Edwin Brothertoft/Part II Chapter VII
“After this history, I want a little topography,” said Skerrett. “Can you sketch me a ground plan of the house?”
That skeleton, Brothertoft could draw without much feeling. The house, as it stood, complete in the background of memory, he would not allow himself to recall. Its walls and furniture were to him the unshifted scenes and properties of a tragedy. If he painted them before his mind’s eye, an evil-omened figure of a woman would step from behind the curtain, threatening some final horror, to close the drama of their lives.
“This wing to the right,” Skerrett said, “seems an addition.”
“It was built on by the present proprietress,” coldly rejoined the former heir.
“Stables here!” continued the Major, tracing the plan. “Dining-room windows open toward them. Shrubbery here, not too far off for an ambush. Now, Voltaire, if we could get Major Kerr alone in that dining-room in the dusk of the evening to-morrow, I could walk him off easily.”
“Ho!” exclaims the butler. “That’s all settled beforehand.”
“Kerr sometimes makes late sittings there, then? I fancied I knew his habits.”
“He’s a poor hand at courtin’,” says Voltaire, with contempt. “Ladies likes dewotion, — that’s my ’sperience. He’s only dewoted to fillin’ hisself full of wine.”
“A two-bottle man?”
“Every day, when the ladies leave table, he rubs his hands,” — Voltaire imitates, — “and says, ‘Now then, old boy, fresh bottle! Yellow-seal! Don’t shake him!’ He drinks that pretty slow, and gives me a glass and says, ‘Woolly-head, we’ll drink my pretty Lucy. Lucky Kerr’s pretty bride!’”
Peter Skerrett here looked ferocious.
“Then,” continued the old fellow, “he drops off asleep at the table till four o’clock. Then he wakes up, sour, and sings out,” — Voltaire imitates, — “‘Hullo, you dam nigger! Look sharp! Another bottle! If you shake him, I’ll cut your black heart out.’ He drinks him, and then byme-by he says, ‘Ole fel! Shmore wide, ole fel. Tuther boddle dow! I ashkitspussonle favor, ole fel!’ Then he sings a little, and gets generally accelerated.”
“I would rather have him slowed, than accelerated,” says Peter.
“Oho!” grinned the butler, and whispered to himself, “If the Major thinks he ought to be stupid-tipsy for the good of the cause and Miss Lucy, I can deteriorate him, into his Madeira, with a little drop of our French Gutter de Rosy brandy. That will take the starch out of his legs, and make him easy to handle. But that is my business. I won’t tell nobody my secrets. The pantry and I must keep dark.”
“I cannot help a grain of compunction in this matter,” Skerrett said. “A gentleman does not like to interfere in another man’s courtship.”
“Do you call this plot of a coarse man with an unmotherly woman by the fair name of courtship?” Brothertoft said.
“No. And fortunately the lady has no illusions. I should not like to be the one to tell Beauty she had loved Beast. But this Beauty, it seems, has kept her heart too pure to have lost her fine maidenly instinct of aversion to a blackguard. Well, no more metaphysics! Scruples be hanged. Kerr don’t deserve to be treated like a gentleman. England should have kept such fellows at home, if she wanted us to believe good manners were possible under a monarchy. Now, then, Mr. Brothertoft, suppose I do not get myself ‘hanged as one espy,’ and take my prisoner, — does his capture protect your daughter enough?”
“I could wish, if it were possible, to have her with me henceforth.”
“We must make it possible, though it complicates matters. I could rush in, snatch Kerr, and be off. The blow would be struck, the enemy annoyed, our people amused; but in a fortnight Clinton would offer some Yankee major and a brace of captains to boot for his Adjutant, the Honorable, &c. Then he would go down and play Beast to Beauty again.”
“Save my daughter, once for all; if it can be done.”
“I’ll try. Now, Voltaire, listen!”
Which he opened his mouth to do.
“What people, besides the two ladies and Major Kerr, will be at your house to-morrow evening, — the servants, I mean?”
“Oh! we live small at the Manor, now, ridiculous small. It’s war times now. Rents isn’t paid. When we want a proper lot of servants, we takes clodhoppers.”
“Lucky for my plans you do live small,” Skerrett said. “Never mind your family pride! Name the household!”
“Me and Sappho and Plato, all patriots; Jierck Dewitt’s wife and her sister, Sally Bilsby, both Tories, — that is, gals that likes redcoats more than is good for ’em.”
“Could you manage to have the girls out of the way to-morrow evening?”
“Easy enough. They’ll be glad to get away for a frolic.”
“Any horses in your stable, Voltaire?”
“Six, — all out of that Harriet Heriot mare stock. You remember, Master Edwin.”
Edwin Brothertoft did sadly remember the late old Sam Galsworthy’s generous offer. He remembered sadly that ride, so many years ago, and how the sweet south winds, laden with the rustle of tropic palms, met him with fair omen, — ah! long ago, when Faith was blind and Hope was young!
“Six white horses,” Voltaire continued; “the four carriage-horses, Madam’s horse, and Miss Lucy’s mare, — you ought to see Miss Lucy on her!”
“Perhaps I shall. Tell Plato to give the mare another oat to-morrow! Her mistress may want a canter in the evening, — eh, Voltaire?”
Grin in response.
“Tell Miss Brothertoft, with her father’s best love,” Skerrett resumed, “that he will be on the lawn by the dining-room window to-morrow evening at nine o’clock, waiting for her to ride with him to Fishkill. Tell her to be brave, prudent, and keep out of sight with a headache, until she is called to start. And you, Voltaire, as you love her, be cautious, be secret and be wide awake!”
At “be cautious,” the old fellow winked elaborately. At “be secret,” he locked all four eyelids tight. At “be wide awake,” — snap! eyelids flung open, and white of eye enough appeared to dazzle a sharpshooter.
“Now, listen, Voltaire!”
Mouth agape, again, as if he had a tympanum at each tonsil.
“Look at me, carefully!” continues Peter.
Pan shut and eyes à la saucer.
“Do you think you would know me disguised in a red coat?”
Pan opened to explode, “Certain sure, sir!”
“And without my moustache?” the major asked.
He gave that feature a tender twirl. His fingers wrapped the fair tendrils lovingly around them.
“Must it go?” he sighed. “O Chivalry! O Liberty! O my Country! what sacrifices you demand!”
Voltaire was sure that he would know the Hero, even with an emasculated lip.
“Well; about eight to-morrow evening, when Major Kerr is ‘accelerated’ with his second bottle, I shall knock at your loyal door, — moustache off, and red coat on — and ask a night’s lodging for a benighted British sergeant.”
“You shall have it,” says the major-domo, with a grand-seigneur manner.
“Nothing but apple-jack or Jersey champagne has passed these lips, since we lost the Brandywine. You will naturally give me my bottle of Yellow-seal, and my bite of supper, in the dining-room with the Major.”
“Oh!” cried Voltaire with sudden panic. “Don’t risk it! Major Kerr’s got a sword awful long and awful sharp, and two pistols with gold handles, plum full of bullets. Every day, when he drinks, he puts ’em on the sideboard, an’ he say, ‘Lookerheeyar, ole darkey! spose dam rebble cum, I stick him, so; an’ I shoot him, so.’ Don’t resk it, Mas’r Skerrett!”
(Ancient servitor, suppress thy terror and thy Tombigbee together!)
“Slip off with the weapons, and hide ’em in your bed,” says the Major.
“In my bed?” says Voltaire, in good Continental again. “In our feather bed? Suppose Sappho goes to lie down, and touches cold iron, wont she take on scollops, high?”
“The poetess must not be taught to strike a jangling lyre. Give the tools to Plato. Set him on guard at the dining-room door when I come. Tell him he is serving a model Republic, — such as his ancient namesake never dreamed.”
Brothertoft smiled at these classical allusions. Lively talk was encouraging him, as his junior meant it should.
Neither foresaw what a ghastly mischief was to follow this arming of Plato.