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- The Splendid Spur - 5/44 -

Wee goe to the "Crowne" at VI. o'clock, I having mett with Captain Settle, who is on dewty with the horse tonite, and must to Abendonn by IX. I looke for you--- Your unfayned loving A. K.

The bearer has left my servise, and his helth conserus me nott. Soe kik him if he tarrie.

This last advice I had no time to carry out with any thoroughness: but being put in a great dread by this change of hour, pelted off toward the Corn Market as fast as legs could take me, which was the undoing of a little round citizen into whom I ran full tilt at the corner of Balliol College: who, before I could see his face in the darkness, was tipp'd on his back in the gutter and using the most dismal expressions. So I left him, considering that my excuses would be unsatisfying to his present demands, and to his cooler judgment a superfluity.

The windows of the "Crown" were cheerfully lit behind their red blinds. A few straddling grooms and troopers talked and spat in the brightness of the entrance, and outside in the street was a servant leading up and down a beautiful sorrel mare, ready saddled, that was mark'd on the near hind leg with a high white stocking. In the passage, I met the host of the "Crown," Master John Davenant, and sure (I thought) in what odd corners will the Muse pick up her favorites! For this slow, loose-cheek'd vintner was no less than father to Will Davenant, our Laureate, and had belike read no other verse in his life but those at the bottom of his own pint-pots.

"Top of the stairs," says he, indicating my way, "and open the door ahead of you, if y'are the young gentleman Master Killigrew spoke of."

I had my foot on the bottom step, when from the room above comes the crash of a table upsetting, with a noise of broken glass, chairs thrust back, and a racket of outcries. Next moment, the door was burst open, letting out a flood of light and curses; and down flies a drawer, three steps at a time, with a red stain of wine trickling down his white face.

"Murder!" he gasped out; and sitting down on a stair, fell to mopping his face, all sick and trembling.

I was dashing past him, with the landlord at my heels, when three men came tumbling out at the door, and downstairs. I squeezed myself against the wall to let them pass: but Master Davenant was pitch'd to the very foot of the stairs. And then he picked himself up and ran out into the Corn Market, the drawer after him, and both shouting "Watch! Watch!" at the top of their lungs; and so left the three fellows to push by the women already gathered in the passage, and gain the street at their ease. All this happen'd while a man could count twenty; and in half a minute I heard the ring of steel and was standing in the doorway.

There was now no light within but what was shed by the fire and two tallow candles that gutter'd on the mantelshelf. The remaining candlesticks lay in a pool of wine on the floor, amid broken glasses, bottles, scattered coins, dice boxes and pewter pots. In the corner to my right cower'd a potboy, with tankard dangling in his hand, and the contents spilling into his shoes. His wide terrified eyes were fix'd on the far end of the room, where Anthony and the brute Settle stood, with a shattered chair between them. Their swords were cross'd in tierce, and grating together as each sought occasion for a lunge: which might have been fair enough but for a dog-fac'd trooper in a frowsy black periwig, who, as I enter'd, was gathering a handful of coins from under the fallen table, and now ran across, sword in hand, to the Captain's aid.

'Twas Anthony that fac'd me, with his heel against the wainscoting, and, catching my cry of alarm, he call'd out cheerfully over the Captain's shoulder, but without lifting his eyes--

"Just in time, Jack! Take off the second cur, that's a sweet boy!"

Now I carried no sword; but seizing the tankard from the potboy's hand, I hurl'd it at the dog-fac'd trooper. It struck him fair between the shoulder blades; and with a yell of pain he spun round and came toward me, his point glittering in a way that turn'd me cold. I gave back a pace, snatch'd up a chair (that luckily had a wooden seat) and with my back against the door, waited his charge.

'Twas in this posture that, flinging a glance across the room, I saw the Captain's sword describe a small circle of light, and next moment, with a sharp cry, Anthony caught at the blade, and stagger'd against the wall, pinn'd through the chest to the wainscoting.

"Out with the lights, Dick!" bawl'd Settle, tugging out his point. "Quick, fool--the window!"

Dick, with a back sweep of his hand, sent the candles flying off the shelf; and, save for the flicker of the hearth, we were in darkness. I felt, rather than saw, his rush toward me; leap'd aside; and brought down my chair with a crash on his skull. He went down like a ninepin, but scrambled up in a trice, and was running for the window.

There was a shout below as the Captain thrust the lattice open: another, and the two dark forms had clambered through the purple square of the casement, and dropped into the bowling-green below.

By this, I had made my way across the room, and found Anthony sunk against the wall, with his feet outstretched. There was something he held out toward me, groping for my hand and at the same time whispering in a thick, choking voice--

"Here, Jack, here: pocket it quick!"

'Twas a letter, and as my fingers closed on it they met a damp smear, the meaning of which was but too plain.

"Button it--sharp--in thy breast: now feel for my sword."

"First let me tend thy hurt, dear lad."

"Nay--quickly, my sword! 'Tis pretty, Jack, to hear thee say 'dear lad.' A cheat to die like this--could have laugh'd for years yet. The dice were cogg'd--hast found it?"

I groped beside him, found the hilt, and held it up.

"So--'tis thine, Jack: and my mare, Molly, and the letter to take. Say to Delia--Hark! they are on the stairs. Say to--"

With a shout the door was flung wide, and on the threshold stood the Watch, their lanterns held high and shining in Anthony's white face, and on the black stain where his doublet was thrown open.

In numbers they were six or eight, led by a small, wrynecked man that held a long staff, and wore a gilt chain over his furr'd collar. Behind, in the doorway, were huddled half a dozen women, peering: and Master Davenant at the back of all, his great face looming over their shoulders like a moon.

"Now, speak up, Master Short!"

"Aye, that I will--that I will: but my head is considering of affairs," answered Master Short--he of the wryneck. "One, two, three--" He look'd round the room, and finding but one capable of resisting (for the potboy was by this time in a fit), clear'd his throat, and spoke up--

"In the king's name, I arrest you all--so help me God! Now what's the matter?"

"Murder," said I, looking up from my work of staunching Anthony's wound.

"Then forbear, and don't do it."

"Why, Master Short, they've been forbearin' these ten minutes," a woman's voice put in.

"Hush, and hear Master Short: he knows the law, an' all the dubious maxims of the same."

"Aye, aye: he says forbear i' the King's name, which is to say, that other forbearing is neither law nor grace. Now then, Master Short!"

Thus exhorted, the man of law continued--

"I charge ye as honest men to disperse!"

"Odds truth, Master Short, why you've just laid 'em under arrest!"

"H'm, true: then let 'em stay so--in the king's name--and have done with it."

Master Short, in fact, was growing testy: but now the women push'd by him, and, by screaming at the sight of blood, put him out of all patience. Dragging them back by the skirts, he told me he must take the depositions, and pull'd out pen and ink horn.

"Sirs," said I, laying poor Anthony's head softly back, "you are too late: whilst ye were cackling my friend is dead."

"Then, young man, thou must come along."

"Come along?"

"The charge is _homocidium_, or manslaying, with or without malice prepense--"

"But--" I look'd round. The potboy was insensible, and my eyes fell on Master Davenant, who slowly shook his head.

"I'll say not a word," said he, stolidly: "lost twenty pound, one time, by a lawsuit."

"Pack of fools!" I cried, driven beyond endurance. "The guilty ones have escap'd these ten minutes. Now stop me who dares!"

And dashing my left fist on the nose of a watchman who would have seized me, I clear'd a space with Anthony's sword, made a run for the casement, and dropp'd out upon the bowling-green.

A pretty shout went up as I pick'd myself off the turf and rush'd for the back door. 'Twas unbarr'd, and in a moment I found myself tearing down the passage and out into the Corn Market, with a score

The Splendid Spur - 5/44

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