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The Broad Highway(Book1,Chapter10)

2006-08-28 22:42

  Book One Chapter X. Which Relates the End of an Honorable Affair

  Some half-mile along the road, upon the left hand, was a stile, and beyond the stile, a path——a path that led away over field, and meadow, and winding stream, to the blue verge of distant woods.

  Now, midway between these woods and the place where I stood, there moved three figures; and, far away though they were, I could still make out that the middle one walked with his hands——those tremulous betraying hands thrust deep within his pockets.

  And presently I climbed the stile, and set off along the path.

  "Sir Jasper!" said I to myself. Somewhere in the background of my consciousness I had a vague recollection of having heard mention of such a name before, but exactly when and where I could not, for the life of me, remember.

  "Sir Jasper!" said I to myself again. "It is a very uncommon name, and should be easy to recollect." I had often prided myself on possessing a singularly retentive memory, more especially for names and faces, but, upon the present occasion, the more I pondered the matter, the more hazy I became. So I walked on through the sweet, wet grass, racking my brain for a solution of the problem, but finding none.

  When I again looked up, the three figures had vanished where the path took a sharp bend round a clump of pollard oaks, and, determined not to lose them, I hurried my steps; but when I, in turn, rounded the corner, not a soul was in sight.

  The path sloped up gently before me, with a thick hedge upon my right, and, after crossing a brawling stream, lost itself in the small wood or coppice, that crowned the ascent. Wondering, I hastened forward, and then, happening to look through the hedge, which grew very thick and high, I stopped all at once.

  On the other side of the hedge was a strip of meadow bounded by the brook I have mentioned; now across this stream was a small rustic bridge, and on this bridge was a man. Midway between this man and myself stood a group of four gentlemen, all talking very earnestly together, to judge by their actions, while somewhat apart from these, his head bent, his hands still thrust deep in his pockets, stood Sir Jasper. And from him, for no apparent reason, my eyes wandered to the man upon the bridge——a tall, broad-shouldered fellow, in a buff-colored greatcoat, who whistled to himself, and stared down into the stream, swinging his tasselled riding-boot to and fro. All at once, as if in response to some signal, he rose, and unbuttoning his surtout, drew it off and flung it across the handrail of the bridge.

  Mr. Chester was on his knees before the oblong box, and I saw the glint of the pistols as he handed them up. The distance had already been paced and marked out, and now each man took his ground——Sir Jasper, still in his greatcoat, his hat over his eyes, his neckerchief loose and dangling, one hand in his pocket, the other grasping his weapon; his antagonist, on the contrary, jaunty and debonnair, a dandy from the crown of his hat to the soles of his shining boots.

  Their arms were raised almost together. The man Selby glanced from one to the other, a handkerchief fluttered, fell, and in that instant came the report of a pistol. I saw Sir Jasper reel backward, steady himself, and fire in return; then, while the blue smoke yet hung in the still air, he staggered blindly, and fell.

  Mr. Chester, and two or three more, ran forward and knelt beside him, while his opponent shrugged his shoulders, and, taking off his hat, pointed out the bullet hole to his white-faced second.

  And in a little while they lifted Sir Jasper in their arms, but seeing how his head hung, a sudden sickness came upon me, for I knew, indeed, that he would go walking back nevermore. Yet his eyes were wide and staring——staring up at the blue heaven with the same fixed intensity as they had done at the inn.

  Then I, too, looked up at the cloudless sky, and round upon the fair earth; and, in that moment, I, for one, remembered his prophecy of an hour ago. And, indeed, the day was glorious.

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