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The Amateur Gentleman (Chapter48)

2006-08-28 16:15

  Chapter XLVIII. In Which "The Terror," Hitherto Known as "Four-Legs," Justifies His New Name

  The chill of dawn was in the air as the chaise began to rumble over the London cobble-stones, whereupon Master Milo (who for the last hour had slumbered peacefully, coiled up in his corner like a kitten) roused himself, sat suddenly very upright, straightened his cap and pulled down his coat, broad awake all at once, and with his eyes as round and bright as his buttons.

  "Are you tired, Imp?" inquired Barnabas, yawning.

  "Tired, sir, ho no, sir——not a bit, I ain't."

  "But you haven't slept much."

  "Slep', sir? I ain't slep'. I only jest 'appened to close me eyes, sir. Ye see, I don't need much sleep, I don't,——four hours is enough for any man,——my pal Nick says so, and Nick knows a precious lot, 'e do."

  "Who is Nick?"

  "Nick's a cobbler, sir,——boots and shoes,——ladies' and gents', and a very good cobbler 'e is too, although a cripple wiv a game leg. Me and 'im's pals, sir, and though we 'as our little turn-ups 'count of 'im coming it so strong agin the Quality, I'm never very 'ard on 'im 'count of 'is crutch, d'ye see, sir."

  "What do you mean by the 'Quality,' Imp?"

  "Gentle-folks, sir,——rich folks like you an' m'lud. 'I'd gillertine the lot, if I'd my way,' he says, 'like the Frenchies did in Ninety-three,' 'e says. But 'e wouldn't reelly o'course, for Nick's very tender-hearted, though 'e don't like it known. So we 're pals, we are, and I often drop in to smoke a pipe wiv 'im——"

  "What! Do you smoke, Imp?"

  "Why, yes, o' course, sir,——all grooms smokes or chews, but I prefers a pipe——allus 'ave, ah! ever since I were a kid. But I mostly only 'as a pipe when I drop in on my pal Nick in Giles's Rents."

  "Down by the River?" inquired Barnabas.

  "Yessir. And now, shall I horder the post-boy to stop?"

  "What for?"

  "Well, the stables is near by, sir, and I thought as you might like to take a glimp at the 'osses,——just to make your mind easy, sir."

  "Oh, very well!" said Barnabas, for there was something in the boy's small, eager face that he could not resist.

  Therefore, having paid and dismissed the chaise, they turned into a certain narrow by-street. It was very dark as yet, although in the east was a faint, gray streak, and the air struck so chill, after the warmth of the chaise, that Barnabas shivered violently, and, happening to glance down, he saw that the boy was shivering also. On they went, side by side, between houses of gloom and silence, and thus, in a while, came to another narrow street, or rather, blind alley, at the foot of which were the stables.

  "Hush, sir!" said the Imp, staring away to where the stable buildings loomed up before them, shadowy and indistinct in the dawn. "Hush, sir!" he repeated, and Barnabas saw that he was creeping forward on tip-toe, and, though scarce knowing why, he himself did the same.

  They found the great swing doors fast, bolted from within, and, in this still dead hour, save for their own soft breathing, not a sound reached them. Then Barnabas laughed suddenly, and clapped Master Milo upon his small, rigid shoulder.

  "There, Imp,——you see it's all right!" said he, and then paused, and held his breath.

  "Did ye hear anythink?" whispered the boy.

  "A chain——rattled, I think."

  "And 't was in The Terror's' stall,——there? didn't ye hear somethink else, sir?"

  "No!"

  "I did,——it sounded like——" the boy's voice tailed off suddenly and, upon the silence, a low whistle sounded; then a thud, as of some one dropping from a height, quickly followed by another,——and thus two figures darted away, impalpable as ghosts in the dawn, but the alley was filled with the rush and patter of their flight. Instantly Barnabas turned in pursuit, then stopped and stood utterly still, his head turned, his eyes wide, glaring back towards the gloom of the stables. For, in that moment, above the sudden harsh jangling of chains from within, above the pattering footsteps of the fugitives without, was an appalling sound rising high and ever higher——shrill, unearthly, and full of horror and torment unspeakable. And now, sudden as it had come, it was gone, but in its place was another sound,——a sound dull and muffled, but continuous, and pierced, all at once, by the loud, hideous whinnying of a horse. Then Barnabas sprang back to the doors, beating upon them with his fists and calling wildly for some one to open.

  And, in a while, a key grated, a bolt shrieked; the doors swung back, revealing Martin, half-dressed and with a lantern in his hand, while three or four undergrooms hovered, pale-faced, in the shadows behind.

  "My horse!" said Barnabas, and snatched the lantern.

  "'The Terror'!" cried Milo, "this way, sir!"

  Coming to a certain shadowy corner, Barnabas unfastened and threw open the half-door; and there, rising from the gloom of the stall, was a fiendish, black head with ears laid back, eyes rolling, and teeth laid bare,——cruel teeth, whose gleaming white was hatefully splotched,——strong teeth, in whose vicious grip something yet dangled.

  "Why——what's he got there!" cried Martin suddenly, and then—— "Oh, my God! sir,——look yonder!" and, covering his eyes, he pointed towards a corner of the stall where the light of the lantern fell. And——twisted and contorted,——something lay there; something hideously battered, and torn, and trampled; something that now lay so very quiet and still, but which had left dark splashes and stains on walls and flooring; something that yet clutched the knife which was to have hamstrung and ended the career of Four-legs once and for all; something that had once been a man.

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