He scoured his brain clear and sharpened his ears to catch every word. Every country has good spies and it is not always the biggest countries that have the most or the best. But Secret Services are expensive, and small countries cannot afford the co-ordinated effort which produces good intelligence — the forgery departments, the radio network, the record department, the digestive apparatus that evaluates and compares the reports of the agents. There are individual agents serving Norway, Holland, Belgium and even Portugal who could be a great nuisance to us if these countries knew the value of their reports or made good use of them.
But they do not. Instead of passing their information on to the larger powers, they prefer to sit on it and feel important. There they have been spying on us for centuries. They have always had better information on the Baltic than even Finland or Germany. They are dangerous. I would like to put a stop to their activities. One more scandal would not make the world look up.
Please continue. They are only interested in their own backyard, the Mediterranean. The same can be said of Spain, except that their counter-intelligence is a great hindrance to the Party. We have lost many good men to these Fascists. But to mount an operation against them would probably cost us more men. And little would be achieved. They are not yet ripe for revolution.
There is a man called Mathis at the head of it. He would be a tempting target and it would be easy to operate in France. There were grudging nods from everyone present, including General G. England, being an island, has great security advantages and their so-called M. Their Secret Service is still better. They have notable successes. In certain types of operation, we are constantly finding that they have been there before us. Their agents are good. They pay them little money — only a thousand or two thousand roubles a month — but they serve with devotion. Yet these agents have no special privileges in England, no relief from taxation and no special shops such as we have, from which they can buy cheap goods.
Their social standing abroad is not high, and their wives have to pass as the wives of secretaries. They are rarely awarded a decoration until they retire. And yet these men and women continue to do this dangerous work. It is curious. It is perhaps the Public School and University tradition. The love of adventure. But still it is odd that they play this game so well, for they are not natural conspirators. He hastily qualified them.
We certainly have nothing to fear from these gentlemen. But this myth is a hindrance which it would be good to set aside. One day that bit about the Public School and University tradition would sound well in court. Next, hoped General G. Technically, in such matters as radio and weapons and equipment, they are the best. But they have no understanding for the work. They get enthusiastic about some Balkan spy who says he has a secret army in the Ukraine. They load him with money with which to buy boots for this army.
Of course he goes at once to Paris and spends the money on women. Americans try to do everything with money. Good spies will not work for money alone — only bad ones, of which the Americans have several divisions. General Vozdvishensky shrugged. You cannot sow a million seeds without reaping one potato. Personally I do not think the Americans need engage the attention of this conference. I have nothing to add. Colonel of State Security Nikitin of M. Colonel Nikitin also knew that, given the proposition that had been posed by the Praesidium, the Soviet Secret Service would back him up.
He tapped his lighter softly on the desk to reimpose his chairmanship. An act of terrorism against the British Secret Service? And now for the target within that organization. I remember Comrade General Vozdvishensky saying something about a myth upon which much of the alleged strength of this Secret Service depends. How can we help to destroy the myth and thus strike at the very motive force of this organization?
Where does this myth reside? We cannot destroy all its personnel at one blow. Does it reside in the Head? Who is the Head of the British Secret Service? Colonel Nikitin decided that this was a question he could and perhaps should answer. He is known by the letter M. We have a zapiska on him, but it contains little.
He does not drink very much. He is too old for women. The public does not know of his existence. It would be difficult to create a scandal round his death. And he would not be easy to kill. He rarely goes abroad. To shoot him in a London street would not be very refined. Have they no one who is a hero to the organization?
Someone who is admired and whose ignominious destruction would cause dismay? Myths are built on heroic deeds and heroic people. Have they no such men? There was silence round the table while everyone searched his memory. So many names to remember, so many dossiers, so many operations going on every day all over the world. Who was there in the British Secret Service? Who was that man who …?
His hand slapped down on the desk. We are indeed forgetful. No wonder the Intelligence apparat is under criticism. General Vozdvishensky felt he should defend himself and his department. Certainly I know the name of this Bond.
He has been a great trouble to us at different times. But today my mind is full of other names — names of people who are causing us trouble today, this week. I am interested in football, but I cannot remember the name of every foreigner who has scored a goal against the Dynamos. I for one admit my fault in not remembering the name of this notorious agent. There was this affair in France, at that Casino town.
The man Le Chiffre. An excellent leader of the Party in France. He foolishly got into some money troubles. But he would have got out of them if this Bond had not interfered. I recall that the Department had to act quickly and liquidate the Frenchman. The executioner should have dealt with the Englishman at the same time, but he did not.
Then there was this Negro of ours in Harlem. A great man — one of the greatest foreign agents we have ever employed, and with a vast network behind him. There was some business about a treasure in the Caribbean. I forget the details. This Englishman was sent out by the Secret Service and smashed the whole organization and killed our man. It was a great reverse. Once again my predecessor should have proceeded ruthlessly against this English spy.
Colonel Nikitin broke in. You will recall the matter, Comrade General. A most important konspiratsia. The General Staff were deeply involved. It was a matter of High Policy which could have borne decisive fruit. But again it was this Bond who frustrated the operation. The German was killed. There were grave consequences for the State. There followed a period of serious embarrassment which was only solved with difficulty.
General Slavin of GRU felt that he should say something. The rocket had been an Army operation and its failure had been laid at the door of GRU. Nikitin knew this perfectly well. As usual M. If it had, we should not now be having to bother with him. He controlled himself. Further embarrassment with England was not desired. Perhaps that detail has slipped your memory. In any case, if such a request had reached M. However, this is no time for historical researches.
The rocket affair was three years ago. Perhaps the M. Colonel Nikitin whispered hurriedly with his aide. He turned back to the table. That was last year. Between Africa and America. The case did not concern us. Since then we have no further news of him. Perhaps there is more recent information on his file. He picked up the receiver of the telephone nearest to him. This was the so-called Kommandant Telefon of the M.
All lines were direct and there was no central switchboard. He dialled a number. Here General Grubozaboyschikov. He looked down the table with authority. He appears to be a dangerous enemy of the State. His liquidation will be of benefit to all departments of our Intelligence apparat. Is that so? But will it do more?
Will it seriously wound them? Will it help to destroy this myth about which we have been speaking? Is this man a hero to his organization and his country? General Vozdvishensky decided that this question was intended for him. He spoke up. If a man climbs a mountain or runs very fast he also is a hero to some people, but not to the masses. The Queen of England is also a hero, and Churchill.
But the English are not greatly interested in military heroes. This man Bond is unknown to the public. If he was known, he would still not be a hero. In England, neither open war nor secret war is a heroic matter. They do not like to think about war, and after a war the names of their war heroes are forgotten as quickly as possible.
Within the Secret Service, this man may be a local hero or he may not. It will depend on his appearance and personal characteristics. Of these I know nothing. He may be fat and greasy and unpleasant. No one makes a hero out of such a man, however successful he is. Nikitin broke in. He is certainly much admired in his Service. He is said to be a lone wolf, but a good looking one. The internal office telephone purred softly. He crossed the room and placed the file on the desk in front of the General and walked out, closing the door softly behind him. The file had a shiny black cover.
A thick white stripe ran diagonally across it from top right-hand corner to bottom left. He picked them up one by one. He looked closely at them, sometimes through a magnifying glass which he took out of a drawer, and passed them across the desk to Nikitin who glanced at them and handed them on. The first was dated There was a tall glass beside him on the table and a soda-water siphon. The right forearm rested on the table and there was a cigarette between the fingers of the right hand that hung negligently down from the edge of the table. The legs were crossed in that attitude that only an Englishman adopts — with the right ankle resting on the left knee and the left hand grasping the ankle.
It was a careless pose. The next was dated It was a face and shoulders, blurred, but of the same man. A miniature buttonhole camera, guessed General G. The third was from Taken from the left flank, quite close, it showed the same man in a dark suit, without a hat, walking down a wide empty street. He looked as if he was going somewhere urgently. The clean-cut profile was pointing straight ahead and the crook of the right elbow suggested that his right hand was in the pocket of his coat.
He thought that the decisive look of the man, and the purposeful slant of his striding figure, looked dangerous, as if he was making quickly for something bad that was happening further down the street. The fourth and last photograph was marked Passe. The photograph, which had been blown up to cabinet size, must have been made at a frontier, or by the concierge of an hotel when Bond had surrendered his passport. It was a dark, clean-cut face, with a three-inch scar showing whitely down the sunburned skin of the right cheek. The eyes were wide and level under straight, rather long black brows.
The hair was black, parted on the left, and carelessly brushed so that a thick black comma fell down over the right eyebrow. The longish straight nose ran down to a short upper lip below which was a wide and finely drawn but cruel mouth. The line of the jaw was straight and firm. A section of dark suit, white shirt and black knitted tie completed the picture. Decision, authority, ruthlessness — these qualities he could see. He passed the photograph down the table and turned to the file, glancing rapidly down each page and flipping brusquely on to the next. The photographs came back to him.
He kept his place with a finger and looked briefly up. I will read out some extracts. Then we must decide. It is getting late. Languages: French and German. Smokes heavily N. Not thought to accept bribes. Magazine holds eight rounds. Has been known to carry a knife strapped to his left forearm; has used steel-capped shoes; knows the basic holds of judo. He came to the last page before the Appendices which gave details of the cases on which Bond had been encountered.
This man is a dangerous professional terrorist and spy. The double o numerals signify an agent who has killed and who is privileged to kill on active service. There are believed to be only two other British agents with this authority. The fact that this spy was decorated with the C. Are we agreed? General Vozdvishensky was looking down at his fingernails. He was sick of murder. He had enjoyed his time in England. He spoke to his A. Crime: Enemy of the State.
And one that cannot fail! The door opened and the A. He put it in front of General G. He passed the paper to the M. One of the A. The man put it in front of General Vozdvishensky and handed him a pen. General Vozdvishensky read the paper carefully. He raised his eyes slowly to those of General G. Then he took his hands away from the paper and got to his feet. His instincts about this man had been right. He would have to put a watch on him and pass on his suspicions to General Serov. The paper was handed up to him. He took out his pen and scratched out what he had written.
He wrote again, speaking the words slowly as he did so. He looked up and smiled pleasantly to the company. That is all. I shall advise you of the decision of the Praesidium on our recommendation. Good night. When the conference had filed out, General G. He sat down again at his desk, switched off the wire-recorder and rang for his A. The man came in and stood beside his desk. Find out where Kronsteen is and have him fetched by car. He will have to come. Otdyel II will know where to find him.
And I will see Colonel Klebb in ten minutes. He spoke quietly for five minutes. We will discuss the outlines of a suitable konspiratsia and they will give me detailed proposals tomorrow. Is that in order, Comrade General? But let it be excellently accomplished. The Praesidium will ratify the decision in the morning. The line went dead. The inter-office telephone rang. A moment later the A. A toad-like figure in an olive green uniform which bore the single red ribbon of the Order of Lenin came into the room and walked with quick short steps over to the desk. The two faces of the double clock in the shiny, domed case looked out across the chess-board like the eyes of some huge sea monster that had peered over the edge of the table to watch the game.
The two faces of the chess clock showed different times. He had wasted time in the middle of the game and he now had only five minutes to go. Kronsteen sat motionless and erect, as malevolently inscrutable as a parrot. His elbows were on the table and his big head rested on clenched fists that pressed into his cheeks, squashing the pursed lips into a pout of hauteur and disdain.
Under the wide, bulging brow the rather slanting black eyes looked down with deadly calm on his winning board. But, behind the mask, the blood was throbbing in the dynamo of his brain, and a thick wormlike vein in his right temple pulsed at a beat of over ninety. He had sweated away a pound of weight in the last two hours and ten minutes, and the spectre of a false move still had one hand at his throat. First he stripped off the skin, then he picked out the bones, then he ate the fish.
Kronsteen had been Champion of Moscow two years running, was now in the final for the third time and, if he won this game, would be a contender for Grand Mastership. The two umpires sat motionless in their raised chairs. They knew, as did Makharov, that this was certainly the kill. Makharov had kept up with him until the 28th move. He had lost time on that move. Perhaps he had made a mistake there, and perhaps again on the 31st and 33rd moves.
Who could say? It would be a game to be debated all over Russia for weeks to come. There came a sigh from the crowded tiers opposite the Championship game. Kronsteen had slowly removed the right hand from his cheek and had stretched it across the board. Like the pincers of a pink crab, his thumb and forefinger had opened, then they had descended. The hand, holding a piece, moved up and sideways and down. Then the hand was slowly brought back to the face. The spectators buzzed and whispered as they saw, on the great wall map, the 41st move duplicated with a shift of one of the three-foot placards.
That must be the kill! Kronsteen reached deliberately over and pressed down the lever at the bottom of his clock. His red pendulum went dead. His clock showed a quarter to one. Kronsteen sat back. He placed his hands flat on the table and looked coldly across at the glistening, lowered face of the man whose guts he knew, for he too had suffered defeat in his time, would be writhing in agony like an eel pierced with a spear.
Makharov, Champion of Georgia. Well, tomorrow Comrade Makharov could go back to Georgia and stay there. At any rate this year he would not be moving with his family up to Moscow. A man in plain clothes slipped under the ropes and whispered to one of the umpires. He handed him a white envelope.
The man in plain clothes whispered one short sentence which made the umpire sullenly bow his head. He pinged a handbell. A mutter went round the hall. Even though Makharov now courteously raised his eyes from the board and sat immobile, gazing up into the recesses of the high, vaulted ceiling, the spectators knew that the position of the game was engraved on his brain. Kronsteen felt the same stab of annoyance, but his face was expressionless as the umpire stepped down from his chair and handed him a plain, unaddressed envelope.
Kronsteen ripped it open with his thumb and extracted the anonymous sheet of paper. No signature and no address. Kronsteen folded the paper and carefully placed it in his inside breast pocket. Later it would be recovered from him and destroyed. He looked up at the face of the plain-clothes man standing beside the umpire. The eyes were watching him impatiently, commandingly. To hell with these people, thought Kronsteen. He would not resign with only three minutes to go. It was unthinkable. But, as he made a gesture to the umpire that the game could continue, he trembled inside, and he avoided the eyes of the plain-clothes man who remained standing, in coiled immobility, inside the ropes.
Makharov slowly bent down his head. The hand of his clock slipped past the hour and he was still alive. Kronsteen continued to tremble inside. He would certainly be reported. Gross disobedience. Dereliction of duty. What might be the consequences? At the best a tongue-lashing from General G. At the worst? Whatever happened, the sweets of victory had turned bitter in his mouth.
But now it was the end. With five seconds to go on his clock, Makharov raised his whipped eyes no higher than the pouting lips of his opponent and bent his head in the brief, formal bow of surrender. Kronsteen stood up and bowed to his opponent, to the umpires, and finally, deeply, to the spectators. Then, with the plain-clothes man in his wake, he ducked under the ropes and fought his way coldly and rudely through the mass of his clamouring admirers towards the main exit. Outside the Tournament Hall, in the middle of the wide Pushkin Ulitza, with its engine running, stood the usual anonymous black ZIK saloon.
Kronsteen climbed into the back and shut the door. As the plain-clothes man jumped on to the running-board and squeezed into the front seat, the driver crashed his gears and the car tore off down the street. Kronsteen knew it would be a waste of breath to apologize to the plain-clothes guard. It would also be contrary to discipline.
And his brain was worth diamonds to the organization. Perhaps he could argue his way out of the mess. He gazed out of the window at the dark streets, already wet with the work of the night cleaning squad, and bent his mind to his defence. Then there came a straight street at the end of which the moon rode fast between the onion spires of the Kremlin, and they were there.
When the guard handed Kronsteen over to the A. Kronsteen looked calmly back without saying anything. When they went into the big room and Kronsteen had been waved to a chair and had nodded acknowledgment of the brief pursed smile of Colonel Klebb, the A. The General read it and looked hard across at Kronsteen. When the door was shut, General G. Kronsteen was calm. He knew the story that would appeal. He spoke quietly and with authority.
Tonight I became Champion of Moscow for the third year in succession. If, with only three minutes to go, I had received a message that my wife was being murdered outside the door of the Tournament Hall, I would not have raised a finger to save her. My public know that. They are as dedicated to the game as myself.
Tonight, if I had resigned the game and had come immediately on receipt of that message, five thousand people would have known that it could only be on the orders of such a department as this. There would have been a storm of gossip. My future goings and comings would have been watched for clues.
It would have been the end of my cover. You dare, James Drayton! Pity yourself, if you won't—pity—me—". You become a dead man commercially, don't you? Well, your promise to me is more binding in my sight than a thousand pieces of paper, and your failure to keep it shall have the same penalty, my friend—death—social death—". I didn't make you come here to quarrel, and waste words, but to tell you that you are quite in my power.
I have discovered about your engagement to Lady Methwold; you are to be married in three months, aren't you? But listen to this other fact: I have taken a trip to your place, Corton Chantry—". It is only nine miles from here, you know. You must be a scoundrel, really. I will marry you, but within seven months from now I shall be divorced from you. I shouldn't live with you for all the crowns—". I had heard that you kept the place running wild, with only one daft man, named Steve Anderson, to look after it. That stirred my curiosity, for lately I have believed you capable of any villainy.
So I went, and I heard screams—". Look here—can you see? Drayton is a man of action, and the instant that white object appears through the murk, he makes a catch at it. His hand meets Letty Barnes' wrist and seizes it. But he has not to do with a weakling. Letty is strong, and they proceed to fight like two men, though there is no reason why they should, really, for if this letter be got from Letty, she can surely write another, but they are speedily in that state of mind in which men no longer reason.
Though if it were less dark, one would see her failing, as with bitten lip and many a jerk and stumble she endures that rough usage to which Drayton is subjecting her. And every moment, as they fight, up and up climbs the temperature of their rage. The striving for that letter becomes a mania. Where will it end? But Letty is white; her hands are sore and burning; she feels herself going, going; and now she sends out one shriek upon the night. I'd not care to be out on the road, sir. But by that cry of Letty's, Drayton has been startled, and in a moment she has wrenched her hand free, and is gone flying.
He catches her, but misses her, and panting to himself, "No, you don't," is after her. She has run back toward the rill and the board-bridge, but she never reaches it. He has caught her, his hand in the collar of her dress behind. But she cannot answer. He is choking her. She tries to say that she yields, then to say "pity," but no whisper comes. Now a thousand words throng in her throat—only to speak would be Heaven—but no more comes than from dry suction-pumps that caw and gurgle.
Her poor eyes stare in a horror of panic, seeing Eternity upon her, and the sudden grave yawn to receive her youth. But how can she answer? She cannot answer! But the end is not yet; there is a rent of cloth. Something gives way at her neck. She dives and is running free. Away from the rill this time—and he runs after her: but neither runs fast—they cannot—there is a certain impotence in their run, as when in dreams one would hasten, but cannot, the limbs are so hampered and heavy.
But of the two it is she who runs the more feebly, and his legs are long. He gets near again and makes a blow, but a feeble wild blow, made too soon, which only touches her. She dodges, and is gone in a changed direction. And again he is after her, with that same feeble obstinacy, so deplorable to see. If she can only escape his sight one instant, how lucky, for she will be lost to him in the dark. But the wood is fatally sparse, and he never quite loses her.
Anon they stumble for the ground is rough with game-holes, thistle, fern, and furze, and once Drayton is staggering backward with arms a-struggle in the air. But he saves himself, and is soon impending again while she, feeling him near again, with a panic now boundless and lunatic, throws her soul into the scream:.
They are a longish distance from the tavern, but such a scream as that, that Barnes, her father, behind the bar, cocks an ear and says to McCalmont, who is pacing with his hands in his coat-pockets:. But Drayton has made another blow at the poor victim, again without effect. She is nimble, though failing, and during his momentary stoppage she evades and is off in yet a new direction. But her end is not far; she is tumbling too frequently—and all at once, with a mortal little last cry, she is down.
Instantly he is on his knees over her. His right forearm presses on her windpipe—he does not look at her at all, nor admit to himself that he is killing her. He looks away sidewards, as if interested in something yonder among the trees—. Presently he picks himself up, leans his back against a fir-bole, peers this way and that and recovers wind a little. At the bottom of the plantation runs a bend of that same gut which passes before the tavern—a square-cut opening in the ground about ten feet wide and fifteen feet deep. Their run has brought them so near it that Drayton, leaning against a tree, can see its edge.
He thinks that it is a river, but a mere thread of water trickles through it. He goes to the body again, takes the letter to Lady Methwold from her hand, tears it up, and is about to throw the pieces upon the wind when he considers himself and puts them into a pocket. He then draws her ten yards to the gut, over the edge. He listens for a splash, but hears neither splash nor thud.
The winds are in his ears and it is as though he had thrown her into an abyss of darkness. She is gone from him. Now he runs—thievish, but quick—back toward the rill, the bridge, the hedge-gate, past the pigs, the kitchen garden, up the dark back-stairs. He re-enters the room which he had left with her. There burn the two candles as before, quietly, as if nothing had happened meanwhile. He looks at his hands, at his clothes—no blood. He takes off his coat and shakes off the water. But his face! He can't show such a face to McCalmont; there's a scratch, too, under his left eye.
The little beggar must have scratched him somehow. She is dead, then! He has killed her dead—unexpected thing. But it has happened, it is so. He cannot at all recognise himself, paces the room, misery in his face. Pity he ever met her that night on Cromer pier; pity he came to her this night; pity she was ever born—and he.
He will wait a little longer. Now he has the thought that the number of the sheets given him may be known to the landlord. He will therefore take one—will even write a letter, since he came for that and has time. His mind is in a state in which thought is fairly active, but not with perfect rationality. Standing, he covers half a sheet with writing; but the words are nonsense words, to fill up space. He blots them on a Life Assurance almanac, in which leaves of blotting paper alternate with memorandum leaves.
All ready to be off? McCalmont has lighted up; all is ready. Drayton slips a couple of shillings into the landlord's hand and, stepping outside, they hear Barnes call "Letty! Off goes the motor round the hill, down the lane, out upon the road; and now the darkness is lit by an occasional lightning flash. Within four minutes, near Blickling, they come upon Robert Hartwell, who has tramped thus far with his bundle and stick.
He is aware of the gathering hum of the two dragon-eyes staring nearer upon him and, stepping aside, he mutters as they dash past.
The Yellow Book: An Illustrated Quarterly, Volume 12 January
Five minutes later, they overtake the manure-cart of the laborer who had left "The Anchor" on their entrance. He sends a drowsy shout to warn them as they grow near, for he carries no light. And past him, too, they dash. But he shall overtake them, and again be overtaken by them. We left Hartwell where the road crosses a bridge in the Bure Valley, and he has tramped on to the second encounter with the motor, wondering how much bitterer the weather will become, and if the world is a place designed to torture and oppress the poor.
All the time he is on the look-out for some barn or hollow tree, in which to rest his frame. He is a big man, about the size of Drayton, the same age—two months' younger—the same black beard, a longish oblong of hair; on his left temple the same raspberry mark; his moustache flows sidewards in the same way, showing the pressure of rather thick lips, and a definite point in the middle of the upper. They have the same straight noses, freckle-splashed faces, glossy hair.
Hartwell's photograph would do very well for a photograph of Denner, captain of the S. Africa , dead thirty-eight years since. So would Drayton's. Only Hartwell's hands are different from Drayton's. He is not, however, a working-man of common type; his father was a nail manufacturer; he himself has spent three years at Rugby School, though Rugby has receded many a thousand miles from Hartwell now.
When he was seventeen, his father failed, and died. Then for three years he maintained his mother by hard work as an under-clerk in an electrical machine-makers. He was steady—at one time even religious—had abilities and rose higher in his firm. But his mother died and, alone in the world, he fell in love with a pretty work-girl, who induced him to marry.
She was worthless, and drank. One day she appeared at the office and made a scene. He was dismissed. Falling now into misery, he took work at the factory in whose office he had been a clerk. He has been a working-man ever since. But, an excellent specimen of his class, his remarkable mind has not rusted.
He has been a student, a keen watcher of the world's march in science, thought, invention, social changes. He knows a great lot about chemistry and biology, reads German, has filled a pile of note-books with notes at science classes, knows Darwin, Haeckel, by heart. He has been a sober, sagacious workman, bringing up his son, Bobbie, as respectably as he could, ever since his wife died ten years ago. But he has had misfortunes—disaster after disaster just lately, and the iron has entered into his soul. He has seen Bobbie hungry and one memorable night Bobbie has seen him drunk.
Electricity makes such progress in these days! The workman can hardly keep pace with the bewildering changes. What is new to-day will be ancient history to-morrow, and the older types of craftsmen, their pursuits and habits of mind, already fixed, see younger men step in and take their place. Hartwell has made two inventions from each of which he hoped for wealth, but he lacked the few pounds to patent either.
The other is still in the air. He has seen door after door close in his face, and hope has pined. Too many people seem to be born! His thick firm lips pressed together on that Norwich Road, hisses are on his breath, and now is the winter of his discontent. Partly by train, partly tramping, he has come from Birmingham to Cromer, allured by the hope of getting employment in a gentleman's stable, for an acquaintance had written him of a vacancy there.
But it was filled when he arrived. He is now tramping for London with the vaguest hopes though, certainly, his boots will never outlast that length of road. Already his feet are soaked and congealed. The foxes have holes, but he nowhere to lay his head. His vitals scream for food. He does not blame himself—he knows that he is little to blame; he does not blame man, nor the devil; his rage is against the nature of the world.
But it does not break out—he is not of that sort. Till, just as he comes to that lane leading to "The Anchor," where Drayton has turned in, some rain, as we said before, begins to be mixed with the winds and this little thing, though his mind is of the strongest, irritates Hartwell to fury, and now he breaks out. And as on he plods, taunting words come to him, mockeries of Nature. But the rain only gets worse; there grows a sound of thunder somewhere in the dark; he breathes a wish that lightning may strike him dead—if it can. The lightning can, but is busy. During the next two miles, his lips are never silent; and while he goes muttering James Drayton is doing what we know to Letty Barnes.
Then again Drayton passes Hartwell on the road and, this time, that motor-car has upon the usually cold mind of Hartwell an effect like madness. How brazen a power the thing is! It has the eyes, the smell, the wings, the mutter and meditation of an Ogre. It is like a daughter of Mammon. Hartwell knows what it is, he has stood in mansions. He knows poverty. As the proud chariot of iron flashes past him, he has in his consciousness at one and the same moment both houselessness and the palace, rags and furred robes, the crust and the fat of turtles.
It is a double vision almost, which he has, and a lust for wealth, more crass and ugly than he has ever felt, arises and boils in his breast. To shoot in motor cars, anon crushing some wretch on the road—to roll in luxury, while multitude's starve—how good, he thinks! Say ten years, five! I will serve you gladly—say five years—from to-night. Will you? Can you? Are you there? No, you are not there, but if you were—I offer myself: only cloy me—". But he goes on his way a worse man. Between Blickling and Aylsham a thought comes into his head of his son, Bobbie, whom he has left at Birmingham with an old friend.
He has tenderly loved the lad: but he mutters now:. Presently, near eight o'clock, he is passing through Aylsham, his fires burned out now, or only sullenly smouldering within him. And again in Aylsham he has overtaken James Drayton, and sees him. It is at the old coaching-house, the "Black Boys;" the motor is before the door, and since the thunderstorm is over, and hardly any rain left for the wind to play with, half-a-dozen admiring boys and girls are gathered round the motor, and Hartwell, too, stops to admire.
In the room behind that window, Drayton and McCalmont are dining, and there is a space under the blind by which Hartwell, stooping, spies Drayton, full face. It is said that everyone has a double. Ah, lucky person, lucky person! Five minutes he stoops there, peering, absorbed in the contemplation of this marvel. Then, with a sigh he straightens himself, and goes his dreary way—through Aylsham—down the railed footway by the lych-gate and down the hill beyond. Down the long hill trudges Hartwell, his eyes bent upon the ground in gloomy reverie, and now this thought occurs to him whether, on the strength of the resemblance between him and Drayton, it might not be a good thing to turn back and beg a shilling of the rich man.
He had never begged before—but hunger and weariness grow pressing—. He regrets the idea, but it recurs, and he is again considering it, his eyes on the ground, when he strikes upon something, and his walk is brought to a stoppage. What is it? It lies tilted, like a stranded ship, one of the wheels is off. It is the manure cart of the laborer who left "The Anchor," fuddled, when Drayton and McCalmont entered it. We said that they should overtake them, and they did; we said that he should overtake them again, and he has, while they dine at Aylsham; but they shall overtake him again—or, at least, his cart.
At the breakdown the driver has unspanned, mounted the horse with all its hames and trailing harness, and gone on to his farm near Marsham to seek help, for he cannot move the cart: and he has gone at a walk, happy, singing, and full of hot spiced ale. Hartwell walks round the cart, lingering, thinking what to do.
He decides to return to Aylsham, and tell some one. But as he turns to climb, he hears, he sees—with an alarm which quickly grows into horror. There is a humming song somewhere, then two dragon eyes quick coming, and above the dragon eyes two little adder eyes, clear cut, in the darkness—the glowing ends of two cigars. At 25 miles an hour they come.
Hartwell forgets his vow to do no good. He implores as for his own life, "Danger! But in vain. If they hear, they do not understand, nor heed. There is no time. Drayton has fuddled himself at dinner that he may forget what lies in the gutter behind "The Anchor. Nor does he stop till he hears behind him the shock—a bumping hubbub, then a rattling and throbbing—and his eye-corner catches sight of a sheet of flame vanishing like lightning flash into the dark. It was the high side of the tilted cart that had been turned to the motor, but even so, McCalmont has been shot clean over it, a long way, like an arrow; and when Hartwell turns back toward the scene of the ruin, it is upon McCalmont that he first comes.
He finds that the dead man's head has made quite a hole in the ground, and his neck is obviously broken. Everything can be seen, for the car has ignited in one spot, and yonder on the road and in the roadside field are several flames dodging about from the rain, as petroleum does on contact with water. Going on to the cart, Harwell finds it bottom upward, some fifteen feet from where it stood before. It has been turned over and over, and half of its substance is matchwood.
The motor is still jammed into it, and looks shorter, tilted sideways, and twisted. The two lights are gone, the font tires burst, and everything in front of the steering pillar and dash board is a chaos of dripping debris. Drayton's body is still in the car, but no longer on the front seat. He is lying in an ungainly pose across the back seat, with one foot up on the back of the front seat. Little more remains of his face than the beard; unlike McCalmont, he has dived head foremost against the cart, and been tossed by it like a ball.
He himself is rather dazed—the calamity here is so pitiful. He walks a little to and fro, not knowing what to do. Thinking that the driver of the cart may come, he peers along the road, trotting a little this way and that—. No driver comes. All is solitude and aglow from the jumping fires. Some night bird flies across between the Lombardy poplars that line the road. On the east is a stretch of bracken, with a pond, on the west a hilly field, with a rick on the top, just discernible.
Some minutes pass. Hartwell, waiting, shivers with cold. The next definite thought borne on his head is this: that he, for his part, will not fail of bed and board this night, that there is money, watches, on these dead men and it is an ill wind that blows no one any good—. He does not delay. He, too, as we said of Drayton, is a man of action. He approaches Drayton to despoil him and now he thinks: "this is the one that is my twin—". But at that thought he stops and turns as white as McCalmont yonder. His teeth chatter as at some blast of Arctic cold. For a time he is like one struck into stone, then he is pacing curiously this way and that, bent sideways, one hand pressed into his pocket, the other shouldering his stick.
He has invented—. And all of a sudden he is in a passion of haste, a storm of action. He is in the car, not yet well ignited, on the back seat beside Drayton, undressing him; and quick and keen is the work. He has off collar and tie—coat—throws off the braces, shirt, vest, and now the boots—they are laced—pitifully slow.
Now he whips off the trousers, drawers. The earnest labor of his bosom is hoarser than the storm, but the dead limbs are still limp, and lend themselves readily to that tugging and hustling. All is well, that wild glance discerns no one on the road. The dead man is naked, the clothes lie in a heap on the seat. In some seconds now Hartwell himself is naked to the waist and in two minutes he has on the dead man's vest and shirt, collar and tie.
Then, ceasing to dress himself, he dresses Drayton in his own rags. His hands, all that he touches, are smeared—so much the better. He returns to his own dressing again, tosses off his nether garments, puts on Drayton's, then dresses Drayton in his own rags. In proportion, as he becomes Drayton, so Drayton becomes he. Finally he puts on Drayton's socks, boots, ring, gloves, and Drayton has on his. He does not use Drayton's hat: he will do without a hat.
He casts his own cap, stick, and bundle away. Now he leaves the car, drags out the dead man, and places him on the ground under the front wheels of the motor, between motor and cart. It will seem to the world that McCalmont and an unknown tramp have been killed in the accident, but that Drayton has escaped. Hartwell will be Drayton. He stands a little, recovering wind.
The Visitor from Curtisville
The work is done. No one comes along the road. After a time he starts to trudge back up the hill, bareheaded, but warm and rich, toward Aylsham, a new man, in a wildly new world, with a new name. But what name? That will be well: there are papers in the dead man's pocket. He feels first in the lower coat pockets—that warm coat—but there he finds only some shreds of paper, the shreds of the letter which Letty Barnes wrote to Lady Methwold against Drayton. But in the trouser are a bunch of keys, in the breast pockets many papers that will be well about the name and other things.
He feels his strength, he knows that he is sagacious, trusts in himself at bottom—. And as to the purse? That is well also. It contains two sovereigns, and five bank notes. He will feast to-night—he will say that the accident has made him hungry afresh. He vaguely wonders if one can get champagne in Aylsham, and by the time he is half way up the hill that has become a care to him, he is not for the moment in a condition of sanity. He wheels on all the whirlwinds—. He thinks that if he only had Bobby with him, that would intensify the pleasure But it soon passes! He laughs audibly: he is not a child.
Moving on again, it occurs to him that it might be well to have a bruise somewhere. With a stone he strikes his forehead, a good hard blow which he hardly feels. And now he laughs again—a laugh cynical, defiant, triumphant; then immediately his teeth beat together with ague. But he pulls himself together, proceeds up the hill, and is soon in Aylsham. When Hartwell re-entered Aylsham, he stopped under a street lamp, and looked at several of the envelopes in the breast pocket of Drayton's overcoat, which he had on.
He saw the words "James Drayton, Esq. He then walked up the empty street to the "Black Dogs," and entered the old coaching house chilled to the heart with that feeling of rashness gone crazy, which must have chilled the heart of the first man who ever stepped into the car of a balloon, trusting on theory alone, to make the first strange leap into the air.
He was met in the passage by a girl, who started and turned pale at the sight of the gore on the clothes, at the self-inflicted bruise on his hatless head and at the streamlets of blood on his white face. He seemed to her the murdered ghost of the man who, not twenty minutes before, had dined in boisterous health at the tavern, and gone away, hearty and happy and half-tipsy in his motor car. She gave him her shoulder and conducted him, step by step, to the commercial room on the left of the passage, while a number of people who had caught sight of him from the bar on the right crowded at the door of the parlour, staring after him till he disappeared.
He sank into the first easy-chair, all sighs, with an abandoned head and a bent back, while the landlord, who had run in, and the girl stood over and gazed at him. I cannot talk. Someone run and tell the police. How did it happen, sir? The girl ran out and quickly ran in again with a glass of brandy and water, which the landlord held to Hartwell's lips, and Hartwell drank, sighing with gusto at the end:.
Put me to bed, my friend, and let me be left alone. Ah, no, I feel not well—". Who would have thought half an hour since—Maggie, send off John for Dr Richards at once. By this time two of the other servants of the establishment and several of the visitors were assembled at the door, craning in to see.
Hartwell to the landlord. Do not make me talk—just put me to bed. He now raised himself with pretended difficulty, and, supported by the girl and the man, stumbled up the stairs with feebleness which was not all pretence, for he was very weary from his tramping, and weak with hunger. One of the other servant girls followed them with a lamp to a room above stairs, where Hartwell at once drew himself upon an ottoman, whose chintz covering he soiled with mud and blood. Perhaps something to eat may do me good, though I have just dined.
The shaking has caused me to feel—". Say, in half an hour's time I will ring for it. But meanwhile I want some hot water. Bring me this at once. The landlord and the girl then went away and Hartwell sat on the ottoman in his coat with his wide brow on his gloved palm, till the girl returned with a jug of hot water and lit a fire in the room. When she was gone again, Hartwell locked the door upon himself, took off his outer clothes, his gloves and his boots, poured the hot water into a basin and put the basin on a small table which he pushed to the side of the bed.
He then took out all the objects which Drayton's pockets contained, except the shreds of Letty's letter in the coat pocket, and he placed these all together on the table by the bedside with the basin of hot water and the lamp, in order to examine them at his leisure. He then got into bed and lay for some minutes idle, luxuriating in the rest and peace of the soft bed after his weariness and thinking of what chance his strange to-morrow might bring forth. He would have fallen asleep, but that he severely roused himself with a flash of the eye, warning himself that, however tired he might be, there must be little sleep for him that night.
He had kept on his gloves in the presence of the landlord and the girl so that they might not see his working man's hands, and now he put his hands into the basin of hot water, hoping by dint of soaking and soaping to have them at least presentable before the morning came. After some soaking, he used Drayton's penknife to shape the nails and cut away the callous growths round the quicks and then continued to soak them. They had once been as soft and shapely as Drayton's, and only needed coaxing to become so again.
After half an hour he rose, wiped his hands, poured out the water from the basin, and rang for the supper before returning to bed. The girl appeared bringing the news that the two bodies had been taken to the mortuary and bringing also a fat Norfolk capon, an apple tart, and a bottle of port. Hartwell then ate a hearty meal, but without quite that sense of luxury which he had looked for from feast at first. There is always a certain disappointment in the actual enjoyment of the delights which one has longed for and, moreover, Hartwell's mind had already enlarged itself to the largeness of his new kingdom, a kingdom in which the stomach suddenly ceased to be of importance.
For men stand, as it were, at different heights, each seeing from his own level, so what the beggar thinks is heaven, the millionaire regards as nothing and what the millionaire pursues, the saint or the thinker regards as a bauble. In one and the same night Hartwell was all the three—beggar, millionaire, and thinker.
He had longed for a meal at seven; at nine he had forgotten food, and was thinking of palaces and social grandeur; before midnight, he had half forgotten palaces and was thinking with joy of the laboratory which he would make and of the research work which he would do in it. When the girl, Maggie, brought the supper, he ordered her to fetch him up some ink, a pen, and some writing paper, with more hot water for his hands.
Immediately after the meal, when he was alone again, he set to work to examine Drayton's papers, of which there lay quite a mass on the table near him and, leaning toward the lamp on his elbow, he weighed the meaning of each with a certain sideward sagacity of gaze, a sagacity that smiled in its self-sureness. The roof was poor and thatched; but in strange contrast to it there ran all along under the eaves a line of wooden shields, most gorgeously painted with chevron, bend, and saltire, and every heraldic device.
By the door a horse stood tethered, the ruddy glow beating strongly upon his brown head and patient eyes, while his body stood back in the shadow. Alleyne stood still in the roadway for a few minutes reflecting upon what he should do. It was, he knew, only a few miles further to Minstead, where his brother dwelt. On the other hand, he had never seen this brother since childhood, and the reports which had come to his ears concerning him were seldom to his advantage. By all accounts he was a hard and a bitter man. It might be an evil start to come to his door so late and claim the shelter of his roof.
Better to sleep here at this inn, and then travel on to Minstead in the morning. If his brother would take him in, well and good. He would bide with him for a time and do what he might to serve him. If, on the other hand, he should have hardened his heart against him, he could only go on his way and do the best he might by his skill as a craftsman and a scrivener. A monkish upbringing, one year in the world after the age of twenty, and then a free selection one way or the other—it was a strange course which had been marked out for him.
Such as it was, however, he had no choice but to follow it, and if he were to begin by making a friend of his brother he had best wait until morning before he knocked at his dwelling. The rude plank door was ajar, but as Alleyne approached it there came from within such a gust of rough laughter and clatter of tongues that he stood irresolute upon the threshold. Summoning courage, however, and reflecting that it was a public dwelling, in which he had as much right as any other man, he pushed it open and stepped into the common room.
Though it was an autumn evening and somewhat warm, a huge fire of heaped billets of wood crackled and sparkled in a broad, open grate, some of the smoke escaping up a rude chimney, but the greater part rolling out into the room, so that the air was thick with it, and a man coming from without could scarce catch his breath.
On this fire a great cauldron bubbled and simmered, giving forth a rich and promising smell. Seated round it were a dozen or so folk, of all ages and conditions, who set up such a shout as Alleyne entered that he stood peering at them through the smoke, uncertain what this riotous greeting might portend. A rouse! Here is fresh custom come to the house, and not a drain for the company. Beer for the lads of the forest, mead for the gleeman, strong waters for the tinker, and wine for the rest. It is an old custom of the house, young sir.
Is it your pleasure to humor it? As far as two pence will go, however, I shall be right glad to do my part. Looking up, he saw beside him his former cloister companion the renegade monk, Hordle John. Then there is the Abbot, too. I am no friend of his, nor he of mine; but he has warm blood in his veins. He is the only man left among them. The others, what are they? Holy cabbages! Holy bean-pods! What do they do but live and suck in sustenance and grow fat? If that be holiness, I could show you hogs in this forest who are fit to head the calendar.
Think you it was for such a life that this good arm was fixed upon my shoulder, or that head placed upon your neck? There is work in the world, man, and it is not by hiding behind stone walls that we shall do it. I joined them because Margery Alspaye, of Bolder, married Crooked Thomas of Ringwood, and left a certain John of Hordle in the cold, for that he was a ranting, roving blade who was not to be trusted in wedlock. That was why, being fond and hot-headed, I left the world; and that is why, having had time to take thought, I am right glad to find myself back in it once more.
Whilst he was speaking the landlady came in again, bearing a broad platter, upon which stood all the beakers and flagons charged to the brim with the brown ale or the ruby wine. Behind her came a maid with a high pile of wooden plates, and a great sheaf of spoons, one of which she handed round to each of the travellers. Two of the company, who were dressed in the weather-stained green doublet of foresters, lifted the big pot off the fire, and a third, with a huge pewter ladle, served out a portion of steaming collops to each guest.
Alleyne bore his share and his ale-mug away with him to a retired trestle in the corner, where he could sup in peace and watch the strange scene, which was so different to those silent and well-ordered meals to which he was accustomed. The room was not unlike a stable. The low ceiling, smoke-blackened and dingy, was pierced by several square trap-doors with rough-hewn ladders leading up to them.
The walls of bare unpainted planks were studded here and there with great wooden pins, placed at irregular intervals and heights, from which hung over-tunics, wallets, whips, bridles, and saddles. Over the fireplace were suspended six or seven shields of wood, with coats-of-arms rudely daubed upon them, which showed by their varying degrees of smokiness and dirt that they had been placed there at different periods. There was no furniture, save a single long dresser covered with coarse crockery, and a number of wooden benches and trestles, the legs of which sank deeply into the soft clay floor, while the only light, save that of the fire, was furnished by three torches stuck in sockets on the wall, which flickered and crackled, giving forth a strong resinous odor.
All this was novel and strange to the cloister-bred youth; but most interesting of all was the motley circle of guests who sat eating their collops round the blaze. They were a humble group of wayfarers, such as might have been found that night in any inn through the length and breadth of England; but to him they represented that vague world against which he had been so frequently and so earnestly warned.
It did not seem to him from what he could see of it to be such a very wicked place after all. Three or four of the men round the fire were evidently underkeepers and verderers from the forest, sunburned and bearded, with the quick restless eye and lithe movements of the deer among which they lived.
Close to the corner of the chimney sat a middle-aged gleeman, clad in a faded garb of Norwich cloth, the tunic of which was so outgrown that it did not fasten at the neck and at the waist. His face was swollen and coarse, and his watery protruding eyes spoke of a life which never wandered very far from the wine-pot. A gilt harp, blotched with many stains and with two of its strings missing, was tucked under one of his arms, while with the other he scooped greedily at his platter.
Next to him sat two other men of about the same age, one with a trimming of fur to his coat, which gave him a dignity which was evidently dearer to him than his comfort, for he still drew it round him in spite of the hot glare of the faggots. The other, clad in a dirty russet suit with a long sweeping doublet, had a cunning, foxy face with keen, twinkling eyes and a peaky beard. Next to him sat Hordle John, and beside him three other rough unkempt fellows with tangled beards and matted hair—free laborers from the adjoining farms, where small patches of freehold property had been suffered to remain scattered about in the heart of the royal demesne.
The company was completed by a peasant in a rude dress of undyed sheepskin, with the old-fashioned galligaskins about his legs, and a gayly dressed young man with striped cloak jagged at the edges and parti-colored hosen, who looked about him with high disdain upon his face, and held a blue smelling-flask to his nose with one hand, while he brandished a busy spoon with the other. In the corner a very fat man was lying all a-sprawl upon a truss, snoring stertorously, and evidently in the last stage of drunkenness.
Alack and alas that ever I should have been fool enough to trust him! Now, young man, what manner of a bird would you suppose a pied merlin to be—that being the proper sign of my hostel? I can well remember that learned brother Bartholomew, who is deep in all the secrets of nature, pointed one out to me as we walked together near Vinney Ridge. And pied, that is of two several colors.
So any man would say except this barrel of lies. He came to me, look you, saying that if I would furnish him with a gallon of ale, wherewith to strengthen himself as he worked, and also the pigments and a board, he would paint for me a noble pied merlin which I might hang along with the blazonry over my door. When I came back the gallon jar was empty, and he lay as you see him, with the board in front of him with this sorry device. It is most like a plucked pullet which has died of the spotted fever. And scarlet too! It would be the downfall of my house.
Dame Eliza looked doubtfully at him, as though fearing some other stratagem, but, as he made no demand for ale, she finally brought the paints, and watched him as he smeared on his background, talking the while about the folk round the fire. The gleeman is called Floyting Will. He comes from the north country, but for many years he hath gone the round of the forest from Southampton to Christchurch. He wears, as you perceive, the vernicle of Sainted Luke, the first physician, upon his sleeve.
May good St. Thomas of Kent grant that it may be long before either I or mine need his help! He is here to-night for herbergage, as are the others except the foresters. His neighbor is a tooth-drawer. That bag at his girdle is full of the teeth that he drew at Winchester fair. I warrant that there are more sound ones than sorry, for he is quick at his work and a trifle dim in the eye. The lusty man next him with the red head I have not seen before. The four on this side are all workers, three of them in the service of the bailiff of Sir Baldwin Redvers, and the other, he with the sheepskin, is, as I hear, a villein from the midlands who hath run from his master.
His year and day are well-nigh up, when he will be a free man. The landlady looked at him in a motherly way and shook her head. Look at those shields upon my wall and under my eaves. Each of them is the device of some noble lord or gallant knight who hath slept under my roof at one time or another. Yet milder men or easier to please I have never seen: eating my bacon and drinking my wine with a merry face, and paying my score with some courteous word or jest which was dearer to me than my profit. Those are the true gentles. But your chapman or your bearward will swear that there is a lime in the wine, and water in the ale, and fling off at the last with a curse instead of a blessing.
This youth is a scholar from Cambrig, where men are wont to be blown out by a little knowledge, and lose the use of their hands in learning the laws of the Romans. But I must away to lay down the beds. So may the saints keep you and prosper you in your undertaking! Thus left to himself, Alleyne drew his panel of wood where the light of one of the torches would strike full upon it, and worked away with all the pleasure of the trained craftsman, listening the while to the talk which went on round the fire.
The peasant in the sheepskins, who had sat glum and silent all evening, had been so heated by his flagon of ale that he was talking loudly and angrily with clenched hands and flashing eyes. Let him take off his plates and delve himself, if delving must be done. Never a bullock on the farm was sold more lightly. Where all this difference then between the ermine cloak and the leathern tunic, if what they cover is the same? We have as much to fear from the tonsure as from the hauberk.
Strike at the noble and the priest shrieks, strike at priest and the noble lays his hand upon glaive. They are twin thieves who live upon our labor. Take heed to the good name of the house. By St. You mind last year when he came down to Malwood, with his inner marshal and his outer marshal, his justiciar, his seneschal, and his four and twenty guardsmen. And you talk of an English king? It is a foul, snorting, snarling manner of speech. For myself, I swear by the learned Polycarp that I have most ease with Hebrew, and after that perchance with Arabian. I know one of his subjects who could match him at that.
If he cannot speak like an Englishman I trow that he can fight like an Englishman, and he was hammering at the gates of Paris while ale-house topers were grutching and grumbling at home. This loud speech, coming from a man of so formidable an appearance, somewhat daunted the disloyal party, and they fell into a sullen silence, which enabled Alleyne to hear something of the talk which was going on in the further corner between the physician, the tooth-drawer and the gleeman.
For the rat, mark you, being a foul-living creature, hath a natural drawing or affinity for all foul things, so that the noxious humors pass from the man into the unclean beast. The black death is the best friend that ever the common folk had in England. When half the folk in the country were dead it was then that the other half could pick and choose who they would work for, and for what wage.
That is why I say that the murrain was the best friend that the borel folk ever had. We well know that through it corn-land has been turned into pasture, so that flocks of sheep with perchance a single shepherd wander now where once a hundred men had work and wage. There is not only the herd, but the shearer and brander, and then the dresser, the curer, the dyer, the fuller, the webster, the merchant, and a score of others. To all these suggestions the jongleur made no response, but sat with his eye fixed abstractedly upon the ceiling, as one who calls words to his mind.
Then, with a sudden sweep across the strings, he broke out into a song so gross and so foul that ere he had finished a verse the pure-minded lad sprang to his feet with the blood tingling in his face. How has it offended your babyship? The jongleur had put down his harp in high dudgeon. I shall sing no more to-night. Go forward with thy song, and if our girl-faced clerk does not love it he can take to the road and go whence he came. It may be that my little comrade has been over quick in reproof, he having gone early into the cloisters and seen little of the rough ways and words of the world.
Yet there is truth in what he says, for, as you know well, the song was not of the cleanest. I shall stand by him, therefore, and he shall neither be put out on the road, nor shall his ears be offended indoors. I shall go! They may find they have more tow on their distaff than they know how to spin. Stand thou clear and give me space.
He was a middle-sized man, of most massive and robust build, with an arching chest and extraordinary breadth of shoulder. His shaven face was as brown as a hazel-nut, tanned and dried by the weather, with harsh, well-marked features, which were not improved by a long white scar which stretched from the corner of his left nostril to the angle of the jaw. His eyes were bright and searching, with something of menace and of authority in their quick glitter, and his mouth was firm-set and hard, as befitted one who was wont to set his face against danger. A straight sword by his side and a painted long-bow jutting over his shoulder proclaimed his profession, while his scarred brigandine of chain-mail and his dinted steel cap showed that he was no holiday soldier, but one who was even now fresh from the wars.
A white surcoat with the lion of St. George in red upon the centre covered his broad breast, while a sprig of new-plucked broom at the side of his head-gear gave a touch of gayety and grace to his grim, war-worn equipment. His eye happening to wander upon the maid, however, he instantly abandoned the mistress and danced off after the other, who scurried in confusion up one of the ladders, and dropped the heavy trap-door upon her pursuer.
He then turned back and saluted the landlady once more with the utmost relish and satisfaction. Curse this trick of French, which will stick to my throat. I must wash it out with some good English ale. By my hilt! When I came off the galley at Hythe, this very day, I down on my bones, and I kissed the good brown earth, as I kiss thee now, ma belle, for it was eight long years since I had seen it.
The very smell of it seemed life to me. But where are my six rascals? En avant! At the order, six men, dressed as common drudges, marched solemnly into the room, each bearing a huge bundle upon his head. They formed in military line, while the soldier stood in front of them with stern eyes, checking off their several packages. Put it down by the other. Good dame, I prythee give each of these men a bottrine of wine or a jack of ale. Three—a full piece of white Genoan velvet with twelve ells of purple silk.
Thou rascal, there is dirt on the hem! Thou hast brushed it against some wall, coquin! By the three kings! I have seen a man gasp out his last breath for less. Had you gone through the pain and unease that I have done to earn these things you would be at more care. I swear by my ten finger-bones that there is not one of them that hath not cost its weight in French blood!
Four—an incense-boat, a ewer of silver, a gold buckle and a cope worked in pearls. I found them, camarades, at the Church of St. Denis in the harrying of Narbonne, and I took them away with me lest they fall into the hands of the wicked. Five—a cloak of fur turned up with minever, a gold goblet with stand and cover, and a box of rose-colored sugar.
See that you lay them together. Six —a box of monies, three pounds of Limousine gold-work, a pair of boots, silver tagged, and, lastly, a store of naping linen. So, the tally is complete! Here is a groat apiece, and you may go. To the devil if ye will. What is it to me? Now, ma belle, to supper. A pair of cold capons, a mortress of brawn, or what you will, with a flask or two of the right Gascony. I have crowns in my pouch, my sweet, and I mean to spend them.
Bring in wine while the food is dressing. Buvons my brave lads; you shall each empty a stoup with me. Here was an offer which the company in an English inn at that or any other date are slow to refuse.
The flagons were re-gathered and came back with the white foam dripping over their edges. Two of the woodmen and three of the laborers drank their portions off hurriedly and trooped off together, for their homes were distant and the hour late. The others, however, drew closer, leaving the place of honor to the right of the gleeman to the free-handed new-comer. He had thrown off his steel cap and his brigandine, and had placed them with his sword, his quiver and his painted long-bow, on the top of his varied heap of plunder in the corner.
Now, with his thick and somewhat bowed legs stretched in front of the blaze, his green jerkin thrown open, and a great quart pot held in his corded fist, he looked the picture of comfort and of good-fellowship. His hard-set face had softened, and the thick crop of crisp brown curls which had been hidden by his helmet grew low upon his massive neck.
He might have been forty years of age, though hard toil and harder pleasure had left their grim marks upon his features. Alleyne had ceased painting his pied merlin, and sat, brush in hand, staring with open eyes at a type of man so strange and so unlike any whom he had met. Men had been good or had been bad in his catalogue, but here was a man who was fierce one instant and gentle the next, with a curse on his lips and a smile in his eye. What was to be made of such a man as that? It chanced that the soldier looked up and saw the questioning glance which the young clerk threw upon him.
He raised his flagon and drank to him, with a merry flash of his white teeth. Couldst not shoot a bolt down any street of Bordeaux, I warrant, but you would pink archer, squire, or knight. There are more breastplates than gaberdines to be seen, I promise you. Where a good man can always earn a good wage, and where he need look upon no man as his paymaster, but just reach his hand out and help himself. Aye, it is a goodly and a proper life. And here I drink to mine old comrades, and the saints be with them!
Arouse all together, mes enfants, under pain of my displeasure. It is for me to fill your cups again, since you have drained them to my dear lads of the white jerkin. How runs the old stave? He roared out the catch in a harsh, unmusical voice, and ended with a shout of laughter. Many a time in the after days Alleyne Edricson seemed to see that scene, for all that so many which were stranger and more stirring were soon to crowd upon him.
The fat, red-faced gleeman, the listening group, the archer with upraised finger beating in time to the music, and the huge sprawling figure of Hordle John, all thrown into red light and black shadow by the flickering fire in the centre—memory was to come often lovingly back to it. At the time he was lost in admiration at the deft way in which the jongleur disguised the loss of his two missing strings, and the lusty, hearty fashion in which he trolled out his little ballad of the outland bowmen, which ran in some such fashion as this:.
I have seen old John Hawkwood, the same who has led half the Company into Italy, stand laughing in his beard as he heard it, until his plates rattled again. But to get the full smack of it ye must yourselves be English bowmen, and be far off upon an outland soil. Whilst the song had been singing Dame Eliza and the maid had placed a board across two trestles, and had laid upon it the knife, the spoon, the salt, the tranchoir of bread, and finally the smoking dish which held the savory supper.
The archer settled himself to it like one who had known what it was to find good food scarce; but his tongue still went as merrily as his teeth. Look at me—what have I to do? It is but the eye to the cord, the cord to the shaft, and the shaft to the mark. There is the whole song of it. It is but what you do yourselves for pleasure upon a Sunday evening at the parish village butts. I treat my friend, and I ask no friend to treat me. And how of the heap of trifles that you can see for yourselves in yonder corner?
They are from the South French, every one, upon whom I have been making war.
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Then there is the chance of a ransom. Why, look you, in the affair at Brignais some four years back, when the companies slew James of Bourbon, and put his army to the sword, there was scarce a man of ours who had not count, baron, or knight. Peter Karsdale, who was but a common country lout newly brought over, with the English fleas still hopping under his doublet, laid his great hands upon the Sieur Amaury de Chatonville, who owns half Picardy, and had five thousand crowns out of him, with his horse and harness.
By the twang of string! A toi, aussi, ma petite! Mon Dieu! As I understand it, there was peace made at the town of Bretigny some six years back between our most gracious monarch and the King of the French. This being so, it seems most passing strange that you should talk so loudly of war and of companies when there is no quarrel between the French and us. I come to you seeking knowledge, for it is my trade to learn.
Know then that though there may be peace between our own provinces and the French, yet within the marches of France there is always war, for the country is much divided against itself, and is furthermore harried by bands of flayers, skinners, Brabacons, tardvenus, and the rest of them. Now that Sir John Hawkwood hath gone with the East Anglian lads and the Nottingham woodmen into the service of the Marquis of Montferrat to fight against the Lord of Milan, there are but ten score of us left, yet I trust that I may be able to bring some back with me to fill the ranks of the White Company.
By the tooth of Peter! George, and the more so if Sir Nigel Loring, of Christchurch, should don hauberk once more and take the lead of us. I go now to Christchurch with a letter to him from Sir Claude Latour to ask him if he will take the place of Sir John Hawkwood; and there is the more chance that he will if I bring one or two likely men at my heels.
What say you, woodman: wilt leave the bucks to loose a shaft at a nobler mark? The forester shook his head. Out upon you all, as a set of laggards and hang-backs! By my hilt I believe that the men of England are all in France already, and that what is left behind are in sooth the women dressed up in their paltocks and hosen. I have won the ram more times than there are toes to my feet, and for seven long years I have found no man in the Company who could make my jerkin dusty.
By your leave, my red-headed friend, I should be right sorry to exchange buffets with you; and I will allow that there is no man in the Company who would pull against you on a rope; so let that be a salve to your pride. On the other hand I should judge that you have led a life of ease for some months back, and that my muscle is harder than your own. I am ready to wager upon myself against you if you are not afeard. Come out, and we shall see who is the better man. It is that big body of thine that I am after. I have a French feather-bed there, which I have been at pains to keep these years back.
I had it at the sacking of Issodun, and the King himself hath not such a bed. If you throw me, it is thine; but, if I throw you, then you are under a vow to take bow and bill and hie with me to France, there to serve in the White Company as long as we be enrolled. How shall it be, then, mon enfant? Collar and elbow, or close-lock, or catch how you can?
He had thrown off his green jerkin, and his chest was covered only by a pink silk jupon, or undershirt, cut low in the neck and sleeveless. Hordle John was stripped from his waist upwards, and his huge body, with his great muscles swelling out like the gnarled roots of an oak, towered high above the soldier. The other, however, though near a foot shorter, was a man of great strength; and there was a gloss upon his white skin which was wanting in the heavier limbs of the renegade monk.
He was quick on his feet, too, and skilled at the game; so that it was clear, from the poise of head and shine of eye, that he counted the chances to be in his favor. Big John stood waiting in the centre with a sullen, menacing eye, and his red hair in a bristle, while the archer paced lightly and swiftly to the right and the left with crooked knee and hands advanced. Then with a sudden dash, so swift and fierce that the eye could scarce follow it, he flew in upon his man and locked his leg round him.
It was a grip that, between men of equal strength, would mean a fall; but Hordle John tore him off from him as he might a rat, and hurled him across the room, so that his head cracked up against the wooden wall. A little more and this good hostel would have a new window.
Nothing daunted, he approached his man once more, but this time with more caution than before. With a quick feint he threw the other off his guard, and then, bounding upon him, threw his legs round his waist and his arms round his bull-neck, in the hope of bearing him to the ground with the sudden shock. As it was, he dropped upon his feet and kept his balance, though it sent a jar through his frame which set every joint a-creaking.
He bounded back from his perilous foeman; but the other, heated by the bout, rushed madly after him, and so gave the practised wrestler the very vantage for which he had planned. As big John flung himself upon him, the archer ducked under the great red hands that clutched for him, and, catching his man round the thighs, hurled him over his shoulder—helped as much by his own mad rush as by the trained strength of the heave. In truth, hardy as the man was, his neck had been assuredly broken had he not pitched head first on the very midriff of the drunken artist, who was slumbering so peacefully in the corner, all unaware of these stirring doings.
The luckless limner, thus suddenly brought out from his dreams, sat up with a piercing yell, while Hordle John bounded back into the circle almost as rapidly as he had left it. I would sooner wrestle with the great bear of Navarre. By my ten finger-bones! Yet I would fain have had the feather-bed.
The unfortunate limner had been sitting up rubbing himself ruefully and staring about with a vacant gaze, which showed that he knew neither where he was nor what had occurred to him. Suddenly, however, a flash of intelligence had come over his sodden features, and he rose and staggered for the door. The remaining forester and the two laborers were also ready for the road, and the rest of the company turned to the blankets which Dame Eliza and the maid had laid out for them upon the floor. At early dawn the country inn was all alive, for it was rare indeed that an hour of daylight would be wasted at a time when lighting was so scarce and dear.
Indeed, early as it was when Dame Eliza began to stir, it seemed that others could be earlier still, for the door was ajar, and the learned student of Cambridge had taken himself off, with a mind which was too intent upon the high things of antiquity to stoop to consider the four-pence which he owed for bed and board. It was the shrill out-cry of the landlady when she found her loss, and the clucking of the hens, which had streamed in through the open door, that first broke in upon the slumbers of the tired wayfarers. Once afoot, it was not long before the company began to disperse.
A sleek mule with red trappings was brought round from some neighboring shed for the physician, and he ambled away with much dignity upon his road to Southampton. The tooth-drawer and the gleeman called for a cup of small ale apiece, and started off together for Ringwood fair, the old jongleur looking very yellow in the eye and swollen in the face after his overnight potations.
The archer, however, who had drunk more than any man in the room, was as merry as a grig, and having kissed the matron and chased the maid up the ladder once more, he went out to the brook, and came back with the water dripping from his face and hair. I prythee, let me have my score, good dame. Aye, this is indeed a pied merlin, and with a leveret under its claws, as I am a living woman. By the rood of Waltham! The young clerk flushed with pleasure at this chorus of praise, rude and indiscriminate indeed, and yet so much heartier and less grudging than any which he had ever heard from the critical brother Jerome, or the short-spoken Abbot.
There was, it would seem, great kindness as well as great wickedness in this world, of which he had heard so little that was good. His hostess would hear nothing of his paying either for bed or for board, while the archer and Hordle John placed a hand upon either shoulder and led him off to the board, where some smoking fish, a dish of spinach, and a jug of milk were laid out for their breakfast.
The bowman looked at him with great respect. In the whole Company there was only one man who could read, and he fell down a well at the taking of Ventadour, which proves what the thing is not suited to a soldier, though most needful to a clerk. It was tied securely with a broad band of purple silk, and firmly sealed at either end with a large red seal. John pored long and earnestly over the inscription upon the back, with his brows bent as one who bears up against great mental strain.
Some might say one thing and some another, just as one bowman loves the yew, and a second will not shoot save with the ash. To me, by the length and the look of it, I should judge this to be a verse from one of the Psalms. The bowman shook his head. You have clean overshot the butts this time, mon camarade. Give it to the little one.
I will wager my feather-bed that he makes more sense of it. The low justice means that you may fleece him, and the middle that you may torture him, and the high that you may slay him. That is about the truth of it. But this is the letter which I am to take; and since the platter is clean it is time that we trussed up and were afoot.
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