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- The Splendid Spur - 6/44 -


or so tumbling downstairs at my heels, and yelling to stop me. Turning sharp to my right, I flew up Ship Street, and through the Turl, and doubled back up the High Street, sword in hand. The people I pass'd were too far taken aback, as I suppose, to interfere. But a many must have join'd in the chase: for presently the street behind me was thick with the clatter of footsteps and cries of "A thief--a thief! Stop him!"

At Quater Voies I turn'd again, and sped down toward St. Aldate's, thence to the left by Wild Boar Street, and into St. Mary's Lane. By this, the shouts had grown fainter, but were still following. Now I knew there was no possibility to get past the city gates, which were well guarded at night. My hope reach'd no further than the chance of outwitting the pursuit for a while longer. In the end I was sure the potboy's evidence would clear me, and therefore began to enjoy the fun. Even my certain expulsion from College on the morrow seem'd of a piece with the rest of events and (prospectively) a matter for laughter. For the struggle at the "Crown" had unhinged my wits, as I must suppose and you must believe, if you would understand my behavior in the next half hour.

A bright thought had struck me: and taking a fresh wind, I set off again round the corner of Oriel College, and down Merton Street toward Master Timothy Carter's house, my mother's cousin. This gentleman--who was town clerk to the Mayor and Corporation of Oxford--was also in a sense my guardian, holding it trust about L200 (which was all my inheritance), and spending the same jealously on my education. He was a very small, precise lawyer, about sixty years old, shaped like a pear, with a prodigious self-important manner that came of associating with great men: and all the knowledge I had of him was pick'd up on the rare occasions (about twice a year) that I din'd at his table. He had early married and lost an aged shrew, whose money had been the making of him: and had more respect for law and authority than any three men in Oxford. So that I reflected, with a kind of desperate hilarity, on the greeting he was like to give me.

This kinsman of mine had a fine house at the east end of Merton Street as you turn into Logic Lane: and I was ten yards from the front door, and running my fastest, when suddenly I tripp'd and fell headlong.

Before I could rise, a hand was on my shoulder, and a voice speaking in my ear--

"Pardon, comrade. We are two of a trade, I see."

'Twas a fellow that had been lurking at the corner of the lane, and had thrust out a leg as I pass'd. He was pricking up his ears now to the cries of "Thief--thief!" that had already reach'd the head of the street, and were drawing near.

"I am no thief," said I.

"Quick!" He dragged me into the shadow of the lane. "Hast a crown in thy pocket?"

"Why?"

"Why, for a good turn. I'll fog these gentry for thee. Many thanks, comrade," as I pull'd out the last few shillings of my pocket money. "Now pitch thy sword over the wall here, and set thy foot on my hand. 'Tis a rich man's garden, t'other side, that I was meaning to explore myself; but another night will serve."

"'Tis Master Carter's," said I; "and he's my kinsman."

"The devil!--but never mind, up with thee! Now mark a pretty piece of play. 'Tis pity thou shouldst be across the wall and unable to see."

He gave a great hoist: catching at the coping of the wall, I pull'd myself up and sat astride of it.

"Good turf below--ta-ta, comrade!"

By now, the crowd was almost at the corner. Dropping about eight feet on to good turf, as the fellow had said, I pick'd myself up and listen'd.

"Which way went he?" call'd one, as they came near.

"Down the street!" "No: up the lane!'" "Hush!" "Up the lane, I'll be sworn." "Here, hand the lantern!" &c., &c.

While they debated, my friend stood close on the other side of the wall: but now I heard him dash suddenly out, and up the lane for his life. "There he goes!" "Stop him!" the cries broke out afresh. "Stop him, i' the king's name!" The whole pack went pelting by, shouting, stumbling, swearing.

For two minutes or more the stragglers continued to hurry past by ones and twos. As soon as their shouts died away, I drew freer breath and look'd around.

I was in a small, turfed garden, well stock'd with evergreen shrubs, at the back of a tall house that I knew for Master Carter's. But what puzzled me was a window in the first floor, very brightly lit, and certain sounds issuing therefrom that had no correspondence with my kinsman's reputation.

"It was a frog leap'd into a pool-- Fol--de--riddle, went souse in the middle! Says he, This is better than moping in school. With a--"

"--Your Royal Highness, have some pity! What hideous folly! Oh, dear, dear--"

"With a fa-la-tweedle-tweedle, Tiddifol-iddifol-ido!"

"--Your Royal Highness, I _cannot_ sing the dreadful stuff! Think of my grey hairs!"

"Tush! Master Carter--nonsense; 'tis choicely well sung. Come, brother, the chorus!"

"With a fa-la--"

And the chorus was roar'd forth, with shouts of laughter and clinking of glasses. Then came an interval of mournful appeal, and my kinsman's voice was again lifted----

"He scattered the tadpoles, and set 'em agog, Hey! nod-noddy-all head and no body! Oh, mammy! Oh, minky!--"

"--O, mercy, mercy! it makes me sweat for shame."

Now meantime I had been searching about the garden, and was lucky enough to find a tool shed, and inside of this a ladder hanging, which now I carried across and planted beneath the window. I had a shrewd notion of what I should find at the top, remembering now to have heard that the Princes Rupert and Maurice were lodging with Master Carter: but the truth beat all my fancies.

For climbing softly up and looking in, I beheld my poor kinsman perch'd on his chair a-top of the table, in the midst of glasses, decanters, and desserts: his wig askew, his face white, save where, between the eyes, a medlar had hit and broken, and his glance shifting wildly between the two princes, who in easy postures, loose and tipsy, lounged on either side of him, and beat with their glasses on the board.

"Bravissimo! More, Master Carter--more!"

"O mammy, O nunky, here's cousin Jack Frog-- With a fa-la--"

I lifted my knuckles and tapp'd on the pane; whereon Prince Maurice starts up with an oath, and coming to the window, flings it open.

"Pardon, your Highness," said I, and pull'd myself past him into the room, as cool as you please.

'Twas worth while to see their surprise. Prince Maurice ran back to the table for his sword: his brother (being more thoroughly drunk) dropped a decanter on the floor, and lay back staring in his chair. While as for my kinsman, he sat with mouth wide and eyes starting, as tho' I were a very ghost. In the which embarrassment I took occasion to say, very politely--

"Good evening, nunky!"

"Who the devil is this?" gasps Prince Rupert.

"Why the fact is, your Highnesses," answered I, stepping up and laying my sword on the table, while I pour'd out a glass, "Master Timothy Carter here is my guardian, and has the small sum of L200 in his possession for my use, of which I happen to-night to stand in immediate need. So you see--" I finished the sentence by tossing off a glass. "This is rare stuff!" I said.

"Blood and fury!" burst out Prince Rupert, fumbling for his sword, and then gazing, drunk and helpless.

"Two hundred pound! Thou jackanapes--" began Master Carter.

"I'll let you off with fifty to-night," said I.

"Ten thousand--!"

"No, fifty. Indeed, nunky," I went on, "'tis very simple. I was at the 'Crown' tavern--"

"At a tavern!"

"Aye, at a game of dice--"

"Dice!"

"Aye, and a young man was killed--"

"Thou shameless puppy! A man murder'd!"

"Aye, nunky; and the worst is they say 'twas I that kill'd him."

"He's mad. The boy's stark raving mad!" exclaim'd my kinsman. "To


The Splendid Spur - 6/44

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