Part 2 out of 2
hers to the best footing I've been on yet--bless her heart, or her
memory, or whatever a poor devil on earth may bless an angel for! But
here I am."
The fever in Robert blazed out under a pressure of extinguishing tears.
"There, go along in," said Jonathan, who considered drunkenness to be the
main source of water in a man's eyes. "It's my belief you've been at it
already this morning."
Robert passed into the house in advance of his father, whom he quite
understood and appreciated. There was plenty of paternal love for him,
and a hearty smack of the hand, and the inheritance of the farm, when he
turned into the right way. Meantime Jonathan was ready to fulfil his
parental responsibility, by sheltering, feeding, and not publicly abusing
his offspring, of whose spirit he would have had a higher opinion if
Robert had preferred, since he must go to the deuce, to go without
troubling any of his relatives; as it was, Jonathan submitted to the
infliction gravely. Neither in speech nor in tone did he solicit from
the severe maiden, known as Aunt Anne, that snub for the wanderer whom he
introduced, which, when two are agreed upon the infamous character of a
third, through whom they are suffering, it is always agreeable to hear.
He said, "Here, Anne; here's Robert. He hasn't breakfasted."
"He likes his cold bath beforehand," said Robert, presenting his cheek to
the fleshless, semi-transparent woman.
Aunt Anne divided her lips to pronounce a crisp, subdued "Ow!" to
Jonathan after inspecting Robert; and she shuddered at sight of Robert,
and said "Ow!" repeatedly, by way of an interjectory token of
comprehension, to all that was uttered; but it was a horrified "No!" when
Robert's cheek pushed nearer.
"Then, see to getting some breakfast for him," said Jonathan. "You're not
anyway bound to kiss a drunken--"
"Dog's the word, sir," Robert helped him. "Dogs can afford it. I never
saw one in that state; so they don't lose character."
He spoke lightly, but dejection was in his attitude. When his aunt Anne
had left the room, he exclaimed,--
"By jingo! women make you feel it, by some way that they have. She's a
religious creature. She smells the devil in me."
"More like, the brandy," his father responded.
"Well! I'm on the road, I'm on the road!" Robert fetched a sigh.
"I didn't make the road," said his father.
"No, sir; you didn't. Work hard: sleep sound that's happiness. I've
known it for a year. You're the man I'd imitate, if I could. The devil
came first the brandy's secondary. I was quiet so long. I thought
myself a safe man."
He sat down and sent his hair distraught with an effort at smoothing it.
"Women brought the devil into the world first. It's women who raise the
devil in us, and why they--"
He thumped the table just as his aunt Anne was preparing to spread the
"Don't be frightened, woman," said Jonathan, seeing her start fearfully
back. "You take too many cups of tea, morning and night--hang the
"Never, never till now have you abused me, Jonathan," she whimpered,
"I don't tell you to love him; but wait on him. That's all. And I'll
about my business. Land and beasts--they answer to you."
Robert looked up.
"Land and beasts! They sound like blessed things. When next I go to
church, I shall know what old Adam felt. Go along, sir. I shall break
nothing in the house."
"You won't go, Jonathan?" begged the trembling spinster.
"Give him some of your tea, and strong, and as much of it as he can
take--he wants bringing down," was Jonathan's answer; and casting a
glance at one of the framed letters, he strode through the doorway, and
Aunt Anne was alone with the flushed face and hurried eyes of her nephew,
who was to her little better than a demon in the flesh. But there was a
Bible in the room.
An hour later, Robert was mounted and riding to the meet of hounds.
A single night at the Pilot Inn had given life and vigour to Robert's old
reputation in Warbeach village, as the stoutest of drinkers and dear
rascals throughout a sailor-breeding district, where Dibdin was still
thundered in the ale-house, and manhood in a great degree measured by the
capacity to take liquor on board, as a ship takes ballast. There was a
profound affectation of deploring the sad fact that he drank as hard as
ever, among the men, and genuine pity expressed for him by the women of
Warbeach; but his fame was fresh again. As the Spring brings back its
flowers, Robert's presence revived his youthful deeds. There had not
been a boxer in the neighbourhood like Robert Eccles, nor such a champion
in all games, nor, when he set himself to it, such an invincible drinker.
It was he who thrashed the brute, Nic Sedgett, for stabbing with his
clasp-knife Harry Boulby, son of the landlady of the Pilot Inn; thrashed
him publicly, to the comfort of all Warbeach. He had rescued old Dame
Garble from her burning cottage, and made his father house the old
creature, and worked at farming, though he hated it, to pay for her
subsistence. He vindicated the honour of Warbeach by drinking a match
against a Yorkshire skipper till four o'clock in the morning, when it was
a gallant sight, my boys, to see Hampshire steadying the defeated
North-countryman on his astonished zigzag to his flattish-bottomed
billyboy, all in the cheery sunrise on the river--yo-ho! ahoy!
Glorious Robert had tried, first the sea, and then soldiering. Now let us
hope he'll settle to farming, and follow his rare old father's ways, and
be back among his own people for good. So chimed the younger ones, and
many of the elder.
Danish blood had settled round Warbeach. To be a really popular hero
anywhere in Britain, a lad must still, I fear, have something of a
Scandinavian gullet; and if, in addition to his being a powerful drinker,
he is pleasant in his cups, and can sing, and forgive, be freehanded, and
roll out the grand risky phrases of a fired brain, he stamps himself, in
the apprehension of his associates, a king.
Much of the stuff was required to deal King Robert of Warbeach the
capital stroke, and commonly he could hold on till a puff of cold air
from the outer door, like an admonitory messenger, reminded him that he
was, in the greatness of his soul, a king of swine; after which his way
of walking off, without a word to anybody, hoisting his whole stature,
while others were staggering, or roaring foul rhymes, or feeling
consciously mortal in their sensation of feverishness, became a theme for
admiration; ay, and he was fresh as an orchard apple in the morning!
there lay his commandership convincingly. What was proved overnight was
confirmed at dawn.
Mr. Robert had his contrast in Sedgett's son, Nicodemus Sedgett, whose
unlucky Christian name had assisted the wits of Warbeach in bestowing on
him a darkly-luminous relationship. Young Nic loved also to steep his
spirit in the bowl; but, in addition to his never paying for his luxury,
he drank as if in emulation of the colour of his reputed patron, and
neighbourhood to Nic Sedgett was not liked when that young man became
thoughtful over his glass.
The episode of his stabbing the landlady's son Harry clung to him
fatally. The wound was in the thigh, and nothing serious. Harry was up
and off to sea before Nic had ceased to show the marks of Robert's
vengeance upon him; but blood-shedding, even on a small scale, is so
detested by Englishmen, that Nic never got back to his right hue in the
eyes of Warbeach. None felt to him as to a countryman, and it may be
supposed that his face was seen no more in the house of gathering, the
He rented one of the Fairly farms, known as the Three-Tree Farm,
subsisting there, men fancied, by the aid of his housekeeper's money.
For he was of those evil fellows who disconcert all righteous prophecy,
and it was vain for Mrs. Boulby and Warbeach village to declare that no
good could come to him, when Fortune manifestly kept him going.
He possessed the rogue's most serviceable art: in spite of a countenance
that was not attractive, this fellow could, as was proved by evidence,
make himself pleasing to women. "The truth of it is," said Mrs. Boulby,
at a loss for any other explanation, and with a woman's love of sharp
generalization, "it's because my sex is fools."
He had one day no money to pay his rent, and forthwith (using for the
purpose his last five shillings, it was said) advertized for a
housekeeper; and before Warbeach had done chuckling over his folly, an
agreeable woman of about thirty-five was making purchases in his name;
she made tea, and the evening brew for such friends as he could collect,
and apparently paid his rent for him, after a time; the distress was not
in the house three days. It seemed to Warbeach an erratic proceeding on
the part of Providence, that Nic should ever be helped to swim; but our
modern prophets have small patience, and summon Destiny to strike without
a preparation of her weapons or a warning to the victim.
More than Robert's old occasional vice was at the bottom of his
popularity, as I need not say. Let those who generalize upon ethnology
determine whether the ancient opposition of Saxon and Norman be at an
end; but it is certain, to my thinking, that when a hero of the people
can be got from the common popular stock, he is doubly dear. A
gentleman, however gallant and familiar, will hardly ever be as much
beloved, until he dies to inform a legend or a ballad: seeing that death
only can remove the peculiar distinctions and distances which the people
feel to exist between themselves and the gentleman-class, and which, not
to credit them with preternatural discernment, they are carefully taught
to feel. Dead Britons are all Britons, but live Britons are not quite
It was as the son of a yeoman, showing comprehensible accomplishments,
that Robert took his lead. He was a very brave, a sweet-hearted, and a
handsome young man, and he had very chivalrous views of life, that were
understood by a sufficient number under the influence of ale or brandy,
and by a few in default of that material aid; and they had a family pride
in him. The pride was mixed with fear, which threw over it a tender
light, like a mother's dream of her child. The people, I have said, are
not so lost in self-contempt as to undervalue their best men, but it must
be admitted that they rarely produce young fellows wearing the undeniable
chieftain's stamp, and the rarity of one like Robert lent a hue of
sadness to him in their thoughts.
Fortune, moreover, the favourer of Nic Sedgett, blew foul whichever the
way Robert set his sails. He would not look to his own advantage; and
the belief that man should set his little traps for the liberal hand of
his God, if he wishes to prosper, rather than strive to be merely
honourable in his Maker's eye, is almost as general among poor people as
it is with the moneyed classes, who survey them from their height.
When jolly Butcher Billing, who was one of the limited company which had
sat with Robert at the Pilot last night, reported that he had quitted the
army, he was hearkened to dolefully, and the feeling was universal that
glorious Robert had cut himself off from his pension and his hospital.
But when gossip Sedgett went his rounds, telling that Robert was down
among them again upon the darkest expedition their minds could conceive,
and rode out every morning for the purpose of encountering one of the
gentlemen up at Fairly, and had already pulled him off his horse and laid
him in the mud, calling him scoundrel and challenging him either to yield
his secret or to fight; and that he followed him, and was out after him
publicly, and matched himself against that gentleman, who had all the
other gentlemen, and the earl, and the law to back him, the little place
buzzed with wonder and alarm. Faint hearts declared that Robert was now
done for. All felt that he had gone miles beyond the mark. Those were
the misty days when fogs rolled up the salt river from the winter sea,
and the sun lived but an hour in the clotted sky, extinguished near the
Robert was seen riding out, and the tramp of his horse was heard as he
returned homeward. He called no more at the Pilot. Darkness and mystery
enveloped him. There were nightly meetings under Mrs. Boulby's roof, in
the belief that he could not withstand her temptations; nor did she
imprudently discourage them; but the woman at last overcame the landlady
within her, and she wailed: "He won't come because of the drink. Oh! why
was I made to sell liquor, which he says sends him to the devil, poor
blessed boy? and I can't help begging him to take one little drop. I
did, the first night he was down, forgetting his ways; he looked so
desperate, he did, and it went on and went on, till he was primed, and me
proud to see him get out of his misery. And now he hates the thought of
In her despair she encouraged Sedgett to visit her bar and parlour, and
he became everywhere a most important man.
Farmer Eccles's habits of seclusion (his pride, some said), and more
especially the dreaded austere Aunt Anne, who ruled that household, kept
people distant from the Warbeach farm-house, all excepting Sedgett, who
related that every night on his return, she read a chapter from the Bible
to Robert, sitting up for him patiently to fulfil her duty; and that the
farmer's words to his son had been: "Rest here; eat and drink, and ride
my horse; but not a penny of my money do you have."
By the help of Steeve Bilton, the Fairly huntsman, Sedgett was enabled to
relate that there was a combination of the gentlemen against Robert,
whose behaviour none could absolutely approve, save the landlady and
jolly Butcher Billing, who stuck to him with a hearty blind faith.
"Did he ever," asked the latter, "did Bob Eccles ever conduct himself
disrespectful to his superiors? Wasn't he always found out at his
wildest for to be right--to a sensible man's way of thinking?--though
not, I grant ye, to his own interests--there's another tale." And Mr.
Billing's staunch adherence to the hero of the village was cried out to
his credit when Sedgett stated, on Stephen Bilton's authority, that
Robert's errand was the defence of a girl who had been wronged, and whose
whereabout, that she might be restored to her parents, was all he wanted
to know. This story passed from mouth to mouth, receiving much ornament
in the passage. The girl in question became a lady; for it is required
of a mere common girl that she should display remarkable character before
she can be accepted as the fitting companion of a popular hero. She
became a young lady of fortune, in love with Robert, and concealed by the
artifice of the offending gentleman whom Robert had challenged. Sedgett
told this for truth, being instigated to boldness of invention by
pertinacious inquiries, and the dignified sense which the whole story
hung upon him.
Mrs. Boulby, who, as a towering woman, despised Sedgett's weak frame, had
been willing to listen till she perceived him to be but a man of fiction,
and then she gave him a flat contradiction, having no esteem for his
"Eh! but, Missis, I can tell you his name--the gentleman's name," said
Sedgett, placably. "He's a Mr. Algernon Blancove, and a cousin by
marriage, or something, of Mrs. Lovell."
"I reckon you're right about that, goodman," replied Mrs. Boulby, with
intuitive discernment of the true from the false, mingled with a desire
to show that she was under no obligation for the news. "All t' other's a
tale of your own, and you know it, and no more true than your rigmaroles
about my brandy, which is French; it is, as sure as my blood's British."
"Oh! Missis," quoth Sedgett, maliciously, "as to tales, you've got
witnesses enough it crassed chann'l. Aha! Don't bring 'em into the box.
Don't you bring 'em into ne'er a box."
"You mean to say, Mr. Sedgett, they won't swear?"
"No, Missis; they'll swear, fast and safe, if you teach 'em. Dashed if
they won't run the Pilot on a rock with their swearin'. It ain't a good
"Well, Mr. Sedgett, the next time you drink my brandy and find the
consequences bad, you let me hear of it."
"And what'll you do, Missis, may be?"
Listeners were by, and Mrs. Boulby cruelly retorted; "I won't send you
home to your wife;" which created a roar against this hen-pecked man.
"As to consequences, Missis, it's for your sake I'm looking at them,"
Sedgett said, when he had recovered from the blow.
"You say that to the Excise, Mr. Sedgett; it, belike, 'll make 'em
"Brandy's your weak point, it appears, Missis."
"A little in you would stiffen your back, Mr. Sedgett."
"Poor Bob Eccles didn't want no stiffening when he come down first,"
At which, flushing enraged, Mrs. Boulby cried: "Mention him, indeed! And
him and you, and that son of your'n--the shame of your cheeks if people
say he's like his father. Is it your son, Nic Sedgett, thinks to inform
against me, as once he swore to, and to get his wage that he may step out
of a second bankruptcy? and he a farmer! You let him know that he isn't
feared by me, Sedgett, and there's one here to give him a second dose,
without waiting for him to use clasp-knives on harmless innocents."
"Pacify yourself, ma'am, pacify yourself," remarked Sedgett, hardened
against words abroad by his endurance of blows at home. "Bob Eccles, he's
got his hands full, and he, maybe, 'll reach the hulks before my Nic do,
yet. And how 'm I answerable for Nic, I ask you?"
"More luck to you not to be, I say; and either, Sedgett, you does woman's
work, gossipin' about like a cracked bell-clapper, or men's the biggest
gossips of all, which I believe; for there's no beating you at your work,
and one can't wish ill to you, knowing what you catch."
"In a friendly way, Missis,"--Sedgett fixed on the compliment to his
power of propagating news--"in a friendly way. You can't accuse me of
leavin' out the "l" in your name, now, can you? I make that
observation,"--the venomous tattler screwed himself up to the widow
insinuatingly, as if her understanding could only be seized at close
quarters, "I make that observation, because poor Dick Boulby, your
lamented husband--eh! poor Dick! You see, Missis, it ain't the tough
ones last longest: he'd sing, 'I'm a Sea Booby,' to the song, 'I'm a
green Mermaid:' poor Dick! 'a-shinin' upon the sea-deeps.' He kept the
liquor from his head, but didn't mean it to stop down in his leg."
"Have you done, Mr. Sedgett?" said the widow, blandly.
"You ain't angry, Missis?"
"Not a bit, Mr. Sedgett; and if I knock you over with the flat o' my
hand, don't you think so."
Sedgett threw up the wizened skin of his forehead, and retreated from the
bar. At a safe distance, he called: "Bad news that about Bob Eccles
swallowing a blow yesterday!"
Mrs. Boulby faced him complacently till he retired, and then observed to
those of his sex surrounding her, "Don't "woman-and-dog-and-walnut-tree"
me! Some of you men 'd be the better for a drubbing every day of your
lives. Sedgett yond' 'd be as big a villain as his son, only for what he
gets at home."
That was her way of replying to the Parthian arrow; but the barb was
poisoned. The village was at fever heat concerning Robert, and this
assertion that he had swallowed a blow, produced almost as great a
consternation as if a fleet of the enemy had been reported off Sandy
Mrs. Boulby went into her parlour and wrote a letter to Robert, which she
despatched by one of the loungers about the bar, who brought back news
that three of the gentlemen of Fairly were on horseback, talking to
Farmer Eccles at his garden gate. Affairs were waxing hot. The
gentlemen had only to threaten Farmer Eccles, to make him side with his
son, right or wrong. In the evening, Stephen Bilton, the huntsman,
presented himself at the door of the long parlour of the Pilot, and loud
cheers were his greeting from a full company.
"Gentlemen all," said Stephen, with dapper modesty; and acted as if no
excitement were current, and he had nothing to tell.
"Well, Steeve?" said one, to encourage him.
"How about Bob, to-day?" said another.
Before Stephen had spoken, it was clear to the apprehension of the whole
room that he did not share the popular view of Robert. He declined to
understand who was meant by "Bob." He played the questions off; and then
shrugged, with, "Oh, let's have a quiet evening."
It ended in his saying, "About Bob Eccles? There, that's summed up
pretty quick--he's mad."
"Mad!" shouted Warbeach.
"That's a lie," said Mrs. Boulby, from the doorway.
"Well, mum, I let a lady have her own opinion." Stephen nodded to her.
"There ain't a doubt as t' what the doctors 'd bring him in I ain't
speaking my ideas alone. It's written like the capital letters in a
newspaper. Lunatic's the word! And I'll take a glass of something warm,
Mrs. Boulby. We had a stiff run to-day."
"Where did ye kill, Steeve?" asked a dispirited voice.
"We didn't kill at all: he was one of those "longshore dog-foxes, and got
away home on the cliff." Stephen thumped his knee. "It's my belief the
smell o' sea gives 'em extra cunning."
"The beggar seems to have put ye out rether--eh, Steeve?"
So it was generally presumed: and yet the charge of madness was very
staggering; madness being, in the first place, indefensible, and
everybody's enemy when at large; and Robert's behaviour looked extremely
like it. It had already been as a black shadow haunting enthusiastic
minds in the village, and there fell a short silence, during which
Stephen made his preparations for filling and lighting a pipe.
"Come; how do you make out he's mad?"
Jolly Butcher Billing spoke; but with none of the irony of confidence.
"Oh!" Stephen merely clapped both elbows against his sides.
Several pairs of eyes were studying him. He glanced over them in turn,
and commenced leisurely the puff contemplative.
"Don't happen to have a grudge of e'er a kind against old Bob, Steeve?"
Mrs. Boulby herself brought his glass to Stephen, and, retreating, left
the parlour-door open.
"What causes you for to think him mad, Steeve?"
A second "Oh!" as from the heights dominating argument, sounded from
Stephen's throat, half like a grunt. This time he condescended to add,--
"How do you know when a dog's gone mad? Well, Robert Eccles, he's gone
in like manner. If you don't judge a man by his actions, you've got no
means of reckoning. He comes and attacks gentlemen, and swears he'll go
on doing it."
"Well, and what does that prove?" said jolly Butcher Billing.
Mr. William Moody, boatbuilder, a liver-complexioned citizen, undertook
"What does that prove? What does that prove when the midshipmite was
found with his head in the mixedpickle jar? It proved that his head was
lean, and t' other part was rounder."
The illustration appeared forcible, but not direct, and nothing more was
understood from it than that Moody, and two or three others who had been
struck by the image of the infatuated young naval officer, were going
over to the enemy. The stamp of madness upon Robert's acts certainly
saved perplexity, and was the easiest side of the argument. By this time
Stephen had finished his glass, and the effect was seen.
"Hang it!" he exclaimed, "I don't agree he deserves shooting. And he may
have had harm done to him. In that case, let him fight. And I say, too,
let the gentleman give him satisfaction."
"Hear! hear!" cried several.
"And if the gentleman refuse to give him satisfaction in a fair stand-up
fight, I say he ain't a gentleman, and deserves to be treated as such.
My objection's personal. I don't like any man who spoils sport, and
ne'er a rascally vulpeci' spoils sport as he do, since he's been down in
our parts again. I'll take another brimmer, Mrs. Boulby."
"To be sure you will, Stephen," said Mrs. Boulby, bending as in a curtsey
to the glass; and so soft with him that foolish fellows thought her cowed
by the accusation thrown at her favourite.
"There's two questions about they valpecies, Master Stephen," said Farmer
Wainsby, a farmer with a grievance, fixing his elbow on his knee for
serious utterance. "There's to ask, and t' ask again. Sport, I grant
ye. All in doo season. But," he performed a circle with his pipe stem,
and darted it as from the centre thereof toward Stephen's breast, with
the poser, "do we s'pport thieves at public expense for them to keep
thievin'--black, white, or brown--no matter, eh? Well, then, if the
public wunt bear it, dang me if I can see why individles shud bear it.
It ent no manner o' reason, net as I can see; let gentlemen have their
opinion, or let 'em not. Foxes be hanged!"
Much slow winking was interchanged. In a general sense, Farmer Wainsby's
remarks were held to be un-English, though he was pardoned for them as
one having peculiar interests at stake.
"Ay, ay! we know all about that," said Stephen, taking succour from the
eyes surrounding him.
"And so, may be, do we," said Wainsby.
"Fox-hunting 'll go on when your great-grandfather's your youngest son,
farmer; or t' other way."
"I reckon it'll be a stuffed fox your chil'ern 'll hunt, Mr. Steeve; more
straw in 'em than bow'ls."
"If the country," Stephen thumped the table, "were what you'd make of it,
hang me if my name 'd long be Englishman!"
"Hear, hear, Steeve!" was shouted in support of the Conservative
principle enunciated by him.
"What I say is, flesh and blood afore foxes!"
Thus did Farmer Wainsby likewise attempt a rallying-cry; but Stephen's
retort, "Ain't foxes flesh and blood?" convicted him of clumsiness, and,
buoyed on the uproar of cheers, Stephen pursued, "They are; to kill 'em
in cold blood's beast-murder, so it is. What do we do? We give 'em a
fair field--a fair field and no favour! We let 'em trust to the
instincts Nature, she's given 'em; and don't the old woman know best? If
they cap, get away, they win the day. All's open, and honest, and
aboveboard. Kill your rats and kill your rabbits, but leave foxes to
your betters. Foxes are gentlemen. You don't understand? Be hanged if
they ain't! I like the old fox, and I don't like to see him murdered and
exterminated, but die the death of a gentleman, at the hands of
"And ladies," sneered the farmer.
All the room was with Stephen, and would have backed him uproariously,
had he not reached his sounding period without knowing it, and thus
allowed his opponent to slip in that abominable addition.
"Ay, and ladies," cried the huntsman, keen at recovery. "Why shouldn't
they? I hate a field without a woman in it; don't you? and you? and you?
And you, too, Mrs. Boulby? There you are, and the room looks better for
you--don't it, lads? Hurrah!"
The cheering was now aroused, and Stephen had his glass filled again in
triumph, while the farmer meditated thickly over the ruin of his argument
from that fatal effort at fortifying it by throwing a hint to the
discredit of the sex, as many another man has meditated before.
"Eh! poor old Bob!" Stephen sighed and sipped. "I can cry that with any
of you. It's worse for me to see than for you to hear of him. Wasn't I
always a friend of his, and said he was worthy to be a gentleman, many a
time? He's got the manners of a gentleman now; offs with his hat, if
there's a lady present, and such a neat way of speaking. But there,
acting's the thing, and his behaviour's beastly bad! You can't call it
no other. There's two Mr. Blancoves up at Fairly, relations of Mrs.
Lovell's--whom I'll take the liberty of calling My Beauty, and no offence
meant: and it's before her that Bob only yesterday rode up--one of the
gentlemen being Mr. Algernon, free of hand and a good seat in the saddle,
t' other's Mr. Edward; but Mr. Algernon, he's Robert Eccles's man--up
rides Bob, just as we was tying Mr. Reenard's brush to the pommel of the
lady's saddle, down in Ditley Marsh; and he bows to the lady. Says he--
but he's mad, stark mad!"
Stephen resumed his pipe amid a din of disappointment that made the walls
ring and the glasses leap.
"A little more sugar, Stephen?" said Mrs. Boulby, moving in lightly from
"Thank ye, mum; you're the best hostess that ever breathed."
"So she be; but how about Bob?" cried her guests--some asking whether he
carried a pistol or flourished a stick.
"Ne'er a blessed twig, to save his soul; and there's the madness written
on him;" Stephen roared as loud as any of them. "And me to see him
riding in the ring there, and knowing what the gentleman had sworn to do
if he came across the hunt; and feeling that he was in the wrong! I
haven't got a oath to swear how mad I was. Fancy yourselves in my place.
I love old Bob. I've drunk with him; I owe him obligations from since I
was a boy up'ard; I don't know a better than Bob in all England. And
there he was: and says to Mr. Algernon, 'You know what I'm come for.' I
never did behold a gentleman so pale--shot all over his cheeks as he was,
and pinkish under the eyes; if you've ever noticed a chap laid hands on
by detectives in plain clothes. Smack at Bob went Mr. Edward's whip."
"Mr. Algernon's," Stephen was corrected.
"Mr. Edward's, I tell ye--the cousin. And right across the face. My
Lord! it made my blood tingle."
A sound like the swish of a whip expressed the sentiments of that
assemblage at the Pilot.
"Bob swallowed it?"
"What else could he do, the fool? He had nothing to help him but his
hand. Says he, 'That's a poor way of trying to stop me. My business is
with this gentleman;' and Bob set his horse at Mr. Algernon, and Mrs.
Lovell rode across him with her hand raised; and just at that moment up
jogged the old gentleman, Squire Blancove, of Wrexby: and Robert Eccles
says to him, 'You might have saved your son something by keeping your
word.' It appears according to Bob, that the squire had promised to see
his son, and settle matters. All Mrs. Lovell could do was hardly enough
to hold back Mr. Edward from laying out at Bob. He was like a white
devil, and speaking calm and polite all the time. Says Bob, 'I'm willing
to take one when I've done with the other;' and the squire began talking
to his son, Mrs. Lovell to Mr. Edward, and the rest of the gentlemen all
round poor dear old Bob, rather bullying--like for my blood; till Bob
couldn't help being nettled, and cried out, 'Gentlemen, I hold him in my
power, and I'm silent so long as there's a chance of my getting him to
behave like a man with human feelings.' If they'd gone at him then, I
don't think I could have let him stand alone: an opinion's one thing, but
blood's another, and I'm distantly related to Bob; and a man who's always
thinking of the value of his place, he ain't worth it. But Mrs. Lovell,
she settled the case--a lady, Farmer Wainsby, with your leave. There's
the good of having a lady present on the field. That's due to a lady!"
"Happen she was at the bottom of it," the farmer returned Stephen's nod
"How did it end, Stephen, my lad?" said Butcher Billing, indicating a
"never mind him."
"It ended, my boy, it ended like my glass here--hot and strong stuff,
with sugar at the bottom. And I don't see this, so glad as I saw that,
my word of honour on it! Boys all!" Stephen drank the dregs.
Mrs. Boulby was still in attendance. The talk over the circumstances was
sweeter than the bare facts, and the replenished glass enabled Stephen to
add the picturesque bits of the affray, unspurred by a surrounding
eagerness of his listeners--too exciting for imaginative effort. In
particular, he dwelt on Robert's dropping the reins and riding with his
heels at Algernon, when Mrs. Lovell put her horse in his way, and the
pair of horses rose like waves at sea, and both riders showed their
horsemanship, and Robert an adroit courtesy, for which the lady thanked
him with a bow of her head.
"I got among the hounds, pretending to pacify them, and call 'em
together," said Stephen, "and I heard her say--just before all was over,
and he turned off--I heard her say: 'Trust this to me: I will meet you.'
I'll swear to them exact words, though there was more, and a 'where' in
the bargain, and that I didn't hear. Aha! by George! thinks I, old Bob,
you're a lucky beggar, and be hanged if I wouldn't go mad too for a
minute or so of short, sweet, private talk with a lovely young widow lady
as ever the sun did shine upon so boldly--oho!
You've seen a yacht upon the sea,
She dances and she dances, O!
As fair is my wild maid to me...
Something about 'prances, O!' on her horse, you know, or you're a hem'd
fool if you don't. I never could sing; wish I could! It's the joy of
life! It's utterance! Hey for harmony!"
"Eh! brayvo! now you're a man, Steeve! and welcomer and welcomest; yi--
yi, O!" jolly Butcher Billing sang out sharp. "Life wants watering.
Here's a health to Robert Eccles, wheresoever and whatsoever! and ne'er a
man shall say of me I didn't stick by a friend like Bob. Cheers, my
Robert's health was drunk in a thunder, and praises of the purity of the
brandy followed the grand roar. Mrs. Boulby received her compliments on
"'Pends upon the tide, Missis, don't it?" one remarked with a grin broad
enough to make the slyness written on it easy reading.
"Ah! first a flow and then a ebb," said another.
"It's many a keg I plant i' the mud,
Coastguardsman, come! and I'll have your blood!"
Instigation cried, "Cut along;" but the defiant smuggler was deficient in
memory, and like Steeve Bilton, was reduced to scatter his concluding
rhymes in prose, as "something about;" whereat jolly Butcher Billing, a
reader of song-books from a literary delight in their contents, scraped
his head, and then, as if he had touched a spring, carolled,--
"In spite of all you Gov'ment pack,
I'll land my kegs of the good Cognyac"--
"though," he took occasion to observe when the chorus and a sort of
cracker of irrelevant rhymes had ceased to explode; "I'm for none of them
games. Honesty!--there's the sugar o' my grog."
"Ay, but you like to be cock-sure of the stuff you drink, if e'er a man
did," said the boatbuilder, whose eye blazed yellow in this frothing
season of song and fun.
"Right so, Will Moody!" returned the jolly butcher: "which means--not
wrong this time!"
"Then, what's understood by your sticking prongs into your hostess here
concerning of her brandy? Here it is--which is enough, except for
"Eh, Missus?" the jolly butcher appealed to her, and pointed at Moody's
complexion for proof.
It was quite a fiction that kegs of the good cognac were sown at low
water, and reaped at high, near the river-gate of the old Pilot Inn
garden; but it was greatly to Mrs. Boulby's interest to encourage the
delusion which imaged her brandy thus arising straight from the very
source, without villanous contact with excisemen and corrupting dealers;
and as, perhaps, in her husband's time, the thing had happened, and still
did, at rare intervals, she complacently gathered the profitable fame of
her brandy being the best in the district.
"I'm sure I hope you're satisfied, Mr. Billing," she said.
The jolly butcher asked whether Will Moody was satisfied, and Mr. William
Moody declaring himself thoroughly satisfied, "then I'm satisfied too!"
said the jolly butcher; upon which the boatbuilder heightened the laugh
by saying he was not satisfied at all; and to escape from the execrations
of the majority, pleaded that it was because his glass was empty: thus
making his peace with them. Every glass in the room was filled again.
The young fellows now loosened tongue; and Dick Curtis, the promising
cricketer of Hampshire, cried, "Mr. Moody, my hearty! that's your fourth
glass, so don't quarrel with me, now!"
"You!" Moody fired up in a bilious frenzy, and called him a this and that
and t' other young vagabond; for which the company, feeling the ominous
truth contained in Dick Curtis's remark more than its impertinence, fined
Mr. Moody in a song. He gave the--
"So many young Captains have walked o'er my pate,
It's no wonder you see me quite bald, sir,"
with emphatic bitterness, and the company thanked him. Seeing him stand
up as to depart, however, a storm of contempt was hurled at him; some
said he was like old Sedgett, and was afraid of his wife; and some, that
he was like Nic Sedgett, and drank blue.
"You're a bag of blue devils, oh dear! oh dear!"
sang Dick to the tune of "The Campbells are coming."
"I ask e'er a man present," Mr. Moody put out his fist, "is that to be
borne? Didn't you," he addressed Dick Curtis,--"didn't you sing into my
'It's no wonder to hear how you squall'd, sir?'
"Don't he,"--Dick addressed the company, "make Mrs. Boulby's brandy look
ashamed of itself in his face? I ask e'er a gentleman present."
Accusation and retort were interchanged, in the course of which, Dick
called Mr. Moody Nic Sedgett's friend; and a sort of criminal inquiry was
held. It was proved that Moody had been seen with Nic Sedgett; and then
three or four began to say that Nic Sedgett was thick with some of the
gentlemen up at Fairly;--just like his luck! Stephen let it be known
that he could confirm this fact; he having seen Mr. Algernon Blancove
stop Nic on the road and talk to him.
"In that case," said Butcher Billing, "there's mischief in a state of
fermentation. Did ever anybody see Nic and the devil together?"
"I saw Nic and Mr. Moody together," said Dick Curtis. "Well, I'm only
stating a fact," he exclaimed, as Moody rose, apparently to commence an
engagement, for which the company quietly prepared, by putting chairs out
of his way: but the recreant took his advantage from the error, and got
away to the door, pursued.
"Here's an example of what we lose in having no President," sighed the
jolly butcher. "There never was a man built for the chair like Bob
Eccles I say! Our evening's broke up, and I, for one, 'd ha' made it
morning. Hark, outside; By Gearge! they're snowballing."
An adjournment to the front door brought them in view of a white and
silent earth under keen stars, and Dick Curtis and the bilious
boatbuilder, foot to foot, snowball in hand. A bout of the smart
exercise made Mr. Moody laugh again, and all parted merrily, delivering
final shots as they went their several ways.
"Thanks be to heaven for snowing," said Mrs. Boulby; "or when I should
have got to my bed, Goodness only can tell!" With which, she closed the
door upon the empty inn.
The night was warm with the new-fallen snow, though the stars sparkled
coldly. A fleet of South-westerly rainclouds had been met in mid-sky by
a sharp puff from due North, and the moisture had descended like a woven
shroud, covering all the land, the house-tops, and the trees.
Young Harry Boulby was at sea, and this still weather was just what a
mother's heart wished for him. The widow looked through her bed-room
window and listened, as if the absolute stillness must beget a sudden
cry. The thought of her boy made her heart revert to Robert. She was
thinking of Robert when the muffled sound of a horse at speed caused her
to look up the street, and she saw one coming--a horse without a rider.
The next minute he was out of sight.
Mrs. Boulby stood terrified. The silence of the night hanging everywhere
seemed to call on her for proof that she had beheld a real earthly
spectacle, and the dead thump of the hooves on the snow-floor in passing
struck a chill through her as being phantom-like. But she had seen a
saddle on the horse, and the stirrups flying, and the horse looked
affrighted. The scene was too earthly in its suggestion of a tale of
blood. What if the horse were Robert's? She tried to laugh at her
womanly fearfulness, and had almost to suppress a scream in doing so.
There was no help for it but to believe her brandy as good and
efficacious as her guests did, so she went downstairs and took a
fortifying draught; after which her blood travelled faster, and the event
galloped swiftly into the recesses of time, and she slept.
While the morning was still black, and the streets without a sign of
life, she was aroused by a dream of some one knocking at her grave-stone.
"Ah, that brandy!" she sighed. "This is what a poor woman has to pay for
custom!" Which we may interpret as the remorseful morning confession of
a guilt she had been the victim of over night. She knew that good brandy
did not give bad dreams, and was self-convicted. Strange were her
sensations when the knocking continued; and presently she heard a voice
in the naked street below call in a moan, "Mother!"
"My darling!" she answered, divided in her guess at its being Harry or
A glance from the open window showed Robert leaning in the quaint old
porch, with his head bound by a handkerchief; but he had no strength to
reply to a question at that distance, and when she let him in he made two
steps and dropped forward on the floor.
Lying there, he plucked at her skirts. She was shouting for help, but
with her ready apprehension of the pride in his character, she knew what
was meant by his broken whisper before she put her ear to his lips, and
she was silent, miserable sight as was his feeble efforts to rise on an
elbow that would not straighten.
His head was streaming with blood, and the stain was on his neck and
chest. He had one helpless arm; his clothes were torn as from a fierce
"I'm quite sensible," he kept repeating, lest she should relapse into
"Lord love you for your spirit!" exclaimed the widow, and there they
remained, he like a winged eagle, striving to raise himself from time to
time, and fighting with his desperate weakness. His face was to the
ground; after a while he was still. In alarm the widow stooped over him:
she feared that he had given up his last breath; but the candle-light
showed him shaken by a sob, as it seemed to her, though she could scarce
believe it of this manly fellow. Yet it proved true; she saw the very
tears. He was crying at his helplessness.
"Oh, my darling boy!" she burst out; "what have they done to ye? the
cowards they are! but do now have pity on a woman, and let me get some
creature to lift you to a bed, dear. And don't flap at me with your hand
like a bird that's shot. You're quite, quite sensible, I know; quite
sensible, dear; but for my sake, Robert, my Harry's good friend, only for
my sake, let yourself be a carried to a clean, nice bed, till I get Dr.
Bean to you. Do, do."
Her entreaties brought on a succession of the efforts to rise, and at
last, getting round on his back, and being assisted by the widow, he sat
up against the wall. The change of posture stupified him with a
dizziness. He tried to utter the old phrase, that he was sensible, but
his hand beat at his forehead before the words could be shaped.
"What pride is when it's a man!" the widow thought, as he recommenced the
grievous struggle to rise on his feet; now feeling them up to the knee
with a questioning hand, and pausing as if in a reflective wonder, and
then planting them for a spring that failed wretchedly; groaning and
leaning backward, lost in a fit of despair, and again beginning, patient
as an insect imprisoned in a circle.
The widow bore with his man's pride, until her nerves became afflicted by
the character of his movements, which, as her sensations conceived them,
were like those of a dry door jarring loose. She caught him in her arms:
"It's let my back break, but you shan't fret to death there, under my
eyes, proud or humble, poor dear," she said, and with a great pull she
got him upright. He fell across her shoulder with so stiff a groan that
for a moment she thought she had done him mortal injury.
"Good old mother," he said boyishly, to reassure her.
"Yes; and you'll behave to me like a son," she coaxed him.
They talked as by slow degrees the stairs were ascended.
"A crack o' the head, mother--a crack o' the head," said he.
"Was it the horse, my dear?"
"A crack o' the head, mother."
"What have they done to my boy Robert?"
"They've,"--he swung about humorously, weak as he was and throbbing with
pain--"they've let out some of your brandy, mother...got into my head."
"Who've done it, my dear?"
"They've done it, mother."
"Oh, take care o' that nail at your foot; and oh, that beam to your poor
poll--poor soul! he's been and hurt himself again. And did they do it to
him? and what was it for?" she resumed in soft cajolery.
"They did it, because--"
"Yes, my dear; the reason for it?"
"Because, mother, they had a turn that way."
"Thanks be to Above for leaving your cunning in you, my dear," said the
baffled woman, with sincere admiration. "And Lord be thanked, if you're
not hurt bad, that they haven't spoilt his handsome face," she added.
In the bedroom, he let her partially undress him, refusing all doctor's
aid, and commanding her to make no noise about him. and then he lay down
and shut his eyes, for the pain was terrible--galloped him and threw him
with a shock--and galloped him and threw him again, whenever his thoughts
got free for a moment from the dizzy aching.
"My dear," she whispered, "I'm going to get a little brandy."
She hastened away upon this mission.
He was in the same posture when she returned with bottle and glass.
She poured out some, and made much of it as a specific, and of the great
things brandy would do; but he motioned his hand from it feebly, till she
reproached him tenderly as perverse and unkind.
"Now, my dearest boy, for my sake--only for my sake. Will you? Yes, you
will, my Robert!"
"No brandy, mother."
"Only one small thimbleful?"
"No more brandy for me!"
"See, dear, how seriously you take it, and all because you want the
"No brandy," was all he could say.
She looked at the label on the bottle. Alas! she knew whence it came,
and what its quality. She could cheat herself about it when herself only
was concerned--but she wavered at the thought of forcing it upon Robert
as trusty medicine, though it had a pleasant taste, and was really, as
she conceived, good enough for customers.
She tried him faintly with arguments in its favour; but his resolution
was manifested by a deaf ear.
With a perfect faith in it she would, and she was conscious that she
could, have raised his head and poured it down his throat. The crucial
test of her love for Robert forbade the attempt. She burst into an
uncontrollable fit of crying.
"Halloa! mother," said Robert, opening his eyes to the sad candlelight
"My darling boy! whom I do love so; and not to be able to help you! What
shall I do--what shall I do!"
With a start, he cried, "Where's the horse!"
"The old dad 'll be asking for the horse to-morrow."
"I saw a horse, my dear, afore I turned to my prayers at my bedside,
coming down the street without his rider. He came like a rumble of
deafness in my ears. Oh, my boy, I thought, Is it Robert's horse?--
knowing you've got enemies, as there's no brave man has not got 'em
--which is our only hope in the God of heaven!"
"Mother, punch my ribs."
He stretched himself flat for the operation, and shut his mouth.
"Hard, mother!--and quick!--I can't hold out long."
"Oh! Robert," moaned the petrified woman "strike you?"
"Straight in the ribs. Shut your fist and do it--quick."
My dear!--my boy!--I haven't the heart to do it!"
"Ah!" Robert's chest dropped in; but tightening his muscles again, he
said, "now do it--do it!"
"Oh! a poke at a poor fire puts it out, dear. And make a murderess of
me, you call mother! Oh! as I love the name, I'll obey you, Robert.
"There!--goodness forgive me!"
"Hard as you can--all's right."
"Press in at my stomach."
She nerved herself to do his bidding, and, following his orders, took his
head in her hands, and felt about it. The anguish of the touch wrung a
stifled scream from him, at which she screamed responsive. He laughed,
while twisting with the pain.
"You cruel boy, to laugh at your mother," she said, delighted by the
sound of safety in that sweet human laughter. "Hey! don't ye shake your
brain; it ought to lie quiet. And here's the spot of the wicked blow--
and him in love--as I know he is! What would she say if she saw him now?
But an old woman's the best nurse--ne'er a doubt of it."
She felt him heavy on her arm, and knew that he had fainted. Quelling her
first impulse to scream, she dropped him gently on the pillow, and rapped
to rouse up her maid.
The two soon produced a fire and hot water, bandages, vinegar in a basin,
and every crude appliance that could be thought of, the maid followed her
mistress's directions with a consoling awe, for Mrs. Boulby had told her
no more than that a man was hurt.
"I do hope, if it's anybody, it's that ther' Moody," said the maid.
"A pretty sort of a Christian you think yourself, I dare say," Mrs.
"Christian or not, one can't help longin' for a choice, mum. We ain't
all hands and knees."
"Better for you if you was," said the widow. "It's tongues, you're to
remember, you're not to be. Now come you up after me--and you'll not
utter a word. You'll stand behind the door to do what I tell you.
You're a soldier's daughter, Susan, and haven't a claim to be excitable."
"My mother was given to faints," Susan protested on behalf of her
"You may peep." Thus Mrs. Boulby tossed a sop to her frail woman's
But for her having been appeased by the sagacious accordance of this
privilege, the maid would never have endured to hear Robert's voice in
agony, and to think that it was really Robert, the beloved of Warbeach,
who had come to harm. Her apprehensions not being so lively as her
mistress's, by reason of her love being smaller, she was more terrified
than comforted by Robert's jokes during the process of washing off the
blood, cutting the hair from the wound, bandaging and binding up the
His levity seemed ghastly; and his refusal upon any persuasion to see a
doctor quite heathenish, and a sign of one foredoomed.
She believed that his arm was broken, and smarted with wrath at her
mistress for so easily taking his word to the contrary. More than all,
his abjuration of brandy now when it would do him good to take it, struck
her as an instance of that masculine insanity in the comprehension of
which all women must learn to fortify themselves. There was much
whispering in the room, inarticulate to her, before Mrs. Boulby came out;
enjoining a rigorous silence, and stating that the patient would drink
nothing but tea.
"He begged," she said half to herself, "to have the window blinds up in
the morning, if the sun wasn't strong, for him to look on our river
opening down to the ships."
"That looks as if he meant to live," Susan remarked.
"He!" cried the widow, "it's Robert Eccles. He'd stand on his last
"Would he, now!" ejaculated Susan, marvelling at him, with no question as
to what footing that might be.
"Leastways," the widow hastened to add, "if he thought it was only devils
against him. I've heard him say, 'It's a fool that holds out against
God, and a coward as gives in to the devil;' and there's my Robert
painted by his own hand."
"But don't that bring him to this so often, Mum?" Susan ruefully
inquired, joining teapot and kettle.
"I do believe he's protected," said the widow.
With the first morning light Mrs. Boulby was down at Warbeach Farm, and
being directed to Farmer Eccles in the stables, she found the sturdy
yeoman himself engaged in grooming Robert's horse.
"Well, Missis," he said, nodding to her; "you win, you see. I thought
you would; I'd have sworn you would. Brandy's stronger than blood, with
some of our young fellows."
"If you please, Mr. Eccles," she replied, "Robert's sending of me was to
know if the horse was unhurt and safe."
"Won't his legs carry him yet, Missis?"
"His legs have been graciously spared, Mr. Eccles; it's his head."
"That's where the liquor flies, I'm told."
"Pray, Mr. Eccles, believe me when I declare he hasn't touched a drop of
anything but tea in my house this past night."
"I'm sorry for that; I'd rather have him go to you. If he takes it, let
him take it good; and I'm given to understand that you've a reputation
that way. Just tell him from me, he's at liberty to play the devil with
himself, but not with my beasts."
The farmer continued his labour.
"No, you ain't a hard man, surely," cried the widow. "Not when I say he
was sober, Mr. Eccles; and was thrown, and made insensible?"
"Never knew such a thing to happen to him, Missis, and, what's more, I
don't believe it. Mayhap you're come for his things: his Aunt Anne's
indoors, and she'll give 'em up, and gladly. And my compliments to
Robert, and the next time he fancies visiting Warbeach, he'd best forward
a letter to that effect."
Mrs. Boulby curtseyed humbly. "You think bad of me, sir, for keeping a
public; but I love your son as my own, and if I might presume to say so,
Mr. Eccles, you will be proud of him too before you die. I know no more
than you how he fell yesterday, but I do know he'd not been drinking, and
have got bitter bad enemies."
"And that's not astonishing, Missis."
"No, Mr. Eccles; and a man who's brave besides being good soon learns
"Well spoken, Missis."
"Is Robert to hear he's denied his father's house?"
"I never said that, Mrs. Boulby. Here's my principle--My house is open
to my blood, so long as he don't bring downright disgrace on it, and then
any one may claim him that likes I won't give him money, because I know
of a better use for it; and he shan't ride my beasts, because he don't
know how to treat 'em. That's all."
"And so you keep within the line of your duty, sir," the widow summed his
"So I hope to," said the farmer.
"There's comfort in that," she replied.
"As much as there's needed," said he.
The widow curtseyed again. "It's not to trouble you, sir, I called.
Robert--thanks be to Above!--is not hurt serious, though severe."
"Where's he hurt?" the farmer asked rather hurriedly.
"In the head, it is."
"What have you come for?"
"First, his best hat."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed the farmer. "Well, if that 'll mend his head
it's at his service, I'm sure."
Sick at his heartlessness, the widow scattered emphasis over her
concluding remarks. "First, his best hat, he wants; and his coat and
clean shirt; and they mend the looks of a man, Mr. Eccles; and it's to
look well is his object: for he's not one to make a moan of himself, and
doctors may starve before he'd go to any of them. And my begging prayer
to you is, that when you see your son, you'll not tell him I let you know
his head or any part of him was hurt. I wish you good morning, Mr.
"Good morning to you, Mrs. Boulby. You're a respectable woman."
"Not to be soaped," she murmured to herself in a heat.
The apparently medicinal articles of attire were obtained from Aunt Anne,
without a word of speech on the part of that pale spinster. The
deferential hostility between the two women acknowledged an intervening
chasm. Aunt Anne produced a bundle, and placed the hat on it, upon which
she had neatly pinned a tract, "The Drunkard's Awakening!" Mrs. Boulby
glanced her eye in wrath across this superscription, thinking to herself,
"Oh, you good people! how you make us long in our hearts for trouble with
you." She controlled the impulse, and mollified her spirit on her way
home by distributing stray leaves of the tract to the outlying heaps of
rubbish, and to one inquisitive pig, who was looking up from a
badly-smelling sty for what the heavens might send him.
She found Robert with his arm doubled over a basin, and Susan sponging
cold water on it.
"No bones broken, mother!" he sang out. "I'm sound; all right again.
Six hours have done it this time. Is it a thaw? You needn't tell me
what the old dad has been saying. I shall be ready to breakfast in half
"Lord, what a big arm it is!" exclaimed the widow. "And no wonder, or
how would you be a terror to men? You naughty boy, to think of stirring!
Here you'll lie."
"Ah, will I?" said Robert: and he gave a spring, and sat upright in the
bed, rather white with the effort, which seemed to affect his mind, for
he asked dubiously, "What do I look like, mother?"
She brought him the looking-glass, and Susan being dismissed, he examined
"Dear!" said the widow, sitting down on the bed; "it ain't much for me to
guess you've got an appointment."
"At twelve o'clock, mother."
"With her?" she uttered softly.
"It's with a lady, mother."
"And so many enemies prowling about, Robert, my dear! Don't tell me they
didn't fall upon you last night. I said nothing, but I'd swear it on the
Book. Do you think you can go?"
"Why, mother, I go by my feelings, and there's no need to think at all,
or God knows what I should think."
The widow shook her head. "Nothing 'll stop you, I suppose?"
"Nothing inside of me will, mother."
"Doesn't she but never mind. I've no right to ask, Robert; and if I have
curiosity, it's about last night, and why you should let villains escape.
But there's no accounting for a man's notions; only, this I say, and I do
say it, Nic Sedgett, he's at the bottom of any mischief brewed against
you down here. And last night Stephen Bilton, or somebody, declared that
Nic Sedgett had been seen up at Fairly."
"Selling eggs, mother. Why shouldn't he? We mustn't complain of his
getting an honest livelihood."
"He's black-blooded, Robert; and I never can understand why the Lord did
not make him a beast in face. I'm told that creature's found pleasing by
"Ugh, mother, I'm not."
"She won't have you, Robert?"
He laughed. "We shall see to-day."
"You deceiving boy!" cried the widow; "and me not know it's Mrs. Lovell
you're going to meet! and would to heaven she'd see the worth of ye, for
it's a born lady you ought to marry."
"Just feel in my pockets, mother, and you won't be so ready with your
talk of my marrying. And now I'll get up. I feel as if my legs had to
learn over again how to bear me. The old dad, bless his heart! gave me
sound wind and limb to begin upon, so I'm not easily stumped, you see,
though I've been near on it once or twice in my life."
Mrs. Boulby murmured, "Ah! are you still going to be at war with those
He looked at her steadily, while a shrewd smile wrought over his face,
and then taking her hand, he said, "I'll tell you a little; you deserve
it, and won't tattle. My curse is, I'm ashamed to talk about my
feelings; but there's no shame in being fond of a girl, even if she
refuses to have anything to say to you, is there? No, there isn't. I
went with my dear old aunt's money to a farmer in Kent, and learnt
farming; clear of the army first, by--But I must stop that burst of
swearing. Half the time I've been away, I was there. The farmer's a
good, sober, downhearted man--a sort of beaten Englishman, who don't know
it, tough, and always backing. He has two daughters: one went to London,
and came to harm, of a kind. The other I'd prick this vein for and bleed
to death, singing; and she hates me! I wish she did. She thought me
such a good young man! I never drank; went to bed early, was up at work
with the birds. Mr. Robert Armstrong! That changeing of my name was
like a lead cap on my head. I was never myself with it, felt hang-dog--
it was impossible a girl could care for such a fellow as I was. Mother,
just listen: she's dark as a gipsy. She's the faithfullest,
stoutest-hearted creature in the world. She has black hair, large brown
eyes; see her once! She's my mate. I could say to her, 'Stand there;
take guard of a thing;' and I could be dead certain of her--she'd perish
at her post. Is the door locked? Lock the door; I won't be seen when I
speak of her. Well, never mind whether she's handsome or not. She isn't
a lady; but she's my lady; she's the woman I could be proud of. She
sends me to the devil! I believe a woman 'd fall in love with her
cheeks, they are so round and soft and kindly coloured. Think me a fool;
I am. And here am I, away from her, and I feel that any day harm may
come to her, and she 'll melt, and be as if the devils of hell were
mocking me. Who's to keep harm from her when I'm away? What can I do
but drink and forget? Only now, when I wake up from it, I'm a crawling
wretch at her feet. If I had her feet to kiss! I've never kissed her-
-never! And no man has kissed her. Damn my head! here's the ache coming
on. That's my last oath, mother. I wish there was a Bible handy, but
I'll try and stick to it without. My God! when I think of her, I fancy
everything on earth hangs still and doubts what's to happen. I'm like a
wheel, and go on spinning. Feel my pulse now. Why is it I can't stop
it? But there she is, and I could crack up this old world to know what's
coming. I was mild as milk all those days I was near her. My comfort
is, she don't know me. And that's my curse too! If she did, she'd know
as clear as day I'm her mate, her match, the man for her. I am, by
heaven!--that's an oath permitted. To see the very soul I want, and to
miss her! I'm down here, mother; she loves her sister, and I must learn
where her sister's to be found. One of those gentlemen up at Fairly's
the guilty man. I don't say which; perhaps I don't know. But oh, what a
lot of lightnings I see in the back of my head!"
Robert fell back on the pillow. Mrs. Boulby wiped her eyes. Her
feelings were overwhelmed with mournful devotion to the passionate young
man; and she expressed them practically: "A rump-steak would never digest
in his poor stomach!"
He seemed to be of that opinion too, for when, after lying till eleven,
he rose and appeared at the breakfast-table, he ate nothing but crumbs of
dry bread. It was curious to see his precise attention to the neatness
of his hat and coat, and the nervous eye he cast upon the clock, while
brushing and accurately fixing these garments. The hat would not sit as
he was accustomed to have it, owing to the bruise on his head, and he
stood like a woman petulant with her milliner before the glass; now
pressing the hat down till the pain was insufferable, and again trying
whether it presented him acceptably in the enforced style of his wearing
it. He persisted in this, till Mrs. Boulby's exclamation of wonder
admonished him of the ideas received by other eyes than his own. When we
appear most incongruous, we are often exposing the key to our characters;
and how much his vanity, wounded by Rhoda, had to do with his proceedings
down at Warbeach, it were unfair to measure just yet, lest his finer
qualities be cast into shade, but to what degree it affected him will be
Mrs. Boulby's persuasions induced him to take a stout silver-topped
walking-stick of her husband's, a relic shaped from the wood of the Royal
George; leaning upon which rather more like a Naval pensioner than he
would have cared to know, he went forth to his appointment with the lady.
The park-sward of Fairly, white with snow, rolled down in long sweeps to
the salt water: and under the last sloping oak of the park there was a
gorse-bushed lane, green in Summer, but now bearing cumbrous blossom--
like burdens of the crisp snow-fall. Mrs. Lovell sat on horseback here,
and alone, with her gauntleted hand at her waist, charmingly habited in
tone with the landscape. She expected a cavalier, and did not perceive
the approach of a pedestrian, but bowed quietly when Robert lifted his
"They say you are mad. You see, I trust myself to you."
"I wish I could thank you for your kindness, madam."
"Are you ill?"
"I had a fall last night, madam."
The lady patted her horse's neck.
"I haven't time to inquire about it. You understand that I cannot give
you more than a minute."
She glanced at her watch.
"Let us say five exactly. To begin: I can't affect to be ignorant of the
business which brings you down here. I won't pretend to lecture you
about the course you have taken; but, let me distinctly assure you, that
the gentleman you have chosen to attack in this extraordinary manner, has
done no wrong to you or to any one. It is, therefore, disgracefully
unjust to single him out. You know he cannot possibly fight you. I
"Yes, madam," said Robert. "I'll answer plainly. He can't fight a man
like me. I know it. I bear him no ill-will. I believe he's innocent
enough in this matter, as far as acts go."
"That makes your behaviour to him worse!"
Robert looked up into her eyes.
"You are a lady. You won't be shocked at what I tell you."
"Yes, yes," said Mrs. Lovell, hastily: "I have learnt--I am aware of the
tale. Some one has been injured or, you think so. I don't accuse you of
madness, but, good heavens! what means have you been pursuing! Indeed,
sir, let your feelings be as deeply engaged as possible, you have gone
altogether the wrong way to work."
"Not if I have got your help by it, madam."
She smiled with a simple grace. The next moment she consulted her watch.
"Time has gone faster than I anticipated. I must leave you. Let this be
She lowered her voice.
"You shall have the address you require. I will undertake to see her
myself, when next I am in London. It will be soon. In return, sir,
favour me with your word of honour not to molest this gentleman any
further. Will you do that? You may trust me."
"I do, madam, with all my soul!" said Robert.
"That's sufficient. I ask no more. Good morning."
Her parting bow remained with him like a vision. Her voice was like the
tinkling of harp-strings about his ears. The colour of her riding-habit
this day, harmonious with the snow-faced earth, as well as the gentle
mission she had taken upon herself, strengthened his vivid fancy in
blessing her as something quite divine.
He thought for the first time in his life bitterly of the great fortune
which fell to gentlemen in meeting and holding equal converse with so
adorable a creature; and he thought of Rhoda as being harshly earthly;
repulsive in her coldness as that black belt of water contrasted against
the snow on the shores.
He walked some paces in the track of Mrs. Lovell's horse, till his doing
so seemed too presumptuous, though to turn the other way and retrace his
steps was downright hateful: and he stood apparently in profound
contemplation of a ship of war and the trees of the forest behind the
masts. Either the fatigue of standing, or emotion, caused his head to
throb, so that he heard nothing, not even men's laughter; but looking up
suddenly, he beheld, as in a picture, Mrs. Lovell with some gentlemen
walking their horses toward him. The lady gazed softly over his head,
letting her eyes drop a quiet recognition in passing; one or two of the
younger gentlemen stared mockingly.
Edward Blancove was by Mrs. Lovell's side. His eyes fixed upon Robert
with steady scrutiny, and Robert gave him a similar inspection, though
not knowing why. It was like a child's open look, and he was feeling
childish, as if his brain had ceased to act. One of the older gentlemen,
with a military aspect, squared his shoulders, and touching an end of his
moustache, said, half challengingly,--
"You are dismounted to-day?"
"I have only one horse," Robert simply replied.
Algernon Blancove came last. He neither spoke nor looked at his enemy,
but warily clutched his whip. All went by, riding into line some paces
distant; and again they laughed as they bent forward to the lady,
"Odd, to have out the horses on a day like this," Robert thought, and
resumed his musing as before. The lady's track now led him homeward, for
he had no will of his own. Rounding the lane, he was surprised to see
Mrs. Boulby by the hedge. She bobbed like a beggar woman, with a rueful
"My dear," she said, in apology for her presence, "I shouldn't ha'
interfered, if there was fair play. I'm Englishwoman enough for that.
I'd have stood by, as if you was a stranger. Gentlemen always give fair
play before a woman. That's why I come, lest this appointment should ha'
proved a pitfall to you. Now you'll come home, won't you; and forgive
"I'll come to the old Pilot now, mother," said Robert, pressing her hand.
"That's right; and ain't angry with me for following of you?"
"Follow your own game, mother."
"I did, Robert; and nice and vexed I am, if I'm correct in what I heard
say, as that lady and her folk passed, never heeding an old woman's ears.
They made a bet of you, dear, they did."
"I hope the lady won," said Robert, scarce hearing.
"And it was she who won, dear. She was to get you to meet her, and give
up, and be beaten like, as far as I could understand their chatter;
gentlefolks laugh so when they talk; and they can afford to laugh, for
they has the best of it. But I'm vexed; just as if I'd felt big and had
burst. I want you to be peaceful, of course I do; but I don't like my
boy made a bet of."
"Oh, tush, mother," said Robert impatiently.
"I heard 'em, my dear; and complimenting the lady they was, as they
passed me. If it vexes you my thinking it, I won't, dear; I reelly
won't. I see it lowers you, for there you are at your hat again. It is
lowering, to be made a bet of. I've that spirit, that if you was well
and sound, I'd rather have you fighting 'em. She's a pleasant enough lady
to look at, not a doubt; small-boned, and slim, and fair."
Robert asked which way they had gone.
"Back to the stables, my dear; I heard 'em say so, because one gentleman
said that the spectacle was over, and the lady had gained the day; and
the snow was balling in the horses' feet; and go they'd better, before my
lord saw them out. And another said, you were a wild man she'd tamed;
and they said, you ought to wear a collar, with Mrs. Lovell's, her name,
graved on it. But don't you be vexed; you may guess they're not my
Robert's friends. And, I do assure you, Robert, your hat's neat, if
you'd only let it be comfortable: such fidgeting worries the brim. You're
best in appearance--and I always said it--when stripped for boxing. Hats
are gentlemen's things, and becomes them like as if a title to their
heads; though you'd bear being Sir Robert, that you would; and for that
matter, your hat is agreeable to behold, and not like the run of our
Sunday hats; only you don't seem easy in it. Oh, oh! my tongue's a yard
too long. It's the poor head aching, and me to forget it. It's because
you never will act invalidy; and I remember how handsome you were one day
in the field behind our house, when you boxed a wager with Simon Billet,
the waterman; and you was made a bet of then, for my husband betted on
you; and that's what made me think of comparisons of you out of your hat
and you in it."
Thus did Mrs. Boulby chatter along the way. There was an eminence a
little out of the road, overlooking the Fairly stables. Robert left her
and went to this point, from whence he beheld the horsemen with the
grooms at the horses' heads.
"Thank God, I've only been a fool for five minutes!" he summed up his
sensations at the sight. He shut his eyes, praying with all his might
never to meet Mrs. Lovell more. It was impossible for him to combat the
suggestion that she had befooled him; yet his chivalrous faith in women
led him to believe, that as she knew Dahlia's history, she would
certainly do her best for the poor girl, and keep her word to him.
The throbbing of his head stopped all further thought. It had become
violent. He tried to gather his ideas, but the effort was like that of
a light dreamer to catch the sequence of a dream, when blackness follows
close up, devouring all that is said and done. In despair, he thought
with kindness of Mrs. Boulby's brandy.
"Mother," he said, rejoining her, "I've got a notion brandy can't hurt a
man when he's in bed. I'll go to bed, and you shall brew me some; and
you'll let no one come nigh me; and if I talk light-headed, it's blank
paper and scribble, mind that."
The widow promised devoutly to obey all his directions; but he had begun
to talk light-headed before he was undressed. He called on the name of a
Major Waring, of whom Mrs. Boulby had heard him speak tenderly as a
gentleman not ashamed to be his friend; first reproaching him for not
being by, and then by the name of Percy, calling to him endearingly, and
reproaching himself for not having written to him.
"Two to one, and in the dark!" he kept moaning "and I one to twenty,
Percy, all in broad day. Was it fair, I ask?"
Robert's outcries became anything but "blank paper and scribble" to the
widow, when he mentioned Nic Sedgett's name, and said: "Look over his
right temple he's got my mark a second time."
Hanging by his bedside, Mrs. Boulby strung together, bit by bit, the
history of that base midnight attack, which had sent her glorious boy
bleeding to her. Nic Sedgett; she could understand, was the accomplice
of one of the Fairly gentlemen; but of which one, she could not discover,
and consequently set him down as Mr. Algernon Blancove.
By diligent inquiry, she heard that Algernon had been seen in company
with the infamous Nic, and likewise that the countenance of Nicodemus was
reduced to accept the consolation of a poultice, which was confirmation
sufficient. By nightfall Robert was in the doctor's hands, unconscious
of Mrs. Boulby's breach of agreement. His father and his aunt were
informed of his condition, and prepared, both of them, to bow their heads
to the close of an ungodly career. It was known over Warbeach, that
Robert lay in danger, and believed that he was dying.
ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:
A fleet of South-westerly rainclouds had been met in mid-sky
Borrower to be dancing on Fortune's tight-rope above the old abyss
Childish faith in the beneficence of the unseen Powers who feed us
Dead Britons are all Britons, but live Britons are not quite brothers
He had no recollection of having ever dined without drinking wine
He tried to gather his ideas, but the effort was like that of a light dreamer
Land and beasts! They sound like blessed things
My first girl--she's brought disgrace on this house
Then, if you will not tell me
To be a really popular hero anywhere in Britain (must be a drinker)
You're a rank, right-down widow, and no mistake