Billeder på siden

Jim turned his head aside. Brutalized, besotted, depraved, there was yet in him a spark of that fire which lights men to their doom, and his eyes filled with tears.

But the thief-takers have Claude Duval by the throat at last; and there is a scene in court, where the young lady perjures herself unhesitatingly, and faints once more in the prisoner's arms. In vain. Claude

Duval is sworn to, found guilty, condemned; and the stage is darkened for a grand finale.

Still gay, still gallant, still impenitent, and still booted, though in fetters, the highwayman sits in his prison cell, to be visited by the young lady, who cannot bear to lose her partner, and the wife, who still clings to her husband. Unlike Macheath, he seems in no way embarrassed by the position. His wife forgives him, at this supreme moment, all the sorrow he has caused her, in consideration of some unexplained past, 'gilded,' as she expresses it, by the sunny smiles of southern France,' while the young lady, holding on with great tenacity to his hand, weeps frantically on her knees.

A clock strikes. It is the hour of execution. Dorothea begins to sob, and Gentleman Jim clenches his hands. The back of the stage opens, to disclose a street, a crowd, a hangman, and the fatal Tyburn tree. Faint cheers are heard from the wings. The sheriff enters bearing in his hand a reprieve, written apparently on a window-blind. He is attended by the comic servant, through whose mysterious agency a pardon has been granted, and who sticks by his fiddle to the last.

Grand tableau: Claude Duval penitent. His wife in his arms. The young lady conveying in dumb show how platonic has been her attachment, of which, nevertheless, she seems a little ashamed. The sheriff benignant; the turnkeys amused; the comic servant, obviously in liquor, brandishing his fiddle-stick, and the orchestra playing 'God save the Queen.'

Walking home through the wet streets, under the flashing gas-lights, Dorothea and her companion pre

serve an ominous silence. Both identify themselves with the fiction they have lately witnessed. The woman, pondering on Mrs. Duval's sufferings and the eventual reward of that good lady's constancy and truth; her companion, reflecting, not on the charms of the actress he has lately been applauding, but on another face which haunts him now, as the wilis and water-sprites haunted their doomed votaries, and which must ever be as far out of reach as if it belonged indeed to some such being of another nature; thinking how a man might well risk imprisonment, transportation, hang ing, for one kind glance of those bright eyes, one smile of those haughty, scornful lips; and comparing, in bitter impatience, that exotic beauty with the humble, homely creature at his side.

She looks up in his face. Jim,' says she, timidly, and cowering close to him the while, 'if you was took, and shopped, like him in the long boots, I'd go to quod with you, if they'd give me leave-I'd go to death with you, Jim, I would. I'd never forsake of you, I wouldn't! I couldn't, dear,-not if it was ever so!'

He shudders and shrinks from her. It might come sooner than you think for,' says he, adding, brutally enough; now you could do me a turn in the witness-box, though I shouldn't wonder but you'd cut out white like the others. Let's call in here, and take a drop o' gin afore they shuts up.'

The great picture of Thomas the Rhymer, and his Elfin Mistress, goes on apace. There is, I believe, but one representation in London of that celebrated prophet, and it is in the possession of his lineal descendant. Every feature, every shadow on that portrait has Simon Perkins studied with exceeding diligence and care, marvelling, it must be confessed, at the taste of the fairy queen. The accessaries to his own composition are in rapid progress. Most of the fairies have been put in, and the gradual change from glamour to disillusion, is cunningly conveyed by a stream of cold grey morning light entering

the magic cavern from realms of upper earth, to deaden the glitter, pale the colouring, and strip, as it were, the tinsel, where it strikes. On the Rhymer himself our artist has bestowed an infinity of pains, preserving (no easy task) some resemblance to the original portrait, while he dresses his conception in the manly form and comely features indispensable to the situation.

But it is into the fairy queen herself that Simon loves to throw all the power of his genius, all the resources of his art. To this labour of love, day after day, he returns with unabated zest, altering, improving, painting out, adding, taking away, drinking in the while his model's beauty, as parched and thirsty gardens of Egypt drink in the overflowing Nile, to return a tenfold harvest of verdure, luxuriance, and wealth.

She has been sitting to him for three consecutive hours. Truth to tell, she is tired to death of it-tired of the room, the palette, the easel, the queen, the rhymer, the little dusky imp in the corner, whose wings are changing into scales and a tail, almost tired of dear Simon Perkins himself; who is working contentedly on (how can he?) as if life contained nothing more than effect and colouring-as if the reality were not better than the representation after all.

A quarter of an inch more this way,' says the pre-occupied artist. There is a touch wanting in that shadow under the eye-thanks, dear Nina. I shall get it at last,' and he falls back a step to look at his work, with his head on one side, as nobody but a painter can look, so strangely does the expression of face combine impartial criticism with a satisfaction almost maternal in its intensity.

Before beginning again, his eye rested on his model, and he could not but mark the air of weariness and dejection she betrayed.

Why, Nina,' said he, 'you look quite pale and tired. What a brute I am! I go painting on and forget how stupid it must be for you, who mustn't even turn your head to look at my work.'

She gave a stretch, and such a yawn! Neither of them very gracefal performances, had the lady been less fair and fascinating, but Nina looked exceedingly pretty in their perpetration nevertheless.

"Work,' she answered. 'Do you call that work? Why you've undone everything you did yesterday, and put about half of it in again. If you're diligent, and keep on at this pace, you'll finish triumphantly with a blank canvas, like Penthesilea and her tapestry in my ancient history.'

'Penelope,' corrected Simon, gently.

'Well, Penelope! It's all the same. I don't suppose any of it's true. Let's have a peep, Simon. can't be. Is that really like me?'


The colour had come back to her face, the light to her eye. She was pleased, flattered, half amused to find herself so beautiful. He looked from the picture to the original, and with all his enthusiasm for art awarded the palm to nature.

'It was like you a minute ago,' said he, in his grave, gentle tones. 'Or rather, I ought to say you were like it. But you change so, that I'm often in despair of catching you, and, somehow, I always seem to love the last expression best.'

There was something in his voice so admiring, so reverential, and yet so tender, that she glanced quickly, with a kind of surprise, in his face; that face, which, to an older woman who had known suffering and sorrow, might have been an index of the gentle heart, the noble chivalrous character within, which, to this girl, was simply pale and worn, and not at all handsome, but very dear, nevertheless, as belonging to her kind old Simon, the playmate of her childhood, the brother, and more than brother, of her youth.

Those encounters are sadly unequal, and very poor fun for the muffled fighter, in which one keeps the gloves on, while the other's blows are delivered with the naked fist.

Miss Algernon was at this time perhaps more attached to Simon Perkins than to any other creature in the world, that is to say, she did not

happen to like anybody else better. How different from him, to whom she represented the very essence of that spiritual life which, in our several ways, we all try to live, which so few of us know how to attain by postponing its enjoyment for a few short troubled years.

It is probable, that, if the painter had thrown down his brush at this juncture, and asked, simply, 'Nina, will you be my wife?" she would have answered, 'Thank you, kindly, yes, I will!' but although his judgment told him he was likely to succeed, his finer instincts warned him that an affirmative would be the sacrifice of her youth, her illusions, her possible future. Such sacrifice it was far more in Simon's nature to make than to accept.

'Will she ever know me thoroughly?' he used to think. Will the time ever come when I can say to her, "Nina, I am sure you care for me now, and therefore I am not afraid to tell you how dearly I loved you all through?" Such a time would be well worth waiting for, ay, though it never came for seven years, and seven more to the back of that. Then I should feel her happiness depended on mine. Now I often think the prince in the fairy tale will ride past our Putney villa some summer's day, like Launcelot through the barley sheaves (I'll paint Launcelot when I've time, with the ripe ears reddened in the sun, and the light flashing off his harness) ride by, and take Nina's heart away with him, and what will be left for me then? I could bear it! Yes, I could bear it if I knew she was happy. My darling, my darling! so that you walk on in joy and triumph, it matters little what becomes of me!'

The sentiment was perhaps overstrained. It is not thus that women are won. The fruit that drops into people's mouths is usually over-ripe, and the Sabine maiden would have thought less of her Roman lover, though, doubtless, she would have taken the initiative, rather than miss him altogether, had it been necessary to pounce on him in the vineyard and desire him, straightway, to carry her home. But the

bird of prey must have its natural victim, and such hearts as our poor generous painter possessed are destined for the talons and the beak. Ah! those who value them least win the great prizes in the lottery. Fortune smiles on the careless player-gold goes to the richstreams run to the river, and if you have more mutton than you know what to do with, be sure that in your folds will be found the poor man's ewe-lamb. Put a ribbon round her neck, and be kind to her as he was. It is the least you can do!

'You've taken a deal of pains, Simon,' says the sitter, after a long and well-pleased scrutiny. 'Tell me, no flattery now, why should I be so difficult to paint? Why, indeed, you saucy innocent coquette! Perhaps, because, all the while, you are turning the poor artist's head, and driving pins and needles into his heart.

'I ought to make a good likeness of you,' answers Simon, rather sadly. 'I'm sure, Nina, I know your face by heart. But I'm determined to take enormous pains with this picture. It's to be my great work. I want them to admire it at the Academy. I want all London to come and look at it. I want the critics, who know nothing, to say it's well drawn, and the artists, who do know something, to say it's well treated, and the public to declare my fairy queen is the loveliest, and the sweetest, and the dearest face they ever beheld. You see I'm very -very-ambitious, Nina!'

[ocr errors]

Yes, I suppose all painters are," replies Miss Algernon, with a little gasp of relief, accompanied by a little chill of something not quite unlike disappointment. But you ought to be tired of working, and I know I am tired of sitting. Hand me my bonnet, Simon-not upside down-why that's the top where the rose is, of course! And let's walk back through the Park. will be nearly full by this time.'


So they walked back through the Park and it was full-full to overflowing; nevertheless, amongst all the riders, drivers, sitters, strollers, and idlers, there appeared neither of

the smart-looking gentlemen who had roused Nina's indignation by bowing to her in the morning, without having the honour of her acquaintance.



A gigantic sentry of Her Majesty's household cavalry paces up and down in front of the officers' quarters at Knightsbridge Barracks some two hours before watch-setting. It is fortunate that constant use has rendered him insensible to admiration. Few persons of either sex pass under his nose without a glance of unqualified approval. They marvel at his stature, his spurs, his carbine, his overalls, his plumed helmet, towering high high above their heads, and the stupendous moustaches, on which this gentleman-private prides himself more than on all the rest of his heroic attributes put together.

Beyond a shade of disciplined weariness, there is no expression whatever on his handsome face, yet it is to be presumed that the man has his thoughts too, like another. Is he back in Cumberland amongst his dales, a stalwart stripling fishing some lonely stream within the hills, watching a bout at knurrand-spell' across the heather, or wrestling a fall in friendly rivalry with his cousin, a son of Anak, tall as himself? Does that purple sunset over Kensington Gardens remind him of Glaramara and Saddleback? Does that distant roar of wheels in Piccadilly recall the rush and ripple of the Solway charging up its tawny sands with the white horses all abreast in a spring-tido?

Perhaps he is wishing he was an officer with no kit to keep in order, no fatigue-duty to undergo, sitting merrily down to as good a dinner as luxury can provide, or a guest, of whom he has seen several pass his post in starched white neckcloths and trim evening clothes. Perhaps he would not change with any of these, after all, when he reflects on his own personal advan

tages, his social standing amongst his comrades, his keen appreciation and large consumption of beer and tobacco, with the innumerable conquests he makes amongst maids and matrons in the middle and lower ranks of life. Such considerations, however, impress themselves not the least upon his outward visage. A statue could not look more imperturbable, and he turns his head but very slightly, with supreme indifference, when peals of laughter, more joyous than common, are wafted through the open windows of the mess-room, where some of our friends have fairly embarked on that tide of good-humour and hilarity which sets in with the second glass of champagne.

It is a full mess; the colonel himself sits at dinner, with two or three friends, old brothers-in-arms, whose soldierlike bearing and manly faces betray their antecedents, though they may not have worn a uniform for months. A lately joined cornet looks at these with a reverence that I am afraid could be extorted from him by no other institution on earth. The adjutant and riding-master, making holiday, are both present-To the front,' as they call it, enjoying exceedingly the jests and waggeries of their younger comrades. The orderlyofficer, conspicuous by his belt, sits at one end of the long table. Lord Bearwarden occupies the other, supported on either side by his two guests, Tom Ryfe and Dick Stanmore. It is the night of Mrs. Stanmore's ball, and these last-named gentlemen are going there, with feelings how different, yet with the same object. Dick is full of confidence, clated and supremely happy. His entertainer experiences a quiet comfort and bien-être stealing over him, to which he has long been a stranger, while Tom Ryfe with every mouthful swallows down some emotion of jealousy, humiliation, or mistrust. Nevertheless he is in the highest spirits of the three.

I tell you nothing can touch him, my lord, when hounds run,' says he, still harping on the merits of the horse he sold Lord Bear

warden in the Park. Of course half the party are talking of hunt-. ing, the other half racing, soldiering, and women. 'He'd have been thrown away on most of the fellows we know. He wants a good man on his back, for if you keep him fretting behind it breaks his heart. I always said you ought to have him-you or Mr. Stanmore. He's just the sort for both of you. I'm sorry to hear yours are all coming up at Tattersall's,' adds Tom with a courteous bow to the opposite guest. 'Hope it's only to make room for some more.'

Dick disclaims. No, indeed,' says he, 'it's a bona fide sale-without reserve, you know-I am going to give the thing up!'

Give up hunting! expostulates

[ocr errors]

a very young subaltern on Dick's left. Why, you're not a soldier, are you? What shall you do with yourself? You have nothing to live for.'

Overcome by this reflection, he empties his glass and looks feelingly in his neighbour's face.

'Are you so fond of it too?' asks Dick, with a smile.

Fond of it! I believe you!' answers the boy. 'What is there to be compared to it?-at least that I've tried, you know. I think the happiest fellow on earth is a master of fox-hounds, particularly if he hunts them himself: there's only one thing to beat it, and that's soldiering. I'd rather command such a regiment as this than be Emperor of China. Perhaps I shall, too, some day.'

The real colonel, sitting opposite, overhears this military sentiment, and smiles good-humouredly at his zealous junior. When you are in command,' says he, I hope you'll be down upon the cornets-they want a deal of looking up-I'm much too easy with them.' The young soldier laughed and blushed. In his heart he thought the chief,' as he called him, the very greatest man in the world, offering him that respect combined with affection which goes so far to constitute the efficiency of a regiment, hoping hereafter to tread in his footsteps, and carry out his system.

For ten whole minutes he held his tongue-and this was no small effort of self-restraint-that he might listen to the commanding officer's conversation with his guests, savouring strongly of professional interests, as comprising Crimean, Indian, and continental experiences, all tending to prove that cavalry massed, kept under cover, held well in hand, and 'offered' at the critical moment, was the force to render success permanent and defeat irretrievable.

When they got into a dissertation on shoeing, with the comparative merits of 'threes' and 'sections' at drill, the young man refreshed himself liberally with champagne, and turned to more congenial discourse.

Of this there seemed no lack. The winner of the St. Leger was as confidently predicted as if the race were already in his owner's pocket. A match was made between two splendid dandies, called respectfully by their comrades Nobby' and The Dustman,' to walk from Knightsbridge Barracks to Windsor Bridge that day week-the odds being slightly in favour of 'The Dustman, who was a peer of the realm. A moderate dancer was freely criticised, an exquisite singer approved with reservation, and the style of fighting practised by our present champion of the prizering unequivocally condemned. Presently a deep voice made itself heard in more, sustained tones than belong to general conversation, and during a lull it became clear that the adjutant was relating an anecdote of his own military experience. 'It's a wonderful country,' said he, in reply to some previous observation. I'm not an Irishman myself, but I've observed that the most conspicuous men in all nations are pure Irish or of Irish extraction. Look at the service. Look at the ring - prize-fighters and bookmakers. I believe the Slasher's mother was born in Connaught, and nothing will convince me but that Deerfoot came from Tipperary

east and west the world's full of them-they swarm, I'm told, in America, and I can answer for

« ForrigeFortsæt »