you fight your second battle against Willox. You had beaten him
once, but he came back on you. What does the indicator say--163lbs.--
two off for the kit--161lbs. Now, my lad, you jump. My goodness, what
colours are you wearing?"
"The Anonymi Cricket Club."
"What right have you to wear them? I belong to the club myself."
"So do I."
"You an amateur?"
"And you are fighting for a money prize?"
"I suppose you know what you are doing? You realise that you're a
professional pug from this onwards, and that if ever you fight again--"
"I'll never fight again."
"Happen you won't," said the woman, and the Master turned a terrible eye
"Well, I suppose you know your own business best. Up you jump. One
hundred and fifty-one, minus two, 149--12lbs. difference, but youth and
condition on the other scale. Well, the sooner we get to work the
better, for I wish to catch the seven o'clock express at Hellifield.
Twenty three-minute rounds, with one-minute intervals, and Queensberry
rules. Those are the conditions, are they not?"
"Very good, then--we may go across."
The two combatants had overcoats thrown over their shoulders, and the
whole party, backers, fighters, seconds, and the referee filed out of
the room. A police inspector was waiting for them in the road. He had
a note-book in his hand--that terrible weapon which awes even the
"I must take your names, gentlemen, in case it should be necessary to
proceed for breach of peace."
"You don't mean to stop the fight?" cried Armitage, in a passion of
indignation. "I'm Mr. Armitage, of Croxley, and this is Mr. Wilson, and
we'll be responsible that all is fair and as it should be."
"I'll take the names in case it should be necessary to proceed," said
the inspector, impassively.
"But you know me well."
"If you was a dook or even a judge it would be all' the same," said the
inspector. "It's the law, and there's an end. I'll not take upon
myself to stop the fight, seeing that gloves are to be used, but I'll
take the names of all concerned. Silas Craggs, Robert Montgomery,
Edward Barton, James Stapleton, of London. Who seconds Silas Craggs?"
"I do," said the woman. "Yes, you can stare, but it's my job, and no
one else's. Anastasia's the name--four a's."
"Johnson--Anastasia Johnson. If you jug him you can jug me."
"Who talked of juggin', ye fool?" growled the Master. "Coom on, Mr.
Armitage, for I'm fair sick o' this loiterin'."
The inspector fell in with the procession, and proceeded, as they walked
up the hill, to bargain in his official capacity for a front seat, where
he could safeguard the interests of the law, and in his private
capacity to lay out thirty shillings at seven to one with Mr. Armitage.
Through the door they passed, down a narrow lane walled with a dense
bank of humanity, up a wooden ladder to a platform, over a rope which
was slung waist-high from four corner-stakes, and then Montgomery
realised that he was in that ring in which his immediate destiny was to
be worked out. On the stake at one corner there hung a blue-and-white
streamer. Barton led him across, the overcoat dangling loosely from his
shoulders, and he sat down on a wooden stool. Barton and another man,
both wearing white sweaters, stood beside him. The so-called ring was a
square, twenty feet each way. At the opposite angle was the sinister
figure of the Master, with his red-headed woman and a rough-faced friend
to look after him. At each corner were metal basins, pitchers of water,
During the hubbub and uproar of the entrance Montgomery was too
bewildered to take things in. But now there was a few minutes' delay,
for the referee had lingered behind, and so he looked quietly about him.
It was a sight to haunt him for a lifetime. Wooden seats had been built
in, sloping upwards to the tops of the walls. Above, instead of a
ceiling, a great flight of crows passed slowly across a square of grey
cloud. Right up to the topmost benches the folk were banked--broadcloth
in front, corduroys and fustian behind; faces turned everywhere upon
him. The grey reek of the pipes filled the building, and the air was
pungent with the acrid smell of cheap, strong tobacco. Everywhere among
the human faces were to be seen the heads of the dogs. They growled and
yapped from the back benches. In that dense mass of humanity, one could
hardly pick out individuals, but Montgomery's eyes caught the brazen
gleam of the helmets held upon the knees of the ten yeomen of his
escort. At the very edge of the platform sat the reporters, five of
them--three locals and two all the way from London. But where was the
all-important referee? There was no sign of him, unless he were in the
centre of that angry swirl of men near the door.
Mr. Stapleton had stopped to examine the gloves which wore to be used,
and entered the building after the combatants. He had started to come
down that narrow lane with the human walls which led to the ring.
But already it had gone abroad that the Wilson champion was a gentleman,
and that another gentleman had been appointed as referee. A wave of
suspicion passed through the Croxley folk. They would have one of their
own people for a referee. They would not have a stranger. His path was
stopped as he made for the ring. Excited men flung themselves in front
of him; they waved their fists in his face and cursed him. A woman
howled vile names in his ear. Somebody struck at him with an umbrella.
"Go thou back to Lunnon. We want noan o' thee. Go thou back!" they
Stapleton, with his shiny hat cocked backwards, and his large, bulging
forehead swelling from under it, looked round him from beneath his bushy
brows. He was in the centre of a savage and dangerous mob. Then he
drew his watch from his pocket and held it dial upwards in his palm.
"In three minutes," said he, "I will declare the fight off."
They raged round him. His cool face and that aggressive top-hat
irritated them. Grimy hands were raised. But it was difficult,
somehow, to strike a man who was so absolutely indifferent.
"In two minutes I declare the fight off."
They exploded into blasphemy. The breath of angry men smoked into his
placid face. A gnarled, grimy fist vibrated at the end of his nose.
"We tell thee we want noan o' thee. Get thou back where thou com'st
"In one minute I declare the fight off."
Then the calm persistence of the man conquered the swaying, mutable,
"Let him through, mon. Happen there'll be no fight after a'."
"Let him through."
"Bill, thou loomp, let him pass. Dost want the fight declared off?"
"Make room for the referee!--room for the Lunnon referee!"
And half pushed, half carried, he was swept up to the ring. There were
two chairs by the side of it, one for him and one for the timekeeper.
He sat down, his hands on his knees, his hat at a more wonderful angle
than ever, impassive but solemn, with the aspect of one who appreciates
Mr. Armitage, the portly butcher, made his way into the ring and held up
two fat hands, sparkling with rings, as a signal for silence.
"Gentlemen!" he yelled. And then in a crescendo shriek, "Gentlemen!"
"And ladies!" cried somebody, for, indeed, there was a fair sprinkling
of women among the crowd. "Speak up, owd man!" shouted another. "What
price pork chops?" cried somebody at the back. Everybody laughed, and
the dogs began to bark. Armitage waved his hands amidst the uproar as
if he were conducting an orchestra. At last the babel thinned into
"Gentlemen," he yelled, "the match is between Silas Craggs, whom we
call the Master of Croxley, and Robert Montgomery, of the Wilson
Coal-pits. The match was to be under eleven-eight. When they were
weighed just now, Craggs weighed eleven-seven, and Montgomery ten-nine.
The conditions of the contest are--the best of twenty three-minute
rounds with two-ounce gloves. Should the fight run to its full length,
it will, of course, be decided upon points. Mr. Stapleton, the
well-known London referee, has kindly consented to see fair play.
I wish to say that Mr. Wilson and I, the chief backers of the two men,
have every confidence in Mr. Stapleton, and that we beg that you will
accept his rulings without dispute."
He then turned from one combatant to the other, with a wave of his hand.
"Montgomery--Craggs!" said he.
A great hush fell over the huge assembly. Even the dogs stopped
yapping; one might have thought that the monstrous room was empty.
The two men had stood up, the small white gloves over their hands
They advanced from their corners and shook hands, Montgomery gravely,
Craggs with a smile. Then they fell into position. The crowd gave a
long sigh--the intake of a thousand excited breaths. The referee tilted
his chair on to its back legs, and looked moodily critical from the one
to the other.
It was strength against activity--that was evident from the first.
The Master stood stolidly upon his K leg. It gave him a tremendous
pedestal; one could hardly imagine his being knocked down. And he could
pivot round upon it with extraordinary quickness; but his advance or
retreat was ungainly. His frame, however, was so much larger and
broader than that of the student, and his brown, massive face looked so
resolute and menacing that the hearts of the Wilson party sank within
them. There was one heart, however, which had not done so. It was that
of Robert Montgomery.
Any nervousness which he may have had completely passed away now that he
had his work before him. Here was something definite--this hard-faced,
deformed Hercules to beat, with a career as the price of beating him.
He glowed with the joy of action; it thrilled through his nerves.
He faced his man with little in-and-out steps, breaking to the left,
breaking to the right, feeling his way, while Craggs, with a dull,
malignant eye, pivoted slowly upon his weak leg, his left arm half
extended, his right sunk low across the mark. Montgomery led with his
left, and then led again, getting lightly home each time. He tried
again, but the Master had his counter ready, and Montgomery reeled back
from a harder blow than he had given. Anastasia, the woman, gave a
shrill cry of encouragement, and her man let fly his right. Montgomery
ducked under it, and in an instant the two were in each other's arms.
"Break away! Break away!" said the referee.
The Master struck upwards on the break, and shook Montgomery with the
blow. Then it was "time." It had been a spirited opening round.
The people buzzed into comment and applause. Montgomery was quite
fresh, but the hairy chest of the Master was rising and falling.
The man passed a sponge over his head while Anastasia flapped the towel
before him. "Good lass! good lass!" cried the crowd, and cheered her.
The men were up again, the Master grimly watchful, Montgomery as alert
as a kitten. The Master tried a sudden rush, squattering along with his
awkward gait, but coming faster than one would think. The student
slipped aside and avoided him. The Master stopped, grinned, and shook
his head. Then he motioned with his hand as an invitation to
Montgomery to come to him. The student did so and led with his left,
but got a swinging right counter in the ribs in exchange. The heavy
blow staggered him, and the Master came scrambling in to complete his
advantage; but Montgomery, with his greater activity, kept out of danger
until the call of "time." A tame round, and the advantage with the
"T' Maister's too strong for him," said a smelter to his neighbour.
"Ay; but t'other's a likely lad. Happen we'll see some sport yet.
He can joomp rarely."
"But t' Maister can stop and hit rarely. Happen he'll mak' him joomp
when he gets his nief upon him."
They were up again, the water glistening upon their faces. Montgomery
led instantly, and got his right home with a sounding smack upon the
master's forehead. There was a shout from the colliers, and "Silence!
Order!" from the referee. Montgomery avoided the counter, and scored
with his left. Fresh applause, and the referee upon his feet in
"No comments, gentlemen, if _you_ please, during the rounds."
"Just bide a bit!" growled the Master.
"Don't talk--fight!" said the referee, angrily.
Montgomery rubbed in the point by a flush hit upon the mouth, and the
Master shambled back to his corner like an angry bear, having had all
the worst of the round.
"Where's thot seven to one?" shouted Purvis, the publican. "I'll take
six to one!"
There were no answers.
"Five to one!"
There were givers at that. Purvis booked them in a tattered notebook.
Montgomery began to feel happy. He lay back with his legs outstretched,
his back against the corner-post, and one gloved hand upon each rope.
What a delicious minute it was between each round. If he could only
keep out of harm's way, he must surely wear this man out before the end
of twenty rounds. He was so slow that all his strength went for
"You're fightin' a winnin' fight--a winnin' fight," Ted Barton whispered
in his ear. "Go canny; tak' no chances; you have him proper."
But the Master was crafty. He had fought so many battles with his
maimed limb that he knew how to make the best of it. Warily and slowly
he manoeuvred round Montgomery, stepping forward and yet again forward
until he had imperceptibly backed him into his corner. The student
suddenly saw a flash of triumph upon the grim face, and a gleam in the
dull, malignant eyes. The Master was upon him. He sprang aside and was
on the ropes. The Master smashed in one of his terrible upper-cuts, and
Montgomery half broke it with his guard. The student sprang the other
way and was against the other converging rope. He was trapped in the
angle. The Master sent in another with a hoggish grunt which spoke of
the energy behind it. Montgomery ducked, but got a jab from the left
upon the mark. He closed with his man.
"Break away! Break away!" cried the referee. Montgomery disengaged,
and got a swinging blow on the ear as he did so. It had been a damaging
round for him, and the Croxley people were shouting their delight.
"Gentlemen, I will _not_ have this noise!" Stapleton roared. "I have
been accustomed to preside at a well-conducted club, and not at a
bear-garden." This little man, with the tilted hat and the bulging
forehead, dominated the whole assembly. He was like a head-master among
his boys. He glared round him, and nobody cared to meet his eye.
Anastasia had kissed the Master when he resumed his seat.
"Good lass. Do't again!" cried the laughing crowd, and the angry Master
shook his glove at her, as she flapped her towel in front of him.
Montgomery was weary and a little sore, but not depressed. He had
learned something. He would not again be tempted into danger.
For three rounds the honours were fairly equal. The student's hitting
was the quicker, the Master's the harder. Profiting by his lesson,
Montgomery kept himself in the open, and refused to be herded into a
corner. Sometimes the Master succeeded in rushing him to the
side-ropes, but the younger man slipped away, or closed and then
disengaged. The monotonous "Break away! Break away!" of the referee
broke in upon the quick, low patter of rubber-soled shoes, the dull thud
of the blows, and the sharp, hissing breath of two tired men.
The ninth round found both of them in fairly good condition.
Montgomery's head was still singing from the blow that he had in the
corner, and one of his thumbs pained him acutely and seemed to be
dislocated. The Master showed no sign of a touch, but his breathing was
the more laboured, and a long line of ticks upon the referee's paper
showed that the student had a good show of points. But one of this
iron-man's blows was worth three of his, and he knew that without the
gloves he could not have stood for three rounds against him. All the
amateur work that he had done was the merest tapping and flapping when
compared to those frightful blows, from arms toughened by the shovel and
It was the tenth round, and the fight was half over. The betting now
was only three to one, for the Wilson champion had held his own much
better than had been expected. But those who knew the ring-craft as
well as the staying power of the old prize-fighter knew that the odds
were still a long way in his favour.
"Have a care of him!" whispered Barton, as he sent his man up to the
scratch. "Have a care! He'll play thee a trick, if he can."
But Montgomery saw, or imagined he saw, that his antagonist was tiring.
He looked jaded and listless, and his hands drooped a little from their
position. His own youth and condition were beginning to tell.
He sprang in and brought off a fine left-handed lead. The Master's
return lacked his usual fire. Again Montgomery led, and again he got
home. Then he tried his right upon the mark, and the Master guarded it
"Too low! Too low! A foul! A foul!" yelled a thousand voices.
The referee rolled his sardonic eyes slowly round. "Seems to me this
buildin' is chock-full of referees," said he. The people laughed and
applauded, but their favour was as immaterial to him as their anger.
"No applause, please! This is not a theatre!" he yelled.
Montgomery was very pleased with himself. His adversary was evidently
in a bad way. He was piling on his points and establishing a lead.
He might as well make hay while the sun shone. The Master was looking
all abroad. Montgomery popped one upon his blue jowl and got away
without a return. And then the Master suddenly dropped both his hands
and began rubbing his thigh. Ah! that was it, was it? He had muscular
"Go in! Go in!" cried Teddy Barton.
Montgomery sprang wildly forward, and the next instant was lying half
senseless, with his neck nearly broken, in the middle of the ring.
The whole round had been a long conspiracy to tempt him within reach of
one of those terrible right-hand upper-cuts for which the Master was
famous. For this the listless, weary bearing, for this the cramp in the
thigh. When Montgomery had sprung in so hotly he had exposed himself to
such a blow as neither flesh nor blood could stand. Whizzing up from
below with a rigid arm, which put the Master's eleven stone into its
force, it struck him under the jaw; he whirled half round, and fell a
helpless and half-paralysed mass. A vague groan and murmur,
inarticulate, too excited for words, rose from the great audience.
With open mouths and staring eyes they gazed at the twitching and
"Stand back! Stand right back!" shrieked the referee, for the Master
was standing over his man ready to give him the _coup-de-grace_ as he
"Stand back, Craggs, this instant!" Stapleton repeated.
The Master sank his hands sulkily and walked backwards to the rope with
his ferocious eyes fixed upon his fallen antagonist. The timekeeper
called the seconds. If ten of them passed before Montgomery rose to his
feet, the fight was ended. Ted Barton wrung his hands and danced about
in an agony in his corner.
As if in a dream--a terrible nightmare--the student could hear the voice
of the timekeeper--three--four--five--he got up on his hand--six--
seven--he was on his knee, sick, swimming, faint, but resolute to rise.
Eight--he was up, and the Master was on him like a tiger, lashing
savagely at him with both hands. Folk held their breath as they watched
those terrible blows, and anticipated the pitiful end--so much more
pitiful where a game but helpless man refuses to accept defeat.
Strangely automatic is the human brain. Without volition, without
effort, there shot into the memory of this bewildered, staggering,
half-stupefied man the one thing which could have saved him--that blind
eye of which the Master's son had spoken. It was the same as the other
to look at, but Montgomery remembered that he had said that it was the
left. He reeled to the left side, half felled by a drive which lit upon
his shoulder. The Master pivoted round upon his leg and was at him in
"Yark him, lad! Yark him!" screamed the woman.
"Hold your tongue!" said the referee.
Montgomery slipped to the left again and yet again, but the Master was
too quick and clever for him. He struck round and got him full on the
face as he tried once more to break away. Montgomery's knees weakened
under him, and he fell with a groan on the floor. This time he knew
that he was done. With bitter agony he realised, as he groped blindly
with his hands, that he could not possibly raise himself. Far away and
muffled he heard, amid the murmurs of the multitude, the fateful voice
of the timekeeper counting off the seconds.
"Time!" said the referee.
Then the pent-up passion of the great assembly broke loose. Croxley
gave a deep groan of disappointment. The Wilsons were on their feet,
yelling with delight. There was still a chance for them. In four more
seconds their man would have been solemnly counted out. But now he had
a minute in which to recover. The referee looked round with relaxed
features and laughing eyes. He loved this rough game, this school for
humble heroes, and it was pleasant to him to intervene as a _Deus ex
machina_ at so dramatic a moment. His chair and his hat were both
tilted at an extreme angle; he and the timekeeper smiled at each other.
Ted Barton and the other second had rushed out and thrust an arm each
under Montgomery's knee, the other behind his loins, and so carried him
back to his stool. His head lolled upon his shoulder, but a douche of
cold water sent a shiver through him, and he started and looked round
"He's a' right!" cried the people round. "He's a rare brave lad.
Good lad! Good lad!" Barton poured some brandy into his mouth.
The mists cleared a little, and he realised where he was and what he had
to do. But he was still very weak, and he hardly dared to hope that he
could survive another round.
"Seconds out of the ring!" cried the referee. "Time!"
The Croxley Master sprang eagerly off his stool.
"Keep clear of him! Go easy for a bit," said Barton, and Montgomery
walked out to meet his man once more.
He had had two lessons--the one when the Master got him into his corner,
the other when he had been lured into mixing it up with so powerful an
antagonist. Now he would be wary. Another blow would finish him; he
could afford to run no risks. The Master was determined to follow up
his advantage, and rushed at him, slogging furiously right and left.
But Montgomery was too young and active to be caught. He was strong
upon his legs once more, and his wits had all come back to him. It was
a gallant sight--the line-of-battleship trying to pour its overwhelming
broadside into the frigate, and the frigate manoeuvring always so as to
avoid it. The Master tried all his ring-craft. He coaxed the student
up by pretended inactivity; he rushed at him with furious rushes
towards the ropes. For three rounds he exhausted every wile in trying
to get at him. Montgomery during all this time was conscious that his
strength was minute by minute coming back to him. The spinal jar from
an upper-cut is overwhelming, but evanescent. He was losing all sense
of it beyond a great stiffness of the neck. For the first round after
his downfall he had been content to be entirely on the defensive, only
too happy if he could stall off the furious attacks of the Master.
In the second he occasionally ventured upon a light counter. In the
third he was smacking back merrily where he saw an opening. His people
yelled their approval of him at the end of every round. Even the
iron-workers cheered him with that fine unselfishness which true sport
engenders. To most of them, unspiritual and unimaginative, the sight of
this clean-limbed young Apollo, rising above disaster and holding on
while consciousness was in him to his appointed task, was the greatest
thing their experience had ever known.
But the Master's naturally morose temper became more and more murderous
at this postponement of his hopes. Three rounds ago the battle had been
in his hands; now it was all to do over again. Round by round his man
was recovering his strength. By the fifteenth he was strong again in
wind and limb. But the vigilant Anastasia saw something which
"That bash in t' ribs is telling on him, Jock," she whispered.
"Why else should he be gulping t' brandy? Go in, lad, and thou hast him
Montgomery had suddenly taken the flask from Barton's hand, and had a
deep pull at the contents. Then, with his face a little flushed, and
with a curious look of purpose, which made the referee stare hard at
him, in his eyes, he rose for the sixteenth round.
"Game as a pairtridge!" cried the publican, as he looked at the hard-set
"Mix it oop, lad! Mix it oop!" cried the iron-men to their Master.
And then a hum of exultation ran through their ranks as they realised
that their tougher, harder, stronger man held the vantage, after all.
Neither of the men showed much sign of punishment. Small gloves crush
and numb, but they do not cut. One of the Master's eyes was even more
flush with his cheek than Nature had made it. Montgomery had two or
three livid marks upon his body, and his face was haggard, save for that
pink spot which the brandy had brought into either cheek. He rocked a
little as he stood opposite his man, and his hands drooped as if he felt
the gloves to be an unutterable weight. It was evident that he was
spent and desperately weary. If he received one other blow it must
surely be fatal to him. If he brought one home, what power could there
be behind it, and what chance was there of its harming the colossus in
front of him? It was the crisis of the fight. This round must decide
it. "Mix it oop, lad! Mix it oop!" the iron-men whooped. Even the
savage eyes of the referee were unable to restrain the excited crowd.
Now, at last, the chance had come for Montgomery. He had learned a
lesson from his more experienced rival. Why should he not play his own
game upon him? He was spent, but not nearly so spent as he pretended.
That brandy was to call up his reserves, to let him have strength to
take full advantage of the opening when it came. It was thrilling and
tingling through his veins at the very moment when he was lurching and
rocking like a beaten man. He acted his part admirably. The Master
felt that there was an easy task before him, and rushed in with ungainly
activity to finish it once for all. He slap-banged away left and right,
boring Montgomery up against the ropes, swinging in his ferocious blows
with those animal grunts which told of the vicious energy behind them.
But Montgomery was too cool to fall a victim to any of those murderous
upper-cuts. He kept out of harm's way with a rigid guard, an active
foot, and a head which was swift to duck. And yet he contrived to
present the same appearance of a man who is hopelessly done. The
Master, weary from his own shower of blows, and fearing nothing from so
weak a man, dropped his hand for an instant, and at that instant
Montgomery's right came home.
It was a magnificent blow, straight, clean, crisp, with the force of the
loins and the back behind it. And it landed where he had meant it to--
upon the exact point of that blue-grained chin. Flesh and blood could
not stand such a blow in such a place. Neither valour nor hardihood can
save the man to whom it comes. The Master fell backwards, flat,
prostrate, striking the ground with so simultaneous a clap that it was
like a shutter falling from a wall. A yell, which no referee could
control, broke from the crowded benches as the giant went down. He lay
upon his back, his knees a little drawn up, his huge chest panting.
He twitched and shook, but could not move. His feet pawed convulsively
once or twice. It was no use. He was done. "Eight--nine--ten!" said
the time-keeper, and the roar of a thousand voices, with a deafening
clap like the broad-side of a ship, told that the Master of Croxley was
the Master no more.
Montgomery stood half dazed, looking down at the huge, prostrate figure.
He could hardly realise that it was indeed all over. He saw the referee
motion towards him with his hand. He heard his name bellowed in triumph
from every side. And then he was aware of someone rushing towards him;
he caught a glimpse of a flushed face and an aureole of flying red hair,
a gloveless fist struck him between the eyes, and he was on his back in
the ring beside his antagonist, while a dozen of his supporters were
endeavouring to secure the frantic Anastasia. He heard the angry
shouting of the referee, the screaming of the furious woman, and the
cries of the mob. Then something seemed to break like an over-stretched
banjo string, and he sank into the deep, deep, mist-girt abyss of
The dressing was like a thing in a dream, and so was a vision of the
Master with the grin of a bulldog upon his face, and his three teeth
amiably protruded. He shook Montgomery heartily by the hand.
"I would have been rare pleased to shake thee by the throttle, lad, a
short while syne," said he. "But I bear no ill-feeling again' thee.
It was a rare poonch that brought me down--I have not had a better
since my second fight wi' Billy Edwards in '89. Happen thou might think
o' goin' further wi' this business. If thou dost, and want a trainer,
there's not much inside t' ropes as I don't know. Or happen thou might
like to try it wi' me old style and bare knuckles. Thou hast but to
write to t' ironworks to find me."
But Montgomery disclaimed any such ambition. A canvas bag with his
share--190 sovereigns--was handed to him, of which he gave ten to the
Master, who also received some share of the gate-money. Then, with
young Wilson escorting him on one side, Purvis on the other, and Fawcett
carrying his bag behind, he went in triumph to his carriage, and drove
amid a long roar, which lined the highway like a hedge for the seven
miles, back to his starting-point.
"It's the greatest thing I ever saw in my life. By George, it's
ripping!" cried Wilson, who had been left in a kind of ecstasy by the
events of the day. "There's a chap over Barnsley way who fancies
himself a bit. Let us spring you on him, and let him see what he can
make of you. We'll put up a purse--won't we, Purvis? You shall never
want a backer."
"At his weight," said the publican, "I'm behind him, I am, for twenty
rounds, and no age, country, or colour barred."
"So am I," cried Fawcett; "middle-weight champion of the world, that's
what he is--here, in the same carriage with us."
But Montgomery was not to be beguiled.
"No; I have my own work to do now."
"And what may that be?"
"I'll use this money to get my medical degree."
"Well, we've plenty of doctors, but you're the only man in the Riding
that could smack the Croxley Master off his legs. However, I suppose
you know your own business best. When you're a doctor, you'd best come
down into these parts, and you'll always find a job waiting for you at
the Wilson Coal-pits."
Montgomery had returned by devious ways to the surgery. The horses were
smoking at the door, and the doctor was just back from his long journey.
Several patients had called in his absence, and he was in the worst of
"I suppose I should be glad that you have come back at all,
Mr. Montgomery!" he snarled. "When next you elect to take a holiday, I
trust it will not be at so busy a time."
"I am sorry, sir, that you should have been inconvenienced."
"Yes, sir, I have been exceedingly inconvenienced." Here, for the first
time, he looked hard at the assistant. "Good Heavens, Mr. Montgomery,
what have you been doing with your left eye?"
It was where Anastasia had lodged her protest. Montgomery laughed.
"It is nothing, sir," said he.
"And you have a livid mark under your jaw. It is, indeed, terrible that
my representative should be going about in so disreputable a condition.
How did you receive these injuries?"
"Well, sir, as you know, there was a little glove-fight to-day over at
"And you got mixed up with that brutal crowd?"
"I _was_ rather mixed up with them."
"And who assaulted you?"
"One of the fighters."
"Which of them?"
"The Master of Croxley."
"Good Heavens! Perhaps you interfered with him?"
"Well, to tell the truth, I did a little."
"Mr. Montgomery, in such a practice as mine, intimately associated as it
is with the highest and most progressive elements of our small
community, it is impossible--"
But just then the tentative bray of a cornet-player searching for his
key-note jarred upon their ears, and an instant later the Wilson
Colliery brass band was in full cry with, "See the Conquering Hero
Comes," outside the surgery window. There was a banner waving, and a
shouting crowd of miners.
"What is it? What does it mean?" cried the angry doctor.
"It means, sir, that I have, in the only way which was open to me,
earned the money which is necessary for my education. It is my duty,
Dr. Oldacre, to warn you that I am about to return to the University,
and that you should lose no time in appointing my successor."
THE LORD OF CHATEAU NOIR
It was in the days when the German armies had broken their way across
France, and when the shattered forces of the young Republic had been
swept away to the north of the Aisne and to the south of the Loire.
Three broad streams of armed men had rolled slowly but irresistibly from
the Rhine, now meandering to the north, now to the south, dividing,
coalescing, but all uniting to form one great lake round Paris. And
from this lake there welled out smaller streams--one to the north, one
southward, to Orleans, and a third westward to Normandy. Many a German
trooper saw the sea for the first time when he rode his horse girth-deep
into the waves at Dieppe.
Black and bitter were the thoughts of Frenchmen when they saw this weal
of dishonour slashed across the fair face of their country. They had
fought and they had been overborne. That swarming cavalry, those
countless footmen, the masterful guns--they had tried and tried to make
head against them. In battalions their invaders were not to be beaten,
but man to man, or ten to ten, they were their equals. A brave
Frenchman might still make a single German rue the day that he had left
his own bank of the Rhine. Thus, unchronicled amid the battles and the
sieges, there broke out another war, a war of individuals, with foul
murder upon the one side and brutal reprisal on the other.
Colonel von Gramm, of the 24th Posen Infantry, had suffered severely
during this new development. He commanded in the little Norman town of
Les Andelys, and his outposts stretched amid the hamlets and farmhouses
of the district round. No French force was within fifty miles of him,
and yet morning after morning he had to listen to a black report of
sentries found dead at their posts, or of foraging parties which had
never returned. Then the colonel would go forth in his wrath, and
farmsteadings would blaze and villages tremble; but next morning there
was still that same dismal tale to be told. Do what he might, he could
not shake off his invisible enemies. And yet it should not have been so
hard, for, from certain signs in common, in the plan and in the deed, it
was certain that all these outrages came from a single source.
Colonel von Gramm had tried violence, and it had failed. Gold might be
more successful. He published it abroad over the countryside that
500frs. would be paid for information. There was no response. Then
800frs. The peasants were incorruptible. Then, goaded on by a murdered
corporal, he rose to a thousand, and so bought the soul of Francois
Rejane, farm labourer, whose Norman avarice was a stronger passion than
his French hatred.
"You say that you know who did these crimes?" asked the Prussian
colonel, eyeing with loathing the blue-bloused, rat-faced creature
"And it was--?"
"Those thousand francs, colonel--"
"Not a sou until your story has been tested. Come! Who is it who has
murdered my men?"
"It is Count Eustace of Chateau Noir."
"You lie!" cried the colonel, angrily. "A gentleman and a nobleman
could not have done such crimes."
The peasant shrugged his shoulders. "It is evident to me that you do
not know the count. It is this way, colonel. What I tell you is the
truth, and I am not afraid that you should test it. The Count of
Chateau Noir is a hard man, even at the best time he was a hard man.
But of late he has been terrible. It was his son's death, you know.
His son was under Douay, and he was taken, and then in escaping from
Germany he met his death. It was the count's only child, and indeed we
all think that it has driven him mad. With his peasants he follows the
German armies. I do not know how many he has killed, but it is he who
cut the cross upon the foreheads, for it is the badge of his house."
It was true. The murdered sentries had each had a saltire cross slashed
across their brows, as by a hunting-knife. The colonel bent his stiff
back and ran his forefinger over the map which lay upon the table.
"The Chateau Noir is not more than four leagues," he said.
"Three and a kilometre, colonel."
"You know the place?"
"I used to work there."
Colonel von Gramm rang the bell.
"Give this man food and detain him," said he to the sergeant.
"Why detain me, colonel? I can tell you no more."
"We shall need you as guide."
"As guide? But the count? If I were to fall into his hands?
The Prussian commander waved him away. "Send Captain Baumgarten to me
at once," said he.
The officer who answered the summons was a man of middle-age,
heavy-jawed, blue-eyed, with a curving yellow moustache, and a brick-red
face which turned to an ivory white where his helmet had sheltered it.
He was bald, with a shining, tightly stretched scalp, at the back of
which, as in a mirror, it was a favourite mess-joke of the subalterns to
trim their moustaches. As a soldier he was slow, but reliable and
brave. The colonel could trust him where a more dashing officer might
be in danger.
"You will proceed to Chateau Noir to-night, captain," said he. "A guide
has been provided. You will arrest the count and bring him back.
If there is an attempt at rescue, shoot him at once."
"How many men shall I take, colonel?"
"Well, we are surrounded by spies, and our only chance is to pounce upon
him before he knows that we are on the way. A large force will attract
attention. On the other hand, you must not risk being cut off."
"I might march north, colonel, as if to join General Goeben. Then I
could turn down this road which I see upon your map, and get to Chateau
Noir before they could hear of us. In that case, with twenty men--"
"Very good, captain. I hope to see you with your prisoner to-morrow
It was a cold December night when Captain Baumgarten marched out of Les
Andelys with his twenty Poseners, and took the main road to the north
west. Two miles out he turned suddenly down a narrow, deeply rutted
track, and made swiftly for his man. A thin, cold rain was falling,
swishing among the tall poplar trees and rustling in the fields on
either side. The captain walked first with Moser, a veteran sergeant,
beside him. The sergeant's wrist was fastened to that of the French
peasant, and it had been whispered in his ear that in case of an
ambush the first bullet fired would be through his head. Behind them
the twenty infantrymen plodded along through the darkness with their
faces sunk to the rain, and their boots squeaking in the soft, wet clay.
They knew where they were going, and why, and the thought upheld them,
for they were bitter at the loss of their comrades. It was a cavalry
job, they knew, but the cavalry were all on with the advance, and,
besides, it was more fitting that the regiment should avenge its own
It was nearly eight when they left Les Andelys. At half-past eleven
their guide stopped at a place where two high pillars, crowned with some
heraldic stonework, flanked a huge iron gate. The wall in which it had
been the opening had crumbled away, but the great gate still towered
above the brambles and weeds which had overgrown its base. The
Prussians made their way round it and advanced stealthily, under the
shadow of a tunnel of oak branches, up the long avenue, which was still
cumbered by the leaves of last autumn. At the top they halted and
The black chateau lay in front of them. The moon had shone out between
two rain-clouds, and threw the old house into silver and shadow. It was
shaped like an L, with a low arched door in front, and lines of small
windows like the open ports of a man-of-war. Above was a dark roof,
breaking at the corners into little round overhanging turrets, the whole
lying silent in the moonshine, with a drift of ragged clouds blackening
the heavens behind it. A single light gleamed in one of the lower
The captain whispered his orders to his men. Some were to creep to the
front door, some to the back. Some were to watch the east, and some the
west. He and the sergeant stole on tiptoe to the lighted window.
It was a small room into which they looked, very meanly furnished.
An elderly man, in the dress of a menial, was reading a tattered paper
by the light of a guttering candle. He leaned back in his wooden chair
with his feet upon a box, while a bottle of white wine stood with a
half-filled tumbler upon a stool beside him. The sergeant thrust his
needle-gun through the glass, and the man sprang to his feet with a
"Silence, for your life! The house is surrounded, and you cannot
escape. Come round and open the door, or we will show you no mercy when
we come in."
"For God's sake, don't shoot! I will open it! I will open it!"
He rushed from the room with his paper still crumpled up in his hand.
An instant later, with a groaning of old locks and a rasping of bars,
the low door swung open, and the Prussians poured into the stone-flagged
"Where is Count Eustace de Chateau Noir?"
"My master! He is out, sir."
"Out at this time of night? Your life for a lie!"
"It is true, sir. He is out!"
"I do not know."
"I cannot tell. No, it is no use your cocking your pistol, sir. You
may kill me, but you cannot make me tell you that which I do not know."
"Is he often out at this hour?"
"And when does he come home?"
Captain Baumgarten rasped out a German oath. He had had his journey for
nothing, then. The man's answers were only too likely to be true. It
was what he might have expected. But at least he would search the house
and make sure. Leaving a picket at the front door and another at the
back, the sergeant and he drove the trembling butler in front of them--
his shaking candle sending strange, flickering shadows over the old
tapestries and the low, oak-raftered ceilings. They searched the whole
house, from the huge stone-flagged kitchen below to the dining-hall on
the second floor, with its gallery for musicians, and its panelling
black with age, but nowhere was there a living creature. Up above, in
an attic, they found Marie, the elderly wife of the butler; but the
owner kept no other servants, and of his own presence there was no
It was long, however, before Captain Baumgarten had satisfied himself
upon the point. It was a difficult house to search. Thin stairs, which
only one man could ascend at a time, connected lines of tortuous
corridors. The walls were so thick that each room was cut off from its
neighbour. Huge fireplaces yawned in each, while the windows were 6ft.
deep in the wall. Captain Baumgarten stamped with his feet, tore down
curtains, and struck with the pommel of his sword. If there were secret
hiding-places, he was not fortunate enough to find them.
"I have an idea," said he, at last, speaking in German to the sergeant.
"You will place a guard over this fellow, and make sure that he
communicates with no one."
"And you will place four men in ambush at the front and at the back. It
is likely enough that about daybreak our bird may return to the nest."
"And the others, captain?"
"Let them have their suppers in the kitchen. The fellow will serve you
with meat and wine. It is a wild night, and we shall be better here
than on the country road."
"And yourself, captain?"
"I will take my supper up here in the dining-hall. The logs are laid
and we can light the fire. You will call me if there is any alarm.
What can you give me for supper--you?"
"Alas, monsieur, there was a time when I might have answered, 'What you
wish!' but now it is all that we can do to find a bottle of new claret
and a cold pullet."
"That will do very well. Let a guard go about with him, sergeant, and
let him feel the end of a bayonet if he plays us any tricks."
Captain Baumgarten was an old campaigner. In the Eastern provinces, and
before that in Bohemia, he had learned the art of quartering himself
upon the enemy. While the butler brought his supper he occupied himself
in making his preparations for a comfortable night. He lit the
candelabrum of ten candles upon the centre table. The fire was already
burning up, crackling merrily, and sending spurts of blue, pungent smoke
into the room. The captain walked to the window and looked out.
The moon had gone in again, and it was raining heavily. He could hear
the deep sough of the wind, and see the dark loom of the trees, all
swaying in the one direction. It was a sight which gave a zest to his
comfortable quarters, and to the cold fowl and the bottle of wine which
the butler had brought up for him. He was tired and hungry after his
long tramp, so he threw his sword, his helmet, and his revolver-belt
down upon a chair, and fell to eagerly upon his supper. Then, with his
glass of wine before him and his cigar between his lips, he tilted his
chair back and looked about him.
He sat within a small circle of brilliant light which gleamed upon his
silver shoulder-straps, and threw out his terra-cotta face, his heavy
eyebrows, and his yellow moustache. But outside that circle things were
vague and shadowy in the old dining-hall. Two sides were oak-panelled
and two were hung with faded tapestry, across which huntsmen and dogs
and stags were still dimly streaming. Above the fireplace were rows of
heraldic shields with the blazonings of the family and of its alliances,
the fatal saltire cross breaking out on each of them.
Four paintings of old seigneurs of Chateau Noir faced the fireplace, all
men with hawk noses and bold, high features, so like each other that
only the dress could distinguish the Crusader from the Cavalier of the
Fronde. Captain Baumgarten, heavy with his repast, lay back in his
chair looking up at them through the clouds of his tobacco smoke, and
pondering over the strange chance which had sent him, a man from the
Baltic coast, to eat his supper in the ancestral hall of these proud
Norman chieftains. But the fire was hot, and the captain's eyes were
heavy. His chin sank slowly upon his chest, and the ten candles gleamed
upon the broad, white scalp.
Suddenly a slight noise brought him to his feet. For an instant it
seemed to his dazed senses that one of the pictures opposite had walked
from its frame. There, beside the table, and almost within arm's length
of him, was standing a huge man, silent, motionless, with no sign of
life save his fierce-glinting eyes. He was black-haired, olive-skinned,
with a pointed tuft of black beard, and a great, fierce nose, towards
which all his features seemed to run. His cheeks were wrinkled like a
last year's apple, but his sweep of shoulder, and bony, corded hands,
told of a strength which was unsapped by age. His arms were folded
across his arching chest, and his mouth was set in a fixed smile.
"Pray do not trouble yourself to look for your weapons," he said, as the
Prussian cast a swift glance at the empty chair in which they had been
laid. "You have been, if you will allow me to say so, a little
indiscreet to make yourself so much at home in a house every wall of
which is honeycombed with secret passages. You will be amused to hear
that forty men were watching you at your supper. Ah! what then?"
Captain Baumgarten had taken a step forward with clenched fists.
The Frenchman held up tho revolver which he grasped in his right hand,
while with the left he hurled the German back into his chair.
"Pray keep your seat," said he. "You have no cause to trouble about
your men. They have already been provided for. It is astonishing with
these stone floors how little one can hear what goes on beneath.
You have been relieved of your command, and have now only to think of
yourself. May I ask what your name is?"
"I am Captain Baumgarten of, the 24th Posen Regiment."
"Your French is excellent, though you incline, like most of your
countrymen, to turn the 'p' into a 'b.' I have been amused to hear them
cry '_Avez bitie sur moi!_' You know, doubtless, who it is who addresses
"The Count of Chateau Noir."
"Precisely. It would have been a misfortune if you had visited my
chateau and I had been unable to have a word with you. I have had to do
with many German soldiers, but never with an officer before. I have
much to talk to you about."
Captain Baumgarten sat still in his chair. Brave as he was, there was
something in this man's manner which made his skin creep with
apprehension. His eyes glanced to right and to left, but his weapons
were gone, and in a struggle he saw that he was but a child to this
gigantic adversary. The count had picked up the claret bottle and held
it to the light.
"Tut! tut!" said he. "And was this the best that Pierre could do for
you? I am ashamed to look you in the face, Captain Baumgarten. We must
improve upon this."
He blew a call upon a whistle which hung from his shooting-jacket.
The old manservant was in the room in an instant.
"Chambertin from bin 15!" he cried, and a minute later a grey bottle,
streaked with cobwebs, was carried in as a nurse bears an infant.
The count filled two glasses to the brim.
"Drink!" said he. "It is the very best in my cellars, and not to be
matched between Rouen and Paris. Drink, sir, and be happy! There are
cold joints below. There are two lobsters, fresh from Honfleur. Will
you not venture upon a second and more savoury supper?"
The German officer shook his head. He drained the glass, however, and
his host filled it once more, pressing him to give an order for this or
"There is nothing in my house which is not at your disposal. You have
but to say the word. Well, then, you will allow me to tell you a story
while you drink your wine. I have so longed to tell it to some
German officer. It is about my son, my only child, Eustace, who was
taken and died in escaping. It is a curious little story, and I think
that I can promise you that you will never forget it.
"You must know, then, that my boy was in the artillery--a fine young
fellow, Captain Baumgarten, and the pride of his mother. She died
within a week of the news of his death reaching us. It was brought by a
brother officer who was at his side throughout, and who escaped while my
lad died. I want to tell you all that he told me.
"Eustace was taken at Weissenburg on the 4th of August. The prisoners
were broken up into parties, and sent back into Germany by different
routes. Eustace was taken upon the 5th to a village called Lauterburg,
where he met with kindness from the German officer in command.
This good colonel had the hungry lad to supper, offered him the best he
had, opened a bottle of good wine, as I have tried to do for you, and
gave him a cigar from his own case. Might I entreat you to take one
The German again shook his head. His horror of his companion had
increased as he sat watching the lips that smiled and the eyes that
"The colonel, as I say, was good to my boy. But, unluckily, the
prisoners were moved next day across the Rhine into Ettlingen.
They were not equally fortunate there. The officer who guarded them was
a ruffian and a villain, Captain Baumgarten. He took a pleasure in
humiliating and ill-treating the brave men who had fallen into his
power. That night upon my son answering fiercely back to some taunt of
his, he struck him in the eye, like this!"
The crash of the blow rang through the hall. The German's face fell
forward, his hand up, and blood oozing through his fingers. The count
settled down in his chair once more.
"My boy was disfigured by the blow, and this villain made his appearance
the object of his jeers. By the way, you look a little comical yourself
at the present moment, captain, and your colonel would certainly say
that you had been getting into mischief. To continue, however, my boy's
youth and his destitution--for his pockets were empty--moved the pity of
a kind-hearted major, and he advanced him ten Napoleons from his own
pocket without security of any kind. Into your hands, Captain
Baumgarten, I return these ten gold pieces, since I cannot learn the
name of the lender. I am grateful from my heart for this kindness shown
to my boy.
"The vile tyrant who commanded the escort accompanied the prisoners to
Durlack, and from there to Carlsruhe. He heaped every outrage upon my
lad, because the spirit of the Chateau Noirs would not stoop to turn
away his wrath by a feigned submission. Ay, this cowardly villain,
whose heart's blood shall yet clot upon this hand, dared to strike my
son with his open hand, to kick him, to tear hairs from his moustache--
to use him thus--and thus--and thus!"
The German writhed and struggled. He was helpless in the hands of this
huge giant whose blows were raining upon him. When at last, blinded and
half-senseless, he staggered to his feet, it was only to be hurled back
again into the great oaken chair. He sobbed in his impotent anger and
"My boy was frequently moved to tears by the humiliation of his
position," continued the count. "You will understand me when I say that
it is a bitter thing to be helpless in the hands of an insolent and
remorseless enemy. On arriving at Carlsruhe, however, his face, which
had been wounded by the brutality of his guard, was bound up by a young
Bavarian subaltern who was touched by his appearance. I regret to see
that your eye is bleeding so. Will you permit me to bind it with my
He leaned forward, but the German dashed his hand aside.
"I am in your power, you monster!" he cried; "I can endure your
brutalities, but not your hypocrisy."
The count shrugged his shoulders.
"I am taking things in their order, just as they occurred," said he.
"I was under vow to tell it to the first German officer with whom I
could talk _tete-a-tete_. Let me see, I had got as far as the young
Bavarian at Carlsruhe. I regret extremely that you will not permit me
to use such slight skill in surgery as I possess. At Carlsruhe, my lad
was shut up in the old caserne, where he remained for a fortnight.
The worst pang of his captivity was that some unmannerly curs in the
garrison would taunt him with his position as he sat by his window in
the evening. That reminds me, captain, that you are not quite situated
upon a bed of roses yourself, are you now? You came to trap a wolf, my
man, and now the beast has you down with his fangs in your throat.
A family man, too, I should judge, by that well-filled tunic. Well, a
widow the more will make little matter, and they do not usually remain
widows long. Get back into the chair, you dog!
"Well, to continue my story--at the end of a fortnight my son and his
friend escaped. I need not trouble you with the dangers which they ran,
or with the privations which they endured. Suffice it that to disguise
themselves they had to take the clothes of two peasants, whom they
waylaid in a wood. Hiding by day and travelling by night, they had got
as far into France as Remilly, and were within a mile--a single mile,
captain--of crossing the German lines when a patrol of Uhlans came right
upon them. Ah! it was hard, was it not, when they had come so far and
were so near to safety?" The count blew a double call upon his whistle,
and three hard-faced peasants entered the room.
"These must represent my Uhlans," said he. "Well, then, the captain in
command, finding that these men were French soldiers in civilian dress
within the German lines, proceeded to hang them without trial or
ceremony. I think, Jean, that the centre beam is the strongest."
The unfortunate soldier was dragged from his chair to where a noosed
rope had been flung over one of the huge oaken rafters which spanned the
room. The cord was slipped over his head, and he felt its harsh grip
round his throat. The three peasants seized the other end, and looked
to the count for his orders. The officer, pale, but firm, folded his
arms and stared defiantly at the man who tortured him.
"You are now face to face with death, and I perceive from your lips that
you are praying. My son was also face to face with death, and he
prayed, also. It happened that a general officer came up, and he heard
the lad praying for his mother, and it moved him so--he being himself a
father--that he ordered his Uhlans away, and he remained with his
aide-de-camp only, beside the condemned men. And when he heard all the
lad had to tell--that he was the only child of an old family, and that
his mother was in failing health--he threw off the rope as I throw off
this, and he kissed him on either cheek, as I kiss you,
and he bade him go, as I bid you go, and may every kind wish of that
noble general, though it could not stave off the fever which slew my
son, descend now upon your head."
And so it was that Captain Baumgarten, disfigured, blinded, and
bleeding, staggered out into the wind and the rain of that wild December
THE STRIPED CHEST
"What do you make of her, Allardyce?" I asked.
My second mate was standing beside me upon the poop, with his short,
thick legs astretch, for the gale had left a considerable swell behind
it, and our two quarter-boats nearly touched the water with every roll.
He steadied his glass against the mizzen-shrouds, and he looked long and
hard at this disconsolate stranger every time she came reeling up on to
the crest of a roller and hung balanced for a few seconds before
swooping down upon the other side. She lay so low in the water that I
could only catch an occasional glimpse of a pea-green line of bulwark.
She was a brig, but her mainmast had been snapped short off some 10ft.
above the deck, and no effort seemed to have been made to cut away the
wreckage, which floated, sails and yards, like the broken wing of a
wounded gull upon the water beside her. The foremast was still
standing, but the foretopsail was flying loose, and the headsails were
streaming out in long, white pennons in front of her. Never have I seen
a vessel which appeared to have gone through rougher handling. But we
could not be surprised at that, for there had been times during the last
three days when it was a question whether our own barque would ever see
land again. For thirty-six hours we had kept her nose to it, and if the
_Mary Sinclair_ had not been as good a seaboat as ever left the Clyde,
we could not have gone through. And yet here we were at the end of it
with the loss only of our gig and of part of the starboard bulwark.
It did not astonish us, however, when the smother had cleared away, to
find that others had been less lucky, and that this mutilated brig
staggering about upon a blue sea and under a cloudless sky, had been
left, like a blinded man after a lightning flash, to tell of the terror
which is past. Allardyce, who was a slow and methodical Scotchman,
stared long and hard at the little craft, while our seamen lined the
bulwark or clustered upon the fore shrouds to have a view of the
stranger. In latitude 20 degrees and longitude 10 degrees, which were
about our bearings, one becomes a little curious as to whom one meets,
for one has left the main lines of Atlantic commerce to the north.
For ten days we had been sailing over a solitary sea.
"She's derelict, I'm thinking," said the second mate.
I had come to the same conclusion, for I could see no signs of life
upon her deck, and there was no answer to the friendly wavings from our
seamen. The crew had probably deserted her under the impression that
she was about to founder.
"She can't last long," continued Allardyce, in his measured way.
"She may put her nose down and her tail up any minute. The water's
lipping up to the edge of her rail."
"What's her flag?" I asked.
"I'm trying to make out. It's got all twisted and tangled with the
halyards. Yes, I've got it now, clear enough. It's the Brazilian flag,
but it's wrong side up."
She had hoisted a signal of distress, then, before her people had
abandoned her. Perhaps they had only just gone. I took the mate's
glass and looked round over the tumultuous face of the deep blue
Atlantic, still veined and starred with white lines and spoutings of
foam. But nowhere could I see anything human beyond ourselves.
"There may be living men aboard," said I.
"There may be salvage," muttered the second mate.
"Then we will run down upon her lee side, and lie to." We were not more
than a hundred yards from her when we swung our foreyard aback, and
there we were, the barque and the brig, ducking and bowing like two
clowns in a dance.
"Drop one of the quarter-boats," said I. "Take four men, Mr. Allardyce,
and see what you can learn of her."
But just at that moment my first officer, Mr. Armstrong, came on deck,
for seven bells had struck, and it was but a few minutes off his watch.
It would interest me to go myself to this abandoned vessel and to see
what there might be aboard of her. So, with a word to Armstrong, I
swung myself over the side, slipped down the falls, and took my place in
the sheets of the boat.
It was but a little distance, but it took some time to traverse, and so
heavy was the roll that often when we were in the trough of the sea, we
could not see either the barque which we had left or the brig which we
were approaching. The sinking sun did not penetrate down there, and it
was cold and dark in the hollows of the waves, but each passing billow
heaved us up into the warmth and the sunshine once more. At each of
these moments, as we hung upon a white-capped ridge between the two dark
valleys, I caught a glimpse of the long, pea-green line, and the nodding
foremast of the brig, and I steered so as to come round by her stern, so
that we might determine which was the best way of boarding her. As we
passed her we saw the name _Nossa Sehnora da Vittoria_ painted across
her dripping counter.
"The weather side, sir," said the second mate. "Stand by with the
boat-hook, carpenter!" An instant later we had jumped over the
bulwarks, which were hardly higher than our boat, and found ourselves
upon the deck of the abandoned vessel. Our first thought was to provide
for our own safety in case--as seemed very probable--the vessel should
settle down beneath our feet. With this object two of our men held on
to the painter of the boat, and fended her off from the vessel's side,
so that she might be ready in case we had to make a hurried retreat.
The carpenter was sent to find out how much water there was, and whether
it was still gaming, while the other seaman, Allardyce and myself, made
a rapid inspection of the vessel and her cargo.
The deck was littered with wreckage and with hen-coops, in which the
dead birds were washing about. The boats were gone, with the exception
of one, the bottom of which had been stove, and it was certain that the
crew had abandoned the vessel. The cabin was in a deck-house, one side
of which had been beaten in by a heavy sea. Allardyce and I entered it,
and found the captain's table as he had left it, his books and papers--
all Spanish or Portuguese--scattered over it, with piles of cigarette
ash everywhere. I looked about for the log, but could not find it.
"As likely as not he never kept one," said Allardyce. "Things are
pretty slack aboard a South American trader, and they don't do more than
they can help. If there was one it must have been taken away with him
in the boat."
"I should like to take all these books and papers," said I. "Ask the
carpenter how much time we have."
His report was reassuring. The vessel was full of water, but some of
the cargo was buoyant, and there was no immediate danger of her sinking.
Probably she would never sink, but would drift about as one of those
terrible unmarked reefs which have sent so many stout vessels to the
"In that case there is no danger in your going below, Mr. Allardyce,"
said I. "See what you can make of her and find out how much of her
cargo may be saved. I'll look through these papers while you are gone."
The bills of lading, and some notes and letters which lay upon the desk,
sufficed to inform me that the Brazilian brig _Nossa Sehnora da
Vittoria_ had cleared from Bahia a month before. The name of the
captain was Texeira, but there was no record as to the number of the
crew. She was bound for London, and a glance at the bills of lading was
sufficient to show me that we were not likely to profit much in the way
of salvage. Her cargo consisted of nuts, ginger, and wood, the latter
in the shape of great logs of valuable tropical growths. It was these,
no doubt, which had prevented the ill-fated vessel from going to the
bottom, but they were of such a size as to make it impossible for us to
extract them. Besides these, there were a few fancy goods, such as a
number of ornamental birds for millinery purposes, and a hundred cases
of preserved fruits. And then, as I turned over the papers, I came upon
a short note in English, which arrested my attention.
It is requested (said the note) that the various old Spanish
and Indian curiosities, which came out of the Santarem
collection, and which are consigned to Prontfoot & Neuman
of Oxford Street, London, should be put in some place where
there may be no danger of these very valuable and unique articles
being injured or tampered with. This applies most particularly
to the treasure-chest of Don Ramirez di Leyra, which must on
no account be placed where anyone can get at it.
The treasure-chest of Don Ramirez! Unique and valuable articles!
Here was a chance of salvage after all. I had risen to my feet with the
paper in my hand when my Scotch mate appeared in the doorway.
"I'm thinking all isn't quite as it should be aboard of this ship,
sir," said he. He was a hard-faced man, and yet I could see that he had
"What's the matter?"
"Murder's the matter, sir. There's a man here with his brains beaten
"Killed in the storm?" said I.
"May be so, sir, but I'll be surprised if you think so after you have
"Where is he, then?"
"This way, sir; here in the maindeck house."
There appeared to have been no accommodation below in the brig, for
there was the after-house for the captain, another by the main hatchway,
with the cook's galley attached to it, and a third in the forecastle for
the men. It was to this middle one that the mate led me. As you
entered, the galley, with its litter of tumbled pots and dishes, was
upon the right, and upon the left was a small room with two bunks for
the officers. Then beyond there was a place about 12ft. square, which
was littered with flags and spare canvas. All round the walls were a
number of packets done up in coarse cloth and carefully lashed to the
woodwork. At the other end was a great box, striped red and white,
though the red was so faded and the white so dirty that it was only
where the light fell directly upon it that one could see the colouring.
The box was, by subsequent measurement, 4ft. 3ins. in length, 3ft. 2ins.
in height, and 3ft. across--considerably larger than a seaman's chest.
But it was not to the box that my eyes or my thoughts were turned as I
entered the store-room. On the floor, lying across the litter of
bunting, there was stretched a small, dark man with a short, curling
beard. He lay as far as it was possible from the box, with his feet
towards it and his head away. A crimson patch was printed upon the
white canvas on which his head was resting, and little red ribbons
wreathed themselves round his swarthy neck and trailed away on to the
floor, but there was no sign of a wound that I could see, and his face
was as placid as that of a sleeping child. It was only when I stooped
that I could perceive his injury, and then I turned away with an
exclamation of horror. He had been pole-axed; apparently by some person
standing behind him. A frightful blow had smashed in the top of his
head and penetrated deeply into his brains. His face might well be
placid, for death must have been absolutely instantaneous, and the
position of the wound showed that he could never have seen the person
who had inflicted it.
"Is that foul play or accident, Captain Barclay?" asked my second mate,
"You are quite right, Mr. Allardyce. The man has been murdered--struck
down from above by a sharp and heavy weapon. But who was he, and why
did they murder him?"
"He was a common seaman, sir," said the mate. "You can see that if you
look at his fingers." He turned out his pockets as he spoke and brought
to light a pack of cards, some tarred string, and a bundle of Brazilian
"Hello, look at this!" said he.
It was a large, open knife with a stiff spring blade which he had picked
up from the floor. The steel was shining and bright, so that we could
not associate it with the crime, and yet the dead man had apparently
held it in his hand when he was struck down, for it still lay within his
"It looks to me, sir, as if he knew he was in danger and kept his knife
handy," said the mate. "However, we can't help the poor beggar now.
I can't make out these things that are lashed to the wall. They seem
to be idols and weapons and curios of all sorts done up in old sacking."
"That's right," said I. "They are the only things of value that we are
likely to get from the cargo. Hail the barque and tell them to send the
other quarter-boat to help us to get the stuff aboard."
While he was away I examined this curious plunder which had come into
our possession. The curiosities were so wrapped up that I could only
form a general idea as to their nature, but the striped box stood in a
good light where I could thoroughly examine it. On the lid, which was
clamped and cornered with metal-work, there was engraved a complex coat
of arms, and beneath it was a line of Spanish which I was able to
decipher as meaning, "The treasure-chest of Don Ramirez di Leyra, Knight
of the Order of Saint James, Governor and Captain-General of Terra Firma
and of the Province of Veraquas." In one corner was the date, 1606, and
on the other a large white label, upon which was written in English,
"You are earnestly requested, upon no account, to open this box."
The same warning was repeated underneath in Spanish. As to the lock, it
was a very complex and heavy one of engraved steel, with a Latin motto,
which was above a seaman's comprehension. By the time I had finished
this examination of the peculiar box, the other quarter-boat with Mr.
Armstrong, the first officer, had come alongside, and we began to carry
out and place in her the various curiosities which appeared to be the
only objects worth moving from the derelict ship. When she was full I
sent her back to the barque, and then Allardyce and I, with the
carpenter and one seaman, shifted the striped box, which was the only
thing left, to our boat, and lowered it over, balancing it upon the two
middle thwarts, for it was so heavy that it would have given the boat a
dangerous tilt had we placed it at either end. As to the dead man, we
left him where we had found him. The mate had a theory that, at the
moment of the desertion of the ship, this fellow had started
plundering, and that the captain, in an attempt to preserve discipline,
had struck him down with a hatchet or some other heavy weapon.
It seemed more probable than any other explanation, and yet it did not
entirely satisfy me either. But the ocean is full of mysteries, and we
were content to leave the fate of the dead seaman of the Brazilian brig
to be added to that long list which every sailor can recall.
The heavy box was slung up by ropes on to the deck of the _Mary
Sinclair_, and was carried by four seamen into the cabin, where, between
the table and the after-lockers, there was just space for it to stand.
There it remained during supper, and after that meal the mates remained
with me, and discussed over a glass of grog the event of the day.
Mr. Armstrong was a long, thin, vulture-like man, an excellent seaman,
but famous for his nearness and cupidity. Our treasure-trove had
excited him greatly, and already he had begun with glistening eyes to
reckon up how much it might be worth to each of us when the shares of
the salvage came to be divided.
"If the paper said that they were unique, Mr. Barclay, then they may be
worth anything that you like to name. You wouldn't believe the sums
that the rich collectors give. A thousand pounds is nothing to them.
We'll have something to show for our voyage, or I am mistaken."
"I don't think that," said I. "As far as I can see, they are not very
different from any other South American curios."
"Well, sir, I've traded there for fourteen voyages, and I have never
seen anything like that chest before. That's worth a pile of money,
just as it stands. But it's so heavy that surely there must be
something valuable inside it. Don't you think that we ought to open it
"If you break it open you will spoil it, as likely as not," said the
Armstrong squatted down in front of it, with his head on one side, and
his long, thin nose within a few inches of the lock.
"The wood is oak," said he, "and it has shrunk a little with age. If I
had a chisel or a strong-bladed knife I could force the lock back
without doing any damage at all."
The mention of a strong-bladed knife made me think of the dead seaman
upon the brig.
"I wonder if he could have been on the job when someone came to
interfere with him," said I.
"I don't know about that, sir, but I am perfectly certain that I could
open the box. There's a screwdriver here in the locker. Just hold the
lamp, Allardyce, and I'll have it done in a brace of shakes."
"Wait a bit," said I, for already, with eyes which gleamed with
curiosity and with avarice, he was stooping over the lid. "I don't see
that there is any hurry over this matter. You've read that card which
warns us not to open it. It may mean anything or it may mean nothing,
but somehow I feel inclined to obey it. After all, whatever is in it
will keep, and if it is valuable it will be worth as much if it is
opened in the owner's offices as in the cabin of the _Mary Sinclair_."
The first officer seemed bitterly disappointed at my decision.
"Surely, sir, you are not superstitious about it," said he, with a
slight sneer upon his thin lips. "If it gets out of our own hands, and
we don't see for ourselves what is inside it, we may be done out of our
"That's enough, Mr. Armstrong," said I, abruptly. "You may have every
confidence that you will get your rights, but I will not have that box
"Why, the label itself shows that the box has been examined by
Europeans," Allardyce added. "Because a box is a treasure-box is no
reason that it has treasures inside it now. A good many folk have had a
peep into it since the days of the old Governor of Terra Firma."
Armstrong threw the screwdriver down upon the table and shrugged his
"Just as you like," said he; but for the rest of the evening, although
we spoke upon many subjects, I noticed that his eyes were continually
coming round, with the same expression of curiosity and greed, to the
old striped box.
And now I come to that portion of my story which fills me even now with
a shuddering horror when I think of it. The main cabin had the rooms of
the officers round it, but mine was the farthest away from it at the end
of the little passage which led to the companion. No regular watch was
kept by me, except in cases of emergency, and the three mates divided
the watches among them. Armstrong had the middle watch, which ends at
four in the morning, and he was relieved by Allardyce. For my part I
have always been one of the soundest of sleepers, and it is rare for
anything less than a hand upon my shoulder to arouse me.
And yet I was aroused that night, or rather in the early grey of the
morning. It was just half-past four by my chronometer when something
caused me to sit up in my berth wide awake and with every nerve
tingling. It was a sound of some sort, a crash with a human cry at the
end of it, which still jarred on my ears. I sat listening, but all was
now silent. And yet it could not have been imagination, that hideous
cry, for the echo of it still rang in my head, and it seemed to have
come from some place quite close to me. I sprang from my bunk, and,
pulling on some clothes, I made my way into the cabin. At first I saw
nothing unusual there. In the cold, grey light I made out the
red-clothed table, the six rotating chairs, the walnut lockers, the
swinging barometer, and there, at the end, the big striped chest. I was
turning away, with the intention of going upon deck and asking the
second mate if he had heard anything, when my eyes fell suddenly upon
something which projected from under the table. It was the leg of a
man--a leg with a long sea-boot upon it. I stooped, and there was a
figure sprawling upon his face, his arms thrown forward and his body
twisted. One glance told me that it was Armstrong, the first officer,
and a second that he was a dead man. For a few moments I stood gasping.
Then I rushed on to the deck, called Allardyce to my assistance, and
came back with him into the cabin.
Together we pulled the unfortunate fellow from under the table, and as
we looked at his dripping head we exchanged glances, and I do not know
which was the paler of the two.
"The same as the Spanish sailor," said I.
"The very same. God preserve us! It's that infernal chest! Look at
He held up the mate's right hand, and there was the screwdriver which he
had wished to use the night before.
"He's been at the chest, sir. He knew that I was on deck and you were
asleep. He knelt down in front of it, and he pushed the lock back with
that tool. Then something happened to him, and he cried out so that you
"Allardyce," I whispered, "what _could_ have happened to him?"
The second mate put his hand upon my sleeve and drew me into his cabin.
"We can talk here, sir, and we don't know who may be listening to us in
there. What do you suppose is in that box, Captain Barclay?"
"I give you my word, Allardyce, that I have no idea."
"Well, I can only find one theory which will fit all the facts. Look at
the size of the box. Look at all the carving and metal-work which may
conceal any number of holes. Look at the weight of it; it took four men
to carry it. On top of that, remember that two men have tried to open
it, and both have come to their end through it. Now, sir, what can it
mean except one thing?"
"You mean there is a man in it?"
"Of course there is a man in it. You know how it is in these South
American States, sir. A man may be president one week and hunted like a
dog the next--they are for ever flying for their lives. My idea is that
there is some fellow in hiding there, who is armed and desperate, and
who will fight to the death before he is taken."
"But his food and drink?"
"It's a roomy chest, sir, and he may have some provisions stowed away.
As to his drink, he had a friend among the crew upon the brig who saw
that he had what he needed."
"You think, then, that the label asking people not to open the box was
simply written in his interest?"
"Yes, sir, that is my idea. Have you any other way of explaining the
I had to confess that I had not.
"The question is what we are to do?" I asked.
"The man's a dangerous ruffian, who sticks at nothing. I'm thinking it
wouldn't be a bad thing to put a rope round the chest and tow it
alongside for half an hour; then we could open it at our ease. Or if we
just tied the box up and kept him from getting any water maybe that
would do as well. Or the carpenter could put a coat of varnish over it
and stop all the blow-holes."
"Come, Allardyce," said I, angrily. "You don't seriously mean to say
that a whole ship's company are going to be terrorised by a single man
in a box. If he's there, I'll engage to fetch him out!" I went to my
room and came back with my revolver in my hand. "Now, Allardyce," said
I, "do you open the lock, and I'll stand on guard."
"For God's sake, think what you are doing, sir!" cried the mate. "Two
men have lost their lives over it, and the blood of one not yet dry upon
"The more reason why we should revenge him."
"Well, sir, at least let me call the carpenter. Three are better than
two, and he is a good stout man."
He went off in search of him, and I was left alone with the striped
chest in the cabin. I don't think that I'm a nervous man, but I kept
the table between me and this solid old relic of the Spanish Main.
In the growing light of morning the red and white striping was beginning
to appear, and the curious scrolls and wreaths of metal and carving
which showed the loving pains which cunning craftsmen had expended upon
it. Presently the carpenter and the mate came back together, the former
with a hammer in his hand.
"It's a bad business, this, sir," said he, shaking his head, as he
looked at the body of the mate. "And you think there's someone hiding
in the box?"
"There's no doubt about it," said Allardyce, picking up the screwdriver
and setting his jaw like a man who needs to brace his courage.
"I'll drive the lock back if you will both stand by. If he rises let
him have it on the head with your hammer, carpenter. Shoot at once,
sir, if he raises his hand. Now!"
He had knelt down in front of the striped chest, and passed the blade of
the tool under the lid. With a sharp snick the lock flew back. "Stand
by!" yelled the mate, and with a heave he threw open the massive top of
the box. As it swung up we all three sprang back, I with my pistol
levelled, and the carpenter with the hammer above his head. Then, as
nothing happened, we each took a step forward and peeped in. The box
Not quite empty either, for in one corner was lying an old yellow
candle-stick, elaborately engraved, which appeared to be as old as the
box itself. Its rich yellow tone and artistic shape suggested that it
was an object of value. For the rest there was nothing more weighty or
valuable than dust in the old striped treasure-chest.
"Well, I'm blessed!" cried Allardyce, staring blankly into it.
"Where does the weight come in, then?"
"Look at the thickness of the sides, and look at the lid. Why, it's
five inches through. And see that great metal spring across it."
"That's for holding the lid up," said the mate. "You see, it won't lean
back. What's that German printing on the inside?"
"It means that it was made by Johann Rothstein of Augsburg, in 1606."
"And a solid bit of work, too. But it doesn't throw much light on what
has passed, does it, Captain Barclay? That candlestick looks like gold.
We shall have something for our trouble after all."
He leant forward to grasp it, and from that moment I have never doubted
as to the reality of inspiration, for on the instant I caught him by the
collar and pulled him straight again. It may have been some story of
the Middle Ages which had come back to my mind, or it may have been that
my eye had caught some red which was not that of rust upon the upper
part of the lock, but to him and to me it will always seem an
inspiration, so prompt and sudden was my action.
"There's devilry here," said I. "Give me the crooked stick from the
It was an ordinary walking-cane with a hooked top. I passed it over the
candlestick and gave it a pull. With a flash a row of polished steel
fangs shot out from below the upper lip, and the great striped chest
snapped at us like a wild animal. Clang came the huge lid into its
place, and the glasses on the swinging rack sang and tinkled with the
shock. The mate sat down on the edge of the table and shivered like a
"You've saved my life, Captain Barclay!" said he.
So this was the secret of the striped treasure-chest of old Don Ramirez
di Leyra, and this was how he preserved his ill-gotten gains from the
Terra Firma and the Province of Veraquas. Be the thief ever so cunning
he could not tell that golden candlestick from the other articles of
value, and the instant that he laid hand upon it the terrible spring was
unloosed and the murderous steel pikes were driven into his brain, while
the shock of the blow sent the victim backward and enabled the chest to
automatically close itself. How many, I wondered, had fallen victims to
the ingenuity of the mechanic of Ausgburg? And as I thought of the
possible history of that grim striped chest my resolution was very
"Carpenter, bring three men, and carry this on deck."
"Going to throw it overboard, sir?"
"Yes, Mr. Allardyce. I'm not superstitious as a rule, but there are
some things which are more than a sailor can be called upon to stand."
"No wonder that brig made heavy weather, Captain Barclay, with such a
thing on board. The glass is dropping fast, sir, and we are only just
So we did not even wait for the three sailors, but we carried it out,
the mate, the carpenter, and I, and we pushed it with our own hands over
the bulwarks. There was a white spout of water, and it was gone. There
it lies, the striped chest, a thousand fathoms deep, and if, as they
say, the sea will some day be dry land, I grieve for the man who finds
that old box and tries to penetrate into its secret.
A SHADOW BEFORE
The 15th of July, 1870, found John Worlington Dodds a ruined gamester of
the Stock Exchange. Upon the 17th he was a very opulent man. And yet
he had effected the change without leaving the penurious little Irish
townlet of Dunsloe, which could have been bought outright for a quarter
of the sum which he had earned during the single day that he was
within its walls. There is a romance of finance yet to be written, a
story of huge forces which are for ever waxing and waning, of bold
operations, of breathless suspense, of agonised failure, of deep
combinations which are baffled by others still more subtle. The mighty
debts of each great European Power stand like so many columns of
mercury, for ever rising and falling to indicate the pressure upon each.
He who can see far enough into the future to tell how that ever-varying
column will stand to-morrow is the man who has fortune within his grasp.
John Worlington Dodds had many of the gifts which lead a speculator to
success. He was quick in observing, just in estimating, prompt and
fearless in acting. But in finance there is always the element of luck,
which, however one may eliminate it, still remains, like the blank at
roulette, a constantly present handicap upon the operator. And so it
was that Worlington Dodds had come to grief. On the best advices he had
dabbled in the funds of a South American Republic in the days before
South American Republics had been found out. The Republic defaulted,
and Dodds lost his money. He had bulled the shares of a Scotch railway,
and a four months' strike had hit him hard. He had helped to underwrite
a coffee company in the hope that the public would come along upon the
feed and gradually nibble away some of his holding, but the political
sky had been clouded and the public had refused to invest. Everything
which he had touched had gone wrong, and now, on the eve of his
marriage, young, clear-headed, and energetic, he was actually a bankrupt
had his creditors chosen to make him one. But the Stock Exchange is an
indulgent body. What is the case of one to-day may be that of another
to-morrow, and everyone is interested in seeing that the stricken man is
given time to rise again. So the burden of Worlington Dodds was
lightened for him; many shoulders helped to bear it, and he was able to
go for a little summer tour into Ireland, for the doctors had ordered
him rest and change of air to restore his shaken nervous system. Thus
it was that upon the 15th of July, 1870, he found himself at his
breakfast in the fly-blown coffee-room of the "George Hotel" in the
market square of Dunsloe. It is a dull and depressing coffee-room, and
one which is usually empty, but on this particular day it was as crowded
and noisy as that of any London hotel. Every table was occupied, and a
thick smell of fried bacon and of fish hung in the air. Heavily booted
men clattered in and out, spurs jingled, riding-crops were stacked in
corners, and there was a general atmosphere of horse. The conversation,
too, was of nothing else. From every side Worlington Dodds heard of
yearlings, of windgalls, of roarers, of spavins, of cribsuckers, of a
hundred other terms which were as unintelligible to him as his own
Stock Exchange jargon would have been to the company. He asked the
waiter for the reason of it all, and the waiter was an astonished man
that there should be any man in this world who did not know it.
"Shure it's the Dunsloe horse fair, your honour--the greatest
horse-fair in all Oireland. It lasts for a wake, and the folk come from
far an' near--from England an' Scotland an' iverywhere. If you look out
of the winder, your honour, you'll see the horses, and it's asy your
honour's conscience must be, or you wouldn't slape so sound that the
creatures didn't rouse you with their clatter."
Dodds had a recollection that he had heard a confused murmur, which had
interwoven itself with his dreams--a sort of steady rhythmic beating and
clanking--and now, when he looked through the window, he saw the cause
of it. The square was packed with horses from end to end--greys, bays,
browns, blacks, chestnuts--young ones and old, fine ones and coarse,
horses of every conceivable sort and size. It seemed a huge function
for so small a town, and he remarked as much to the waiter.
"Well, you see, your honour, the horses don't live in the town, an' they
don't vex their heads how small it is. But it's in the very centre of
the horse-bradin' districts of Oireland, so where should they come to be
sould if it wasn't to Dunsloe?" The waiter had a telegram in his hand,
and he turned the address to Worlington Dodds. "Shure I niver heard
such a name, sorr. Maybe you could tell me who owns it?"
Dodds looked at the envelope. Strellenhaus was the name. "No, I don't
know," said he. "I never heard it before. It's a foreign name.
Perhaps if you were--"
But at that moment a little round-faced, ruddy-cheeked gentleman, who
was breakfasting at the next table, leaned forward and interrupted him.
"Did you say a foreign name, sir?" said he.
"Strellenhaus is the name."
"I am Mr. Strellenhaus--Mr. Julius Strellenhaus, of Liverpool. I was
expecting a telegram. Thank you very much."
He sat so near that Dodds, without any wish to play the spy, could not
help to some extent overlooking him as he opened the envelope.
The message was a very long one. Quite a wad of melon-tinted paper came
out from the tawny envelope. Mr. Strellenhaus arranged the sheets
methodically upon the table-cloth in front of him, so that no eye but
his own could see them. Then he took out a note-book, and, with an
anxious face, he began to make entries in it, glancing first at the
telegram and then at the book, and writing apparently one letter or
figure at a time. Dodds was interested, for he knew exactly what the
man was doing. He was working out a cipher. Dodds had often done it
himself. And then suddenly the little man turned very pale, as if the
full purport of the message had been a shock to him. Dodds had done
that also, and his sympathies were all with his neighbours. Then the
stranger rose, and, leaving his breakfast untasted, he walked out of the
"I'm thinkin' that the gintleman has had bad news, sorr," said the
"Looks like it," Dodds answered; and at that moment his thoughts were
suddenly drawn off into another direction.
The boots had entered the room with a telegram in his hand. "Where's
Mr. Mancune?" said he to the waiter.
"Well, there are some quare names about. What was it you said?"
"Mr. Mancune," said the boots, glancing round him. "Ah, there he is!"
and he handed the telegram to a gentleman who was sitting reading the
paper in a corner.
Dodds's eyes had already fallen upon this man, and he had wondered
vaguely what he was doing in such company. He was a tall, white-haired,
eagle-nosed gentleman, with a waxed moustache and a carefully pointed
beard--an aristocratic type which seemed out of its element among the
rough, hearty, noisy dealers who surrounded him. This, then, was Mr.
Mancune, for whom the second telegram was intended.
As he opened it, tearing it open with a feverish haste, Dodds could
perceive that it was as bulky as the first one. He observed also, from
the delay in reading it, that it was also in some sort of cipher.
The gentleman did not write down any translation of it, but he sat for
some time with his nervous, thin fingers twitching amongst the hairs of
his white beard, and his shaggy brows bent in the deepest and most
absorbed attention whilst he mastered the meaning of it. Then he sprang
suddenly to his feet, his eyes flashed, his cheeks flushed, and in his
excitement he crumpled the message up in his hand. With an effort he
mastered his emotion, put the paper into his pocket, and walked out of
This was enough to excite a less astute and imaginative man than
Worlington Dodds. Was there any connection between these two messages,
or was it merely a coincidence? Two men with strange names receive two
telegrams within a few minutes of each other, each of considerable
length, each in cipher, and each causing keen emotion to the man who
received it. One turned pale. The other sprang excitedly to his feet.
It might be a coincidence, but it was a very curious one. If it was not
a coincidence, then what could it mean? Were they confederates who
pretended to work apart, but who each received identical orders from
some person at a distance? That was possible, and yet there were
difficulties in the way. He puzzled and puzzled, but could find no
satisfactory solution to the problem. All breakfast he was turning it
over in his mind.
When breakfast was over he sauntered out into the market square, where
the horse sale was already in progress. The yearlings were being sold
first--tall, long-legged, skittish, wild-eyed creatures, who had run
free upon the upland pastures, with ragged hair and towsie manes, but
hardy, inured to all weathers, and with the makings of splendid hunters
and steeplechasers when corn and time had brought them to maturity.
They were largely of thoroughbred blood, and were being bought by
English dealers, who would invest a few pounds now on what they might
sell for fifty guineas in a year, if all went well. It was legitimate
speculation, for the horse is a delicate creature, he is afflicted with
many ailments, the least accident may destroy his value, he is a certain
expense and an uncertain profit, and for one who comes safely to
maturity several may bring no return at all. So the English
horse-dealers took their risks as they bought up the shaggy Irish
yearlings. One man with a ruddy face and a yellow overcoat took them by
the dozen, with as much _sang froid_ as if they had been oranges,
entering each bargain in a bloated note-book. He bought forty or fifty
during the time that Dodds was watching him.
"Who is that?" he asked his neighbour, whose spurs and gaiters showed
that he was likely to know.
The man stared in astonishment at the stranger's ignorance.
"Why, that's Jim Holloway, the great Jim Holloway," said he; then,
seeing by the blank look upon Dodds's face that even this information
had not helped him much, he went into details. "Sure he's the head of
Holloway & Morland, of London," said he. "He's the buying partner, and
he buys cheap; and the other stays at home and sells, and he sells dear.
He owns more horses than any man in the world, and asks the best money
for them. I dare say you'll find that half of what are sold at the
Dunsloe fair this day will go to him, and he's got such a purse that
there's not a man who can bid against him."
Worlington Dodds watched the doings of the great dealer with interest.
He had passed on now to the two-year-olds and three-year-olds,
full-grown horses, but still a little loose in the limb and weak in the
bone. The London buyer was choosing his animals carefully, but having
chosen them, the vigour of his competition drove all other bidders out
of it. With a careless nod he would run the figure up five pounds at a
time, until he was left in possession of the field. At the same time he
was a shrewd observer, and when, as happened more than once, he believed
that someone was bidding against him simply in order to run him up, the
head would cease suddenly to nod, the note-book would be closed with a
snap, and the intruder would be left with a purchase which he did not
desire upon his hands. All Dodds's business instincts were aroused by
the tactics of this great operator, and he stood in the crowd watching
with the utmost interest all that occurred.
It is not to buy young horses, however, that the great dealers come to
Ireland, and the real business of the fair commenced when the four and
five-year-olds were reached; the full-grown, perfect horses, at their
prime, and ready for any work or any fatigue. Seventy magnificent
creatures had been brought down by a single breeder, a comfortable-
looking, keen-eyed, ruddy-cheeked gentleman who stood beside the
sales-man and whispered cautions and precepts into his ear.
"That's Flynn of Kildare," said Dodds's informant. "Jack Flynn has
brought down that string of horses, and the other large string over
yonder belongs to Tom Flynn, his brother. The two of them together are
the two first breeders in Ireland." A crowd had gathered in front of the
horses. By common consent a place had been made for Mr. Holloway, and
Dodds could catch a glimpse of his florid face and yellow covert-coat in
the front rank. He had opened his note-book, and was tapping his teeth
reflectively with his pencil as he eyed the horses.
"You'll see a fight now between the first seller and the first buyer in
the country," said Dodds's acquaintance. "They are a beautiful string,
anyhow. I shouldn't be surprised if he didn't average five-and-thirty
pound apiece for the lot as they stand."
The salesman had mounted upon a chair, and his keen, clean-shaven face
overlooked the crowd. Mr. Jack Flynn's grey whiskers were at his elbow,
and Mr. Holloway immediately in front.
"You've seen these horses, gentlemen," said the salesman, with a
backward sweep of his hand towards the line of tossing heads and
streaming manes. "When you know that they are bred by Mr. Jack Flynn,
at his place in Kildare, you will have a guarantee of their quality.
They are the best that Ireland can produce, and in this class of horse
the best that Ireland can produce are the best in the world, as every
riding man knows well. Hunters or carriage horses, all warranted sound,
and bred from the best stock. There are seventy in Mr. Jack Flynn's
string, and he bids me say that if any wholesale dealer would make one
bid for the whole lot, to save time, he would have the preference over
There was a pause and a whisper from the crowd in front, with some
expressions of discontent. By a single sweep all the small dealers had
been put out of it. It was only a long purse which could buy on such a
scale as that. The salesman looked round him inquiringly.
"Come, Mr. Holloway," said he, at last. "You didn't come over here for
the sake of the scenery. You may travel the country and not see such
another string of horses. Give us a starting bid."
The great dealer was still rattling his pencil upon his front teeth.
"Well," said he, at last, "they _are_ a fine lot of horses, and I won't
deny it. They do you credit, Mr. Flynn, I am sure. All the same I
didn't mean to fill a ship at a single bid in this fashion. I like to
pick and choose my horses."
"In that case Mr. Flynn is quite prepared to sell them in smaller lots,"
said the salesman. "It was rather for the convenience of a wholesale
customer that he was prepared to put them all up together. But if no
gentleman wishes to bid--"
"Wait a minute," said a voice. "They are very fine horses, these, and I
will give you a bid to start you. I will give you twenty pounds each
for the string of seventy."
There was a rustle as the crowd all swayed their heads to catch a
glimpse of the speaker. The salesman leaned forward. "May I ask your
"Strellenhaus--Mr. Strellenhaus of Liverpool."
"It's a new firm," said Dodds's neighbour. "I thought I knew them all,
but I never heard of him before."
The salesman's head had disappeared, for he was whispering with the
breeder. Now he suddenly straightened himself again. "Thank you for
giving us a lead, sir," said he. "Now, gentlemen, you have heard the
offer of Mr. Strellenhaus of Liverpool. It will give us a base to start
from. Mr. Strellenhaus has offered twenty pounds a head."
"Guineas," said Holloway.
"Bravo, Mr. Holloway! I knew that you would take a hand. You are not
the man to let such a string of horses pass away from you. The bid is
twenty guineas a head."
"Twenty-five pounds," said Mr. Strellenhaus.
It was London against Liverpool, and it was the head of the trade
against an outsider. Still, the one man had increased his bids by fives
and the other only by ones. Those fives meant determination and also
wealth. Holloway had ruled the market so long that the crowd was
delighted at finding someone who would stand up to him.
"The bid now stands at thirty pounds a head," said the salesman.
"The word lies with you, Mr. Holloway."
The London dealer was glancing keenly at his unknown opponent, and he
was asking himself whether this was a genuine rival, or whether it was a
device of some sort--an agent of Flynn's perhaps--for running up the
price. Little Mr. Strellenhaus, the same apple-faced gentleman whom
Dodds had noticed in the coffee-room, stood looking at the horses with
the sharp, quick glances of a man who knows what he is looking for.
"Thirty-one," said Holloway, with the air of a man who has gone to his
"Thirty-two," said Strellenhaus, promptly.
Holloway grew angry at this persistent opposition. His red face flushed
"Thirty-three!" he shouted.
"Thirty-four," said Strellenhaus.
Holloway became thoughtful, and entered a few figures in his note-book.
There were seventy horses. He knew that Flynn's stock was always of the
highest quality. With the hunting season coming on he might rely upon
selling them at an average of from forty-five to fifty. Some of them
might carry a heavy weight, and would run to three figures. On the
other hand, there was the feed and keep of them for three months, the
danger of the voyage, the chance of influenza or some of those other
complaints which run through an entire stable as measles go through a
nursery. Deducting all this, it was a question whether at the present
price any profit would be left upon the transaction. Every pound that
he bid meant seventy out of his pocket. And yet he could not submit to
be beaten by this stranger without a struggle. As a business matter it
was important to him to be recognised as the head of his profession.
He would make one more effort, if he sacrificed his profit by doing so.
"At the end of your rope, Mr. Holloway?" asked the salesman, with the
suspicion of a sneer.
"Thirty-five," cried Holloway gruffly.
"Thirty-six," said Strellenhaus.
"Then I wish you joy of your bargain," said Holloway. "I don't buy at
that price, but I should be glad to sell you some."
Mr. Strellenhaus took no notice of the irony. He was still looking
critically at the horses. The salesman glanced round him in a
"Thirty-six pounds bid," said he. "Mr. Jack Flynn's lot is going to Mr.
Strellenhaus of Liverpool, at thirty-six pounds a head. Going--going--"
"Forty!" cried a high, thin, clear voice.
A buzz rose from the crowd, and they were all on tiptoe again, trying to
catch a glimpse of this reckless buyer. Being a tall man, Dodds could
see over the others, and there, at the side of Holloway, he saw the
masterful nose and aristocratic beard of the second stranger in the
coffee-room. A sudden personal interest added itself to the scene.
He felt that he was on the verge of something--something dimly seen--
which he could himself turn to account. The two men with strange names,
the telegrams, the horses--what was underlying it all? The salesman was
all animation again, and Mr. Jack Flynn was sitting up with his white
whiskers bristling and his eyes twinkling. It was the best deal which
he had ever made in his fifty years of experience.
"What name, sir?" asked the salesman.
"Mr. Mancune of Glasgow."
"Thank you for your bid, sir. Forty pounds a head has been bid by Mr.
Mancune of Glasgow. Any advance upon forty?"
"Forty-one," said Strellenhaus.
"Forty-five," said Mancune.
The tactics had changed, and it was the turn of Strellenhaus now to
advance by ones, while his rival sprang up by fives. But the former was
as dogged as ever.
"Forty-six," said he.
"Fifty!" cried Mancune.
It was unheard of. The most that the horses could possibly average at a
retail price was as much as these men were willing to pay wholesale.
"Two lunatics from Bedlam," whispered the angry Holloway. "If I was
Flynn I would see the colour of their money before I went any further."
The same thought had occurred to the salesman. "As a mere matter of
business, gentlemen," said he, "it is usual in such cases to put down a
small deposit as a guarantee of _bona fides_. You will understand how I
am placed, and that I have not had the pleasure of doing business with
either of you before."
"How much?" asked Strellenhaus, briefly.
"Should we say five hundred?"
"Here is a note for a thousand pounds."
"And here is another," said Mancune.
"Nothing could be more handsome, gentlemen," said the salesman. "It's a
treat to see such a spirited competition. The last bid was fifty pounds
a head from Mancune. The word lies with you, Mr. Strellenhaus."
Mr. Jack Flynn whispered something to the salesman. "Quite so! Mr.
Flynn suggests, gentlemen, that as you are both large buyers, it would,
perhaps, be a convenience to you if he was to add the string of Mr. Tom
Flynn, which consists of seventy animals of precisely the same quality,
making one hundred and forty in all. Have you any objection, Mr.
"And you, Mr. Strellenhaus?"
"I should prefer it."
"Very handsome! Very handsome indeed!" murmured the salesman. "Then I
understand, Mr. Mancune, that your offer of fifty pounds a head extends
to the whole of these horses?"
A long breath went up from the crowd. Seven thousand pounds at one
deal. It was a record for Dunsloe.
"Any advance, Mr. Strellenhaus?"
They could hardly believe their ears. Holloway stood with his mouth
open, staring blankly in front of him. The salesman tried hard to look
as if such bidding and such prices were nothing unusual. Jack Flynn of
Kildare smiled benignly and rubbed his hands together. The crowd
listened in dead silence.
"Sixty-one," said Strellenhaus. From the beginning he had stood without
a trace of emotion upon his round face, like a little automatic figure
which bid by clockwork. His rival was of a more excitable nature. His
eyes were shining, and he was for ever twitching at his beard.
"Sixty-five," he cried.
But the clockwork had run down. No answering bid came from Mr.
"Seventy bid, sir."
Mr. Strellenhaus shrugged his shoulders.
"I am buying for another, and I have reached his limit," said he.
"If you will permit me to send for instructions--"
"I am afraid, sir, that the sale must proceed."
"Then the horses belong to this gentleman." For the first time he
turned towards his rival, and their glances crossed like sword-blades.
"It is possible that I may see the horses again."
"I hope so," said Mr. Mancune; and his white, waxed moustache gave a
feline upward bristle.
So, with a bow, they separated. Mr. Strellenhaus walked, down to the
telegraph-office, where his message was delayed because Mr. Worlington
Dodds was already at the end of the wires, for, after dim guesses and
vague conjecture, he had suddenly caught a clear view of this coming
event which had cast so curious a shadow before it in this little Irish
town. Political rumours, names, appearances, telegrams, seasoned horses
at any price, there could only be one meaning to it. He held a secret,
and he meant to use it.
Mr. Warner, who was the partner of Mr. Worlington Dodds, and who was
suffering from the same eclipse, had gone down to the Stock Exchange,
but had found little consolation there, for the European system was in a
ferment, and rumours of peace and of war were succeeding each other with
such rapidity and assurance that it was impossible to know which to
trust. It was obvious that a fortune lay either way, for every rumour
set the funds fluctuating; but without special information it was
impossible to act, and no one dared to plunge heavily upon the strength
of newspaper surmise and the gossip of the street. Warner knew that an
hour's work might resuscitate the fallen fortunes of himself and his
partner, and yet he could not afford to make a mistake. He returned to
his office in the afternoon, half inclined to back the chances of peace,
for of all war scares not one in ten comes to pass. As he entered the
office a telegram lay upon the table. It was from Dunsloe, a place of
which he had never heard, and was signed by his absent partner.
The message was in cipher, but he soon translated it, for it was short
"I am a bear of everything German and French. Sell, sell, sell, keep on
For a moment Warner hesitated. What could Worlington Dodds know at
Dunsloe which was not known in Throgmorton Street? But he remembered
the quickness and decision of his partner. He would not have sent such
a message without very good grounds. If he was to act at all he must
act at once, so, hardening his heart, he went down to the house, and,
dealing upon that curious system by which a man can sell what he has not
got, and what he could not pay for if he had it, he disposed of heavy
parcels of French and German securities. He had caught the market in
one of its little spasms of hope, and there was no lack of buying until
his own persistent selling caused others to follow his lead, and so
brought about a reaction. When Warner returned to his offices it took
him some hours to work out his accounts, and he emerged into the streets
in the evening with the absolute certainty that the next settling-day
would leave him either hopelessly bankrupt or exceedingly prosperous.
It all depended upon Worlington Dodds's information. What could he
possibly have found out at Dunsloe?
And then suddenly he saw a newspaper boy fasten a poster upon a
lamp-post, and a little crowd had gathered round it in an instant
One of them waved his hat in the air; another shouted to a friend across
the street. Warner hurried up and caught a glimpse of the poster
between two craning heads--
"FRANCE DECLARES WAR ON GERMANY."
"By Jove!" cried Warner. "Old Dodds was right, after all."
THE KING OF THE FOXES
It was after a hunting dinner, and there were as many scarlet coats as
black ones round the table. The conversation over the cigars had
turned, therefore, in the direction of horses and horsemen, with
reminiscences of phenomenal runs where foxes had led the pack from end
to end of a county, and been overtaken at last by two or three limping
hounds and a huntsman on foot, while every rider in the field had been
pounded. As the port circulated the runs became longer and more
apocryphal, until we had the whips inquiring their way and failing to
understand the dialect of the people who answered them. The foxes, too,
became mere eccentric, and we had foxes up pollard willows, foxes which
were dragged by the tail out of horses' mangers, and foxes which had
raced through an open front door and gone to ground in a lady's
bonnet-box. The master had told one or two tall reminiscences, and when
he cleared his throat for another we were all curious, for he was a bit
of an artist in his way, and produced his effects in a _crescendo_
fashion. His face wore the earnest, practical, severely accurate
expression which heralded some of his finest efforts.
"It was before I was master," said he. "Sir Charles Adair had the
hounds at that time, and then afterwards they passed to old Lathom, and
then to me. It may possibly have been just after Lathom took them over,
but my strong impression is that it was in Adair's time. That would be
early in the seventies--about seventy-two, I should say.
"The man I mean has moved to another part of the country, but I daresay
that some of you can remember him. Danbury was the name--Walter
Danbury, or Wat Danbury, as the people used to call him. He was the son
of old Joe Danbury, of High Ascombe, and when his father died he came
into a very good thing, for his only brother was drowned when the _Magna
Charta_ foundered, so he inherited the whole estate. It was but a few
hundred acres, but it was good arable land, and those were the great
days of farming. Besides, it was freehold, and a yeoman farmer without
a mortgage was a warmish man before the great fall in wheat came.
Foreign wheat and barbed wire--those are the two curses of this country,
for the one spoils the farmer's work and the other spoils his play.
"This young Wat Danbury was a very fine fellow, a keen rider, and a
thorough sportsman, but his head was a little turned at having come,
when so young, into a comfortable fortune, and he went the pace for a
year or two. The lad had no vice in him, but there was a hard-drinking
set in the neighbourhood at that time, and Danbury got drawn in among
them; and, being an amiable fellow who liked to do what his friends were
doing, he very soon took to drinking a great deal more than was good for
him. As a rule, a man who takes his exercise may drink as much as he
likes in the evening, and do himself no very great harm, if he will
leave it alone during the day. Danbury had too many friends for that,
however, and it really looked as if the poor chap was going to the bad,
when a very curious thing happened which pulled him up with such a
sudden jerk that he never put his hand upon the neck of a whisky bottle
"He had a peculiarity which I have noticed in a good many other men,
that though he was always playing tricks with his own health, he was
none the less very anxious about it, and was extremely fidgety if ever
he had any trivial symptom. Being a tough, open-air fellow, who was
always as hard as a nail, it was seldom that there was anything amiss
with him; but at last the drink began to tell, and he woke one morning
with his hands shaking and all his nerves tingling like over-stretched
fiddle-strings. He had been dining at some very wet house the night
before, and the wine had, perhaps, been more plentiful than choice; at
any rate, there he was, with a tongue like a bath towel and a head that
ticked like an eight-day clock. He was very alarmed at his own
condition, and he sent for Doctor Middleton, of Ascombe, the father of
the man who practises there now.
"Middleton had been a great friend of old Danbury's, and he was very
sorry to see his son going to the devil; so he improved the occasion by
taking his case very seriously, and lecturing him upon the danger of his
ways. He shook his head and talked about the possibility of _delirium
tremens_, or even of mania, if he continued to lead such a life.
Wat Danbury was horribly frightened.
"'Do you think I am going to get anything of the sort?' he wailed.
"'Well, really, I don't know,' said the doctor gravely. 'I cannot
undertake to say that you are out of danger. Your system is very much
out of order. At any time during the day you might have those grave
symptoms of which I warn you.'
"'You think I shall be safe by evening?'
"'If you drink nothing during the day, and have no nervous symptoms
before evening, I think you may consider yourself safe," the doctor
answered. A little fright would, he thought, do his patient good, so he
made the most of the matter.
"'What symptoms may I expect?' asked Danebury.
"'It generally takes the form of optical delusions.'
"'I see specks floating all about.'
"'That is mere biliousness,' said the doctor soothingly, for he saw that
the lad was highly strung, and he did not wish to overdo it.
'I daresay that you will have no symptoms of the kind, but when they do
come they usually take the shape of insects, or reptiles, or curious
"'And if I see anything of the kind?'
"'If you do, you will at once send for me;' and so, with a promise of
medicine, the doctor departed.
"Young Wat Danbury rose and dressed and moped about the room feeling
very miserable and unstrung, with a vision of the County Asylum for ever
in his mind. He had the doctor's word for it that if he could get
through to evening in safety he would be all right; but it is not very
exhilarating to be waiting for symptoms, and to keep on glancing at your
bootjack to see whether it is still a bootjack or whether it has begun
to develop antennae and legs. At last he could stand it no longer, and
an overpowering longing for the fresh air and the green grass came over
him. Why should he stay indoors when the Ascombe Hunt was meeting
within half a mile of him? If he was going to have these delusions
which the doctor talked of, he would not have them the sooner nor the
worse because he was on horseback in the open. He was sure, too, it
would ease his aching head. And so it came about that in ten minutes he
was in his hunting-kit, and in ten more he was riding out of his
stable-yard with his roan mare 'Matilda' between his knees. He was a
little unsteady in his saddle just at first, but the farther he went the
better he felt, until by the time he reached the meet his head was
almost clear, and there was nothing troubling him except those haunting
words of the doctor's about the possibility of delusions any time before
"But soon he forgot that also, for as he came up the hounds were thrown
off, and they drew the Gravel Hanger, and afterwards the Hickory Copse.
It was just the morning for a scent--no wind to blow it away, no water
to wash it out, and just damp enough to make it cling. There was a
field of forty, all keen men and good riders, so when they came to the
Black Hanger they knew that there would be some sport, for that's a
cover which never draws blank. The woods were thicker in those days
than now, and the foxes were thicker also, and that great dark
oak-grove was swarming with them. The only difficulty was to make them
break, for it is, as you know, a very close country, and you must coax
them out into the open before you can hope for a run.
"When they came to the Black Hanger the field took their positions along
the cover-side wherever they thought that they were most likely to get a
good start. Some went in with the hounds, some clustered at the ends of
the drives, and some kept outside in the hope of the fox breaking in
that direction. Young Wat Danbury knew the country like the palm of his
hand, so he made for a place where several drives intersected, and there
he waited. He had a feeling that the faster and the farther he galloped
the better he should be, and so he was chafing to be off. His mare,
too, was in the height of fettle and one of the fastest goers in the
county. Wat was a splendid lightweight rider--under ten stone with his
saddle--and the mare was a powerful creature, all quarters and
shoulders, fit to carry a lifeguardsman; and so it was no wonder that
there was hardly a man in the field who could hope to stay with him.
There he waited and listened to the shouting of the huntsman and the
whips, catching a glimpse now and then in the darkness of the wood of a
whisking tail, or the gleam of a white-and-tan side amongst the
underwood. It was a well-trained pack, and there was not so much as a
whine to tell you that forty hounds were working all round you.
"And then suddenly there came one long-drawn yell from one of them, and
it was taken up by another, and another, until within a few seconds the
whole pack was giving tongue together and running on a hot scent.
Danbury saw them stream across one of the drives and disappear upon the
other side, and an instant later the three red coats of the hunt
servants flashed after them upon the same line. He might have made a
shorter cut down one of the other drives, but he was afraid of heading
the fox, so he followed the lead of the huntsman. Right through the
wood they went in a bee-line, galloping with their faces brushed by
their horses' manes as they stooped under the branches.
"It's ugly going, as you know, with the roots all wriggling about in the
darkness, but you can take a risk when you catch an occasional glimpse
of the pack running with a breast-high scent; so in and out they dodged
until the wood began to thin at the edges, and they found themselves in
the long bottom where the river runs. It is clear going there upon
grassland, and the hounds were running very strong about two hundred
yards ahead, keeping parallel with the stream. The field, who had come
round the wood instead of going through, were coming hard over the
fields upon the left; but Danbury, with the hunt servants, had a clear
lead, and they never lost it.
"Two of the field got on terms with them--Parson Geddes on a big
seventeen-hand bay which he used to ride in those days, and Squire
Foley, who rode as a feather-weight, and made his hunters out of cast
thoroughbreds from the Newmarket sales; but the others never had a
look-in from start to finish, for there was no check and no pulling, and
it was clear cross-country racing from start to finish. If you had
drawn a line right across the map with a pencil you couldn't go
straighter than that fox ran, heading for the South Downs and the sea,
and the hounds ran as surely as if they were running to view, and yet
from the beginning no one ever saw the fox, and there was never a hallo
forrard to tell them that he had been spied. This, however, is not so
surprising, for if you've been over that line of country you will know
that there are not very many people about.
"There were six of them then in the front row--Parson Geddes, Squire
Foley, the huntsman, two whips, and Wat Danbury, who had forgotten all
about his head and the doctor by this time, and had not a thought for
anything but the run. All six were galloping just as hard as they could
lay hoofs to the ground. One of the whips dropped back, however, as
some of the hounds were tailing off, and that brought them down to five.
Then Foley's thoroughbred strained herself, as these slim-legged,
dainty-fetlocked thoroughbreds will do when the going is rough, and he
had to take a back seat. But the other four were still going strong,
and they did four or five miles down the river flat at a rasping pace.
It had been a wet winter, and the waters had been out a little time
before, so there was a deal of sliding and splashing; but by the time
they came to the bridge the whole field was out of sight, and these four
had the hunt to themselves.
"The fox had crossed the bridge--for foxes do not care to swim a chilly
river any more than humans do--and from that point he had streaked away
southward as hard as he could tear. It is broken country, rolling
heaths, down one slope and up another, and it's hard to say whether the
up or the down is the more trying for the horses. This sort of
switchback work is all right for a cobby, short-backed, short-legged
little horse, but it is killing work for a big, long-striding hunter
such as one wants in the Midlands. Anyhow, it was too much for Parson
Geddes' seventeen-hand bay, and though he tried the Irish trick--for he
was a rare keen sportsman--of running up the hills by his horse's head,
it was all to no use, and he had to give it up. So then there were only
the huntsman, the whip, and Wat Danbury--all going strong.
"But the country got worse and worse and the hills were steeper and more
thickly covered in heather and bracken. The horses were over their
hocks all the time, and the place was pitted with rabbit-holes; but the
hounds were still streaming along, and the riders could not afford to
pick their steps. As they raced down one slope, the hounds were always
flowing up the opposite one, until it looked like that game where the
one figure in falling makes the other one rise.
"But never a glimpse did they get of the fox, although they knew very
well that he must be only a very short way ahead for the scent to be so
strong. And then Wat Danbury heard a crash and a thud at his elbow, and
looking round he saw a pair of white cords and top-boots kicking out of
a tussock of brambles. The whip's horse had stumbled, and the whip was
out of the running. Danbury and the huntsman eased down for an instant;
and then, seeing the man staggering to his feet all right, they turned
and settled into their saddles once more.
"Joe Clarke, the huntsman, was a famous old rider, known for five
counties round; but he reckoned upon his second horse, and the second
horses had all been left many miles behind. However, the one he was
riding was good enough for anything with such a horseman upon his back,
and he was going as well as when he started. As to Wat Danbury, he was
going better. With every stride his own feelings improved, and the mind
of the rider had its influence upon the mind of the horse. The stout
little roan was gathering its muscular limbs under it, and stretching to
the gallop as if it were steel and whale-bone instead of flesh and
blood. Wat had never come to the end of its powers yet, and to-day he
had such a chance of testing them as he had never had before.
"There was a pasture country beyond the heather slopes, and for several
miles the two riders were either losing ground as they fumbled with
their crop-handles at the bars of gates, or gaining it again as they
galloped over the fields. Those were the days before this accursed wire
came into the country, and you could generally break a hedge where you
could not fly it, so they did not trouble the gates more than they could
help. Then they were down in a hard lane, where they had to slacken
their pace, and through a farm where a man came shouting excitedly after
them; but they had no time to stop and listen to him, for the hounds
were on some ploughland, only two fields ahead. It was sloping upwards,
that ploughland, and the horses were over their fetlocks in the red,
"When they reached the top they were blowing badly, but a grand valley
sloped before them, leading up to the open country of the South Downs.
Between, there lay a belt of pine-woods, into which the hounds were
streaming, running now in a long, straggling line, and shedding one here
and one there as they ran. You could see the white-and-tan dots here
and there where the limpers were tailing away. But half the pack were
still going well, though the pace and distance had both been
tremendous--two clear hours now without a check.
"There was a drive through the pine-wood--one of those green, slightly
rutted drives where a horse can get the last yard out of itself, for the
ground is hard enough to give him clean going and yet springy enough to
help him. Wat Danbury got alongside of the huntsman and they galloped
together with their stirrup-irons touching, and the hounds within a
hundred yards of them.
"'We have it all to ourselves,' said he.
"'Yes, sir, we've shook on the lot of 'em this time,' said old Joe
Clarke. 'If we get this fox it's worth while 'aving 'im skinned an'
stuffed, for 'e's a curiosity 'e is.'
"'It's the fastest run I ever had in my life!' cried Danbury.
"'And the fastest that ever I 'ad, an' that means more,' said the old
huntsman. 'But what licks me is that we've never 'ad a look at the
beast. 'E must leave an amazin' scent be'ind 'im when these 'ounds can
follow 'im like this, and yet none of us have seen 'im when we've 'ad a
clear 'alf mile view in front of us.'
"'I expect we'll have a view of him presently,' said Danbury; and in his
mind he added, 'at least, I shall,' for the huntsman's horse was gasping
as it ran, and the white foam was pouring down it like the side of a
"They had followed the hounds on to one of the side tracks which led out
of the main drive, and that divided into a smaller track still, where
the branches switched across their faces as they went, and there was
barely room for one horse at a time. Wat Danbury took the lead, and he
heard the huntsman's horse clumping along heavily behind him, while his
own mare was going with less spring than when she had started. She
answered to a touch of his crop or spur, however, and he felt that there
was something still left to draw upon. And then he looked up, and there
was a heavy wooden stile at the end of the narrow track, with a lane of
stiff young saplings leading down to it, which was far too thick to
break through. The hounds were running clear upon the grassland on the
other side, and you were bound either to get over that stile or lose
sight of them, for the pace was too hot to let you go round.
"Well, Wat Danbury was not the lad to flinch, and at it he went full
split, like a man who means what he is doing. She rose gallantly to it,
rapped it hard with her front hoof, shook him on to her withers,
recovered herself, and was over. Wat had hardly got back into his
saddle when there was a clatter behind him like the fall of a woodstack,
and there was the top bar in splinters, the horse on its belly, and the
huntsman on hands and knees half a dozen yards in front of him.
Wat pulled up for an instant, for the fall was a smasher; but he saw old
Joe spring to his feet and get to his horse's bridle. The horse
staggered up, but the moment it put one foot in front of the other, Wat
saw that it was hopelessly lame--a slipped shoulder and a six weeks'
job. There was nothing he could do, and Joe was shouting to him not to
lose the hounds, so off he went again, the one solitary survivor of the
whole hunt. When a man finds himself there, he can retire from
fox-hunting, for he has tasted the highest which it has to offer.
I remember once when I was out with the Royal Surrey--but I'll tell you
that story afterwards.
"The pack, or what was left of them, had got a bit ahead during this
time; but he had a clear view of them on the downland, and the mare
seemed full of pride at being the only one left, for she was stepping
out rarely and tossing her head as she went. They were two miles over
the green shoulder of a hill, a rattle down a stony, deep-rutted country
lane, where the mare stumbled and nearly came down, a jump over a 5ft.
brook, a cut through a hazel copse, another dose of heavy ploughland, a
couple of gates to open, and then the green, unbroken Downs beyond.
"'Well,' said Wat Danbury to himself, 'I'll see this fox run into or I
shall see it drowned, for it's all clear going now between this and the
chalk cliffs which line the sea.' But he was wrong in that, as he
speedily discovered. In all the little hollows of the downs at that
part there are plantations of fir-woods, some of which have grown to a
good size. You do not see them until you come upon the edge of the
valleys in which they lie. Danbury was galloping hard over the short,
springy turf when he came over the lip of one of these depressions, and
there was the dark clump of wood lying in front of and beneath him.
There were only a dozen hounds still running, and they were just
disappearing among the trees. The sunlight was shining straight upon
the long olive-green slopes which curved down towards this wood, and
Danbury, who had the eyes of a hawk, swept them over this great expanse;
but there was nothing moving upon it. A few sheep were grazing far up
on the right, but there was no other sight of any living creature.
He was certain then that he was very near to the end, for either the fox
must have gone to ground in the wood or the hounds' noses must be at his
very brush. The mare seemed to know also what that great empty sweep of
countryside meant, for she quickened her stride, and a few minutes
afterwards Danbury was galloping into the fir-wood.
"He had come from bright sunshine, but the wood was very closely
planted, and so dim that he could hardly see to right or to left out of
the narrow path down which he was riding. You know what a solemn,
churchyardy sort of place a fir-wood is. I suppose it is the absence of
any undergrowth, and the fact that the trees never move at all. At any
rate a kind of chill suddenly struck Wat Danbury, and it flashed through
his mind that there had been some very singular points about this run--
its length and its straightness, and the fact that from the first find
no one had ever caught a glimpse of the creature. Some silly talk which
had been going round the country about the king of the foxes--a sort of
demon fox, so fast that it could outrun any pack, and so fierce that
they could do nothing with it if they overtook it--suddenly came back
into his mind, and it did not seem so laughable now in the dim fir-wood
as it had done when the story had been told over the wine and cigars.
The nervousness which had been on him in the morning, and which he had
hoped that he had shaken off, swept over him again in an overpowering
wave. He had been so proud of being alone, and yet he would have given
10 pounds now to have had Joe Clarke's homely face beside him. And
then, just at that moment, there broke out from the thickest part of the
wood the most frantic hullabaloo that ever he had heard in his life.
The hounds had run into their fox.
"Well, you know, or you ought to know, what your duty is in such a case.
You have to be whip, huntsman, and everything else if you are the first
man up. You get in among the hounds, lash them off, and keep the brush
and pads from being destroyed. Of course, Wat Danbury knew all about
that, and he tried to force his mare through the trees to the place
where all this hideous screaming and howling came from, but the wood was
so thick that it was impossible to ride it. He sprang off, therefore,
left the mare standing, and broke his way through as best he could with
his hunting-lash ready over his shoulder.
"But as he ran forward he felt his flesh go cold and creepy all over.
He had heard hounds run into foxes many times before, but he had never
heard such sounds as these. They were not the cries of triumph, but of
fear. Every now and then came a shrill yelp of mortal agony. Holding
his breath, he ran on until he broke through the interlacing branches,
and found himself in a little, clearing with the hounds all crowding
round a patch of tangled bramble at the further end.
"When he first caught sight of them the hounds were standing in a
half-circle round this bramble patch, with their backs bristling and
their jaws gaping. In front of the brambles lay one of them with his
throat torn out, all crimson and white-and-tan. Wat came running out
into the clearing, and at the sight of him the hounds took heart again,
and one of them sprang with a growl into the bushes. At the same
instant, a creature the size of a donkey jumped on to its feet, a huge
grey head, with monstrous glistening fangs and tapering fox jaws, shot
out from among the branches, and the hound was thrown several feet into
the air, and fell howling among the cover. Then there was a clashing
snap, like a rat-trap closing, and the howls sharpened into a scream and
then were still.
"Danbury had been on the look-out for symptoms all day, and now he had
found them. He looked once more at the thicket, saw a pair of savage
red eyes fixed upon him, and fairly took to his heels. It might only be
a passing delusion, or it might be the permanent mania of which the
doctor had spoken, but anyhow, the thing to do was to get back to bed
and to quiet, and to hope for the best.
"He forgot the hounds, the hunt, and everything else in his desperate
fears for his own reason. He sprang upon his mare, galloped her madly
over the downs, and only stopped when he found himself at a country
station. There he left his mare at the inn, and made back for home as
quickly as steam would take him. It was evening before he got there,
shivering with apprehension, and seeing those red eyes and savage teeth
at every turn. He went straight to bed and sent for Dr. Middleton.
"'I've got 'em, doctor,' said he. 'It came about exactly as you said--
strange creatures, optical delusions, and everything. All I ask you now
is to save my reason.' The doctor listened to his story, and was
shocked as he heard it.
"'It appears to be a very clear case,' said he. 'This must be a lesson
to you for life.'
"'Never a drop again if I only come safely through this,' cried Wat
"'Well, my dear boy, if you will stick to that it may prove a blessing
in disguise. But the difficulty in this case is to know where fact ends
and fancy begins. You see, it is not as if there was only one delusion.
There have been several. The dead dogs, for example, must have been one
as well as the creature in the bush.'
"'I saw it all as clearly as I see you.'
"'One of the characteristics of this form of delirium is that what you
see is even clearer than reality. I was wondering whether the whole run
was not a delusion also.'
"Wat Danbury pointed to his hunting boots still lying upon the floor,
necked with the splashings of two counties.
"'Hum! that looks very real, certainly. No doubt, in your weak state,
you over-exerted yourself and so brought this attack upon yourself.
Well, whatever the cause, our treatment is clear. You will take the
soothing mixture which I will send to you, and we shall put two leeches
upon your temples to-night to relieve any congestion of the brain.'
"So Wat Danbury spent the night in tossing about and reflecting what a
sensitive thing this machinery of ours is, and how very foolish it is to
play tricks with what is so easily put out of gear and so difficult to
mend. And so he repeated and repeated his oath that this first lesson
should be his last, and that from that time forward he would be a sober,
hard-working yeoman as his father had been before him. So he lay,
tossing and still repentant, when his door flew open in the morning and
in rushed the doctor with a newspaper crumpled up in his hand.
"'My dear boy,' he cried, 'I owe you a thousand apologies. You're the
most ill-used lad and I the greatest numskull in the county. Listen to
this!' And he sat down upon the side of the bed, flattened out his
paper upon his knee, and began to read.
"The paragraph was headed, 'Disaster to the Ascombe Hounds,' and it went
on to say that four of the hounds, shockingly torn and mangled, had been
found in Winton Fir Wood upon the South Downs. The run had been so
severe that half the pack were lamed; but the four found in the wood
were actually dead, although the cause of their extraordinary injuries
was still unknown.
"'So, you see,' said the doctor, looking up, 'that I was wrong when I
put the dead hounds among the delusions.'
"'But the cause?' cried Wat.
"'Well, I think we may guess the cause from an item which has been
inserted just as the paper went to press:--
"Late last night, Mr. Brown, of Smither's Farm, to the
east of Hastings, perceived what he imagined to be an enormous
dog worrying one of his sheep. He shot the creature, which
proves to be a grey Siberian wolf of the variety known as
_Lupus Giganticus_. It is supposed to have escaped from some
"That's the story, gentlemen, and Wat Danbury stuck to his good
resolutions, for the fright which he had cured him of all wish to run
such a risk again; and he never touches anything stronger than
lime-juice--at least, he hadn't before he left this part of the country,
five years ago next Lady Day."
THE THREE CORRESPONDENTS
There was only the one little feathery clump of dom palms in all that
great wilderness of black rocks and orange sand. It stood high on the
bank, and below it the brown Nile swirled swiftly towards the Ambigole
Cataract, fitting a little frill of foam round each of the boulders
which studded its surface. Above, out of a naked blue sky, the sun was
beating down upon the sand, and up again from the sand under the brims
of the pith-hats of the horsemen with the scorching glare of a
blast-furnace. It had risen so high that the shadows of the horses were
no larger than themselves.
"Whew!" cried Mortimer, mopping his forehead, "you'd pay five shillings
for this at the hummums."
"Precisely," said Scott. "But you are not asked to ride twenty miles in
a Turkish bath with a field-glass and a revolver, and a water-bottle and
a whole Christmas-treeful of things dangling from you. The hot-house at
Kew is excellent as a conservatory, but not adapted for exhibitions upon
the horizontal bar. I vote for a camp in the palm-grove and a halt
Mortimer rose on his stirrups and looked hard to the southward.
Everywhere were the same black burned rocks and deep orange sand.
At one spot only an intermittent line appeared to have been cut through
the rugged spurs which ran down to the river. It was the bed of the old
railway, long destroyed by the Arabs, but now in process of
reconstruction by the advancing Egyptians. There was no other sign of
man's handiwork in all that desolate scene.
"It's palm trees or nothing," said Scott.
"Well, I suppose we must; and yet I grudge every hour until we catch the
force up. What _would_ our editors say if we were late for the action?"
"My dear chap, an old bird like you doesn't need to be told that no sane
modern general would ever attack until the Press is up."
"You don't mean that?" said young Anerley. "I thought we were looked
upon as an unmitigated nuisance."
"'Newspaper correspondents and travelling gentlemen, and all that tribe
of useless drones'--being an extract from Lord Wolseley's 'Soldier's
Pocket-Book,'" cried Scott. "We know all about _that_, Anerley;" and he
winked behind his blue spectacles. "If there was going to be a battle
we should very soon have an escort of cavalry to hurry us up. I've been
in fifteen, and I never saw one where they had not arranged for a
"That's very well; but the enemy may be less considerate," said
"They are not strong enough to force a battle."
"A skirmish, then?"
"Much more likely to be a raid upon the rear. In that case we are just
where we should be."
"So we are! What a score over Reuter's man up with the advance!
Well, we'll outspan and have our tiffin under the palms."
There were three of them, and they stood for three great London dailies.
Reuter's was thirty miles ahead; two evening pennies upon camels were
twenty miles behind. And among them they represented the eyes and ears
of the public--the great silent millions and millions who had paid for
everything, and who waited so patiently to know the result of their
They were remarkable men these body-servants of the Press; two of them
already veterans in camps, the other setting out upon his first
campaign, and full of deference for his famous comrades.
This first one, who had just dismounted from his bay polo-pony, was
Mortimer, of the _Intelligence_--tall, straight, and hawk-faced, with
khaki tunic and riding-breeches, drab putties, a scarlet cummerbund, and
a skin tanned to the red of a Scotch fir by sun and wind, and mottled by
the mosquito and the sand-fly. The other--small, quick, mercurial, with
blue-black, curling beard and hair, a fly-switch for ever flicking in
his left hand--was Scott, of the _Courier_, who had come through more
dangers and brought off more brilliant _coups_ than any man in the
profession, save the eminent Chandler, now no longer in a condition to
take the field. They were a singular contrast, Mortimer and Scott, and
it was in their differences that the secret of their close friendship
lay. Each dovetailed into the other. The strength of each was in the
other's weakness. Together they formed a perfect unit. Mortimer was
Saxon--slow, conscientious, and deliberate; Scott was Celtic--quick,
happy-go-lucky, and brilliant. Mortimer was the more solid, Scott the
more attractive. Mortimer was the deeper thinker, Scott the brighter
talker. By a curious coincidence, though each had seen much of warfare,
their campaigns had never coincided. Together they covered all recent
military history. Scott had done Plevna, the Shipka, the Zulus, Egypt,
Suakim; Mortimer had seen the Boer War, the Chilian, the Bulgaria and
Servian, the Gordon relief, the Indian frontier, Brazilian rebellion,
and Madagascar. This intimate personal knowledge gave a peculiar
flavour to their talk. There was none of the second-hand surmise and
conjecture which form so much of our conversation; it was all concrete
and final. The speaker had been there, had seen it, and there was an
end of it.
In spite of their friendship there was the keenest professional rivalry
between the two men. Either would have sacrificed himself to help his
companion, but either would also have sacrificed his companion to help
his paper. Never did a jockey yearn for a winning mount as keenly as
each of them longed to have a full column in a morning edition whilst
every other daily was blank. They were perfectly frank about the
matter. Each professed himself ready to steal a march on his neighbour,
and each recognised that the other's duty to his employer was far higher
than any personal consideration.
The third man was Anerley, of the _Gazette_--young, inexperienced, and
rather simple-looking. He had a droop of the lip, which some of his
more intimate friends regarded as a libel upon his character, and his
eyes were so slow and so sleepy that they suggested an affectation.
A leaning towards soldiering had sent him twice to autumn manoeuvres,
and a touch of colour in his descriptions had induced the proprietors of
the _Gazette_ to give him a trial as a war-special. There was a
pleasing diffidence about his bearing which recommended him to his
experienced companions, and if they had a smile sometimes at his
guileless ways, it was soothing to them to have a comrade from whom
nothing was to be feared. From the day that they left the
telegraph-wire behind them at Sarras, the man who was mounted upon a
15-guinea 13-4 Syrian was delivered over into the hands of the owners of
the two fastest polo-ponies that ever shot down the Ghezireh ground.
The three had dismounted and led their beasts under the welcome shade.
In the brassy, yellow glare every branch above threw so black and solid
a shadow that the men involuntarily raised their feet to step over
"The palm makes an excellent hat-rack," said Scott, slinging his
revolver and his water-bottle over the little upward-pointing pegs which
bristle from the trunk. "As a shade tree, however, it isn't an
unqualified success. Curious that in the universal adaptation of means
to ends something a little less flimsy could not have been devised for
"Like the banyan in India."
"Or the fine hardwood trees in Ashantee, where a whole regiment could
picnic under the shade."
"The teak tree isn't bad in Burmah, either. By Jove, the baccy has all
come loose in the saddle-bag! That long-cut mixture smokes rather hot
for this climate. How about the baggles, Anerley?"
"They'll be here in five minutes."
Down the winding path which curved among the rocks the little train of
baggage-camels was daintily picking its way. They came mincing and
undulating along, turning their heads slowly from side to side with the
air of a self-conscious woman. In front rode the three Berberee
body-servants upon donkeys, and behind walked the Arab camel-boys.
They had been travelling for nine long hours, ever since the first
rising of the moon, at the weary camel-drag of two and a half miles an
hour, but now they brightened, both beasts and men, at the sight of the
grove and the riderless horses. In a few minutes the loads were
unstrapped, the animals tethered, a fire lighted, fresh water carried up
from the river, and each camel-boy provided with his own little heap of
tibbin laid in the centre of the table-cloth, without which no well-bred
Arabian will condescend to feed. The dazzling light without, the
subdued half-tones within, the green palm-fronds outlined against the
deep blue sky, the flitting, silent-footed Arab servants, the crackling
of sticks, the reek of a lighting fire, the placid supercilious heads of
the camels, they all come back in their dreams to those who have known
Scott was breaking eggs into a pan and rolling out a love-song in his
rich, deep voice. Anerley, with his head and arms buried in a deal
packing-case, was working his way through strata of tinned soups, bully
beef, potted chicken, and sardines to reach the jams which lay beneath.
The conscientious Mortimer, with his notebook upon his knee, was jotting
down what the railway engineer had told him at the line-end the day
before. Suddenly he raised his eyes and saw the man himself on his
chestnut pony, dipping and rising over the broken ground.
"Hullo! Here's Merryweather!"
"A pretty lather his pony is in! He's had her at that hand-gallop for
hours, by the look of her. Hullo, Merryweather, hullo!"
The engineer, a small, compact man with a pointed red beard, had made as
though he would ride past their camp without word or halt. Now he
swerved, and easing his pony down to a canter, he headed her to-wards
"For God's sake, a drink!" he croaked. "My tongue is stuck to the roof
of my mouth."
Mortimer ran with the water-bottle, Scott with the whisky-flask, and
Anerley with the tin pannikin. The engineer drank until his breath
"Well, I must be off," said he, striking the drops from his red
"A hitch in the railway construction. I must see the general.
It's the devil not having a telegraph."
"Anything we can report?" Out came three notebooks.
"I'll tell you after I've seen the general."
"The usual shaves. Hud-up, Jinny! Good-bye!"
With a soft thudding upon the sand, and a clatter among the stones the
weary pony was off upon her journey once more.
"Nothing serious, I suppose?" said Mortimer, staring after him.
"Deuced serious," cried Scott. "The ham and eggs are burned! No--it's
all right--saved, and done to a turn! Pull the box up, Anerley.
Come on, Mortimer, stow that notebook! The fork is mightier than the
pen just at present. What's the matter with you, Anerley?"
"I was wondering whether what we have just seen was worth a telegram."
"Well, it's for the proprietors to say if it's worth it. Sordid money
considerations are not for us. We must wire about something just to
justify our khaki coats and our putties."
"But what is there to say?"
Mortimer's long, austere face broke into a smile over the youngster's
innocence. "It's not quite usual in our profession to give each other
tips," said he. "However, as my telegram is written, I've no objection
to your reading it. You may be sure that I would not show it to you if
it were of the slightest importance."
Anerley took up the slip of paper and read:--
Merryweather obstacles stop journey confer general stop nature
difficulties later stop rumours dervishes.
"This is very condensed," said Anerley, with wrinkled brows.
"Condensed!" cried Scott. "Why, it's sinfully garrulous. If my old man
got a wire like that his language would crack the lamp-shades. I'd cut
out half this; for example, I'd have out 'journey,' and 'nature,' and
'rumours.' But my old man would make a ten-line paragraph of it for all
"Well, I'll do it myself just to show you. Lend me that stylo." He
scribbled for a minute in his notebook. "It works out somewhat on these
Mr. Charles H. Merryweather, the eminent railway engineer,
who is at present engaged in superintending the construction
of the line from Sarras to the front, has met with considerable
obstacles to the rapid completion of his important task--
"Of course the old man knows who Merryweather is, and what he is about,
so the word 'obstacles' would suggest all that to him."
He has to-day been compelled to make a journey of forty
miles to the front, in order to confer with the general upon
the steps which are necessary in order to facilitate the work.
Further particulars of the exact nature of the difficulties
met with will be made public at a later date. All is quiet
upon the line of communications, though the usual persistent
rumours of the presence of dervishes in the Eastern desert
continue to circulate.--_Our own correspondent_.
"How's that?" cried Scott, triumphantly, and his white teeth gleamed
suddenly through his black beard. "That's the sort of flapdoodle for
the dear old public."
"Will it interest them?"
"Oh, everything interests them. They want to know all about it; and
they like to think that there is a man who is getting a hundred a month
simply in order to tell it to them."
"It's very kind of you to teach me all this."
"Well, it is a little unconventional, for, after all, we are here to
score over each other if we can. There are no more eggs, and you must
take it out in jam. Of course, as Mortimer says, such a telegram as
this is of no importance one way or another, except to prove to the
office that we _are_ in the Soudan, and not at Monte Carlo. But when it
comes to serious work it must be every man for himself."
"Is that quite necessary?"
"Why, of course it is."
"I should have thought if three men were to combine and to share their
news, they would do better than if they were each to act for himself,
and they would have a much pleasanter time of it."
The two older men sat with their bread-and-jam in their hands, and an
expression of genuine disgust upon their faces.
"We are not here to have a pleasant time," said Mortimer, with a flash
through his glasses. "We are here to do our best for our papers.
How can they score over each other if we do not do the same? If we all
combine we might as well amalgamate with Reuter at once."
"Why, it would take away the whole glory of the profession!" cried
Scott. "At present the smartest man gets his stuff first on the wires.
What inducement is there to be smart if we all share and share alike?"
"And at present the man with the best equipment has the best chance,"
remarked Mortimer, glancing across at the shot-silk polo ponies and the
cheap little Syrian grey. "That is the fair reward of foresight and
enterprise. Every man for himself, and let the best man win."
"That's the way to find who the best man is. Look at Chandler.
He would never have got his chance if he had not played always off his
own bat. You've heard how he pretended to break his leg, sent his
fellow-correspondent off for the doctor, and so got a fair start for the
"Do you mean to say that was legitimate?"
"Everything is legitimate. It's your wits against my wits."
"I should call it dishonourable."
"You may call it what you like. Chandler's paper got the battle and the
other's didn't. It made Chandler's name."
"Or take Westlake," said Mortimer, cramming the tobacco into his pipe.
"Hi, Abdul, you may have the dishes! Westlake brought his stuff down by
pretending to be the Government courier, and using the relays of
Government horses. Westlake's paper sold half a million."
"Is that legitimate also?" asked Anerley, thoughtfully.
"Well, it looks a little like horse-stealing and lying."
"Well, _I_ think I should do a little horse-stealing and lying if I
could have a column to myself in a London daily. What do you say,
"Anything short of manslaughter."
"And I'm not sure that I'd trust you there."
"Well, I don't think I should be guilty of newspaper-man-slaughter.
That I regard as a distinct breach of professional etiquette. But if
any outsider comes between a highly charged correspondent and an
electric wire, he does it at his peril. My dear Anerley, I tell you
frankly that if you are going to handicap yourself with scruple you may
just as well be in Fleet Street as in the Soudan. Our life is
irregular. Our work has never been systematised. No doubt it will be
some day, but the time is not yet. Do what you can and how you can, and
be first on the wires; that's my advice to you; and also, that when next
you come upon a campaign you bring with you the best horse that money
can buy. Mortimer may beat me or I may beat Mortimer, but at least we
know that between us we have the fastest ponies in the country. We have
neglected no chance."
"I am not so certain of that," said Mortimer, slowly. "You are aware,
of course, that though a horse beats a camel on twenty miles, a camel
beats a horse on thirty."
"What, one of those camels?" cried Anerley in astonishment. The two
seniors burst out laughing.
"No, no, the real high-bred trotter--the kind of beast the dervishes
ride when they make their lightning raids."
"Faster than a galloping horse?" "Well, it tires a horse down. It goes
the same gait all the way, and it wants neither halt nor drink, and it
takes rough ground much better than a horse. They used to have long
distance races at Haifa, and the camel always won at thirty."
"Still, we need not reproach ourselves, Scott, for we are not very
likely to have to carry a thirty-mile message, they will have the field
telegraph next week."
"Quite so. But at the present moment--"
"I know, my dear chap; but there is no motion of urgency before the
house. Load baggles at five o'clock; so you have Just three hours
clear. Any sign of the evening pennies?"
Mortimer swept the northern horizon with his binoculars. "Not in sight
"They are quite capable of travelling during the heat of the day.
Just the sort of thing evening pennies _would_ do. Take care of your
match, Anerley. These palm groves go up like a powder magazine if you
set them alight. Bye-bye." The two men crawled under their
mosquito-nets and sank instantly into the easy sleep of those whose
lives are spent in the open.
Young Anerley stood with his back against a palm tree and his briar
between his lips, thinking over the advice which he had received.
After all, they were the heads of the profession, these men, and it was
not for him, the newcomer, to reform their methods. If they served
their papers in this fashion, then he must do the same. They had at
least been frank and generous in teaching him the rules of the game.
If it was good enough for them it was good enough for him.
It was a broiling afternoon, and those thin frills of foam round the
black, glistening necks of the Nile boulders looked delightfully cool
and alluring. But it would not be safe to bathe for some hours to come.
The air shimmered and vibrated over the baking stretch of sand and rock.
There was not a breath of wind, and the droning and piping of the
insects inclined one for sleep. Somewhere above a hoopoe was calling.
Anerley knocked out his ashes, and was turning towards his couch, when
his eye caught something moving in the desert to the south. It was a
horseman riding towards them as swiftly as the broken ground would
permit. A messenger from the army, thought Anerley; and then, as he
watched, the sun suddenly struck the man on the side of the head, and
his chin flamed into gold. There could not be two horsemen with beards
of such a colour. It was Merryweather, the engineer, and he was
returning. What on earth was he returning for? He had been so keen to
see the general, and yet he was coming back with his mission
unaccomplished. Was it that his pony was hopelessly foundered?
It seemed to be moving well. Anerley picked up Mortimer's binoculars,
and a foam-bespattered horse and a weary koorbash-cracking man came
cantering up the centre of the field. But there was nothing in his
appearance to explain the mystery of his return. Then as he watched
them they dipped into a hollow and disappeared. He could see that it
was one of those narrow khors which led to the river, and he waited,
glass in hand, for their immediate reappearance. But minute passed
after minute and there was no sign of them. That narrow gully appeared
to have swallowed them up. And then with a curious gulp and start he
saw a little grey cloud wreathe itself slowly from among the rocks and
drift in a long, hazy shred over the desert. In an instant he had torn
Scott and Mortimer from their slumbers.
"Get up, you chaps!" he cried. "I believe Merryweather has been shot by
"And Reuter not here!" cried the two veterans, exultantly clutching at
their notebooks. "Merryweather shot! Where? When? How?"
In a few words Anerley explained what he had seen.
"You heard nothing?"
"Well, a shot loses itself very easily among rocks. By George, look at
Two large brown birds were soaring in the deep blue heaven. As Scott
spoke they circled down and dropped into the little khor.
"That's good enough," said Mortimer, with his nose between the leaves of
his book. "'Merryweather headed dervishes stop return stop shot
mutilated stop raid communications.' How's that?"
"You think he was headed off?"
"Why else should he return?"
"In that case, if they were out in front of him and others cut him off,
there must be several small raiding parties."
"I should judge so."
"How about the 'mutilated'?"
"I've fought against Arabs before."
"Where are you off to?"
"I think I'll race you in," said Scott.
Anerley stared in astonishment at the absolutely impersonal way in which
these men regarded the situation. In their zeal for news it had
apparently never struck them that they, their camp, and their servants
were all in the lion's mouth. But even as they talked there came the
harsh, importunate rat-tat-tat of an irregular volley from among the
rocks, and the high, keening whistle of bullets over their heads.
A palm spray fluttered down amongst them. At the same instant the six
frightened servants came running wildly in for protection.
It was the cool-headed Mortimer who organised the defence, for Scott's
Celtic soul was so aflame at all this "copy" in hand and more to come
that he was too exuberantly boisterous for a commander. The other, with
his spectacles and his stern face, soon had the servants in hand.
"_Tali henna! Egri!_ What the deuce are you frightened about? Put the
camels between the palm trunks. That's right. Now get the knee-tethers
on them. _Quies_! Did you never hear bullets before? Now put the
donkeys here. Not much--you don't get my polo-pony to make a zareba
with. Picket the ponies between the grove and the river out of danger's
way. These fellows seem to fire even higher than they did in '85."
"That's got home, anyhow," said Scott, as they heard a soft, splashing
thud like a stone in a mud-bank.
"Who's hit, then?"
"The brown camel that's chewing the cud." As he spoke the creature, its
jaw still working, laid its long neck along the ground and closed its
large dark eyes.
"That shot cost me 15 pounds," said Mortimer, ruefully. "How many of
them do you make?"
"Four, I think."
"Only four Bezingers, at any rate; there may be some spearmen."
"I think not; it is a little raiding-party of rifle-men. By the way,
Anerley, you've never been under fire before, have you?"
"Never," said the young pressman, who was conscious of a curious feeling
of nervous elation.
"Love and poverty and war, they are all experiences necessary to make a
complete life. Pass over those cartridges. This is a very mild baptism
that you are undergoing, for behind these camels you are as safe as if
you were sitting in the back room of the Authors' Club."
"As safe, but hardly as comfortable," said Scott. "A long glass of hock
and seltzer would be exceedingly acceptable. But oh, Mortimer, what a
chance! Think of the general's feelings when he hears that the first
action of the war has been fought by the Press column. Think of Reuter,
who has been stewing at the front for a week! Think of the evening
pennies just too late for the fun. By George, that slug brushed a
mosquito off me!"
"And one of the donkeys is hit."
"This is sinful. It will end in our having to carry our own kits to
"Never mind, my boy, it all goes to make copy. I can see the
headlines--'Raid on Communications'; 'Murder of British Engineer':
'Press Column Attacked.' Won't it be ripping?"
"I wonder what the next line will be," said Anerley.
"'Our Special Wounded'!" cried Scott, rolling over on to his back.
"No harm done," he added, gathering himself up again; "only a chip off
my knee. This is getting sultry. I confess that the idea of that back
room at the Authors' Club begins to grow upon me."
"I have some diachylon."
"Afterwards will do. We're having a 'appy day with Fuzzy on the rush.
I wish he _would_ rush."
"They're coming nearer."
"This is an excellent revolver of mine if it didn't throw so devilish
high. I always aim at a man's toes if I want to stimulate his
digestion. O Lord, there's our kettle gone!" With a boom like a
dinner-gong a Remington bullet had passed through the kettle, and a
cloud of steam hissed up from the fire. A wild shout came from the
"The idiots think that they have blown us up. They'll rush us now, as
sure as fate; then it will be our turn to lead. Got your revolver,
"I have this double-barrelled fowling-piece."
"Sensible man! It's the best weapon in the world at this sort of
rough-and-tumble work. What cartridges?"
"That will do all right. I carry this big bore double-barrelled pistol
loaded with slugs. You might as well try to stop one of these fellows
with a pea-shooter as with a service revolver."
"There are ways and means," said Scott. "The Geneva Convention does not
hold south of the first cataract. It's easy to make a bullet mushroom
by a little manipulation of the tip of it. When I was in the broken
square at Tamai--"
"Wait a bit," cried Mortimer, adjusting his glasses. "I think they are
"The time," said Scott, snapping up his watch, "being exactly seventeen
minutes past four."
Anerley had been lying behind a camel staring with an interest which
bordered upon fascination at the rocks opposite. Here was a little
woolly puff of smoke, and there was another one, but never once had they
caught a glimpse of the attackers. To him there was something weird and
awesome in these unseen, persistent men who, minute by minute, were
drawing closer to them. He had heard them cry out when the kettle was
broken, and once, immediately afterwards, an enormously strong voice had
roared something which had set Scott shrugging his shoulders.
"They've got to take us first," said he, and Anerley thought his nerve
might be better if he did not ask for a translation.
The firing had begun at a distance of some 100 yards, which put it out
of the question for them, with their lighter weapons, to make any reply
to it. Had their antagonists continued to keep that range the defenders
must either have made a hopeless sally or tried to shelter themselves
behind their zareba as best they might on the chance that the sound
might bring up help. But, luckily for them, the African has never taken
kindly to the rifle, and his primitive instinct to close with his enemy
is always too strong for his sense of strategy. They were drawing in,
therefore, and now, for the first time, Anerley caught sight of a face
looking at them from over a rock. It was a huge, virile, strong-jawed
head of a pure negro type, with silver trinkets gleaming in the ears.
The man raised a great arm from behind the rock, and shook his Remington
"Shall I fire?" asked Anerley.
"No, no; it is too far. Your shot would scatter all over the place."
"It's a picturesque ruffian," said Scott. "Couldn't you kodak him,
Mortimer? There's another!" A fine-featured brown Arab, with a black,
pointed beard, was peeping from behind another boulder. He wore the
green turban which proclaimed him hadji, and his face showed the keen,
nervous exultation of the religious fanatic.
"They seem a piebald crowd," said Scott.
"That last is one of the real fighting Baggara," remarked Mortimer.
"He's a dangerous man."
"He looks pretty vicious. There's another negro!"
"Two more! Dingas, by the look of them. Just the same chaps we get our
own black battalions from. As long as they get a fight they don't mind
who it's for; but if the idiots had only sense enough to understand,
they would know that the Arab is their hereditary enemy, and we their
hereditary friends. Look at the silly juggins, gnashing his teeth at
the very men who put down the slave trade!"
"Couldn't you explain?"
"I'll explain with this pistol when he comes a little nearer. Now sit
tight, Anerley. They're off!"
They were indeed. It was the brown man with the green turban who headed
the rush. Close at his heels was the negro with the silver ear-rings--
a giant of a man, and the other two were only a little behind. As they
sprang over the rocks one after the other, it took Anerley back to the
school sports when he held the tape for the hurdle-race. It was
magnificent, the wild spirit and abandon of it, the flutter of the
chequered galabeeahs, the gleam of steel, the wave of black arms, the
frenzied faces, the quick pitter-patter of the rushing feet. The
law-abiding Briton is so imbued with the idea of the sanctity of human
life that it was hard for the young pressman to realise that these men
had every intention of killing him, and that he was at perfect liberty
to do as much for them. He lay staring as if this were a show and he a
"Now, Anerley, now! Take the Arab!" cried somebody.
He put up the gun and saw the brown fierce face at the other end of the
barrel. He tugged at the trigger, but the face grew larger and fiercer
with every stride. Again and again he tugged. A revolver-shot rang out
at his elbow, then another one, and he saw a red spot spring out on the
Arab's brown breast. But he was still coming on.
"Shoot, you ass, shoot!" screamed Scott.
Again he strained unavailingly at the trigger. There were two more
pistol-shots, and the big negro had fallen and risen and fallen again.
"Cock it, you fool!" shouted a furious voice; and at the same instant,
with a rush and flutter, the Arab bounded over the prostrate camel and
came down with his bare feet upon Anerley's chest. In a dream he seemed
to be struggling frantically with someone upon the ground, then he was
conscious of a tremendous explosion in his very face, and so ended for
him the first action of the war.
"Good-bye, old chap. You'll be all right. Give yourself time." It was
Mortimer's voice, and he became dimly conscious of a long, spectacled
face, and of a heavy hand upon his shoulder.
"Sorry to leave you. We'll be lucky now if we are in time for the
morning editions." Scott was tightening his girth as he spoke.
"We'll put in our wire that you have been hurt, so your people will know
why they don't hear from you. If Reuter or the evening pennies come up,
don't give the thing away. Abbas will look after you, and we'll be back
to-morrow afternoon. Bye-bye!"
Anerley heard it all, though he did not feel energy enough to answer.
Then, as he watched two sleek, brown ponies with their yellow-clad
riders dwindling among the rocks, his memory cleared suddenly, and he
realised that the first great journalistic chance of his life was
slipping away from him. It was a small fight, but it was the first of
the war, and the great public at home were all athirst for news.
They would have it in the _Courier_; they would have it in the
_Intelligence_, and not a word in the _Gazette_. The thought brought
him to his feet, though he had to throw his arm round the stem of the
palm tree to steady his swimming head. There was a big black man lying
where he had fallen, his huge chest pocked with bullet-marks, every
wound rosetted with its circle of flies. The Arab was stretched out
within a few yards of him, with two hands clasped over the dreadful
thing which had been his head. Across him was lying Anerley's
fowling-piece, one barrel discharged, the other at half cock.
"Scott effendi shoot him your gun," said a voice. It was Abbas, his
Anerley groaned at the disgrace of it. He had lost his head so
completely that he had forgotten to cock his gun; and yet he knew that
it was not fear but interest which had so absorbed him. He put his hand
up to his head and felt that a wet handkerchief was bound round his
"Where are the two other dervishes?"
"They ran away. One got shot in arm."
"What's happened to me?"
"Effendi got cut on head. Effendi catch bad man by arms, and Scott
effendi shot him. Face burn very bad."
Anerley became conscious suddenly that there was a pringling about his
skin and an overpowering smell of burned hair under his nostrils. He
put his hand to his moustache. It was gone. His eyebrows too?
He could not find them. His head, no doubt, was very near to the
dervish's when they were rolling upon the ground together, and this was
the effect of the explosion of his own gun. Well, he would have time to
grow some more hair before he saw Fleet Street again. But the cut,
perhaps, was a more serious matter. Was it enough to prevent him
getting to the telegraph-office at Sarras? The only way was to try and
see. But there was only that poor little Syrian grey of his. There it
stood in the evening sunshine, with a sunk head and a bent knee, as if
its morning's work was still heavy upon it. What hope was there of
being able to do thirty-five miles of heavy going upon that? It would
be a strain upon the splendid ponies of his companions--and they were
the swiftest and most enduring in the country. The most enduring?
There was one creature more enduring, and that was a real trotting
camel. If he had had one he might have got to the wires first after
all, for Mortimer had said that over thirty miles they have the better
of any horse. Yes, if he had only had a real trotting camel! And then
like a flash came Mortimer's words, "It is the kind of beast that the
dervishes ride when they make their lightning raids."
The beasts the dervishes ride! What had these dead dervishes ridden?
In an instant he was clambering up the rocks, with Abbas protesting at
his heels. Had the two fugitives carried away all the camels, or had
they been content to save themselves? The brass gleam from a litter of
empty Remington cases caught his eye, and showed where the enemy had
been crouching. And then he could have shouted for joy, for there, in
the hollow, some little distance off, rose the high, graceful white neck
and the elegant head of such a camel as he had never set eyes upon
before--a swanlike, beautiful creature, as far from the rough, clumsy
baggles as the cart-horse is from the racer.
The beast was kneeling under the shelter of the rocks with its waterskin
and bag of doora slung over its shoulders, and its forelegs tethered
Arab fashion with a rope around the knees. Anerley threw his leg over
the front pommel while Abbas slipped off the cord. Forward flew
Anerley towards the creature's neck, then violently backwards, clawing
madly at anything which might save him, and then, with a jerk which
nearly snapped his loins, he was thrown forward again. But the camel
was on its legs now, and the young pressman was safely seated upon one
of the fliers of the desert. It was as gentle as it was swift, and it
stood oscillating its long neck and gazing round with its large brown
eyes, whilst Anerley coiled his legs round the peg and grasped the
curved camel-stick which Abbas had handed up to him. There were two
bridle-cords, one from the nostril and one from the neck, but he
remembered that Scott had said that it was the servant's and not the
house-bell which had to be pulled, so he kept his grasp upon the lower.
Then he touched the long, vibrating neck with his stick, and in an
instant Abbas' farewell seemed to come from far behind him, and the
black rocks and yellow sand were dancing past on either side.
It was his first experience of a trotting camel, and at first the
motion, although irregular and abrupt, was not unpleasant. Having no
stirrup or fixed point of any kind, he could not rise to it, but he
gripped as tightly as be could with his knee, and he tried to sway
backwards and forwards as he had seen the Arabs do. It was a large,
very concave Makloofa saddle, and he was conscious that he was bouncing
about on it with as little power of adhesion as a billiard-ball upon a
tea-tray. He gripped the two sides with his hands to hold himself
steady. The creature had got into its long, swinging, stealthy trot,
its sponge-like feet making no sound upon the hard sand. Anerley leaned
back with his two hands gripping hard behind him, and he whooped the
creature on. The sun had already sunk behind the line of black volcanic
peaks, which look like huge slag-heaps at the mouth of a mine.
The western sky had taken that lovely light green and pale pink tint
which makes evening beautiful upon the Nile, and the old brown river
itself, swirling down amongst the black rocks, caught some shimmer of
the colours above. The glare, the heat, and the piping of the insects
had all ceased together. In spite of his aching head, Anerley could
have cried out for pure physical joy as the swift creature beneath him
flew along with him through that cool, invigorating air, with the virile
north wind soothing his pringling face.
He had looked at his watch, and now he made a swift calculation of times
and distances. It was past six when he had left the camp. Over broken
ground it was impossible that he could hope to do more than seven miles
an hour--less on bad parts, more on the smooth. His recollection of the
track was that there were few smooth and many bad. He would be lucky,
then, if he reached Sarras anywhere from twelve to one. Then the
messages took a good two hours to go through, for they had to be
transcribed at Cairo. At the best he could only hope to have told his
story in Fleet Street at two or three in the morning. It was possible
that he might manage it, but the chances seemed enormously against him.
About three the morning edition would be made up, and his chance gone
for ever. The one thing clear was that only the first man at the wires
would have any chance at all, and Anerley meant to be first if hard
riding could do it. So he tapped away at the bird-like neck, and the
creature's long, loose limbs went faster and faster at every tap.
Where the rocky spurs ran down to the river, horses would have to go
round, while camels might get across, so that Anerley felt that he was
always gaining upon his companions.
But there was a price to be paid for the feeling. He had heard of men
who had burst when on camel journeys, and he knew that the Arabs swathe
their bodies tightly in broad cloth bandages when they prepare for a
long march. It had seemed unnecessary and ridiculous when he first
began to speed over the level track, but now, when he got on the rocky
paths, he understood what it meant. Never for an instant was he at the
same angle. Backwards, forwards he swung, with a tingling jar at the
end of each sway, until he ached from his neck to his knees. It caught
him across the shoulders, it caught him down the spine, it gripped him
over the loins, it marked the lower line of his ribs with one heavy,
dull throb. He clutched here and there with his hand to try and ease
the strain upon his muscles. He drew up his knees, altered his seat,
and set his teeth with a grim determination to go through with it should
it kill him. His head was splitting, his flayed face smarting, and
every joint in his body aching as if it were dislocated. But he forgot
all that when, with the rising of the moon, he heard the clinking of
horses' hoofs down upon the track by the river, and knew that, unseen by
them, he had already got well abreast of his companions. But he was
hardly halfway, and the time already eleven.
All day the needles had been ticking away without intermission in the
little corrugated iron hut which served as a telegraph station at
Sarras. With its bare walls and its packing-case seats, it was none the
less for the moment one of the vital spots upon the earth's surface, and
the crisp, importunate ticking might have come from the world-old clock
of Destiny. Many august people had been at the other end of those
wires, and had communed with the moist-faced military clerk. A French
Premier had demanded a pledge, and an English marquis had passed on the
request to the General in command, with a question as to how it would
affect the situation. Cipher telegrams had nearly driven the clerk out
of his wits, for of all crazy occupations the taking of a cipher
message, when you are without the key to the cipher, is the worst.
Much high diplomacy had been going on all day in the innermost chambers
of European chancellories, and the results of it had been whispered into
this little corrugated-iron hut. About two in the morning an enormous
despatch had come at last to an end, and the weary operator had opened
the door, and was lighting his pipe in the cool, fresh air, when he saw
a camel plump down in the dust, and a man, who seemed to be in the last
stage of drunkenness, come rolling towards him.
"What's the time?" he cried, in a voice which appeared to be the only
sober thing about him.
It was on the clerk's lips to say that it was time that the questioner
was in his bed, but it is not safe upon a campaign to be ironical at the
expense of khaki-clad men. He contented himself, therefore, with the
bald statement that it was after two. But no retort that he could have
devised could have had a more crushing effect. The voice turned drunken
also, and the man caught at the door-post to uphold him.
"Two o'clock! I'm done after all!" said he. His head was tied up in a
bloody handkerchief, his face was crimson, and he stood with his legs
crooked as if the pith had all gone out of his back. The clerk began to
realise that something out of the ordinary was in the wind.
"How long does it take to get a wire to London?"
"About two hours."
"And it's two now. I could not get it there before four."
"But you said two hours."
"Yes, but there's more than an hour's difference in longitude."
"By Heaven, I'll do it yet!" cried Anerley, and staggering to a
packing-case, he began the dictation of his famous despatch.
And so it came about that the _Gazette_ had a long column, with
headlines like an epitaph, when the sheets of the _Intelligence_ and the
_Courier_ were as blank as the faces of their editors. And so, too, it
happened that when two weary men, upon two foundered horses, arrived
about four in the morning at the Sarras post-office, they looked at each
other in silence and departed noiselessly, with the conviction that
there are some situations with which the English language is not capable
The New Catacomb
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, "I do wish that you would confide in
The two famous students of Roman remains sat together in Kennedy's
comfortable room overlooking the Corso. The night was cold, and they
had both pulled up their chairs to the unsatisfactory Italian stove
which threw out a zone of stuffiness rather than of warmth.
Outside under the bright winter stars lay the modern Rome, the long,
double chain of the electric lamps, the brilliantly lighted _cafes_, the
rushing carriages, and the dense throng upon the footpaths. But inside,
in the sumptuous chamber of the rich young English archaeologist, there
was only old Rome to be seen. Cracked and time-worn friezes hung upon
the walls, grey old busts of senators and soldiers with their fighting
heads and their hard, cruel faces peered out from the corners. On the
centre table, amidst a litter of inscriptions, fragments, and ornaments,
there stood the famous reconstruction by Kennedy of the Baths of
Caracalla, which excited such interest and admiration when it was
exhibited in Berlin.
Amphorae hung from the ceiling, and a litter of curiosities strewed the
rich red Turkey carpet. And of them all there was not one which was not
of the most unimpeachable authenticity, and of the utmost rarity and
value; for Kennedy, though little more than thirty, had a European
reputation in this particular branch of research, and was, moreover,
provided with that long purse which either proves to be a fatal handicap
to the student's energies, or, if his mind is still true to its purpose,
gives him an enormous advantage in the race for fame. Kennedy had often
been seduced by whim and pleasure from his studies, but his mind was an
incisive one, capable of long and concentrated efforts which ended in
sharp reactions of sensuous languor. His handsome face, with its high,
white forehead, its aggressive nose, and its somewhat loose and sensuous
mouth, was a fair index of the compromise between strength and weakness
in his nature.
Of a very different type was his companion, Julius Burger. He came of a
curious blend, a German father and an Italian mother, with the robust
qualities of the North mingling strangely with the softer graces of the
South. Blue Teutonic eyes lightened his sun-browned face, and above
them rose a square, massive forehead, with a fringe of close yellow
curls lying round it. His strong, firm jaw was clean-shaven, and his
companion had frequently remarked how much it suggested those old Roman
busts which peered out from the shadows in the corners of his chamber.
Under its bluff German strength there lay always a suggestion of Italian
subtlety, but the smile was so honest, and the eyes so frank, that one
understood that this was only an indication of his ancestry, with no
actual bearing upon his character.
In age and in reputation he was on the same level as his English
companion, but his life and his work had both been far more arduous.
Twelve years before he had come as a poor student to Rome, and had lived
ever since upon some small endowment for research which had been awarded
to him by the University of Bonn.
Painfully, slowly, and doggedly, with extraordinary tenacity and
singlemindedness, he had climbed from rung to rung of the ladder of
fame, until now he was a member of the Berlin Academy, and there was
every reason to believe that he would shortly be promoted to the Chair
of the greatest of German Universities. But the singleness of purpose
which had brought him to the same high level as the rich and brilliant
Englishman, had caused him in everything outside their work to stand
infinitely below him. He had never found a pause in his studies in
which to cultivate the social graces. It was only when he spoke of his
own subject that his face was filled with life and soul. At other times
he was silent and embarrassed, too conscious of his own limitations in
larger subjects, and impatient of that small talk which is the
conventional refuge of those who have no thoughts to express.
And yet for some years there had been an acquaintanceship which appeared
to be slowly ripening into a friendship between these two very different
rivals. The base and origin of this lay in the fact that in their own
studies each was the only one of the younger men who had knowledge and
enthusiasm enough to properly appreciate the other. Their common
interests and pursuits had brought them together, and each had been
attracted by the other's knowledge. And then gradually something had
been added to this. Kennedy had been amused by the frankness and
simplicity of his rival, while Burger in turn had been fascinated by the
brilliancy and vivacity which had made Kennedy such a favourite in Roman
society. I say "had," because just at the moment the young Englishman
was somewhat under a cloud.
A love affair, the details of which had never quite come out, had
indicated a heartlessness and callousness upon his part which shocked
many of his friends. But in the bachelor circles of students and
artists in which he preferred to move there is no very rigid code of
honour in such matters, and though a head might be shaken or a pair of
shoulders shrugged over the flight of two and the return of one, the
general sentiment was probably one of curiosity and perhaps of envy
rather than of reprobation.
"Look here, Burger," said Kennedy, looking hard at the placid face of
his companion, "I do wish that you would confide in me."
As he spoke he waved his hand in the direction of a rug which
lay upon the floor.
On the rug stood a long, shallow fruit-basket of the light wicker-work
which is used in the Campagna, and this was heaped with a litter of
objects, inscribed tiles, broken inscriptions, cracked mosaics, torn
papyri, rusty metal ornaments, which to the uninitiated might have
seemed to have come straight from a dustman's bin, but which a
specialist would have speedily recognized as unique of their kind.
The pile of odds and ends in the flat wicker-work basket supplied
exactly one of those missing links of social development which are of
such interest to the student. It was the German who had brought them
in, and the Englishman's eyes were hungry as he looked at them.
"I won't interfere with your treasure-trove, but I should very much like
to hear about it," he continued, while Burger very deliberately lit a
cigar. "It is evidently a discovery of the first importance. These
inscriptions will make a sensation throughout Europe."
"For every one here there are a million there!" said the German. "There
are so many that a dozen savants might spend a lifetime over them, and
build up a reputation as solid as the Castle of St. Angelo."
Kennedy was thinking with his fine forehead wrinkled and his fingers
playing with his long, fair moustache.
"You have given yourself away, Burger!" said he at last. "Your words
can only apply to one thing. You have discovered a new catacomb."
"I had no doubt that you had already come to that conclusion from an
examination of these objects."
"Well, they certainly appeared to indicate it, but your last remarks
make it certain. There is no place except a catacomb which could
contain so vast a store of relics as you describe."
"Quite so. There is no mystery about that. I _have_ discovered a new
"Ah, that is my secret, my dear Kennedy! Suffice it that it is so
situated that there is not one chance in a million of anyone else coming
upon it. Its date is different from that of any known catacomb, and it
has been reserved for the burial of the highest Christians, so that the
remains and the relics are quite different from anything which has ever
been seen before. If I was not aware of your knowledge and of your
energy, my friend, I would not hesitate, under the pledge of secrecy, to
tell you everything about it. But as it is I think that I must
certainly prepare my own report of the matter before I expose myself to
such formidable competition."
Kennedy loved his subject with a love which was almost a mania--a love
which held him true to it, amidst all the distractions which come to a
wealthy and dissipated young man. He had ambition, but his ambition was
secondary to his mere abstract joy and interest in everything which
concerned the old life and history of the city. He yearned to see this
new underworld which his companion had discovered.
"Look here, Burger," said he, earnestly, "I assure you that you can
trust me most implicitly in the matter. Nothing would induce me to put
pen to paper about anything which I see until I have your express
permission. I quite understand your feeling, and I think it is most
natural, but you have really nothing whatever to fear from me. On the
other hand, if you don't tell me I shall make a systematic search, and I
shall most certainly discover it. In that case, of course, I should
make what use I liked of it, since I should be under no obligation to
Burger smiled thoughtfully over his cigar.
"I have noticed, friend Kennedy," said he, "that when I want information
over any point you are not always so ready to supply it."
"When did you ever ask me anything that I did not tell you? You
remember, for example, my giving you the material for your paper about
the temple of the Vestals."
"Ah, well, that was not a matter of much importance. If I were to
question you upon some intimate thing, would you give me an answer, I
wonder! This new catacomb is a very intimate thing to me, and I should
certainly expect some sign of confidence in return."
"What you are driving at I cannot imagine," said the Englishman, "but if
you mean that you will answer my question about the catacomb if I answer
any question which you may put to me, I can assure you that I will
certainly do so."
"Well, then," said Burger, leaning luxuriously back in his settee, and
puffing a blue tree of cigar-smoke into the air, "tell me all about your
relations with Miss Mary Saunderson."
Kennedy sprang up in his chair and glared angrily at his impassive
"What the devil do you mean?" he cried. "What sort of a question is
this? You may mean it as a joke, but you never made a worse one."
"No, I don't mean it as a joke," said Burger, simply. "I am really
rather interested in the details of the matter. I don't know much about
the world and women and social life and that sort of thing, and such an
incident has the fascination of the unknown for me. I know you, and I
knew her by sight--I had even spoken to her once or twice. I should
very much like to hear from your own lips exactly what it was which
occurred between you."
"I won't tell you a word."
"That's all right. It was only my whim to see if you would give up a
secret as easily as you expected me to give up my secret of the new
catacomb. You wouldn't, and I didn't expect you to. But why should you
expect otherwise of me? There's St. John's clock striking ten. It is
quite time that I was going home."
"No, wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy; "this is really a ridiculous
caprice of yours to wish to know about an old love affair which has
burned out months ago. You know we look upon a man who kisses and tells
as the greatest coward and villain possible."
"Certainly," said the German, gathering up his basket of curiosities,
"when he tells anything about a girl which is previously unknown, he
must be so. But in this case, as you must be aware, it was a public
matter which was the common talk of Rome, so that you are not really
doing Miss Mary Saunderson any injury by discussing her case with me.
But still, I respect your scruples; and so good night!"
"Wait a bit, Burger," said Kennedy, laying his hand upon the other's
arm; "I am very keen upon this catacomb business, and I can't let it
drop quite so easily. Would you mind asking me something else in
return--something not quite so eccentric this time?"
"No, no; you have refused, and there is an end of it," said Burger, with
his basket on his arm. "No doubt you are quite right not to answer, and
no doubt I am quite right also--and so again, my dear Kennedy, good
The Englishman watched Burger cross the room, and he had his hand on the
handle of the door before his host sprang up with the air of a man who
is making the best of that which cannot be helped. "Hold on, old
fellow," said he. "I think you are behaving in a most ridiculous
fashion, but still, if this is your condition, I suppose that I must
submit to it. I hate saying anything about a girl, but, as you say, it
is all over Rome, and I don't suppose I can tell you anything which you
do not know already. What was it you wanted to know?"
The German came back to the stove, and, laying down his basket, he sank
into his chair once more. "May I have another cigar?" said he. "Thank
you very much! I never smoke when I work, but I enjoy a chat much more
when I am under the influence of tobacco. Now, as regards this young
lady, with whom you had this little adventure. What in the world has
become of her?"
"She is at home with her own people."
"Oh, really--in England?"
"What part of England--London?"
"You must excuse my curiosity, my dear Kennedy, and you must put it down
to my ignorance of the world. No doubt it is quite a simple thing to
persuade a young lady to go off with you for three weeks or so, and then
to hand her over to her own family at--what did you call the place?"
"Quite so--at Twickenham. But it is something so entirely outside my
own experience that I cannot even imagine how you set about it. For
example, if you had loved this girl your love could hardly disappear in
three weeks, so I presume that you could not have loved her at all. But
if you did not love her why should you make this great scandal which has
damaged you and ruined her?"
Kennedy looked moodily into the red eye of the stove. "That's a logical
way of looking at it, certainly," said he. "Love is a big word, and it
represents a good many different shades of feeling. I liked her, and--
well, you say you've seen her--you know how charming she can look.
But still I am willing to admit, looking back, that I could never have
really loved her."
"Then, my dear Kennedy, why did you do it?"
"The adventure of the thing had a great deal to do with it."
"What! You are so fond of adventures!"
"Where would the variety of life be without them? It was for an
adventure that I first began to pay my attentions to her. I've chased a
good deal of game in my time, but there's no chase like that of a pretty
woman. There was the piquant difficulty of it also, for, as she was the
companion of Lady Emily Rood it was almost impossible to see her alone.
On the top of all the other obstacles which attracted me, I learned from
her own lips very early in the proceedings that she was engaged."
"Mein Gott! To whom?"
"She mentioned no names."
"I do not think that anyone knows that. So that made the adventure more
alluring, did it?"
"Well, it did certainly give a spice to it. Don't you think so?"
"I tell you that I am very ignorant about these things."
"My dear fellow, you can remember that the apple you stole from your
neighbour's tree was always sweeter than that which fell from your own.
And then I found that she cared for me."
"Oh, no, it took about three months of sapping and mining. But at last
I won her over. She understood that my judicial separation from my wife
made it impossible for me to do the right thing by her--but she came all
the same, and we had a delightful time, as long as it lasted."
"But how about the other man?"
Kennedy shrugged his shoulders. "I suppose it is the survival of the
fittest," said he. "If he had been the better man she would not have
deserted him. Let's drop the subject, for I have had enough of it!"
"Only one other thing. How did you get rid of her in three weeks?"
"Well, we had both cooled down a bit, you understand. She absolutely
refused, under any circumstances, to come back to face the people she
had known in Rome. Now, of course, Rome is necessary to me, and I was
already pining to be back at my work--so there was one obvious cause of
separation. Then, again, her old father turned up at the hotel in
London, and there was a scene, and the whole thing became so unpleasant
that really--though I missed her dreadfully at first--I was very glad to
slip out of it. Now, I rely upon you not to repeat anything of what I
"My dear Kennedy, I should not dream of repeating it. But all that you
say interests me very much, for it gives me an insight into your way of
looking at things, which is entirely different from mine, for I have
seen so little of life. And now you want to know about my new catacomb.
There's no use my trying to describe it, for you would never find it by
that. There is only one thing, and that is for me to take you there."
"That would be splendid."
"When would you like to come?"
"The sooner the better. I am all impatience to see it."
"Well, it is a beautiful night--though a trifle cold. Suppose we start
in an hour. We must be very careful to keep the matter to ourselves.
If anyone saw us hunting in couples they would suspect that there was
something going on."
"We can't be too cautious," said Kennedy. "Is it far?"
"Not too far to walk?"
"Oh, no, we could walk there easily."
"We had better do so, then. A cabman's suspicions would be aroused if
he dropped us both at some lonely spot in the dead of the night."
"Quite so. I think it would be best for us to meet at the Gate of the
Appian Way at midnight. I must go back to my lodgings for the matches
and candles and things."
"All right, Burger! I think it is very kind of you to let me into this
secret, and I promise you that I will write nothing about it until you
have published your report. Good-bye for the present! You will find me
at the Gate at twelve."
The cold, clear air was filled with the musical chimes from that city of
clocks as Burger, wrapped in an Italian overcoat, with a lantern hanging
from his hand, walked up to the rendezvous. Kennedy stepped out of the
shadow to meet him.
"You are ardent in work as well as in love!" said the German, laughing.
"Yes; I have been waiting here for nearly half an hour."
"I hope you left no clue as to where we were going."
"Not such a fool! By Jove, I am chilled to the bone! Come on, Burger,
let us warm ourselves by a spurt of hard walking."
Their footsteps sounded loud and crisp upon the rough stone paving of
the disappointing road which is all that is left of the most famous
highway of the world. A peasant or two going home from the wine-shop,
and a few carts of country produce coming up to Rome, were the only
things which they met. They swung along, with the huge tombs looming up
through the darkness upon each side of them, until they had come as far
as the Catacombs of St. Calixtus, and saw against a rising moon the
great circular bastion of Cecilia Metella in front of them. Then Burger
stopped with his hand to his side. "Your legs are longer than mine, and
you are more accustomed to walking," said he, laughing. "I think that
the place where we turn off is somewhere here. Yes, this is it, round
the corner of the trattoria. Now, it is a very narrow path, so perhaps
I had better go in front, and you can follow." He had lit his lantern,
and by its light they were enabled to follow a narrow and devious track
which wound across the marshes of the Campagna. The great Aqueduct of
old Rome lay like a monstrous caterpillar across the moonlit landscape,
and their road led them under one of its huge arches, and past the
circle of crumbling bricks which marks the old arena. At last Burger
stopped at a solitary wooden cowhouse, and he drew a key from his
"Surely your catacomb is not inside a house!" cried Kennedy.
"The entrance to it is. That is just the safeguard which we have
against anyone else discovering it."
"Does the proprietor know of it?"
"Not he. He had found one or two objects which made me almost certain
that his house was built on the entrance to such a place. So I rented
it from him, and did my excavations for myself. Come in, and shut the
door behind you."
It was a long, empty building, with the mangers of the cows along one
wall. Burger put his lantern down on the ground, and shaded its light
in all directions save one by draping his overcoat round it. "It might
excite remark if anyone saw a light in this lonely place," said he.
"Just help me to move this boarding." The flooring was loose in the
corner, and plank by plank the two savants raised it and leaned it
against the wall. Below there was a square aperture and a stair of old
stone steps which led away down into the bowels of the earth.
"Be careful!" cried Burger, as Kennedy, in his impatience,
hurried down them. "It is a perfect rabbits'-warren below, and if
you were once to lose your way there, the chances would be a hundred
to one against your ever coming out again. Wait until I bring the
"How do you find your own way if it is so complicated?"
"I had some very narrow escapes at first, but I have gradually learned
to go about. There is a certain system to it, but it is one which a
lost man, if he were in the dark, could not possibly find out. Even now
I always spin out a ball of string behind me when I am going far into
the catacomb. You can see for yourself that it is difficult, but every
one of these passages divides and subdivides a dozen times before you go
a hundred yards." They had descended some twenty feet from the level of
the byre, and they were standing now in a square chamber cut out of the
soft tufa. The lantern cast a flickering light, bright below and dim
above, over the cracked brown walls. In every direction were the black
openings of passages which radiated from this common centre.
"I want you to follow me closely, my friend," said Burger. "Do not
loiter to look at anything upon the way, for the place to which I will
take you contains all that you can see, and more. It will save time for
us to go there direct." He led the way down one of the corridors, and
the Englishman followed closely at his heels. Every now and then the
passage bifurcated, but Burger was evidently following some secret marks
of his own, for he neither stopped nor hesitated. Everywhere along the
walls, packed like the berths upon an emigrant ship, lay the Christians
of old Rome. The yellow light flickered over the shrivelled features of
the mummies, and gleamed upon rounded skulls and long, white arm-bones
crossed over fleshless chests. And everywhere as he passed Kennedy
looked with wistful eyes upon inscriptions, funeral vessels, pictures,
vestments, utensils, all lying as pious hands had placed them so many
centuries ago. It was apparent to him, even in those hurried, passing
glances, that this was the earliest and finest of the catacombs,
containing such a storehouse of Roman remains as had never before come
at one time under the observation of the student. "What would happen if
the light went out?" he asked, as they hurried on.
"I have a spare candle and a box of matches in my pocket. By the way,
Kennedy, have you any matches?"
"No; you had better give me some."
"Oh, that is all right. There is no chance of our separating."
"How far are we going? It seems to me that we have walked at least a
quarter of a mile."
"More than that, I think. There is really no limit to the tombs--at
least, I have never been able to find any. This is a very difficult
place, so I think that I will use our ball of string." He fastened one
end of it to a projecting stone and he carried the coil in the breast of
his coat, paying it out as he advanced. Kennedy saw that it was no
unnecessary precaution, for the passages had become more complexed and
tortuous than ever, with a perfect network of intersecting corridors.
But these all ended in one large circular hall with a square pedestal of
tufa topped with a slab of marble at one end of it. "By Jove!" cried
Kennedy in an ecstasy, as Burger swung his lantern over the marble. "It
is a Christian altar--probably the first one in existence. Here is the
little consecration cross cut upon the corner of it. No doubt this
circular space was used as a church."
"Precisely," said Burger. "If I had more time I should like to show you
all the bodies which are buried in these niches upon the walls, for they
are the early popes and bishops of the Church, with their mitres, their
croziers, and full canonicals. Go over to that one and look at it!"
Kennedy went across, and stared at the ghastly head which lay loosely on
the shredded and mouldering mitre.
"This is most interesting," said he, and his voice seemed to boom
against the concave vault. "As far as my experience goes, it is unique.
Bring the lantern over, Burger, for I want to see them all." But the
German had strolled away, and was standing in the middle of a yellow
circle of light at the other side of the hall.
"Do you know how many wrong turnings there are between this and the
stairs?" he asked. "There are over two thousand. No doubt it was one
of the means of protection which the Christians adopted. The odds are
two thousand to one against a man getting out, even if he had a light;
but if he were in the dark it would, of course, be far more difficult."
"So I should think."
"And the darkness is something dreadful. I tried it once for an
experiment. Let us try it again!" He stooped to the lantern, and in an
instant it was as if an invisible hand was squeezed tightly over each of
Kennedy's eyes. Never had he known what such darkness was. It seemed
to press upon him and to smother him. It was a solid obstacle against
which the body shrank from advancing. He put his hands out to push it
back from him. "That will do, Burger," said he, "let's have the light
But his companion began to laugh, and in that circular room the sound
seemed to come from every side at once. "You seem uneasy, friend
Kennedy," said he.
"Go on, man, light the candle!" said Kennedy, impatiently.
"It's very strange, Kennedy, but I could not in the least tell by the
sound in which direction you stand. Could you tell where I am?"
"No; you seem to be on every side of me."
"If it were not for this string which I hold in my hand I should not
have a notion which way to go."
"I dare say not. Strike a light, man, and have an end of this
"Well, Kennedy, there are two things which I understand that you are
very fond of. The one is adventure, and the other is an obstacle to
surmount. The adventure must be the finding of your way out of this
catacomb. The obstacle will be the darkness and the two thousand wrong
turns which make the way a little difficult to find. But you need not
hurry, for you have plenty of time, and when you halt for a rest now and
then, I should like you just to think of Miss Mary Saunderson, and
whether you treated her quite fairly."
"You devil, what do you mean?" roared Kennedy. He was running
about in little circles and clasping at the solid blackness with
"Good-bye," said the mocking voice, and it was already at some distance.
"I really do not think, Kennedy, even by your own showing that you did
the right thing by that girl. There was only one little thing which you
appeared not to know, and I can supply it. Miss Saunderson was engaged
to a poor, ungainly devil of a student, and his name was Julius Burger."
There was a rustle somewhere--the vague sound of a foot striking a
stone--and then there fell silence upon that old Christian church--a
stagnant heavy silence which closed round Kennedy and shut him in like
water round a drowning man.
Some two months afterwards the following paragraph made the round of the
One of the most interesting discoveries of recent years is
that of the new catacomb in Rome, which lies some distance to the
east of the well-known vaults of St. Calixtus. The finding of this
important burial-place, which is exceedingly rich in most
interesting early Christian remains, is due to the energy and
sagacity of Dr. Julius Burger, the young German specialist, who is
rapidly taking the first place as an authority upon ancient Rome.
Although the first to publish his discovery, it appears that a less
fortunate adventurer had anticipated Dr. Burger. Some months ago
Mr. Kennedy, the well-known English student, disappeared suddenly
from his rooms in the "Corso", and it was conjectured that his
association with a recent scandal had driven him to leave Rome. It
appears now that he had in reality fallen a victim to that fervid
love of archaeology which had raised him to a distinguished place
among living scholars. His body was discovered in the heart of the
new catacomb, and it was evident from the condition of his feet and
boots that he had tramped for days through the tortuous corridors
which make these subterranean tombs so dangerous to explorers. The
deceased gentleman had, with inexplicable rashness, made his way
into this labyrinth without, as far as can be discovered, taking
with him either candles or matches, so that his sad fate was the
natural result of his own temerity. What makes the matter more
painful is that Dr. Julius Burger was an intimate friend of the
deceased. His joy at the extraordinary find which he has been so
fortunate as to make has been greatly marred by the terrible fate
of his comrade and fellow-worker.
THE DEBUT OF BIMBASHI JOYCE
It was in the days when the tide of Mahdism, which had swept in such a
flood from the great Lakes and Darfur to the confines of Egypt, had at
last come to its full, and even begun, as some hoped, to show signs of a
turn. At its outset it had been terrible. It had engulfed Hicks's
army, swept over Gordon and Khartoum, rolled behind the British forces
as they retired down the river, and finally cast up a spray of raiding
parties as far north as Assouan. Then it found other channels to east
and west, to Central Africa and to Abyssinia, and retired a little on
the side of Egypt. For ten years there ensued a lull, during which the
frontier garrisons looked out upon those distant blue hills of Dongola.
Behind the violet mists which draped them lay a land of blood and
horror. From time to time some adventurer went south towards those
haze-girt mountains, tempted by stories of gum and ivory, but none ever
returned. Once a mutilated Egyptian and once a Greek woman, mad with
thirst and fear, made their way to the lines. They were the only
exports of that country of darkness. Sometimes the sunset would turn
those distant mists into a bank of crimson, and the dark mountains would
rise from that sinister reek like islands in a sea of blood. It seemed
a grim symbol in the southern heaven when seen from the fort-capped
hills by Wady Halfa. Ten years of lust in Khartoum, ten years of silent
work in Cairo, and then all was ready, and it was time for civilisation
to take a trip south once more, travelling as her wont is in an armoured
train. Everything was ready, down to the last pack-saddle of the last
camel, and yet no one suspected it, for an unconstitutional Government
has its advantage. A great administrator had argued, and managed, and
cajoled; a great soldier had organised and planned, and made piastres do
the work of pounds. And then one night these two master spirits met and
clasped hands, and the soldier vanished away upon some business of his
own. And just at that very time, Bimbashi Hilary Joyce, seconded from
the Royal Mallow Fusiliers, and temporarily attached to the Ninth
Soudanese, made his first appearance in Cairo.
Napoleon had said, and Hilary Joyce had noted, that great reputations
are only to be made in the East. Here he was in the East with four tin
cases of baggage, a Wilkinson sword, a Bond's slug-throwing pistol, and
a copy of "Green's Introduction to the Study of Arabic." With such a
start, and the blood of youth running hot in his veins, everything
seemed easy. He was a little frightened of the general; he had heard
stories of his sternness to young officers, but with tact and suavity he
hoped for the best. So, leaving his effects at "Shepherd's Hotel," he
reported himself at headquarters. It was not the general, but the head
of the Intelligence Department who received him, the chief being still
absent upon that business which had called him. Hilary Joyce found
himself in the presence of a short, thick-set officer, with a gentle
voice and a placid expression which covered a remarkably acute and
energetic spirit. With that quiet smile and guileless manner he had
undercut and outwitted the most cunning of Orientals. He stood, a
cigarette between his fingers, looking at the newcomer. "I heard that
you had come. Sorry the chief isn't here to see you. Gone up to the
frontier, you know."
"My regiment is at Wady Halfa. I suppose, sir, that I should report
myself there at once?"
"No; I was to give you your orders." He led the way to a map upon the
wall, and pointed with the end of his cigarette. "You see this place.
It's the Oasis of Kurkur--a little quiet, I am afraid, but excellent
air. You are to get out there as quick as possible. You'll find a
company of the Ninth, and half a squadron of cavalry. You will be in
Hilary Joyce looked at the name, printed at the intersection of two
black lines without another dot upon the map for several inches around
it. "A village, sir?"
"No, a well. Not very good water, I'm afraid, but you soon get
accustomed to natron. It's an important post, as being at the junction
of two caravan routes. All routes are closed now, of course, but still
you never know who _might_ come along them."
"We are there, I presume, to prevent raiding?"
"Well, between you and me, there's really nothing to raid. You are
there to intercept messengers. They must call at the wells. Of course
you have only just come out, but you probably understand already enough
about the conditions of this country to know that there is a great deal
of disaffection about, and that the Khalifa is likely to try and keep in
touch with his adherents. Then, again, Senoussi lives up that way"--he
waved his cigarette to the westward--"the Khalifa might send a message
to him along that route. Anyhow, your duty is to arrest everyone coming
along, and get some account of him before you let him go. You don't
talk Arabic, I suppose?"
"I am learning, sir."
"Well, well, you'll have time enough for study there. And you'll have a
native officer, Ali something or other, who speaks English, and can
interpret for you. Well, good-bye--I'll tell the chief that you
reported yourself. Get on to your post now as quickly as you can."
Railway to Baliani, the post-boat to Assouan, and then two days on a
camel in the Libyan desert, with an Ababdeh guide, and three
baggage-camels to tie one down to their own exasperating pace.
However, even two and a half miles an hour mount up in time, and at
last, on the third evening, from the blackened slag-heap of a hill which
is called the Jebel Kurkur, Hilary Joyce looked down upon a distant
clump of palms, and thought that this cool patch of green in the midst
of the merciless blacks and yellows was the fairest colour effect that
he had ever seen. An hour later he had ridden into the little camp, the
guard had turned out to salute him, his native subordinate had greeted
him in excellent English, and he had fairly entered into his own.
It was not an exhilarating place for a lengthy residence. There was one
large, bowl-shaped, grassy depression sloping down to the three pits of
brown and brackish water. There was the grove of palm trees also,
beautiful to look upon, but exasperating in view of the fact that Nature
has provided her least shady trees on the very spot where shade is
needed most. A single wide-spread acacia did something to restore the
balance. Here Hilary Joyce slumbered in the heat, and in the cool he
inspected his square-shouldered, spindle-shanked Soudanese, with their
cheery black faces and their funny little pork-pie forage caps.
Joyce was a martinet at drill, and the blacks loved being drilled, so
the Bimbashi was soon popular among them. But one day was exactly like
another. The weather, the view, the employment, the food--everything
was the same. At the end of three weeks he felt that he had been there
for interminable years. And then at last there came something to break
One evening, as the sun was sinking, Hilary Joyce rode slowly down the
old caravan road. It had a fascination for him, this narrow track,
winding among the boulders and curving up the nullahs, for he
remembered how in the map it had gone on and on, stretching away into
the unknown heart of Africa. The countless pads of innumerable camels
through many centuries had beaten it smooth, so that now, unused and
deserted, it still wound away, the strangest of roads, a foot broad, and
perhaps two thousand miles in length. Joyce wondered as he rode how
long it was since any traveller had journeyed up it from the south, and
then he raised his eyes, and there was a man coming along the path.
For an instant Joyce thought that it might be one of his own men, but a
second glance assured him that this could not be so. The stranger was
dressed in the flowing robes of an Arab, and not in the close-fitting
khaki of a soldier. He was very tall, and a high turban made him seem
gigantic. He strode swiftly along, with head erect, and the bearing of
a man who knows no fear.
Who could he be, this formidable giant coming out of the unknown?
The precursor possibly of a horde of savage spearmen. And where could
he have walked from? The nearest well was a long hundred miles down the
track. At any rate the frontier post of Kurkur could not afford to
receive casual visitors. Hilary Joyce whisked round his horse, galloped
into camp, and gave the alarm. Then, with twenty horsemen at his back,
he rode out again to reconnoitre. The man was still coming on in spite
of these hostile preparations. For an instant he hesitated when first
he saw the cavalry, but escape was out of the question, and he advanced
with the air of one who makes the best of a bad job. He made no
resistance, and said nothing when the hands of two troopers clutched at
his shoulders, but walked quietly between their horses into camp.
Shortly afterwards the patrol came in again. There were no signs of any
dervishes. The man was alone. A splendid trotting camel had been found
lying dead a little way down the track. The mystery of the stranger's
arrival was explained. But why, and whence, and whither?--these were
questions for which a zealous officer must find an answer.
Hilary Joyce was disappointed that there were no dervishes. It would
have been a great start for him in the Egyptian army had he fought a
little action on his own account. But even as it was, he had a rare
chance of impressing the authorities. He would love to show his
capacity to the head of the Intelligence, and even more to that grim
Chief who never forgot what was smart, or forgave what was slack.
The prisoner's dress and bearing showed that he was of importance.
Mean men do not ride pure-bred trotting camels. Joyce sponged his head
with cold water, drank a cup of strong coffee, put on an imposing
official tarboosh instead of his sun-helmet, and formed himself into a
court of inquiry and judgment under the acacia tree. He would have
liked his people to have seen him now, with his two black orderlies in
waiting, and his Egyptian native officer at his side. He sat behind a
camp-table, and the prisoner, strongly guarded, was led up to him.
The man was a handsome fellow, with bold grey eyes and a long black
"Why!" cried Joyce, "the rascal is making faces at me." A curious
contraction had passed over the man's features, but so swiftly that it
might have been a nervous twitch. He was now a model of Oriental
gravity. "Ask him who he is, and what he wants?" The native officer
did so, but the stranger made no reply, save that the same sharp spasm
passed once more over his face. "Well, I'm blessed!" cried Hilary
Joyce. "Of all the impudent scoundrels! He keeps on winking at me.
Who are you, you rascal? Give an account of yourself! D'ye hear?"
But the tall Arab was as impervious to English as to Arabic.
The Egyptian tried again and again. The prisoner looked at Joyce with
his inscrutable eyes, and occasionally twitched his face at him, but
never opened his mouth. The Bimbashi scratched his head in
"Look here, Mahomet Ali, we've got to get some sense out of this fellow.
You say there are no papers on him?"
"No, sir; we found no papers."
"No clue of any kind?"
"He has come far, sir. A trotting camel does not die easily. He has
come from Dongola, at least."
"Well, we must get him to talk."
"It is possible that he is deaf and dumb."
"Not he. I never saw a man look more all there in my life."
"You might send him across to Assouan."
"And give someone else the credit? No, thank you. This is my bird.
But how are we going to get him to find his tongue?"
The Egyptian's dark eyes skirted the encampment and rested on the cook's
fire. "Perhaps," said he, "if the Bimbashi thought fit--" He looked at
the prisoner and then at the burning wood.
"No, no; it wouldn't do. No, by Jove, that's going too far."
"A very little might do it."
"No, no. It's all very well here, but it would sound just awful if ever
it got as far as Fleet Street. But, I say," he whispered, "we might
frighten him a bit. There's no harm in that."
"Tell them to undo the man's galabeeah. Order them to put a horseshoe
in the fire and make it red-hot." The prisoner watched the proceedings
with an air which had more of amusement than of uneasiness. He never
winced as the black sergeant approached with the glowing shoe held upon
"Will you speak now?" asked the Bimbashi, savagely. The prisoner smiled
gently and stroked his beard.
"Oh, chuck the infernal thing away!" cried Joyce, jumping up in a
passion. "There's no use trying to bluff the fellow. He knows we won't
do it. But I _can_ and I _will_ flog him, and you can tell him from me
that if he hasn't found his tongue by to-morrow morning I'll take the
skin off his back as sure as my name's Joyce. Have you said all that?"
"Well, you can sleep upon it, you beauty, and a good night's rest may it
give you!" He adjourned the Court, and the prisoner, as imperturbable
as ever, was led away by the guard to his supper of rice and water.
Hilary Joyce was a kind-hearted man, and his own sleep was considerably
disturbed by the prospect of the punishment which he must inflict next
day. He had hopes that the mere sight of the koorbash and the thongs
might prevail over his prisoner's obstinacy. And then, again, he
thought how shocking it would be if the man proved to be really dumb
after all. The possibility shook him so that he had almost determined
by daybreak that he would send the stranger on unhurt to Assouan.
And yet what a tame conclusion it would be to the incident! He lay upon
his angareeb still debating it when the question suddenly and
effectively settled itself. Ali Mahomet rushed into his tent.
"Sir," he cried, "the prisoner is gone!"
"Yes, sir, and your own best riding camel as well. There is a slit cut
in the tent, and he got away unseen in the early morning."
The Bimbashi acted with all energy. Cavalry rode along every track;
scouts examined the soft sand of the wadys for signs of the fugitive,
but no trace was discovered. The man had utterly disappeared. With a
heavy heart, Hilary Joyce wrote an official report of the matter and
forwarded it to Assouan. Five days later there came a curt order from
the chief that he should report himself there. He feared the worst from
the stern soldier, who spared others as little as he spared himself.
And his worst forebodings were realised. Travel-stained and weary, he
reported himself one night at the general's quarters. Behind a table
piled with papers and strewn with maps the famous soldier and his Chief
of Intelligence were deep in plans and figures. Their greeting was a
"I understand, Captain Joyce," said the general, "that you have allowed
a very important prisoner to slip through your fingers."
"I am sorry, sir."
"No doubt. But that will not mend matters. Did you ascertain anything
about him before you lost him?"
"How was that?"
"I could get nothing out of him, sir."
"Did you try?"
"Yes, sir; I did what I could."
"What did you do?"
"Well, sir, I threatened to use physical force."
"What did he say?"
"He said nothing."
"What was he like?"
"A tall man, sir. Rather a desperate character, I should think."
"Any way by which we could identify him?"
"A long black beard, sir. Grey eyes. And a nervous way of twitching
"Well, Captain Joyce," said the general, in his stern, inflexible voice,
"I cannot congratulate you upon your first exploit in the Egyptian army.
You are aware that every English officer in this force is a picked man.
I have the whole British army from which to draw. It is necessary,
therefore, that I should insist upon the very highest efficiency.
It would be unfair upon the others to pass over any obvious want of zeal
or intelligence. You are seconded from the Royal Mallows, I
"I have no doubt that your colonel will be glad to see you fulfilling
your regimental duties again." Hilary Joyce's heart was too heavy for
words. He was silent. "I will let you know my final decision to-morrow
morning." Joyce saluted and turned upon his heel."
"You can sleep upon that, you beauty, and a good night's rest may it
Joyce turned in bewilderment. Where had those words been used before?
Who was it who had used them? The general was standing erect. Both he
and the Chief of the Intelligence were laughing. Joyce stared at the
tall figure, the erect bearing, the inscrutable grey eyes.
"Good Lord!" he gasped.
"Well, well, Captain Joyce, we are quits!" said the general, holding out
his hand. "You gave me a bad ten minutes with that infernal red-hot
horseshoe of yours. I've done as much for you. I don't think we can
spare you for the Royal Mallows just yet awhile."
"But, sir; but--!"
"The fewer questions the better, perhaps. But of course it must seem
rather amazing. I had a little private business with the Kabbabish.
It must be done in person. I did it, and came to your post in my
return. I kept on winking at you as a sign that I wanted a word with
"Yes, yes. I begin to understand."
"I couldn't give it away before all those blacks, or where should I have
been the next time I used my false beard and Arab dress? You put me in
a very awkward position. But at last I had a word alone with your
Egyptian officer, who managed my escape all right."
"He! Mahomet Ali!"
"I ordered him to say nothing. I had a score to settle with you.
But we dine at eight, Captain Joyce. We live plainly here, but I think
I can do you a little better than you did me at Kurkur."
A FOREIGN OFFICE ROMANCE
There are many folk who knew Alphonse Lacour in his old age. From about
the time of the Revolution of '48 until he died in the second year of
the Crimean War he was always to be found in the same corner of the Cafe
de Provence, at the end of the Rue St. Honore, coming down about nine in
the evening, and going when he could find no one to talk with. It took
some self-restraint to listen to the old diplomatist, for his stories
were beyond all belief, and yet he was quick at detecting the shadow of
a smile or the slightest little raising of the eyebrows. Then his huge,
rounded back would straighten itself, his bull-dog chin would project,
and his r's would burr like a kettledrum. When he got as far as, "Ah,
monsieur r-r-r-rit!" or "Vous ne me cr-r-r-royez pas donc!" it was quite
time to remember that you had a ticket for the opera.
There was his story of Talleyrand and the five oyster-shells, and there
was his utterly absurd account of Napoleon's second visit to Ajaccio.
Then there was that most circumstantial romance (which he never ventured
upon until his second bottle had been uncorked) of the Emperor's escape
from St. Helena--how he lived for a whole year in Philadelphia, while
Count Herbert de Bertrand, who was his living image, personated him at
Longwood. But of all his stories there was none which was more
notorious than that of the Koran and the Foreign Office messenger. And
yet when Monsieur Otto's memoirs were written it was found that there
really was some foundation for old Lacour's incredible statement.
"You must know, monsieur," he would say, "that I left Egypt after
Kleber's assassination. I would gladly have stayed on, for I was
engaged in a translation of the Koran, and between ourselves I had
thoughts at the time of embracing Mahometanism, for I was deeply struck
by the wisdom of their views about marriage. They had made an
incredible mistake, however, upon the subject of wine, and this was what
the Mufti who attempted to convert me could never get over. Then when
old Kleber died and Menou came to the top, I felt that it was time for
me to go. It is not for me to speak of my own capacities, monsieur, but
you will readily understand that the man does not care to be ridden by
the mule. I carried my Koran and my papers to London, where Monsieur
Otto had been sent by the First Consul to arrange a treaty of peace; for
both nations were very weary of the war, which had already lasted ten
years. Here I was most useful to Monsieur Otto on account of my
knowledge of the English tongue, and also, if I may say so, on account
of my natural capacity. They were happy days during which I lived in
the square of Bloomsbury. The climate of monsieur's country is, it must
be confessed, detestable. But then what would you have? Flowers grow
best in the rain. One has but to point to monsieur's fellow
country-women to prove it.
"Well, Monsieur Otto, our Ambassador, was kept terribly busy over that
treaty, and all of his staff were worked to death. We had not Pitt to
deal with, which was, perhaps, as well for us. He was a terrible man
that Pitt, and wherever half a dozen enemies of France were plotting
together, there was his sharp-pointed nose right in the middle of them.
The nation, however, had been thoughtful enough to put him out of
office, and we had to do with Monsieur Addington. But Milord Hawkesbury
was the Foreign Minister, and it was with him that we were obliged to do
"You can understand that it was no child's play. After ten years of war
each nation had got hold of a great deal which had belonged to the
other, or to the other's allies. What was to be given back, and what
was to be kept? Is this island worth that peninsula? If we do this at
Venice, will you do that at Sierra Leone? If we give up Egypt to the
Sultan, will you restore the Cape of Good Hope, which you have taken
from our allies the Dutch? So we wrangled and wrestled, and I have seen
Monsieur Otto come back to the Embassy so exhausted that his secretary
and I had to help him from his carriage to his sofa. But at last things
adjusted themselves, and the night came round when the treaty was to be
finally signed. Now, you must know that the one great card which we
held, and which we played, played, played at every point of the game,
was that we had Egypt. The English were very nervous about our being
there. It gave us a foot at each end of the Mediterranean, you see.
And they were not sure that that wonderful little Napoleon of ours might
not make it the base of an advance against India. So whenever Lord
Hawkesbury proposed to retain anything, we had only to reply, 'In _that_
case, of course, we cannot consent to evacuate Egypt,' and in this way
we quickly brought him to reason. It was by the help of Egypt that we
gained terms which were remarkably favourable, and especially that we
caused the English to consent to give up the Cape of Good Hope. We did
not wish your people, monsieur, to have any foothold in South Africa,
for history has taught us that the British foothold of one half-century
is the British Empire of the next. It is not your army or your navy
against which we have to guard, but it is your terrible younger son and
your man in search of a career. When we French have a possession across
the seas, we like to sit in Paris and to felicitate ourselves upon it.
With you it is different. You take your wives and your children, and
you run away to see what kind of place this may be, and after that we
might as well try to take that old Square of Bloomsbury away from you.
"Well, it was upon the first of October that the treaty was finally to
be signed. In the morning I was congratulating Monsieur Otto upon the
happy conclusion of his labours. He was a little pale shrimp of a man,
very quick and nervous, and he was so delighted now at his own success
that he could not sit still, but ran about the room chattering and
laughing, while I sat on a cushion in the corner, as I had learned to do
in the East. Suddenly, in came a messenger with a letter which had been
forwarded from Paris. Monsieur Otto cast his eye upon it, and then,
without a word, his knees gave way, and he fell senseless upon the
floor. I ran to him, as did the courier, and between us we carried him
to the sofa. He might have been dead from his appearance, but I could
still feel his heart thrilling beneath my palm. 'What is this, then?' I
"'I do not know,' answered the messenger. 'Monsieur Talleyrand told me
to hurry as never man hurried before, and to put this letter into the
hands of Monsieur Otto. I was in Paris at midday yesterday.'
"I know that I am to blame, but I could not help glancing at the letter,
picking it out of the senseless hand of Monsieur Otto. My God! the
thunderbolt that it was! I did not faint, but I sat down beside my
chief and I burst into tears. It was but a few words, but they told us
that Egypt had been evacuated by our troops a month before. All our
treaty was undone then, and the one consideration which had induced our
enemies to give us good terms had vanished. In twelve hours it would
not have mattered. But now the treaty was not yet signed. We should
have to give up the Cape. We should have to let England have Malta.
Now that Egypt was gone we had nothing left to offer in exchange.
"But we are not so easily beaten, we Frenchmen. You English misjudge us
when you think that because we show emotions which you conceal, that we
are therefore of a weak and womanly nature. You cannot read your
histories and believe that. Monsieur Otto recovered his senses
presently, and we took counsel what we should do.
"'It is useless to go on, Alphonse,' said he. 'This Englishman will
laugh at me when I ask him to sign.'
"'Courage!' I cried; and then a sudden thought coming into my head--'How
do we know that the English will have news of this? Perhaps they may
sign the treaty before they know of it.'
"Monsieur Otto sprang from the sofa and flung himself into my arms.
"'Alphonse,' he cried, 'you have saved me! Why should they know about
it? Our news has come from Toulon to Paris, and thence straight to
London. Theirs will come by sea through the Straits of Gibraltar. At
this moment it is unlikely that anyone in Paris knows of it, save only
Talleyrand and the First Consul. If we keep our secret, we may still
get our treaty signed.'
"Ah! monsieur, you can imagine the horrible uncertainty in which we
spent the day. Never, never shall I forget those slow hours during
which we sat together, starting at every distant shout, lest it should
be the first sign of the rejoicing which this news would cause in
London. Monsieur Otto passed from youth to age in a day. As for me, I
find it easier to go out and meet danger than to wait for it. I set
forth, therefore, towards evening. I wandered here, and wandered there.
I was in the fencing-rooms of Monsieur Angelo, and in the salon-de-boxe
of Monsieur Jackson, and in the club of Brooks, and in the lobby of the
Chamber of Deputies, but nowhere did I hear any news. Still, it was
possible that Milord Hawkesbury had received it himself just as we had.
He lived in Harley Street, and there it was that the treaty was to be
finally signed that night at eight. I entreated Monsieur Otto to drink
two glasses of Burgundy before he went, for I feared lest his haggard
face and trembling, hands should rouse suspicion in the English
"Well, we went round together in one of the Embassy's carriages about
half-past seven. Monsieur Otto went in alone; but presently, on excuse
of getting his portfolio, he came out again, with his cheeks flushed
with joy, to tell me that all was well.
"'He knows nothing,' he whispered. 'Ah, if the next half-hour were
"'Give me a sign when it is settled,' said I.
"'For what reason?'
"'Because until then no messenger shall interrupt you. I give you my
promise--I, Alphonse Lacour.'
"He clasped my hand in both of his.
"'I shall make an excuse to move one of the candles on to the table in
the window,' said he, and hurried into the house, whilst I was left
waiting beside the carriage.
"Well, if we could but secure ourselves from interruption for a single
half-hour the day would be our own. I had hardly begun to form my plans
when I saw the lights of a carriage coming swiftly from the direction of
Oxford Street. Ah! if it should be the messenger! What could I do?
I was prepared to kill him--yes, even to kill him--rather than at this
last moment allow our work to be undone. Thousands die to make a
glorious war. Why should not one die to make a glorious peace?
What though they hurried me to the scaffold? I should have sacrificed
myself for my country. I had a little curved Turkish knife strapped to
my waist. My hand was on the hilt of it when the carriage which had
alarmed me so rattled safely past me.
"But another might come. I must be prepared. Above all, I must not
compromise the Embassy. I ordered our carriage to move on, and I
engaged what you call a hackney coach. Then I spoke to the driver, and
gave him a guinea. He understood that it was a special service.
"'You shall have another guinea if you do what you are told,' said I.
"'All right, master,' said he, turning his slow eyes upon me without a
trace of excitement or curiosity.
"' If I enter your coach with another gentleman, you will drive up and
down Harley Street, and take no orders from anyone but me. When I get
out, you will carry the other gentleman to Watier's Club, in Bruton
"'All right, master,' said he again.
"So I stood outside Milord Hawkesbury's house, and you can think how
often my eyes went up to that window in the hope of seeing the candle
twinkle in it. Five minutes passed, and another five. Oh, how slowly
they crept along! It was a true October night, raw and cold, with a
white fog crawling over the wet, shining cobblestones, and blurring the
dim oil-lamps. I could not see fifty paces in either direction, but my
ears were straining, straining, to catch the rattle of hoofs or the
rumble of wheels. It is not a cheering place, monsieur, that street of
Harley, even upon a sunny day. The houses are solid and very
respectable over yonder, but there is nothing of the feminine about
them. It is a city to be inhabited by males. But on that raw night,
amid the damp and the fog, with the anxiety gnawing at my heart, it
seemed the saddest, weariest spot in the whole wide world. I paced up
and down slapping my hands to keep them warm, and still straining my
ears. And then suddenly out of the dull hum of the traffic down in
Oxford Street I heard a sound detach itself, and grow louder and louder,
and clearer and clearer with every instant, until two yellow lights came
flashing through the fog, and a light cabriolet whirled up to the door
of the Foreign Minister. It had not stopped before a young fellow
sprang out of it and hurried to the steps, while the driver turned his
horse and rattled off into the fog once more.
"Ah, it is in the moment of action that I am best, monsieur. You, who
only see me when I am drinking my wine in the Cafe de Provence, cannot
conceive the heights to which I rise. At that moment, when I knew that
the fruits of a ten years' war were at stake, I was magnificent. It was
the last French campaign and I the general and army in one.
"'Sir," said I, touching him upon the arm, 'are you the messenger for
"'Yes,' said he.
"'I have been waiting for you half an hour,' said I. 'You are to follow
me at once. He is with the French Ambassador.'
"I spoke with such assurance that he never hesitated for an instant.
When he entered the hackney coach and I followed him in, my heart gave
such a thrill of joy that I could hardly keep from shouting aloud.
He was a poor little creature, this Foreign Office messenger, not much
bigger than Monsieur Otto, and I--monsieur can see my hands now, and
imagine what they were like when I was seven-and-twenty years of age.
"Well, now that I had him in my coach, the question was what I should do
with him. I did not wish to hurt him if I could help it.
"'This is a pressing business,' said he. 'I have a despatch which I
must deliver instantly.'
"Our coach had rattled down Harley Street now, in accordance with my
instruction, it turned and began to go up again.
"'Hullo!' he cried. 'What's this?'
"'What then? 'I asked.
"'We are driving back. Where is Lord Hawkesbury?'
"'We shall see him presently.'
"'Let me out!' he shouted. 'There's some trickery in this. Coachman,
stop the coach! Let me out, I say!'
"I dashed him back into his seat as he tried to turn the handle of the
door. He roared for help. I clapped my palm across his mouth. He made
his teeth meet through the side of it. I seized his own cravat and
bound it over his lips. He still mumbled and gurgled, but the noise was
covered by the rattle of our wheels. We were passing the minister's
house, and there was no candle in the window.
"The messenger sat quiet for a little, and I could see the glint of his
eyes as he stared at me through the gloom. He was partly stunned, I
think, by the force with which I had hurled him into his seat. And also
he was pondering, perhaps, what he should do next. Presently he got his
mouth partly free from the cravat.
"'You shall have my watch and my purse if you will let me go,' said he.
"'Sir,' said I, 'I am as honourable a man as you are yourself.'
"'Who are you, then?'
"'My name is of no importance.'
"'What do you want with me?'
"It is a bet.'
"'A bet? What d'you mean? Do you understand that I am on the
Government service, and that you will see the inside of a gaol for
"'That is the bet. That is the sport, said I.'
"'You may find it poor sport before you finish,' he cried. 'What is
this insane bet of yours then?'
"'I have bet,' I answered, 'that I will recite a chapter of the Koran to
the first gentleman whom I should meet in the street.'
"I do not know what made me think of it, save that my translation was
always running in my head. He clutched at the door-handle, and again I
had to hurl him back into his seat.
"'How long will it take?' he gasped.
"'It depends on the chapter,' I answered.
"'A short one, then, and let me go!'
"'But is it fair?' I argued. 'When I say a chapter, I do not mean the
shortest chapter, but rather one which should be of average length.'
"'Help! help! help!' he squealed, and I was compelled again to adjust
"'A little patience,' said I, 'and it will soon be over. I should like
to recite the chapter which would be of most interest to yourself. You
will confess that I am trying to make things as pleasant as I can for
He slipped his mouth free again.
"'Quick, then, quick!' he groaned.
"'The Chapter of the Camel?' I suggested.
"'Or that of the Fleet Stallion?'
"'Yes, yes. Only proceed!'
"We had passed the window and there was no candle. I settled down to
recite the Chapter of the Stallion to him. Perhaps you do not know your
Koran very well, monsieur? Well, I knew it by heart then, as I know it
by heart now. The style is a little exasperating for anyone who is in a
hurry. But, then, what would you have? The people in the East are
never in a hurry, and it was written for them. I repeated it all with
the dignity and solemnity which a sacred book demands, and the young
Englishman he wriggled and groaned.
"'When the horses, standing on three feet and placing the tip of their
fourth foot upon the ground, were mustered in front of him in the
evening, he said, I have loved the love of earthly good above the
remembrance of things on high, and have spent the time in viewing these
horses. Bring the horses back to me. And when they were brought back
he began to cut off their legs and--'
"It was at this moment that the young Englishman sprang at me. My God!
how little can I remember of the next few minutes! He was a boxer, this
shred of a man. He had been trained to strike. I tried to catch him by
the hands. Pac, pac, he came upon my nose and upon my eye. I put down
my head and thrust at him with it. Pac, he came from below. But ah!
I was too much for him. I hurled myself upon him, and he had no place
where he could escape from my weight. He fell flat upon the cushions
and I seated myself upon him with such conviction that the wind flew
from him as from a burst bellows.
"Then I searched to see what there was with which I could tie him. I
drew the strings from my shoes, and with one I secured his wrists, and
with another his ankles. Then I tied the cravat round his mouth again,
so that he could only lie and glare at me. When I had done all this,
and had stopped the bleeding of my own nose, I looked out of the coach
and ah, monsieur, the very first thing which caught my eyes was that
candle--that dear little candle--glimmering in the window of the
minister. Alone, with these two hands, I had retrieved the capitulation
of an army and the loss of a province. Yes, monsieur, what Abercrombie
and 5,000 men had done upon the beach at Aboukir was undone by me,
single-handed, in a hackney coach in Harley Street.
"Well, I had no time to lose, for at any moment Monsieur Otto might be
down. I shouted to my driver, gave him his second guinea, and allowed
him to proceed to Watier's. For myself, I sprang into our Embassy's
carriage, and a moment later the door of the minister opened. He had
himself escorted Monsieur Otto downstairs, and now so deep was he in
talk that he walked out bareheaded as far as the carriage. As he stood
there by the open door, there came the rattle of wheels, and a man
rushed down the pavement.
"'A despatch of great importance for Milord Hawkesbury!' he cried.
"I could see that it was not my messenger, but a second one. Milord
Hawkesbury caught the paper from his hand, and read it by the light of
the carriage lamp. His face, monsieur, was as white as this plate,
before he had finished.
"'Monsieur Otto,' he cried, 'we have signed this treaty upon a false
understanding. Egypt is in our hands.'
"'What!' cried Monsieur Otto. 'Impossible!'
"'It is certain. It fell to Abercrombie last month.'
"'In that case,' said Monsieur Otto, 'it is very fortunate that the
treaty is signed.'
"'Very fortunate for you, sir,' cried Milord Hawkesbury, as he turned
back to the house.
"Next day, monsieur, what they call the Bow Street runners were after
me, but they could not run across salt water, and Alphonse Lacour was
receiving the congratulations of Monsieur Talleyrand and the First
Consul before ever his pursuers had got as far as Dover."