G.J. Whyte-Melville.

M. or N. Similia similibus curantur. online

. (page 10 of 24)
Online LibraryG.J. Whyte-MelvilleM. or N. Similia similibus curantur. → online text (page 10 of 24)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


stood a remarkably handsome mare, that neighed at him, and rubbed her
head against his breast.

"I should ha' liked another ten days," replied Crop, for it was an
important part of his system never to accept his master's arrangements
without a protest. "I could ha' got 'em to show as they ought to show
by then. Is the stalls took?"

Dick nodded. He was looking wistfully at the mare, thinking what a
light mouth she had, and how boldly she faced water.

"That leg'll be as clean as my face in a week," observed Mr. Crop
confidently. "She'll fetch a good price, _she_ will. Sir Frederic's
after _her_, I know. There's nothing but tares in there, sir; old
Dandybrush is in the box on the right."

Dick gave the mare a loving pat, and turned sadly into the residence
of old Dandybrush.

That experienced animal greeted him with laid-back ears and a grin, as
though to say, "Here you are again! But I like you best in your red
coat."

They had seen many a good gallop together, and rolled over each other
with the utmost good-humour, in every description of soil. To look at
the old horse, even in his summer guise, was to recall the happiest
moments of a sufficiently happy life.

"I'd meant to guv it _him_ pretty sharp," said Crop; "but I'll let him
alone now. He'd 'a carried you, maybe, another season or two, with a
good strong dressin'; but them legs isn't what they _was_. Last
time as I rode of him second horse, I found him different - gettin'
inquisitive at his places - and when they gets inquisitive they soon
begins to get slow. You'll look at the Vampire 'oss, sir, before you
go back to town?"

Now "the Vampire 'oss," as he called him, was an especial favourite
with Mr. Crop. Dick Stanmore had bought him out of training at
Newmarket by his groom's advice, and the highbred animal, being ridden
by an exceedingly good horseman, had turned out a far better hunter
than common - not invariably the case with horses that begin life
on the Heath. Crop took great pride in this purchase, confidently
asserting, and doubtless believing, that England could not produce its
equal.

He threw the box-door open with the air of a man who is going to
exhibit a picture of his own painting.

"It's a pity to let him go," said the groom, with a sigh. "Where'll
you get another as can touch him when the ground's deep, like it was
last March? I've had a many to look after, first and last; but such a
kind 'oss to do for in the stable I never see. Why, if you was to
give that 'oss ten feeds of corn a day he'd take an' eat 'em all out
clean - wouldn't leave a hoat! And legs. Them's not legs! them's slips
of gutta-percher an' steel! To be sure he'll fetch a hawful price at
the 'ammer - four 'underd, five 'underd, I shouldn't wonder - why he's
worth all the money to look at. Blessed if you mightn't ride a good
'ack to death only tryin' to find such another!"

Nevertheless, the Vampire horse was condemned to go up with the rest.
Notwithstanding the truth of the groom's protestations, its money
value was exactly the quality that decided the animal's fate.

Driving back to London, Dick's heart bounded to think that in an
hour's time he should meet Miss Bruce again at dinner. How delightful
to be doing all this for her sake, yet to keep the precious secret
safe locked in his own breast, until the moment should come when it
would be judicious to divulge it, making, at the same time, another
confession, of which he hoped the result might be happiness for life.

"I'd do more than that for her," muttered this enthusiastic young
gentleman, while he trotted over Vauxhall Bridge. "I liked my poor
horses better than anything; and that's just the reason I like to part
with them for her sake. My darling, I'd give you the heart out of my
breast, even if I thought you'd tread it under foot and send it back
again!"

Had such an anatomical absurdity been reconcilable with the structure
of the human frame, it is possible Miss Bruce might have treated this
important organ in the contumelious manner suggested.




CHAPTER XIII


SIXES AND SEVENS


In the meantime, while Dick Stanmore is hugging himself in the warm
atmosphere of hope, while Lord Bearwarden hovers on the brink of a
stream in which he narrowly escaped drowning long ago, while Tom Ryfe
is plunged in depths of anxiety, jealousy, and humiliation that scorch
like liquid fire, Miss Bruce's dark eyes, and winning, wilful ways,
have kindled the torch of mistrust and discord between two people of
whom she has rarely seen the one and never heard of the other.

Mr. Bargrave's chambers in Gray's Inn were at no time more remarkable
for cleanliness than other like apartments in the same locality; but
the dust lies inch-thick now in all places where dust _can_ lie,
because that Dorothea, more moping and tearful than ever, has not the
heart to clean up, no, nor even to wash her own hands and face in the
afternoon as heretofore.

She loves her "Jim," of course, all the more passionately that he
makes her perfectly miserable, neglecting her for days together,
and when they do meet, treating her with an indifference far more
lacerating than any amount of cruelty or open scorn.

Not that he is always good-humoured. On the contrary, "Gentleman Jim,"
as they call him, has lost much of the rollicking, devil-may-care
recklessness that earned his nickname, and is often morose
now - sometimes even fierce and savage to brutality.

The poor woman has had a quarrel with him, not two hours ago,
originating, it is but fair to state, in her own extremely irritating
conduct regarding beer, Jim being anxious to treat his ladye-love with
that fluid for the purpose, as he said, of "drowning unkindness," and
possibly with the further view of quenching an inconvenient curiosity
she has lately indulged about his movements. No man likes to be
watched; and the more reason the woman he is betraying has to doubt
him, the less patience he shows for her anxiety, the less he tolerates
her inquiries, her jealousy, or her reproaches.

Now Dorothea's suspicions, sharpened by affection, have of late grown
extremely wearisome, and Jim has been heard to threaten more than once
that "if so be as she doesn't mend her manners, and live conformable,
he'll take an' hook it, he will, blessed if he won't!" - a dark saying
which sinks deeply and painfully into the forlorn one's heart. When,
therefore, instead of drinking her share, as usual, of a foaming quart
measure containing beer, dashed with something stronger, this
poor thing set it down untasted, and forthwith began to cry, the
cracksman's anger knew no bounds.

"Drop it!" he exclaimed brutally. "You'd best, I tell ye! D'ye think I
want my blessed drink watered with your blessed nonsense? What's come
to ye, ye contrairy devil? I thought I'd larned ye better. I'll see if
I can't larn ye still. Would ye now!"

It was almost a blow, - such a push as is the next thing to actual
violence, and it sent her staggering from the sloppy bar at which
their altercation took place against a bench by the wall, where she
sat down pale and gasping, to the indignation of a slatternly woman
nursing her child, and the concern of an honest coalheaver, who had a
virago of a wife at home.

"Easy, mate!" expostulated that worthy, putting his broad frame
between the happy pair. "Hold on a bit, an' give her a drop when she
comes to. She'd 'a throwed her arms about your neck a while ago, an'
now she'd as soon knife ye as look at ye."

Wild-eyed and pale, Dorothea glared round, as Clytemnestra may have
glared when her hand rested on the fatal axe; but this Holborn
Agamemnon did not seem destined to fall by a woman's blow, inasmuch as
the tide was effectually turned by another woman's interference.

The slatternly lady, shouldering her child, as a soldier does his
firelock, thrust herself eagerly forward.

"Knife him!" she exclaimed, with a most unfeminine execration. "I'd
knife him, precious soon, if it was me, the blessed willen! To take
an' use a woman like that there - a nasty, cowardly, sneakin,' ugly,
tallow-faced beast!"

Had it not been for the imputation on his beauty, Dorothea might
perhaps have blazed out in open rebellion, or remained passive
in silent sulks; but to hear _her_ Jim, the flash man of a dozen
gin-shops, the beloved of a score of rivals, called "ugly," was
more than flesh and blood could endure. She turned fiercely on her
auxiliary and gave battle at once.

"And who arst _you_ to interfere, mem, if I may wenture to make the
inquiry?" said she, with that polite but spasmodic intonation that
denotes the approaching row. "Keep yerself _to_ yerself, if you
please, mem. And I'll thank ye not to go for to come between me and my
young man, not till you've got a young man of your own, mem; and if
you'd like to walk out, there's the door, mem, and don't you try for
to give _me_ none o' your sauce, for I'm not a-goin' to put up with
it."

The slatternly woman ran her guns out and returned the broadside with
promptitude.

"Door, indeed! you poor whey-faced drab, you dare to say the word door
to _me_, a respectable woman, as Mister Tripes here knows me well, and
have a score against me behind that there wery door as you disgraces,
and as it's _you_ as ought to be t'other side, you ought; for it's out
of the streets as _you_ come, well I knows, an' say another word, and
I'll take that there bonnet off of your head, and chuck it into them
streets and _you_ arter it. O dear! O dear! that ever I should be
spoke to like this here, and my master out o' work a month come
Toosday, and this here gentleman standing by! But I'll set my mark on
ye, if I get six months for it - I will!"

Thus speaking, or rather screaming, and brandishing her baby, as the
gonfalonier waves his gonfalon, the slat-slatternly woman, swelling
into a fury for the nonce, made a dive at Dorothea, which, but for the
interposition of "this here gentleman," as she called the coalheaver,
might have produced considerable mischief. That good man, however,
took a deal of "weathering," as sailors say, and ere either of the
combatants could get round his bulky person, the presence of a
policeman at the door warned them that ordeal by battle had better
be deferred till a more fitting opportunity. They burst into tears,
therefore, simultaneously, and the dispute ended, as such disputes
often do, in a general reconciliation, cemented by the consumption of
much excisable fluid, some of it at the expense of the philanthropic
coalheaver, whose simple faith involved a persuasion that the closest
connection must always be preserved between good-fellowship and beer.

After these potations, it is not surprising that the slatternly woman
should have found herself, baby and all, under the care of the civil
power at a police-station, or that Gentleman Jim and his ladye-love
should have adjourned to sober themselves in the steaming gallery of a
playhouse.

Behold them, then, wedged into a front seat, Dorothea's bonnet hanging
over the rail, Jim's gaudy handkerchief bulging with oranges, both
spectators too absorbed in the action of the piece to realise its
improbabilities, and the woman thoroughly identifying herself with the
character and fortunes of its heroine.

The theatre is small, but the audience if not select are enthusiastic;
the stage is narrow, but affords room for a deal of strutting and
striding about on the part of an overpowering actor in the inevitable
belt and boots of the melodramatic highwayman. The play represents
certain startling passages in the career of one Claude Duval,
formerly a running footman, afterwards - strange anomaly! - a robber on
horseback, distinguished for polite manners and bold riding.

This remarkable person has a wife, devoted to him of course. In the
English drama all wives are good; in the French all are bad, and
people tell you that a play is the reflection of real life. Besides
this dutiful spouse, he cherishes an attachment for a young lady
of high birth and aristocratic (stage) manners. She returns his
tenderness, as it is extremely natural a young person so educated and
brought up would return that of a criminal, who has made an impression
on her heart by shooting her servants, rifling her trunks, and forcing
her to dance a minuet with him on a deserted heath under a harvest
moon.

This improbable incident affords a favourite scene, in which
Dorothea's whole soul is absorbed, and to which Jim devotes an earnest
attention, as of one who weighs the verisimilitude of an illustration,
that he may accept the purport of the parable it conveys.

Dead servants (in profusion), struggling horses, the coach upset, and
the harvest moon, are depicted in the back scene, which represents
besides an illimitable heath, and a gibbet in the middle distance: all
this under a glare of light, as indeed it might well be, for the moon
is quite as large as the hind wheel of the coach.

In the foreground are grouped, the hero himself, a comic servant with
a red nose and a fiddle, an open trunk, and a young lady in travelling
costume, viz. white satin shoes, paste diamonds, ball-dress, and
lace veil. The tips of her fingers rest in the gloved hand of her
assailant, whose voice comes deep and mellow through the velvet mask
he wears.

"My preservier!" says the lady, a little inconsequentially, while
her fingers are lifted to the mask and saluted with such a smack as
elicits a "hooray!" from some disrespectful urchin at the back of the
pit.

"To presurrve beauty from the jeer of insult, the grasp of vie-olence
is my duty and my prowfession. To adore it is my ree-ligion - and my
fate!" replies the gallant highwayman, contriving with some address
to retain his hold of the lady's hand, though encumbered by spurs, a
sword, pistols, a mask, and an enormous three-cornered hat.

"And this man is proscribed, hunted, in danger, in disgrace!" exclaims
the lady, aside, and therefore loud enough to be heard in the street.
Claude Duval starts. The start of such an actor makes Dorothea jump.
"Perdition!" he shouts, "ye have reminded me of what were well buried
fathom-deep - obliterated - forgotten. Tr'you, lady, 'tis ee-ven so! I
have a compact with my followers - the ransom - "

"Shall be paid right willingly," she answers; and forth-with the comic
servant with the red nose wakes into spasmodic life, winks repeatedly,
and performs a flourish on his "property" fiddle, a little out of tune
with the real instrument in the orchestra at his feet.

"What are they going to do?" asked Dorothea, in great anxiety.

"Hold your noise!" answers Jim, and the action of the piece
progresses.

It is fortunate, perhaps, that minuets have gone out of fashion, if
they involved such a test of endurance as that in which Claude Duval
and his fair captive now disport themselves with an amount of bodily
exertion it seems real cruelty to encore. His concluding caper shakes
the mask from his partner's face, and the young lady falls, with a
shriek, into his arms, leaving the audience in that happy state of
perplexity, which so enhances the interest of a plot, as to whether
her distress originates in excess of sentiment or deficiency of wind.

"It's beautiful!" whispers Dorothea, refreshing herself with an
orange. "It 'minds me of the first time you and me ever met at
Highbury Barn."

Jim grunts, but his grunt is not that of a contented sleeper, rather
of one who is woke from a dream.

After a tableau like the last, it is natural that Claude Duval should
find a certain want of excitement in the next scene, where he appears
as a respectable householder in the apartments of his lawful spouse.
This lady, leaving a cradle in the background, and advancing to the
footlights, proceeds to hover round her husband, after the manner of
stage wives, with neck protruded and arms spread out, like a woman
who is a little afraid of a wasp or earwig, but wants to catch the
creature all the same. He sits with his back to her, as nobody ever
does sit but a stage husband at home, and punches the floor with his
spur. It is strictly natural that she should sing a faint song with a
slow movement on the spot.

It is perhaps yet more natural that this should provoke him
exceedingly, so he jumps up, reaches a cupboard in two strides,
and pulls out of it his whole paraphernalia, sword, pistols, mask,
three-cornered hat, everything but his horse. Then the wife, from her
knees, informs all whom it may concern, that for the first time in
their happy married life she has learned her husband is a robber, as
they both call it, by "prowfession."

Dorothea's sympathies, womanlike, are with the wife. Jim, whose
interest is centred in the young lady, finds this part of the
performance rather wearisome, and thirsts, to use his own expression,
for "a drain."

Events now succeed each other with startling rapidity. Claude Duval is
seen at Ranelagh, still in his boots, where he makes fierce love to
his young lady, and exchanges snuff-boxes (literally) with a duke.
Next, in a thicket beset by thief-takers, from whom he escapes after
prodigies of valour, aided by the comic servant, and thereafter guided
by that singular domestic to a place of safety, which turns out to
be the young lady's bedroom. Here Jim becomes much excited, fancying
himself for the moment a booted hero, rings, laced-coat, Steinkirk
handkerchief, and all. His dress touches that of his companion, but
instinctively he moves from her as far as the crowded seat will
permit, while Dorothea, all unconscious, looks lovingly in his face.

"She's a bold thing, and I can't abide her," is that lady's comment
on the principal actress. "She ought to think shame of herself, she
ought, acause of his wife at 'ome. But he's a good plucked 'un, isn't
he, Jim? and lady or no lady, that goes a long way with a woman!"

Jim turned his head aside. Brutalised, besotted, depraved, there was
yet in him a spark of that fire which lights men to their doom, and
his eyes filled with tears.

But the thief-takers have Claude Duval by the throat at last; and
there is a scene in court, where the young lady perjures herself
unhesitatingly, and faints once more in the prisoner's arms. In vain.
Claude Duval is sworn to, found guilty, condemned; and the stage is
darkened for a grand finale.

Still gay, still gallant, still impenitent, and still booted, though
in fetters, the highwayman sits in his prison cell, to be visited by
the young lady, who cannot bear to lose her partner, and the wife,
who still clings to her husband. Unlike Macheath, he seems in no way
embarrassed by the position. His wife forgives him, at this supreme
moment, all the sorrow he has caused her, in consideration of some
unexplained past, "gilded," as she expressed it, "by the sunny smiles
of southern France," while the young lady, holding on with great
tenacity to his hand, weeps frantically on her knees.

A clock strikes. It is the hour of execution. Dorothea begins to sob,
and Gentleman Jim clenches his hands. The back of the stage opens to
disclose a street, a crowd, a hangman, and the fatal Tyburn tree.
Faint cheers are heard from the wings. The sheriff enters, bearing
in his hand a reprieve, written apparently on a window-blind. He is
attended by the comic servant, through whose mysterious agency a
pardon has been granted, and who sticks by his fiddle to the last.

Grand tableau: Claude Duval penitent. His wife in his arms. The young
lady conveying in dumb show how platonic has been her attachment,
of which, nevertheless, she seems a little ashamed. The sheriff
benignant; the turnkeys amused; the comic servant, obviously in
liquor, brandishing his fiddlestick, and the orchestra playing "God
save the Queen."

Walking home through the wet streets, under the flashing gaslights,
Dorothea and her companion preserve an ominous silence. Both identify
themselves with the fiction they have lately witnessed: the woman
pondering on Mrs. Duval's sufferings and the eventful reward of that
good lady's constancy and truth; her companion reflecting, not on the
charms of the actress he has lately been applauding, but on another
face which haunts him now, as the wilis and water-sprites haunted
their doomed votaries, and which must ever be as far out of reach as
if it belonged indeed to some such being of another nature; thinking
how a man might well risk imprisonment, transportation, hanging, for
one kind glance of those bright eyes, one smile of those haughty,
scornful lips; and comparing in bitter impatience that exotic beauty
with the humble, homely creature at his side.

She looks up in his face. "Jim," says she timidly, and cowering close
to him the while, "if you was took, and shopped, like him in the long
boots, I'd go to quod with you, if they'd give me leave - I'd go to
death with you, Jim, I would. I'd never forsake you, I wouldn't. I
couldn't, dear, - not if it was ever so!"

He shudders and shrinks from her. "It might come sooner than you think
for," says he, adding brutally enough, "now you _could_ do me a turn
in the witness-box, though I shouldn't wonder but you'd cut out white
like the others. Let's call in here, and take a drop o' gin afore they
shuts up."


The great picture of Thomas the Rhymer, and his Elfin Mistress, goes
on apace. There is, I believe, but one representation in London of
that celebrated prophet, and it is in the possession of his lineal
descendant. Every feature, every shadow on that portrait has Simon
Perkins studied with exceeding diligence and care, marvelling, it must
be confessed, at the taste of the Fairy Queen. The accessories to his
own composition are in rapid progress. Most of the fairies have been
put in, and the gradual change from glamour to disillusion, cunningly
conveyed by a stream of cold grey morning light entering the magic
cavern from realms of upper earth, to deaden the glitter, pale the
colouring, and strip, as it were, the tinsel where it strikes. On
the Rhymer himself our artist has bestowed an infinity of pains,
preserving (no easy task) some resemblance to the original portrait,
while he dresses his conception in the manly form and comely features
indispensable to the situation.

But it is into the fairy queen herself that Simon loves to throw all
the power of his genius, all the resources of his art. To this labour
of love, day after day, he returns with unabated zest, altering,
improving, painting out, adding, taking away, drinking in the while
his model's beauty, as parched and thirsty gardens of Egypt drink
in the overflowing Nile, to return a tenfold harvest of verdure,
luxuriance, and wealth.

She has been sitting to him for three consecutive hours. Truth to
tell, she is tired to death of it - tired of the room, the palette,
the easel, the queen, the rhymer, the little dusky imp in the corner,
whose wings are changing into scales and a tail, almost tired of dear
Simon Perkins himself; who is working contentedly on (how can he?) as
if life contained nothing more than effect and colouring - as if the
reality were not better than the representation after all.

"A quarter of an inch more this way," says the preoccupied artist.
"There is a touch wanting in that shadow under the eye - thanks, dear
Nina. I shall get it at last," and he falls back a step to look at his
work, with his head on one side, as nobody but a painter _can_ look,
so strangely does the expression of face combine impartial criticism
with a satisfaction almost maternal in its intensity.

Before beginning again, his eye rested on his model, and he could not
but mark the air of weariness and dejection she betrayed.

"Why, Nina," said he, "you look quite pale and tired. What a brute I
am! I go painting on and forget how stupid it must be for you, who
mustn't even turn your head to look at my work."

She gave a stretch, and such a yawn! Neither of them very graceful
performances, had the lady been less fair and fascinating, but Nina
looked exceedingly pretty in their perpetration nevertheless.

"Work," she answered. "Do you call that work? Why you've undone
everything you did yesterday, and put about half of it in again. If
you're diligent, and keep on at this pace, you'll finish triumphantly
with a blank canvas, like Penthesilea and her tapestry in my ancient
history."

"Penelope," corrected Simon gently.

"Well, Penelope! It's all the same. I don't suppose any of it's true.
Let's have a peep, Simon. It can't be. Is that really like me?"

The colour had come back to her face, the light to her eye. She was
pleased, flattered, half amused to find herself so beautiful. He
looked from the picture to the original, and with all his enthusiasm


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Online LibraryG.J. Whyte-MelvilleM. or N. Similia similibus curantur. → online text (page 10 of 24)