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- The Splendid Spur - 2/44 -


II. THE YOUNG MAN IN THE CLOAK OF AMBER SATIN

III. I FIND MYSELF IN A TAVERN BRAWL; AND BARELY ESCAPE

IV. I TAKE THE ROAD

V. MY ADVENTURE AT THE "THREE CUPS"

VI. THE FLIGHT IN THE PINE WOOD

VII. I FIND A COMRADE

VIII. I LOSE THE KING'S LETTER; AND AM CARRIED TO BRISTOL

IX I BREAK OUT OF PRISON

X. CAPTAIN POTTERY AND CAPTAIN SETTLE

XI. I RIDE DOWN INTO TEMPLE; AND AM WELL TREATED THERE

XII. HOW JOAN SAVED THE ARMY OF THE WEST; AND SAW THE FIGHT ON BRADDOCK DOWN

XIII. I BUY A LOOKING GLASS AT BODMIN FAIR; AND MEET WITH MR. HANNIBAL TINGCOMB

XIV. I DO NO GOOD IN THE HOUSE OF GLEYS

XV. I LEAVE JOAN AND RIDE TO THE WARS

XVI. THE BATTLE OF STAMFORD HEATH

XVII. I MEET WITH A HAPPY ADVENTURE BY BURNING OF A GREEN LIGHT

XVIII. JOAN DOES ME HER LAST SERVICE

XIX THE ADVENTURE OF THE HEARSE

XX. THE ADVENTURE OF THE LEDGE; AND HOW I SHOOK HANDS WITH MY COMRADE

THE SPLENDID SPUR.

CHAPTER I.

THE BOWLING-GREEN OF THE "CROWN."

He that has jilted the Muse, forsaking her gentle pipe to follow the drum and trumpet, shall fruitlessly besiege her again when the time comes to sit at home and write down his adventures. 'Tis her revenge, as I am extremely sensible: and methinks she is the harder to me, upon reflection how near I came to being her lifelong servant, as you are to hear.

'Twas on November 29th, Ao. 1642--a clear, frosty day--that the King, with the Prince of Wales (newly recovered of the measles), the Princes Rupert and Maurice, and a great company of lords and gentlemen, horse and foot, came marching back to us from Reading. I was a scholar of Trinity College in Oxford at that time, and may begin my history at three o'clock on the same afternoon, when going (as my custom was) to Mr. Rob. Drury for my fencing lesson, I found his lodgings empty.

They stood at the corner of Ship Street, as you turn into the Corn Market--a low wainscoted chamber, ill-lighted but commodious. "He is off to see the show," thought I as I looked about me; and finding an easy cushion in the window, sat down to await him. Where presently, being tired out (for I had been carrying a halberd all day with the scholars' troop in Magdalen College Grove), and in despite of the open lattice, I fell sound asleep.

It must have been an hour after that I awoke with a chill (as was natural), and was stretching out a hand to pull the window close, but suddenly sat down again and fell to watching instead.

The window look'd down, at the height of ten feet or so, upon a bowling-green at the back of the "Crown" Tavern (kept by John Davenant, in the Corn Market), and across it to a rambling wing of the same inn; the fourth side--that to my left--being but an old wall, with a broad sycamore growing against it. 'Twas already twilight; and in the dark'ning house, over the green, was now one casement brightly lit, the curtains undrawn, and within a company of noisy drinkers round a table. They were gaming, as was easily told by their clicking of the dice and frequent oaths: and anon the bellow of some tipsy chorus would come across. 'Twas one of these catches, I dare say, that woke me: only just now my eyes were bent, not toward the singers, but on the still lawn between us.

The sycamore, I have hinted, was a broad tree, and must, in summer, have borne a goodly load of leaves: but now, in November, these were strewn thick over the green, and nothing left but stiff, naked boughs. Beneath it lay a crack'd bowl or two on the rank turf, and against the trunk a garden bench rested, I suppose for the convenience of the players. On this a man was now seated.

He was reading in a little book; and this first jogged my curiosity: for 'twas unnatural a man should read print at this dim hour, or, if he had a mind to try, should choose a cold bowling-green for his purpose. Yet he seemed to study his volume very attentively, but with a sharp look, now and then, toward the lighted window, as if the revellers disturb'd him. His back was partly turn'd to me; and what with this and the growing dusk, I could but make a guess at his face: but a plenty of silver hair fell over his fur collar, and his shoulders were bent a great deal. I judged him between fifty and sixty. For the rest, he wore a dark, simple suit, very straitly cut, with an ample furr'd cloak, and a hat rather tall, after the fashion of the last reign.

Now, why the man's behavior so engaged me, I don't know: but at the end of half an hour I was still watching him. By this, 'twas near dark, bitter cold, and his pretence to read mere fondness: yet he persevered--though with longer glances at the casement above, where the din at times was fit to wake the dead.

And now one of the dicers upsets his chair with a curse, and gets on his feet. Looking up, I saw his features for a moment--a slight, pretty boy, scarce above eighteen, with fair curls and flush'd cheeks like a girl's. It made me admire to see him in this ring of purple, villainous faces. 'Twas evident he was a young gentleman of quality, as well by his bearing as his handsome cloak of amber satin barr'd with black. "I think the devil's in these dice!" I heard him crying, and a pretty hubbub all about him: but presently the drawer enters with more wine, and he sits down quietly to a fresh game.

As soon as 'twas started, one of the crew, that had been playing but was now dropp'd out, lounges up from his seat, and coming to the casement pushes it open for fresh air. He was one that till now had sat in full view--a tall bully, with a gross pimpled nose; and led the catches in a bull's voice. The rest of the players paid no heed to his rising; and very soon his shoulders hid them, as he lean'd out, drawing in the cold breath.

During the late racket I had forgot for a while my friend under the sycamore, but now, looking that way, to my astonishment I saw him risen from his bench and stealing across to the house opposite. I say "stealing," for he kept all the way to the darker shadow of the wall, and besides had a curious trailing motion with his left foot as though the ankle of it had been wrung or badly hurt.

As soon as he was come beneath the window he stopped and called softly--

"Hist!"

The bully gave a start and look'd down. I could tell by this motion he did not look to find anyone in the bowling-green at that hour. Indeed he had been watching the shaft of light thrown past him by the room behind, and now moved so as to let it fall on the man that addressed him.

The other stands close under the window, as if to avoid this, and calls again--

"Hist!" says he, and beckons with a finger.

The man at the window still held his tongue (I suppose because those in the room would hear him if he spoke), and so for a while the two men studied one another in silence, as if considering their next moves.

After a bit, however, the bully lifted a hand, and turning back into the lighted room, walks up to one of the players, speaks a word or two and disappears.

I sat up on the window seat, where till now I had been crouching for fear the shaft of light should betray me, and presently (as I was expecting) heard the latch of the back perch gently lifted, and spied the heavy form of the bully coming softly over the grass.

Now, I would not have my readers prejudiced, and so may tell them this was the first time in my life I had played the eavesdropper. That I did so now I can never be glad enough, but 'tis true, nevertheless, my conscience pricked me; and I was even making a motion to withdraw when that occurred which would have fixed any man's attention, whether he wish'd it or no.

The bully must have closed the door behind him but carelessly, for hardly could he take a dozen steps when it opened again with a scuffle, and the large house dog belonging to the "Crown" flew at his heels with a vicious snarl and snap of the teeth.

'Twas enough to scare the coolest. But the fellow turn'd as if shot, and before he could snap again, had gripped him fairly by the throat. The struggle that follow'd I could barely see, but I heard the horrible sounds of it--the hard, short breathing of the man, the hoarse rage working in the dog's throat--and it turned me sick. The dog--a mastiff--was fighting now to pull loose, and the pair swayed this way and that in the dusk, panting and murderous.

I was almost shouting aloud--feeling as though 'twere my own throat thus gripp'd--when the end came. The man had his legs planted well apart.

I saw his shoulders heave up and bend as he tightened the pressure of his fingers; then came a moment's dead silence, then a hideous gurgle, and the mastiff dropped back, his hind legs trailing limp.


The Splendid Spur - 2/44

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