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Chapter VIII O'Crone's Fetch.

AT four in the afternoon, Heans, in frogged pelisse and travelling cap—his horse saddled on his arm—still paced the yard, awaiting Oughtryn. He arrived at about half-past; unlatching the gate and jogging in gloomily on his horse. Heans, gathering his reins as the other's low-crowned straw appeared over the wall, got into the saddle as he came in.

“Now, where's the child, honour,” asked Oughtryn, passing the gate: “making puddings, odrabit her, when she might have her pleasure-horse and elegant gallanting! I hope she's not been keeping your honour argufying again, and begging herself off. The tea-kettle for company and drudging about—that's her green bay tree! A lowly spirit! Poor chit—poor 'omely one—I asks pardon for thinking better of her! If she 'ad age, she'd know how reasonable she was getting her pleasuring!”

Sir William explained immediately how that morning there had been something of an intrusion, and that Oughtryn's presence was urgently wanted. He himself, he said, had hesitated to admit a noisy character to the house, but the women had overruled him, expecting someone for the great room. Not liking, however, the man's manners, he thought it wiser to await his return, before leaving. He gave now a short account of the morning.

Oughtryn had dismounted. “So,” said he, chewing at a forgotten quid and straining up his eyes at the other, “did the woman bid him in against the gentleman's remonstrance?”

“Certainly.”

“Without showing his voucher?”

“Just so—feminine excitement, I daresay, in view of Friday's festivity.”

“Stay—them feminines sometimes see more than us. Something strange for that here woman to go lunatic over a novelty man. Yet who'll say! They burns their boats sudden. Why,” asked he, with a sudden knitting of his brows, “have they got soldiers about after somebody?”

“I cannot say,” said Sir William, paling and straightening his hat. And he urged his horse slowly out of the yard.

Sir William ambled past the cliffs and up the lane to Davey


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Street: a part, thronged as it was with memories of Pitt's Villa, he seldom frequented. Turning down, he stopped only at the cemetery, turning into the street above it, and galloping airily beside the graves. Past these, the road turned at right-angles to avoid the sea, and Heans pulled in before a stern Roman villa lightened a little by an encircling of ironwork, before whose woody garden were drawn up two white-bodied flys and a dusty barouche filled with baggage. The gate was open, and riding in, he dismounted and threw his bridle over a paling. He then advanced to a door in the blind centre pediment and found it open. In the amber light of the hall inside, a muscular-looking man in split sailor's trousers and pea-coat stood with his hand on the stair-rail, talking with a groom. It was a dark, friendly, masterful fellow, the lower part of whose face was set in a fine toothy geniality, tinged, however, at the moment, by some lofty cloudiness of the fine brow. He pushed in a half-meaning way to meet—or almost it seemed to bar—Sir William's entrance.

“Mr. O'Crone is engaged, sir,” he said, in answer to Heans' enquiry. “Indeed, I am to say that he is no longer free to receive any but the few friends summoned this morning.”

“Nonsense, man!” said Sir William, somewhat hectically. “I am certain Mr. O'Crone will see me! My name is Heans.”

The man put up an implacable hand.

“You can hardly be aware, sir,” he insisted, his large mouth growing less genial, “of Mr. O'Crone's sudden attack. I have orders to state plainly, to whoever may enquire, that on receipt of the news that his unfortunate friend was to be removed to Port Arthur, and all hope of a meeting taken from him, he was attacked with such deep grief as to endanger his mind, and it has been thought wise by his servants to remove him this evening to the ship, and sail from the place. I can assure you, sir, we have been much put to it to know what to do. Our master has for some time been uncertain in his behaviour.”

“This is sharp news,” said poor Sir William, his legs spread apart, but very still and pale. “Can I not enter and see him? He knows my name, ‘Heans’: an old friend.” As he spoke he made grandly to push in, but the man advanced, spreading his large hands apart.

“I must add, sir—and pardon us ignorant men protecting a poor master—we are in a quandary about admitting any not known to us. My master, sir, in his wandering, has expressed a dislike, sir, of certain black-mailing people—prisoners, sir,—who have got the holt on him; and we've sworn, sir (those of us watching), that to ease him like, we'll have no soul in but those two or three special named. It's pardonable in us sir, to be jealous for him. Some of us is mere sailors, hot of head and easy angered. Understand, we'll not have the master troubled any more than can be mended.”

Sir William was superb at this moment. He put up his glass,


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and hiding his trembling lips with his hand, stared the man wanly in his large, bland, conciliating, brisk, yet bothered face.

“I,” he said, with a short cough, “will barely be taken for the black-mailer. It is a man named Heans, Sir William Heans, and quite well known to O'Crone. It is a heavy blow that Mr. O'Crone is to be taken away, and I shall not see him.”

The man yet stared with his peculiar friendly implacability.

“You look genuinely hurt, sir, and I feels it,” said he. “But I assures you, no. Several gentlemen has been here—saying the like, but we gave them that answer. Let me have your message, sir, if it please you. My master is heavily reduced, sir, and quite unfit for strained talk.”

Sir William asked in a low voice for a little “clemency.” “Now,” he said, “I had a certain arrangement with your master, which is cut off by his sailing in a very heart-breaking way. Do you think” (removing his hat, bending down, and peeping into the hall), “do you think now you could persuade him to come for a moment to the top of those stairs there. Now you go, sir, and beg that much for Sir William Heans. I promise you, as Heaven is my witness, I will go no further than the stair's-foot, and speak no more than six dozen words!”

The man looked at him for a full minute with a sort of open glaring of eye and knitted forehead. “If I were to do it, sir,” he said at length, “and anything was to happen beyond what you promise, I'd not pause to think, sir, before using my arm against you. You can take that risk, sir, and the risk of my misunderstanding what you might happen to say in them six dozen words, if you please, and my master wishes.”

“Ah,” said Heans, chuckling and showing his white teeth, “you take me for the black-mailer. I am afraid I am dusty with my ride. I shall be sorry to hear this from his own lips, but I shall take it better, when I have seen him.” (He cleared his throat, and the man slowly moved back from the door.) “Good Heavens!” he cried, as he stepped in, “I am a gentleman of my word—as men go! I will stand here in the hall!”

It was a small place, rather dirty, with a well-worn cedar-wood floor painted in white and varnished squares to imitate marble, and yellowish walls coloured to a curious imitation of stone with orange-tinted pillars. The stairway ran up the right wall, guarded by an iron balustrade in numerous round O's, and where it turned there was a tall bronze lamp on a stone pedestal. A narrow old key-patterned carpet ran up the steps, which were broad and coarsely varnished, while light crept down upon, rather than illumined, the apartment from a half-moon above the blind windows in the pediment.

The man reluctantly bowed Sir William in, with his hand on the banisters, and then went up the stairs. At the bend, he took another stare, breathing athletically through his fine teeth and eyeing, with half-decided reluctance, those yet beautiful


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plaids, and the tasselled cap in the gentleman's glove: somewhat overhung and full. He then disappeared, and immediately, and quite plainly, was heard the announcing of “Sir William Heans.” At once a voice answered querulous and arbitrary. Presently after the man came down, and taking up his place by the door with his face inwards, superintended a long wait of more than half an hour, through which the three men stood swaying and sighing without a word, the groom under the stairs surveying O'Crone's man, O'Crone's man surveying the groom, but vouchsafing no explanation but a troubled air of expectation. Into this, creeping down and floating about the orange pillars, a drone of persuasive speaking.

At last there was a stamping and rustling, and two rather archaic ladies in skittle-waists and heavy leghorns appeared on the stairs, and came hurriedly down, enveloping a pair of flushed faces in grey veils. Immediately after—but somewhat painfully—came a feeble old woman in a cashmere shawl and pleated bonnet, followed by two new-fangled young persons with hoops in their tight buckled dresses, and pretty shawls of the sham cashmere made at Paisley. A clergyman was with these people, and all showed fewer traces of emotion than the first pair: indeed the old woman, though she once put her handkerchief to her face, seemed peculiarly serene. The young ladies, as they kept their hoops steady with their haftless parasols, chattered audibly in a discomfited undertone. Bitter-faced Mr. Craye—for it was he who accompanied the party—found time during the descent to remark the people in the hall, and took the occasion—in a somewhat deliberate way, as one piloting newcomers about the colony—to whisper the name of the slightly passé figure cooling his heels there. The young women were sharply interested—even a trifle dismayed—while the old woman—who was none other than Mrs. Testwood—halted half-way down and observed the gentleman with great intentness. Sir William moved and bowed a little over his glass. He looked old and flushed, and his face was somewhat deep-hewn now with lines; he hardly seemed to observe them as they passed. The young ladies went prettily out. The old one came down leaning in a sort of serene pain on her cane. In the door she turned, and beckoning to the clergyman, had a whispered word with him. Immediately Craye turned in his bitter way and regarded Heans. Then with evident stiffness and reluctance—as it were a gentleman breaking in upon a settled theory—he at once approached him, and whispering, drew, by the purport of his words, Heans' heavy eyes from vacancy, as it were, upon those of the old woman, who took him immediately with a quiet bow, and tapped her way out. Craye added something for himself, as it were, and also departed. His words had been something as follows: “We heard tell this morning of your last night's action, Sir William Heans, and as friends of the lady, request permission to thank


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you.” So it was out already! As Heans did not answer, Craye seems to have added: “Indeed, sir, it has explained an impression of our last meeting.”

“May I be dead, if I comprehend you!” Heans whipped out. He did not seem to wholly hear.

When the clergyman had gone, and also the groom, O'Crone's man again advanced to the banisters, holding there and looking up with an expectant, set, and anxious face. Sir William advanced round him to the bottom of the stairs, fiddling with the tassel of his cap and looking up also, his amber-headed cane under his arm. In the dead silence, suddenly was heard the rolling of the carriages in the street, and the thumping of Heans' horse. Presently there was a murmur up the stairs, and the ceiling shook. O'Crone slowly appeared at the bend, tottering forward, with his left arm round the shoulders of a dark-bearded servant. With his right hand he supported himself by the banisters. He was dressed in a black coat and trousers, but his cravat lay loose and unbuckled upon his neck. That curious angry dignity which was his, was gone very shockingly for a mien of weak and shrinking pallor. He looked half his width, yellow, and shrunken—the look of a man who has yielded. Yet his stooping Jewish figure had become, as it were, endignified with renunciation, if it shook in an enfeebled, angry way, as if it were against the making of another unselfish effort. With the two of them was an oldish man—perhaps the very last who should have companioned such a nature at such a time—a stout, pompous, aldermanic looking personage, with a prominent stomach. (Yet how often and how curiously is it the case that the most faithful are the most incongruous. Happy is he who sees this early. Poor Lear might have never turned mad had he recognised his Jester for his Fortune-destined friend.) This gentleman, who was very thick set, and who wore his frock-coat open—curtain-wise— over his cord protuberance, took up a fine position, with hat a-cock and hand in waistcoat: his face in a state of obstinate muddled depression.

Half-weakly, half-snarlingly, O'Crone stared down at Heans. Indeed, his face looked for an instant unhealthily wicked, as of one who had found, in spite of things, a sniff of pleasure in the ill wind.

“Well, Sir William Heans,” he said, “here I am. You know you would see me. I am not a pleasant object.”

“Ah,” said Heans, lifting one foot to the stairs, and leaning back upon a quivering stick (the man beside him darkly leaning with his fingers on the banister, watching with his cloudy smile, that foot beneath his eyes), “I am sorry, sir, you seem ill. This amazing news—is it really true? You leave us all with no warning, and with hardly a word?”

“I fear I'm weak,” said Mr. O'Crone, “now I'm in it. Nay” (and a dark stare came into his eyes and he looked rather into


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vacancy than at the man below), “who shall hinder me to wail and weep.…?”

He muttered on, restlessly smoothing the banister with his right hand, while Heans stood feeling his chin and glaring up.

“I've joined in black despair against my soul,” said Mr. O'Crone, “and to myself become an enemy.”

The fat gentleman behind endeavoured to pull him from his abstraction. “Nay, nay, a little crotchety,” he said, in a faint fussy murmur, “a little natural contrariety. Do not distress yourself. Let us beg the visitor to shorten the interview.”

“You wish me, Heans,” said O'Crone, looking very white, “to carry a message to your friends in England. Now, are you asking more? You have my signature for nothing. I have nothing to fear from you. You know as well as I do I haven't given you or your friend a single moral or business claim over me.”

“I came in to see if it were true,” said Sir William, looking up like a pale old man.

“Come—come, I should compound with a ten-pound note,” put in the old fellow, with a large peevishness. “That is what I would do, gentlemen. It would satisfy everybody and there will be no rhyme or reason for pokey speaking.” (“Extremely ingenious and agreeable,” he whispered, rather privately, “when he's paid for it. Know him well! Regular quiz. Daren't do it directly. Too much of a gentleman. I never understood it!”)

“Ah, you mistake Sir William Heans,” said O'Crone, grimly feeling the banisters. “Money! My Heaven, it is merely a matter of a little sharpness! God help you, sir,” he cried out, with extreme anger and bitterness, “I reject your offer, who once, in a different situation, had my personal acquaintance. I no longer bend to your importunity, nor, in a private transaction, do I hold myself bound to men who have shown themselves cruelly void of forbearance. My honour is sadder and wiser out of the hands of such men. Nay, sir—nay, sir” (lifting his hand and crying out pettishly), “I have the excuse of illness for speaking bitter!”

“In a word,” said Sir William, staring in extreme sarcasm from the bottom stair, “you have no need of such men.”

“I am too shaky for recrimination. You must pardon me,” said O'Crone.

“Stoopid economy, my dear sir,” pattered the old personage, pitching up a shower of snuff.

“God save me,” hissed Sir William Heans, “am I in a position to be quarrelled with!”

“He is asking me a question,” said Mr. O'Crone.

“A costly conversation,” nodded the old personage. “Come


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now. Allow me to hazard——” (He somewhat privately put round a hand towards the back of his coat.)

The man in the pea-jacket stood leaning against the banisters looking up, his fist clenched over the rail. Heans, if he were in the position of some one staring, as it were, through a hopeless window—if he seemed to stoop under a weight—swung his glass, as he turned away, and jumped his cane on the pavement, even with a half-jocular appearance.

O'Crone, holding by his man, with his white sick air, cried after him rather chillily: “I'll not forget you, sir.”

Hotly the other halted and looked back. “Ah, you had once a better heart, my lord,” he hissed, whereon O'Crone cried out in agitation:

“Peace, Heans, oh peace … go!” And as he hung on his man his eyes were lowered.

“No, but let me speak your name,” said Sir William, whitely staring; “a man, by G—d, of such a nice forsaking humour——”

O'Crone suddenly covered his eyes, and there was a loud burst of sobbing. At once he staggered backward, and surprising his man's grasp, fell over in a faint upon the person behind, who caught and clasped him to his front with a confused, unstately tenderness.

“Swooned away, 'pon my word!” cried the old fellow. “Tell the man to get out. I say so—tell him to go out. A nasty business. Very obstinate! Give it over to 'em. They don't come here for nothing. I say to everyone, if he's got round you, it's dangerous to bullyrag. If he hasn't, he'll pretend he 'as. A ten-pound note,” he panted; “and rather polite, than otherwise——” He stopped and his mouth fell open as his eyes caught upon the action of the body-servant at the door.

This man, removing his eyes from his master, turned and ran at Sir William, when seizing him by the front of his pelisse, he dragged him from the centre of the hall into the doorway; Sir William meanwhile struggling to strike him with his cane, which, being in his left hand, he used weakly and to little purpose. The other servant, leaving O'Crone, with lifeless face, propped against the person of the old man, had come half-way down the stairs, where, seeing that Sir William was being already thrust through the door, he remained, in pale, if inscrutable inaction. Heans' antagonist (continually struck at and endeavouring to shelter his head beneath Sir William's chin) never once released his hold of the pelisse, but thrust the other backwards against the door—a panel of which was open—and thence into the garden, where he released him, and receiving as he turned a heavy cut from the staggering prisoner, ran in and bolted the door.

Sir William fell to the ground with his effort, but rising lightly, brushed himself delicately and instinctively where he stood. His glass was gone and he must search before he recovered it. There was a somewhat irreparable tear above one knee of his


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plaid trousers. Presently he went over to his old beast. There, beside the animal, he rested, with his hands on the saddle and his head bowed. At length, seeming to become aware that he was being watched by the man on the box of the barouche, he moved to the fence and lifted the rein from the paling.

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