From the Chops of the Lion

From the Chops of the Lion  (1901) 
by William MacLeod Raine

Extracted from Everybody's magazine, July 1901, pp. 97-104. Accompanying illustrations by Penrhyn Stanlaws omitted.


FROM THE CHOPS OF THE LION

By William MacLeod Raine.


REWARD.

Two Hundred Pounds

Is offered for the Capture

Of one Lieut. Dale Carteret, rebel prisoner recently escaped from Mill Prison. Said Cateret stands six feet in his stockings, weighs thirteen stone or thereabouts, has open, ingenuous countenance, brown hair, blue eyes, and carries himself well. Escaped in guise of a British Officer of the Line.

The said rebel Carteret was second in command of the Yankee sloop “Scorpion,” which long preyed on our commerce, but was eventually taken by the frigate “”Blake.” A storm having arisen, Carteret incited the rebels to rise against the prize crew and recover the sloop, which was again run down by a British man-of-war in the English Channel a year later. Brought to Mill Prison, this notorious rebel Carteret has twice succeeded in breaking gaol. Wounded three soldiers before being retaken after last escape. All loyal men are earnestly warned against assisting this bold and bloodthirsty rebel to leave the Kingdom.

FOR the better part of a week I had been playing hide and seek with His Majesty's catchpolls. 'Twas a game I had played and lost with them once before, for the odds of the hazard were all against me. Everywhere I went that cursed sign confronted me. On the wall of every village tavern it was plastered along with a villainous likeness of me, and I lived continually in the fear that some country yokel of a chawbacon would clap his dirty hand on my shoulder in the king's name.

Faith, I could not complain by reason of the sameness of my life, for of late it had been spiced with adventure enough to suit Captain John Smith himself. I was not yet twenty-three, yet I had taken part in the capture of sixteen British merchantmen and four sloops before the “Scorpion” came to grief; had since broken prison twice, and endured a hundred frights that took my courage by the throat. Within a se'nnight I had lain buried in a hayrick, while the redcoats drove bayonets into the hay to see if I were there, since which time my leg had protested much, as I limped painfully through the night, at being used for a pin-cushion; I had fled into the darkness from the back door of a tavern as the constables entered at the front; I had palmed myself off for an officer in pursuit of myself to a suspicious country squire. More than once I had come front to front with dawning recognition, and while the man suspecting me had sheered off to get help, I had incontinently legged it across the hills. Double which way I would, the Bow Street runners hung on my heels. I vow their grip had missed me but a hair's-breadth a dozen times in the past week.

I had fought with hunger and cold and weariness, till the sap of life ran low within me, till every aching muscle and throbbing nerve cried out at the intolerable pain; and only a vision of the black hole in Mill Prison kept my legs moving. No faintest guess of how I was to compass my exit from the island served to lighten the way. Indeed, I thought myself to be but postponing the inevitable moment of my capture. To be sure, I had one good friend in London, but where she lived, or what she could do for me in case I found her, were questions quite beyond an answer. The misery of the present sufficed to drive away fears for the future.

The cold rain drizzled down and chilled me as I dragged myself across the Hampstead Heath. My affairs were so black that I had almost given up the expectation of anything but lowering night for me, and while despair was knocking at my heart, the wind of my fortunes veered quickly point by point. To speak by the card, a coach sheared past, lurching unsteadily through the mud and in the deep ruts. Fifty yards beyond me it came to an abrupt halt. I heard a sharp command to “Stand and deliver!” and the sound of the frightened postboy quieting the startled horses.

The scudding clouds drifted from in front of the moon to show me three masked horsemen surrounding the coach.

“'Sdeath and wounds! Tumble out, my bullies, or we'll pepper you full of holes as a sieve!” one of them was bawling.

A head, adorned with a queue wig, was thrust from the window of the coach. “'Od's blood!” began the owner of the head. “What the devil do you mean by—?” The question tailed off into a gasp, and the head was withdrawn abruptly in deference to a pistol flourished under the nose of the macaroni.

“Come, out with ye,” cried the fellow again. “No skulking here.”

The door of the coach was flung open quicker than he could have expect, and a young blood in silver-buckled slippers and white satin breeches stepped out. But before his foot had reach the ground, one of his pistols had barked at the leader of the fly-by-nights, and struck the weapon in his hand. The fellow dropped his pistol with an oath, and clapped his hand to his tingling fingers.

“Stap my vitals, I'm hit,” he roared.

“Your most obedient,” returned the buck coolly, and let fly at another of the horsemen.

The fellows closed on him, and before he had time to draw his sword one of them knocked him senseless with a loaded billy. Two other bloods trod on each other's heels in their hurry to get out of the coach at the orders of the highwaymen. All this took but a moment, and another to line the macaronis in a row with the postilion, their six hands trembling in the air.

“God's life, don't keep me here in this cursed rain,” a peevish voice protested. “Take what you want, and be damned to you. Sink me, I'll have rheumatism for a month if I stand here any longer in this devil's swamp.”

“May I ask whom we have at our levée this evening, gentlemen? Last night 'twas a jolly grazier with a fat purse, and the night before a gouty bishop with a lean one,” quizzed one of the robbers merrily.

“Lord Brooke, Sir John Ludwyck, and Levering Blanke,” quavered the latter gentleman, plainly in a great funk.

“Distinguished guests! Honored, I'm sure,” mocked the masked spokesman. “Let me introduce in turn the Marquis of Fly-by-Night, the Earl of Cut-Purse, and my humble self, Lord Footpad. All of us your most humble and devoted. Lard, yes!”

And the fellow strutted with an air. Faith, his manner was the macaroni to the life. It sticks in my mind to this day that the fellow had been a gentleman once. More than one frequenter of the coffee-houses won the gold he staked at play by night-riding.

“Damme, I'm not here to chop phrases with you. This is not a ball. I've got three ponies, a gold watch, a jewelled snuff-box, and three diamond rings. Rook me, and be done with it, curse you,” flung out the old lord pettishly.

He was trembling with the cold, but he did not give a pinch of snuff for all the night-riders in England. There was good stuff in the old fossil yet.

But the rogues were heated with wine, and they did not bag such game every night. Perchance that was why something in the words of Lord Brooke gave them pause.

“All in good time, my Lord,” laughed the merry villain who was their spokesman. “'Swounds, since you have suggested it, why not trip a measure on the green for the warming of the blood?”

My lord cursed and grumbled to no avail, Willy nilly, he should join the dance, just to show he bore no ill-feeling. And dance he did, in company with the Hon. Levering Blanke, white-faced and pallid, the chattering postilion, and the scamps who were destined for Tyburn. Egad, had I been in a more forlorn plight than I was, I must needs have laughed at the droll spectacle of that improvised minuet in the shifting moonlight on the dripping heath. The elegant macaronis in blue and silver with point ruffles, their powdered queues turning to a sticky paste beneath the fine drizzle; the masked and booted cut-purses gravely giving back bow and counterbow to the dandies of Rotten Row; the white, motionless figure of Sir John Ludwyck receiving no more attention than if it were a sack of potatoes: surely a most strange scene of merrymaking. 'Twas a sight to set the gods a-laughing to see the old Lord go down the middle with the Marquis of Fly-by-Night on his arm, and a sickly smile and stifled curse on his lips. Many a time since I have laughed till my sides ached to think of it.

And this was precisely what the rakehelly captain was doing at that moment. He shook so with merriment that 'twas a marvel the weapon in his hand did not punctuate some of the performers, and bring their activities to a period. I had slipped up in the shadows unobserved, and at this moment I interposed by clapping my pistol to his head. 'Twas ludicrous to see the change that came over him. He was struck by a bolt out of a clear sky. Never a craft had the wind more completely taken out of its sails. His jaw dropped lankly, and he looked the picture of dismay. I vow he was the dismallest merrymaker in all England. It was his turn to dance now while I set the tune. One of his companions made a motion toward his weapon, but at my sharp command the three pistols dropped to the heath.

If Lord Brooke were surprised to see help come running out of the night, he gave no sign of it. No doubt he prided himself upon his aplomb like the rest of his breed. “Egad, the plot thickens!” he chuckled, and coolly ambled off to warm his wet feet at the hot-water jug in the coach, leaving me to settle matters with the highwaymen.

“Wha—wha—what are you going to do with them?” chanted the Hon. Levering Blanke, not yet out of his ague.

“Wha—wha—what would you suggest?” I mocked.

A gay laugh rippled out. I looked out of the corner of my eye, to see Ludwyck feebly sitting up on the turf, nursing a broken head in his hands.

“Ketch at the end of a rope at Tyburn, and Jack Ludwyck there to see the fun,” proposed the baronet as his solution. “Zooks! Naught less will pay me for this cursed headache.”

I liked him on the spot. He was so gay and frank and boyish, that he was a man after my own heart. But manifestly he had not cut the Gordian knot of the difficulty, for Dale Carteret was not exactly in a position to drive a batch of fly-by-nights to the hangman. Indubitably there would be ugly questions asked which would find their final answer in Mill Prison. What we did in the end was to turn our captives weaponless adrift upon the world.

Nor did I fail to accept the young baronet's invitation to fill the fourth place in the coach. I gave the name of Captain Macquoid, invalided home from the colonies by reason of a wound at Brandywine. They did not ask me what I was doing wandering alone about the country on such a dismal night, nor did I volunteer information. They divined the truth, and I knew that they suspected it.

How long did I think it would be before Lord Cornwallis brought these rebels to sue for pardon? my Lord Brooke asked with urbane innocence. I thought it would be some time. Indeed! He had supposed the rebellion about to collapse. And was it true that the Americans believed themselves to be in the right? sneered the Hon. Levering Blanke. I answered dryly that they were so obstinate as to be beyond correction on that point. Whereat this tailor-made model took occasion to heap abuse on the patriot cause, and I, Dale Carteret, Lieutenant in the American Navy, sat listening to him with burning ears and fingers itching to be at his white throat, a shining temptation in the moonlight. Happily Sir John appreciated the tempest raging in me, and turned the conversation to the ball at Manfred House they were to attend that evening.

“Heigh-ho!” he yawned. “I wonder whether our American Queen will be at the rout to-night. If not, Jack Ludwyck goes straight home.” Then to me: “You must know, Captain Macquoid, that all London has been captured by a bewitching little rebel from the colonies. Egad, she tucks away our scalps in that trim belt of hers as composedly as any of her native redskin chiefs. There are a dozen titles dangling round her. Faith, she may have Jack Ludwyck any time she beckons with that imperious little nod of hers. Blanke here wants her, but zounds! he has no chance—too fat, too old, and too conceited,” the candid youth concluded affably.

I heard Blanke cursing under his breath while the young fellow rattled on, telling how prodigiously he was in love with her, how she was deservedly the reigning toast, and had put out of joint several patrician noses about town; and if there were any more like her in the colonies, perdition seize him but he would emigrate and turn rebel.

“Like who?” I asked, laughing. “You forget you have not yet put a name to the enchantress.”

But when they spoke the name I half expected them to speak, when I found that the reigning beauty was no other than my little friend Phyllis Westmacott, a strange fire of fear and hope burnt through me, of mingled triumph and despair. She had left the colonies the frankest and most loyal of friends, and I wondered whether the false, tainted atmosphere of St. James had power to corrode such true stanch metal. I had not seen her for years, not since her Tory father had brought her to England, but I was willing to wager my head that her heart was still with the ragged Continentals rather than the powdered, gold-laced red coats. Though I paid for it with another forty days in the “black hole,” I resolved to see her again, and to that intent invited myself to the ball at Manfred House. Pat with my thought came an ironical suggestion from the Hon. Levering Blanke that I attend the drum; he would be glad to introduce me again to the society of some of the officers who had served with me in America.

I took him at his word without turning a hair, and smiled insolently at him while he frowned in perplexity from his narrow slits of eyes. He was trying to decide, from what he had heard Mistress Phyllis say of me, whether I was a rival. An understanding smile passed between the old lord and Ludwyck, and I afterward learnt that my little patriot friend had publicly bet a pair of gloves with the young baronet that I would succeed in making my escape at the next attempt. Under cover of the darkness the generous lad gripped my hand to assure me I had a friend the more. He wanted me to know that though he was a suitor for her hand himself, he proposed to see fair play, and my heart went out impulsively to this sprig of nobility in a rush of feeling.

Once well within the city our party separated, Brooke and Blanke calling public cabs, while Ludwyck carried me to his rooms to dress for the ball. He was of a size with me, and I found no difficulty in fitting myself with clothes of his. They were something overgay for me, but my spirits were rising with the danger, and I was minded for once to forget that I was a plain American naval officer, and play to the life the part of a mincing London dandy. When the announcer at Manfred House bawled out “Captain Macquoid,” though my heart beat fast with anticipation, I linked my arm with Ludwyck's, and lounged forward with the macaroni's ennui written on every feature of my face.

Sir John convoyed me to an unoccupied side room, and left me there while he went in search of Phyllis. The rooms were well filled by this time, and 'twas a long half-hour before Ludwyck could get a word alone with her for the crowd of beaux who swarmed about. I was in the window-seat hidden behind some potted palms and ferns when at last they appeared.

“A surprise—a delightful surprise! And from the colonies? Wasn't that what you said? Tell me, is it alive?” that dear voice with the lift and sparkle in it I knew so well was asking eagerly.

“I' faith, very much alive,” chuckled Sir John. “It made three lusty highwaymen sing small to-night.”

“And I am to see it now?”

“Y'are to see it, an' it will come forth from behind the palms, where it is hiding its light. Ah! Captain Macquoid, I present you to that arrant little rebel. Mistress Phyllis Westmacott, and leave you to convert her into a loyalist.”

And with that he bowed himself out like the considerate gentleman he was.

She stood fixed a moment, her startled eyes dilating on me. Then “Dale!” she cried, and came forward in a rush with outstretched hands, a glad welcome shining in her sweet face. “Oh, I knew you would break out, Dale; I told them so when they took you last time. But how thin you are looking, how white and ill and old! Did they try to break your heart in prison, Dale? And did you think I had forgotten? I moved heaven and earth without avail to get you exchanged.”

I laughed tremulously, the hot tears scorching to my eyes. Through the mist that blinded me I saw her breast rise and fall with happy sobs. Something in me cried out that 'twas now or never, and next moment London's reigning toast was staining with her tears the Macklin lace of Ludwyck's velvet coat. We had much to say to each other—of colonial friends and affairs, of my adventures and imprisonment, of her great social success, and, above all, of our future plans—but somehow most of it remained unsaid. For long we had been to each other only a memory, and now the happy living present sufficed to blot the unkind past and future from our minds. We were children again in the morning of life, and revelled care-free in our little hour of sunshine.

And a little hour of sunshine it was! I heard a step behind me, and wheeled to see Blanke at the head of three bailiffs in plain dress. You may be sure this brought me up short with a round hitch and a half turn. The fellow had me so safe that I already felt the irons on my limbs.

He fell back and nodded to the officers.

“This is the man.”

“What man?” I made bold to ask, simulating haughty indifference. “If you are from a sponge-house, you have a cursed impudence to come seeking me at a public ball,” I blustered.

“They are not from a sponge-house, as you know very well, Lieutenant Carteret,” replied Blanke smoothly.

“Captain Macquoid,” I corrected stiffly.

“Oh, as you will. Lard, what's in a name! One might venture a guess that Captain Macquoid is Lieutenant Carteret in the colonies,” he answered airily. “A rose by any other name, egad!”

“One might—and still be wrong, 'Twere a better guess to hazard that the Hon. Levering Blanke is sometimes the Dishonorable Tell-tale Sneak.” And I gave him back his smile.

Suddenly the smile froze on Blanke's face. It became a ghastly grin devoid of triumph, full of perturbed concern. He had not known that Phyllis was with me, and had planned to make the catch without her knowing of my presence. Now she had stepped from behind the ferns, and looked at him with such contempt and loathing that the fellow shrivelled up before our eyes. For one instant only! Then she became My Lady Disdain.

“Prithee! What is the meaning of this fairy-tale you are telling about Captain Macquoid? Is it a new diversion for my amusement? And have these good men a part in it? Alack, your efforts to amuse grow wearisome, sir,” she told him with lazy scorn.

The Hon. Levering Blanke looked like a whipped cur, his face gone pale in blotches beside the patches of paint. He was a man of no force of character, but on my soul, I think he loved her with all the sordid little heart was left him after forty years of selfishness. She had been but indifferent before; he needed no prophet to tell him that now he had made himself detested. He was ready for a right-about-face, but the matter had passed out of his hands. The beaks set on me and pinned my hands to my sides. Nor did I offer any resistance, for I had elected to play the game out by effrontery, as I had begun it.

“Be not so rough, my good fellows,” I drawled. “Faith, you manhandle one most vilely. I would have you know I am an officer in His Majesty's service. A pox on you, what mad notion is in your heads?”

“You may be what you say you are, sir,” the fellow answered civilly enough. “But you fit the description of the rebel Carteret, and our runners have brought word that he was nearing London. This gentleman, too, tells a story that must be investigated.”

“Perdition take him and his stories!” I cried, and my anger would have made the fortune of a play-actor. “Can a gentleman not attend a public ball without having the beaks blundering in on him with some wooden-headed fool to lead the way? Are you all drunk or mad?”

“What a to-do is here about nothing!” cried My Lady impatiently. “Sure, there are many here to identify you, Captain Macquoid. With whom did you come to the rout?”

I took my cue on the instant.

“With Sir John Ludwyck, Mistress Phyllis. Lard, let us send for him and be done with this foolery!”

My Lady stepped to the door and bade a powdered footman find Sir John for her. We waited his arrival in silence, broken only by the fierce tapping of a dainty foot upon the floor. Mistress Phyllis covered her anxiety under a mask of frowning impatience, but the color came and went in her face, and the pulse beat clear in her white neck. Her troubled eyes met mine once, and she faintly answered my smile, but I knew the gloom of dread was heavy on her heart.

Came young Ludwyck into the room presently, who read the situation at a glance and gayly ignored it. He blithely vowed he had been on the hunt for Mistress Westmacott an hour along with a dozen other gentlemen. And was Captain Macquoid's life insured, that he dared take such risks of sudden death at the hands of the disappointed bucks?

The catchpolls were plainly disconcerted at his immediate identification of me, but yet not quite convinced. As luck would have it, old Lord Brooke bore down upon us in the nick of time, agog with compliments to Phyllis, and with a little nod of recognition to me.

“Do you know this gentleman, Lord Brooke?” asked one of the bailiffs quickly.

“Know him? Gog's life! Of course I know him. Captain Macquoid, your most obedient. Met him——

“It doesn't really matter where you met him,” interposed Miss Phyllis tartly. “Alackaday! Is here not evidence enough? First I recognize him as Captain Macquoid, then Sir John, and lastly Lord Brooke. Shall we send for His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales?”

“But Mr. Blanke says—” began the bailiff dubiously.

“What does Mr. Blanke say?” stormed the little lady. “I have known this gentleman all my life. We were brought up side by side on neighboring estates. Forsooth! I ought to know him. But what does Mr. Blanke say? I hear him say nothing. He seems to me to stand there like a wart, a necessary evil, but scarcely an ornamental one. Speak out, Sir Silent, unless that you be dumb,” she taunted, as the fine ladies of the period were wont to do.

Old Brooke grinned at him out of toothless gums, and Ludwyck laughed outright in his face, for Blanke looked his name to the life.

“Ah—er! I thought that— Er!—that——

“How lucid!” commented the lady scornfully, and at Blanke's dismal face we all laughed again.

The chief bailiff took note of our unconcern and his embarrassment, decided he had come on a fool's errand, and, after an apology or two, took himself and his men out of the room. Blanke made to follow, but at a whispered word from Ludwyck the old lord linked arms with the informer, and carried him off to the assembly room.

“Egad! I'll just take you with me, Blanke, or you'll be making a fool of yourself again,” Brooke told him with frank insolence, and the two men passed out of the room and out of my life.

Ludwyck followed them to order his coach brought round to the back gate, where I might slip in unobserved. I was alone again with Phyllis, and what happened then is not a part of this tale. Five minutes later Ludwyck's boyish face showed in the doorway.

“God keep you, dearest,” I cried brokenly.

“And you, Dale. Oh, much more you than I, and bring us together when this cruel war shall close,” she sobbed.

I tore myself away, and followed the young Englishman through dark winding passages out into the night. For a week he kept me hidden, then passed me over to Dunkirk by means of a smuggler with whose owner he was acquainted. From Dunkirk I sailed shortly for Boston, and within six months was once more astride the quarterdeck of a sloop which floated the stars and stripes.

To me it seems that the story should end here, but there is one looking over my shoulder and reading these lines who says I have left out the most important part.

“You haven't said a word about little Ludwyck, you goose,” she pouts. “'Oo doose,” repeats that young man disrespectfully, and clambers to the lap of his father, Commodore Carteret.

And on my soul, I think My Lady is right, for Master Ludwyck is in a fair way to become admiral of the Carteret squadron if his friends and relatives continue to spoil him as they have begun.

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1928.


The longest-living author of this work died in 1954, so this work is in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 68 years or less. This work may be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.

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