'Well,' said Mr. Netherby, 'it's easy enough to see what's wrong with him. I should knock off his grub.'
'But,' cried Miss Millikin, 'we have knocked off his grub, as you call it. The poor dog is starved—literally starved.'
Mr. Netherby said he should scarcely have supposed so from his appearance.
'But I assure you he has eaten nothing—positively nothing—for days and days!'
'Ah,' said Mr. Netherby, 'chameleon, is he? then he's had too much air—that's all.'
Just then a young lady who had been brought by some friends living close by joined the group: 'Why,' she said at once, 'that's the little steamer dog. How did he come here?'
'He is not a little steamer dog,' said Miss Millikin in her most dignified manner; 'he is my dog.'
'Oh, I didn't know,' said the first speaker; 'but—but I'm sure I've seen him on the steamer several times lately.'
'I never use the steamers unless I'm absolutely obliged—I disapprove of them: it must have been some other dog.'
The young lady was positive she had made no mistake. 'You so seldom see a dog with just those markings,' she said, 'and I don't think anybody was with him; he came on board at Amblemere and went all round the lake with us.'
'At Amblemere!' cried Daisy, 'that's where we live; and, Aunt Sophy, you know Don has been away all day lots of times lately.'
'What did this dog do on the steamer?' asked Miss Millikin faintly.
'Oh, he was so sweet! he went round to everybody, and sat up so prettily till they gave him biscuits and things—he was everybody's pet; we were all jealous of one another for the honour of feeding him. The second time we brought buns on purpose. But we quite thought he belonged to the steamer.'
Young Mr. Netherby laughed. 'So that is how he took the air! I thought I wasn't far wrong,' he said.
'Put him back in the cart, Daisy,' said Miss Millikin severely; 'I can't bear to look at him.'
Don did his best to follow this dialogue, but all he could make out was that it was about himself, and that he was being as usual exceedingly admired. So he sat and looked as good and innocent and interesting as he knew how. Just then he felt that he would almost rather they did not offer him anything to eat—at least not anything very sweet and rich, for he was still not at all well. It was a relief to be back in the cart and in peace again, though he wondered why Daisy didn't kiss the top of his head as she had done several times in carrying him to the lawn. This time she held him at a distance, and said nothing but two words, which sounded suspiciously like 'You pig!' as she put him down.
Miss Millikin was very grave and silent as they drove home. 'I can't trust myself to speak about it, Daisy,' she said; 'if—if it was true, it shows such an utter want of principle—such deceit; and Don used to be so honest and straightforward! What if we make inquiries at the pier? It—it may be all a mistake.'
They stopped for this purpose at Amblemere. 'Ay, Miss Millikin, mum, he cooms ahn boord reglar, does that wee dug,' said the old boatman, 'and a' makes himsel' rare an' frien'ly, a' do—they coddle him oop fine, amang 'em. Eh, but he's a smart little dug, we quite look for him of a morning coomin' for his constitutionil, fur arl the worl' like a Chreestian!'
'Like a very greedy Christian!' said his disgusted mistress. 'Daisy,' she said, when she returned to the pony-cart, 'it's all true! I—I never have been so deceived in any one; and the worst of it is, I don't know how to punish him, or how to make him feel what a disgraceful trick this is. Nobody else's dog I ever heard of made his mistress publicly absurd in this way. It's so—so ungrateful!'
'Aunt Sophy,' said Daisy, 'I've an idea. Will you leave him to me, and pretend you don't suspect anything? I will cure him this time!'
'You—you won't want to whip him?' said Miss Millikin, 'because, though it's all his own doing, he really is not well enough for it just now.'
'No,' said Daisy, 'I won't tell you my plan, auntie, but it's better than whipping.'
And all this time the unconscious Don was wearing an expression of uncomplaining suffering, and looking meekly sorry for himself, with no suspicion in the world that he had been found out.
Next day he felt much better, and as the morning was bright he thought that, after all, he might manage another steamer trip; his appetite had come back, and his breath was not nearly so short as it had been. He was just making modestly for the gate when Daisy stopped him. 'Where are you going, sir?' she inquired.
Don rolled over instantly with all his legs in the air and a feeble apology in his eye.
'I want you for just one minute first,' said Daisy politely, and carried him into the morning-room. Was he going to be whipped?—she couldn't have the heart—an invalid like him! He tried to protest by his whimpering.
But Daisy did nothing of the kind; she merely took something that was flat and broad and white, and fastened it round his neck with a very ornamental bow and ribbon. Then she opened the French windows, and said in rather a chilly voice, 'Now run away and get on your nasty steamer and beg, and see what you get by it!'
That seemed, as far as he could tell, very sensible advice, and, oddly enough, it was exactly what he had been intending to do. It did not strike him as particularly strange that Daisy should know, because Don was a dog that didn't go very deeply into matters unless he was obliged.
He trotted off at an easy pace down to the village, getting hungrier every minute, and hoping that the people on the steamer would have brought nice things to-day, when, close to the turning that led to the landing-stage, he met Jock, and was naturally obliged to stop for a few moments' conversation.
He was not at all pleased to see him notwithstanding, for I am sorry to say that Don's greediness had so grown upon him of late that he was actually afraid that his humble friend (who was a little slow to find out when he wasn't wanted) would accompany him on to the steamboat, and then of course the good things would have to be divided.
However, Don was a dog that was always scrupulously polite, even to his fellow-dogs, and he did not like to be rude now.
'Hullo!' said Jock (in dogs' language of course, but I have reason to believe that what follows is as nearly as possible what was actually said). 'What's the matter with you this morning?'
Don replied that he was rather out of sorts, and was going down to a certain lane for a dose of dog-grass.
'A little dog-grass won't do me any harm,' said Jock; 'I'll come too.'
This was awkward, but Don pretended to be glad, and they went a little way together.
'But what's that thing round your neck?' asked the Dandie Dinmont.
'Oh,' said Don, 'that? It's a bit of finery they put on me at the cottage. It pleases them, you know. Think it's becoming?'
'Um,' answered Jock; 'reminds me of a thing a friend of mine used to wear. But he had a blind man tied to him. I don't see your blind man.'
'They would have given me a blind man of course if I'd asked for it,' said Don airily, 'but what's the use of a blind man—isn't he rather a bore?'
'I didn't ask; but my friend said he believed the thing round his neck, which was flat and white just like yours (only he had a tin mug underneath his), made people more inclined to give him things—he didn't know why. Do you find that?'
'How stupid of Daisy to forget the mug!' thought Don. 'I could have brought things home to eat quietly then.—I don't know,' he replied to Jock; 'I haven't tried.'
He meant to put it to the test very soon, though—if only he could get rid of Jock.
'By the way,' he said carelessly, 'have you been round by the hotel lately?'
'No,' answered Jock, 'not since the ostler threw a brush at me.'
'Well,' said Don, 'there was a bone outside the porch, which, if I hadn't been feeling so poorly, I should have had a good mind to tackle myself. But perhaps some other dog has got hold of it by this time.'
'I'll soon make him let go if he has!' said Jock, who liked a fight almost as well as a bone. 'Where was it, did you say?'
'Outside the hotel. Don't let me keep you. It was a beautiful bone. Good-morning,' said Don.
He did not think it worth while to explain that he had seen it several days ago, for Don, as you will have remarked already, was a very artful dog.
He got rid of his unwelcome friend in this highly unprincipled manner, and strolled on to the pier full of expectation. Steamers ply pretty frequently on this particular lake, so he had not to wait very long. The little Cygnet soon came hissing up, and the moment the gangway was placed Don stepped on board, with tail proudly erect.
As usual, he examined the passengers, first to see who had anything to give, then who looked most likely to give it to him. Generally he did best with children. He was not fond of children (Daisy was quite an exception), but he was very fond of cakes, and children, he had observed, generally had the best cakes. Don was so accomplished a courtier that he would contrive to make every child believe that he or she was the only person he loved in the whole world, and he would stay by his victim until the cake was all gone, and even a little longer, just for the look of the thing, and then move on to some one else and begin again.
There were no children with any cakes or buns on board this time, however. There was a stout man up by the bows, dividing his attention between scenery and sandwiches; but Don knew by experience that tourists' sandwiches are always made with mustard, which he hated. There were three merry-looking, round-faced young ladies on a centre bench, eating Osborne biscuits. He wished they could have made it sponge-cakes, because he was rather tired of Osborne biscuits; but they were better than nothing. So to these young ladies he went, and, placing himself where he could catch all their eyes at once, he sat up in the way he had always found irresistible.
I don't suppose any dog ever found his expectations more cruelly disappointed. It was not merely that they shook their heads, they went into fits of laughter—they were laughing at him! Don was so deeply offended that he took himself off at once, and tried an elderly person who was munching seed-cake; she did not laugh, but she examined him carefully, and then told him with a frown to go away. He began to think that Daisy's collar was not a success; he ought to have had a mug, or a blind man, or both; he did much better when he was left to himself.
Still he persevered, and went about, wagging his tail and sitting up appealingly. By and by he began to have an uncomfortable idea that people were saying things about him which were not complimentary. He was almost sure he heard the word 'greedy,' and he knew what that meant: he had been taught by Daisy. They must be talking of some other dog—not him; they couldn't possibly know what he was!
Now Don was undeniably a very intelligent terrier indeed, but there was just this defect in his education—he could not read: he had no idea what things could be conveyed by innocent-looking little black marks. 'Of course not,' some of my readers will probably exclaim, 'he was only a dog!' But it is not so absurd as it sounds, for one very distinguished man has succeeded in teaching his dogs to read and even to spell, though I believe they have not got into very advanced books as yet. Still, it may happen some day that all but hopelessly backward or stupid dogs will be able to read fluently, and then you may find that your own family dog has taken this book into his kennel, and firmly declines to give it up until he has finished it. At present, thank goodness, we have not come to this, and so there is nothing remarkable in the mere fact that Don was unable to read. I only mention it because, if he had possessed this accomplishment, he would never have fallen into the trap Daisy had prepared for him.
For the new collar was, as you perhaps guessed long ago, a card, and upon it was written, in Daisy's neatest and plainest round hand:—
I am a very Greedy little Dog, and have Plenty to eat at Home, So please do not give me anything, or I shall have a Fit and die!
You can easily imagine that, when this unlucky Don sat up and begged, bearing this inscription written legibly on his unconscious little chest, the effect was likely to be too much for the gravity of all but very stiff and solemn persons.
Nearly everybody on board the steamer was delighted with him; they pointed out the joke to one another, and roared with laughter, until he grew quite ashamed to sit up any more. Some teased him by pretending to give him something, and then eating it themselves; some seemed almost sorry for him and petted him; and one, an American, said, 'It was playing it too low down to make the little critter give himself away in that style!' But nobody quite liked to disobey Daisy's written appeal.
Poor Don could not understand it in the least; he only saw that every one was very rude and disrespectful to him, and he tried to get away under benches. But it was all in vain; people routed him out from his hiding-places to be introduced to each new comer; he could not go anywhere without being stared at, and followed, and hemmed in, and hearing always that same hateful whisper of 'Greedy dog—not to be given anything,' until he felt exactly as if he was being washed!
Poor disappointed greedy dog, how gladly he would have given the tail between his legs to be safe at home in the drawing-room with Miss Millikin and Daisy! How little he had bargained for such a terrible trip as this!
I am sure that if Daisy had ever imagined he would feel his disgrace so deeply she would not have had the heart to send him out with that tell-tale card around his neck; but then he would not have received a very wholesome lesson, and would certainly have eaten himself into a serious illness before the summer ended, so perhaps it was all for the best.
This time Don did not go the whole round of the lake; he had had quite enough of it long before the Cygnet reached Highwood, but he did not get a chance until they came to Winderside, and then, watching his opportunity, he gave his tormentors the slip at last.
* * * * *
Two hours later, as Daisy and her aunt sat sketching under the big holm-oak on the lawn, a dusty little guilty dog stole sneakingly in under the garden-gate. It was Don, and he had run all the way from Winderside, which, though he did not appreciate it, had done him a vast amount of good. 'Oh!' cried Daisy, dropping her paint-brush to clap her hands gleefully, 'Look, Aunt Sophy, he has had his lesson already!'
Miss Millikin was inclined to be shocked when she read the ticket. 'It was too bad of you, Daisy!' she said; 'I would never have allowed it if I had known. Come here, Don, and let me take the horrid thing off.'
'Not yet, please, auntie!' pleaded Daisy, 'I want him to be quite cured, and it will take at least till bedtime. Then we'll make it up to him.'
But Don had understood at last. It was this detestable thing, then, that had been telling tales of him and spoiling all his fun! Very well, let him find himself alone with it—just once! And he went off very soberly into the shrubbery, whence in a few minutes came sounds of 'worrying.'
In half an hour Don came out again; his collar was gone, and in his mouth he trailed a long piece of chewed ribbon, which he dropped with the queerest mixture of penitence and reproach at Daisy's feet. After that, of course, it was impossible to do anything but take him into favour at once, and he was generous enough to let Daisy see that he bore her no malice for the trick she had played him.
What became of the card no one ever discovered; perhaps Don had buried it, though Daisy has very strong suspicions that he ate it as his best revenge.
But what is more important is that from that day he became a slim and reformed dog, refusing firmly to go on board a steamer on any pretence whatever, and only consenting to sit up after much coaxing, and as a mark of particular condescension.
So that Daisy's experiment, whatever may be thought of it, was at least a successful one.
TAKEN BY SURPRISE
BEING THE PERSONAL STATEMENT OF BEDELL GRUNCHER, M.A.
There are certain misconceptions which a man who is prominently before the public is morally bound to combat—more for the sake of others than his own—as soon as it becomes probable that the popular estimate of his character may be shaken, if not shattered, should he hold his peace. Convinced as I am of this, and having some ground to anticipate that the next few days may witness a damaging blow to my personal dignity and influence for good, I have thought it expedient to publish the true history of an episode which, if unexplained, is only too likely to prejudice me to a serious extent. Any circumstance that tends to undermine or lessen the world's reverence for its instructors is a deplorable calamity, to be averted at all hazards, even when this can only be effected by disclosures scarcely less painful to a delicate mind.
For some years I, Bedell Gruncher, have consecrated my poor talents to the guidance and education of public taste in questions of art and literature. To do this effectively I have laboured—at the cost of some personal inconvenience—to acquire a critical style of light and playful badinage. My lash has ever been wreathed in ribbons of rare texture and daintiest hues; I have thrown cold water in abundance over the nascent flames of young ambition—but such water was systematically tinctured with attar of roses. And in time the articles appearing in various periodicals above the signature of 'Vitriol' became, I may acknowledge without false modesty, so many literary events of the first magnitude. I attribute this to my early recognition of the true function of a critic. It is not for him to set up sign-posts, or even warning-boards, for those who run and read. To attain true distinction he should erect a pillory upon his study table, and start the fun himself with a choice selection of the literary analogues of the superannuated eggs and futile kittens which served as projectiles in the past. The public may be trusted to keep it going, and also to retain a grateful recollection of the original promoter of the sport. My little weekly and monthly pillories became instantly popular, for all my kittens were well aimed, and my eggs broke and stuck in a highly entertaining fashion. We are so constituted that even the worst of us is capable of a kindly feeling towards the benefactor who makes others imperishably ridiculous in our eyes; and to do this was my metier a moi. At first my identity with the lively but terrible 'Vitriol' was kept a profound secret, but gradually, by some means which I do not at present remember, it leaked out, and I immediately became a social, as well as a literary, celebrity. Physically I have been endowed with a presence which, though not of unusual height and somewhat inclined to central expansion, produces, I find, an invariably imposing effect, especially with members of the more emotional and impressionable sex. Consequently I was not surprised even at the really extraordinary sensation I inspired upon my first introduction to a very charming young lady, Miss Iris Waverley, as soon as my nom de guerre was (I forget just now by whom) incidentally alluded to. However, as it turned out, she had another and a deeper reason for emotion: it seemed she had been engaged to a young poet whose verses, to her untaught and girlish judgment, seemed inspired by draughts of the true Helicon, and whose rhythmical raptures had stirred her maiden heart to its depths.
Well, that young poet's latest volume of verse came under my notice for review, and in my customary light-hearted fashion I held it up to general derision for a column or two, and then dismissed it, with an ineffaceable epigrammatic kick, to spin for ever (approximately) down the ringing grooves of criticism.
Miss Waverley, it happened, was inclined to correct her own views by the opinions of others, and was, moreover, exceptionally sensitive to any association of ridicule with the objects of her attachment—indeed, she once despatched a dog she fondly loved to the lethal chamber at Battersea, merely because all the hair had come off the poor animal's tail! My trenchant sarcasms had depoetised her lover in a similar fashion; their livid lightning had revealed the baldness, the glaring absurdity of the very stanzas which once had filled her eyes with delicious tears; he was dismissed, and soon disappeared altogether from the circles which I had (in perfect innocence) rendered impossible to him.
Notwithstanding this, Miss Waverley's first sentiments towards me were scarcely, oddly enough, of unmixed gratitude. I represented the rod, and a very commendable feeling of propriety made her unwilling to kiss me on a first interview, though, as our intimacy advanced—well, there are subjects on which I claim the privilege of a manly reticence.
I hasten over, then, the intermediate stages of antipathy, fear, respect, interest, and adoration. In me she recognised an intellect naturally superior, too indifferent and unambitious to give life to its own imaginings—too honest, too devoted to humanity, to withhold merited condemnation from those of others. I was the radiant sun whose scorching beams melted the wax from the pinions of many a modern Icarus; or, to put the metaphor less ingeniously, the shining light in which, by an irresistible impulse of self-destruction, the poetical and artistic moths flew and incontinently frizzled.
One trait in my character which Iris valued above all others was the caution with which I habitually avoided all associations of a ridiculous nature; for it was my pride to preserve a demeanour of unsullied dignity under circumstances which would have been trying, if not fatal, to an ordinary person. So we became engaged; and if, pecuniarily speaking, the advantage of the union inclined to my side, I cannot consider that I was the party most benefited by the transaction.
It was soon after this happy event that Iris entreated from me, as a gift, a photograph of myself. I could not help being struck by this instance of feminine parsimony with regard to small disbursements, since, for the trifling sum of one shilling, it was perfectly open to her to procure an admirable presentment of me at almost any stationer's; for, in obedience to a widely expressed demand, I had already more than once undergone the ordeal by camera.
But no; she professed to desire a portrait more peculiarly her own—one that should mark the precise epoch of our mutual happiness—a caprice which reminded me of the Salvation Army recruit who was photographed, by desire, 'before and after conversion'; and I demurred a little, until Iris insisted with such captivating pertinacity that—although my personal expenses (always slightly in excess of my income) had been further swelled since my engagement by the innumerable petits soins expected by an absurd custom from every lover—I gave way at length.
It was her desire that my portrait should form a pendant to one of herself which had been recently taken by a fashionable photographer, and I promised to see that this wish should be gratified. It is possible that she expected me to resort to the same artist; but there were considerations which induced me to avoid this, if I could. To the extent of a guinea (or even thirty shillings) I could refuse her nothing; but every one knows what sums are demanded by a photographer who is at all in vogue. I might, to be sure, as a public character, have sat without being called upon for any consideration, beyond the right to dispose of copies of my photograph; but I felt that Iris would be a little hurt if I took this course, and none of the West-end people whom I consulted in the matter quite saw their way to such an arrangement just then. There was a temporary lull, they assured me, in the demand for likenesses of our leading literary men, and I myself had been photographed within too recent a period to form any exception to the rule.
So, keeping my promise constantly in mind, I never entered a secluded neighbourhood without being on the look-out for some unpretending photographic studio which would combine artistic excellence with moderate charges.
And at last I discovered this photographic phoenix, whose nest, if I may so term it, was in a retired suburb which I do not care to particularise. Upon the street level was a handsome plate-glass window, in which, against a background of dark purple hangings and potted ferns, were displayed cartes, cabinets, and groups, in which not even my trained faculties could detect the least inferiority to the more costly productions of the West-end, while the list of prices that hung by the door was conceived in a spirit of exemplary modesty. After a brief period of hesitation I stepped inside, and, on stating my wish to be photographed at once, was invited by a very civil youth with a slight cast in his eye to walk upstairs, which I accordingly did.
I mounted flight after flight of stairs, till I eventually found myself at the top of the house, in an apartment pervaded by a strong odour of chemicals, and glazed along the roof and the whole of one side with panes of a bluish tint. It was empty at the moment of my entrance, but, after a few minutes, the photographer burst impetuously in—a tall young man, with long hair and pale eyes, whose appearance denoted a nervous and high-strung temperament. Perceiving him to be slightly overawed by a certain unconscious dignity in my bearing, which frequently does produce that effect upon strangers, I hastened to reassure him by discriminating eulogies upon the specimens of his art that I had been inspecting below, and I saw at once that he was readily susceptible to flattery.
'You will find me,' I told him frankly, 'a little more difficult to satisfy than your ordinary clientele; but, on the other hand, I am peculiarly capable of appreciating really good work. Now I was struck at once by the delicacy of tone, the nice discrimination of values, the atmosphere, gradation, feeling, and surface of the examples displayed in your window.'
He bowed almost to the ground; but, having taken careful note of his prices, I felt secure in commending him, even to the verge of extravagance; and, besides, does not the artistic nature demand the stimulus of praise to enable it to put forth its full powers?
He inquired in what style I wished to be taken, whether full-length, half-length, or vignette. 'I will answer you as concisely as possible,' I said. 'I have been pressed, by one whose least preference is a law to me, to have a photograph of myself executed which shall form a counterpart or pendant, as it were, to her own. I have, therefore, taken the precaution to bring her portrait with me for your guidance. You will observe it is the work of a firm in my opinion greatly overrated—Messrs. Lenz, Kamerer, & Co.; and, while you will follow it in style and the disposition of the accessories, you will, I make no doubt, produce, if you take ordinary pains, a picture vastly superior in artistic merit.'
This, as will be perceived, was skilfully designed to put him on his mettle, and rouse a useful spirit of emulation. He took the portrait of Iris from my hands and carried it to the light, where he examined it gravely in silence.
'I presume,' he said at length, 'that I need hardly tell you I cannot pledge myself to produce a result as pleasing as this—under the circumstances?'
'That,' I replied, 'rests entirely with you. If you overcome your natural diffidence, and do yourself full justice, I see no reason why you should not obtain something even more satisfactory.'
My encouragement almost unmanned him. He turned abruptly away and blew his nose violently with a coloured silk handkerchief.
'Come, come,' I said, smiling kindly, 'you see I have every confidence in you—let us begin. I don't know, by the way,' I added, with a sudden afterthought, 'whether in your leisure moments you take any interest in contemporary literature?'
'I—I have done so in my time,' he admitted; 'not very lately.'
'Then,' I continued, watching his countenance with secret amusement for the spasm I find this announcement invariably produces upon persons of any education, 'it may possibly call up some associations in your mind if I tell you that I am perhaps better known by my self-conferred sobriquet of "Vitriol."'
Evidently I had to do with a man of some intelligence—I obtained an even more electrical effect than usual. '"Vitriol!"' he cried, 'not surely Vitriol, the great critic?'
'The same,' I said carelessly. 'I thought I had better mention it.'
'You did well,' he rejoined, 'very well! Pardon my emotion—may I wring that hand?'
It is not my practice to shake hands with a photographer, but I was touched and gratified by his boyish enthusiasm, and he seemed a gentlemanly young fellow too, so I made an exception in his favour; and he did wring my hand—hard.
'So you are Vitriol?' he repeated in a kind of daze, 'and you have sought me out—me, of all people in the world—to have the honour of taking your photograph!'
'That is so,' I said, 'but pardon me if I warn you that you must not allow your head to be turned by what is, in truth, due to the merest accident.'
'But what an accident!' he cried; 'after what I have learnt I really could not think of making any charge for this privilege!'
That was a creditable and not unnatural impulse, and I did not check it. 'You shall take me as often as you please,' I said, 'and for nothing.'
'And may I,' he said, a little timidly—'would you give me permission to exhibit the results?'
'If I followed my own inclinations,' I replied, 'I should answer "certainly not." But perhaps I have no right to deprive you of the advertisement, and still less to withhold my unworthy features from public comment. I may, for private reasons,' I added, thinking of Iris, 'find it advisable to make some show of displeasure, but you need not fear my taking any proceedings to restrain you.'
'We struggling photographers must be so careful,' he sighed. 'Suppose the case of your lamented demise—it would be a protection if I had some written authority under your hand to show your legal representatives.'
'Actio personalis moritur cum persona,' I replied; 'if my executors brought an action, they would find themselves non-suited.' (I had studied for the Bar at one period of my life.)
'Quite so,' he said, 'but they might drag me into court, nevertheless. I should really prefer to be on the safe side.'
It did not seem unreasonable, particularly as I had not the remotest intention either of bringing an action or dying; so I wrote him a hasty memorandum to the effect that, in consideration of his photographing me free of charge (I took care to put that in), I undertook to hold him free from all molestation or hindrance whatever in respect of the sale and circulation of all copies resulting from such photographing as aforesaid.
'Will that do?' I said as I handed it to him.
His eyes gleamed as he took the document. 'It is just what I wanted,' he said gratefully; 'and now, if you will excuse me, I will go and bring in a few accessories, and then we will get to work.'
He withdrew in a state of positive exultation, leaving me to congratulate myself upon the happy chance which had led me to his door. One does not discover a true artist every day, capable of approaching his task in a proper spirit of reverence and enthusiasm; and I had hardly expected, after my previous failures, to be spared all personal outlay. My sole regret, indeed, was that I had not stipulated for a share in the profits arising from the sale—which would be doubtless a large one; but meanness is not one of my vices, and I decided not to press this point.
Presently he returned with something which bulged inside his velvet jacket, and a heap of things which he threw down in a corner behind a screen.
'A few little properties,' he said; 'we may be able to introduce them by-and-by.'
Then he went to the door and, with a rapid action, turned the key and placed it in his pocket.
'You will hardly believe,' he explained, 'how nervous I am on occasions of importance like this; the bare possibility of interruption would render me quite incapable of doing myself justice.'
I had never met any photographer quite so sensitive as that before, and I began to be uneasy about his success; but I know what the artistic temperament is, and, as he said, this was not like an ordinary occasion.
'Before I proceed to business,' he said, in a voice that positively trembled, 'I must tell you what an exceptional claim you have to my undying gratitude. Amongst the many productions which you have visited with your salutary satire you may possibly recall a little volume of poems entitled "Pants of Passion"?'
I shook my head good-humouredly. 'My good friend,' I told him, 'if I burdened my memory with all the stuff I have to pronounce sentence upon, do you suppose my brain would be what it is?'
He looked crestfallen. 'No,' he said slowly, 'I ought to have known—you would not remember, of course. But I do. I brought out those Pants. Your mordant pen tore them to tatters. You convinced me that I had mistaken my career, and, thanks to your monitions, I ceased to practise as a Poet, and became the Photographer you now behold!'
'And I have known poets,' I said encouragingly, 'who have ended far less creditably. For even an indifferent photographer is in closer harmony with nature than a mediocre poet.'
'And I was mediocre, wasn't I?' he inquired humbly.
'So far as I recollect,' I replied (for I did begin to remember him now), 'to attribute mediocrity to you would have been beyond the audacity of the grossest sycophant.'
'Thank you,' he said; 'you little know how you encourage me in my present undertaking—for you will admit that I can photograph?'
'That,' I replied, 'is intelligible enough, photography being a pursuit demanding less mental ability in its votaries than that of metrical composition, however halting.'
'There is something very soothing about your conversation,' he remarked; 'it heals my self-love—which really was wounded by the things you wrote.'
'Pooh, pooh!' I said indulgently, 'we must all of us go through that in our time—at least all of you must go through it.'
'Yes,' he admitted sadly, 'but it ain't pleasant, is it?'
'Of that I have never been in a position to judge,' said I; 'but you must remember that your sufferings, though doubtless painful to yourself, are the cause, under capable treatment, of infinite pleasure and amusement to others. Try to look at the thing without egotism. Shall I seat myself on that chair I see over there?'
He was eyeing me in a curious manner. 'Allow me,' he said; 'I always pose my sitters myself.' With that he seized me by the neck and elsewhere without the slightest warning, and, carrying me to the further end of the studio, flung me carelessly, face downwards, over the cane-bottomed chair to which I had referred. He was a strong athletic young man, in spite of his long hair—or might that have been, as in Samson's case, a contributory cause? I was like an infant in his hands, and lay across the chair, in an exceedingly uncomfortable position, gasping for breath.
'Try to keep as limp as you can, please,' he said, 'the mouth wide open, as you have it now, the legs careless—in fact, trailing. Beautiful! don't move.'
And he went to the camera. I succeeded in partly twisting my head round. 'Are you mad?' I cried indignantly; 'do you really suppose I shall consent to go down to posterity in such a position as this?'
I heard a click, and, to my unspeakable horror, saw that he was deliberately covering me from behind the camera with a revolver—that was what I had seen bulging inside his pocket.
'I should be sorry to slay any sitter in cold blood,' he said, 'but I must tell you solemnly, that unless you instantly resume your original pose—which was charming—you are a dead man!'
Not till then did I realise the awful truth—I was locked up alone, at the top of a house, in a quiet neighbourhood, with a mad photographer! Summoning to my aid all my presence of mind, I resumed the original pose for the space of forty-five hours—they were seconds really, but they seemed hours; it was not needful for him to exhort me to be limp again—I was limper than the dampest towel!
'Thank you very much,' he said gravely as he covered the lens; 'I think that will come out very well indeed. You may move now.'
I rose, puffing, but perfectly collected. 'Ha-ha,' I laughed in a sickly manner (for I felt sick), 'I—I perceive, sir, that you are a humorist.'
'Since I have abandoned poetry,' he said as he carefully removed the negative to a dark place, 'I have developed a considerable sense of quiet humour. You will find a large Gainsborough hat in that corner—might I trouble you to put it on for the next sitting?'
'Never!' I cried, thoroughly revolted. 'Surely, with your rare artistic perception, you must be aware that such a headdress as that (which is no longer worn even by females) is out of all keeping with my physiognomy. I will not sit for my photograph in such a preposterous thing!'
'I shall count ten very slowly,' he replied pensively, 'and if by the time I have finished you are not seated on the back of that chair, your feet crossed so as to overlap, your right thumb in the corner of your mouth, a pleasant smile on your countenance, and the Gainsborough hat on your head, you will need no more hats on this sorrowful earth. One—two——'
I was perched on that chair in the prescribed attitude long before he had got to seven! How can I describe what it cost me to smile, as I sat there under the dry blue light, the perspiration rolling in beads down my cheeks, exposed to the gleaming muzzle of the revolver, and the steady Gorgon glare of that infernal camera?
'That will be extremely popular,' he said, lowering the weapon as he concluded. 'Your smile, perhaps, was a little too broad, but the pose was very fresh and unstudied.'
I have always read of the controlling power of the human eye upon wild beasts and dangerous maniacs, and I fixed mine firmly upon him now as I said sternly, 'Let me out at once—I wish to go.'
Perhaps I did not fix them quite long enough; perhaps the power of the human eye has been exaggerated: I only know that for all the effect mine had on him they might have been oysters.
'Not yet,' he said persuasively, 'not when we're getting on so nicely. I may never be able to take you under such favourable conditions again.'
That, I thought, I could undertake to answer for; but who, alas! could say whether I should ever leave that studio alive? For all I knew, he might spend the whole day in photographing me, and then, with a madman's caprice, shoot me as soon as it became too dark to go on any longer! The proper course to take, I knew, was to humour him, to keep him in a good temper, fool him to the top of his bent—it was my only chance.
'Well,' I said, 'perhaps you're right. I—I'm in no great hurry. Were you thinking of taking me in some different style? I am quite at your disposition.'
He brought out a small but stout property-mast, and arranged it against a canvas background of coast scenery. 'I generally use it for children in sailor costume,' he said, 'but I think it will bear your weight long enough for the purpose.'
I wiped my brow. 'You are not going to ask me to climb that thing?' I faltered.
'Well,' he suggested, 'if you will just arrange yourself upon the cross-trees in a negligent attitude, upside down, with your tongue protruded as if for medical inspection, I shall be perfectly satisfied.'
I tried argument. 'I should have no objection in the world,' I said; 'it's an excellent idea—only, do sailors ever climb masts in that way? Wouldn't it be better to have the thing correct while we're about it?'
'I was not aware that you were a sailor,' he said; 'are you?'
I was afraid to say I was, because I apprehended that, if I did, it might occur to him to put me through some still more frightful performance.
'Come,' he said, 'you won't compel me to shed blood so early in the afternoon, will you? Up with you.'
I got up, but, as I hung there, I tried to obtain a modification of some of the details. 'I don't think,' I said artfully, 'that I'll put out my tongue—it's rather overdone, eh? Everybody is taken with his tongue out nowadays.'
'It is true,' he said, 'but I am not well enough known in the profession yet to depart entirely from the conventional. Your tongue out as far as it will go, please.'
'I shall have a rush of blood to the head, I know I shall,' I protested.
'Look here,' he said; 'am I taking this photograph, or are you?'
There was no possible doubt, unfortunately, as to who was taking the photograph. I made one last remonstrance. 'I put it to you as a sensible man,' I began; but it is a waste of time to put anything to a raving lunatic as a sensible man. It is enough to say that he carried his point.
'I wish you could see the negative!' he said as he came back from his laboratory. 'You were a little red in the face, but it will come out black, so it's all right. That carte will be quite a novelty, I flatter myself.'
I groaned. However, this was the end; I would get away now at all hazards, and tell the police that there was a dangerous maniac at large. I got down from the mast with affected briskness. 'Well,' I said, 'I mustn't take advantage of your good nature any longer. I'm exceedingly obliged to you for the—the pains you have taken. You will send all the photographs to this address, please?'
'Don't go yet,' he said. 'Are you an equestrian, by the way?'
If I could only engage him in conversation I felt comparatively secure.
'Oh, I put in an appearance in the Row sometimes, in the season,' I replied; 'and, while I think of it,' I added, with what I thought at the time was an inspiration, 'if you will come with me now, I'll show you my horse—you might take me on horseback, eh?' I did not possess any such animal, but I wanted to have that door unlocked.
'Take you on horseback?' he repeated. 'That's a good idea—I had rather thought of that myself.'
'Then come along and bring your instrument,' I said, 'and you can take me at the stables; they're close by.'
'No need for that,' he replied cheerfully. 'I'll find you a mount here.'
And the wretched lunatic went behind the screen and wheeled out a small wooden quadruped covered with large round spots!
'She's a strawberry roan,' he said; 'observe the strawberries. So, my beauty, quiet, then! Now settle yourself easily in the saddle, as if you were in the Row, with your face to the tail.'
'Listen to me for one moment,' I entreated tremulously. 'I assure you that I am not in the habit of appearing in Rotten Row on a spotted wooden horse, nor does any one, I assure you—any one mount a horse of any description with his face towards the crupper! If you take me like that, you will betray your ignorance—you will be laughed at!'
When people tell you it is possible to hoodwink the insane by any specious show of argument, don't believe them; my own experience is that demented persons can be quite perversely logical when it suits their purpose.
'Pardon me,' he said, 'you will be laughed at possibly—not I. I cannot be held responsible for the caprices of my clients. Mount, please; she'll carry you perfectly.'
'I will,' I said, 'if you'll give me the revolver to hold. I—I should like to be done with a revolver.'
'I shall be delighted to do you with a revolver,' he said grimly, 'but not yet; and if I lent you the weapon now, I could not answer for your being able to hold the horse as well—she has never been broken in to firearms. I'll hold the revolver. One—two—three.'
I mounted; why had I not disregarded the expense and gone to Lenz and Kamerer? Lenz does not pose his customers by the aid of a revolver. Kamerer, I was sure, would not put his patrons through these degrading tomfooleries.
He took more trouble over this than any of the others; I was photographed from the back, in front, and in profile; and if I escaped being made to appear abjectly ridiculous, it can only be owing to the tragic earnestness which the consciousness of my awful situation lent to my expression.
As he took the last I rolled off the horse, completely prostrated. 'I think,' I gasped faintly, 'I would rather be shot at once—without waiting to be taken in any other positions. I really am not equal to any more of this!' (He was quite capable, I felt, of photographing me in a perambulator, if it once occurred to him!)
'Compose yourself,' he said soothingly, 'I have obtained all I wanted. I shall not detain you much longer. Your life, I may remark, was never in any imminent danger, as this revolver is unloaded. I have now only to thank you for the readiness with which you have afforded me your co-operation, and to assure you that early copies of each of the photographs shall be forwarded for Miss Waverley's inspection.'
'Miss Waverley!' I exclaimed; 'stay, how do you know that name?'
'If I mistake not, it was her photograph that you kindly brought for my guidance. I ought to have mentioned, perhaps, that I once had the honour of being engaged to her—until you (no doubt from the highest motives) invested my little gift of song with a flavour of unromantic ridicule. That ridicule I am now enabled to repay, with interest calculated up to the present date.'
'So you are Iris's poet!' I burst out, for, somehow, I had not completely identified him till that moment. 'You scoundrel! do you think I shall allow you to circulate those atrocious caricatures with impunity? No, by heavens! my solicitor shall——'
'I rely upon the document you were kind enough to furnish,' he said quietly. 'I fear that any legal proceedings you may resort to will hardly avert the publicity you seem to fear. Allow me to unfasten the door. Good-bye; mind the step on the first landing. Might I beg you to recommend me amongst your friends?'
I went out without another word; he was mad, of course, or he would not have devised so outrageous a revenge for a fancied injury, but he was cunning enough to be my match. I knew too well that if I took any legal measures, he would contrive to shift the whole burden of lunacy upon me. I dared not court an inquiry for many reasons, and so I was compelled to pass over this unparalleled outrage in silence.
Iris made frequent inquiries after the promised photograph, and I had to parry them as well as I could—which was a mistake in judgment on my part, for one afternoon while I was actually sitting with her, a packet arrived addressed to Miss Waverley.
I did not suspect what it might contain until it was too late. She recognised that photographs were inside the wrappings, which she tore open with a cry of rapture—and then!
She had a short fainting fit when she saw the Gainsborough hat, and as soon as she revived, the extraordinary appearance I presented upside down on the mast sent her into violent hysterics. By the time she was in a condition to look at the equestrian portraits she had grown cold and hard as marble. 'Go,' she said, indicating the door, 'I see I have been wasting my affection upon a vulgar and heartless buffoon!'
I went—for she would listen to no explanations; and indeed I doubt whether, even were she to come upon this statement, it would serve to restore my tarnished ideal in her estimation. But, though I have lost her, I am naturally anxious (as I said when I began) that the public should not be misled into drawing harsh conclusions from what, if left unexplained, may doubtless have a singular appearance.
It is true that, up to the present, I have not been able to learn that any of those fatal portraits have absolutely been exposed for sale, though I direct my trembling steps almost every day to Regent Street, and search the windows of the Stereoscopic Company with furtive and foreboding eyes, dreading to be confronted with presentments of myself—Bedell Gruncher, 'Vitriol,' the great critic!—lying across a chair in a state of collapse, sucking my thumb in a Gainsborough hat, or bestriding a ridiculous wooden horse with my face towards its tail!
But they cannot be long in coming out now; and my one hope is that these lines may appear in print in time to forestall the prejudice and scandal which are otherwise inevitable. At all events, now that the world is in possession of the real facts, I am entitled to hope that the treatment to which I have been subjected will excite the indignation and sympathy it deserves.
PALEFACE AND REDSKIN
A COMEDY-STORY FOR GIRLS AND BOYS
ACT THE FIRST
WHERE IS THE ENEMY?
It was a very hot afternoon, and Hazel, Hilary, and Cecily Jolliffe were sitting under the big cedar on the lawn at The Gables. Each had her racket by her side, and the tennis-court lay, smooth and inviting, close by; but they did not seem inclined to play just then, and there was something in the expression of all three which indicated a common grievance.
'Well,' said Hazel, the eldest, who was nearly fourteen, 'we need not have excited ourselves about the boys' holidays, if we had only known. They don't give us much of their society—why, we haven't had one single game of cricket together yet!'
'And then to have the impudence to tell us that they didn't care much about our sort of cricket!' said Hilary, 'when I can throw up every bit as far as Jack, and it takes Guy three overs to bowl me! It's beastly cheek of them.'
'Hilary!' cried Cecily, 'what would mother say if she heard you talk like that?'
'Oh, it's the holidays!' said Hilary, lazily. 'Besides, it is a shame! They would have played with us just as they used to, if it hadn't been for that Clarence Tinling.'
'Yes,' Hazel agreed, 'he hates cricket. I do believe that's the reason why he invented this silly army, and talked Jack and Guy into giving up everything for it.'
'They haven't any will of their own, poor things!' said Hilary.
'You forget, Hilary,' put in Cecily, 'Tinling is the guest. They ought to give way to him.'
'Well,' said Hilary, 'it's ridiculous for great boys who have been two terms at school to go marching about with swords and guns. Big babies!'
Perhaps there was a little personal feeling at the bottom of this, for she had offered herself for enlistment, and had been sternly rejected on the ground of her sex.
'I wish he would go, I know that,' said Hazel, making a rather vicious little chop at her shoe with her racket; 'those boys talk about nothing but their stupid army from morning to night. Uncle Lambert says they make him feel quite gunpowdery at lunch. And what do you think is the last thing they've done?—put up a great fence all round their tent, and shut themselves up there all day!'
'Except when they're sentries and hide,' put in Hilary; 'they're always jumping up somewhere and wanting you to give the countersign. It isn't like home, these holidays!'
'Perhaps,' suggested Cecily, 'it makes things safer, you know.'
'Duffer, Cis!' cried Hilary, contemptuously, for Cecily had appointed herself professional peacemaker to the family, and her efforts were about as successful as such domestic offices ever are.
'Look out!' cried Hilary, presently; 'they're coming. Don't let's take the least notice of them. They hate that more than anything.'
From the shrubbery filed three boys, the first and tallest of whom wore an imposing dragoon's helmet with a crimson plume, and carried a sabretache and crossbelts, and wore red caps like those of the French army; they carried guns on their shoulders.
'Halt! 'Tention! Dis-miss!' shouted the commanding officer, and the army broke off with admirable precision.
'Don't be alarmed,' said the General considerately to the three girls; 'the army is only out on fatigue duty.'
'Then wouldn't the army like to sit down?' suggested Hilary, forgetting all about her recent proposal.
'Ah, you don't understand,' said General Tinling with some pity. 'It's a military term.'
He was a pale, puffy boy, with reddish hair and freckles, who was evidently fully alive to the dignity of his position.
'Suppose we let military things alone for a little while,' said Hazel. 'We want the army to come and play tennis. You will, won't you, Jack and Guy? and Cis will umpire—she likes it.'
'I don't mind a game,' said Jack.
'I'll play, if you like,' added Guy; but he had forgotten that the General was a bit of a martinet.
'That's nice discipline,' he said. 'I don't know whether you know it; but in some armies you'd be court-martialled for less than that.'
'Well, may we, then?' asked Guy a little impatiently.
'No salute now!' cried his superior. 'I shall never make you fellows smart. Why, at the Haversacks, last Easter, there were half a dozen of us, and we drilled like machines. Of course you mayn't play tennis—this is only a bivouac; and it's over now. Attention! The left wing of the force will occupy the shrubbery; the right will push on and blow up the gate.
'Which of us is the left wing?' inquired Guy.
'You are, of course.'
'Oh, all right; only you said Jack was just now,' grumbled Guy, who was evidently a little disposed to rebel at being deprived of his tennis.
'Look here,' said the General; 'either let's do the thing thoroughly, or not do it at all. It's no pleasure to me to be General, I can tell you; and if I can't have perfect discipline in the ranks—why, we might as well drop the army altogether!'
'Oh, all right,' said Jack, who was a sweet-tempered boy, 'we won't do it again.'
And they went off to carry out their separate instructions, Clarence Tinling remaining by the cedar.
'I have to be a little sharp now and then,' he explained. 'Why, if I didn't keep an iron rule over them, they'd be getting insubordinate in no time. You mustn't think I've any objection to their playing tennis, or anything of that sort; only discipline must be kept up; though it seems severe, perhaps, to you.'
'It doesn't seem to be half bad fun for you, at all events,' said Hazel.
'Of course,' added Hilary, whose cheeks were flushed and eyes suspiciously bright as she plucked all the blades of grass that were within her reach, 'we're glad if you're enjoying being here; but it's a little slow for us girls. You might give the army a half-holiday now and then.'
'An army, especially a small army, like ours,' said Clarence, grandly, 'ought to be constantly prepared for action; else it's no use. Then, look at the protection it is. Why, we've just built a fortified place close to the kitchen garden, where you could all retire to if we were attacked; and, properly provisioned, we could hold out for almost any time.'
'Thank you,' said Hilary. 'I should feel a good deal safer in the box-room. And then, who's going to attack us?'
'Well, you never know,' replied Clarence; 'but, if they did come, it's something to feel we should be able to defend ourselves.'
'Yes, Hilary,' Cecily remarked, 'an army would certainly be a great convenience then.'
'That would depend on what it did,' said her sister. 'It wouldn't be much of a convenience if it ran away.'
'I don't think Jack and Guy would ever do that,' observed Hazel.
'I suppose that means that you think I should?' inquired Clarence, who was quick at discovering personal allusions.
'I wasn't thinking about you at all,' said Hazel, with supreme indifference; 'we don't know you well enough to say whether you're brave or not—we do know our brothers.'
'There wouldn't be much sense in my being the General if I wasn't the bravest, would there?' he demanded.
'Well, as to that, you see,' retorted Hilary, 'we don't see much sense in any of it.'
'Girls can't be expected to see sense in anything,' he said sulkily.
'At all events, no one can be expected to see bravery till there's some danger,' said Hazel; 'and there isn't the least!'
'That's all you know about it; but I've something more important to do than stay here squabbling. I'm off to see what the army's up to.' And he marched off with great pomp.
When he had disappeared, Hilary remarked frankly, 'Isn't he a pig?'
'I don't think it's nice to call our visitors "pigs," Hilary!' remonstrated Cecily, 'and he's not really more greedy than most boys.'
'Don't lecture, Cis. I didn't mean he was that kind of pig—I said he was a pig. And he is!' said Hilary, not over lucidly. 'I wonder what Jack and Guy can see in him. I thought that when they wrote asking him to be invited, that he'd be sure to be such a jolly boy!'
'He may be a jolly boy—at school,' was all that even the tolerant Cecily could find to urge in his favour.
'I believe,' said Hazel, 'that they're not nearly so mad about him as they were—didn't you notice about the tennis just now?'
'He bullies them—that's what it is,' explained Hilary; 'only with talking, I mean, of course, but he talks such a lot, and he will have his own way, and, if they say anything, he reminds them he's a visitor, and ought to be humoured. I wish it was any use getting Uncle Lambert to speak to him—but he's so stupid!'
'Is he, though?' said a lazy voice from behind the cedar.
'Oh, Uncle Lambkin!' cried Hilary, 'I didn't know you were there!'
'Don't apologise,' was the answer. 'I know it must be a trial to have an uncle on the verge of imbecility—but bear with me. I am at least harmless.'
'Of course we know you're really rather clever,' said Hazel, 'but you are stupid about some things—you never interfere, whatever people do!'
'Don't I, really?' said their uncle, as he disposed himself on his back, and tilted his hat over his nose; 'you do surprise me! What a mistake for a man to make, who has come down for perfect quiet! Whom shall I begin to interfere with?'
'Well, you might snub that horrid Tinling boy, instead of encouraging him, as you always do!'
'Encourage him! He's got a fine flow of martial enthusiasm, and a good supply of military terms, and I listen when he gives me long accounts of thrilling engagements, when he came out uncommonly strong—and the enemy, so far as I can gather, never came out at all. I'm passive, because I can't help myself; and then he amuses me in his way—that's all.'
'Do you believe he's brave, uncle?'
'I only know that I saw him kill two wasps with his teaspoon,' was the reply. 'They don't award the Victoria Cross for it—but it's a thing I couldn't have done myself.'
'I should hope not!' exclaimed Hilary; 'but everybody knows you're a coward,' she added (she did not intend this remark to be taken seriously), 'and you're awfully lazy. Still, there are some things you might do!'
'If that means fielding long-leg till tea-time, I respectfully disagree. Irreverent girls, have you never been taught that a digesting uncle is a very solemn and sacred thing?'
'Now you are going to be idiotic again! But as to cricket—why, you must know that we never get a game now! And next summer I shall be too old to play!'
'I never mean to be too old for cricket,' said Hilary, with conviction; 'but we've had none for weeks, uncle, positive weeks!'
'Quite right, too!' observed Uncle Lambert, sleepily. 'Not a game for girls—only spoil your hands—do you think I want a set of nieces with paws like so many glovers' signs?'
'That's utter nonsense,' said Hazel, calmly, 'because we always play in gloves. Mother makes us. At least, when we did play. Now the boys will only play soldiers, and, if they do happen to be inclined for a set at tennis, Clarence comes up and orders them off as pickets or outposts, or something!'
'But he's not Bismarck or Boulanger, is he? I always understood this was a free country.'
'You know what Guy and Jack are—they can't bear their visitor to think he isn't welcome.'
'Well, they seem to have made him feel very much at home—but it isn't my business; if they choose to declare the house in a state of siege, and turn the garden into a seat of war, I can't help it—I'd rather they wouldn't, but it's your mother's affair, not mine!'
And he closed the discussion by lighting a cigarette, and relapsing into a contented silence.
Uncle Lambert was short and stout, with a round red face, a heavy auburn moustache, and little green eyes which never seemed to notice anything. His nieces were fond of him, though they often wished he would pay them the occasional compliment of talking sensibly; but he never did, and he spent all his time at The Gables in elaborately doing nothing at all.
Clarence Tinling had gone off in a decided huff—so much so indeed that he left his devoted army to carry out their rather misty manoeuvres without any help from him. He was beginning to find a falling-off in their docility of late, which was no doubt owing to their sisters; it was excessively annoying to him that those girls should be so difficult to convince of the protective value of a fortress, and especially that they should decline to take his own superior nerve and courage for granted. And the worst of it was, nothing but some imminent danger was ever likely to convince them, such were their prejudice and narrow-mindedness.
Later that afternoon the family assembled for tea in the cool, shady dining-room; Mrs. Jolliffe, with a gentle anxiety on her usually placid face, sat at the head (Colonel Jolliffe was away shooting in the North just then). 'Where are all the boys?' she said, looking round the table. 'Why don't they come in?'
'It's no use asking us, mother,' said Hilary, 'we see so very little of them ever.'
'Very likely they are washing their hands,' said her mother.
'So like them!' murmured Uncle Lambert in confidence to his tea-cake. 'But here's the noble General, at all events. Well, Field Marshal, what have you done with the Standing Army?'
Tinling addressed himself to his hostess. 'Oh, Mrs. Jolliffe, I'm so sorry I was late, but I had just to run round to the stables for a minute. Oh, the other two? They're on duty—they're guarding the camp. In fact, I can't stay here very long myself.'
'But the poor dear boys must have their tea!' cried Mrs. Jolliffe.
'Well, you know,' said their veteran officer, as he helped himself to the marmalade, 'I don't think a little roughing it is at all a bad thing for them—teaches them that a soldier's life is not all jam.'
'No,' said Hazel, 'the General seems to get most of that.'
All Clarence said was: 'I'll trouble one of you girls for the tea-cake.'
'I don't think it's fair that the poor army should "rough," as you call it, while you stuff, Clarence,' said Hazel, indignantly. 'Mustn't they come in to tea, mother? It is such nonsense!'
'Yes, dear, run and call them in,' said Mrs. Jolliffe. 'I can't let my boys go without their meals, Clarence, it's so bad for them.'
'It's not discipline,' said the chief; 'still, if they must come, you had better take them this permit from me.' And he scribbled a line on a scrap of paper, which he handed to Hazel, who received it with the utmost disdain.
Hazel crossed the lawn and over a little rustic bridge to the kitchen garden and hothouses, beyond which was the paddock, where the fortress had been erected. It was a very imposing construction, built, with some help from the village carpenter, of portions of some disused fencing. The stockade had loopholes in it, and above the top she could see a fluttering flag and the point of a tent. Jack was perched up on a kind of look-out, and Guy was pacing solemnly before the covered entrance with a musket of very mild aspect over his shoulder.
'Who goes there?' he called out, some time after recognising her.
Hazel vouchsafed no direct reply to this challenge. 'You're to come in to tea directly,' she announced in her most peremptory tone.
'Advance, and give the countersign,' said the sentinel.
'Don't be a donkey!' returned Hazel, tossing back her long brown hair impatiently.
Guy levelled his firearm. It is exasperating when a sister can't enter into the spirit of the thing better than that. Who ever heard of a sentry being told, on challenging, 'not to be a donkey'? 'My orders are to fire on all suspicious persons,' he informed her.
Hazel stopped both her ears. 'No, Guy, please—it makes me jump so.'
'There's no cap on,' said he.
'Then there's a ramrod, or a pea, or something horrid,' she objected; 'do turn it the other way.'
'Hazel's all right, Guy,' said Jack, in rebuke of this excessive zeal; 'we can let her pass.'
'As if I wanted to pass!' exclaimed Hazel. 'I only came to bring you back to tea; and if you're afraid to go without leave, there's a permission from Clarence for you.'
'Oh! come in and have a look now you're here,' said the garrison more hospitably. 'You can't think how jolly the inside is.'
'Well, if I must,' she said; though, as a matter of fact, she was exceedingly curious to see the interior of the stronghold.
'It's like the ones in "Masterman Ready" and "Treasure Island," you see,' explained Jack, proudly. 'And it's pierced for musketry, too; we could open a withering fire on besiegers before they could come near us.'
'They would have to be rather stupid to want to besiege this, wouldn't they?' said Hazel.
'I don't see that—besiegers must besiege something. And it is snug, isn't it, now?'
Hazel was secretly much impressed. In the centre of the enclosure was the commander's tent, with a lantern fixed at the pole for night watches; and rugs and carpets were strewn about; at one of the angles of the palisading was the look-out—an elaborate erection of old wine-cases and egg-boxes—on the top of which was fixed a seven-and-sixpenny telescope that commanded the surrounding country for quite a hundred yards.
She was not the person, however, to go into raptures; she merely smiled a rather teasing little smile, and said, 'Mar-vellous!' but somehow, whatever sarcasm underlay this was accepted by both boys as a tribute.
'You can see now,' said Guy, in a reasonable tone, 'that there wouldn't have been room here for all you girls—now, would there?'
'Girls are always in the way—everywhere,' said Hazel, with a reproachful inflection which was quite lost upon her brothers.
'I knew you'd be sensible about it,' said Jack; 'you can't think what fun we have in here—especially at night, when the lantern's lit. Hallo! there's some one calling.'
A shrill whistle sounded from the kitchen garden, and, a moment after, a stone came flying over the stockade, and was stopped by the canvas of the tent.
'That's cool cheek!' said Jack; 'get up and reconnoitre, Guy—quick!'
Guy mounted the scaffold, and brought the telescope to bear upon the immediate neighbourhood with admirable coolness and science—but no particular result.
'We shall have to scour the bush and see if we can find any traces of the enemy,' said he with infinite relish.
'Was that the stone?' said Hazel, pointing to one that lay at the foot of the fence; 'because there seems to be some paper wrapped round it.'
'So there is!' said Jack, proceeding to unfold it. Presently he exclaimed, 'I say!'
'What is it now?' asked Hazel.
'Nothing for you—it's private!' said Jack, mysteriously. 'Here, Guy, come down and look at this.'
Guy read it and whistled. 'We must report this to the General at once,' he said gravely.
Both boys were very solemn, and yet had a certain novel air of satisfied importance.
'Shall we tell her?' asked Guy.
'She must know it some time,' returned Jack; 'we'll break it by degrees.—We've just had notice that we're going to be attacked by Red Indians, Hazel; don't be alarmed.'
'I'll try not to be,' she said, conquering a very strong inclination to laugh. She saw that they took it quite seriously; and, though she had at once suspected that some one in the village was playing them a trick, she did not choose to enlighten them. Hazel had a malicious desire to see what the General would do. 'I don't believe he will like the idea at all,' she said to herself. 'What fun it will be!'
Hazel's expectations seemed about to be fulfilled; for already she could hear steps on the plank of the little bridge, and in another minute the General himself entered the fortress.
'I say, you fellows,' he began, 'this is too bad—no one on guard, and a girl inside! Why, she might be a spy for anything you could tell!'
'Thank you, Clarence!' said Hazel; for this insinuation was rather trying to a person of her dignity.
'I say, General,' began Jack, 'never mind about rowing us now; we've some queer news to report. This has just fallen into our hands.'
Hazel watched Tinling closely as he read the paper. It was grimy, and printed in lead pencil, and contained these words:—'BE ON THE LUKOUT. RED INGIANS ON THE WORPATH. I HERD THEM SAYING THEY MENT TO ATACK YURE FORT AT NITEFAL. FROM A FREND.'
She was soon compelled to own that she had done him a great injustice. He was certainly as far as possible from betraying the slightest fear; on the contrary, his eye seemed actually to brighten with satisfaction. He behaved exactly as all heroes in books of adventure do on such occasions—he went through it twice carefully, and then inquired at what time the warning had arrived.
'About five minutes ago. Round a stone,' answered Guy, with true military conciseness.
'This will be a bad business,' observed the General, his face brightening with the joy of battle. 'We have no time to spare—we must give these demons a lesson they will not forget!' (this was out of the books). 'Look to your arms, my men, and see that we are provisioned for a siege (you might get the cook to give us some of that shortbread, and the rest of the cake we had at tea, Private Jack). We cannot tell to what straits we may be reduced.'
'Then,' inquired Hazel, demurely, 'you mean to stay here and fight them?'
'To the last gasp!' said the General.
Hazel liked him better then than she had done since his first arrival.
'He really is a plucky boy after all,' she thought. 'I wonder if it will last?'
ACT THE SECOND
WHERE IS THE ARMY?
The General's self-possession and resource were indeed remarkable.
'We ought to have a cannon,' he said; 'there's a big roll of matting somewhere in the house. If we got that, and widened a loophole, and shoved it through, it would look just like the muzzle of a cannon in the dark.'
'Would that frighten a Red Indian much?' asked Hazel.
'Not if he knew what it was, perhaps; but who's going to tell him? Jack, just run up to the house, like a good fellow, and see if you can find it, will you? You can go with him, Guy.'
'You seem rather to like the idea of being attacked,' said Hazel, when she and Clarence were alone together. He was gratified to notice the new friendliness in her voice.
'Well, you see,' he explained loftily, 'I don't suppose I'm pluckier than most people, but it just happens that I'm not afraid of Red Indians, that's all; when I saw all those at Buffalo Bill's I wasn't even excited: it's constitutional, I fancy.' He always modelled his talk a good deal upon books, and a crisis like this naturally brought out his largest language.
'I'd better see you safe back to the house, I think,' he added; 'I don't expect them for an hour yet, but you can never depend on savages—they might be lurking about the grounds already, for what we know.'
And, although Hazel had her own private ideas about the reality of the danger, she was struck by his coolness and courage, for which, whether justified or not by the occasion, she was quite fair-minded enough to give him due credit.
Meanwhile, the other two boys, bursting with excitement, had rushed up to the verandah, under which their mother and uncle were sitting.
'Mother! Uncle Lambert! What do you think? Our camp is going to be attacked this very night by Indians!'
'Yes, dears,' said Mrs. Jolliffe, serenely; 'but have you had your teas yet?'
Trifles such as these harrow the martial soul more than conflicts.
'But, mother, did you hear what we said? The fort is to be stormed by Red Indians!'
'Very well, dears, so long as you don't make too much noise,' was the sole comment of this most provokingly placid lady. What she ought to have done was, of course, to throw down her work, raise her eyes to the clouds, clasp her hands, and observe, in an agitated tone, 'Heaven protect us! We are lost!' But few mothers are capable of really rising to emergencies of this kind.
Hilary and Cecily had been playing tennis, and, overhearing the alarming news, came up to the steps of the verandah. 'Did you say Red Indians were coming here?'
Uncle Lambert shook his head lugubriously. 'I always warned your father,' he remarked; 'but he would come to live in Berkshire.'
'Why?' inquired Cecily. 'Is Berkshire a bad place for Red Indians, uncle?'
'I should say it was one of the worst places in all Europe!' he said solemnly.
Both Hilary and Cecily had heard and read a good deal about Red Indians lately, and had also, with their brothers, visited the American Exhibition, so that it did not strike either of them as unlikely just then that there should be a few scattered about in England, just as gipsies are.
'But what are you going to do about it?' they asked their brother.
'Lick 'em, of course!' said Guy. 'Now you see that an army is some use, after all.'
'Don't be taken alive, there's good boys,' advised their frivolous uncle, who seemed still unable to realise the extreme gravity of the occasion. 'Sell your lives as dearly as possible.'
'What is the use of telling them that, uncle?' exclaimed Cecily. 'They wouldn't get the money; and do you think any of us would touch it? How can you talk in that horrid way? Jack and Guy, don't go to that camp. Let the Indians have it, if they want to; you can soon build another.'
'You don't understand,' said Jack, impatiently. 'We can't have a lot of Red Indians in our camp—it wouldn't be safe for you.'
'Oh, I shall go and speak to Clarence,' she cried. 'I'm sure he won't want to fight them.' And she ran down to the end of the lawn, where he could be seen returning with Hazel.
'I want to speak to you quite alone,' she said. 'No, Hazel, it's a secret,' and she drew him aside.
'Clarence,' she said, and her blue eyes were dark with fear, 'tell me—are the Indians really coming?'
'You can judge for yourself,' he said, and gave her the paper. 'We've just had this thrown over the stockade. It seems to have been written by somebody who is in their secrets.'
'How badly Red Indians do spell!' said Cecily, shuddering as she read.
'It may be a white man's writing,' he said; 'perhaps a prisoner, or a confederate who repents.'
'But, Clarence, dear,' entreated Cecily (ten minutes ago she would not have added the epithet), 'you won't stay out and sit up for them, will you?'
'Do you think we're a set of cowards?' he demanded grandly.
'Not you, Clarence; but—but Jack and Guy are not very big boys, are they? I mean, they're a little too young to fight full-sized Indians.'
'There will be all sorts of sized Indians, I expect,' said Clarence. 'Of course, I don't say they'll come. They may think discretion's the better part of valour when they find we're prepared; but I must say I anticipate an attack myself.'
'I wish you would do without Jack and Guy. Couldn't you?' suggested Cecily.
His eyes gleamed. 'Cecily,' he said, 'tell me the worst—the army are getting in a funk?'
'No,' she cried; and then she resolved to sacrifice their reputation for their safety. 'At least, they haven't said anything; but I'm sure they'd feel more comfortable in the drawing-room. Can't you order them to stay and guard us? You're General.'
'And I am to face the foe alone?' he cried. 'Well, I am older than them' (I must decline to be responsible for the grammar of the characters of this story). 'I have lived my life—I shall be the less missed.... Let it be as you say.'
All this was strictly according to the books, and he enjoyed himself immensely.
'Thank you, dear, dear Clarence. I'd no idea you were so noble and brave. Try not to let those Indians hit you.'
'I cannot answer for the future,' he said; 'but since you wish it I will do my best.'
After all there was some good in girls. Here was one who said exactly the right things, without needing any prompting whatever.
Cecily hunted up Jack and Guy, who were poking about in the house. 'You're not to guard the stockade,' she announced, with ill-concealed triumph.
'Oh, aren't we, though?' said Guy; 'who says so? Not mother!'
'No—Clarence; he said I was to tell you to go on duty in the drawing-room.'
'What bosh!' said Guy. 'As if any Indians would come there! I don't care what Clarence says, I shall go in the stockade!'
'So shall I! 'said Jack. 'Now let's get that piece of matting, and go down sharp—the evening star's out already.'
Poor Cecily was in despair; what was to be done when they were so obstinate as this?
'I know where there's some beautiful matting,' she said.
'Where? Tell us, quick!'
'Come with me, and I'll show you.' She led the way along a corridor to the wing where the billiard-room was. 'Wait till I see if it's there still,' she said, and went into the billiard-room and looked around. 'Yes, it is there,' she told them as she came out.
'I don't see it, Cecily; where?' they cried from within.
Cecily shut the door softly, and turned the key (which she had managed to abstract on entering) in the outer lock.
'It's on the floor,' she cried through the keyhole; 'I didn't tell a story—and don't be angry, boys, dear, it's all for your good!'
Then, without waiting to hear their indignant outcry, she scudded along the corridor and down the staircase, with the sounds of muffled shouts and kicks growing fainter behind her.
'I don't mind so much now,' she thought; 'they'll be awfully angry when they come out—but the Indians will have gone by that time!'
Clarence had already retreated to his stronghold when she entered the drawing-room.
Everything seemed as usual; Uncle Lambert, in evening dress, was playing desultory snatches from Ruddigore. Mrs. Jolliffe came down presently, and he took her in to dinner with one of his tiresome jokes. No one seemed at all anxious about poor Tinling, fighting all alone down in the paddock.
She curled herself up on a settee by one of the open windows, and listened, trying to catch the sound of Indian yells. 'Hazel,' she said anxiously, 'do you think the Indians will hurt Tinling?'
Hazel gave a little laugh. 'I don't think the army's in any very great danger, Cis,' she replied.
'Hazel doesn't believe there are any Indians at all,' explained Hilary.
'Well,' said Cecily, softly, 'I've kept the army out of danger, whether there are or not!'
But she felt relieved by her sisters' evident tranquillity, and by-and-by, when Mrs. Jolliffe came in from the dining-room and settled down with her embroidery as if there were not the least chance of a savage coming whooping in the open window, Cecily almost forgot her fears.
They came back in full force, however, as, a little later on, she heard a quick, light step on the gravel outside, and started with a little scream of terror. 'Don't tell them where the army are!' she cried; and then she saw that her alarm was needless, for it was the gallant General who stepped into the room. Hazel looked up from the album which she was making for a children's hospital, Hilary threw away her book, Mrs. Jolliffe had ceased to embroider, but that was because she was peacefully dozing.
'Victory!' said Clarence, waving his sword.
'Then they did come?' cried Cecily, triumphantly.
'Rather!' he replied. 'I couldn't tell how many there were, but they were overcome with panic at the first discharge. I fancy these Indians had never heard firearms before.'
'How funny that we shouldn't have heard any now!' remarked Hazel, resting her chin on her palms, while her grey eyes had a rather mocking sparkle in them.
'Not funny at all,' he said, 'considering the wind was the other way. I let them come on, and then poured a volley into the thickest part of their ranks—that made them waver, and then I made a sortie, and you should have just seen them scuttle!'
'I wish I had,' said Hazel, as she pasted another Christmas card into her album. 'And weren't you wounded at all?'
'A mere scratch,' he said lightly (which is what book-heroes always say).
'It looks as if you had been amongst the gooseberry-bushes,' said Hilary, examining his arm as he pulled up his sleeve.
'Does it? Well, I only know it's lucky for me there were no poisoned arrows.'
'Oughtn't you to have it burnt, though, Clarence, just in case?' suggested Cecily, in all good faith; 'there's sure to be a red-hot poker in the kitchen.'
But Clarence was very decidedly of opinion that such a precaution was not necessary.
'And you're quite sure the Indians are all gone?' she asked.
'There isn't one of 'em within miles,' he said confidently, 'I'll answer for that.'
'Then come upstairs with me, and we'll let the army out. They'll be in such a temper!'
They found the two boys, who had tired of kicking and shouting by that time, sitting gloomily on the long seats in the dark.
'Guy, dear—Jack,' said Cecily, timidly, 'you can come out now. Clarence has beaten the Indians.'
'Without us?' groaned Guy. 'Cecily, I'll never speak to you again! Tinling, I—we—you don't think we funked, do you? She locked us up here!'
All the General's native magnanimity came out now.
'We won't say any more about it,' he said. 'It was rather a close shave, with only one man to do it all. But, there, I managed somehow, and perhaps it was just as well you weren't there. The first rush was no joke, I can tell you.'
Jack punched his own head with both hands.
'Oh, it's too bad!' he said—he was almost in tears. 'They'll all think we deserted you! Did you kill many of them, Tinling?'
'I didn't see any corpses,' he replied; 'but I shouldn't be surprised if some of them died when they got home.'
'They may come again to-morrow night,' said Jack, more cheerfully.
'Not much fear of that—they've had their lesson. They were seized with utter panic.'
'Which way did they go?' asked Guy, evidently bent on pursuing them.
'Oh, in all directions. But you wouldn't catch them up now; they ran too fast for me even!'
'Then I shall go to bed,' said the entire army, in great depression. 'It is a shame we couldn't be there. Good-night, General.' And, pointedly ignoring poor Cecily, they marched off to their quarters. She looked wistfully after them.
'They'll never forgive me—I know they won't!' she said to Tinling.
'Don't you mind,' he said, 'you acted very wisely. And, after all, these raw young troops can never be depended on under fire, you know—I mean, under arrows.'
Cecily drew herself up a little haughtily.
'I locked them in because I didn't want them to get hurt,' she said, 'not because I thought they'd be afraid.'
Uncle Lambert did not hear about the result of the engagement until the following day, but then, to make up for any delay, he heard a good deal about it. Even Clarence was not quite prepared for the enthusiasm he showed.
'Splendid, my boy, splendid!' he kept repeating, while he hit him rather hard on the back; 'you're a hero. A grateful country ought to give you the Bath for it. I shall take care this affair is generally known.'
And the poor army looked on with hot cheeks and envious eyes. But for Cecily, they might have been heroes, too!
Even Hazel seemed to have understood that a really brilliant victory had been achieved; she brought Tinling a magnificent flag of pink glazed calico, on which she had painted in crimson letters: 'Indians' Terror.'
'I did not think of making the motto "Seven at one blow,"' she said, with a mischievous dimple.
'I like the other best,' said the General, unsuspectingly.
Jack and Guy went down to the camp as usual, but for some time they were in very low spirits, in spite of their commander's well-meant efforts to raise them.
'You'll do better next time,' he said kindly.
'But we've told you over and over again how it was!' they would exclaim.
'Yes, I know, I know. It's all right. I'm not complaining: I never expected you to be as cool as I was, your first time.' But even this did not seem to console the army to any large extent; they hunched their shoulders and kicked pebbles about with great apparent interest.
The fact was, they could not help seeing that they had lost their prestige. It was true that their mother and elder sister at least (in spite of the flag) did not seem to treat the past danger with all the seriousness it deserved. It even struck Jack and Guy sometimes that they were under the delusion that the whole thing had been only a new development of the game. But as the General said: 'Even if that were so, it was kinder not to undeceive them. He certainly was contented to leave them in their error; he knew well enough what he had had to go through—he did not like even now to think of his despair when he found he would have to face the danger all alone.'
He was always making the army writhe by little unintentional reminders of this kind, and they had cruel misgivings that Uncle Lambert, though he was always quite kind and encouraging, did not in his heart believe that their unfortunate absence in the hour of peril was quite an accident on their part.
How they longed for an opportunity of wiping out their disgrace, and how their hearts sank when Tinling, from the depths of his experience, declared it very improbable that the attack would ever again be renewed. In the school-stories, the good boy who refuses to fight when he is kicked, and is sent to Coventry as a coward, always gets a speedy chance to clear his character. Someone (generally the very boy who kicked him) falls into a mill-stream, or a convenient horse runs away, or else a mad but considerate bull comes into the playground—and the good boy is always at hand to dive, or hang on to the bridle and be dragged several yards in the dust, or slowly retreat backwards, throwing down first his hat and then his coat to amuse and detain the infuriated bull.
But out of stories, unfortunately, as even Jack and Guy dimly perceived, things are not always arranged so satisfactorily. They might have to wait for weeks, perhaps months or years, before Uncle Lambert fell into the fish-pond—and, even if he did, he could probably swim better than they could. Then they were neither of them sure that they could successfully stop a runaway horse, or a maniac bull, without a little more practice than they had had as yet.
However, Fortune was kind, and took pity on them in a most unexpected manner. For one morning, soon after breakfast, when Hazel was practising in the music-room, and Hilary and Cecily feeding their rabbits, Jack came up in a highly-excited state of mind to the verandah where his officer was seated doing nothing in particular. 'General,' he said, with a very creditable salute, 'do come down to the camp at once.'
'Oh, bother!' said the veteran warrior, who had, by the way, shown rather a tendency to rest on his laurels of late.
'No, but it isn't humbug, really,' protested Jack; 'it's something you'll like awfully.'
The General marched down in a very stately manner; it would have been undignified to run, eager as he was to get down to the stockade, thinking it not unlikely that Lintoft, the carpenter, really had found time to make a cannon for them after all, or, at the very least, that there would be some change in the internal arrangements of the stronghold which it would be his duty as superior officer to criticise, if not condemn.
Now it must be explained here that, during the last two or three days, the outside wall of the fort had been placarded with various bills, all glorying in the recent repulse of the enemy by a single-handed defender, and containing most insulting reflections on the courage of Red Indians as a race; while, in case they might not have enough knowledge of English to understand these taunts, they were accompanied by sketches which were certainly scathing enough to infuriate the least susceptible savage.
To do Clarence justice, they were not due to any elation on his part, but had all been executed by the army in the wild hope that they might thus stir up the foe to a fresh demonstration, when they themselves might recover their lost spurs.
These placards, as Clarence found on reaching the stockade, had been scrawled over with a kind of red and yellow paint so as to be quite illegible.
'Ochre,' said Guy; 'but that's not the best of it, for we found this pinned with an arrow to one of the posts.' And he produced a thin strip of white bark, on which were writing and drawings in crimson. 'They must have done it with their own blood,' commented Jack, with great gusto; 'but read it—do read it.'
Clarence did not need a second invitation to read the document, which was as follows:—
'WAH NA SA PASH BOO (YELLOW VULTURE),
Chief of Black Bogallala Tribe, to the Great White Chief, Tin Lin, DEFIANCE.
'The wigwam of Yellow Vulture wants but one ornament—the scalp of the white chief. Yellow Vulture has seen the taunts calling the red warriors "women with the hearts of deer." He will show the Paleface that the anger of the dusky ones is a big heap-lot terrible. When the sun has set behind the hills, and the stars light their watch-fires, then will Yellow Vulture and his braves be at hand. The scalp of the Paleface shall adorn the tepee of the Red Man.
In order that there should be no possible mistake about the intention, the message was supplemented by a rude representation of the process of scalping, evidently the work of a practised hand.
'Didn't I tell you we had something jolly to show you!' exclaimed Jack.
But joy, or some equally powerful emotion, rendered the General incapable of speaking for several moments.
ACT THE THIRD
WHERE IS THE GENERAL?
It was some little time before Clarence Tinling gave any opinion upon this bloodthirsty document. He turned exceedingly red, and examined it suspiciously on both sides. It seemed as if he did not altogether welcome this second opportunity for distinguishing himself. When he spoke it was with a sort of angry anxiety.
'You think yourselves very clever, I dare say,' he said; 'but you needn't fancy you'll take me in! Come, you had better say so at once—you did this yourselves? It is not half bad—I will say that for it.'
'That we didn't,' cried Guy. 'Why, just look at it, Tinling. Any one could see that it's an Indian's doing. No, it's all right; they really are coming.'
'It's all skittles, I tell you,' said Clarence, still more angrily, though he was paler again now. 'What should Indians come here for?'
'Well, he says why, there,' said Jack, 'and they came the other evening.'
Clarence's colour rose again. 'That's different,' he said; 'I mean, it's not the same tribe.'
'No, these are Black Bogallalas,' said Jack. 'What were the first ones, Tinling?'
'I didn't ask them,' said the General shortly.
'How many braves should you think Wah Na What's-his-name will bring?' asked Guy. 'As many as came the other evening? How many did come the first time?'
'Do you think I had nothing better to do than count?' he retorted. 'Is there anything else you would like to know?'
'Well, we'll hang out the lantern to-night, and watch how many come inside its rays,' said Jack, with a briskness which displeased his chief.
'You wouldn't be quite so jolly cheerful over it if you knew what it was like!' he grumbled.
'Why not?' said Guy. 'You beat the others easily enough by yourself, and we shall be three this time.'
'Oh, it's all very fine to talk,' retorted the General; 'but we shall see what your mother and uncle say about it. They—they may think we ought not to take any notice of it.'
Jack's eyes opened wide at this. 'Not take any notice of an attack by Black Bogallalas! I don't see how we can very well help noticing it!'
'It all depends on what Mrs. Jolliffe says,' replied the conscientious General. 'I'm only a visitor here, and it wouldn't be the right thing for me to lead you into danger without leave.'
'Well, you weren't so particular the first time the Indians came!' remarked Guy.
'Will you shut up about that first time!' the Commander burst out, in exasperation; 'it's the second time now—that is, if it isn't all humbug. That's what I mean to find out first—you stay here till I come back, will you?'
Taking the strip of bark with him, he went slowly up to the house. He had an uneasy feeling that the Indian's challenge was genuine enough, but he still hoped to have it pronounced a forgery. This may seem strange indeed to some, considering the courage of which he had already given proof, but I do not wish to make any further mystery, particularly as most of my readers will probably have already guessed the secret of this apparent contrast.
The fact is, then, that Clarence Tinling had the best of reasons for being cool and courageous on the previous occasion. Those Indians were entirely imaginary; he had written the warning himself, and instructed the coachman's boy to throw it over the stockade; the attack on the fort and the brilliant victory were an afterthought.
What had he done it for? That is rather difficult to explain—perhaps he hardly knew himself; he had a vague idea of proving to those disrespectful girls that enemies did exist, and that the protection of an Army was not to be despised.
Then when he found himself alone in the camp, the temptation to carry his invention further was too much for him; and after Jack and Guy and Cecily, and even Uncle Lambert himself, accepted his story without hesitation, and treated him as a hero—why, it would have looked so silly to explain then, and so he went through with it.
Lying is lying, whatever explanations and excuses may be made respecting it, and I am afraid it must be admitted that Tinling, if he began by a mere harmless device for giving a new turn to the game, ended by telling some very unmistakable lies.
Now he found himself in a most delicate position: what if an attack by Red Indians should really be quite possible? Mr. Lambert Jolliffe had certainly not seemed to see anything incredible in the former visit, and, though Clarence had not a very high opinion of his abilities, he was grown up, and was not likely to be misinformed on such a point as that—at all events, he was the best person to consult just then. As he expected, he found him under the big ilex on his back, with his after-breakfast pipe, no longer alight, between his lips.
'Mr. Jolliffe; I say, Mr. Jolliffe,' began Clarence.
Lambert Jolliffe sat up, and fixed his glass in one drowsy eye. 'Hullo, Sir Garnet—I beg your pardon, Lord Wolseley, I mean. You ought to hear what they're saying at the War Office, I can tell you!'
Praise is sweet, even when we do not deserve it, and Clarence felt a thrill of satisfaction at this somewhat vague tribute.
'I wanted to ask you,' he said, 'should you say that Red Indians were—well, common in England?'
'You have asked me a straightforward question, and I'll give you a straightforward answer,' was the reply. 'Till quite lately I should say they were absolutely unknown in this country.'
Clarence's face brightened; he felt quite fond of Uncle Lambert, and began to think him a particularly well-informed and entertaining person.
'Yes,' continued Uncle Lambert, thoughtfully, 'I must confess I thought it a little unlikely at first that you should have been annoyed by Red Indians; but, of course, when I remembered the Earl's Court Show, I saw at once that it was quite possible.' Clarence felt a cold qualm. He had, as we already know, seen Buffalo Bill's wonderful show, which, indeed, was responsible for much of his recent military enthusiasm. But till that moment, curiously enough, it had not occurred to him to connect the mysterious Wah Na Sa Pash Boo with the denizens of the Wild West whom he had seen careering about the immense arena at Earl's Court.