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- In Kedar's Tents - 2/47 -
the outer silence of the night, Sir John's glance sought his son's face. In moments of alarm the glance flies to where the heart is.
'What is that?' asked Alfred Pleydell, standing up.
'The Chartists,' said Sir John.
Alfred looked round. He was a soldier, though the ink had hardly dried upon the parchment that made him one--the only soldier in the room.
'We are eleven here,' he said, 'and two men downstairs--some of you fellows have your valets too--say fifteen in all. We cannot stand this, you know. '
As he spoke the first volley of stones crashed through the windows, and the broken glass rattled to the floor behind the shutters. The cries of the ladies in the drawing-room could be heard, and all the men sprang to their feet. With blazing eyes Alfred Pleydell ran to the door, but his father was there before him.
'Not you,' said the elder man, quiet but a little paler than usual; 'I will go and speak to them. They will not dare to touch me. They are probably running away by this time. '
'Then we'll run after 'em,' answered Alfred with a fine spirit, and something in his attitude, in the ring of his voice, awoke that demon of combativeness which lies dormant in men of the Anglo-Saxon race.
'Come on, you fellows!' cried the boy with a queer glad laugh, and without knowing that he did it Sir John stood aside, his heart warm with a sudden pride, his blood stirred by something that had not moved it these thirty years. The guests crowded out of the room-- old men who should have known better--laughing as they threw aside their dinner napkins. What a strange thing is man, peaceful through long years, and at a moment's notice a mere fighting devil.
'Come on, we'll teach them to break windows!' repeated Alfred Pleydell, running to the stick rack. The rain rattled on the skylight of the square hall, and the wind roared down the open chimney. Among the men hastily arming themselves with heavy sticks and cramming caps upon their heads were some who had tasted of rheumatism, but they never thought of an overcoat.
'We'll know each other by our shirt fronts,' said a quiet man who was standing on a chair in order to reach an Indian club suspended on the wall.
Alfred was at the door leading through to the servants' quarters, and his summons brought several men from the pantry and kitchens.
'Come on!' he cried, 'take anything you can find--stick or poker-- yes, and those old guns, use 'em like a club, hit very hard and very often. We'll charge the devils--there's nothing like a charge--come on!'
And he was already out of the door with a dozen at his heels.
The change from the lighted rooms to the outer darkness made them pause a moment, during which time the defenders had leisure to group themselves around Alfred Pleydell. A hoarse shout, which indeed drowned Geoffrey Horner's voice, showed where the assailants stood. Horner had found his tongue after the first volley of stones. It was the policy of the Chartist leaders and wirepullers to suggest rather than demonstrate physical force. Enough had been done to call attention to the Chester-le-Street meeting, and give it the desired prominence in the eyes of the nation.
'Get back, go to your homes!' he was shouting, with upraised arms, when the hoarse cry of his adherents and the flood of light from the opened door made him turn hastily. In a moment he saw the meaning of this development, but it was too late.
With a cheer, Alfred Pleydell, little more than a boy, led the charge, and seeing Horner in front, ran at him with upraised stick. Horner half warded the blow, which came whistling down his own stick and paralysed his thumb. He returned the stroke with a sudden fury, striking Pleydell full on the head. Then, because he had a young wife and child at home, he pushed his way through the struggling crowd, and ran away in the darkness. As he ran he could hear his late adherents dispersing in all directions, like sheep before a dog. He heard a voice calling:
And Horner, who an hour--nay, ten minutes--earlier had had no thought of violence, ran his fastest along the road by which he had lately come. His heart was as water within his breast, and his staring eyes played their part mechanically. He did not fall, but he noted nothing, and had no knowledge whither he was running.
Alfred Pleydell lay quite still on the lawn in front of his father's house.
CHAPTER II. ANOTHER REAPETH.
'Attempt the end, and never stand to doubt.'
During the course of a harum-scarum youth in the city of Dublin certain persons had been known to predict that Mr. Frederick Conyngham had a future before him. Mostly pleasant-spoken Irish persons these, who had the racial habit of saying that which is likely to be welcome. Many of them added, 'the young divil,' under their breath, in a pious hope of thereby cleansing their souls from guilt.
'I suppose I'm idle, and what is worse, I know I'm a fool,' said Conyngham himself to his tutor when that gentleman, with a toleration which was undeserved, took him severely to task before sending him up for the Bar examination. The tutor said nothing, but he suspected that this, his wildest pupil, was no fool. Truth to tell, Frederick Conyngham had devoted little thought to the matter of which he spoke, namely, himself, and was perhaps none the worse for that. A young man who thinks too often usually falls into the error of also thinking too much, of himself.
The examination was, however, safely passed, and in due course Frederick was called to the Irish Bar, where a Queen's Counsel, with an accent like rich wine, told him that he was now a gintleman, and entitled so to call himself.
All these events were left behind, and Conyngham, sitting alone in his rooms in Norfolk Street, Strand, three days after the breaking of Sir John Pleydell's windows, was engaged in realising that the predicted future was still in every sense before him, and in nowise nearer than it had been in his mother's lifetime.
This realisation of an unpleasant fact appeared in no way to disturb his equanimity, for, as he knocked his pipe against the bars of the fire, he murmured a popular air in a careless voice. The firelight showed his face to be pleasant enough in a way that left the land of his birth undoubted. Blue eyes, quick and kind; a square chin, closely curling hair, and square shoulders bespoke an Irishman. Something, however, in the cut of his lips--something close and firm--suggested an admixture of Anglo-Saxon blood. The man looked as if he might have had an English mother. It was perhaps this formation of the mouth that had led those pleasant-spoken persons to name to his relatives their conviction that Conyngham had a future before him. The best liars are those who base their fancy upon fact. They knew that the ordinary thoroughbred Irishman has usually a cheerful enough life before him, but not that which is vaguely called a future. Fred Conyngham looked like a man who could hold to his purpose, but at this moment he also had the unfortunate appearance of not possessing one to hold to.
He knocked the ashes from his pipe, and held the hot briar bowl against the ear of a sleeping fox terrier, which animal growled, without moving, in a manner that suggested its possession of a sense of humour and a full comprehension of the harmless practical joke.
A moment later the dog sat up and listened with an interest that gradually increased until the door opened and Geoffrey Horner came into the room.
'Faith, it's Horner!' said Conyngham. 'Where are you from?'
'Ah--sit down. What have you been doing up there--tub-thumping?'
Horner came forward and sat down in the chair indicated. He looked five years older than when he had last been there. Conyngham glanced at his friend, who was staring into the fire.
'Edith all right?' he asked carelessly.
'And--the little chap?'
Conyngham glanced at his companion again. Horner's eyes had the hard look that comes from hopelessness; his lips were dry and white. He wore the air of one whose stake in the game of life was heavy, who played that game nervously. For this was an ambitious man with wife and child whom he loved. Conyngham's attitude towards Fate was in strong contrast. He held his head up and faced the world without encumbrance, without a settled ambition, without any sense of responsibility at all. The sharp-eyed dog on the hearthrug looked from one to the other. A moment before, the atmosphere of the room had been one of ease and comfortable assurance--an atmosphere that some men, without any warrant or the justification of personal success or distinction, seem to carry with them through life. Since Horner had crossed the threshold the ceaseless hum of the streets seemed to be nearer, the sound of it louder in the room; the restlessness of that great strife stirred the air. The fox terrier laid himself on the hearthrug again, but instead of sleeping watched his two human companions.
Conyngham filled his pipe. He turned to the table where the matchbox stood at his elbow, took it up, rattled it, and laid it down. He pressed the tobacco hard with his thumb, and, turning to Horner, said sharply:
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