Aquiline and The Circle of Stones: The Battle Within

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A common-looking woman opened the door for us. How am I to tell her when she couldn't so much as hear a pistol in her ears? Try and tell her yourself, if you have a mind to. She threw open a door as she spoke, and there, in a reclining chair at the further end of the room, we caught a glimpse of a figure all lumped together, huge and shapeless, with tails of black hair hanging down.

The sound of dreadful, swine-like breathing fell upon our ears. It was but a glance, and then we were off hot-foot for home. As for me, I was so young that I was not sure whether this was funny or terrible; but when I looked at Jim to see how he took it, he was looking quite white and ill.

I'll say she was ill, the poor lady! It makes me feel sick and heavy at heart. I never marked it. But I know that she has kind eyes and a kind heart, for I saw the one in the other when she looked at me. Maybe it's the want of a friend that has driven her to this. It blighted his spirits for days, and when it had all gone from my mind it was brought back to me by his manner.

But it was not to be our last memory of the lady with the scarlet pelisse, for before the week was out Jim came round to ask me if I would again go up with him. For me it was only a pleasure outing, but I could see, as we drew near the house, that Jim was troubling in his mind lest we should find that things were amiss.

His fears were soon set at rest, however, for we had scarce clicked the garden gate before the woman was out of the door of the cottage and running down the path to meet us. She was so strange a figure, with some sort of purple wrapper on, and her big, flushed face smiling out of it, that I might, if I had been alone, have taken to my heels at the sight of her. Even Jim stopped for a moment as if he were not very sure of himself, but her hearty ways soon set us at our ease.

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My poor nerves! You can see for yourselves how they serve me. She held out her twitching hands as she spoke. Then she passed one of them through Jim's arm, and walked with him up the path. Tell me, little man," she added, turning to me, "what do you call your friend? We elderly people have our privileges, you know. And now you shall come in with me, and we will take a dish of tea together.

Lost Children Of The Empire

She led the way into a cosy room—the same which we had caught a glimpse of when last we came—and there, in the middle, was a table with white napery, and shining glass, and gleaming china, and red-cheeked apples piled upon a centre-dish, and a great plateful of smoking muffins which the cross-faced maid had just carried in.

You can think that we did justice to all the good things, and Miss Hinton would ever keep pressing us to pass our cup and to fill our plate. Twice during our meal she rose from her chair and withdrew into a cupboard at the end of the room, and each time I saw Jim's face cloud, for we heard a gentle clink of glass against glass. It was of a tall and slender girl, with the rosiest cheeks and the tenderest eyes—so daintily dressed, too, that I had never seen anything more perfect. She had a posy of flowers in her hand and another one was lying upon the planks of wood upon which she was standing.

Why, 'twas but the other day that the Duke of Clarence, who may come to call himself King of England, married Mrs. Jordan, who is herself only a play-actress. And whom think you that this one is? She stood under the picture with her arms folded across her great body, and her big black eyes looking from one to the other of us.

And perhaps you never heard the name before? We were compelled to confess that we never had. And the very name of play-actress had filled us both with a kind of vague horror, like the country-bred folk that we were. To us they were a class apart, to be hinted at rather than named, with the wrath of the Almighty hanging over them like a thundercloud.

Indeed, His judgments seemed to be in visible operation before us when we looked upon what this woman was, and what she had been. So this is the upbringing that you have had, Jim—to think evil of that which you do not understand! I wish you had been in the theatre that very night with Prince Florizel and four Dukes in the boxes, and all the wits and macaronis of London rising at me in the pit. If Lord Avon had not given me a cast in his carriage, I had never got my flowers back to my lodgings in York Street, Westminster. And now two little country lads are sitting in judgment upon me! Jim's pride brought a flush on to his cheeks, for he did not like to be called a country lad, or to have it supposed that he was so far behind the grand folk in London.

And straightway that coarse, swollen woman became a queen—the grandest, haughtiest queen that you could dream of—and she turned upon us with such words of fire, such lightning eyes and sweeping of her white hand, that she held us spellbound in our chairs. Her voice was soft and sweet, and persuasive at the first, but louder it rang and louder as it spoke of wrongs and freedom and the joys of death in a good cause, until it thrilled into my every nerve, and I asked nothing more than to run out of the cottage and to die then and there in the cause of my country.

And then in an instant she changed. She was a poor woman now, who had lost her only child, and who was bewailing it. Her voice was full of tears, and what she said was so simple, so true, that we both seemed to see the dead babe stretched there on the carpet before us, and we could have joined in with words of pity and of grief. And then, before our cheeks were dry, she was back into her old self again.

It's a fine play, is Pizarro. I never heard. What matter who did the writing of it! But there are some great lines for one who knows how they should be spoken. But my heart goes back to them sometimes. It seems to me there is no smell like that of the hot oil in the footlights and of the oranges in the pit. But you are sad, Jim. I will soon wipe her from your mind. You must conceive that the mother is speaking, and that the forward young minx is answering. And she began a scene between the two of them, so exact in voice and manner that it seemed to us as if there were really two folk before us:the stern old mother with her hand up like an ear-trumpet, and her flouncing, bouncing daughter.

Her great figure danced about with a wonderful lightness, and she tossed her head and pouted her lips as she answered back to the old, bent figure that addressed her. Jim and I had forgotten our tears, and were holding our ribs before she came to the end of it. She vanished into her cupboard, and came out with a bottle and glass, which she placed upon the table. Then it was that Boy Jim did a wonderful thing.

He rose from his chair, and he laid his hand upon the bottle. She looked him in the face, and I can still see those black eyes of hers softening before the gaze. With a quick movement she wrested the bottle out of his hand and raised it up so that for a moment it entered my head that she was about to drink it off. Then she flung it through the open lattice, and we heard the crash of it on the path outside. It's long since any one cared whether I drank or no. And it would make you happier if I kept from the brandy, Jim? Well, then, I'll make you a promise, if you'll make me one in return.

So the promise was made, and very faithfully did Jim keep it, for many a time when I have wanted him to go fishing or rabbit-snaring, he has remembered that it was his day for Miss Hinton, and has tramped off to Anstey Cross. At first I think that she found her share of the bargain hard to keep, and I have seen Jim come back with a black face on him, as if things were going amiss. But after a time the fight was won—as all fights are won if one does but fight long enough—and in the year before my father came back Miss Hinton had become another woman. And it was not her ways only, but herself as well, for from being the person that I have described, she became in one twelve-month as fine a looking lady as there was in the whole country-side.

Jim was prouder of it by far than of anything he had had a hand in in his life, but it was only to me that he ever spoke about it, for he had that tenderness towards her that one has for those whom one has helped.

Being St. Francis

And she helped him also, for by her talk of the world and of what she had seen, she took his mind away from the Sussex country-side and prepared it for a broader life beyond. So matters stood between them at the time when peace was made and my father came home from the sea.

Many a woman's knee was on the ground, and many a woman's soul spent itself in joy and thankfulness when the news came with the fall of the leaf in that the preliminaries of peace had been settled. All England waved her gladness by day and twinkled it by night. Even in little Friar's Oak we had our flags flying bravely, and a candle in every window, with a big G.

Folk were weary of the war, for we had been at it for eight years, taking Holland, and Spain, and France each in turn and all together. All that we had learned during that time was that our little army was no match for the French on land, and that our large navy was more than a match for them upon the water. We had gained some credit, which we were sorely in need of after the American business; and a few Colonies, which were welcome also for the same reason; but our debt had gone on rising and our consols sinking, until even Pitt stood aghast. Still, if we had known that there never could be peace between Napoleon and ourselves, and that this was only the end of a round and not of the battle, we should have been better advised had we fought it out without a break.

As it was, the French got back the twenty thousand good seamen whom we had captured, and a fine dance they led us with their Boulogne flotillas and fleets of invasion before we were able to catch them again. My father, as I remember him best, was a tough, strong little man, of no great breadth, but solid and well put together.

His face was burned of a reddish colour, as bright as a flower-pot, and in spite of his age for he was only forty at the time of which I speak it was shot with lines, which deepened if he were in any way perturbed, so that I have seen him turn on the instant from a youngish man to an elderly. His eyes especially were meshed round with wrinkles, as is natural for one who had puckered them all his life in facing foul wind and bitter weather. These eyes were, perhaps, his strangest feature, for they were of a very clear and beautiful blue, which shone the brighter out of that ruddy setting.

By nature he must have been a fair-skinned man, for his upper brow, where his cap came over it, was as white as mine, and his close-cropped hair was tawny. He had served, as he was proud to say, in the last of our ships which had been chased out of the Mediterranean in '97, and in the first which had re-entered it in ' He was under Miller, as third lieutenant of the Theseus, when our fleet, like a pack of eager fox hounds in a covert, was dashing from Sicily to Syria and back again to Naples, trying to pick up the lost scent.

With the same good fighting man he served at the Nile, where the men of his command sponged and rammed and trained until, when the last tricolour had come down, they hove up the sheet anchor and fell dead asleep upon the top of each other under the capstan bars. Then, as a second lieutenant, he was in one of those grim three-deckers with powder-blackened hulls and crimson scupper-holes, their spare cables tied round their keels and over their bulwarks to hold them together, which carried the news into the Bay of Naples. From thence, as a reward for his services, he was transferred as first lieutenant to the Aurora frigate, engaged in cutting off supplies from Genoa, and in her he still remained until long after peace was declared.

How well I can remember his home-coming! Though it is now eight-and-forty years ago, it is clearer to me than the doings of last week, for the memory of an old man is like one of those glasses which shows out what is at a distance and blurs all that is near. My mother had been in a tremble ever since the first rumour of the preliminaries came to our ears, for she knew that he might come as soon as his message. She said little, but she saddened my life by insisting that I should be for ever clean and tidy.

With every rumble of wheels, too, her eyes would glance towards the door, and her hands steal up to smooth her pretty black hair. She had embroidered a white "Welcome" upon a blue ground, with an anchor in red upon each side, and a border of laurel leaves; and this was to hang upon the two lilac bushes which flanked the cottage door.

He could not have left the Mediterranean before we had this finished, and every morning she looked to see if it were in its place and ready to be hanged. But it was a weary time before the peace was ratified, and it was April of next year before our great day came round to us. It had been raining all morning, I remember—a soft spring rain, which sent up a rich smell from the brown earth and pattered pleasantly upon the budding chestnuts behind our cottage.

The sun had shone out in the evening, and I had come down with my fishing-rod for I had promised Boy Jim to go with him to the mill-stream , when what should I see but a post-chaise with two smoking horses at the gate, and there in the open door of it were my mother's black skirt and her little feet jutting out, with two blue arms for a waist-belt, and all the rest of her buried in the chaise. Away I ran for the motto, and I pinned it up on the bushes as we had agreed, but when I had finished there were the skirts and the feet and the blue arms just the same as before.

I'm right glad from my heart to see you, dear lad; and as to you, sweetheart—". And then suddenly it came home to us both that for all his cheery face he had never moved more than his arms, and that his leg was resting on the opposite seat of the chaise. Why, bless her kindly heart, if I haven't turned her from pink to white. You can see for yourself that it's nothing. He sprang out as he spoke, and with one leg and a staff he hopped swiftly up the path, and under the laurel-bordered motto, and so over his own threshold for the first time for five years.

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When the post-boy and I had carried up the sea-chest and the two canvas bags, there he was sitting in his armchair by the window in his old weather-stained blue coat. My mother was weeping over his poor leg, and he patting her hair with one brown hand. His other he threw round my waist, and drew me to the side of his chair.

Ere we could make it fast it had me jammed against the mast. Well, well," he added, looking round at the walls of the room, "here are all my old curios, the same as ever:the narwhal's horn from the Arctic, and the blowfish from the Moluccas, and the paddles from Fiji, and the picture of the Ca Ira with Lord Hotham in chase. And here you are, Mary, and you also, Roddy, and good luck to the carronade which has sent me into so snug a harbour without fear of sailing orders. My mother had his long pipe and his tobacco all ready for him, so that he was able now to light it and to sit looking from one of us to the other and then back again, as if he could never see enough of us.

Young as I was, I could still understand that this was the moment which he had thought of during many a lonely watch, and that the expectation of it had cheered his heart in many a dark hour. Sometimes he would touch one of us with his hand, and sometimes the other, and so he sat, with his soul too satiated for words, whilst the shadows gathered in the little room and the lights of the inn windows glimmered through the gloom. And then, after my mother had lit our own lamp, she slipped suddenly down upon her knees, and he got one knee to the ground also, so that, hand-in-hand, they joined their thanks to Heaven for manifold mercies.

When I look back at my parents as they were in those days, it is at that very moment that I can picture them most clearly:her sweet face with the wet shining upon her cheeks, and his blue eyes upturned to the smoke-blackened ceiling. I remember that he swayed his reeking pipe in the earnestness of his prayer, so that I was half tears and half smiles as I watched him.

You're old enough to strap a dirk to your thigh. But I've never tried what all this schooling has done for you, Rodney. You have had a great deal more than ever I had, but I dare say I can make shift to test it. Have you learned history? There's a picture on the wall of the chase of the Ca Ira. Which were the ships that laid her aboard? Can you do addition? Well, then, let us see if you can tot up my prize-money.

He shot a mischievous glance at my mother as he spoke, and she laid down her knitting on her lap and looked very earnestly at him. I have heard you say that it is the Atlantic for prize-money, and the Mediterranean for honour. Now, Rodney, there are two pounds in every hundred due to me when the prize-courts have done with them.

When we were watching Massena, off Genoa, we got a matter of seventy schooners, brigs, and tartans, with wine, food, and powder. Lord Keith will want his finger in the pie, but that's for the Courts to settle. Put them at four pounds apiece to me, and what will the seventy bring? Her hull should be worth another thousand. What's my share of that? We passed the Straits and worked up to the Azores, where we fell in with the La Sabina from the Mauritius with sugar and spices. Twelve hundred pounds she's worth to me, Mary, my darling, and never again shall you soil your pretty fingers or pinch upon my beggarly pay.

My dear mother had borne her long struggle without a sign all these years, but now that she was so suddenly eased of it she fell sobbing upon his neck. It was a long time before my father had a thought to spare upon my examination in arithmetic. But how is it that you are so quick at figures, Rodney, when you know nothing of history or geography? I tried to explain that addition was the same upon sea or land, but that history and geography were not. There never was one of our breed who did not take to salt water like a young gull. Lord Nelson has promised me a vacancy for you, and he'll be as good as his word.

So it was that my father came home to us, and a better or kinder no lad could wish for. Though my parents had been married so long, they had really seen very little of each other, and their affection was as warm and as fresh as if they were two newly-wedded lovers. I have learned since that sailors can be coarse and foul, but never did I know it from my father; for, although he had seen as much rough work as the wildest could wish for, he was always the same patient, good-humoured man, with a smile and a jolly word for all the village.

He could suit himself to his company, too, for on the one hand he could take his wine with the vicar, or with Sir James Ovington, the squire of the parish; while on the other he would sit by the hour amongst my humble friends down in the smithy, with Champion Harrison, Boy Jim, and the rest of them, telling them such stories of Nelson and his men that I have seen the Champion knot his great hands together, while Jim's eyes have smouldered like the forge embers as he listened.

My father had been placed on half-pay, like so many others of the old war officers, and so, for nearly two years, he was able to remain with us. During all this time I can only once remember that there was the slightest disagreement between him and my mother. It chanced that I was the cause of it, and as great events sprang out of it, I must tell you how it came about. It was indeed the first of a series of events which affected not only my fortunes, but those of very much more important people. The spring of was an early one, and the middle of April saw the leaves thick upon the chestnut trees.

One evening we were all seated together over a dish of tea when we heard the scrunch of steps outside our door, and there was the postman with a letter in his hand. Mary Stone, of Friar's Oak, and there was a red seal the size of a half-crown upon the outside of it with a flying dragon in the middle. But if it be for you, then it cannot be from any one of much importance.

My mother seemed to speak with a hushed voice when she mentioned this wonderful brother of hers, and always had done as long as I can remember, so that I had learned also to have a subdued and reverent feeling when I heard his name. And indeed it was no wonder, for that name was never mentioned unless it were in connection with something brilliant and extraordinary. Once we heard that he was at Windsor with the King. Often he was at Brighton with the Prince. Sometimes it was as a sportsman that his reputation reached us, as when his Meteor beat the Duke of Queensberry's Egham, at Newmarket, or when he brought Jim Belcher up from Bristol, and sprang him upon the London fancy.

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But usually it was as the friend of the great, the arbiter of fashions, the king of bucks, and the best-dressed man in town that his reputation reached us. My father, however, did not appear to be elated at my mother's triumphant rejoinder. During all these years I have known that I had but to say the word to receive as much as I wished from him.

He could make Rodney known to all the great people. Surely you would not stand in the way of his advancement. It is true that for some years, absorbed as I have been in affairs of the highest importance, I have seldom taken a pen in hand, for which I can assure you that I have been reproached by many des plus charmantes of your charming sex. At the present moment I lie abed having stayed late in order to pay a compliment to the Marchioness of Dover at her ball last night , and this is writ to my dictation by Ambrose, my clever rascal of a valet.

I am interested to hear of my nephew Rodney Mon dieu, quel nom! Make my compliments to your husband. You will think better of him when you know him. But he says that he will be here next week, and this is Thursday, and the best curtains unhung, and no lavender in the sheets! Away she bustled, half distracted, while my father sat moody, with his chin upon his hands, and I remained lost in wonder at the thought of this grand new relative from London, and of all that his coming might mean to us.

Now that I was in my seventeenth year, and had already some need for a razor, I had begun to weary of the narrow life of the village, and to long to see something of the great world beyond. The craving was all the stronger because I durst not speak openly about it, for the least hint of it brought the tears into my mother's eyes. But now there was the less reason that I should stay at home, since my father was at her side, and so my mind was all filled by this prospect of my uncle's visit, and of the chance that he might set my feet moving at last upon the road of life.

As you may think, it was towards my father's profession that my thoughts and my hopes turned, for from my childhood I have never seen the heave of the sea or tasted the salt upon my lips without feeling the blood of five generations of seamen thrill within my veins. And think of the challenge which was ever waving in those days before the eyes of a coast-living lad! I had but to walk up to Wolstonbury in the war time to see the sails of the French chasse-marees and privateers.

Again and again I have heard the roar of the guns coming from far out over the waters. Seamen would tell us how they had left London and been engaged ere nightfall, or sailed out of Portsmouth and been yard-arm to yard-arm before they had lost sight of St. Helen's light. It was this imminence of the danger which warmed our hearts to our sailors, and made us talk, round the winter fires, of our little Nelson, and Cuddie Collingwood, and Johnnie Jarvis, and the rest of them, not as being great High Admirals with titles and dignities, but as good friends whom we loved and honoured above all others.

What boy was there through the length and breadth of Britain who did not long to be out with them under the red-cross flag? But now that peace had come, and the fleets which had swept the Channel and the Mediterranean were lying dismantled in our harbours, there was less to draw one's fancy seawards. It was London now of which I thought by day and brooded by night:the huge city, the home of the wise and the great, from which came this constant stream of carriages, and those crowds of dusty people who were for ever flashing past our window-pane. It was this one side of life which first presented itself to me, and so, as a boy, I used to picture the City as a gigantic stable with a huge huddle of coaches, which were for ever streaming off down the country roads.

But, then, Champion Harrison told me how the fighting-men lived there, and my father how the heads of the Navy lived there, and my mother how her brother and his grand friends were there, until at last I was consumed with impatience to see this marvellous heart of England. This coming of my uncle, then, was the breaking of light through the darkness, though I hardly dared to hope that he would take me with him into those high circles in which he lived.

My mother, however, had such confidence either in his good nature or in her own powers of persuasion, that she already began to make furtive preparations for my departure. But if the narrowness of the village life chafed my easy spirit, it was a torture to the keen and ardent mind of Boy Jim. It was but a few days after the coming of my uncle's letter that we walked over the Downs together, and I had a peep of the bitterness of his heart.

Then I do it again and again, and blow up the bellows and feed the forge, and rasp a hoof or two, and there is a day's work done, and every day the same as the other. Was it for this only, do you think, that I was born into the world? I looked at him, his proud, eagle face, and his tall, sinewy figure, and I wondered whether in the whole land there was a finer, handsomer man.

If I go in, it is as one who was born to receive orders. I saw a poor fellow at the inn here—it was some years ago—who showed us his back in the tap-room, all cut into red diamonds with the boat-swain's whip. I can't help it, Rod! There's something here in my heart, something that is as much a part of myself as this hand is, which holds me to it.

Life would be easier if I could. I was made to be my own master, and there's only one place where I can hope to be so. Miss Hinton has told me of it, until I feel as if I could find my way through it from end to end. She loves to talk of it as well as I do to listen. I have it all laid out in my mind, and I can see where the playhouses are, and how the river runs, and where the King's house is, and the Prince's, and the place where the fighting-men live. I could make my name known in London. I could do it, and I will do it, too.

Why should I wait? What am I to wait for? No, Roddy, I'll stay no longer eating my heart out in this little village, but I'll leave my apron behind me and I'll seek my fortune in London, and when I come back to Friar's Oak, it will be in such style as that gentleman yonder. He pointed as he spoke, and there was a high crimson curricle coming down the London road, with two bay mares harnessed tandem fashion before it.

The reins and fittings were of a light fawn colour, and the gentleman had a driving-coat to match, with a servant in dark livery behind. They flashed past us in a rolling cloud of dust, and I had just a glimpse of the pale, handsome face of the master, and of the dark, shrivelled features of the man. I should never have given them another thought had it not chanced that when the village came into view there was the curricle again, standing at the door of the inn, and the grooms busy taking out the horses.

At the door was standing the dark-faced servant. He carried a cushion, upon which lay a small and fluffy lapdog. In that case you will, perhaps, do me the favour to hand to Mrs. Stone this note which her brother, Sir Charles Tregellis, has just committed to my care.

I was quite abashed by the man's flowery way of talking—so unlike anything which I had ever heard. He had a wizened face, and sharp little dark eyes, which took in me and the house and my mother's startled face at the window all in the instant. My parents were together, the two of them, in the sitting-room, and my mother read the note to us.

A lavender-water bath may restore me to a condition in which I may fitly pay my compliments to a lady. Meantime, I send you Fidelio as a hostage. Pray give him a half-pint of warmish milk with six drops of pure brandy in it. A better or more faithful creature never lived. Toujours a toi. Have him in! Every man to his own taste, and six drops to the half-pint seems a sinful watering of grog—but if you like it so, you shall have it.

A smile flickered over the dark face of the servant, but his features reset themselves instantly into their usual mask of respectful observance. This is Fidelio upon the cushion. Why should he have brandy, when many a Christian has to go without? The man went off noiselessly and swiftly, but was back in a few minutes with a flat brown basket. Sir Charles is accustomed to partake of certain dishes and to drink certain wines, so that we usually bring them with us when we visit.

So quick and neat and silent was he in all he did, that my father was as taken with him as I was. He came back with a great silver-mounted box under his arm, and close at his heels was the gentleman whose coming had made such a disturbance. My first impression of my uncle as he entered the room was that one of his eyes was swollen to the size of an apple. It caught the breath from my lips —that monstrous, glistening eye. But the next instant I perceived that he held a round glass in the front of it, which magnified it in this fashion.

He looked at us each in turn, and then he bowed very gracefully to my mother and kissed her upon either cheek. I am your servant, sir," he continued, holding out his hand to my father. Vincent, and I took occasion to mention you to him. I may tell you that your name is not forgotten at the Admiralty, sir, and I hope that I may see you soon walking the poop of a gun ship of your own. So this is my nephew, is it? You look eighteen, at the least. I find him very passable, Mary—very passable, indeed. He has not the bel air, the tournure—in our uncouth English we have no word for it. But he is as healthy as a May-hedge in bloom.

So within a minute of his entering our door he had got himself upon terms with all of us, and with so easy and graceful a manner that it seemed as if he had known us all for years. I had a good look at him now as he stood upon the hearthrug with my mother upon one side and my father on the other. He was a very large man, with noble shoulders, small waist, broad hips, well-turned legs, and the smallest of hands and feet.

His face was pale and handsome, with a prominent chin, a jutting nose, and large blue staring eyes, in which a sort of dancing, mischievous light was for ever playing. He wore a deep brown coat with a collar as high as his ears and tails as low as his knees. His black breeches and silk stockings ended in very small pointed shoes, so highly polished that they twinkled with every movement. His vest was of black velvet, open at the top to show an embroidered shirt-front, with a high, smooth, white cravat above it, which kept his neck for ever on the stretch. He stood easily, with one thumb in the arm-pit, and two fingers of the other hand in his vest pocket.

It made me proud as I watched him to think that so magnificent a man, with such easy, masterful ways, should be my own blood relation, and I could see from my mother's eyes as they turned towards him that the same thought was in her mind. All this time Ambrose had been standing like a dark-clothed, bronze-faced image by the door, with the big silver-bound box under his arm.

He stepped forward now into the room. One of them is never to allow my batterie de toilette out of my sight when I am travelling. I cannot readily forget the agonies which I endured some years ago through neglecting this precaution. I will do Ambrose the justice to say that it was before he took charge of my affairs. I was compelled to wear the same ruffles upon two consecutive days. On the third morning my fellow was so affected by the sight of my condition, that he burst into tears and laid out a pair which he had stolen from me.

Francesco rests a hand on his mane and says his name softly, reassuringly, as he looks down past the foaming lips to see what has so terrified this normally sedate and reliable creature. The leper stands in the middle of the road, perfectly still. One hand rests on the bell cord around his neck, the other hangs limply at his side.

He is dressed in a filthy garment, patched together from bits of sacking and undyed wool, which hangs loosely on his emaciated body. He regards Francesco and his horse steadily, his head slightly turned and his chin lifted, the better to see them, for his disease has eaten away half his face and he has only one eye. Francesco does not speak. He cannot move. They face each other on the road, and the bright sun pours down great quantities of light over them, so there are no shadows anywhere, nothing to soften or dim the harsh reality of this encounter, and nowhere to hide from the necessity of playing it out.

The leper's eye drills into Francesco. From childhood he has had a horror of lepers, and he has always avoided the lazaretto at the foot of Mount Subasio, where they sometimes congregate in the road, rattling their wooden bells and calling out for alms. He dreams of the foul stench rising from their rotting flesh, their grotesque faces, their phlegmy, guttural voices.

He wakes sweating and shouting for help. He glances back down the road and into the neat ranks of the olive trees. All is uncommonly empty and still. Even the birds, twittering only a moment ago, have been silenced. He could ride on. There is no reason to stop.

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He could throw down his last coin to the leper as he passes. His horse lifts one hoof and paws the hard dirt. It is time to go on, to go home. As Francesco drops his hand to the reins, his eyes fall on his own well-fitting glove, and it dawns on him that this leper is not wearing gloves, which is odd, because he and his kind are required always to wear them when they leave their hospitals, just as they are required always to wear and ring their bells to warn unwary travelers of their approach.

Again Francesco looks down on the solitary figure of the leper, who has not moved. His hand is wrapped around the cord, his head arrested at an angle. He is like a statue, lifeless and weather-beaten, and Francesco has the sudden sense that he has been standing there, in his path, forever. Something has been coming toward him, or he has been coming to something; he has known this for some time, and he has bent his energy in the direction of finding out what it might be. This was the reason for his pilgrimage to Rome. At the shrines he had recited the requisite prayers; gazed upon the relics, the bones, the bits of hair and cloth, the vials of blood and tears; and proferred the proper offerings.

But he had not felt the burden of his sins lifted, and this spiritual restlessness drove him on. Only when he was with the beggars in the vestibule of the basilica had he felt some respite from this condition of tense and urgent expectancy. He is in the grip of it again as he swings one leg over the saddle and drops to the ground beside his horse. The stillness of the world makes every sound acute -- the clinking of the bridle chain as he leads the animal to a green patch nearby, the sound of grass tearing, and then the big jaws grinding.

Francesco runs his hands through his hair, bats the dust from the front of his surcoat, and turns to face the man, who is there waiting for him. The leper watches him with interest. His blasted face is bathed in sunlight; the black hole that was his eye has a steely sheen, and a few moist drops on his scab-encrusted lips glitter like precious stones. He moves at last, releasing his cord and extending his hand slowly, palm up, before him.

This supplicating gesture releases Francesco, for it dictates the countergesture, which he realizes he longs to make. Without hesitation he strides across the distance separating him from his obligation, smiling all the while as if stepping out to greet an old and dear friend. He opens his purse, extracts the thin piece of silver inside it, and closes it up again. He is closer now than he has ever before been to one of these unfortunate beings, and the familiar reaction of disgust and nausea rises up, nearly choking him, but he battles it down.

He can hear the rasp of the leper's breath, rattling and wet. The battle between Francesco's will and his innate reluctance overmasters him: he misses a step, recovers, and then drops to one knee before the outstretched hand, which is hardly recognizable as a hand but is, rather, a lumpish, misshapen thing, the fingers so swollen and callused that they are hardly differentiated, the flesh as black and hard as an animal's rough paw.

Carefully Francesco places his coin in the open palm, where it glitters, hot and white. For a moment he tries to form some simple speech, some pleasantry that will restore him to the ordinary world, but even as he struggles, he understands that this world is gone from him now, that there is no turning back. It was only so much smoke, blinding and confusing him, but he has come through it somehow; he has found the source of it, and now, at last, he is standing in the fire. Tenderly he takes the leper's hand, tenderly he brings it to his lips.

At once his mouth is flooded with an unearthly sweetness that pours over his tongue, burning his throat and bringing sudden tears to his eyes. These tears moisten the corrupted hand he presses to his mouth. His ears are filled with the sound of wind, and he can feel the wind chilling his face, a cold, harsh wind blowing toward him from the future, blowing away everything that has come before this moment -- this moment he has longed for and dreaded, as if he thought he might not live through it.

He reaches up, clinging to the leper's tunic, for the wind is so strong and cold that he fears he cannot stand against it. Behind him the horse lifts its head from grazing and lets out a long, impatient whinny, but Francesco does not hear it. He is there in the road, rising to his feet, and the leper assists him, holding him by the shoulders.

Then the two men clutch each other, their faces pressed close together, their arms entwined. The sun beats down and the air is hot and still, yet they appear to be caught in a whirlwind. Their clothes whip about; their hair stands on end; they hold on to each other for dear life. E can hear their voices, angry and exultant, over the terrified cries of their prisoners, like the shouts of butchers one to another when they are herding squealing, struggling pigs into the slaughtering pen.

These captors are neither men nor beasts; in spite of their hairy backs, black horns, brutish snouts, and birds' feet, they stand upright and brandish in their large human hands the tools of their trade: lashes; slashing hooks; glowing, red-hot irons. One digs his talons into the neck of a naked man who writhes beneath him, his face swollen and blue, his body drawn up in an impossible arc. The man's mouth is opened wide in a howl, for his captor has forced a thick rod between his buttocks and is bearing down hard upon it.

Behind these two a woman has fallen to her knees as she struggles to release her shoulder from the jaws of another demon. The creature's thick reptilian tail is wrapped around her torso, holding her fast against his thighs. He mocks her suffering, pointing out her destination: a black tube with teeth, like the mouth of an enormous serpent, down which two of his fellows have thrown another victim -- whether male or female is uncertain, because only the legs and feet are visible.

The feet are curiously flexed. All but two of the prisoners are naked: a man in rich garb, carrying a sack across his shoulders and entering the awful scene through a flaming gate at one side, and another man crawling on the ground near the serpent's mouth, naked but for the bishop's miter still firmly in place on his head, his torso wrapped tightly in the coiled tail of another demon. The bishop is gazing at another man, who has a demon crouched on his stomach. The creature is positioned so that his buttocks are poised just over his victim's face; his sharp talons are sunk in the man's genitals.

The sufferer's mouth is held open by an iron device, and his eyes are rolled back in agony and horror. From the demon's anus flows a stream of gold coins, filling the open mouth, choking the man with gold. Francesco lets out a soft huff of amusement as he examines this last image. He looks up from the dark and lurid sufferings of the damned to the bright sunlit window next to him, but he does not notice the limpidity of the light that illuminates the book and the table he is bending over, because he hears the sound of footsteps on the gravel outside.

Hurriedly he crosses the room and drops down into an open recess in the floor, a space so narrow and shallow that he has to curl himself in a ball to fit into it. He reaches up to slide the flat stone that serves as a lid for this, his own personal hell, into place, closing his eyes tight against the dirt that always showers down when the stone's edge lodges in the earth. The door has opened, the intruder has paused, and then the footsteps come purposefully to the hiding place. Two sharp raps bring down a fresh shower of dirt. Francesco pushes against the stone, lifting it, while his friend grabs the edge and pulls it back across the floor.

Francesco sits up in his hole and rubs the dirt from his eyes. NSIDE the gates of Assisi two boys, returning from the forest, each burdened by a large dead hare, push past Francesco, and he is so weak that he staggers into the wall. Their heads come up like those of young wolves alerted by the misstep of a sheep, their eyes fix coldly upon him, and their nostrils quiver, testing the air, deciphering the scent of vulnerability and fear. Francesco rights himself and continues up the street, holding the skirt of his tunic so that he will not trip on it.

The boys fall into step behind him. Each is half his size but has twice his strength. He squeezes his nose with his free hand and whines, "God, how he stinks. The boy feels the hot black arrow of this regard as a momentary hesitation, instantly banished by the arrival of a boisterous trio clattering down the steps from San Giorgio. They are just released from school and wild from a morning of Latin declensions, intent now on merriment or mischief, whichever comes easiest. At once they spy Francesco and his persecutors and rush forward to join in the game, shouting imprecations -- "Idiot," "Swine," "Thief," "Madman.

His resistance is feeble and he does not protest, which excites their contempt. They speak for him, grinning and winking at one another, "Oh, do not push me so, my dear Giorgio. Like a feather riding on the air, this phrase is borne away along the streets, fluttering across the piazza at San Giorgio, sucked into the narrow passageway and puffed out across the marketplace, where the stalls are closing for the day. Old women, trudging homeward with their baskets half empty -- summer is over, and already there is little to buy but turnips, apples, and quinces -- lift their sharp faces to hear the news: "Pietro's son, Francesco, has come back.

As Francesco makes his way through the town, the mocking entourage thickens around him, and he can scarcely see what is ahead. The children pick up stones and clods of dirt, which they pitch at him, shouting with delight when they hit their mark. He plods on, indifferent to all provocation; but when they pass the ancient columns of Minerva's temple, the press in front of him suddenly parts, and he is faced with a sight that weakens his knees, though not his resolve.

His father rushes toward him, bellowing, cursing, calling on God and on all his neighbors to witness his disgrace and his fury. His face is bright red, his eyes bulge in their sockets, his lips are pulled back over his teeth like an enraged dog's. Francesco stands his ground, but at the last, as his father charges down on him, he throws up his hands to protect his face. Francesco does not struggle or cry out. He has been living in a hole for a month, refining his courage for this confrontation, and though the father has superior strength, the son's will has been formed as igneous rock is formed, under pressure, and it is unyielding.

The crowd now takes the side of youth against age, and chides Pietro for his anger. This criticism stings him, and he protests vociferously. How could they know what he has been through day after day, with this good-for-nothing boy who claims he has God's blessing to steal from his own father? For it was noon now, and we had an hour to wait. This is the trying time. It is then the heart sickens, as you think what the two champions are about, and how short a time will determine their fate.

After the first blow is struck, there is no opportunity for nervous apprehensions; you are swallowed up in the immediate interest of the scene—but. He rolled along, swathed in his loose great coat, his knock-knees bending under his huge bulk; and, with a modest cheerful air, threw his hat into the ring.


He then just looked round, and began quietly to undress; when from the other side there was a similar rush and an opening made, and the Gas-man came forward with a conscious air of anticipated triumph, too much like the cock-of-the-walk. He strutted about more than became a hero, sucked oranges with a supercilious air, and threw away the skin with a toss of his head, and went up and looked at Neate, which was an act of supererogation.

The only sensible thing he did was, as he strode away from the modern Ajax, to fling out his arms, as if he wanted to try whether they would do their work that day. By this time they had stripped, and presented a strong contrast in appearance. There was now a dead pause—attention was awe-struck. Who at that moment, big with a great event, did not draw his breath short—did not feel his heart throb? All was ready. They tossed up for the sun, and the Gas-man won. They were lead up to the scratch—shook hands, and went at it.

After the first blow is struck, there is no opportunity for nervous apprehensions; you are swallowed up in the immediate interest of the scene …. In the first round everyone thought it was all over. After making play a short time, the Gas-man flew at his adversary like a tiger, struck five blows in as many seconds, three first, and then following him as he staggered back, two more, right and left, and down he fell, a might ruin.

It was as if Hickman held a sword or a fire in the right hand of his, and directed it against an unarmed body. They met again, and Neate seemed, not cowed, but particularly cautious. I saw his teeth clenched together and his brows knit close against the sun. He held out both his arms at full-length straight before him, like two sledge-hammers, and raised his left an inch or two higher.

The Gas-man could not get over this guard—they struck mutually and fell, but without advantage on either side. It was the same in the next round; but the balance of power was thus restored—the fate of the battle was suspended. No one could tell how it would end. The Gas-man went down, and there was another shout—a roar of triumph as the waves of fortune rolled tumultuously from side to side.

This was a settler. After one or two rounds, not receiving another such remembrancer, he rallied and went at it with his former impetuosity. But in vain. His strength had been weakened,—his blows could not tell at such a distance,—he was obliged to fling himself at his adversary, and could not strike from his feet; and almost as regularly as he flew at him with his right hand, Neate warded the blow, or drew back out of its reach, and felled him with the return of his left.

  1. Hercules and the Farmers Wife: And Other Stories from a Cumbrian Art Gallery.
  2. Strip Poker.
  3. ECLECTIC: Ten Very Different Tales.
  4. The wonder was the half-minute time. From this time forward the event became more certain every round; and about the twelfth it seemed as if it must have been over. Hickman generally stood with his back to me; but in the scuffle, he had changed positions, and Neate just then made a tremendous lunge at him, and hit him full in the face. It was doubtful whether he would fall backwards or forwards; he hung suspended for about a second or two, and then fell back, throwing his hands in the air, and with his face lifted up to the sky.

    I never saw anything more terrific than his aspect just before he fell. All traces of life, of natural expression, were gone from him. The eyes were filled with blood, the nose streamed with blood, the mouth gaped blood. Ye who despise the FANCY, do something to show as much pluck, or as much self-possession as this, before you assume a superiority which you have never given a single proof of by any one action in the whole course of your lives!

    What is the matter! When it was all over, I asked Cribb if he did not think it was a good one? Alas, for Mrs. Mais au revoir , as Sir Fopling Flutter says. Toms is a rattle-brain; Pigott is a sentimentalist. Now, under favour, I am a sentimentalist too—therefore I say nothing, but that the interest of the excursion did not flag as I came back. Pigott and I marched along the causeway leading from Hungerford to Newbury, now observing the effect of a brilliant sun on the tawny meads or moss-coloured cottages, now exulting in the fight, now digressing to some topic of general and elegant literature.

    My friend was dressed in character for the occasion, or like one of the FANCY; that is, with a double portion of great coats, clogs, and overhauls: and just as we had agreed with a couple of country-lads to carry his superfluous wearing-apparel to the next town, we were overtaken by a return post-chaise, into which I got, Pigott preferring a seat on the bar.

    There were two strangers already in the chaise, and on their observing they supposed I had been to the fight, I said I had, and concluded they had done the same. They appeared, however, a little shy and sore on the subject; and it was not fill after several hints dropped, and questions put, that it turned out that they had missed it. One of these friends had undertaken to drive the other there in his gig: they had set out, to make sure work, the day before at three in the afternoon.

    The owner of the one-horse vehicle scorned to ask his way, and drove right on to Bagshot, instead of turning off at Hounslow: there they stopped all night, and set off the next day across the country to Reading, from whence they took coach, and got down within a mile or two of Hungerford, just half an hour after the fight was over. This might be safely set down as one of the miseries of human life. We parted with these two gentlemen who had been to see the fight, but had returned as they went, at Wolhampton, where we were promised beds an irresistible temptation, for Pigott had passed the preceding night at Hungerford, as we had done at Newbury; and we turned into an old bow-windowed parlour with a carpet and a snug fire; and after devouring a quantity of tea, toast, and eggs, sat down to consider, during an hour of philosophic leisure, what we should have for supper.

    In the midst of an Epicurean deliberation between a roasted fowl and mutton chops with mashed potatoes, we were interrupted by an inroad of Goths and Vandals— O procul este profani— not real flash-men, but interlopers, noisy pretenders, butchers from Tothillfields, brokers from Whitechapel, who called immediately for pipes and tobacco, hoping it would not be disagreeable to the gentlemen, and began to insist that it was a cross.

    Pigott withdrew from the smoke and noise into another room, and left me to dispute the point with them for a couple of hours sans intermission by the dial. The next morning we rose refreshed; and on observing that Jack had a pocket volume in his hand, in which he read in the intervals of our discourse, I inquired what it was, and learned to my particular satisfaction that it was a volume of the New Eloise.

    I got inside, and found three other passengers.