previous
next



  ― 261 ―

Chapter XVI The Pad or Fairplay

IT was indeed a day of discomfort, for Heans was again stopped not 300 yards inside Boundary by the armed constables in charge of a road-gang, being sharply questioned, though on representing, half-beside himself with indignation, that his ill-used lady and himself had been already twice molested, and himself searched, he was permitted to pass up into the town. The gusty place seemed full of alarms. Behind a company of stately pedestrians paced a couple of constables with carbines: and as they crossed northward by the oil-lamp, where poor Stifft had too openly snatched at his schooner, there was a grey party of sub-overseers tramping under their muskets. Again, at the street-foot a glow of red against the cemetery was, in Heans' opinion, nothing less than a sergeant's guard of the 51st Foot. Sir William was hard hit with the unlucky coincidence which had led Jewell to run for it, at that instant, and stir the vigilance of the police fair in the face of his own attempt. He felt at that moment cowed and frightened (“as if he had been quite a young fellow”) at the thought of renewed encounters with the insane man, Spafield, and at his thoughts of Mr. Daunt. Now that all was over, it was weighing on his mind that he had diverted the pad into his possession, chillily fearing some outcome yet. He was overwhelmed, he says, by a sort of black fear that there was no fighting through malign coincidence and the meshes of espial and disaster the presence of these two men implied. No doubt, being somewhat overhung with the grey evening, he was confusing unlucky coincidence with human action. Only for an instant was he so broken in courage. Before they came under the cliff his spirits had risen somewhat and pushed further from him these tragic counsellors of fatigue. He made an effort to see things clearer, reminding himself of the retirement of the ruffian, and the tragedy in those gloomy rocks (there was a little ferny path up into their one ravine) past which the snorting beasts are ambling. He renewed his resolution to lose no time in acquainting


  ― 262 ―
Oughtryn with the man's singular behaviour, to show him the hat, the writing, and the black strings, as well giving an account of Conapanny's warning, and of the ruffian's gross and unpleasing reference to Abelia. Despite Oughtryn's almost sinister respect for matters touching the System—and for those with its borrowed or deputed power—he trusted he would be prevailed upon to report the ugly story, and immediately rid them of the man; failing that, that he would disclose his true opinion of the man's peculiar attitude towards himself.

It was then, suddenly remembering that he might never again lead Abelia towards her father's gate, he turned and called to her, she tailing, in her provoking habit, just in the rear of his beast. Under her Manilla hat, her face held a peaceful paleness, as though she cherished some taper of calm in some privacy of her mind. With her too-many reins and ridiculous whip, she clung, with some spirit, to a bit of valerian, broken with the swinging of her horse's head. Sir William drew in, and speaking with her, said, with a gracious softening of that baleful air, “Here we are, my dear; and an end to our day's ride. Are you cold, miss? Egad, there's an end of all things, a finishing, be it good or be it cruel. Mercy upon us, it has been a bothersome day!”

Pale Abelia seemed to reassure him, trembling out it had been “very agreeable,” but that “her fingers were quite benumbed upon her bridle-reins.”

“Ah,” said he, alluding to her piano, and dropping out his glass with his pleasant old cackle, “presently you will warm them with your, ‘St. Patrick's day in the morning.’ ”

He was pushing in the wind to the high gate, when from up the lane a shrill “holloa” stopped him. Some one in a blue shako and short military cloak ambled down upon them, waving a white glove. As he passed under the rocks, his voice laboured out, begging them to await his coming, and Heans (and possibly his companion) saw it was Captain Shaxton. Heans dismounted and awaited his approach. Shaxton advanced breezily, saluting the young woman, and vigorously shaking Heans' hand. “Gracious G—d!” he cried, “what an evil wind!” And he took off his shako there and then, and showed them the splash upon its blue felt side where he had twice lifted it from the road. Almost in the same breath he whispered a wounded query about his letter, and receiving, for his hunted stare, a steady affirmative, avoided or waited for no more, but running to the gate, swung up the manacle, and pushed a way for them into the yard.

This experienced reader of faces seemed satisfied that he was to have what he wanted, for he made himself very foolish, useful, blind, and clumsy, assisting poor Abelia to alight, with a half-present air, but many chuckling pleasantries; among them an amusing reference to a lady who when asked if she liked riding, said she loved it, “all but the walking, ho-ho-ho!” (than which anything less applicable to shrunken Abelia, with her pale face


  ― 263 ―
always turned aside from the speaker, could hardly have been imagined), and himself stabling her grey, dwindling however in this process, and presently turning, and giving Heans to understand, when quickly he joined him in the stable-door, that, “upon his life, he believed the squealing wind was dropping!” Either the yard was so much more protected, or it was certainly growing calmer. The gusts no longer lashed the sky with the gum-top, nor tried the wall bushes. The sky seemed lighter and yellower behind the pediments of the Hospital.

Heans, with his hand to his mouth, called the information to him that the article mentioned in his note was already in Mrs. Shaxton's hand; and who was the conveyor; and how they'd had trouble with the police; and after voluble thanks (rather white and thunderstruck), and an interval of strange chuckling, Shaxton gave signals of unquiet, either of waiting on the other for a sign, or of wishing to be gone without resurrection. Sir William, however, persuaded him to take gin with him in his rooms, partly, it seems, “for a certain communication he wished to make,” and partly for the little pleasure of his happier company in the moil of private difficulty in which he balanced. Spafield, by the way, was nowhere to be seen. Abelia had gone in by the kitchen door. They immediately pushed their way across the yard.

The Chamber seemed full of company, as indeed from the rumours might have been the house. Some shawled ladies peeped through the glass at Captain Shaxton as he went. There sounded the ‘clink’ of refreshment; a sudden abnormal hammering; and the fall of wooden matter. A candle was lit by a resplendent curtain in the Chamber, and another sprang up deeper in the room.

It was a peculiar situation for both gentlemen, and they entered the small door and silently threaded the passage, both half-reluctant, both terribly drawn and grey. When Sir William ushered Captain Shaxton into his room, at first, in their abstraction, they saw no one, but afterwards they were made aware, by a slight movement, that Mr. Daunt was seated in a chair beyond the mantel.

Such was the presence of mind of that gentleman that for an instant he did not rise, but remained seated.

He was in full fig—sword, tailless red coat with immens ecollar, sash, grey trousers—and his grey overcoat, gloves, and cap with upturned peak were on the table. His well-groomed face, always acute, had, for the instant, lost the pessimistic suavity lately noted in it, and was just much sharper than is nice: sharper than it is quite seemly to seem, and perhaps to look at.

The position of his coat and hat seemed to indicate that he had been waiting in the room for some while. He seemed very displeased at the sight of Captain Shaxton. Yet even as the


  ― 264 ―
door opened, he had not the look of one whose thoughts, as he sat alone, had been composed.

He hardly bowed to Sir William Heans, but addressed Captain Shaxton, watching his face with extreme closeness. Whatever his intentions, were he wicked or mere man of the world, naturally, in his ugly position, his first thought would be to discover what had become of the fabulous pad (if Shaxton had it), and this, having known him intimately, he could do best by observing the condition of Shaxton's spirits. Having found him sharp enough, he might next wish to know if he had come for it.

He let them both come in and, till the door was shut: “Upon my word, Captain Shaxton,” said he, with some reproach in his sharp voice, “so this is where I find you, actually plotting against me in company with my prisoner, Sir William Heans! This is too bad! Frankly, if we were not men old enough to know better, it would be a laughable thing! The very man whose private rights, against my judgment, I am endeavouring to secure.”

Shaxton, standing by the door, with the grey day on his puffy face, fiddled with the middle fastening of his cape, with a glum pondering, which, but for a deadliness in the eye, might have been mistaken for compunction. His sardonic lips trembled and twitched. He seemed to look almost with approval on Mr. Daunt, who, whatever else he saw, could not have missed the answer in that quieted visage to what he wished to know.

For some seconds he kept this look and mouth on Daunt. Before speaking, he let slip the little scimitar he wore, which he had been holding under his arm inside his cloak, to the floor, where its sheath “clicked” and tapped above the flow of the wind.

“Ah-ho-ho!” he muttered, still with his sheep's eyes on him, with that appearance of specious absence, “Sir William invited me in to drink something or other with him. On my honour, Daunt, we came in for that reason!”

He looked most unpleasant. And for some reason Daunt seems to have believed him. He came forward and rested his hand on the table beside his coat, his efficient, whiskered face slightly more suave and pallid.

“I know,” he said, still watching the other's eyes, “who it is I speak to. I know the two gentlemen before me. I am aware just how friendly you two gentlemen are together. Pshaw, I know the use of lenity to men and women! Let us forgive our trespassers, but first, O Lord, deliver us from their certain enmity in the future! Ah, sirs, which of the three here will first cast a stone at the others! Let us curb a dangerous indignation. Fate has made an unbecoming thing.”

Shaxton still fiddled with the fastening with his right hand, though with his left he threw back his cape over his left shoulder. “Ah, dear—dear,” muttered he, always with that wavering,


  ― 265 ―
unpleasing stare, “I don't know, Daunt, that you're not justified. But what is this, sir, you wanted here? Do you wish that I, Shaxton, should cut and run, and leave you two men alone?”

Daunt at first answered nothing, merely turning to the fireless fender, with a loud laugh. Suddenly he said, shaking his head as if he would throw off a slight unquiet, “No, no, you need not go. I know your ingenious and agreeable way! I believe you are speaking too seriously.” As he spoke he threw himself with some noise of clanking into the iron chair in which he had been sitting. The reader may remember this pleasing article of furniture.

The other gave a wheeze-like chuckle. “Why, I think I understand you,” he said, lightly. “You're so highly civil and sensible about it. We used to be very well acquainted, Daunt; and you know you've only to ask Captain Shaxton to go and you'll get rid of him. Politeness breeds politeness, as the old woman said when she shook hands with the hangman. (Ho-ho— you heard me tell that before!) At the same time, I came in for a chat with Heans, and when I find you here, at such an awful moment for us both, feeling the tensity myself, and how we know each other so well (all the little intimacies of private acquaintance), how you hit it off with Matilda, the freedom—the unguardedness of our intercourse—our joking way—why—ho-ho—I—I thank my stars for your sang-froid, and the easiness of manner with which you smooth it all over.”

“You spoil my confidence, Captain Shaxton, you do indeed,” said the other, leaning forward with his hand upon his sharp, dark face. “Like our friends the gossiping ladies, with their too-red lips, your method has been of late (nay, has it not always inclined to it!) ‘If only we can get him in the dirt, we will have something against him.’ Can you two men get me there? There's the rub. Gracious G—d, is it possible to keep clean against so much ill-will! To tell you the honest truth, I am less deeply interested than you think; I am inclined to bestow the prize upon you.” (It was a perhaps harmless foible of Daunt's that he never gave in; he invariably “bestowed the prize upon the other man.”)

He rose slowly from his easy position in the chair—his face drawn and like a sheet of paper—and reached his fingers over the table towards his coat, as if to take it up, but instead rested his hand upon it, and raised his eyes upon Shaxton and then slowly over to Heans. “Do not plague me,” he seemed to beg—and yet stared from those sharp eyes not quite saying it.

“I take you, Daunt,” said Shaxton, his loose lips depressed and twitching like a bag. “I came in for a chat with Heans— here. Why—I'll stand aside for you to go—don't doubt me, Daunt—if your business with Heans can wait.” He retreated back a sharp step or two as he was speaking, but, whether by accident or intention, brought up full upon the face of the door,


  ― 266 ―
where he stood slouching a little, and staring over with those strange, plausible eyes.

Sir William, when he had first shut the door, had remained, somewhat shocked, beside Shaxton with his blanched stare where his was, and the handle yet unreleased. His face, at his entrance, showed a mixture of relief, amazement, and unquiet (there was fear in his pinched vexation) utterly different from Shaxton's humble staring. The trend of the talk, however, immediately recovered him, and he moved a pace from Captain Shaxton towards the window, and between the two, where he stood leaning upon his cane, his hat cocked, yet somewhat pathetic in his ceremonious yet horrified expression.

The room seemed older than its human occupants, with its fallen fire, tall furniture deep with many depths, and the wind flowing behind the stone sills. The Roman soldier, with his drum, his side-whiskers, and his blank, blind eyes, emptied of care or mischief, hope or rue, seemed closer to its permanencies than the three gentlemen in their mysterious human difficulty of approach. He might have stood for what Borrow called the “hearth spirit.” A white cloth was on the table, which was set for Heans' evening meal with those curious appliances, the carved cutlery, the acrostic plates, the red-eyed decanter, the beautiful teacup, the toddy-glass with the picture of the Battle of Waterloo, the telescope castor, the hour-glass caddie, the elephant teapot—very pleasant and engaging. On the fire side of the table, as we have said, was Daunt's coat and hat, and beside his gloves, not quite visible to any one standing, lay a little silver article or fruit-knife, either shaped like a horse-shoe, or whose two small blades were open, giving that impression. So much Sir William saw.

“Do you wish to tell me, sir,” Heans said, striding a step in front, with that curious half-balked air, “that you have waited on me again in behalf of my rooms?”

“Indeed, sir,” said Daunt, breaking into a sort of sharp, kind grin (as ‘'You're a clever man, aren't you!”), “who would think, from your manner to me, that I had waited upon you to inform you your private chambers would not be used! The ladies have been kept waiting, and tempers spoiled, while I sit here hoping to calm your distemper! A curious and gentlemanlike reception.”

“You smile, Daunt,” said Heans, with a terrible stare. “Are you playful, Daunt?”

Daunt's smile died from his efficient face, if not quite from his eyes.

“I protest,” he said, “I am anything but joking in the company in which I find you. My obscure good will, the making a rather pet case of you, is not enough, you think? And yet you know me, sir. I have my bothersome antipathies like you. The mere wish to be right with myself brought me here, and sustains me yet. While you—reckless, presumptuous


  ― 267 ―
man!—and your worthy friend, with his ill-advised obstinacy, dare offer me this for my clemency!”

“No—no—it's the effect of generosity on you, bless you,” said pallid Shaxton, softly watching him. “Come, now, I can't have you pitching into Heans. He's been—as you must know—interfered with during his pleasure-ride, and he's not up to it. I can't have you severe with what he says any more than with what I am saying to you. But you never seemed severe with P. S. And only once with the missus. Your natural indignation doesn't always overcome you. Be witty, be clever, Daunt, be stern with P. S.”

Daunt drew up from the table slowly—doubtfully—with a displeased smile in his acute, wise eyes, as if some one (say a young fellow) had refused the safer thing. From the table, he removed his small, right hand, kimboing the tight red elbow. At the same time he placed his left on the mantel, turning his grizzled face across Shaxton to it. (Sir William, at that moment, noticed a singular thing: that the wind had ceased, and the tallowy sky was streaked with a wirrow of clouds, “like sheaves of hair upon the dead.”)

Commandant Daunt played a little tune with those fingers beneath his eyes, but must have been too old and pallid—too bitter and careful—to make comfortable attack for Heans' companion, or ease of mind for troubled Sir William. Shaxton advanced a step from the door, and he looked up. He said at once, with a quick bow, as if to keep him back:—“As God is my witness, Shaxton, Fate has put three gentlemen in a singular position. Let me ask one question. The whole story is known to us here in this room. Must we dissimulate? You and I know what happened. We both overheard the words that passed between Mrs. Shaxton and Sir William, your friend here. We both heard Sir William's proposal concerning the schooner. (Do me the justice to remember I have never given that evidence publicity. Perhaps few would believe me if I did!) I ask you, did the terms used by her—the language in which she expressed her feelings—excuse me in my belief in the hackneyman's evidence?”

“Perhaps,” cried Shaxton, in a shrouded voice, yet making a motion nearer to him. “But in the end you had your bit of public fun with her.”

“As G—d is my witness, I never mentioned her name!”

“I know, Daunt,” said Shaxton.

“I admit, sir, I had suspicious about the prisoner. And I informed you of them.… with the result you remember.”

“Yes” (with an effort), “you put me up to that. But you grew fatter, Daunt, and it began to filter through the wine-glass, didn't it? Yet she was a good soul.”

“Pshaw, Shaxton,” said the other, with a quiet outraged laugh, “if you're going to outwit a man, you really must be more civil


  ― 268 ―
with him! You are blinded by the fact Sir William Heans, here, has stood out for Mrs. Shaxton. Is it for you? to use your own joking way: is it for old P. S.? If he had not put forward his scent-pad, would you have continued your dislike? Have you entirely lost all feeling of heartache? Entirely? Come, come, you forgive so easily! I wish to G—d, I could forget or forgive it! I remember her gentle words as I stand here—those she used in the drawing-room at the Tier. They make me devilish angry. Yet you seem well enough together, Shaxton? The wound dealt you is healed by a few gentlemanlike assurances.… Frankly, though, is the prisoner's feeling for ‘P. S.’ one of entire respect? The prisoner is a man of the world—a mauvais sujet; who has not heard of his gay cynicism! By Heaven, Shaxton, even I would forgive him a quiet smile of amusement!”

Captain Shaxton had dropped his head for a dark instant; then his depressed lips began again to twitch and to smile. Heans stared from the window quite old and sinister, his patched fingers trembling upon his cane. I suppose it would have been in a spirit of self-sacrifice that he forced from his mouth: “Aid me, Heaven; you heard her pitching into me, then?”

Shaxton whinnied out a nasty little laugh: “Fie, she was angelic with you, man!”

“Ah, well, it is you who laugh at me now,” said Sir William, keeping his old face away.

“Which does it serve you to pretend?” said Shaxton, and he looked at the other—chuckling; and then stopped, and drew his face slowly back to Daunt.

“It would be more seemly if the man laughed at you all,” the Commandant cried, “as, from my knowledge, I believe he does.” (We believe Mr. Daunt believed that.)

Shaxton caught a heavy breath. His blue shako drooped (as we have said), but presently he raised it, drawing his ashen face, reduced, crestfallen, and twitching with humble joking back to Daunt. Thus staring, he slipped his cloak slowly off and threw it upon the Roman figure, where it caught and hung clumsily from the drum. Daunt lifted his strong, sharp face from his left hand.

“I believe you are playing with me, Daunt,” said Shaxton; “'pon my soul, I do! But you're not a good hand at it. I believe you were meant for an honest man. So was I. But hate plays the devil with our private honesty. That's the reason why I won't leave you. It's growing late, and the room's rather dark for us, but (unless it's imperative—I mean a matter of life, Daunt, and death) I won't leave you now. You know me for a jealous man. You knew that a year ago. Now again. Alas, it's true, but not quite in the sense you think! There's the jealous fellow who drops his jealousy a little when the object of


  ― 269 ―
it is not successful. There's the jealous man who chooses that moment specially to strike. There's the jealous prank. All these may be your idea of it. Then there's the fellow who will ‘persecute you to death,’ as Queen Mary's friend put it when she married the other one” (he advanced two slow paces towards the kangaroo-rug, both hands fiddling with the stomach buttons of his coat, his eyes humble—half-jocular yet about that pallid hanging mouth): “old P. S.'s brand,” he said; “you may have come across that too. Fie, think on the poor woman! Can't you blush! It is not too dark in this little room to see your eminent face. ….”

He came yet a half-step upon the rug.

Steel-hard was Mr. Daunt; vigilant, regretful, deadly, a little sharp, a little careful, a little old. You would hardly have known him for other than a gentleman, in very difficult company, keeping himself on the civil side, except that upon the bottom of his face there was a smile-like contraction of the muscles, such as people have, they say, who have expired of thirst. It seemed involuntary. Perhaps he was trying to smile kindly. But that was not the significance of it as seen in conjunction with the vigilant eyes. It may be mentioned for what it is worth that Captain Shaxton said afterwards how, while he noticed that one of the Commandant's little hands on the mantelpiece to be white as snow, he saw that that upon his hip was almost as red as his jacket.

“As God is my witness, Shaxton,” he said, harshly, “you are not well, or wise, or you would not speak so insanely. I made one little mistake about your lady, from the sadness—nay, the ugliness of my experience. I forgot her kind familiarity—her difference—from long absence: a matter at her door rather than mine.” (He glanced at both gentlemen very careful.) “I misconnected her with the man, here, who tried to draw her astray, and for whose character and doings I have always had—as you know—and still harbour, a profound suspicion. Even he, himself, cannot say of that I am unjust.” (He looked at Sir William Heans for a long time.) “Speak, sir, have I been unjust to you?”

Sir William, leaning with both hands on his stick, and blinking on the window, choked out: “Unjust! Damme, Daunt, I cannot say—I really cannot say!”

“No,” cried Daunt; “only unjust to the other prisoners of the Crown, in making an exception of you, Sir William Heans.”

“Come, Daunt,” said Shaxton, “you near ruined my wife.”

Sir William suddenly stepped forward and rapped Shaxton with his stick upon the arm. “You've had a bother with me, sir,” he said. “Be fair to me.” But Captain Shaxton never moved from the mat.

Daunt was answering him swiftly. “My motive, you know as well as I, was conventional—a mere company silliness. A secret


  ― 270 ―
and bad motive may be found for every action of the noblest of men. Never take me for a true gentleman if this is not all my part in it!”

“G—d aid me,” said Shaxton, still fiddling with his buttons with that unaltering stare, “G—d aid me, I'll make this man's face blush! Come, if I draw my dress sword on you, will you use your weapon?”

Daunt whipped his hand from the mantelpiece to his sword, but otherwise did not move. He looked very white, very malevolent, very full of knowledge. It is not a pleasant thing to see two such men in such a position. He answered Shaxton with the words: “You seem to me insane.”

Shaxton pulled forward his little black sword, and got out the blade. He ran at Daunt. But even then Daunt did not draw his sword, but darted up, catching Shaxton's sword-wrist in both his hands, and forcing it—protesting quietly against the unseemliness—with some struggling—back upon his head. In another instant, Shaxton gave a sharp, exasperated cry, and the Commandant, suddenly releasing him, sprang back behind the table, and drew his blade from its sheath. When their swords suddenly clashed, Sir William noted a trickle of blood welling from Shaxton's right eyebrow, which that gentleman, while he held Daunt's blade with his own, kept whipping away with his left hand. The gentlemen were swaying to and fro with their swords pressing heavily, Shaxton endeavouring to free for a pass, Daunt's blade pushing heavily over his. When Shaxton got his sword clear, the blood was welling freely over his right eye and nose, and Daunt seemed with little difficulty to keep a succession of rapid cuts off his shoulders. The latter, in a breathless voice for him, cried out that he had hurt his eye with his ring, and bade him have a care, as the blood was blinding him. Captain Shaxton laughed a low laugh, and tore Daunt's jacket with a deadly blow near the elbow. Now Sir William sprang forward and pushed his cane beneath the weapons, urging them, under his breath, “there should be no more of it, with the house full of women!” But Shaxton, with a whimpering oath, thrust him off, so that he staggered to the window, and ran upon Daunt, at whom he slashed and thrust across the fire, his opponent engaging him with rapid work (indeed, the two men strove with a fair equality of attack and parry, Shaxton keeping the blood from his eyes with his left hand), till following upon a long and horrid locking of the handles—the two men's faces being within a few inches one of the other—Daunt, who was above, gave a sudden release, and with a wonderful, swift up-cu ton the point, knocked the lighter weapon heavily back upon the other's face.

Shaxton went suddenly down in a sitting position. He seemed blinded and faint, or the blow with the sword-back, which already marked his face, had bewildered him. It must be remembered that Shaxton was fighting for his life—and Daunt too. He fell,


  ― 271 ―
leaning on his arms, towards Heans, and the curve of his sword pointed over the carpet towards him; who, ducking almost as he collapsed, jerked the weapon out of his hands, though Daunt had put his foot within two feet of it. We cannot say what Daunt would have done with it. Sir William, fatigued with his day and distressed with its doubts and forebodings, had evidently some notion of attacking the Commandant if he could not otherwise defend Captain Shaxton, who, however, breathlessly demanded the return of the sword. In any case, after waiting an instant holding the slippery steel in his glove, and seeing the Commandant step back and presently bring his sword down on the table, he advanced, holding the hilt towards him, which the other, though at first he shook an ashen face, presently seized in his white hand.

Only for an instant, however. Next moment it rattled to the floor at Heans' feet. Daunt cried out, “no, he would not take Captain Shaxton's weapon on any account.” “For my safety's sake,” said he, “take it to the window, prisoner, and pitch it out.”

Sir William, with a stare, took it up (Daunt holding to the mantelpiece, ashen and grave); drew the blade across his glove; and with a glance at Shaxton (who, even as he looked, demanded his weapon through clenched teeth) threw up the window and flung the weapon into the garden. There and then, as he heard it fall, he remembered all his private fears, and almost regretted, as he turned, that he had not answered an unfairer prompting and been a braver man.

Daunt put his sword away, and slowly lifted his coat and cap from the table. A spot of blood lay in the palm of his left hand. “There,” he said, and a heavy gravity was on his face, “I might have kept your sword as evidence of this singular attack. It has gone, you see, where you may get it presently. Notice our friend's eagerness for law and order! No” (as Captain Shaxton began to heave himself, complaining, upon his feet), “remain where you are while I go to the door. I am a man of trained nerves, but I am not certain that I have not had two men to deal with—in this unfamiliar room—and my eyes to the light. You, and the man you have chosen to befriend you, may, if you choose, complete your campaign against me in the congenial atmosphere of spirit—or does Oughtryn provide Clos Vougeot?—you may keep the tune up undisturbed by fear of watch or overhearing. If you move, gentlemen, if you move, I give you my word, I will take my sabre to one of you!”

Captain Shaxton, who had got up upon one knee, as if by a spell remained in that position. Thus kneeling, propped by one hand upon his empty scabbard, he pulled a pocket-handkerchief from his breast, and wiped the blood from eyes and face. Subsequently, when Daunt walked across the room, he looked up at him, and as he passed, said, in a sheepish complaining: “What is this you've done with my forehead?” Daunt answered


  ― 272 ―
with some concern, “You have me on the hip! I must have bruised you in a moment of excitement. Fortune, for once, was with the attacked.” And stopping beside Shaxton, he brought round his right arm, on which hung his coat, showing him his small fingers, on one of which was a ring, the one stone of which might have been a diamond.

“Ha, well,” groaned Shaxton, sitting back upon the carpet and feeling his heavy wounded face, “if she hasn't satisfied me, the bitch has not left me without a comfort.”

We do not know whether Daunt blenched at this reference to his discredit (assuming Shaxton to have referred to Fortune), or whether it was his wound that chilled him, but he went to the door without a word. Shaxton looked after him, murmuring, with very small sharp eyes. When Daunt had opened the door, and was half through, he turned on Sir William Heans, who, with thin, grim, unquiet face, was watching him from the window. “I am not comfortable about your part in this, sir,” he said, “after what I have done. I am never one, however, to carry my kindness too far—to the forgetting of mere duty.” So speaking, he rested his stare upon him with a long, grave look, before he turned aside.

We hesitate to conjecture what took place in the room after Daunt left it. It appears that Captain Shaxton could not be persuaded for a long while to rise from the floor, and that he felt his humiliation too keenly to be consoled immediately by reminder of what he had not lost. This is what Sir William tells us, but we gather the scene was even sadder and more tragic. Heans left him, with a second tumbler of gin beside him, and hurried out, round the back way to the garden, on a search for the weapon. The place was still and calm, the bushes black of bough and cut as from cardboard, the sea harsh upon the ear. A woman went down with a couple of band-boxes as Heans came up the path. He found the sword by its point, which lay wickedly over the cement, the glass-like blade very bright in the light. Without ado he took it across to his window and was about to throw it in, when a hand stopped his, and quickly released the hilt from his fingers. No word was spoken, and Heans did not return immediately, but, contrary to his custom, took the path once up and down, and picked a few of Miss Abelia's odd-looking flowers. When he did so, it was as he half expected: Captain Shaxton's cloak had gone from the Roman, and the meek bird was the only living occupant of the room.

We have yet to add that Sir William Heans, before tending his horses at 7.30, went carefully round his rooms, examining everything—even to the gauzes about the picture-frames—with minute scrutiny, if careful to disturb nothing with his fingers. We gather


  ― 273 ―
that he found no single object out of its place, or even disturbed, till he came a second time to the Roman soldier, when, a return of his inward agitation in connection with the presence of the mansworn Spafield leading him to feel behind the effigy, he was horrified to discover that Surridge's hat had gone.

Resting in the hollow back was a grey stone.

previous
next