The Highwayman

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Mary Meehan and PG
Distributed Proofreaders

THE HIGHWAYMAN

BY
H. C. BAILEY

CONTENTS

I. THE COMPLETE HERO

II. THE HOUSE OF WAVERTON
III. A MAN OF MANY WORLDS
IV. A GENTLEMAN’S PURSE
V. THE WORLD’S A MIRACLE
VI. HARRY IS NOT GRATEFUL
VII. GENEROSITY OF A FATHER
VIII. MISS LAMBOURNE LOOKS SIDEWAYS
IX. ANGER OF AN UNCLE
X. YOUNG BLOOD
XI. ABSENCE OF MR. WAVERTON
XII. IN HASTE
XIII. DISTRESS OF A MOTHER
XIV. SPECTATORS OF PARADISE
XV. MRS. BOYCE
XVI. THE AFFAIR OF SIR GEORGE
XVII. RETURN OF MR. WAVERTON
XVIII. HARRY IS DISMISSED
XIX. ALISON FINDS FRIENDS

XX. RETURN OF CAPTAIN McBEAN

XXI. CONSOLATIONS BY A FATHER
XXII. TWO’S COMPANY
XXIII. THE HOUSE IN KENSINGTON
XXIV. QUEEN ANNE IS DEAD
XXV. SAUVE QUI PEUT
XXVI. REVELATIONS
XXVII. VIRTUE IS ITS OWN REWARD
XXVIII. IN THE TAP
XXIX. ALISON KNEELS
XXX. EMOTIONS BY MR. WAVERTON

XXXI. CAPTAIN McBEAN TAKES HORSE

XXXII. PERPLEXITIES OF CAPTAIN McBEAN

XXXIII. REMORSE OF COLONEL BOYCE
XXXIV. HARRY WAKES UP

CHAPTER I

THE COMPLETE HERO

Harry Boyce addressed Queen Anne in glittering verse. She was not
present. She had, however, no cause to regret that, for he was tramping
the Great North Road at four miles by the hour—a pace far beyond the
capacity of Her Majesty’s legs; and his verses were Latin—a language not
within the capacity of Her Majesty’s mind. Her absence gave him no grief.
In all his twenty-four years he could not remember being grieved by
anyone’s absence. His general content was never diminished at finding
himself alone. He chose the Queen as the subject of his verses merely
because he did not admire her. She appeared to him then, as to later
generations, a woman ineffectual and without interest; a dull woman
physically, mentally, and perhaps morally; just the woman upon whom it
would be hardest to make an encomium of any splendour. So he was heartily
ingenious over his alcaics, and relished them.

From this you may divine much that you have to know about the soul of
Harry Boyce. It was more given to mockery than enthusiasms, apter to
criticisms than devotion, not very gentle nor very kind, and so quite
satisfied with itself and by itself. To be sure, it was yet only
twenty-four.

You discover also other things less fundamental. He was something of a
scholar, as scholarship was reckoned in those placid days. He had even
some Greek—more than Mr. Pope and quite as much as Mr. Addison. His
Latin verses would have brought him a fellowship at Merton if he had
been willing to take Holy Orders, “I may take them indeed; but how
believe they have been given me?” quoth he to the Warden with a tilt of
one eyebrow. Whereat the Warden, aghast, wrote him off as a youth
unreasonable, impracticable, and impish. Many others had the same
opinion of Harry Boyce before the world was done with him. Few of them
saw in his antics the uncertain spasms of too tender a conscience. But
you must judge.

Of course he was poor. He could only boast a bob wig, a base thing,
which, for all the show it made, might have been a man’s own hair. He
wore no sword. His hat lacked feather and lace. His coat and breeches
were but black drugget, shiny at each corner of him and rusty everywhere.
His stockings were worsted, and darned even on his excellent calves. His
shoes had strings where buckles should have been, and mere black
heels—and low heels at that. As you know, he could walk at a round pace
with them—a preposterous, vulgar thing. There was nothing in him to give
this poverty a romantical air. To be sure, he had admirable legs, but the
rest was neither good nor bad. He was of the middle size and a wholesome
complexion. You would look at him long and see nothing rare enough to be
worth looking at. If you looked longer yet you might begin to be
surprised: his so ordinary face was extraordinary in its lack of
expression.

The man who owned it must be either very dull of heart and mind, or
self-contained and of self-control beyond the common. But whatever the
heart might be, no one ever took the eyes for the eyes of a fool. They
were keen, alert, perpetually on guard. There is a letter extant—it was
indeed a dear friend who wrote it—which mocks at Harry for his “curst
stand-and-deliver stare.” But it is a queer thing that most men had to
know Harry Boyce a long time before they remarked that his eyes were not
quite of the same colour. The common English grey-green-blue was in both
of them, but one had a bluer glint than the other. The oddity, when it
was discovered, seemed to make the challenge of the eyes more defiant and
more baffling, as though they gleamed from the shadow of a mask.

Not that anyone cared yet whether he wore a mask or his soul in that
placid, ordinary face. Who should care a pinch of snuff for “a scholar
just from his college broke loose” with a penny farthing in his pocket,
who had to pioneer young gentlemen through their Horace and their Tully
for his bed and board? When you meet him, Harry Boyce was happy in having
caught for his pupil a young fellow who had not merely money but brains,
and so sublime a condescension that Harry was not sent away from table
with the parson when the puddings came. Mr. Geoffrey Waverton was pleased
to have a value for him, and defended him from his natural duty of being
gentleman usher to Lady Waverton. So, Mr. Waverton having taken horse,
Harry was free to go walking.

It was late in a wet autumn, and all the clay of Middlesex slippery as
butter and, withal, affectionate as warm glue. Harry kept to the highway.
Though its miles of mud and water were, on the surface, even worse than
the too green meadows or the gleaming brown furrows of plough land, a
careful man could count upon its letting him go no further than knee
deep. When he came to Whetstone, Harry’s feet were brown, shapeless,
weighty masses, but he had not lost either shoe, and he was still in
hopes of reaching Barnet and a pint of small beer before it was time to
struggle back. At the worst a dry throat and wet legs were a cheap price
for escaping the voice of Lady Waverton, who, in the afternoons, read the
romances of Mlle. de Scudéry aloud.

He could see the tufts of smoke above Barnet and its church on the
hill-top. He was winding down to the bottom of the valley from which that
hill rises, when eloquence arrested him. He may at other times have heard
profanity as copious, but never profanity so vehement or at such speed.
The orator was a woman.

Harry stood to listen with critical admiration. Madame mixed the ugly and
the pleasant rarely; she made a charming grotesque. Her mind was very far
from nice and provided her with amazing images; but she had a pretty,
womanly voice, and hard though she drove it, it would not break to one
ugly note. Disgusting epithets, mean threats, poured out in mellow
music. Harry splashed on round the corner. He was eager to see her.

In the morass at the cross-lanes by the green, a coach was stuck—a coach
of splendour. It was a huge thing as big as a room, half glass, half gold
and garter blue, and it swayed luxuriously on its great springs. Six
horses heaved at it in vain with great splashing and squelching, and a
whole company of servants, some mounted, some afoot, struggled with them.

The profane woman had half her body and two gesticulating arms out of the
coach window. She was plainly neither a drab nor in liquor. Harry halted
out of range of the splashes to examine and enjoy her. She had been
comely, and still could hold a man’s eye with her curves of neck and
bosom. The piquant features must have been adorable before they sharpened
and her cheeks faded and the lines came. Her abundant hair must once have
been gold, and was not yet altogether grey.

“You filthy slug,” said she. “Samuel! Stand to it, I say. Damme, I’ll
have a whip about that loose belly of yours! Now pull, you swine, pull.
Odso, flog the black horse. You, devil broil your bones, lay on to him.
What now? Od rot you, Antony, you’ll see no money this month, you—” She
became unprintable. As she took breath again, she saw Harry Boyce calmly
contemplative. “You dog, who bade you stand and gape? Go, give a hand
there, I say.”

Harry touched his hat. “By your leave, ma’am, I am too busy admiring
you.”

“William, put that rogue into the ditch,” said she.

All this while a man in the coach had been writing, calmly intent upon
his tablets as though there was not a sound or a rage within a mile. He
now stood up, and, while his lady was still execrating through one door
of the coach, he opened the other and came out. Two of the servants,
obedient to the lady’s oaths, were approaching Harry, who waited them
with calm and a swinging stick. The man waved his hand at them and they
turned tail. But he had no further interest in Harry. He stood to watch
the struggles of his horses and his men. He was of some height, and,
though past middle age, bore himself with singular grace and vigour. He
had still a rarely handsome face—too handsome, by far, for Harry’s
taste. The features were of an impossible, absurd perfection. There was
something superhuman or fatuous, at least something vastly irritating, in
his assured calm, his air of blandly confident supremacy.

He walked on to the leaders and, with a gesture and a word, set the whole
team pulling at an angle. Meanwhile the lady had earnestly continued her
abusive orders, but none of the servants now professed to heed her.
Dragging the horses on, or labouring hand and shoulder at the wheels,
they were now effective, and they watched the man’s eye as though it were
an inspiration. Wondering why he did, Harry, too, put his weight on a
wheel. The horses found a footing in the mire, the coach was dragged on
to the higher, firmer ground beyond.

My lady subsided. The man came back to the coach and touched his hat to
Harry. “I’m obliged for your help, sir,” he said, and climbed in. They
drove away towards London.

As the servants swung to their saddles, “Who’s your obscene lady?”
said Harry.

“What, don’t you know him, bumpkin?”

“She will never be him. Her shape is all provocative she.”

This humble wit was not remarked. His ignorance occupied them, “Oh Lud,
not to know the Old Corporal!”

One of Harry’s eyebrows went up. “That the Old Corporal? Faith, I am
sorry for him.”

He received a handful of mud in his face. With a cry of “Rot your
impudence,” they splashed off.

While he wiped the mud out of his eyes, Harry felt a very comfortable
self-satisfaction. It was agreeable to pity His Grace of Marlborough. For
the Duke of Marlborough was still the greatest man in Europe, the
greatest man in the world—credibly the greatest man that ever lived. A
pleasant fool, to marry such a wife and to keep her.

Harry Boyce at no time in his life had much admiration for human
eminence. In this, his hungry youth, he was set upon despising rank and
power, great fame and pure virtue, as no more than the luck of fools. He
would always atone by finding sympathy and excuses for any rogue’s
roguery. Highly fortified in this faith by the exhibition of
Marlborough’s matrimonial happiness, he trudged back.

The delay over the coach had left him no time for small ale at Barnet.

Pages: First | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | ... | Next → | Last | Single Page