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The Highwayman (Bailey)/Chapter II


Mr. Waverton had an idea in his head. That was not the least unusual. It was, unhappily, a wrong one. That was not unusual either. We must have a trifle of Latin. Mr. Waverton, studying Horace, desired to translate, Civium ardor prava jubentium "the wicked ardour of the overbearing citizens." In vain Harry urged that he was outraging grammar. Mr. Waverton did not believe him, did not want to believe him—the same thing. Mr. Waverton was convinced that he had an insight into the soul of Horace which Harry's pedantic eyes could not share. He explained, as one explains to a dull child, the rare poetic beauty of the sentiment which he had produced. The hero whom Horace was celebrating, you know, was the man superior to the common herd. Now common men (as even Harry might be aware) are all overbearing. It is this quality in the vulgar which most distresses fine souls (like Mr. Waverton) who desire nothing but their just rights.

"I dare say it is," Harry yawned. "If Horace had wanted to mean that, he would have said so."

"I often think, Harry, you dry scholars have no sense for the thought of a poet," said Mr. Waverton elegantly, and lay back in his chair and surveyed Harry.

He was a handsome lad and knew how to set it off. He had height and bulk—almost too much of that indeed, and so made light of it by a careless, lounging ease. At this time he was only twenty-two, but of a precocious maturity. He had the self-possession—as well as the full-bottomed wig—of experience and worldly wisdom, and would have liked to hear you say so. In its dark aquiline style his face was finely moulded and imposing, and already it had a massive gravity. "A mighty grand fellow indeed," said Lady Dorchester once, "if only his mouth had grown since he was a baby." It has to be admitted that Mr. Waverton's mouth, a small, pretty feature, was oddly assorted with the haughty manner in which the rest of him was constructed. The ladies who lamented that were, for the most part, consoled by his eyes—large, dark eyes of a liquid melancholy. But my Lord Wharton complained that they looked at him like a hound's.

Mr. Waverton was an only son, and fatherless. He had also great possessions. From his house of Tetherdown all the fields that he could see stretching away to the Essex border were of his inheritance. His mother was no wiser than she should have been. She consisted spiritually of admiration for herself, for the family into which she had married, and the son whom she had borne. "After all," said Harry Boyce in moments of geniality, "it's wonderful the boy has come out of it so well."

Mr. Waverton, thanks to vacillation of himself and his mother, doubt as to what career, what manner of education, what university, could be worthy his talents, went up to Oxford at last and (for those days) very late. After doing nothing for another year or two, he decided (which was also unusual for a gentleman of means in those days) that he had a genius in pure literature. Therefore Harry was hired to decorate him with all the elegances of Greek and Latin.

The appointment was considered a great prize for a lad so awkward as Harry Boyce. It might well end in a luxurious competence—a stewardship, for example, and marriage with my lady's maid. "That is, if you play your cards well, sirrah," the Sub-Warden felt it his duty to warn Harry's difficult temper.

"Oh, sir, I could never play cards," said Harry, for the Sub-Warden was a master at picquet. "I am too honest."

Yet he had not fallen out with Mr. Waverton. It is probable that he was careful to keep on good terms with his bread and butter. But he had always, I believe, a kindness for Geoffrey Waverton, and bore no ill will for his parade of supremacy. Tyranny in small things, indeed, Mr. Waverton did not affect. He had a desire to be magnificent. Those who did not cross him, those who were content to be his inferiors, found him amiable enough and, on occasion, generous….

"Shall we try another line, Mr. Waverton?" said Harry wearily.

"I have a mind to make an epigram," Mr. Waverton announced. "The arrogance of the vulgar, the—the uninstructed—perhaps I lack the mot juste, but quand même—the mansuetude of the loftier mind. A fine antithesis that, I think." He stood up, walked to the window, and looked out. Away down the hill the fields lay in a mellow mist, the kindly autumn sun made the copses glow golden; it was a benign scene, apt to encourage wit. Mr. Waverton lisped in numbers, but the numbers did not come. He turned to seek stimulus from Harry. "You relish the thought?"

"It is a perfect subject for your style," said Harry.

Mr. Waverton smiled, and turned again to the window for productive meditation.

A third man came lounging in, unheard by Mr. Waverton's rapt mind. He opened his eyes at the back which Mr. Waverton turned upon Harry and the space between them. "Why, Geoffrey, have you been very stupid this morning? And has schoolmaster stood you in the corner? Well done, Mr. Boyce. I always told you, spare the rod and spoil the child. Shall I go cut a birch for you?"

"I wonder you are not tired of that old jest, Charles," said Waverton with a dignity which did not permit him to turn round.

"Never while it annoys you, child."

"Mr. Waverton is in labour with a poem," Harry explained.

"And it's indecent in me to be present at the ceremony? Well, Geoffrey, postpone the birth." He sat himself down at his ease in Geoffrey's chair. He was a compact man with only one arm. He looked ten years older than Geoffrey and was, in fact, five. The campaign in Flanders which had destroyed his right arm had set and hardened a frame and face by nature solid enough. That face was long and angular, with a heavy chin and an expression of sardonic complacency oddly increased by the jauntiness of its shabby brown wig.

Waverton turned round wearily upon the unwelcome guest. "Well, Charles, what is it?"

"It is nothing. My dear Geoffrey, if I had anything to do or anything to say why should I come to you?"

"Merci, monsieur," Waverton smiled gracious indulgence.

Mr. Hadley chuckled, and in French replied: "Yes, let's talk French; it embellishes our simple wit and elevates our souls above the vulgar."

There is reason to believe that Waverton liked his French better in fragments than continuously. He still smiled condescension, but risked no other answer.

"Come, Geoffrey, what's the news?" Mr. Hadley reverted to English. "Could you say your lessons this morning? And did you wear a new coat last night?"

"You may go if you will, Harry. Mr. Hadley will be talking for some time," Waverton said. "Indeed, he may, perhaps, have something to say."

Harry was used to being turned out for any reason or none. He well understood that Waverton was not fond of an audience when he was being laughed at. "If you please," he said, and made his bow to Mr. Hadley.

"Why, what's the matter? I don't bite. You are too meek for this life,Mr. Boyce." He looked at Harry with some contempt in his grey eyes.

"Oons, you're a man and a brother, ain't you? Sit down and be hearty.Lud, Geoffrey, why do you never have a pipe in the room?"

"It's death to a clean taste, your tobacco smoking, and I value my wine."

"Value it, quotha! Ay, by the spoonful. You ha' never known how to drink since they weaned you. And you, Mr. Boyce, d'ye never smoke a pipe over your Latin?"

"I hope I know my place, Mr. Hadley," Harry said solemnly.

Charles Hadley stared at him. "Hear the Scripture, Mr. Boyce: 'What shall it profit a man though he gain a pretty patron and lose his own soul?'"

"You are very polite, sir," said Harry.

"Upon my honour, Charles, this is too much," Mr. Waverton cried in noble indignation. "Mr. Boyce is my friend, and you'll be good enough to take him as yours if you come to my house."

Charles Hadley was not out of countenance. He eyed them both, and his sardonic expression was more marked. "You make a pretty pair," said he. "When two men ride a horse, one must ride behind. Eh, Mr. Boyce? I wonder. Well, Geoffrey, it's a wicked world. Had you heard of that?"

"The world is what you make it, I think," said Mr. Waverton with dignity.

"Oons, I could sometimes believe you did make it. A simple, pompous place, Geoffrey, that is kind to you if you'll not laugh at it. And full of petty, pompous mysteries. Maybe you make the mysteries too, Geoffrey. Damme, it is so. It's perfectly in your manner," he chuckled abundantly. "Come, child, what were you doing on the highway yesterday?"

Harry stared at him. "When you have finished laughing at your joke, perhaps you will make it," said Waverton. "Pray let us have it over before dinner."

"My dear child, why be so touchy? Were you bitten? Well, you know, this morning one of my fellows brings in a miserable wretch he had found on the road by Black Horse Spinney. The thing was half-dead with wet and cold. He had been lying there all night—so he said, and it's the one thing I believe of him. He was found trussed as tight as a chicken in his own sword-belt and his own garters. Damme, it was a fellow of some humour had the handling of him. He had not been robbed, for there was a bag of money at his middle. He professed that he could tell nothing of who had trussed him or why he was set upon. He would have nought of law or hue and cry. Egad, empty and shivering as he was, he wanted nothing but to be let go. A perfect Christian, as you remark, Geoffrey. Now, you or I, if we had been tied up in the mud through one of these damned raw nights, would take some pains to catch the fellow who did the trussing. But my wretch was as meek as the Gospels. So here is a silly, teasing mystery. Who is the footpad that is at the pains of tying up a fellow and never looks for his purse? Odds fish, I did not know we had a gentleman of such humour in these parts. I suspect you, Geoffrey, I protest. There's a misty fatuousness about it which——"

"By your leave, sir," a servant appeared, "my lady waits dinner."

"Then I fear we shall pay for it," said Hadley, and stood up.

"You dine with us, Charles?" Mr. Waverton was not hearty about it.

"I'll give you that pleasure, child. Well, Mr. Boyce, what do you make of my mystery?"

Harry had to say something. "Perhaps your friend was carrying more than guineas," he said.

"What then? Papers and plots and the high political? I don't think it. If you saw him—a mere tub of beer—and a leaky tub this morning, for he had a vile cold in the head and dribbled damnably."

"I give it up then. Have you let him go?" They were moving out in the corridor and Hadley did not answer. "Is he gone?" Harry said again.

Hadley turned round upon him. "Why, yes. Does it signify?"

"I wonder who he was," said Harry.

Upon that they entered the drawing-room of Lady Waverton. It was congested and dim. The two oriel windows were so draped with curtains of pink and yellow that only a faint light as of the last of a sunset filtered through. The wide spaces were beset with screens in lacquer, odd chairs, Dutch tables, and very many cabinets,—cabinets inlaid with flowers and birds of many colours; cabinets full of shells, agates, corals, and any gaudy stone; cabinets and yet again more cabinets full of Eastern china. In the midst Lady Waverton reclined.

She had been handsome in a large, bold style, and might still have been but for excessive decoration. Her dress was voluminous white satin embroidered in a big pattern of gold and set off with black. It was low at her opulent bosom, to the curves of which the eye was directed by black patches craftily fixed. There were many more patches on her face which, still only a little too full and too loose, had its colours laid on in sharp and vivid contrasts. Her black hair was erected in symmetrical waves high above her brow, and one ringlet was brought by glossy, frozen curls to caress her bosom. She held out the whitest of hands drooping from a large but still fine arm for Mr. Hadley to kiss.

"You are a bad fellow, Charles Hadley," she pouted. "You make me feel old."

"There's a common childish fancy, ma'am."

"You never come to see me now. And when you do come, 'tis not to see me."

"A thousand pardons. Mr. Boyce delayed me awhile with the beauties of his conversation."

"Mr. Boyce?" she looked at Harry as if wondering that he dared exist. "Go and see why they do not bring in dinner."

Having thus diminished Harry, she proceeded, without waiting for him to be gone, to criticize him. "You know, I would never have a chaplain in the house. This tutor fellow is of the same breed, Charles. They tease me, these men which are neither gentlemen nor servants. Faith, life's hard for the poor wretches. They are torn 'twixt their conceit and their poverty. They know not from minute to minute whether they will fawn or be insolent. So they do both indifferent ill."

Harry, who chose not to hear, was opening the door. There came in upon him a woman—the young woman of the coach. Even as he recoiled, bowing, even as he collected his startled wits, he was aware of the singular beauty of her complexion. Its delicacy, its life, were nonpareil. The first clear process of his mind was to wonder how he had contrived not to remark that complexion when first he saw her.

Lady Waverton lifted up her voice. "Alison! Dear child! And are you home at last? It's delicious in you. You seek us out first, do you not? My sweet girl!" Alison was engulfed. Conceive apple blossom in the embraces of a peony.

The apple blossom emerged with a calm, "Dear Lady Waverton."

"You are a sad bad thing. I writ you five letters, I think, and not one from you."

"You are so much cleverer than I am. I had nothing to say." Alison's voice was sweet and low, but too sublimely calm for perfect comfort in her hearers. "So here I am to say it and make my excuses," she dropped a small curtsey, "my lady. Why, Geoffrey, I thought you had been back at Oxford!"

Mr. Waverton came forward, smiling magnificence. "I am delighted to disappoint you, Alison."

"Nay, never believe her, Geoffrey," Lady Waverton lifted up her voice and was arch. "I vow she counted on finding you here. Why else had she come? I know when I was a toast I wasted none of my time going to see old women," she languished affectionately at the girl.

"Dear Lady Waverton,"—if it was possible, Alison's voice became calmer than ever—"how well you know me. And how cruel to expose me. If Geoffrey had his mother's wit, faith, I should never dare come here at all."

"It is not my wit which you need ever fear, Alison," Geoffrey's eyes were ardent upon her.

"Why, you are merciful. Or is it modest?"

"I can be neither, Alison. I am a man."

"My dear Geoffrey, I am sorry for all your misfortunes." She turned from him to Mr. Hadley, who was content in a corner. "Have we quarrelled?"

"We never loved each other well enough."

"Is that why I am always very glad to see Mr. Hadley?"

"It is why he can tell Miss Lambourne that she looks divinely beautiful."

"That means inhuman, sir."

"Which is not my fault, ma'am."

Geoffrey was visibly restive at his exclusion, "Charles never could pay a compliment without a sting in it."

"That is why they are agreeable, sir," said she.

"That is why they are true," said Hadley in the same breath, and they laughed together.

Lady Waverton interfered imperiously. "Alison, dear, come sit by me and tell me all about yourself."

"Faith, not with the gentlemen to listen," said she, and was saved by Harry and the butler, who came in together announcing dinner.

Lady Waverton rose elaborately. "Give me your arm, Charles. My dear Alison—"

"But who is this?" Alison said, and she stared with placid, candid interest at Harry. With equal composure Harry stared back. But there was no candour in his expressionless face. For he had become keenly aware of her beauty. It was waking in him desire and already something deeper and stronger, and he vehemently resented the disturbance. He had no wish to be troubled by any woman, and for this woman, judging her on her behaviour, he felt even a little more contempt than the store which he had for all her sex. It was cursedly impertinent in her to be such a joy to the blood. She stood there, her eyes level with his eyes, and dared to look as strong as he—slighter to be sure, but not too slight for a woman, and delectably deep bosomed. There was life and laughter in that calm Greek face, and the vivid, delicate colour of it maddened him. The great crown of black hair was just what her brow needed for its royalty. He could find no fault in the irksome wench. Even her dress, dark grey as her eyes, perfectly became her, perfectly pleased in its generous modesty. And she knew of her power too. There was a mocking confidence in every line of her.

"But who is this, Lady Waverton?" she was saying again.

Lady Waverton tried to draw her on. "'Tis but Geoffrey's new factotum."

"My good friend, Harry Boyce, Alison," said Geoffrey with a patronly hand on Harry's shoulder.

Harry made his bow.

"Faith, sir, we have met before," she smiled.

"No, ma'am," Harry bowed again. "I have never had an honour, which, sure, I could not forget."

Her brow wrinkled. Lady Waverton swept her on, and Harry in the rear had the pleasure of hearing Lady Waverton say: "A poor, vulgar wretch, my dear. An out-at-elbows scholar which Geoffrey met at Oxford and keeps out of charity. He is too soft of heart, dear boy, and such creatures stick to him like burrs."

The dinner-table was a blaze of silver, but otherwise not bountifully provided. Lady Waverton looked down it with pride. "I am of Mr. Addison's mind, my dear," she announced. "Do you remember? 'Two plain dishes with two good-natured, cheerful, ingenious friends make me more pleased and vain than all your luxury.'"

"Why, then, you must now be sore out of countenance," Alison protested."For I am not good-natured and I vow Mr. Hadley is not cheerful." Mr. Hadley's face, set in contemplation of the food, shed gloom and apprehension. "But perhaps Mr. Boyce is ingenious."

"I hope so," said Hadley.

It was Harry's task to carve, which dispensed him from answering the girl or even looking at her. One not abundant fowl and a calf's head smoked before him. Under a heavy fire of directions from Lady Waverton he did his duty.

Miss Lambourne may have suddenly grown weary of Lady Waverton's eloquence upon the daintiest bits of these unexciting foods. She may have been waiting for the moment when Harry would have no occupation to prevent him listening to her. While my lady was still explaining the superiority of her calf, as bred and born in the house of Waverton, to all other calves, just when Harry had finished his work, Miss Lambourne broke out: "Faith, I was almost forgetting my splendid story. I wonder, now, have any of you met any ventures on the North Road?"

Harry began to eat. Charles Hadley ceased an anxious examination of his plate and looked at her. Lady Waverton cried out: "Dear Alison! Don't tell me you have been stopped. Too terrible! I vow I could never bear it. I should die of shame. They tell me these rogues are vilely impudent to a fine woman."

Geoffrey exhibited a tender agitation. "Why, Alison, what is it? Zounds, I cannot have you go travelling alone! You must give me news when you make a journey, and I'll ride with you."

"Thank you for your agonies. But the virgin in distress found her knight-errant duly provided. He rose out of the mud romantically apropos. To be sure, I think he was mad. But that is all in the part. The complete hero. Geoffrey, could you be a little mad?"

"More than a little," said he with proper ardour. "Pray don't torture us, Alison. Let us hear."

"It's on my mind that I am going to hear news of my funny friend," said Hadley solemnly. "Don't you think so, Mr. Boyce?"

Harry, who had been eating with the humble zeal appropriate to a poor scholar, looked up for a moment: "Why, sir, I can't tell at all. If you say so, indeed—" and he went on eating.

"Come, are you in it too, Mr. Hadley?" Alison cried.

"In it, odds life, I am bewilderingly out of it," quoth Hadley, and again told his tale of the mysterious man found tied up in the mud who knew nothing of his assailants and wanted no vengeance on them.

"That's our Benjamin," Alison laughed. "Oh, but you did not let him go?"

"Not let him go, quotha! For what I know, he was a poor, suffering martyr, though to look at his nose, I doubt it. And yet he was fool enough. Nay, how could I stay him?"

"Why, send him to gaol for a rogue and a vagabond. Should he not?" she invited the suffrages of the table.

"Dear Alison, to be sure, yes," Lady Waverton murmured. "These fellows must be put down."

"You owed it to yourself to look deeper into the matter, Charles," said Geoffrey gravely.

"Come, Mr. Boyce, your sentence too," Alison cried, wicked eyes intent upon him.

He met them with bland meekness. "Indeed, ma'am, I can't tell. It's Mr. Hadley's affair."

"From a virtuous woman, good Lord deliver us," Hadley groaned. "You would make a rare hanging judge, Alison. Now, i' God's name, let's have your tale. What's the rogue to you?"

"Oh, sir, a great joy. Why, he gave me the only knight-errant ever I had. A vile muddy one, to be sure, but poor maids must not be choosers. We were driving home, Mrs. Weston and I, and by Black Horse Spinney we were stopped by two highwaymen. They had just begun to be rude, when out of the mud comes my knight-errant, bold as Don Quixote and as shabby withal, and with a pretty wit too—which is not much in the way of knight-errants, I think. He scared the highwaymen's horses and set them bolting with the one fellow which held them, then he knocked the other down, took his pistol, and tied the rogue up in his own garters. Oh, the neatest knight-errant ever you saw. Then we bade him put the fellow on the box and drive on with us. But monsieur was haughty, if you please. He wanted none of our company. Off he packed us, for me to cry my eyes out for love of him. Which I do heartily, I warrant you."

"Alison!" Geoffrey cried, and laid his hand on hers.

"Faith, yes, give me sympathy. I have loved and lost—in the mud. To be sure, I can ne'er be my own woman again till I find him and give him—a brush, I think, and maybe a pair of breeches too, for his own can never recover their youth. Dear Geoffrey, help me to find him."

Geoffrey had taken his hand away in a hurry. He contemplated her with cold reproof. It did not trouble her. She was giving all her attention to Harry; gay, malicious eyes challenged him to declare himself, mocked him for his modesty, vaunted what she had to give.

"Damme, this is madder and madder yet," Hadley broke in. "Who is your Orlando Furioso that's a champion of dames and too haughty to ride in their carriage; that ties up highwaymen and forgets to tell the constable where he left 'em? Odso, I thought I knew most of the fools in these parts, but there's one bigger than I know."

"Dear Alison—I could never have survived it—but you are so strong—and what a person! My dear, I could not bear to think of him. A rude, low fellow, to be sure," Thus Lady Waverton coherently.

Alison laughed. "I doubt I'm not so delicate," Then she leaned towards Harry. "Well, and you? Come, Mr. Boyce, why leave yourself out?"

"I beg pardon, ma'am?"

She made an impatient sound. "And what do you think of my hero?"

"I wonder who the gentleman was, ma'am," Harry said.

Her eyes fought a moment more with his bland, meaningless face. "Faith, I think he's a fool for his pains," said she.

"Grateful woman," Hadley grunted. "Humph. Spretae injuria formae, ain't it, Mr. Boyce? Give miss a construe."

Harry gave a deprecating cough instead.

"Oh, be brave, sir," she jeered.

"I am afraid it means 'the insult of slighting your beauty,' ma'am," said Harry meekly.

Lady Waverton straightened her back and looked ice at him. But the butler was at her elbow, whispering. "Colonel Boyce?" she repeated. "What Colonel Boyce? Who is Colonel Boyce?

"It might be my father," Harry suggested.

"Why, Harry, I never knew you had a father," Waverton sneered amiably.

"Is your father a colonel?" Lady Waverton was torn between incredulity of such presumption and rage at it.

"Not that I know of, my lady. But he has always surprised me."

"Shall we have him in, Geoffrey?" said Lady Waverton.

"My dear mother!" Geoffrey waved his hand to the butler. "Ask the gentleman to be so good as to join us."

Mr. Hadley turned in his chair, and over the remnants of the fowl and the calf's head directed a grim smile at Harry. "Thank you for a very pleasant dinner," said he.