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- The Splendid Spur - 3/44 -


The bully held him so for a full minute, peering close to make sure he was dead, and then without loosening his hold, dragged him across the grass under my window. By the sycamore he halted, but only to shift his hands a little; and so, swaying on his hips, sent the carcase with a heave over the wall. I heard it drop with a thud on the far side.

During this fierce wrestle--which must have lasted about two minutes--the clatter and shouting of the company above had gone on without a break; and all this while the man with the white hair had rested quietly on one side, watching. But now he steps up to where the bully stood mopping his face (for all the coolness of the evening), and, with a finger between the leaves of his book, bows very politely.

"You handled that dog, sir, choicely well," says he, in a thin voice that seemed to have a chuckle hidden in it somewhere.

The other ceased mopping to get a good look at him.

"But sure," he went on, "'twas hard on the poor cur, that had never heard of Captain Lucius Higgs--"

I thought the bully would have had him by the windpipe and pitched him after the mastiff, so fiercely he turn'd at the sound of this name. But the old gentleman skipped back quite nimbly and held up a finger.

"I'm a man of peace. If another title suits you better--"

"Where the devil got you that name?" growled the bully, and had half a mind to come on again, but the other put in briskly--

"I'm on a plain errand of business. No need, as you hint, to mention names; and therefore let me present myself as Mr. Z. The residue of the alphabet is at your service to pick and choose from."

"My name is Luke Settle," said the big man hoarsely (but whether this was his natural voice or no I could not tell).

"Let us say 'Mr. X.' I prefer it."

The old gentleman, as he said this, popped his head on one side, laid the forefinger of his right hand across the book, and seem'd to be considering.

"Why did you throttle that dog a minute ago?" he asked sharply.

"Why, to save my skin," answers the fellow, a bit puzzled.

"Would you have done it for fifty pounds?"

"Aye, or half that."

"And how if it had been a _puppy_, Mr. X?"

Now all this from my hiding I had heard very clearly, for they stood right under me in the dusk. But as the old gentleman paused to let his question sink in, and the bully to catch the drift of it before answering, one of the dicers above struck up to sing a catch----

"With a hey, trolly-lolly! a leg to the Devil, And answer him civil, and off with your cap: Sing--Hey, trolly-lolly! Good-morrow, Sir Evil, We've finished the tap, And, saving your worship, we care not a rap!"

While this din continued, the stranger held up one forefinger again, as if beseeching silence, the other remaining still between the pages of his book.

"Pretty boys!" he said, as the noise died away; "pretty boys! 'Tis easily seen they have a bird to pluck."

"He's none of my plucking."

"And if he were, why not? Sure you've picked a feather or two before now in the Low Countries--hey?"

"I'll tell you what," interrupts the big man, "next time you crack one of your death's-head jokes, over the wall you go after the dog. What's to prevent it?"

"Why, this," answers the old fellow, cheerfully. "There's money to be made by doing no such thing. And I don't carry it all about with me. So, as 'tis late, we'd best talk business at once."

They moved away toward the seat under the sycamore, and now their words reached me no longer--only the low murmur of their voices or (to be correct) of the elder man's: for the other only spoke now and then, to put a question, as it seemed. Presently I heard an oath rapped out and saw the bully start up. "Hush, man!" cried the other, and "hark-ye now--"; so he sat down again. Their very forms were lost within the shadow. I, myself, was cold enough by this time and had a cramp in one leg--but lay still, nevertheless. And after awhile they stood up together, and came pacing across the bowling- green, side by side, the older man trailing his foot painfully to keep step. You may be sure I strain'd my ears.

"--besides the pay," the stranger was saying, "there's all you can win of this young fool, Anthony, and all you find on the pair, which I'll wager--"

They passed out of hearing, but turned soon, and came back again. The big man was speaking this time.

"I'll be shot if I know what game _you're_ playing in this."

The elder chuckled softly. "I'll be shot if I mean you to," said he.

And this was the last I heard. For now there came a clattering at the door behind me, and Mr. Robert Drury reeled in, hiccuping a maudlin ballad about "_Tib and young Colin, one fine day, beneath the haycock shade-a_," &c., &c., and cursing to find his fire gone out, and all in darkness. Liquor was ever his master, and to- day the King's health had been a fair excuse. He did not spy me, but the roar of his ballad had startled the two men outside, and so, while he was stumbling over chairs, and groping for a tinder-box, I slipp'd out in the darkness, and downstairs into the street.

CHAPTER II.

THE YOUNG MAN IN THE CLOAK OF AMBER SATIN,

Guess, any of you, if these events disturbed my rest that night. 'Twas four o'clock before I dropp'd asleep in my bed in Trinity, and my last thoughts were still busy with the words I had heard. Nor, on the morrow, did it fair any better with me: so that, at rhetoric lecture, our president--Dr. Ralph Kettle--took me by the ears before the whole class. He was the fiercer upon me as being older than the gross of my fellow-scholars, and (as he thought) the more restless under discipline. "A tutor'd adolescence," he would say, "is a fair grace before meat," and had his hourglass enlarged to point the moral for us. But even a rhetoric lecture must have an end, and so, tossing my gown to the porter, I set off at last for Magdalen Bridge, where the new barricado was building, along the Physic Garden, in front of East Gate.

The day was dull and low'ring, though my wits were too busy to heed the sky; but scarcely was I past the small gate in the city wall when a brisk shower of hail and sleet drove me to shelter in the Pig Market ( or _Proscholium_) before the Divinity School. 'Tis an ample vaulted passage, as I dare say you know; and here I found a great company of people already driven by the same cause.

To describe them fully 'twould be necessary to paint the whole state of our city in those distracted times, which I have neither wit nor time for. But here, to-day, along with many doctors and scholars, were walking courtiers, troopers, mountebanks, cut-purses, astrologers, rogues and gamesters; together with many of the first ladies and gentlemen of England, as the Prince Maurice, the lords Andover, Digby and Colepepper, my lady Thynne, Mistress Fanshawe, Mr. Secretary Nicholas, the famous Dr. Harvey, arm-in-arm with my lord Falkland (whose boots were splash'd with mud, he having ridden over from his house at Great Tew), and many such, all mix'd in this incredible tag-rag. Mistress Fanshawe, as I remember, was playing on a lute, which she carried always slung about her shoulders: and close beside her, a fellow impudently puffing his specific against the _morbus campestris_, which already had begun to invade us.

"_Who'll buy?_" he was bawling. "'_Tis from the receipt of a famous Italian, and never yet failed man, woman, nor child, unless the heart were clean drown'd in the disease: the lest part of it good muscadine, and has virtue against the plague, smallpox, or surfeits!_"

I was standing before this jackanapes, when I heard a stir in the crowd behind me, and another calling, "_Who'll buy? Who'll buy?_"

Turning, I saw a young man, very gaily dressed, moving quickly about at the far end of the Pig Market, and behind him an old lackey, bent double with the weight of two great baskets that he carried. The baskets were piled with books, clothes, and gewgaws of all kinds; and 'twas the young gentleman that hawked his wares himself. "_What d'ye lack?_" he kept shouting, and would stop to unfold his merchandise, holding up now a book, and now a silk doublet, and running over their merits like any huckster--but with the merriest conceit in the world.

And yet 'twas not this that sent my heart flying into my mouth at the sight of him. For by his curls and womanish face, no less than the amber cloak with the black bars, I knew him at once for the same I had seen yesterday among the dicers.

As I stood there, drawn this way and that by many reflections, he worked his way through the press, selling here and there a trifle from his baskets, and at length came to a halt in front of me.

"Ha!" he cried, pulling off his plumed hat, and bowing low, "a scholar, I perceive. Let me serve you, sir. Here is the 'History of Saint George,'" and he picked out a thin brown quarto and held it up; "written by Master Peter Heylin; a ripe book they tell me (though, to be sure, I never read beyond the title), and the price a poor two shillings."

[Illustration: "A scholar, I perceive. Let me serve you sir?"--Page 30.]


The Splendid Spur - 3/44

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