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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe O'ruddy: A Romance - Chapter 23
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The O'ruddy: A Romance - Chapter 23 Post by :JPMaroney Category :Long Stories Author :Stephen Crane Date :May 2012 Read :2759

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The O'ruddy: A Romance - Chapter 23

CHAPTER XXIII

At supper that evening Doctor Chord amplified some of his views "A few staunch retainers could quickly aid you to scale the walls of the castle," said he. "But I have forgotten," he added blankly. "'Tis not a castle. 'Tis a house."

"If you would take some of these ancient ideas and bury them in the garden," said I, "they might grow in time to be some kind of turnip or other valuable food. But at the present moment they do not seem to me to serve much purpose. Supposing that the house is not a castle? What of that?"

"Castles--" said he. "Castles lend themselves--"

"Castles!" I cried. "Have done with castles! All castles may be Jews, as you say. But this is a house."

"I remarked that it was a house," he answered gently. "It was that point that I was making."

"Very good," said I. "We will now proceed to define matters. Do you know if Lady Mary walks in the garden? It is absolutely necessary that Lady Mary should walk in the garden."

"She does," he replied at once. "At this season of the year Lady Mary walks in the garden on every fine day at ten of the clock."

"Then," I cried, smiting the table, "our course is clear; I feel elate. My only regret is that my father is not here to give me a word now and then, for 'tis a game he would know down to the ground."

"Although I am not your father," said Doctor Chord modestly, "I may be able to suggest some expedient way of gaining entrance to the castle."

"House," said I.

"House," said he.

"However," said I, "we must lower ourselves to extremely practical matters. Can you climb a tree?"

"A tree?" said he. "Climb a tree? Strap me!"

"'Tis all very well to strap yourself in this fashion," said I rather warmly; "but the climbing of trees appears here as an important matter. In my part of Ireland there are few trees, and so climbing trees did not enter into my education. However, I am willing to attempt the climbing of a tree for the sake of my true love, and if I fall--how high is this wall? Do you remember?"

"'Twas at least ten feet," answered the Doctor. "And there is a murderous row of spikes at the top. But," he added, "the more spikes and all that make them the more convinced that the garden is perfectly safe from intrusion."

"That's a world of sense out of you," I cried. "The spikes convince them the garden is safe from intrusion, and so they give over their watchfulness. So now in the morning we will go there, and I will climb one of the oak-trees bordering the wall--may the saints aid me!"

"You were asking if I could climb a tree," remarked the Doctor. "I will point out to you that it is a question of no importance. It is you yourself who must climb the tree; for even if I succeeded in the arduous and painful task I could not pay your vows to Lady Mary, and for such purpose primarily the tree is to be climbed."

"True for you, Doctor," I answered with a sigh. "True for you. I must climb the tree. I can see that. I had some thought of making Paddy climb it, but, as you say, a man must do his own love-making, and by the same token I would break the head of any one who tried to do it for me. I would that! In this world people must climb their own trees. Now that I think of it seriously, it was ridiculous in me to plan that Paddy should climb the tree."

"'Second thoughts are always best,'" said the little Doctor piously. "'Tis a phrase from one of the greatest writers of the day. And at any rate I myself, because of age and debility, would not be able to climb a tree."

"Let us say no more of it," said I. "I see my mistake. But tell me one thing. I know you are a man with a great deal on your mind. Can you spare the time for this adventure?"

But on this point the Doctor was very clear and emphatic. I think if I had said he could not have a place in the plot he would have died immediately of a broken heart.

"'Tis true I have not yet finished my treatise proving that the touchstone is fallible," he cried eagerly; "but it would give me pleasure to delay the work indefinitely if in the meantime I can be of assistance."

"That is a man's talk," I said. "Well, then, in the morning we will go forth to do or die. And now a glass to success."

That night I slept very heartily, for some of my father's soldier training is in my veins, and on the eve of a hard or precarious work I am always able to get sound rest. My father often said that on the night before a battle in which he would stand seventy-seven chances of being killed he always slept like a dog in front of the fire.

At dawn I was up and ready. My first move was to have Paddy and Jem sent to me, and to give them such information as would lead them to an intelligent performance of their duties during the day. "Mind ye now," said I, "here's where the whole thing may be won or lost. There is a lovely lady inside the walls of that garden which I was showing you yesterday. She lives in the big house. She is the lady who made you feel ashamed when you took the old Earl's--well, never mind! I hope we are all properly repentant over it. However, I had better be getting on with the matter in hand. She lives there, and if I can find no way to gain speech of her we all three of us will have to take to the thickets, and that's the truth."

"If I could but lay my fingers on her throttle," said Jem Bottles in a blood-curdling voice, "she soon enough would--"

"Stop!" I cried. "You misunderstood me!"

"Aye, he does," spoke in Paddy. "But I know what your honour is meaning. You are meaning that the young lady--aye, didn't I see her, and didn't she give me a look of her eye? Aye, I know what your honour is meaning."

"You are knowing it precisely," said I. "The young lady is more to me than three Irelands. You understand? Well, then, in the first place I must gain speech of her. To-day we march out and see what I can accomplish by climbing trees. In the meantime you two are to lay in waiting and assist me when necessary."

"I am foreseeing that everything will be easy," cried Paddy jubilantly.

"You are an Irishman," I responded in anger.

"Aye," he replied bitterly, "and another is within reach of my stick if it weren't for my respect for my betters, although such a thing never could happen, please God!"

"No bold talk," said I. "You may do that after." I bade Jem Bottles load his pistols and carry them handy, but to keep them well concealed. Paddy preferred to campaign with only a stout stick. I took one pistol, and of course my sword.

These preparations deeply stirred Jem Bottles and Paddy.

"Your honour," said Paddy, "if I see a man pulling you by the leg when you would be climbing the tree, may I hit him one lick?"

"Aye," growled Jem Bottles, "and if I get a pistol against his head, he'll find out the difference between gunpowder and sand."

"Stop," I cried. "You have the wrong idea entirely. This talk of carnage startles me and alarms me. Remember we are in London. In London even the smallest massacre arouses great excitement. There are to be no killings, and even no sound thrashings. It is all to be done with dainty gloves. Neither one of the pair of you looks fitted for the work, but I am obliged to make you serve by hook or crook. 'Tis too late to scour the country looking for good comrades. I must put up with you, since I can get no better."

They were well pleased at the prospect of spirited adventures, although Paddy made some complaints because there was no chance of a great ogre whom he could assail. He wished to destroy a few giants in order to prove his loyalty to the cause. However, I soothed him out of this mood, showing him where he was mistaken, and presently we were all prepared and only waited for the coming of Doctor Chord.

When the little philosopher appeared, however, I must truly say that I fell back a-gasping. He had tied some sort of a red turban about his head, and pulled a black cocked hat down over it until his left eye was wickedly shaded. From beneath his sombre cloak a heavy scabbard protruded. "I have come; I am ready," said he in a deep voice.

"Bedad, you have!" cried I, sinking into a chair. "And why didn't a mob hang you on the road, little man? How did you reach here safely? London surely never could stand two glimpses of such a dangerous-looking pirate. You would give a sedan-chair the vapours."

He looked himself over ruefully. "'Tis a garb befitting the dangerous adventure upon which I engaged," said he, somewhat stiff in the lip.

"But let me make known to you," I cried, "that when a man wears a garb befitting his adventure he fails surely. He should wear something extraneous. When you wish to do something evil, you put on the coat of a parson. That is the clever way. But here you are looking like a gallows-bird of the greatest claim for the rope. Stop it; take off the red thing, tilt your hat until you look like a gentleman, and let us go to our adventure respectably."

"I was never more surprised in my life," said he sincerely. "I thought I was doing a right thing in thus arraying myself for an experience which cannot fail to be thrilling and mayhap deadly. However, I see you in your accustomed attire, and in the apparel of your men-servants I see no great change from yesterday. May I again suggest to you that the adventure upon which we proceed may be fraught with much danger?"

"A red rag around your temples marks no improvement in our risks," said I. "We will sally out as if we were off to a tea-party. When my father led the forlorn hope at the storming of Wuerstenhausenstaffenberg, he wore a lace collar, and he was a man who understood these matters. And I may say that I wish he was here. He would be a great help."

In time the Doctor removed his red turban and gradually and sadly emerged from the more sanguine part of his paraphernalia and appeared as a simple little philosopher. Personally I have no objection to a man looking like a brigand, but my father always contended that clothes serve no purpose in real warfare. Thus I felt I had committed no great injustice in depriving Chord of his red turban.

We set out. I put much faith in the fact that we had no definite plans, but to my great consternation Doctor Chord almost at once began to develop well-laid schemes. As we moved toward the scene of our adventure he remarked them to me.

"First of all," said he, "a strong party should be stationed at the iron gates, not only to prevent a sally of the garrison, but to prevent an intrepid retainer from escaping and alarming the city. Furthermore--"

"My gallant warrior," said I, interrupting him, "we will drop this question to the level of a humdrum commercial age. I will try to compass my purpose by the simple climbing of a tree, and to that end all I could need from you is a stout lift and a good word. Then we proceed in the established way of making signs over a wall. All this I explained to you fully. I would not have you think I am about to bombard my lady-love's house."

With a countenance of great mournfulness he grumbled: "No fascines have been prepared."

"Very good," said I. "I will climb the tree without the aid of fascines."

As luck would have it, there was a little inn not very far from the Earl's house and on the lonely avenue lined with oaks. Here I temporarily left Jem Bottles and Paddy, for I feared their earnestness, which was becoming more terrible every minute. In order to keep them pacified I gave instructions that they should keep a strict watch up the avenue, and if they saw any signs of trouble they were to come a-running and do whatever I told them. These orders suggested serious business to their minds, and so they were quite content. Their great point was that if a shindy was coming they had a moral right to be mixed up in it.

Doctor Chord and I strolled carelessly under the oaks. It was still too early for Lady Mary's walk in the garden, and there was an hour's waiting to be worn out. In the mean time I was moved to express some of my reflections.

"'Tis possible--nay, probable--that this is a bootless quest," said I dejectedly. "What shadow of an assurance have I that Lady Mary will walk in the garden on this particular morning? This whole thing is absolute folly."

"At any rate," said the Doctor, "now that you already have walked this great distance, it will be little additional trouble to climb a tree."

He had encouraged me to my work at exactly the proper moment.

"You are right," said I, taking him warmly by the hand, "I will climb the tree in any case."

As the hour approached we began to cast about for the proper oak. I am sure they were all the same to me, but Doctor Chord was very particular.

"'Tis logical to contend," said he, "that the question of the girth of the tree will enter importantly into our devices. For example, if a tree be so huge that your hands may not meet on the far side of it, a successful ascension will be impossible. On the other hand, a very slim tree is like to bend beneath your weight, and even precipitate you heavily to the ground, which disaster might retard events for an indefinite period."

"Science your science, then," said I. "And tell me what manner of tree best suits the purpose of a true lover."

"A tree," said the Doctor, "is a large vegetable arising with one woody stem to a considerable height. As to the appearance and quality of a tree, there are many diversifications, and this fact in itself constitutes the chief reason for this vegetable being of such great use to the human family. Ships are made of nought but trees, and if it were not for ships we would know but little of the great world of which these English islands form less than a half. Asia itself is slightly larger than all Scotland, and if it were not for the ships we would be like to delude ourselves with the idea that we and our neighbours formed the major part of the world."

With such wise harangues the Doctor entertained my impatience until it was time for me to climb a tree. And when this time came I went at my work without discussion or delay.

"There," said I resolutely, "I will climb this one if it kills me."

I seized the tree; I climbed. I will not say there was no groaning and puffing, but any how I at last found myself astride of a branch and looking over the wall into the Earl of Westport's garden.

But I might have made myself less labour and care by having somebody paint me a large landscape of this garden and surveyed it at my leisure. There I was high in a tree, dangling my legs, and staring at smooth lawns, ornamental copses, and brilliant flower-beds without even so much as a dog to enliven the scene. "O'Ruddy," said I to myself after a long time, "you've hung yourself here in mid-air like a bacon to a rafter, and I'll not say much to you now. But if you ever reach the ground without breaking your neck, I'll have a word with you, for my feelings are sorely stirred."

I do not know how long I sat in the tree engaged in my bitter meditation. But finally I heard a great scudding of feet near the foot of the tree, and I then saw the little Doctor bolting down the road like a madman, his hat gone, his hair flying, while his two coat-tails stuck out behind him straight as boards.

My excitement and interest in my ally's flight was so great that I near fell from my perch. It was incomprehensible that my little friend could dust the road at such speed. He seemed only to touch the ground from time to time. In a moment or two he was literally gone, like an arrow shot from the bow.

But upon casting my bewildered glance downward I found myself staring squarely into the mouth of a blunderbuss. The mouth of this blunderbuss, I may say, was of about the width of a fair-sized water-pitcher; in colour it was bright and steely. Its appearance attracted me to such an extent that I lost all idea of the man behind the gun. But presently I heard a grim, slow voice say,--

"Climb down, ye thief."

The reason for little Doctor Chord's hasty self-removal from the vicinity was now quite clear, and my interest in his departure was no longer speculative.

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CHAPTER XXIV"Climb down, ye thief," said the grim, slow voice again. I looked once more into the mouth of the blunderbuss. I decided to climb. If I had had my two feet square on the ground, I would have taken a turn with this man, artillery or no artillery, to see if I could get the upper hand of him. But neither I nor any of my ancestors could ever fight well in trees. Foliage incommodes us. We like a clear sweep for the arm, and everything on a level space, and neither man in a tree. However, a sensible man
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CHAPTER XXIIChord ambled back, very proud indeed, and still wearing his fatuous smile. He was bursting with a sense of social value, and to everybody he seemed to be saying, "Did you see me?" He was overjoyed to find me waiting for him. He needed a good listener at once. Otherwise he would surely fly to pieces. "I have been talking to the Countess of Westport and her daughter, Lady Mary Strepp," he said pompously. "The Countess tells that the Earl has been extremely indisposed during their late journey in the West." He spoke of the Earl's illness with an air
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