Man Who Laughs (Estes and Lauriat 1869)/Chapter 45
SCOTLAND, IRELAND, AND ENGLAND.
LET us note a circumstance. Josiana had le tour. This is easily understood when we reflect that she was, although illegitimate, the queen's sister,—that is to say, a princely personage.
To have le tour,—what does it mean? Viscount St. John, otherwise Bolingbroke, wrote as follows to Thomas Lennard, Earl of Sussex: "Two things mark the great: in England, they have le tour; in France, le pour." When the king of France travelled, the courier of the court stopped at the halting-place in the evening, and assigned lodgings to his Majesty's suite. Among the gentlemen some had an immense privilege. "They have le pour," says the "Journal Historique" for the year 1694, page 6; "which means that the quarter-master who marks the billets puts pour before their names, as 'Pour M. le Prince de Soubise;' instead of which, when he marks the lodging of one who is not royal, he does not put, pour, but simply the name, as 'Le Duc de Gesvres,' 'Le Duc de Mazarin.'" This pour on a door indicated a prince or a favourite. A favourite is worse than a prince. The king granted le pour, like a blue ribbon or a peerage.
Avoir le tour in England was less glorious, but more tangible. It was a sign of intimacy with the reigning sovereign. Any persons who, either by reason of birth, or royal favour were likely to receive direct communications from majesty, had in the wall of their bedchamber a shaft, in which a bell was adjusted. The bell sounded, the shaft opened, a royal missive appeared on a gold plate or on a velvet cushion, and the shaft closed. This was at once secret and solemn, mysterious as well as familiar. The shaft was used for no other purpose; the sound of the bell announced a royal message. No one could see who brought it; it was of course merely a page of the king or queen. Leicester avait le tour under Elizabeth; Buckingham under James I. Josiana had it under Anne, though not much in favour. Never was a privilege more envied. This privilege entailed additional servility; the recipient was more of a servant. At court that which elevates, degrades. Avoir le tour was said in French,—this circumstance of English etiquette having, probably, been borrowed from some old French play.
Lady Josiana, a virgin peeress as Elizabeth had been a virgin queen, led (sometimes in the city, and sometimes in the country, according to the season) an almost princely life, and kept nearly a court, at which Lord David was courtier, with many others. Not being married, Lord David and Lady Josiana could show themselves together in public without exciting ridicule; and they did so frequently. They often went to plays and race-courses in the same carriage, and sat together in the same box. They were chilled by the impending marriage, which was not only permitted to them, but imposed upon them; but they felt an attraction for each other's society. The privacy permitted to the engaged has a frontier easily passed. From this they abstained: that which is easy is in bad taste.
The best pugilistic encounters then took place at Lambeth, a parish in which the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury has a palace (though the air there is unhealthy) and a rich library open at certain hours to decent people. One evening in winter there was in a meadow there, the gates of which were locked, a fight, which Josiana, escorted by Lord David, attended.
"Are women admitted?" she had asked.
"Sunt fæminæ magnates!" David had responded.
The free translation of this is, "Plebeian women are not." The literal translation is, "Great ladies are." A duchess goes everywhere. This is why Lady Josiana saw a boxing-match.
Lady Josiana made only this concession to propriety,—she dressed like a man, a very common custom at that period; women seldom travelled otherwise. Out of every six persons who travelled by the coach from Windsor one or two were women in male attire,—a certain sign of high birth. Lady Josiana betrayed her quality in one way,—she had an opera-glass, then used by gentlemen only.
Lord David, being in company with a woman, could not take any part in the match himself, and merely assisted as one of the audience. This encounter in the noble science of boxing was presided over by Lord Germaine, great-grandfather, or grand-uncle, of that Lord Germaine who towards the end of the eighteenth century was colonel, ran away in a battle from the regiment which he commanded, but who was afterwards made minister of war, and only escaped from the shells of the enemy to fall by a worse fate,—shot through and through by Sheridan's sarcasms. Many gentlemen were betting,—Harry Bellew of Carleton, who had claims to the extinct peerage of Bella-aqua, with Henry, Lord Hyde, member of Parliament for the borough of Dunhivid, which is also called Launceston; the Honourable Peregrine Bertie, member for the borough of Truro, with Sir Thomas Colpepper, member for Maidstone; the Laird of Lamyrbau, which is on the borders of Lothian, with Samuel Trefusis, of the borough of Penryn; Sir Bartholomew Gracedieu, of the borough of Saint Ives, with the Honourable Charles Bodville, who was called Lord Robartes, and who was Custos Rotulorum of the county of Cornwall; besides many others.
Of the two combatants, one was an Irishman, named after his native mountain in Tipperary, Phelem-ghe-Madone; and the other a Scot, named Helmsgail. They represented the national honour of each country. Ireland and Scotland were about to encounter each other; Erin was going to fisticuff Gajothel. So that the bets amounted to over forty thousand guineas, besides the stakes. The two champions were naked, excepting short breeches buckled over the hips, and spiked boots laced as high as the ankles.
Helmsgail, the Scot, was a youth scarcely nineteen, but he had already had his forehead sewn up, for which reason they laid two and one third to one on him. The month before he had broken the ribs and gouged out the eyes of a pugilist, named Sixmileswater; this explained the enthusiasm he created,—he had won his backers twelve thousand pounds. Besides having his forehead sewn up, Helmsgail's jaw had been broken. He was neatly made and active. He was about the height of a small woman, erect, thick set, and of a stature low and threatening. None of the advantages given him by nature had been lost; not a muscle which was not trained to its object, pugilism. His firm chest was compact, and brown and shining like brass. He smiled, and the loss of three teeth added to the effect of his smile.
Phelem-ghe-Madone, the Irishman, was tall and overgrown,—that is to say, weak. He was a man about forty years of age, six feet high, with the chest of a hippopotamus, and a mild expression of face. A blow from his fist would shatter the deck of a vessel; but he did not know how to use his strength. He was all surface, and seemed to have entered the ring to receive, rather than to give, blows. Only it was felt that he could bear a deal of punishment,—like underdone beef, tough to chew, and impossible to swallow. He was what was termed, in local slang, "raw meat." He squinted. He seemed resigned.
The two men had passed the preceding night in the same bed, and had slept together. They had each drunk port wine from the same glass, to the three-inch mark. Each had his party of seconds,—men of savage expression, threatening the umpires when it suited their side. Among Helmsgail's supporters was to be seen John Gromane, celebrated for having carried an ox on his back; and also one called John Bray, who had once carried on his back ten bushels of flour, at fifteen pecks to the bushel, besides the miller himself, and had walked over two hundred yards under the weight. On the side of Phelem-ghe-Madone, Lord Hyde had brought from Launceston a certain Kilter, who lived at Green Castle, and could throw a stone weighing twenty pounds to a greater height than the highest tower of the castle. These three men, Kilter, Bray, and Gromane, were Cornishmen by birth, and did honour to their county. The other seconds were brutal fellows, with broad backs, bowed legs, knotted fists, dull faces; ragged, fearing nothing, nearly all jail-birds. Many of them understood admirably how to get the police drunk; each profession requires its special talents.
The field chosen was farther off than the bear-garden, where they formerly baited bears, bulls, and dogs; it was beyond the line of the farthest houses, by the side of the ruins of the Priory of Saint Mary Overy, dismantled by Henry VIII. The wind was northerly, and biting; a slight rain fell, which was instantly frozen into ice. Some gentlemen present were evidently fathers of families, recognized as such by their putting up their umbrellas.
On the side of Phelem-ghe-Madone was Colonel Moncreif as umpire; and Kilter, as second, to support him on his knee. On the side of Helmsgail, the Honourable Pughe Beaumaris was umpire; with Lord Desertum, from Kilcarry, as bottle-holder, to support him on his knee.
The two combatants stood for a few seconds motionless in the ring, while the watches were being compared; they then approached each other and shook hands.
"I should prefer going home," remarked Phelem-ghe-Madone to Helmsgail.
"The gentlemen must not be disappointed, on any account," Helmsgail answered handsomely.
Naked as they were, they felt the cold. Phelem-ghe-Madone shook. His teeth chattered.
Doctor Eleanor Sharpe, nephew of the Archbishop of York, cried out to them: "Set to, boys! it will warm you."
These friendly words thawed them. They set to. But neither of the two men had his blood up; there were three ineffectual rounds.
The Rev. Doctor Gumdraith, one of the forty Fellows of All Souls' College, cried, "Spirit them up with gin!"
But the two umpires and the two seconds adhered to the rules, although it was exceedingly cold.
First blood was claimed. The combatants were again set face to face. They looked at each other, approached, stretched their arms, touched each other's fists, and then drew back. All at once Helmsgail, the little man, sprang forward: the real fight had begun. Phelem-ghe-Madone was struck in the face, between the eyes. His whole face streamed with blood.
The crowd cried, "Helmsgail has tapped his claret!"
There was wild applause. Phelem-ghe-Madone, turning his arms like the sails of a windmill, struck out at random. The Honourable Peregrine Bertie said, "Blinded!" but the man was not blind yet.
Then Helmsgail heard on all sides these encouraging words: "Bung up his peepers!"
On the whole, the two champions were really well matched; and notwithstanding the unfavourable weather, it was evident that the fight would be a success. The burly giant, Phelem-ghe-Madone, had to bear the inconvenience of his advantages; he moved heavily. His arms were massive as clubs; but his chest was a mass. His little opponent ran, struck, sprang, gnashed his teeth; redoubling vigour by quickness, from knowledge of the science. On the one side was the primitive blow of the fist,—savage, uncultivated, in a state of ignorance; on the other side was the civilized blow of the fist. Helmsgail fought as much with his nerves as with his muscles, and with far more skill than strength; Phelem-ghe-Madone was a kind of sluggish mauler,—somewhat mauled himself, to begin with. It was art against nature; it was cultivated ferocity against barbarism. It was clear that the barbarian would be beaten, but not very quickly; hence the interest. Put a little man against a big one, and the chances are in favour of the little one. The cat generally has the best of it with a dog. Goliaths are always vanquished by Davids.
A chorus of encouraging exclamations cheered on the combatants:—
"Good! well done, Highlander!"
And the friends of Helmsgail repeated their benevolent exhortation: "Bung up his peepers!"
Helmsgail did better. Rapidly bending down and back again, with the undulating movement of a serpent, he struck Phelem-ghe-Madone in the sternum. The Colossus staggered.
"Foul blow!" cried Viscount Barnard.
Phelem-ghe-Madone sank down on the knee of his second, saying: "I am beginning to get warm."
Lord Desertum consulted the umpires, and said: "Five minutes before time is called."
Phelem-ghe-Madone was becoming weaker. Kilter wiped the blood from his face and the sweat from his body with a flannel, and placed the neck of a bottle to his mouth. They had come to the eleventh round. Phelem, besides the scar on his forehead, had his breast disfigured by blows, his belly swollen, and the fore part of the head scarified. Helmsgail was untouched.
A kind of tumult arose among the gentlemen.
"Foul blow!" repeated Viscount Barnard.
"Bets void!" said the Laird of Lamyrbau.
"I claim my stake!" replied Sir Thomas Colpepper.
"Give me back my five hundred guineas, and I will go. Stop the fight!" added the honourable member for the borough of St. Ives, Sir Bartholomew Gracedieu.
Phelem arose, staggering like a drunken man, and said: "Let us go on fighting, on one condition,—that I also shall have the right to give one foul blow."
They cried, "Agreed!" from all parts of the ring. Helmsgail shrugged his shoulders. Five minutes elapsed, and they set to again.
The fighting, which was agony to Phelem, was play to Helmsgail; such are the triumphs of science. The little man found means of putting the big one into chancery; that is to say, Helmsgail suddenly took under his left arm, which was bent like a steel crescent, the huge head of Phelem-ghe-Madone, and held it there under his armpit, the neck bent and twisted, while the Scot used his right fist again and again, like a hammer on a nail, only from below and striking upwards, thus smashing his opponent's face at his ease. When Phelem, released at last, lifted his head, he no longer possessed a face. That which had been a nose, eyes, and a mouth now looked like a black sponge soaked in blood. He spat, and four of his teeth fell to the ground. Then he also fell. Kilter raised him on his knee.
Helmsgail was hardly touched: he had some insignificant bruises, and a scratch on his collar bone.
No one was cold now. They bet sixteen and a quarter to one on Helmsgail. Harry Carleton cried out,—
"It is all over with Phelem-ghe-Madone. I'll bet my peerage of Bella-aqua and my title of Lord Bellew against the Archbishop of Canterbury's old wig, on Helmsgail."
"Give me your muzzle," said Kilter to Phelem-ghe-Madone. And stuffing the bloody flannel into the bottle, he washed him all over with gin. The mouth reappeared, and he opened one eyelid. His temples seemed fractured.
"One round more, my friend," said Kilter; and he added, "for the honour of the low town."
The Welshman and the Irishman understand each other, though Phelem gave no sign of having any power of understanding left. He arose, supported by Kilter. It was the twenty-fifth round. From the way in which this Cyclops (for he had but one eye) placed himself in position, it was evident that this was the last round, for no one doubted his defeat. He placed his guard below his chin, with the awkwardness of a failing man.
Helmsgail, with a skin hardly sweating, cried out: "I'll back myself, a thousand to one." Then raising his arm. struck out.
Strange to say, both men went down. A ghastly chuckle was heard. It was Phelem-ghe-Madone's expression of delight. While receiving the terrible blow given him by Helmsgail on the skull, he had given him a foul blow on the navel. Helmsgail, lying on his back, rattled in his throat.
The spectators looked at him as he lay on the ground, and said, "Paid back!" All clapped their hands, even those who had lost. Phelem-ghe-Madone had given foul blow for foul blow, and done what he had a right to do. They carried Helmsgail off on a hand-barrow. The opinion was that he would not recover.
Lord Robartes exclaimed, "I win twelve hundred guineas."
Phelem-ghe-Madone was evidently maimed for life.
As she left, Josiana took the arm of Lord David,—an act which was tolerated among people "engaged,"—saying to him,—
"It was very fine; but—"
"I thought it would have driven away my ennui; but it hasn't."
Lord David stopped, looked at Josiana, shut his mouth, and inflated his cheeks, while he nodded his head, as if to signify, "Indeed?" Then he said,—
"There is but one effectual cure for ennui."
"What is that?" asked Josiana.
"Gwynplaine," replied Lord David.
"And who is Gwynplaine?" asked the duchess.