A Christmas Garland/Fond Hearts Askew
FOND HEARTS ASKEW
William Robertson Nicoll
Sage and Reverend
And A True Knight
Of Days Edvardian
Too strong a wine, belike, for some stomachs, for there's honey in it, and a dibbet of gore, with other condiments. Yet Mistress Clio (with whom, some say, Mistress Thalia, that sweet hoyden) brewed it: she, not I, who do but hand the cup round by her warrant and good favour. Her guests, not mine, you shall take it or leave it--spill it untasted or quaff a bellyful. Of a hospitable temper, she whose page I am; but a great lady, over self-sure to be dudgeoned by wry faces in the refectory. As for the little sister (if she did have finger in the concoction)—no fear of offence there! I dare vow, who know somewhat the fashion of her, she will but trill a pretty titter or so at your qualms.
I cry you mercy for a lacuna at the outset. I know not what had knitted and blackened the brows of certain two speeding eastward through London, enhansomed, on the night of the feast of St. Box: alter, Geoffrey Dizzard, called "The Honourable," lieu-tenant in the Guards of Edward the Peace Getter; altera, the Lady Angelica Plantagenet, to him affianced. Devil take the cause of the bicker: enough that they were at sulks. Here's for a sight of the girl!
Johannes Sargent, that swift giant from the New World, had already flung her on canvas, with a brace of sisters. She outstands there, a virgin poplar-tall; hair like ravelled flax and coiffed in the fashion of the period; neck like a giraffe's; lips shaped for kissing rather than smiling; eyes like a giraffe's again; breasts like a boy's, and something of a dressed-up boy in the total aspect of her. She has arms a trifle long even for such height as hers; fingers very long, too, with red-pink nails trimmed to a point. She looks out slantwise, conscious of her beauty, and perhaps of certain other things. Fire under that ice, I conjecture--red corpuscles rampant behind that meek white mask of hers. "Forsitan in hoc anno pulcherrima debutantium" is the verdict of a contemporary journal. For "forsitan" read "certe." No slur, that, on the rest of the bevy.
Very much as Johannes had seen her did she appear now to the cits, as the cabriolet swung past them. Paramount there, she was still more paramount here. Yet this Geoffrey was not ill-looking. In the secret journal of Mary Jane, serving-wench in the palace of Geoffrey's father (who gat his barony by beer) note is made of his "lovely blue eyes; complexion like a blush rose; hands like a girl's; lips like a girl's again; yellow curls close cropped; and for moustachio (so young is he yet) such a shadow as amber might cast on water."
Here, had I my will, I would limn you Mary Jane herself, that parched nymph. Time urges, though. The cabrioleteer thrashes his horse (me with it) to a canter, and plunges into Soho. Some wagon athwart the path gives pause. Angelica, looking about her, bites lip. For this is the street of Wardour, wherein (say all the chronicles most absolutely) she and Geoffrey had first met and plit their troth.
"Methinks," cries she, loud and clear to the wagoner, and pointing finger at Geoffrey, "the Devil must be between your shafts, to make a mock of me in this conjunction, the which is truly of his own doing."
"Sweet madam," says Geoffrey (who was also called "The Ready"), "shall I help harness you at his side? Though, for my part, I doubt 'twere supererogant, in that he buckled you to his service or ever the priest dipped you."
A bitter jest, this; and the thought of it still tingled on the girl's cheek and clawed her heart when Geoffrey handed her down at the portico of Drury Lane Theatre. A new pantomime was afoot. Geoffrey's father (that bluff red baron) had chartered a box, was already there with his lady and others.
Lily among peonies, Angelica sat brooding, her eyes fastened on the stage, Geoffrey behind her chair, brooding by the same token. Presto, he saw a flood of pink rush up her shoulders to her ears. The "principal boy" had just skipped on to the stage. No boy at all (God be witness), but one Mistress Tina Vandeleur, very apt in masquerado, and seeming true boy enough to the guileless. Stout of leg, light-footed, with a tricksy plume to his cap, and the swagger of one who would beard the Saints for a wager, this Aladdin was just such a galliard as Angelica had often fondled in her dreams. He lept straight into the closet of her heart, and "Deus!" she cried, "maugre my maidenhood, I will follow those pretty heels round the earth!"
Cried Geoffrey "Yea! and will not I presently string his ham to save your panting?"
"Tacete!" cried the groundlings.
A moment after, Geoffrey forgot his spleen. Cupid had noosed him--bound him tight to the Widow Twankey. This was a woman most unlike to Angelica: poplar-tall, I grant you; but elm-wide into the bargain; deep-voiced, robustious, and puffed bravely out with hot vital essences. Seemed so to Geoffrey, at least, who had no smattering of theatres and knew not his cynosure to be none other than Master Willie Joffers, prime buffo of the day. Like Angelica, he had had fond visions; and lo here, the very lady of them!
Says he to Angelica, "I am heartset on this widow."
"By so much the better!" she laughs. "I to my peacock, you to your peahen, with a Godspeed from each to other."
How to snare the birds? A pretty problem: the fowling was like to be delicate. So hale a strutter as Aladdin could not lack for bonamies. "Will he deign me?" wondered meek Angelica. "This widow," thought Geoffrey, "is belike no widow at all, but a modest wife with a yea for no man but her lord." Head to head they took counsel, cudgelled their wits for some proper vantage. Of a sudden, Geoffrey clapped hand to thigh. Student of Boccaccio, Heveletius, and other sages, he had the clue in his palm. A whisper from him, a nod from Angelica, and the twain withdrew from the box into the corridor without.
There, back to back, they disrobed swiftly, each tossing to other every garment as it was doffed. Then a flurried toilet, and a difficult, for the man especially; but hotness of desire breeds dexterity. When they turned and faced each other, Angelica was such a boy as Aladdin would not spurn as page, Geoffrey such a girl as the widow might well covet as body-maid.
Out they hied under the stars, and sought way to the postern whereby the mummers would come when their work were done. Thereat they stationed themselves in shadow. A bitter night, with a lather of snow on the cobbles; but they were heedless of that: love and their dancing hearts warmed them.
They waited long. Strings of muffled figures began to file out, but never an one like to Aladdin or the Widow. Midnight tolled. Had these two had wind of the ambuscado and crept out by another door? Nay, patience!
At last! A figure showed in the doorway--a figure cloaked womanly, but topped with face of Aladdin. Trousered Angelica, with a cry, darted forth from the shadow. To Mistress Vandeleur's eyes she was as truly man as was Mistress Vandeleur to hers. Thus confronted, Mistress Vandeleur shrank back, blushing hot.
"Nay!" laughs Angelica, clipping her by the wrists. "Cold boy, you shall not so easily slip me. A pretty girl you make, Aladdin; but love pierces such disguise as a rapier might pierce lard."
"Madman! Unhandle me!" screams the actress.
"No madman I, as well you know," answers Angelica, "but a maid whom spurned love may yet madden. Kiss me on the lips!"
While they struggle, another figure fills the postern, and in an instant Angelica is torn aside by Master Willie Joffers (well versed, for all his mumming, in matters of chivalry). "Kisses for such coward lips?" cries he. "Nay, but a swinge to silence them!" and would have struck trousered Angelica full on the mouth. But décolleté Geoffrey Dizzard, crying at him "Sweet termagant, think not to baffle me by these airs of manhood!" had sprung in the way and on his own nose received the blow.
He staggered and, spurting blood, fell. Up go the buffo's hands, and "Now may the Saints whip me," cries he, "for a tapster of girl's blood!" and fled into the night, howling like a dog. Mistress Vandeleur had fled already. Down on her knees goes Angelica, to stanch Geoffrey's flux.
Thus far, straight history. Apocrypha, all the rest: you shall pick your own sequel. As for instance, some say Geoffrey bled to the death, whereby stepped Master Joffers to the scaffold, and Angelica (the Vandeleur too, like as not) to a nunnery. Others have it he lived, thanks to nurse Angelica, who, thereon wed, suckled him twin Dizzards in due season. Joffers, they say, had wife already, else would have wed the Vandeleur, for sake of symmetry.