Jeffery Farnol.

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through the open lattice breathed an air sweet with a
perfume of flowers ; borne to my drowsy hearing stole a
mingling of soothing, homely sounds, the snort of a horse
from the stable, the clucking of hens, the faint rattle of a
pail, to all of which peaceful sounds I hearkened in lazy
content and with no desire to move. Vaguely, at the back
of my mind, was a memory of some trouble now forgotten,
nor did I seek to remember, content to stare out upon thia
summer evening; nor did I trouble to move even at the
opening of the door and thus presently was aware of
Anthony bending over me.

"Why, Perry, are you awake at last? How are you,
old fellow? "

" Very well, Anthony," I answered, vaguely surprised
to hear my voice so far off, as it were. " Very comfort-
able, Tony, only a little weary "



I am Haunted of Evil Dreams 355

" And no wonder, Perry, here you 've lain raving all
last night and most of to-day."

"Raving, Tony?"

" Aye all about some damned postchaise or other with
red wheels."

" Postchaise? " said I, wondering. " Postchaise? How
long have I lain here? "

" This will be the fourth day, Peregrine."

" Four days ! " said I. " Impossible ! "

" I rode down yesterday on the off-chance of finding you
here and here you were, begad, raging in fever and
cursing and swearing very creditably, 'pon my soul ! And
all George could do to hold you down "

" I 'm better now, Anthony get up to-morrow "

" For which God be thanked ! " said he fervently, and
seating himself upon the bed, he grasped my hand. " Pere-
grine," said he solemnly, " you have honoured me with
your friendship and as your friend I make bold to offer
you a friend's advice, in heaven's name, old fellow, be
more discreet ! "

" In what particular, Anthony ? "

" There is but one, Perry only one, dear fellow, and
spelt with five letters woman."

" You grow cryptic, Anthony."

" My dear Perry," said he, beginning to fidget with
his stock, " my very dear fellow, as may be supposed,
your extraordinary sudden and perfectly inexplicable
flight from Wyvelstoke's reception and disappearance has
caused no small consternation, and, to one person in par-
ticular, very much grief and anxiety. Under these dis-
tressing circumstances, I, as your friend, sought an
answer to the riddle, the the reason for your very
mysterious disappearance, and naturally arrive at the
conclusion that it is a case of er cherchez la fem/me,
Perry "

" The devil you did ! " exclaimed I.

" I haunted all the clubs, Perry, and with your uncles
made discreet enquiry for you in every likely and unlikely



356 Peregrine's Progress

quarter yesterday, as a last possibility, I rode down
here and learned from George how you came staggering
in at dawn, plastered with mud, wet to the skin and ac-
companied by the lady who, I may inform you, had the
good judgment to disappear as soon as possible

" The lady," said I, trembling and indignant, " was a
poor distracted creature I found on my way "

" Precisely, dear fellow ! So here am I to lend you such
assistance in the matter as a friend may. No reason to
worry yourself, only in heaven's name be a little discreet,
Perry discretion's the word."

" Discretion be damned ! "

" Precisely, old fellow ! And now only mention how I
may assist you in this unfortunate situation? "

" By listening to me ! "

" Ears wide open, Perry."

So I told him briefly of the storm, how, dazed and
shaken after being thrown by Wildfire, I wandered into
the wood and came upon the poor, distracted girl and
brought her back with me to the " Soaring Lark." To
all of which he listened, tap-tapping softly with his
foot.

" Ha outside that accursed house ! " he exclaimed,
when I had done. " The place should be burned down ! "
And then in a different tone, glancing at me somewhat
askance, " But then, Perry egad don't ye see this
does not explain your abrupt departure from the recep-
tion and flight from London now does it?"

" Not in the least, Anthony. Nor can I offer any ex-
planation."

Here Anthony pursed his lips to a soundless whistle
and began his soft tap-tapping again.

"Diana was deeply hurt," said he at last. "Every
hour she is grieving for you breaking her heart, Perry
as we sit here."

"For God's sake, Anthony,'* I cried passionately,
"keep your feet still!"

"Eh? Oh, begad, forgive me, Perry! Consequently,



I am Haunted of Evil Dreams 357

she will be overjoyed to learn you are here safe. She will
post down to you as fast as horses can bring her "

" Need she know, Anthony? " At this he turned with a
kind of leap and glanced at me with a startled expression.

" Lord, man you are really ill ! " he exclaimed.

" 111 or no, Anthony, if you are truly my friend and
value my friendship, promise me swear to me she shall
not come near me ! "

" Egad, Peregrine, you are damned ill ! "

"Promise promise! Swear me this, Anthony!"
cried I, starting up in bed to grasp at him with eager
hands. And then came Mary, running, to clasp me in
eager arms and lay me back among the pillows.

" Mr. Anthony ! " she cried. " Oh, Mr. Anthony, did n't
I warn 'ee not to excite 'im then oh, Mr. Anthony ! "

Lying thus helpless, I felt myself shaken as by an ague
fit, saw Anthony staring down at me fearful-eyed ere he
crept from the room, felt an arm beneath my head, a cup
at my lips and, drinking thirstily, lay awhile staring up
at the ceiling, where red wheels seemed to spin through
the mist of a gossamer veil spangled with gold stars.

It lay curling across my pillow close to my eyes, stirring
gently as if endowed with life, a delicate, shimmering
filament, never quite at rest, that glowed where the light
caught it, and I watched it drowsily until, hearing a
stealthy sound, I glanced up to behold my uncle George
standing beside the bed.

"Why, Peregrine," said he softly, his handsome face
unwontedly grave, "how are you, dear lad?"

" Thank you I am greatly better and here is a hair on
the pillow, Uncle George! This is neither your hair nor
mine, and Mrs. Mary's is brown, as I remember. So whose
hair is this, Uncle George?"

"Hair?" he repeated, fumbling with his whisker. "I
don't see any hair, Perry."

" Here on my pillow, Uncle."

" Well, what of it, lad. Your Aunt Julia's, perhaps "



358 Peregrine's Progress

" Hers is black. And this is not black, you '11
notice, sir, and very long."

" Why, so 't is ! But if it distresses you there, away
with it!"

"But whose is it?" I persisted.

" Lord, Perry, how should I know why worry about
such a trifle. Compose yourself, dear lad. I '11 have 'em
wake Julia, she was up with you all night egad, she '11
be overjoyed to see you so much better

" Pray no don't disturb her. Have I been here
long?"

" Nine days, Peregrine touch and go knocking at
death's door, boy and raving like any madman."

" What what about, sir? " I questioned, beginning to
tremble.

" A lot o* wild nonsense, Perry

"What, sir what?" I demanded.

" There, there, lad don't distress yourself. 'T was
nothing to signify mere sick fancies."

" Fancies concerning what, Uncle George ? "

" Well, something about red wheels and a drowned
woman in a wood, a wall, and a door, and suchlike idle stuff.
Y' see, Perry, not content with getting yourself wet
through, you must let that brute of a horse o* yours
throw you on to your head; doctors say 't is a marvel
you 're alive, and begad, Perry lad, 'tis our firm belief,
Jervas and mine, that you 'd ha' died if it had n't been
for your wonderful aunt and Diana watched over you
like the angels they are saved your life betwixt 'em

The room seemed to go suddenly black and from the
awful darkness my uncle babbled cheerily, while I, smitten
by a nauseous faintness, strove to speak yet could not.

"Uncle George," said I at last, "is is she here
now?"

"Who, Diana? No, lad. But be patient, she's only
out riding with Barbara was with you here all day,
she'll be back soon be patient, she's never long away
from you these days, b'gad "



I am Haunted of Evil Dreams 359

" No ! " cried I, shuddering, " no ! Don't let her come
near me don't let her touch me send her away or
I shaU die!"

"Good God!" ejaculated my uncle George, glancing
about helplessly. " He 's off again this cursed fever

must call Julia."

" Don't! "-said I, reaching out a feeble hand in suppli-
cation. "This is not fever, sir. This is my conscious
self imploring you to keep her away from me, or I shall
truly die or run mad "

" O Peregrine O Peregrine," he stammered, in chok-
ing voice, " this can't be you to say such things so
cruel this is your old delirium you are raving again

you must be "

" Before God, sir, speaking in all sanity, I beg and
implore that you will keep her from me."

" Oh, damnation this is awful ! " exclaimed my uncle,
his handsome face looking strangely haggard. " Day and
night in your delirium you have lain cursing Diana and
with Diana's hand upon your brow and Diana's tears
wetting your pillow and now O Peregrine, lad, tell me
you don't mean it that you are a little fevered, yes
yes, people at such times often turn against those they
most love will kill Diana else "

" Or she me, sir so keep her away don't let her
touch me I '11 not see her, I say I '11 not, by God
I'll not "

" Hush hush ! Don't scream, lad, don't scream I "

He was on his knees, had clasped my trembling weakness
in his great arms and was soothing me, and I weeping for
my very impotence, when the door opened and Aunt Julia
appeared.

" Dear Heaven ! " she cried, bending above me. " What
have you done, George? What have you done to him?"

" O Aunt ! " I cried. " Dear Aunt Julia, don't let her
touch me again don't let her come near me or I shall go
mad "

" No, no, my loved Perry, no one shall tend you but



360 Peregrine's Progress

myself there, dear boy, be comforted! O George, don't

stand gaping give me the draught yonder quick ! "

" Promise me, Aunt swear she shall not approach me



again ' '



" I swear it, dear Peregrine. Come, drink "



CHAPTER VII

CONCERNING THE SONG OF A BLACKBIRD AT EVENING

MY uncle Jervas helped me carefully to the armchair by
the open lattice and thereafter stood looking down at me
with a certain bleak austerity of gaze.

" And you still refuse to hold any communication with
her, Peregrine? "

"I do, sir."

" Or to afford her the least explanation, notwithstand-
ing her devouring grief and distress ? "

" Sir I cannot," I answered, and shivered slightly.

" Do you feel the air too much, Peregrine? "

" Thank you, no, sir. But the topic naturally dis-
tresses me!"

" Strange," said my uncle Jervas musingly, " very
I strange that I should be pleading your gipsy's suit and
'find you so coldly, mercilessly determined to make that
pleading vain ! You are as stubborn as a Vereker and I
think a trifle more merciless. Doubtless the reasons for
'your so sudden change are sufficient unto yourself, but to
your friends they are profoundly incomprehensible, nor
would I seek to probe the mystery; you are your own
master and judge, and Diana is rich, has London at her
feet, and may wed whomsoever she will, and small wonder!
Indeed, with one exception, she is the most bewilderingly
attractive and altogether beautiful woman I have ever
had the happiness to know. So here's an end of the
matter, once and for all. It is a painful topic, as you
say ; let us talk of other things yourself, for instance.
You will be up and about again soon, what do you pro-
pose to do with yourself, Peregrine? Now there is your
friend Vere-Manville playing the devil about town has
not been entirely sober for a fortnight, I hear I saw
him myself, twice, very blatantly drunk "



362 Peregrine's Progress

" Indeed, sir, uncle George mentioned something of
this yesterday, though such conduct in Anthony is quite
incomprehensible.*'

" Not content with this, the young fool is gambling
desperately, haunts all the noted hells I heard he
dropped over a thousand recently in a few hours ; his reck-
lessness is becoming a byword."

" Good heavens, Uncle ! Is he mad? "

" That you may ask him personally. I understand he
intends honouring you with a visit this afternoon. He
should be here shortly, unless he happens to be drunk.
You are his friend, Peregrine; talk to him as such, en-
deavour to stem the tide of his folly, if only for his young
wife's sake. Curb his madness if you can, it should be
an occupation for your leisure not without interest."

Thus we conversed at large and upon many topics but
spoke no further regarding her of whom we both were
thinking; and thus, I believe, we were both of us a little
relieved to hear a distant " view hallo."

" There rides your friend Vere-Manville, I think, Pere-
grine, and evidently a trifle hilarious ! "

A trampling of hoofs in the paved yard below, and
glancing from the window I espied Anthony sure enough,
who, leaping from the saddle, reeled violently and clutched
at the stalwart George to save himself.

" Aha ! " he exclaimed, " seems something 's matter wi*
old mother earth, George heaving damnably up and
down, George unless it's my legs. Where's door,
George? Aye, there 'tis. Seems dooced small unless
it 's my eyes, George ha ha ! " So he blundered in and
heavily up the stair, and after knocking thunderously, en-
tered. At sight of my uncle Jervas, he halted, drew him-
self very erect and bowed profoundly and with a flourish,
and when he spoke his speech was so thick that I dreaded
lest he hiccough:

" Your servant, S' Jervas ! Hope I see y* well, sir? "

My uncle's bow was extremely stately and distant.

" Peregrine," said he, " seeing you have enlivening



Song of a Blackbird at Evening 363

company, I will take occasion to go and meet your aunt
Julia. Mr. Vere-Manville, I would venture to impress
upon you that my nephew is still very much of an invalid."
So saying, my uncle saluted us in turn with his grandest
air and went out, closing the door behind him.

" Thinks I 'm drunk, does he ! " exclaimed Anthony,
scowling after him. " Well, what the devil so I am,
damned d-drunk and so much the better "

" So much the worse, Anthony ! "

" Tush, you talk like a fool, Perry ; better be drunk and
forget than be sober and a s-suicide felo felo-de-se,
buried at cross road stake through your inside dev-
ilish unpleasant business "

" You talk like a madman, Anthony."

" And you like a f-fool, Perry ! Here 's you come back
t' life like a fool, instead o' dying comfortably and re-
spectably like wise man. Here's you hoping and
yearning to marry and that 's the damndest folly of all.
Much better be comfortably dead "

" For shame, Anthony for shame ! " cried I angrily.
" If you have so lost respect for yourself at least think
of and respect your wife "

" Wife ! " he exclaimed. " My wife ! " and springing
up out of the chair I saw him tower above me, clenched
hands upflung, his comely features distorted and horribly
suffused ; then he lurched to the window and leaned, chok-
ing, from the lattice. Suddenly his bowed shoulders began
to heave, and I heard him laugh in dreadful manner and
when he turned his look was demoniac.

"Egad, but you will have your joke, eh, Perry, and
devilish funny aye, devilish ! My wife, says you ha !
ha ! says I. You 're drunk, says you I am, says I so
I can laugh, d' ye see "

" Anthony ! " I cried, rising from my chair. " O An-
thony, here's more than drink dear fellow, in God's
name, what is it? " And I grasped at him with weak but
insistent hands.

For a moment he made as if to throw me off, then his



364 Peregrine's Progress

long arm was about me, his head bowed upon my
shoulder, and when he spoke his voice had lost its wild,
mad ring.

"D' ye think I like getting drunk, Perry? But there
are worse things madness and murder. A bullet would
be quick, but I still have hope sometimes and death
by drink is a slow business, so I 've chosen death by
drink "

"Why, Tony? What is the trouble? Is it Barbara

your Loveliness ? "

*' She has never been the same since she came back from
abroad, Perry. Some secret trouble all these weeks
it has been getting worse she has sometimes seemed
afraid of me of me, Perry ! At last I taxed her with
it begged she'd confide in me. She told me there was
nothing, laughed it off and I believed it, like a fool but
that night, Perry that night, as she slept and look-
ing pure and holy as one of God's angels, she cried on a
name a man's name. I woke her questioned her,
begged, implored, commanded and still she laughed,
but always with the fear in her eyes. And I know she lied !
Then I took to watching her and she me and so it went
on until there were times when I could have struck her

choked the truth out of her O Perry! So I left
her went to London. Oh damnation, d' ye wonder I
drink? Better drink myself to the devil than harm her
though drink will take a long time to kill me, I 'm
afraid "

" Drink never shall, Tony ! There, sit down, old fellow,
calm yourself, for by heaven I think you are making much
out of little "

" Why did she lie to me? "

" Are you sure she did ? "

" Certain ! "

" What do you propose to do? "

" Go back to London."

" Then I will accompany you."

"Impossible; you're weak as a confounded rabbit!"



Song of a Blackbird at Evening 365

" I 'm stronger than I look ; I 've walked regularly in
the garden these last three days. However, if you go to
London, I go too."

" Well, and if so what could you do? "

"Remind you that a gentleman must endure unflinch-
ingly and suffer with unshaken fortitude."

" Ha, would you preach at me? "

"Day and night, if necessary."

"Would you, begad!"

" I would ! Indeed I would make myself a pestilential
nuisance to help my friend."

" Friend ! " he repeated. " Oh, curse and confound it,
Perry, if I was n't such a miserable, hopeless dog, I should
be proud of such friendship I am proud of it and always
shall be but here our companionship ends. There's
but one course for me, and I intend to ride to the devil
alone!"

It was at this moment that the door opened and I rose
to my feet, trembling, as Diana stepped into the room.
She was clad for riding and her close-fitting habit served
only to accentuate the voluptuous beauty of her form,
yet her eyes seemed maidenly and untroubled, wide-opened
and serenely steadfast as of old, and this of itself stirred
within me a sullen resentment as she stood looking at
me, a little pale, very wistful, yet radiant in her beauty;
and when she spoke her voice was untroubled as her
look.

" Mr. Vere-Manville, I beg you will leave us awhile ! "

Even as she spoke, Anthony bowed, strode to the door
and was gone before I could stay him.

"Peregrine?"

One word, softly uttered, yet in it a world of pleading
reproach and troubled wonderment, insomuch that, re-
membering that accursed black-bodied chaise, the ring and
gossamer veil, my sullen resentment waxed to bitter anger,
the whole thing seemed so utterly nauseous.

Evening was falling and from one of the trees in the
orchard a blackbird was calling to his mate, soft and



366 Peregrine's Progress

sweetly plaintive, and never, to the end of my days,
may I hear such without recalling all the agony of this
hour.

We stood very silent, looking upon each other, while
the blackbird piped in the orchard below; and now I
trembled no more, for my anger was passed and in its
stead was a cold and purposeful determination.

"Are you better, Peregrine?*' she questioned at last.
" More yourself? "

" Thank you, yes."

When next she spoke her voice faltered a little, though
her glance never wavered.

" Peregrine, why why did you drive me away ?
Why refuse to see me? "

" To avoid a painful scene."

"But what should cause a painful scene between us,
Peregrine? Oh, my dear, what is it what has changed
you? Is it your illness?"

"Let us suppose so."

"Have you no no other explanation to offer me?"
she questioned wistfully and stood waiting my answer,
drawing her riding gauntlet a little nervously through her
ungloved hand, on the slender finger of which I saw the
scarabaeus ring. " Is there, O Peregrine, is there no other
explanation ? "

" None ! " said I savagely, my eyes on that accursed
ring. "None!"

" Peregrine dear," she questioned humbly, " have
you learned to to love one more more worthy than I
in my absence? "

" God forbid ! " I answered. " Love has become for me
a thing abhorred and utterly detestable."

" Then God help me," said she in strange, passionless
voice, " for without your love I shall be desolate ! "

" But you are so beautiful so very beautiful you will
never lack for comfort, you could find scores of noble
suitors to-morrow eager and willing. So why talk of deso-
lation?"



Song of a Blackbird at Evening 36^

Now at this she shrank a little, staring at me with a
dawning horror in her eyes.

" Peregrine," she whispered, " O Peregrine, can this
indeed be you? My loved Peregrine, my gentleman that
was so chivalrous and gentle once, and now to hurt me so
wilfully so bitterly ! "

" I am two years older, and a little wiser, perhaps."

" Two years ! " she repeated dully. " Two years I
should never have left you it was wrong ! And yet
can two years work so great a change in any one? Ah,
no, no this cannot be you so cold so hard and
cruel! Oh, if we might but have those two years back
again when you were your own dear self and I your loving
gipsy girl with no ambition but to be worthy of -just
you! O Peregrine, is your love for me truly dead so
soon?"

As thus she spoke, all pleading, passionate entreaty, she
came towards me with both arms outstretched, her eyes
abrim with tears ; but, frowning at her ungloved hand, I
started back so hurriedly that she stopped and looked at
me as if J had struck her ; then she shrank away, her proud
head drooped, her arms fell and she covered her face.
" Then it is true ! " she gasped, " all dreadfully true."
And upon the silence stole the sweetly plaintive notes of
the blackbird calling, calling from the orchard below.

And as she stood thus, bowed and shaken with her grief,
I kept my gaze ever upon that betraying scarabaeus ring.
Suddenly she raised her head and I saw her tearless but
very pale.

" Yes, you are changed," said she, in that strange, pas-
sionless tone, " quite changed ; your eyes are cold, your
face cruel and hard and yet O dear God ! " she cried,
" O dear God, I cannot believe your love is truly dead
how can I? O dear, dear Peregrine, tell me you do love
me still if only just a little oh, be merciful, dear !"

And now indeed she was weeping but, blinded by her
tears, choked by her sobs, she yet reached out her arms
to me in mute appeal; and it seemed that somehow her



368 Peregrine's Progress

tears were blinding me also, her passionate sobs shaking
me, for I stood in a mist, groping for the support of my
chair-back ; indistinctly I heard a voice speak that I knew
was mine.

" So you still wear the scarab ring I 've seen it be-
fore. But where is your veil with the gold stars? I did
love you once worshipped reverenced your maidenly
purity your brave truthfulness but that love is dead
crushed crushed beneath red wheels, and I would to
God I were dead with it. No if you please, don't touch
me by your leave I will sit and beg you to excuse me.
I would be alone."

" Ah, Peregrine beloved, you are crying too ! "
" Indeed yes. I grieve that I am not dead."
"But why why would you be dead, my own?"
" Because O Diana I cannot help but love you
after all. And now, pray go I beseech you, leave me
ere the devil break loose and I speak the unforgivable
thing . . . Go, I entreat ! "

With some such hysterical words as these and blinded
by a gush of weak, unmanly tears, I sent her from me, un-
heeding alike her piteous entreaties and the clasp of her
imploring hands. When she was gone I sank into my
chair and suffered my tears to flow unchecked, while the
blackbird voiced the agony of loss and disillusionment.



THE DEEPS OF HELL

YOUR Heroes of Romance from time immemorial have
generally been large men, more or less handsome, super-
latively strong, void of all fear, stalwart of body and
steadfast of mind; moreover, being singled out by a hard
fate to endure much and often, they suffer, unflinchingly
and uncomplainingly, to extremity, like the heroes they
are. To be sure, under great stress of mental or even
bodily anguish, they are sometimes allowed to sigh, to
tremble, or even emit an occasional groan, but tears, it
seems, are a weakness forbidden them.

All of which foregoing is to lend additional point to
the fact that in my last chapter I leave myself huddled



Online LibraryJeffery FarnolPeregrine's progress → online text (page 25 of 31)