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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesRichard Carvel - Volume 6 - Chapter XLI. The Wilderness
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Richard Carvel - Volume 6 - Chapter XLI. The Wilderness Post by :Hugo_San Category :Long Stories Author :Winston Churchill Date :February 2011 Read :478

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Richard Carvel - Volume 6 - Chapter XLI. The Wilderness

My eyes had become accustomed to the darkness, and presently I made out a
bench ahead, with two black figures starting from it. One I should have
known on the banks of the Styx. From each came a separate oath as I
stopped abreast them, and called the duke by name.

"Mr. Carvel!" he cried; "what the devil do you here, sir?"

"I am come to keep an appointment for Mr. Manners," I said. "May I speak
to your Grace alone?"

He made a peculiar sound by sucking in his breath, meant for a sneering
laugh.

"No," says he, "damned if you shall! I have nothing in common with you,
sir. So love for Miss Manners has driven you mad, my young upstart. And
he is not the first, Lewis."

"Nor the last, by G--," says the captain.

"I have a score to settle with you, d--n you!" cried Chartersea.

"That is why I am here, your Grace," I replied; "only you have twisted
the words. There has been foul play enough. I have come to tell you,"
I cried, boiling with anger, "I have come to tell you there has been foul
play enough with a weakling that cannot protect himself, and to put an
end to your blackmail."

In the place of an oath, a hoarse laugh of derision came out of him. But
I was too angry then to note its significance. I slapped his face--nay,
boxed it so that my palm stung. I heard his sword scraping out of the
scabbard, and drew mine, stepping back to distance at the same instant.
Then, with something of a shudder, I remembered young Atwater, and a 380
brace of other instances of his villany. I looked for the captain. He
was gone.

Our blades, the duke's and mine, came together with a ring, and I felt
the strength of his wrist behind his, and of his short, powerful arm.
The steel sung with our quick changes from 'quarte' to 'tierce'. 'Twas
all by the feeling, without light to go by, and hatred between us left
little space for skill. Our lunges were furious. 'Twas not long before
I felt his point at my chest, but his reach was scant. All at once the
music swelled up voices and laughter were wafted faintly from the
pleasure world of lights beyond. But my head was filled, to the
exclusion of all else, with a hatred and fury. And (God forgive me!)
from between my teeth came a prayer that if I might kill this monster,
I would die willingly.

Suddenly, as I pressed him, he shifted ground, and there was Lewis
standing within range of my eye. His hands were nowhere--they were
behind his back! God alone knows why he had not murdered me. To keep
Chartersea between him and me I swung another quarter. The duke seemed
to see my game, struggled against it, tried to rush in under my guard,
made a vicious lunge that would have ended me then and there had he not
slipped. We were both panting like wild beasts. When next I raised my
eyes Lewis had faded into the darkness. Then I felt my head as wet as
from a plunge, the water running on my brow, and my back twitching.
Every second I thought the sting of his sword was between my ribs. But
to forsake the duke would have been the maddest of follies.

In that moment of agony came footsteps beating on the path, and by tacit
consent our swords were still. We listened.

"Richard! Richard Carvel!"

For the second time in my life I thanked Heaven for that brave and loyal
English heart. I called back, but my throat was dry and choked.

"So they are at their d--d assassins' tricks again! You need have no
fear of one murderer."

With that their steels rang out behind me, like broadswords, Lewis
wasting his breath in curses and blasphemies. I began to push Chartersea
with all my might, and the wonder of it was that we did not fight with
our fingers on each other's necks. His attacks, too, redoubled. Twice I
felt the stings of his point, once in the hand, and once in the body, but
I minded them as little as pinpricks. I was sure I had touched him, too.
I heard him blowing distressedly. The casks of wine he had drunk in his
short life were telling now, and his thrusts grew weaker. That fiercest
of all joys--of killing an enemy--was in me, when I heard a cry that rang
in my ears for many a year afterward, and the thud of a body on the
ground.

"I have done for him, your Grace," says Lewis, with an oath; and added
immediately, "I think I hear people."

Before I had reached my Lord the captain repeated this, and excitedly
begged the duke, I believe, to fly. Chartersea hissed out that he would
not move a step until he had finished me, and as I bent over the body his
point popped through my coat, and the pain shot under my shoulder. I
staggered, and fell. A second of silence ensued, when the duke said with
a laugh that was a cackle:

"He won't marry her, d--n him!" (panting). "He had me cursed near
killed, Lewis. Best give him another for luck."

I felt his heavy hand on the sword, and it tearing out of me. Next came
the single word "Dover," and they were gone. I had not lost my senses,
and was on my knees again immediately, ripping open Comyn's waistcoat
with my left hand, and murmuring his name in an agony of sorrow. I was
searching under his shirt, wet with blood, when I became aware of voices
at my side. "A duel! A murder! Call the warders! Warders, ho!"

"A surgeon!" I cried. "A surgeon first of all!"

Some one had wrenched a lamp from the Grand Walk and held it, flickering
in the wind, before his Lordship's face. Guided by its light, more
people came running through the wood, then the warders with lanthorns,
headed by Mr. Tyers, and on top of him Mr. Fitzpatrick and my Lord
Carlisle. We carried poor Jack to the house at the gate, and closed the
doors against the crowd.

By the grace of Heaven Sir Charles Blicke was walking in the gardens that
night, and, battering at the door, was admitted along with the constable
and the watch. Assisted by a young apothecary, Sir Charles washed and
dressed the wound, which was in the left groin, and to our anxious
questions replied that there was a chance of recovery.

"But you, too, are hurt, sir," he said, turning his clear eyes upon me.
Indeed, the blood had been dripping from my hand and arm during the whole
of the operation, and I began to be weak from the loss of it. By great
good fortune Chartersea's thrust, which he thought had ended my life,
passed under my armpit from behind and, stitching the skin, lodged deep
in my right nipple. This wound the surgeon bound carefully, and likewise
two smaller ones.

The constable was for carrying me to the Marshalsea. And so I was forced
to tell that I had quarrelled with Chartersea; and the watch, going out
to the scene of the fight, discovered the duke's sword which he had
pulled out of me, and Lewis's laced hat; and also a trail of blood
leading from the spot. Mr. Tyers testified that he had seen Chartersea
that night, and Lord Carlisle and Fitzpatrick to the grudge the duke bore
me. I was given my liberty.

Comyn was taken to his house in Brook Street, Grosvenor Square, in Sir
Charles's coach, whither I insisted upon preceding him. 'Twas on the way
there that Fitzpatrick told me Dorothy had fainted when she heard the
alarm--a piece of news which added to my anxiety. We called up the
dowager countess, Comyn's mother, and Carlisle broke the news to her,
mercifully lightening me of a share of the blame. Her Ladyship received
the tidings with great fortitude; and instead of the torrent of
reproaches I looked for, and deserved, she implored me to go home and
care for my injuries lest I get the fever. I believe that I burst into
tears.

His Lordship was carried up the stairs with never a word or a groan from
his lips, and his heart beating out slowly.

We reached my lodgings as the watchman was crying: "Past two o'clock, and
a windy morning!"

Mr. Fitzpatrick stayed with me that night. And the next morning, save
for the soreness of the cuts I had got, I found myself well as ever. I
was again to thank the robustness of my health. Despite the protests of
Banks and Fitzpatrick, and of Mr. Fox (who arrived early, not having been
to bed at all), I jumped into a chaise and drove to Brook Street. There
I had the good fortune to get the greatest load from my mind. Comyn was
resting so much easier that the surgeon had left, and her Ladyship
retired two hours since.

The day was misting and dark, but so vast was my relief that I imagined
the sun was out as I rattled toward Arlington Street. If only Dolly were
not ill again from the shock, I should be happy indeed. She must have
heard, ere then, that I was not killed; and I had still better news to
tell her than that of Lord Comyn's condition. Mr. Fox, who got every
rumour that ran, had shouted after me that the duke and Lewis were set
out for France. How he knew I had not waited to inquire. But the report
tallied with my own surmise, for they had used the word "Dover" when they
left us for dead in the Wilderness.

I dismissed my chaise at the door.

"Mr. Manners waits on you, sir, in the drawing-room," said the footman.
"Your honour is here sooner than he looked for," he added gratuitously.

"Sooner than he looked for?"

"Yes, sir. James is gone to you but quarter of an hour since with a
message, sir."

I was puzzled.

"And Miss Manners? Is she well?"

The man smiled.

"Very well, sir, thank your honour."

To add to my surprise, Mr. Marmaduke was pacing the drawing-room in a
yellow night-gown. He met me with an expression I failed to fathom, and
then my eye was held by a letter in his hand. He cleared his throat.

"Good morning, Richard," said he, very serious,--very pompous, I thought.
"I am pleased to see that you are so well out of the deplorable affair of
last night."

I had not looked for gratitude. In truth, I had done nothing for him,
and Chartersea might have exposed him a highwayman for all I cared,--I
had fought for Dolly. But this attitude astonished me. I was about to
make a tart reply, and then thought better of it.

"Walter, a decanter of wine for Mr. Carvel," says he to the footman.
Then to me: "I am rejoiced to hear that Lord Comyn is out of danger."

I merely stared at him.

"Will you sit?" he continued. "To speak truth, the Annapolis packet
came in last night with news for you. Knowing that you have not had time
to hear from Maryland, I sent for you."

My brain was in such a state that for the moment I took no meaning from
this introduction. I was conscious only of indignation against him for
sending for me, when for all he knew I might have been unable to leave my
bed. Suddenly I jumped from the chair.

"You have heard from Maryland?" I cried. "Is Mr. Carvel dead? Oh, tell
me, is Mr. Carvel dead?" And I clutched his arm to make him wince.

He nodded, and turned away. "My dear old friend is no more," he said.
"Your grandfather passed away on the seventh of last month."

I sank into a chair and bowed my face, a flood of recollections
overwhelming me, a thousand kindnesses of my grandfather coming to mind.
One comfort alone stood forth, even had I gone home with John Paul, I had
missed him. But that he should have died alone with Grafton brought the
tears brimming to my eyes. I had thought to be there to receive his last
words and blessing, to watch over him, and to Smooth his pillow. Who had
he else in the world to bear him affection on his death-bed? The
imagination of that scene drove me mad.

Mr. Manners aroused me by a touch, and I looked up quickly. So quickly
that I surprised the trace of a smile about his weak mouth. Were I to
die to-morrow, I would swear to this on the Evangels. Nor was it the
smile which compels itself upon the weak in serious moments. Nay, there
was in it something malicious. And Mr. Manners could not even act.

"There is more, Richard," he was saying; "there is worse to come. Can
you bear it?"

His words and look roused me from my sorrow. I have ever been short of
temper with those I disliked, and (alas!) with my friends also. And now
all my pent-up wrath against this little man broke forth. I divined his
meaning, and forgot that he was Dorothy's father.

"Worse?" I shouted, while he gave back in his alarm. "Do you mean that
Grafton has got possession of the estate? Is that what you mean, sir?"

"Yes," he gasped, "yes. I pray you be calm."

"And you call that worse than losing my dearest friend on earth?"
I cried. There must have been an infinite scorn in my voice. "Then your
standards and mine are different, Mr. Manners. Your ways and mine are
different, and I thank God for it. You have played more than one double
part with me. You looked me in the face and denied me, and left me to go
to a prison. I shall not repeat my grandfather's kindnesses to you, sir.
Though you may not recall them, I do. And if your treatment of me was
known in Maryland, you would be drummed out of the colony even as Mr.
Hood was, and hung in effigy"

"As God hears me, Richard--"

"Do not add perjury to it," I said. "And have no uneasiness that I shall
publish you. Your wife and daughter have saved you before,--they will
save you now."

I paused, struck speechless by a suspicion that suddenly flashed into my
head. A glance at the contemptible form cowering within the folds of the
flowered gown clinched it to a conviction. In two strides I had seized
him by the skin over his ribs, and he shrieked with pain and fright.

"You--you snake!" I cried, in uncontrollable anger. "You well knew
Dorothy's spirit, which she has not got from you, and you lied to her.
Yes, lied, I say. To force her to marry Chartersea you made her believe
that your precious honour was in danger. And you lied to me last night,
and sent me in the dark to fight two of the most treacherous villains in
England. You wish they had killed me. The plot was between you and his
Grace. You, who have not a cat's courage, commit an indiscretion! You
never made one in your life, Tell me," I cried, shaking him until his
teeth smote together, "was it not put up between you?"

"Let me go! Let me go, and I will tell!" he wailed in the agony of my
grip. I tightened it the more.

"You shall confess it first," I said, from between my teeth.

Scarce had his lips formed the word yes, when I had flung him half across
the room. He tripped on his gown, and fell sprawling on his hands. So
the servant found us when he came back with the tray. The lackey went
out again hastily.

"My God!" I exclaimed, in bitterness and disgust; "you are a father,
and would sell both your daughter and your honour for a title, and to
the filthiest wretch in the kingdom?"

Without bestowing upon him another look, I turned on my heel and left the
room. I had set my foot on the stair, when I heard the rustle of a
dress, and the low voice which I knew so well calling my name.

"Richard."

There at my side was Dorothy, even taller in her paleness, with sorrow
and agitation in her blue eyes.

"Richard, I have heard all.--I listened. Are you going away without a
word for me?" Her breath came fast, and mine, as she laid a hand upon my
arm. "Richard, I do not care whether you are poor. What am I saying?"
she cried wildly. "Am I false to my own father? Richard, what have you
done?"

And then, while I stood dazed, she tore open her gown, and drawing forth
a little gold locket, pressed it in my palm. "The flowers you gave me on
your birthday,--the lilies of the valley, do you remember? They are
here, Richard. I have worn them upon my heart ever since."

I raised the locket to my lips.

"I shall treasure it for your sake, Dorothy," I said, "for the sake of
the old days. God keep you!"

For a moment I looked into the depths of her eyes. Then she was gone,
and I went down the stairs alone. Outside, the rain fell unheeded on my
new coat. My steps bent southward, past Whitehall, where the martyr
Charles had met death so nobly: past the stairs to the river, where she
had tripped with me so gayly not a month since. Death was in my soul
that day,--death and love, which is the mystery of life. God guided me
into the great Abbey near by, where I fell on my knees before Him and
before England's dead. He had raised them and cast them down, even as He
was casting me, that I might come to know the glory of His holy name.

 

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