By the Author of “Sword and Gun”
A DINGY, swashy, splashy afternoon in October; a school-yard filled with a mob of riotous boys. A lot of us standing outside.
Suddenly came a dull, crashing sound from the schoolroom. At the ominous interruption I shuddered involuntarily, and called to Smithsye,—
“What’s up, Smithums?”
“Guy’s cleaning out the fourth form,” he replied.
At the same moment George de Coverly passed me, holding his nose, from whence the bright Norman blood streamed redly. To him the plebeian Smithsye laughingly,—
“Cully! how’s his nibs?”
I pushed the door of the schoolroom open. There are some spectacles which a man never forgets. The burning of Troy probably seemed a large-sized conflagration to the pious Æneas, and made an impression on him which he carried away with the feeble Anchises.
In the centre of the room, lightly brandishing the piston-rod of a steam-engine, stood Guy Heavystone alone. I say alone, for the pile of small boys on the floor in the corner could hardly be called company.
I will try and sketch him for the reader. Guy Heavystone was then only fifteen. His broad, deep chest, his sinewy and quivering flank, his straight pastern, showed him to be a thoroughbred. Perhaps he was a trifle heavy in the fetlock, but he held his head haughtily erect. His eyes were glittering but pitiless. There was a sternness about the lower part of his face,—the old Heavystone look,—a sternness heightened, perhaps, by the snaffle-bit which, in one of his strange freaks, he wore in his mouth to curb his occasional ferocity. His dress was well adapted to his square-set and herculean frame. A striped knit undershirt, close-fitting striped tights, and a few spangles set off his figure; a neat Glengarry cap adorned his head. On it was displayed the Heavystone crest, a cock regardant on a dunghill or, and the motto, “Devil a better!”
I thought of Horatius on the bridge, of Hector before the walls. I always make it a point to think of something classical at such times.
He saw me, and his sternness partly relaxed. Something like a smile struggled through his grim lineaments. It was like looking on the Jungfrau after having seen Mont Blanc,—a trifle, only a trifle less sublime and awful. Resting his hand lightly on the shoulder of the headmaster, who shuddered and collapsed under his touch, he strode toward me.
His walk was peculiar. You could not call it a stride. It was like the “crest-tossing Bellerophon,”—a kind of prancing gait. Guy Heavystone pranced toward me.
“Lord Lovel he stood at the garden gate,|
A-combing his milk-white steed.”
It was the winter of 186- when I next met Guy Heavystone. He had left the university and had entered the 79th “Heavies.” “I have exchanged the gown for the sword, you see,” he said, grasping my hand, and fracturing the bones of my little finger, as he shook it.
I gazed at him with unmixed admiration. He was squarer, sterner, and in every way smarter and more remarkable than ever. I began to feel toward this man as Phalaster felt towards Phyrgino, as somebody must have felt toward Archididasculus, as Boswell felt toward Johnson.
“Come into my den,” he said; and lifting me gently by the seat of my pantaloons he carried me upstairs and deposited me, before I could apologize, on the sofa. I looked around the room. It was a bachelor’s apartment, characteristically furnished in the taste of the proprietor. A few claymores and battleaxes were ranged against the wall, and a culverin, captured by Sir Ralph Heavystone, occupied the corner, the other end of the room being taken up by a light battery. Foils, boxing-gloves, saddles, and fishing-poles lay around carelessly. A small pile of billets-doux lay upon a silver salver. The man was not an anchorite, nor yet a Sir Galahad.
I never could tell what Guy thought of women. “Poor little beasts,” he would often say when the conversation turned on any of his fresh conquests. Then, passing his hand over his marble brow, the old look of stern fixedness of purpose and unflinching severity would straighten the lines of his mouth, and he would mutter, half to himself, “S’death!”
“Come with me to Heavystone Grange. The Exmoor hounds throw off to-morrow. I’ll give you a mount,” he said, as he amused himself by rolling up a silver candlestick between his fingers. “You shall have Cleopatra. But stay,” he added thoughtfully; “now I remember, I ordered Cleopatra to be shot this morning.”
“And why?” I queried.
“She threw her rider yesterday and fell on him”—
“And killed him?”
“No. That’s the reason why I have ordered her to be shot. I keep no animals that are not dangerous—I should add—deadly!” He hissed the last sentence between his teeth, and a gloomy frown descended over his calm brow.
I affected to turn over the tradesmen’s bills that lay on the table, for, like all of the Heavystone race, Guy seldom paid cash, and said,—
“You remind me of the time when Leonidas”—
“Oh, bother Leonidas and your classical allusions. Come!”
We descended to dinner.
“He carries weight, he rides a race,|
’Tis for a thousand pound.”
“There is Flora Billingsgate, the greatest coquette and hardest rider in the country,” said my companion, Ralph Mortmain, as we stood upon Dingleby Common before the meet.
I looked up and beheld Guy Heavystone bending haughtily over the saddle, as he addressed a beautiful brunette. She was indeed a splendidly groomed and high-spirited woman. We were near enough to overhear the following conversation, which any high-toned reader will recognize as the common and natural expression of the higher classes.
“When Diana takes the field the chase is not wholly confined to objects feræ nature,” said Guy, darting a significant glance at his companion. Flora did not shrink either from the glance or the meaning implied in the sarcasm.
“If I were looking for an Endymion, now,”—she said archly, as she playfully cantered over a few hounds and leaped a five-barred gate.
Guy whispered a few words, inaudible to the rest of the party, and curveting slightly, cleverly cleared two of the huntsmen in a flying leap, galloped up the front steps of the mansion, and, dashing at full speed through the hall, leaped through the drawing-room window and rejoined me, languidly, on the lawn.
“Be careful of Flora Billingsgate,” he said to me, in low stern tones, while his pitiless eye shot a baleful fire. “Gardez-vous!”
“Gnothi seauton,” I replied calmly, not wishing to appear to be behind him in perception or verbal felicity.
Guy started off in high spirits. He was well carried. He and the first whip, a ten-stone man, were head and head at the last fence, while the hounds were rolling over their fox a hundred yards farther in the open.
But an unexpected circumstance occurred. Coming back, his chestnut mare refused a ten-foot wall. She reared and fell backward. Again he led her up to it lightly; again she refused, falling heavily from the coping. Guy started to his feet. The old pitiless fire shone in his eyes; the old stern look settled around his mouth. Seizing the mare by the tail and mane he threw her over the wall. She landed twenty feet on the other side, erect and trembling. Lightly leaping the same obstacle himself, he remounted her. She did not refuse the wall the next time.
Guy was in the north of Ireland, cock-shooting. So Ralph Mortmain told me, and also that the match between Mary Brandagee and Guy had been broken off by Flora Billingsgate. “I don’t like those Billingsgates,” said Ralph, “they’re a bad stock. Her father, Smithfield de Billingsgate, had an unpleasant way of turning up the knave from the bottom of the pack. But nous varrons; let us go and see Guy.”
The next morning we started for Fin-ma-Coul’s Crossing. When I reached the shooting-box, where Guy was entertaining a select company of friends, Flora Billingsgate greeted me with a saucy smile. Guy was even squarer and sterner than ever. His gusts of passion were more frequent, and it was with difficulty that he could keep an able-bodied servant in his family. His present retainers were more or less maimed from exposure to the fury of their master. There was a strange cynicism, a cutting sarcasm in his address, piercing through his polished manner. I thought of Timon, etc., etc.
One evening, we were sitting over our Chambertin, after a hard day’s work, and Guy was listlessly turning over some letters, when suddenly he uttered a cry. Did you ever hear the trumpeting of a wounded elephant? It was like that.
I looked at him with consternation. He was glancing at a letter which he held at arm’s length, and snorting, as it were, at it as he gazed. The lower part of his face was stern, but not as rigid as usual. He was slowly grinding between his teeth the fragments of the glass he had just been drinking from.
Suddenly he seized one of his servants, and forcing the wretch upon his knees, exclaimed, with the roar of a tiger,—
“Dog! why was this kept from me?”
“Why, please sir, Miss Flora said as how it was a reconciliation from Miss Brandagee, and it was to be kept from you where you would not be likely to see it,—and—and”—
“Speak, dog! and you”—
“I put it among your bills, sir!”
With a groan, like distant thunder, Guy fell swooning to the floor.
He soon recovered, for the next moment a servant came rushing into the room with the information that a number of the ingenuous peasantry of the neighborhood were about to indulge that evening in the national pastime of burning a farmhouse and shooting a landlord. Guy smiled a fearful smile, without, however, altering his stern and pitiless expression.
“Let them come,” he said calmly; “I feel like entertaining company.”
We barricaded the doors and windows, and then chose our arms from the armory. Guy’s choice was a singular one: it was a landing-net with a long handle, and a sharp cavalry sabre.
We were not destined to remain long in ignorance of its use. A howl was heard from without, and a party of fifty or sixty armed men precipitated themselves against the door.
Suddenly the window opened. With the rapidity of lightning, Guy Heavystone cast the net over the head of the ringleader, ejaculated “Habet!” and with a backstroke of his cavalry sabre severed the member from its trunk, and drawing the net back again, cast the gory head upon the floor, saying quietly,—
Again the net was cast, the steel flashed, the net was withdrawn, and an ominous “Two!” accompanied the head as it rolled on the floor.
“Do you remember what Pliny says of the gladiator?” said Guy, calmly wiping his sabre. “How graphic is that passage commencing ‘Inter nos,’ etc.” The sport continued until the heads of twenty desperadoes had been gathered in. The rest seemed inclined to disperse. Guy incautiously showed himself at the door; a ringing shot was heard, and he staggered back, pierced through the heart. Grasping the doorpost in the last unconscious throes of his mighty frame, the whole side of the house yielded to that earthquake tremor, and we had barely time to escape before the whole building fell in ruins. I thought of Samson, the giant judge, etc., etc.; but all was over.
Guy Heavystone had died as he had lived,—hard.