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ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY AND OTHER STORIES

By

A. E. W. MASON

Author of "The Courtship of Morrice Buckler," "The Watchers,"
"Parson Kelly," etc.

1901






CONTENTS.


ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY
THE MAN OF WHEELS
MR. MITCHELBOURNE'S LAST ESCAPADE
THE COWARD
THE DESERTER
THE CROSSED GLOVES
THE SHUTTERED HOUSE
KEEPER OF THE BISHOP
THE CRUISE OF THE "WILLING MIND"
HOW BARRINGTON RETURNED TO JOHANNESBURG
HATTERAS
THE PRINCESS JOCELIANDE
A LIBERAL EDUCATION
THE TWENTY-KRONER STORY
THE FIFTH PICTURE




ENSIGN KNIGHTLEY.


It was eleven o'clock at night when Surgeon Wyley of His Majesty's
ship _Bonetta_ washed his hands, drew on his coat, and walked from the
hospital up the narrow cobbled street of Tangier to the Main-Guard by
the Catherine Port. In the upper room of the Main-Guard he found
Major Shackleton of the Tangier Foot taking a hand at bassette with
Lieutenant Scrope of Trelawney's Regiment and young Captain Tessin of
the King's Battalion. There were three other officers in the room, and
to them Surgeon Wyley began to talk in a prosy, medical strain. Two of
his audience listened in an uninterested stolidity for just so long as
the remnant of manners, which still survived in Tangier, commanded,
and then strolling through the open window on to the balcony, lit
their pipes.

Overhead the stars blazed in the rich sky of Morocco; the
riding-lights of Admiral Herbert's fleet sprinkled the bay; and below
them rose the hum of an unquiet town. It was the night of May 13th,
1680, and the life of every Christian in Tangier hung in the balance.
The Moors had burst through the outposts to the west, and were now
entrenched beneath the walls. The Henrietta Redoubt had fallen that
day; to-morrow the little fort at Devil's Drop, built on the edge of
the sand where the sea rippled up to the palisades, must fall; and
Charles Fort, to the southwest, was hardly in a better case. However,
a sortie had been commanded at daybreak as a last effort to relieve
Charles Fort, and the two officers on the balcony speculated over
their pipes on the chances of success.

Meanwhile, inside the room Surgeon Wyley lectured to his remaining
auditor, who, too tired to remonstrate, tilted his chair against the
wall and dozed.

"A concussion of the brain," Wyley went on, "has this curious effect,
that after recovery the patient will have lost from his consciousness
a period of time which immediately preceded the injury. Thus a man may
walk down a street here in Tangier; four, five, six hours afterwards,
he mounts his horse, is thrown on to his head. When he wakes again to
his senses, the last thing he remembers is - what? A sign, perhaps,
over a shop in the street he walked down, or a leper pestering him for
alms. The intervening hours are lost to him, and forever. It is no
question of an abeyance of memory. There is a gap in the continuity of
his experience, and that gap he will never fill up."

"Except by hearsay?"

The correction came from Lieutenant Scrope at the bassette table. It
was quite carelessly uttered while the Lieutenant was picking up his
cards. Surgeon Wyley shifted his chair towards the table, and accepted
the correction.

"Except, of course, by hearsay."

Wyley was a new-comer to Tangier, having sailed into the bay less than
a week back; but he had been long enough in the town to find in Scrope
a subject at once of interest and perplexity. Scrope was in years
nearer forty than thirty, dark of complexion, aquiline of feature, and
though a trifle below the middle height he redeemed his stature by the
litheness of his figure. What interested Wyley was that he seemed a
man in whom strong passions were always desperately at war with a
strong will. He wore habitually a mask of reserve; behind it, Wyley
was aware of sleeping fires. He spoke habitually in a quiet, decided
voice, like one that has the soundings of his nature; beneath it,
Wyley detected, continually recurring, continually subdued, a note
of turbulence. Here, in a word, was a man whose hand was against the
world but who would not strike at random. What perplexed Wyley, on the
other hand, was Scrope's subordinate rank of lieutenant in a garrison
where, from the frequency of death, promotion was of the quickest. He
sat there at the table, a lieutenant; a boy of twenty-four faced him,
and the boy was a captain and his superior.

It was to the Lieutenant, however, that Wyley resumed his discourse.

"The length of time lost is proportionate to the severity of the
concussion. It may be only an hour; I have known it to be a day." He
leaned back in his chair and smiled. "A strange question that for a
man to ask himself - What did he do during those hours? - a question to
appal him."

Scrope chose a card from his hand and played it. Without looking up
from the table, he asked: "To appal him? Why?"

"Because the question would be not so much what did he do, as what may
he not have done. A man rides through life insecurely seated on his
passions. Within a few hours the most honest man may commit a damnable
crime, a damnable dishonour."

Scrope looked quietly at the Surgeon to read the intention of his
words. Then: "I suppose so," he said carelessly. "But do you think
that question would press?"

"Why not?" asked Wyley.

Scrope shrugged his shoulders. "I should need an example before I
believed you."

The example was at the door. The corporal of the guard at the
Catherine Port knocked and was admitted. He told his story to Major
Shackleton, and as he told it the two officers lounged back into the
room from the balcony, and the other who was dozing against the wall
brought the legs of his chair with a bang to the floor and woke up.

It appeared that a sentry at the stockade outside the Catherine Port
had suddenly noticed a flutter of white on the ground a few yards
from the stockade. He watched this white object, and it moved. He
challenged it, and was answered by a whispered prayer for admission in
the English tongue and in an English voice. The sentry demanded the
password, and received as a reply, "Inchiquin. It is the last password
I have knowledge of. Let me in! Let me in!"

The sentry called the corporal, the corporal admitted the fugitive and
brought him to the Main-Guard. He was now in the guard-room below.

"You did well," said the Major. "The man has come from the Moorish
lines, and may have news which will profit us in the morning. Let
him up!" and as the corporal retired, "'Inchiquin,'" he repeated
thoughtfully: "I cannot call to mind that password."

Now Wyley had noticed that when the corporal first mentioned the word,
Scrope, who was looking over his cards, had dropped one on the table
as though his hand shook, had raised his head sharply, and with his
head his eyebrows, and had stared for a second fixedly at the wall in
front of him. So he said to Scrope:

"You can remember."

"Yes, I remember the password," Scrope replied simply. "I have cause
to. 'Inchiquin' and 'Teviot' - those were password and countersign on
the night which ruined me - the night of January 6th two years ago."

There was an awkward pause, an interchange of glances. Then Major
Shackleton broke the silence, though to no great effect.

"H'm - ah - yes," he said. "Well, well," he added, and laying an arm
upon Scrope's sleeve. "A good fellow, Scrope."

Scrope made no response whatever, but of a sudden Captain Tessin
banged his fist upon the table.

"January 6th two years ago. Why," and he leaned forward across the
table towards Scrope, "Knightley fell in the sortie that morning, and
his body was never recovered. The corporal said this fugitive was an
Englishman. What if - "

Major Shackleton shook his head and interrupted.

"Knightley fell by my side. I saw the blow; it must have broken his
skull."

There was a sound of footsteps in the passage, the door was opened
and the fugitive appeared in the doorway. All eyes turned to him
instantly, and turned from him again with looks of disappointment.
Wyley remarked, however, that Scrope, who had barely glanced at the
man, rose from his chair. He did not move from the table; only he
stood where before he had sat.

The new-comer was tall; a beard plastered with mud, as if to disguise
its colour, straggled over his burned and wasted cheeks, but here and
there a wisp of yellow hair flecked with grey curled from his hood, a
pair of blue eyes shone with excitement from hollow sockets, and he
wore the violet-and-white robes of a Moorish soldier.

It was his dress at which Major Shackleton looked.

"One of our renegade deserters tired of his new friends," he said with
some contempt.

"Renegades do not wear chains," replied the man in the doorway,
lifting from beneath his long sleeves his manacled hands. He spoke
in a weak, hoarse voice, and with a rusty accent; he rested a hand
against the jamb of the door as though he needed support. Tessin
sprang up from his chair, and half crossed the room.

The stranger took an uncertain step forward. His legs rattled as he
moved, and Wyley saw that the links of broken fetters were twisted
about his ankles.

"Have two years made so vast a difference?" he asked. "Well, they were
years of the bastinado, and I do not wonder."

Tessin peered into his face. "By God, it is!" he exclaimed.
"Knightley!"

"Thanks," said Knightley with a smile.

Tessin reached out to take Knightley's hands, then instantly stopped,
glanced from Knightley to Scrope and drew back.

"Knightley!" cried the Major in a voice of welcome, rising in his
seat. Then he too glanced expectantly at Scrope and sat down again.
Scrope made no movement, but stood with his eyes cast down on the
table like a man lost in thought. It was evident to Wyley that both
Shackleton and Tessin had obeyed the sporting instinct, and had left
the floor clear for the two men. It was no less evident that Knightley
remarked their action and did not understand it. For his eyes
travelled from face to face, and searched each with a wistful anxiety
for the reason of their reserve.

"Yes, I am Knightley," he said timidly. Then he drew himself to his
full height. "Ensign Knightley of the Tangier Foot," he cried.

No one answered. The company waited upon Scrope in a suspense so
keen that even the ringing challenge of the words passed unheeded.
Knightley spoke again, but now in a stiff, formal voice, and slowly.

"Gentlemen, I fear very much that two years make a world of
difference. It seems they change one who had your goodwill into a most
unwelcome stranger."

His voice broke in a sob; he turned to the door, but staggered as he
turned and caught at a chair. In a moment Major Shackleton was beside
him.

"What, lad? Have we been backward? Blame our surprise, not us."

"Meanwhile," said Wyley, "Ensign Knightley's starving."

The Major pressed Knightley into a chair, called for an orderly, and
bade him bring food. Wyley filled a glass with wine from the bottle on
the table, and handed it to the Ensign.

"It is vinegar," he said, "but - "

"But Tangier is still Tangier," said Knightley with a laugh. The
Major's cordiality had strengthened him like a tonic. He raised the
glass to his lips and drank; but as he tilted his head back his eyes
over the brim of the glass rested on Scrope, who still stood without
movement, without expression, a figure of stone, but that his chest
rose and fell with his deep breathing. Knightley set down his glass
half-full.

"There is something amiss," he said, "since even Captain Scrope
retains no memory of his old comrade."

"Captain?" exclaimed Wyley. So Scrope had been more than a lieutenant.
Here was an answer to the question which had perplexed him. But it
only led to another question: "Had Scrope been degraded, and why?" He
did not, however, speculate on the question, for his attention was
seized the next moment. Scrope made no sort of answer to Knightley's
appeal, but began to drum very softly with his fingers on the table.
And the drumming, at first vague and of no significance, gradually
took on, of itself as it seemed, a definite rhythm. There was a
variation, too, in the strength of the taps - now they fell light, now
they struck hard. Scrope was quite unconsciously beating out upon the
table a particular tune, although, since there was but the one
note sounded, Wyley could get no more than an elusive hint of its
character.

Knightley watched Scrope for a little as earnestly as the rest.
Then - "Harry!" he said, "Harry Scrope!" The name leaped from his lips
in a pleading cry; he stretched out his hands towards Scrope, and the
chain which bound them reached down to the table and rattled on the
wood.

There was a simultaneous movement, almost a simultaneous ejaculation
of bewilderment amongst those who stood about Knightley. Where they
had expected a deadly anger, they found in its place a beseeching
humility. And Scrope ceased from drumming on the table and turned on
Knightley.

"Don't shake your chains at me," he burst out harshly. "I am deaf to
any reproach that they can make. Are you the only man that has worn
chains? I can show as good, and better." He thrust the palm of his
left hand under Knightley's nose. "Branded, d'ye see? Branded. There's
more besides." He set his foot on the chair and stripped the silk
stocking down his leg. Just above the ankle there was a broad indent
where a fetter had bitten into the flesh. "I have dragged a chain, you
see; not like you among the Moors, but here in Tangier, on that damned
Mole, in sight of these my brother officers. By the Lord, Knightley, I
tell you you have had the better part of it."

"You!" cried Knightley. "You dragged a chain on Tangier Mole? For
what offence?" And he added, with a genuine tenderness, "There was no
disgrace in't, I'll warrant."

Major Shackleton half checked an exclamation, and turned it into a
cough. Scrope leaned right across the table and stared straight into
Knightley's eyes.

"The offence was a duel," he answered steadily, "fought on the night
of January 6th two years ago."

Knightley's face clouded for an instant. "The night when I was
captured," he said timidly.

"Yes."

The officers drew closer about the table, and seemed to hold their
breath, as the strange catechism proceeded.

"With whom did you fight?" asked Knightley.

"With a very good friend of mine," replied Scrope, in a hard, even
voice.

"On what account?"

"A woman."

Knightley laughed with a man's amused leniency for such escapades when
he himself is in no way hurt by them.

"I said there would be no disgrace in't, Harry," he said, with a smile
of triumph.

The heads of the listeners, which had bunched together, were suddenly
drawn back. A dark flush of anger overspread Scrope's face, and the
veins ridged up upon his forehead. Some impatient speech was on the
tip of his tongue, when the Major interposed.

"What's this talk of penalties? Where's the sense of it? Scrope paid
the price of his fault. He was admitted to the ranks afterwards. He
won a lieutenancy by sheer bravery in the field. For all we know he
may be again a captain to-morrow. Anyhow he wears the King's uniform.
It is a badge of service which levels us all from Ensign to Major in
an equality of esteem."

Scrope bowed to the Major and drew back from the table. The other
officers shuffled and moved in a welcome relief from the strain
of their expectancy, and Knightley's thoughts were diverted by
Shackleton's words to a quite different subject. For he picked with
his fingers at the Moorish robe he wore and "I too wore the King's
uniform," he pleaded wistfully.

"And shall do so again, thank God," responded the Major heartily.

Knightley started up from his chair; his face lightened unaccountably.

"You mean that?" he asked eagerly. "Yes, yes, you mean it! Then let it
be to-night - now - even before I sup. As long as I wear these chains,
as long as I wear this dress, I can feel the driver's whip curl
about my shoulders." He parted the robe as he spoke, and showed that
underneath he wore only a coarse sack which reached to his knees, with
a hole cut in it for his head.

"True, you have worn the chains too long," said the Major. "I should
have had them knocked off before, but - " he paused for a second, "but
your coming so surprised me that of a truth I forgot," he continued
lamely. Then he turned to Tessin. "See to it, Tessin! Ensign Barbour
of the Tangier Foot was killed to-day. He was quartered in the
Main-Guard. Take Knightley to his quarters and see what you can do.
By the way, Knightley, there's a question I should have put to you
before. By what road did you come in?"

"Down Teviot Hill past the Henrietta Fort. The Moors brought me down
from Mequinez to interpret between them and their prisoners. I escaped
last night."

"Past the Henrietta Fort?" replied the Major. "Then you can help us,
for that way we make our sortie."

"To relieve the Charles Fort?" said Knightley. "I guessed the Charles
Fort was surrounded, for I heard one man on the Tangier wall shouting
through a speaking trumpet to the Charles Fort garrison. But it will
not be easy to relieve them. The Moors are entrenched between. There
are three trenches. I should never have crawled through them, but that
I stripped a dead Moor of his robe."

"Three trenches," said Tessin, with a shrug of the shoulders.

"Yes, three. The two nearest to Tangier may be carried. But the
third - it is deep, twelve feet at the least, and wide, at the least
eight yards. The sides are steep and slippery with the rain."

"A grave, then," said Scrope carelessly; "a grave that will hold
many before the evening falls. It is well they made it wide and deep
enough."

The sombre words knocked upon every heart like a blow on a door behind
which conspirators are plotting. The Major was the first to recover
his speech.

"Curse your tongue, Scrope!" he said angrily. "Let who will lie in
your grave when the evening falls. Before that time comes, we'll show
these Moors so fine a powder-play as shall glut some of them to all
eternity. _Bon chat, bon rat_; we are not made of jelly. Tessin, see
to Knightley."

The two men withdrew. Major Shackleton scribbled a note and despatched
it to Sir Palmes Fairborne, the Lieutenant-Governor. Scrope took a
turn or two across the room while the Major was writing the news which
Knightley had brought. Then - "What game is this he's playing?" he
said, with a jerk of his head to the door by which Knightley had gone
out. "I have no mind to be played with."

"But is he playing a game at all?" asked Wyley.

Scrope faced him quickly, looked him over for a second, and replied:
"You are a new-comer to Tangier, or you would not have asked that
question."

"I should," rejoined Wyley with complete confidence. "I know quite
enough to be sure of one thing. I know there lies some deep matter of
dispute between Ensign Knightley and Lieutenant Scrope, and I am sure
that there is one other person more in the dark than myself, and that
person is Ensign Knightley. For whereas I know there is a dispute, he
is unaware of even that."

"Unaware?" cried Scrope. "Why, man, the very good friend I fought
with was Ensign Knightley. The woman on whose account we fought was
Knightley's wife." He flung the words at the Surgeon with almost a
gesture of contempt. "Make the most of that!" And once again he began
to pace the room.

"I am not in the least surprised," returned Wyley with an easy smile.
"Though I admit that I am interested. A wife is sauce to any story."
He looked placidly round the company. He alone held the key to the
puzzle, and since he was now become the centre of attraction he was
inclined to play with his less acute brethren. With a wave of the hand
he stilled the requests for an explanation, and turned to Scrope.

"Will you answer me a question?"

"I think it most unlikely."

The curt reply in no way diminished the Surgeon's suavity.

"I chose my words ill. I should have asked, Will you confirm an
assertion? The assertion is this: Ensign Knightley had no suspicion
before he actually discovered the - well, the lamentable truth."

Scrope stopped his walk and came back to the table.

"Why, that is so," he agreed sullenly. "Knightley had no suspicions.
It angered me that he had not."

Wyley leaned back in his chair.

"Really, really," he said, and laughed a little to himself. "On the
night of January 6th Ensign Knightley discovers the lamentable truth.
At what hour?" he asked suddenly.

Scrope looked to the Major. "About midnight," he suggested.

"A little later, I should think," corrected Major Shackleton.

"A little after midnight," repeated Wyley. "Ensign Knightley and
Lieutenant Scrope, I understand, immediately fight a duel, which seems
to have been interrupted before any hurt was done."

The Major and Scrope agreed with a nod of their heads.

"In the morning," continued Wyley, "Ensign Knightley takes part in a
skirmish, and is clubbed on the head so fiercely that Major Shackleton
thought his skull must be broken in. At what hour was he struck?"
Again he put the question quickly.

"'Twixt seven and eight of the morning," replied the Major.

"Quite so," said Wyley. "The incidents fit to a nicety. Two years
afterwards Ensign Knightley comes home. He knows nothing of the duel,
or any cause for a duel. Lieutenant Scrope is still 'Harry' to him,
and his best of friends. It is all very clear."

He gazed about him. Perplexity sat on each face except one; that face
was Scrope's.

"I spoke to you all some half an hour since concerning the effects of
a concussion. I could not have hoped for so complete an example," said
Wyley.

Captain Tessin whistled; Major Shackleton bounced on to his feet.

"Then Knightley knows nothing," cried Tessin in a gust of excitement.

"And never will know," cried the Major.

"Except by hearsay," sharply interposed Scrope. "Gentlemen, you go too
fast, Except by hearsay. That, Mr. Wyley, was the phrase, I think. By
what spells, Major," he asked with irony, "will you bind Tangier to
silence when there's scandal to be talked? Let Knightley walk down to
the water-gate to-morrow; I'll warrant he'll have heard the story a
hundred times with a hundred new embellishments before he gets there."

Major Shackleton resumed his seat moodily.

"And since that's the truth, why, he had best hear the story nakedly
from me."

"From you?" exclaimed Tessin. "Another duel, then. Have you counted
the cost?"

"Why, yes," replied Scrope quietly.

"Two years of the bastinado," said the Major. "That was what he said.
He comes back to Tangier to find - who knows? - a worse torture here.
Knightley, Knightley, a good officer marked for promotion until that
infernal night. Scrope, I could turn moralist and curse you!"

Scrope dropped his head as though the words touched him. But it was
not long before he raised it again.

"You waste your pity, I think, Major," he said coldly. "I disagree
with Mr. Wyley's conclusions. Knightley knows the truth of the matter
very well. For observe, he has made no mention of his wife. He has
been two years in slavery. He escapes, and he asks for no news of his
wife. That is unlike any man, but most of all unlike Knightley. He has
his own ends to serve, no doubt, but he knows."

The argument appeared cogent to Major Shackleton.

"To be sure, to be sure," he said. "I had not thought of that."

Tessin looked across to Wyley.

"What do you say?"

"I am not convinced," replied Wyley. "Indeed, I was surprised that
Knightley's omission had not been remarked before. When you first
showed reserve in welcoming Knightley, I noticed that he became all at
once timid, hesitating. He seemed to be afraid."

Major Shackleton admitted the Surgeon's accuracy. "Well, what then?"

"Well, I go back to what I said before Knightley appeared. A man has
lost so many hours. The question, what he did during those hours, is
one that may well appal any one. Lieutenant Scrope doubted whether
that question would trouble a man, and needed an instance. I believe
here is the instance. I believe Knightley is afraid to ask any
questions, and I believe his reason to be fear of how he lived during
those lost hours."

There was a pause. No one was prepared to deny, however much he might
doubt, what Wyley said.

Wyley continued:

"At some point of time before this duel Knightley's recollections
break off. At what precise point we are not aware, nor is it of any
great importance. The sure thing is he does not know of the dispute
between Lieutenant Scrope and himself, and it is of more importance


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