A Man of Honorскачать книгу бесплатно
After puzzling himself over this human problem for half an hour he gave it up, and straightway began to work at another. He asked himself how it could be possible that Cousin Sudie should be attracted by Dr. Charley Harrison. Possibly the reader has had occasion to work at a similar problem in his time, and if so I need not tell him how incapable it proved of solution. Of the fact Robert was now convinced, and the fact annoyed him. It annoyed him too that he could not account for the fact; and then it annoyed him still more to know that he could be annoyed at all in the case, for he was perfectly sure – or nearly so – that he was not himself in love with his little friend at Shirley. And yet he felt a strange yearning to battle in some way with young Harrison, and to conquer him. He wanted to beat the man at something, it mattered little what, and to triumph over him. But he did not allow himself even mentally to formulate this feeling. If he had he would have discovered its injustice, and cast it from him as unworthy. His instinct warned him of this, and so he refused to put his wish into form lest he should thereby lose the opportunity of entertaining it.
With thoughts like these the young man rode homewards, and naturally enough he was not in the best of humors when he sat down in the parlor at Shirley.
The conversation, in some inscrutable way, turned upon Cousin Sarah Ann, and Robert so far forgot himself as to express pleasure in the thought that that lady was in no way akin to himself.
"But she is kin to you, Robert," said Aunt Catherine.
"How can that be, Aunt Catherine?" asked the young gentleman.
"Show him with the keys, Aunt Catherine, show him with the keys," said Billy, who had returned from court that day. "Come, Sudie, where's your basket? I want to see if Aunt Catherine can't muddle Bob's head as badly as she does mine sometimes. Here are the keys. Explain it to him, Aunt Catherine, and if he knows when you get through whether he is his great grandfather's nephew or his uncle's son once removed, I'll buy his skull for tissue paper at once. A skull that can let key-basket genealogy through it a'n't thick enough to grow hair on."
The task was one that the old lady loved, and so without paying the slightest attention to Billy's bantering she began at once to arrange the keys from Sudie's basket upon the floor in the shape of a complicated genealogical table. "Now my child," said she, pointing to the great key at top, "the smoke-house key is your great great grandmother, who was a Pembroke. The Pembrokes were always considered – "
"Always considered smoke-house keys – remember, Bob."
"Will you keep still, William? The Pembrokes were always considered an excellent family. Now your great great grandmother, Matilda Pembroke, married John Pemberton, and had two sons and one daughter, as you see. The oldest son, Charles, had six daughters, and his third daughter married your grandfather Pagebrook, so she was your grandmother – the store-room key, you see – "
"See, Bob, what it is to be well connected," said Billy; "your own dear grandmother was a store-room key."
"Hush, Billy, you confuse Robert."
"Ah! do I? I only wanted him to remember who his grandmother was."
"Well," said the old lady, "Matilda Pemberton's daughter, your great grand aunt, married a man of no family – a carpenter or something – the corn-house key there."
"There it is, Bob.
A'n't you glad you descended from a respectable smoke-house key, through an aristocratic store-room key, instead of having a plebeian corn-house key in the way? There's nothing like blue blood, I tell you, and ours is as blue as an indigo bag; a'n't it, Aunt Catherine?"
"Will you never learn, Billy, not to make fun of your ancestors? I have explained to you a hundred times how much there is in family. Now don't interrupt me again. Let me see, where was I? O yes! Your great grand aunt married a carpenter, and his daughter Sarah was your second cousin if you count removes, fourth cousin if you don't. Now Sarah was your Cousin Sarah Ann's grandmother, as you see; so Sarah Ann is your third cousin if you count removes, and your sixth cousin if you don't. Do you understand it now?"
"Of course he does," said Billy; "but I must break up the family now, as I see Polidore's waiting for the madam's great grandfather, to wit, the corn-house key. Come Bob, let's go up to the stable and see the horses fed."
Mr. Pagebrook Manages to be in at the Death
Not many days after Robert's uncomfortable dinner at The Oaks, a servant came over with a message from Major Pagebrook, to the effect that a grand fox-chase was arranged for the next morning. Foggy and Dr. Harrison had originated it, but Major Pagebrook's and several other gentlemen's hounds would run, and Ewing invited his cousins, Robert and Billy, to take part in the sport. Accordingly our two young gentlemen ate an early breakfast and rode over to that part of The Oaks plantation known as "Pine quarter," where the first fox-hunt of the season was always begun. They arrived not a moment too soon, and found the hounds just breaking away and the riders galloping after them. The first five miles of country was comparatively open, a fact which gave the fox a good start and promised to make the chase a long and a rapid one.
Robert Pagebrook had never seen a fox-chase, and his only knowledge of the sport was that which he had gleaned from descriptions, but he was on a perfect horse as inexperienced as himself; he was naturally very fearless; he was intensely excited, and it was his habit to do whatever he believed to be the proper thing on any occasion. From books he had got the impression that the proper thing to do in fox-hunting was to ride as hard as he could straight after the hounds, and this he did with very little regard for consequences. He galloped straight through clumps of pine, "as thick," Billy said, "as the hair on Absalom's head," while others rode around them. He plunged through creek "low grounds" without a thought of possible mires or quicksands. He knew that fox-hunters made their horses jump fences, but he knew nothing of their practice in the matter of knocking off top rails first, and accordingly he rode straight at every fence which happened to stand in his way, and forced his horse to take them all at a flying leap.
On and on he went, straight after the hounds, his pulse beating high and his brain whirling with excitement. The more judicious hunters of the party would have been left far behind but for the advantage they possessed in their knowledge of the country and their consequent ability to anticipate the fox's turnings, and to save distance and avoid difficulties by following short cuts. Robert rode right after the hounds always.
"That cousin of yours is crazy," said one gentleman to Billy; "but what a magnificent rider he is."
"Why don't you stop your cousin?" asked another, "he'll kill himself, to a certainty, if you don't."
"O I will!" replied Billy, "and I'll remonstrate with all the streaks of lightning I happen to overtake, too. I'm sure to catch a good many of them before I come up with him."
The fox "doubled" very little now, and it became evident that he was making for the Appomattox River, but whether he would cross it or double and run back was uncertain. Billy earnestly hoped he would double, as that might enable him to see Robert and check his mad riding, if indeed that gentleman should manage to reach the river with an unbroken neck.
On and on they went, fox running for dear life, hounds in perfect trim and full cry, and riders each bent upon "taking the tail" if possible. Robert remained in advance of all the rest, jumping every fence over which he could force his horse, and making the animal knock down those which he could not leap. His horse blundered at a ditch once and fell, but recovered himself with his rider still erect in the saddle, before anybody had time to wonder whether his neck was broken or not. Billy now saw a new danger ahead of his cousin. They were nearing the river, and the fox, an old red one, who knew his business, was evidently running for a crossing place where mire and quicksands abounded. Of this Robert knew nothing, and after his performances thus far there was no reason to hope that any late-coming caution would save him now. A thicket of young oaks lay just ahead, and the hounds going through it Robert followed quite as a matter of course. Billy saw here his chance, and putting spurs to his horse he rode at full speed around the end of the thicket, hoping to reach the other side in time to intercept his cousin, in whose behalf he was now really alarmed. As he swept by the end of the thicket, however, he passed two gentlemen whom he could not see through the bushes, but whose voices he knew very well. They were none other than Mr. Foggy Raves and Dr. Charles Harrison, and Billy heard what they were saying.
"You must take the tail, Charley, and not let that city snob get it. The fool rides like Death on the pale horse, and don't seem to know there ever was a fence too high to jump. He'd try to take the Blue Ridge at a flying leap if it got in his way. I'd rather kill a dozen horses than let him beat us. He put his finger into our little game with that saphead Ewing, and – "
"But my horse is thumped now, Foggy."
"Well, take mine then. He's fresh. I sent him over last night to meet me here, and I just now changed. I've hurt my knee and can't ride. Take, my horse and ride him to death but what you beat that – "
This was all that Billy had time to hear, but it was enough to change his entire purpose. He no longer thought of Robert's neck, but hurried on for the sole purpose of spurring his cousin up to new exertion. He reached the edge of the thicket just as Robert came out bare-headed, having lost his hat in the brush. His face was bleeding, too, from scratches and bruises received in the struggle through the oak thicket. The river was just ahead, but the fox doubled to the right instead of crossing.
"Come, Bob," said Billy, "you've got to take the tail to-day or die. Foggy and Charley Harrison have been setting up a game on you, and Charley has a fresh horse, borrowed from Foggy on purpose to beat you. But this double gives you a quarter start of him. Don't run your horse up hills, or you'll blow him out, and shy off from such thickets as that. You can ride round quicker than you can go through. Don't break your NECK, BUT TAKE THE TAIL ANYHOW."
He fairly yelled the last words at Robert, who was already a hundred yards ahead of him and getting further off every second.
The effect of his words on his cousin was not precisely what might have been expected. Before this Robert had been intensely excited and had enjoyed being so, but his excitement had been the result of his high spirits and his keen zest for the sport in which he was engaged. He had astonished everybody by the utter recklessness of his riding, but had not shared at all in their astonishment or known that his riding was reckless. He had ridden hard simply because he thought that the proper thing to do and because he enjoyed doing it. He rode now for victory. His features lost the look of wild enjoyment which they had worn, and settled themselves into a firm, hard expression of dogged determination. Here was his opportunity to do battle with young Harrison; and from Billy's manner, rather than from his words, he knew that the contest was not one of generous rivalry on Harrison's part. He felt that there was a contemptuous sneer somewhere back of Billy's words, and the thought nettled him sorely. But he did not lose his head in the excitement. On the contrary, he felt the necessity now for care and coolness, and accordingly he immediately took pains to become both cool and careful. He knew that Harrison had an advantage in knowing the country, and he resolved to share that advantage. To this end he brought his horse down to an easy canter and waited for Harrison to come up. He then kept his eye constantly on his rival and used him as a guide. When Harrison avoided a thicket he avoided it also. If Harrison left the track of the hounds for the sake of cutting off an angle, Robert kept by his side. This angered Harrison, who had counted confidently upon having an advantage in these matters, and under the influence of his anger he spurred his horse unnecessarily and soon took a good deal of his freshness out of him.
The two rode on almost side by side for miles. The fox was beginning to show his fatigue, and it was evident that the chase would soon end. Both the foremost riders discovered this, and both put forth every possible exertion to win. Just ahead of them lay a very dense thicket through which ran a narrow bridle-path barely wide enough for one horse, as Robert knew, for the thicket lay on Shirley plantation, the fox having run back almost immediately over his own track. It was evident now that "the catch" would occur in the field just beyond this thicket, and it was equally evident that as the two could not possibly ride abreast along the bridle-path, the one who could first put his horse into it would almost certainly be first in at the death. They rode like madmen, but Robert's horse was greatly fatigued and Harrison shot ahead of him by a single length into the path. There was hardly a chance for Robert now, as it was impossible in any case for him to pass his rival in the thicket, and he could see that the dogs had already caught the fox in the field, less than a rod beyond its edge.
"I've got you now, I reckon," shouted Harrison looking back, but at the moment his horse stumbled and fell. Robert could no more stop his own horse than he could have stopped a hurricane, and the animal fell heavily over Harrison, throwing Robert about ten feet beyond and almost among the dogs. Getting up he ran in among the bellowing hounds and, catching the fox in his hand, he held him up in full view of the other gentlemen, now riding into the field from different directions and cheering as lustily as possible.
Some very Unreasonable Conduct
Quite naturally Robert was elated as he stood there bare-headed, and received the congratulations of his companions, who had now come up and gathered around him. Loudest among them was Foggy, who leaping from his horse cried out:
"By Jove, Mr. Pagebrook, I must shake your hand. I never saw prettier riding in my life, and I've seen some good riding too in my time. But where's your horse? Did you turn him loose when you jumped off?"
This served to remind Robert of the animal and of Harrison too, and going hastily into the thicket he found the Doctor repairing his girth, which had been broken in the fall. The Doctor was not hurt, nor was his horse injured in any way, but the black colt which had carried Robert so gallantly lay dead upon the ground. An examination showed that in falling he had broken his neck.
It was not far that our young friend had to walk to reach Shirley, but a weariness which he had not felt before crept over him as he walked. His head ached sorely, and as the excitement died away it was succeeded by a numbness of despondency, the like of which he had never known before. He had declined to "ride and tie" with Billy, thinking the task a small one to walk through by a woods path to the house, while Billy followed the main road. With his first feeling of despondency came bitter mortification at the thought that he had allowed so small a thing as a fox-chase to so excite him. The exertion had been well enough, but he felt that the object in view during the latter half of the chase, namely, the defeat of young Harrison, was one wholly unworthy of him, and the color came to his cheek as he thought of the energy he had wasted on so small an undertaking. Then he remembered the gallant animal sacrificed in the blind struggle for mere victory, and he could hardly force the tears back as the thought came to him in full force that the nostrils which had quivered with excitement so short a time since, would snuff the air no more forever. He felt guilty, almost of murder, and savagely rejoiced to know that the death of the horse would entail a pecuniary loss upon himself, which would in some sense avenge the wrong done to the noble brute.
The numbness and weariness oppressed him so that he sat down at the root of a tree, and remained there in a state of half unconsciousness until Billy came from the house to look for him. Arrived at the house he went immediately to bed and into a fever which prostrated him for nearly a week, during which time he was not allowed to talk much; in point of fact he was not inclined to talk at all, except to Cousin Sudie, who moved quietly in and out of the room as occasion required and came to sit by his bedside frequently, after Billy and Col. Barksdale quitted home again to attend court in another of the adjoining counties, as they did as soon as Robert's physician pronounced him out of danger. At first Cousin Sudie was disposed to enforce the doctor's orders in regard to silence; but she soon discovered, quick-witted girl that she was, that her talking soothed and quieted the patient, and so she talked to him in a soft, quiet voice, securing, by violating the doctor's injunction, precisely the result which the injunction was intended to secure. As soon as the fever quitted him Robert began to recover very rapidly, but he was greatly troubled about the still unpaid-for horse.
Now he knew perfectly well that Cousin Sudie had no money at command, and he ought to have known that it was a very unreasonable proceeding upon his part to consult her in the matter. But love laughs at logic as well as at locksmiths, and so our logical young man very illogically concluded that the best thing to do in the premises was to consult Cousin Sudie.
"I am in trouble, Cousin Sudie," said he, as he sat with her in the parlor one evening, "about that horse. I know Mr. Winger is a poor man, and I ought to pay him at once, but the truth is I have hardly any money with me, and there is no bank nearer than Richmond at which to get a draft cashed."
"You have money enough, then, somewhere?" asked Cousin Sudie.
"O yes! I have money in bank in Philadelphia, but Winger has already sent me a note asking immediate payment, and telling me he is sorely pressed for money; and I dislike exceedingly to ask his forbearance even for a week, under the circumstances."
"Why can't you get Cousin Edwin to cash a check for you?" asked the business-like little woman; "he always has money, and will do it gladly, I know."
"That had not occurred to me, but it is a good suggestion. If you will lend me your writing-desk I will write and – "
"Ah, there comes Cousin Edwin now, and Ewing too, to see you," said Miss Sudie, hearing their voices in the porch.
The visitors came into the parlor, and after a little while Sudie withdrew, intent upon some household matter. Ewing followed her. Robert spoke frankly of his wish to pay Winger promptly, and asked:
"Can you cash my check on Philadelphia for me, Cousin Edwin, for three hundred dollars? Don't think of doing it, pray, if it is not perfectly convenient."
"O it isn't inconvenient at all," said Major Pagebrook. "I have more money at home than I like to keep there, and I can let you have the amount and send your check to the bank in Richmond and have it credited to me quite as well as not. In fact I'd rather do it than not, as it'll save expressage on money."
Accordingly Robert drew a check for three hundred dollars on his bankers in Philadelphia, making it payable to Major Pagebrook, and that gentleman undertook to pay the amount that evening to Winger. Shortly after this business matter had been settled, Ewing and Miss Sudie returned to the parlor and the callers took their departure.
Robert and Sudie sat silent for some time watching the flicker of the fire, for the days were cool now and fires were necessary to in-door comfort. How long their silence might have continued but for an interruption, I do not know; but an interruption came in the breaking of the forestick, which had burned in two. A broken reverie may sometimes be resumed, but a pair of broken reveries never are. Had Mr. Robert been alone he would have rearranged the fire and then sat down to his thoughts again. As it was he rearranged the fire and then began to talk with Miss Sudie.
"I am glad to get that business off my hands. It worried me," he said.
"So am I," said his companion, "very glad indeed."
There must have been something in her tone, as there was certainly nothing in her words, which led Mr. Pagebrook to think that this young lady's remark had an unexpressed meaning back of it. He therefore questioned her.
"Why, Cousin Sudie? had it been troubling you too?"
"No; but it would have done so, I reckon."
"I do not understand you. Surely you never doubted that I would pay for the horse, did you?"
"No indeed, but – "
"What is it Cousin Sudie? tell me what there is in your mind. I shall feel hurt if you do not."скачать книгу бесплатно
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