Zuleika Dobson/Chapter 8
A few minutes before half-past seven, the Duke, arrayed for dinner, passed leisurely up the High. The arresting feature of his costume was a mulberry-coloured coat, with brass buttons. This, to any one versed in Oxford lore, betokened him a member of the Junta. It is awful to think that a casual stranger might have mistaken him for a footman. It does not do to think of such things.
The tradesmen, at the doors of their shops, bowed low as he passed, rubbing their hands and smiling, hoping inwardly that they took no liberty in sharing the cool rosy air of the evening with his Grace. They noted that he wore in his shirt-front a black pearl and a pink. "Daring, but becoming," they opined.
The rooms of the Junta were over a stationer's shop, next door but one to the Mitre. They were small rooms; but as the Junta had now, besides the Duke, only two members, and as no member might introduce more than one guest, there was ample space.
The Duke had been elected in his second term. At that time there were four members; but these were all leaving Oxford at the end of the summer term, and there seemed to be in the ranks of the Bullingdon and the Loder no one quite eligible for the Junta, that holy of holies. Thus it was that the Duke inaugurated in solitude his second year of membership. From time to time, he proposed and seconded a few candidates, after "sounding" them as to whether they were willing to join. But always, when election evening—the last Tuesday of term— drew near, he began to have his doubts about these fellows. This one was "rowdy"; that one was over-dressed; another did not ride quite straight to hounds; in the pedigree of another a bar-sinister was more than suspected. Election evening was always a rather melancholy time. After dinner, when the two club servants had placed on the mahogany the time-worn Candidates' Book and the ballot-box, and had noiselessly withdrawn, the Duke, clearing his throat, read aloud to himself "Mr. So-and-So, of Such-and-Such College, proposed by the Duke of Dorset, seconded by the Duke of Dorset," and, in every case, when he drew out the drawer of the ballot-box, found it was a black-ball that he had dropped into the urn. Thus it was that at the end of the summer term the annual photographic "group" taken by Messrs. Hills and Saunders was a presentment of the Duke alone.
In the course of his third year he had become less exclusive. Not because there seemed to be any one really worthy of the Junta; but because the Junta, having thriven since the eighteenth century, must not die. Suppose—one never knew—he were struck by lightning, the Junta would be no more. So, not without reluctance, but unanimously, he had elected The MacQuern, of Balliol, and Sir John Marraby, of Brasenose.
To-night, as he, a doomed man, went up into the familiar rooms, he was wholly glad that he had thus relented. As yet, he was spared the tragic knowledge that it would make no difference.*
- The Junta has been reconstituted. But the apostolic line was
broken, the thread was snapped; the old magic is fled.
The MacQuern and two other young men were already there.
"Mr. President," said The MacQuern, "I present Mr. Trent-Garby, of Christ Church."
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing.
Such was the ritual of the club.
The other young man, because his host, Sir John Marraby, was not yet on the scene, had no locus standi, and, though a friend of The MacQuern, and well known to the Duke, had to be ignored.
A moment later, Sir John arrived. "Mr. President," he said, "I present Lord Sayes, of Magdalen."
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing.
Both hosts and both guests, having been prominent in the throng that vociferated around Zuleika an hour earlier, were slightly abashed in the Duke's presence. He, however, had not noticed any one in particular, and, even if he had, that fine tradition of the club—"A member of the Junta can do no wrong; a guest of the Junta cannot err"—would have prevented him from showing his displeasure.
A Herculean figure filled the doorway.
"The Junta is honoured," said the Duke, bowing to his guest.
"Duke," said the newcomer quietly, "the honour is as much mine as that of the interesting and ancient institution which I am this night privileged to inspect."
Turning to Sir John and The MacQuern, the Duke said "I present Mr. Abimelech V. Oover, of Trinity."
"The Junta," they replied, "is honoured."
"Gentlemen," said the Rhodes Scholar, "your good courtesy is just such as I would have anticipated from members of the ancient Junta. Like most of my countrymen, I am a man of few words. We are habituated out there to act rather than talk. Judged from the view-point of your beautiful old civilisation, I am aware my curtness must seem crude. But, gentlemen, believe me, right here—"
"Dinner is served, your Grace."
Thus interrupted, Mr. Oover, with the resourcefulness of a practised orator, brought his thanks to a quick but not abrupt conclusion. The little company passed into the front room.
Through the window, from the High, fading daylight mingled with the candle-light. The mulberry coats of the hosts, interspersed by the black ones of the guests, made a fine pattern around the oval table a-gleam with the many curious pieces of gold and silver plate that had accrued to the Junta in course of years.
The President showed much deference to his guest. He seemed to listen with close attention to the humorous anecdote with which, in the American fashion, Mr. Oover inaugurated dinner.
To all Rhodes Scholars, indeed, his courtesy was invariable. He went out of his way to cultivate them. And this he did more as a favour to Lord Milner than of his own caprice. He found these Scholars, good fellows though they were, rather oppressive. They had not—how could they have?—the undergraduate's virtue of taking Oxford as a matter of course. The Germans loved it too little, the Colonials too much. The Americans were, to a sensitive observer, the most troublesome—as being the most troubled—of the whole lot. The Duke was not one of those Englishmen who fling, or care to hear flung, cheap sneers at America. Whenever any one in his presence said that America was not large in area, he would firmly maintain that it was. He held, too, in his enlightened way, that Americans have a perfect right to exist. But he did often find himself wishing Mr. Rhodes had not enabled them to exercise that right in Oxford. They were so awfully afraid of having their strenuous native characters undermined by their delight in the place. They held that the future was theirs, a glorious asset, far more glorious than the past. But a theory, as the Duke saw, is one thing, an emotion another. It is so much easier to covet what one hasn't than to revel in what one has. Also, it is so much easier to be enthusiastic about what exists than about what doesn't. The future doesn't exist. The past does. For, whereas all men can learn, the gift of prophecy has died out. A man cannot work up in his breast any real excitement about what possibly won't happen. He cannot very well help being sentimentally interested in what he knows has happened. On the other hand, he owes a duty to his country. And, if his country be America, he ought to try to feel a vivid respect for the future, and a cold contempt for the past. Also, if he be selected by his country as a specimen of the best moral, physical, and intellectual type that she can produce for the astounding of the effete foreigner, and incidentally for the purpose of raising that foreigner's tone, he must—mustn't he?—do his best to astound, to exalt. But then comes in this difficulty. Young men don't like to astound and exalt their fellows. And Americans, individually, are of all people the most anxious to please. That they talk overmuch is often taken as a sign of self-satisfaction. It is merely a mannerism. Rhetoric is a thing inbred in them. They are quite unconscious of it. It is as natural to them as breathing. And, while they talk on, they really do believe that they are a quick, businesslike people, by whom things are "put through" with an almost brutal abruptness. This notion of theirs is rather confusing to the patient English auditor.
Altogether, the American Rhodes Scholars, with their splendid native gift of oratory, and their modest desire to please, and their not less evident feeling that they ought merely to edify, and their constant delight in all that of Oxford their English brethren don't notice, and their constant fear that they are being corrupted, are a noble, rather than a comfortable, element in the social life of the University. So, at least, they seemed to the Duke.
And to-night, but that he had invited Oover to dine with him, he could have been dining with Zuleika. And this was his last dinner on earth. Such thoughts made him the less able to take pleasure in his guest. Perfect, however, the amenity of his manner.
This was the more commendable because Oover's "aura" was even more disturbing than that of the average Rhodes Scholar. To-night, besides the usual conflicts in this young man's bosom, raged a special one between his desire to behave well and his jealousy of the man who had to-day been Miss Dobson's escort. In theory he denied the Duke's right to that honour. In sentiment he admitted it. Another conflict, you see. And another. He longed to orate about the woman who had his heart; yet she was the one topic that must be shirked.
The MacQuern and Mr. Trent-Garby, Sir John Marraby and Lord Sayes, they too—though they were no orators—would fain have unpacked their hearts in words about Zuleika. They spoke of this and that, automatically, none listening to another—each man listening, wide- eyed, to his own heart's solo on the Zuleika theme, and drinking rather more champagne than was good for him. Maybe, these youths sowed in themselves, on this night, the seeds of lifelong intemperance. We cannot tell. They did not live long enough for us to know.
While the six dined, a seventh, invisible to them, leaned moodily against the mantel-piece, watching them. He was not of their time. His long brown hair was knotted in a black riband behind. He wore a pale brocaded coat and lace ruffles, silken stockings, a sword. Privy to their doom, he watched them. He was loth that his Junta must die. Yes, his. Could the diners have seen him, they would have known him by his resemblance to the mezzotint portrait that hung on the wall above him. They would have risen to their feet in presence of Humphrey Greddon, founder and first president of the club.
His face was not so oval, nor were his eyes so big, nor his lips so full, nor his hands so delicate, as they appeared in the mezzotint. Yet (bating the conventions of eighteenth-century portraiture) the likeness was a good one. Humphrey Greddon was not less well-knit and graceful than the painter had made him, and, hard though the lines of the face were, there was about him a certain air of high romance that could not be explained away by the fact that he was of a period not our own. You could understand the great love that Nellie O'Mora had borne him.
Under the mezzotint hung Hoppner's miniature of that lovely and ill- starred girl, with her soft dark eyes, and her curls all astray from beneath her little blue turban. And the Duke was telling Mr. Oover her story—how she had left her home for Humphrey Greddon when she was but sixteen, and he an undergraduate at Christ Church; and had lived for him in a cottage at Littlemore, whither he would ride, most days, to be with her; and how he tired of her, broke his oath that he would marry her, thereby broke her heart; and how she drowned herself in a mill-pond; and how Greddon was killed in Venice, two years later, duelling on the Riva Schiavoni with a Senator whose daughter he had seduced.
And he, Greddon, was not listening very attentively to the tale. He had heard it told so often in this room, and he did not understand the sentiments of the modern world. Nellie had been a monstrous pretty creature. He had adored her, and had done with her. It was right that she should always be toasted after dinner by the Junta, as in the days when first he loved her—"Here's to Nellie O'Mora, the fairest witch that ever was or will be!" He would have resented the omission of that toast. But he was sick of the pitying, melting looks that were always cast towards her miniature. Nellie had been beautiful, but, by God! she was always a dunce and a simpleton. How could he have spent his life with her? She was a fool, by God! not to marry that fool Trailby, of Merton, whom he took to see her.
Mr. Oover's moral tone, and his sense of chivalry, were of the American kind: far higher than ours, even, and far better expressed. Whereas the English guests of the Junta, when they heard the tale of Nellie O'Mora, would merely murmur "Poor girl!" or "What a shame!" Mr. Oover said in a tone of quiet authority that compelled Greddon's ear "Duke, I hope I am not incognisant of the laws that govern the relations of guest and host. But, Duke, I aver deliberately that the founder of this fine old club; at which you are so splendidly entertaining me to-night, was an unmitigated scoundrel. I say he was not a white man."
At the word "scoundrel," Humphrey Greddon had sprung forward, drawing his sword, and loudly, in a voice audible to himself alone, challenged the American to make good his words. Then, as this gentleman took no notice, with one clean straight thrust Greddon ran him through the heart, shouting "Die, you damned psalm-singer and traducer! And so die all rebels against King George!"* Withdrawing the blade, he wiped it daintily on his cambric handkerchief. There was no blood. Mr. Oover, with unpunctured shirt-front, was repeating "I say he was not a white man." And Greddon remembered himself—remembered he was only a ghost, impalpable, impotent, of no account. "But I shall meet you in Hell to-morrow," he hissed in Oover's face. And there he was wrong. It is quite certain that Oover went to Heaven.
- As Edward VII. was at this time on the throne, it must have
been to George III. that Mr. Greddon was referring.
Unable to avenge himself, Greddon had looked to the Duke to act for him. When he saw that this young man did but smile at Oover and make a vague deprecatory gesture, he again, in his wrath, forgot his disabilities. Drawing himself to his full height, he took with great deliberation a pinch of snuff, and, bowing low to the Duke, said "I am vastly obleeged to your Grace for the fine high Courage you have exhibited in the behalf of your most Admiring, most Humble Servant." Then, having brushed away a speck of snuff from his jabot, he turned on his heel; and only in the doorway, where one of the club servants, carrying a decanter in each hand, walked straight through him, did he realise that he had not spoilt the Duke's evening. With a volley of the most appalling eighteenth-century oaths, he passed back into the nether world.
To the Duke, Nellie O'Mora had never been a very vital figure. He had often repeated the legend of her. But, having never known what love was, he could not imagine her rapture or her anguish. Himself the quarry of all Mayfair's wise virgins, he had always—so far as he thought of the matter at all—suspected that Nellie's death was due to thwarted ambition. But to-night, while he told Oover about her, he could see into her soul. Nor did he pity her. She had loved. She had known the one thing worth living for—and dying for. She, as she went down to the mill-pond, had felt just that ecstasy of self-sacrifice which he himself had felt to-day and would feel to-morrow. And for a while, too—for a full year—she had known the joy of being loved, had been for Greddon "the fairest witch that ever was or will be." He could not agree with Oover's long disquisition on her sufferings. And, glancing at her well-remembered miniature, he wondered just what it was in her that had captivated Greddon. He was in that blest state when a man cannot believe the earth has been trodden by any really beautiful or desirable lady save the lady of his own heart.
The moment had come for the removal of the table-cloth. The mahogany of the Junta was laid bare—a clear dark lake, anon to reflect in its still and ruddy depths the candelabras and the fruit-cradles, the slender glasses and the stout old decanters, the forfeit-box and the snuff-box, and other paraphernalia of the dignity of dessert. Lucidly, and unwaveringly inverted in the depths these good things stood; and, so soon as the wine had made its circuit, the Duke rose and with uplifted glass proposed the first of the two toasts traditional to the Junta. "Gentlemen, I give you Church and State."
The toast having been honoured by all—and by none with a richer reverence than by Oover, despite his passionate mental reservation in favour of Pittsburg-Anabaptism and the Republican Ideal—the snuff-box was handed round, and fruit was eaten.
Presently, when the wine had gone round again, the Duke rose and with uplifted glass said "Gentlemen, I give you—" and there halted. Silent, frowning, flushed, he stood for a few moments, and then, with a deliberate gesture, tilted his glass and let fall the wine to the carpet. "No," he said, looking round the table, "I cannot give you Nellie O'Mora."
"Why not?" gasped Sir John Marraby.
"You have a right to ask that," said the Duke, still standing. "I can only say that my conscience is stronger than my sense of what is due to the customs of the club. Nellie O'Mora," he said, passing his hand over his brow, "may have been in her day the fairest witch that ever was—so fair that our founder had good reason to suppose her the fairest witch that ever would be. But his prediction was a false one. So at least it seems to me. Of course I cannot both hold this view and remain President of this club. MacQuern—Marraby—which of you is Vice-President?"
"He is," said Marraby.
"Then, MacQuern, you are hereby President, vice myself resigned. Take the chair and propose the toast."
"I would rather not," said The MacQuern after a pause.
"Then, Marraby, YOU must."
"Not I!" said Marraby.
"Why is this?" asked the Duke, looking from one to the other.
The MacQuern, with Scotch caution, was silent. But the impulsive Marraby—Madcap Marraby, as they called him in B.N.C.—said "It's because I won't lie!" and, leaping up, raised his glass aloft and cried "I give you Zuleika Dobson, the fairest witch that ever was or will be!"
Mr. Oover, Lord Sayes, Mr. Trent-Garby, sprang to their feet; The MacQuern rose to his. "Zuleika Dobson!" they cried, and drained their glasses.
Then, when they had resumed their seats, came an awkward pause. The Duke, still erect beside the chair he had vacated, looked very grave and pale. Marraby had taken an outrageous liberty. But "a member of the Junta can do no wrong," and the liberty could not be resented. The Duke felt that the blame was on himself, who had elected Marraby to the club.
Mr. Oover, too, looked grave. All the antiquarian in him deplored the sudden rupture of a fine old Oxford tradition. All the chivalrous American in him resented the slight on that fair victim of the feudal system, Miss O'Mora. And, at the same time, all the Abimelech V. in him rejoiced at having honoured by word and act the one woman in the world.
Gazing around at the flushed faces and heaving shirt-fronts of the diners, the Duke forgot Marraby's misdemeanour. What mattered far more to him was that here were five young men deeply under the spell of Zuleika. They must be saved, if possible. He knew how strong his influence was in the University. He knew also how strong was Zuleika's. He had not much hope of the issue. But his new-born sense of duty to his fellows spurred him on. "Is there," he asked with a bitter smile, "any one of you who doesn't with his whole heart love Miss Dobson?"
Nobody held up a hand.
"As I feared," said the Duke, knowing not that if a hand had been held up he would have taken it as a personal insult. No man really in love can forgive another for not sharing his ardour. His jealousy for himself when his beloved prefers another man is hardly a stronger passion than his jealousy for her when she is not preferred to all other women.
"You know her only by sight—by repute?" asked the Duke. They signified that this was so. "I wish you would introduce me to her," said Marraby.
"You are all coming to the Judas concert tonight?" the Duke asked, ignoring Marraby. "You have all secured tickets?" They nodded. "To hear me play, or to see Miss Dobson?" There was a murmur of "Both— both." "And you would all of you, like Marraby, wish to be presented to this lady?" Their eyes dilated. "That way happiness lies, think you?"
"Oh, happiness be hanged!" said Marraby.
To the Duke this seemed a profoundly sane remark—an epitome of his own sentiments. But what was right for himself was not right for all. He believed in convention as the best way for average mankind. And so, slowly, calmly, he told to his fellow-diners just what he had told a few hours earlier to those two young men in Salt Cellar. Not knowing that his words had already been spread throughout Oxford, he was rather surprised that they seemed to make no sensation. Quite flat, too, fell his appeal that the syren be shunned by all.
Mr. Oover, during his year of residence, had been sorely tried by the quaint old English custom of not making public speeches after private dinners. It was with a deep sigh of satisfaction that he now rose to his feet.
"Duke," he said in a low voice, which yet penetrated to every corner of the room, "I guess I am voicing these gentlemen when I say that your words show up your good heart, all the time. Your mentality, too, is bully, as we all predicate. One may say without exaggeration that your scholarly and social attainments are a by-word throughout the solar system, and be-yond. We rightly venerate you as our boss. Sir, we worship the ground you walk on. But we owe a duty to our own free and independent manhood. Sir, we worship the ground Miss Z. Dobson treads on. We have pegged out a claim right there. And from that location we aren't to be budged—not for bob-nuts. We asseverate we squat—where—we—squat, come—what—will. You say we have no chance to win Miss Z. Dobson. That—we—know. We aren't worthy. We lie prone. Let her walk over us. You say her heart is cold. We don't pro-fess we can take the chill off. But, Sir, we can't be diverted out of loving her—not even by you, Sir. No, Sir! We love her, and—shall, and— will, Sir, with—our—latest breath."
This peroration evoked loud applause. "I love her, and shall, and will," shouted each man. And again they honoured in wine her image. Sir John Marraby uttered a cry familiar in the hunting-field. The MacQuern contributed a few bars of a sentimental ballad in the dialect of his country. "Hurrah, hurrah!" shouted Mr. Trent-Garby. Lord Sayes hummed the latest waltz, waving his arms to its rhythm, while the wine he had just spilt on his shirt-front trickled unheeded to his waistcoat. Mr. Oover gave the Yale cheer.
The genial din was wafted down through the open window to the passers- by. The wine-merchant across the way heard it, and smiled pensively. "Youth, youth!" he murmured.
The genial din grew louder.
At any other time, the Duke would have been jarred by the disgrace to the Junta. But now, as he stood with bent head, covering his face with his hands, he thought only of the need to rid these young men, here and now, of the influence that had befallen them. To-morrow his tragic example might be too late, the mischief have sunk too deep, the agony be life-long. His good breeding forbade him to cast over a dinner- table the shadow of his death. His conscience insisted that he must. He uncovered his face, and held up one hand for silence.
"We are all of us," he said, "old enough to remember vividly the demonstrations made in the streets of London when war was declared between us and the Transvaal Republic. You, Mr. Oover, doubtless heard in America the echoes of those ebullitions. The general idea was that the war was going to be a very brief and simple affair—what was called 'a walk-over.' To me, though I was only a small boy, it seemed that all this delirious pride in the prospect of crushing a trumpery foe argued a defect in our sense of proportion. Still, I was able to understand the demonstrators' point of view. To 'the giddy vulgar' any sort of victory is pleasant. But defeat? If, when that war was declared, every one had been sure that not only should we fail to conquer the Transvaal, but that IT would conquer US—that not only would it make good its freedom and independence, but that we should forfeit ours—how would the cits have felt then? Would they not have pulled long faces, spoken in whispers, wept? You must forgive me for saying that the noise you have just made around this table was very like to the noise made on the verge of the Boer War. And your procedure seems to me as unaccountable as would have seemed the antics of those mobs if England had been plainly doomed to disaster and to vassalage. My guest here to-night, in the course of his very eloquent and racy speech, spoke of the need that he and you should preserve your 'free and independent manhood.' That seemed to me an irreproachable ideal. But I confess I was somewhat taken aback by my friend's scheme for realising it. He declared his intention of lying prone and letting Miss Dobson 'walk over' him; and he advised you to follow his example; and to this counsel you gave evident approval. Gentlemen, suppose that on the verge of the aforesaid war, some orator had said to the British people 'It is going to be a walk-over for our enemy in the field. Mr. Kruger holds us in the hollow of his hand. In subjection to him we shall find our long-lost freedom and independence'—what would have been Britannia's answer? What, on reflection, is yours to Mr. Oover? What are Mr. Oover's own second thoughts?" The Duke paused, with a smile to his guest.
"Go right ahead, Duke," said Mr. Oover. "I'll re-ply when my turn comes."
"And not utterly demolish me, I hope," said the Duke. His was the Oxford manner. "Gentlemen," he continued, "is it possible that Britannia would have thrown her helmet in the air, shrieking 'Slavery for ever'? You, gentlemen, seem to think slavery a pleasant and an honourable state. You have less experience of it than I. I have been enslaved to Miss Dobson since yesterday evening; you, only since this afternoon; I, at close quarters; you, at a respectful distance. Your fetters have not galled you yet. MY wrists, MY ankles, are excoriated. The iron has entered into my soul. I droop. I stumble. Blood flows from me. I quiver and curse. I writhe. The sun mocks me. The moon titters in my face. I can stand it no longer. I will no more of it. Tomorrow I die."
The flushed faces of the diners grew gradually pale. Their eyes lost lustre. Their tongues clove to the roofs of their mouths.
At length, almost inaudibly, The MacQuern asked "Do you mean you are going to commit suicide?"
"Yes," said the Duke, "if you choose to put it in that way. Yes. And it is only by a chance that I did not commit suicide this afternoon."
"You—don't—say," gasped Mr. Oover.
"I do indeed," said the Duke. "And I ask you all to weigh well my message."
"But—but does Miss Dobson know?" asked Sir John.
"Oh yes," was the reply. "Indeed, it was she who persuaded me not to die till to-morrow."
"But—but," faltered Lord Sayes, "I saw her saying good-bye to you in Judas Street. And—and she looked quite—as if nothing had happened."
"Nothing HAD happened," said the Duke. "And she was very much pleased to have me still with her. But she isn't so cruel as to hinder me from dying for her to-morrow. I don't think she exactly fixed the hour. It shall be just after the Eights have been rowed. An earlier death would mark in me a lack of courtesy to that contest . . . It seems strange to you that I should do this thing? Take warning by me. Muster all your will-power, and forget Miss Dobson. Tear up your tickets for the concert. Stay here and play cards. Play high. Or rather, go back to your various Colleges, and speed the news I have told you. Put all Oxford on its guard against this woman who can love no lover. Let all Oxford know that I, Dorset, who had so much reason to love life—I, the nonpareil—am going to die for the love I bear this woman. And let no man think I go unwilling. I am no lamb led to the slaughter. I am priest as well as victim. I offer myself up with a pious joy. But enough of this cold Hebraism! It is ill-attuned to my soul's mood. Self-sacrifice—bah! Regard me as a voluptuary. I am that. All my baffled ardour speeds me to the bosom of Death. She is gentle and wanton. She knows I could never have loved her for her own sake. She has no illusions about me. She knows well I come to her because not otherwise may I quench my passion."
There was a long silence. The Duke, looking around at the bent heads and drawn mouths of his auditors, saw that his words had gone home. It was Marraby who revealed how powerfully home they had gone.
"Dorset," he said huskily, "I shall die too."
The Duke flung up his hands, staring wildly.
"I stand in with that," said Mr. Oover.
"So do I!" said Lord Sayes. "And I!" said Mr. Trent-Garby; "And I!" The MacQuern.
The Duke found voice. "Are you mad?" he asked, clutching at his throat. "Are you all mad?"
"No, Duke," said Mr. Oover. "Or, if we are, you have no right to be at large. You have shown us the way. We—take it."
"Just so," said The MacQuern, stolidly.
"Listen, you fools," cried the Duke. But through the open window came the vibrant stroke of some clock. He wheeled round, plucked out his watch—nine!--the concert!--his promise not to be late!--Zuleika!
All other thoughts vanished. In an instant he dodged beneath the sash of the window. From the flower-box he sprang to the road beneath. (The facade of the house is called, to this day, Dorset's Leap.) Alighting with the legerity of a cat, he swerved leftward in the recoil, and was off, like a streak of mulberry-coloured lightning, down the High.
The other men had rushed to the window, fearing the worst. "No," cried Oover. "That's all right. Saves time!" and he raised himself on to the window-box. It splintered under his weight. He leapt heavily but well, followed by some uprooted geraniums. Squaring his shoulders, he threw back his head, and doubled down the slope.
There was a violent jostle between the remaining men. The MacQuern cannily got out of it, and rushed downstairs. He emerged at the front- door just after Marraby touched ground. The Baronet's left ankle had twisted under him. His face was drawn with pain as he hopped down the High on his right foot, fingering his ticket for the concert. Next leapt Lord Sayes. And last of all leapt Mr. Trent-Garby, who, catching his foot in the ruined flower-box, fell headlong, and was, I regret to say, killed. Lord Sayes passed Sir John in a few paces. The MacQuern overtook Mr. Oover at St. Mary's and outstripped him in Radcliffe Square. The Duke came in an easy first.