Cowardice Court - George Barr Mccutcheon - ebook
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He’s just an infernal dude, your lordship, and I ‘ll throw him in the river if he says a word too much.”“He has already said too much, Tompkins, confound him, don’t you know.”“Then I ‘m to throw him in whether he says anything or not, sir?”“Have you seen him?”“No, your lordship, but James has. James says he wears a red coat and—”“Never mind, Tompkins. He has no right to fish on this side of that log. The insufferable ass may own the land on the opposite side, but, confound his impertinence, I own it on this side.”This concluding assertion of the usually placid but now irate Lord Bazelhurst was not quite as momentous as it sounded. As a matter of fact, the title to the land was vested entirely in his young American wife; his sole possession, according to report, being a title much less substantial but a great deal more picturesque than the large, much-handled piece of paper down in the safety deposit vault—lying close and crumpled among a million sordid, homely little slips called coupons.It requires no great stretch of imagination to understand that Lord Bazelhurst had an undesirable neighbour. That neighbour was young Mr. Shaw—Randolph Shaw, heir to the Randolph fortune. It may be fair to state that Mr. Shaw also considered himself to be possessed of an odious neighbour. In other words, although neither had seen the other, there was a feud between the owners of the two estates that had all the earmarks of an ancient romance.

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Table of contents

CHAPTER I—IN WHICH A YOUNG MAN TRESPASSES

CHAPTER II—IN WHICH A YOUNG WOMAN TRESPASSES

CHAPTER III—IN WHICH A DOG TRESPASSES

CHAPTER IV—IN WHICH THE TRUTH TRESPASSES

CHAPTER V—IN WHICH DAN CUPID TRESPASSES

CHAPTER VI—IN WHICH A GHOST TRESPASSES

CHAPTER VII—IN WHICH THE AUTHOR TRESPASSES

CHAPTER I—IN WHICH A YOUNG MAN TRESPASSES

He’s just an infernal dude, your lordship, and I ‘ll throw him in the river if he says a word too much.” “ He has already said too much, Tompkins, confound him, don’t you know.” “ Then I ‘m to throw him in whether he says anything or not, sir?” “ Have you seen him?” “ No, your lordship, but James has. James says he wears a red coat and—” “ Never mind, Tompkins. He has no right to fish on this side of that log. The insufferable ass may own the land on the opposite side, but, confound his impertinence, I own it on this side.”This concluding assertion of the usually placid but now irate Lord Bazelhurst was not quite as momentous as it sounded. As a matter of fact, the title to the land was vested entirely in his young American wife; his sole possession, according to report, being a title much less substantial but a great deal more picturesque than the large, much-handled piece of paper down in the safety deposit vault—lying close and crumpled among a million sordid, homely little slips called coupons.It requires no great stretch of imagination to understand that Lord Bazelhurst had an undesirable neighbour. That neighbour was young Mr. Shaw—Randolph Shaw, heir to the Randolph fortune. It may be fair to state that Mr. Shaw also considered himself to be possessed of an odious neighbour. In other words, although neither had seen the other, there was a feud between the owners of the two estates that had all the earmarks of an ancient romance.Lady Bazelhurst was the daughter of a New York millionaire; she was young, beautiful, and arrogant. Nature gave her youth and beauty; marriage gave her the remaining quality. Was she not Lady Bazelhurst? What odds if Lord Bazelhurst happened to be a middle-aged, addle-pated ass? So much the better. Bazelhurst castle and the Bazelhurst estates (heavily encumbered before her father came to the rescue) were among the oldest and most coveted in the English market. Her mother noted, with unctuous joy, that the present Lady Bazelhurst in babyhood had extreme difficulty in mastering the eighth letter of the alphabet, certainly a most flattering sign of natal superiority, notwithstanding the fact that her father was plain old John Banks (deceased), formerly of Jersey City, more latterly of Wall street and St. Thomas’s.Bazelhurst was a great catch, but Banks was a good name to conjure with, so he capitulated with a willingness that savoured somewhat of suspended animation (so fearful was he that he might do something to disturb the dream before it came true). That was two years ago. With exquisite irony, Lady Bazelhurst decided to have a country-place in America. Her agents discovered a glorious section of woodland in the Adirondacks, teeming with trout streams, game haunts, unparalleled scenery; her ladyship instructed them to buy without delay. It was just here that young Mr. Shaw came into prominence.His grandfather had left him a fortune and he was looking about for ways in which to spend a portion of it. College, travel, and society having palled on him, he hied himself into the big hills west of Lake Champlain, searching for beauty, solitude, and life as he imagined it should be lived. He found and bought five hundred acres of the most beautiful bit of wilderness in the mountains.The same streams coursed through his hills and dales that ran through those of Lady Bazelhurst, the only distinction being that his portion was the more desirable. When her ladyship’s agents came leisurely up to close their deal, they discovered that Mr. Shaw had snatched up this choice five hundred acres of the original tract intended for their client. At least one thousand acres were left for the young lady, but she was petulant enough to covet all of it.Overtures were made to Mr. Shaw, but he would not sell. He was preparing to erect a handsome country-place, and he did not want to alter his plans. Courteously at first, then somewhat scathingly he declined to discuss the proposition with her agents. After two months of pressure of the most tiresome persistency, he lost his temper and sent a message to his inquisitors that suddenly terminated all negotiations. Afterwards, when he learned that their client was a lady, he wrote a conditional note of apology, but, if he expected a response, he was disappointed. A year went by, and now, with the beginning of this narrative, two newly completed country homes glowered at each other from separate hillsides, one envious and spiteful, the other defiant and a bit satirical.Bazelhurst Villa looks across the valley and sees Shaw’s Cottage commanding the most beautiful view in the hills; the very eaves of her ladyship’s house seem to have wrinkled into a constant scowl of annoyance. Shaw’s long, low cottage seems to smile back with tantalizing security, serene in its more lofty altitude, in its more gorgeous raiment of nature. The brooks laugh with the glitter of trout, the trees chuckle with the flight of birds, the hillsides frolic in their abundance of game, but the acres are growling like dogs of war. “Love thy neighbour as thyself” is not printed on the boards that line the borders of the two estates. In bold black letters the sign-boards laconically say: “No trespassing on these grounds. Keep off!” “ Yes, I fancy you’d better put him off the place if he comes down here again to fish, Tompkins,” said his lordship, in conclusion. Then he touched whip to his horse and bobbed off through the shady lane in a most painfully upright fashion, his thin legs sticking straight out, his breath coming in agonized little jerks with each succeeding return of his person to the saddle. “ By Jove, Evelyn, it’s most annoying about that confounded Shaw chap,” he remarked to his wife as he mounted the broad steps leading to the gallery half an hour later, walking with the primness which suggests pain. Lady Bazelhurst looked up from her book, her fine aristocratic young face clouding with ready belligerence. “ What has he done, Cecil dear?” “ Been fishing on our property again, that’s all. Tompkins says he laughed at him when he told him to get off. I say, do you know, I think I ‘ll have to adopt rough methods with that chap. Hang it all, what right has he to catch our fish?” “ Oh, how I hate that man!” exclaimed her ladyship petulantly. “ But I ‘ve given Tompkins final instructions.” “ And what are they?” “ To throw him in the river next time.” “ Oh, if he only could!” ‘rapturously.’ “ Could? My dear, Tompkins is an American. He can handle these chaps in their own way. At any rate, I told Tompkins if his nerve failed him at the last minute to come and notify me. I ‘ll attend to this confounded popinjay!” “ Good for you, Cecil!” called out another young woman from the broad hammock in which she had been dawdling with half-alert ears through the foregoing conversation. “Spoken like a true Briton. What is this popinjay like?” “ Hullo, sister. Hang it all, what’s he like? He’s like an ass, that’s all. I’ve never seen him, but if I’m ever called upon to—but you don’t care to listen to details. You remember the big log that lies out in the river up at the bend? Well, it marks the property line. One half of its stump belongs to the Shaw man, the other half to m—to us, Evelyn. He shan’t fish below that log—no, sir!” His lordship glared fiercely through his monocle in the direction of the far-away log, his watery blue eyes blinking as malevolently as possible, his long, aristocratic nose wrinkling at its base in fine disdain. His five feet four of stature quivered with illy-subdued emotion, but whether it was rage or the sudden recollection of the dog-trot through the woods, it is beyond me to suggest. “ But suppose our fish venture into his waters, Cecil; what then? Is n’t that trespass?” demanded the Honourable Penelope Drake, youngest and most cherished sister of his lordship. “ Now, don’t be silly, Pen,” cried her sister-in-law. “Of course we can’t regulate the fish.” “ But I daresay his fish will come below the log, so what’s the odds?” said his lord-ship quickly. “A trout ‘s a lawless brute at best.” “ Is he big?” asked the Honourable Penelope lazily. “ They vary, my dear girl.” “ I mean Mr. Shaw.” “ Oh, I thought you meant the—but I don’t know. What difference does that make? Big or little, he has to stay off my grounds.” Was it a look of pride that his tall young wife bestowed upon him as he drew himself proudly erect or was it akin to pity? At any rate, her gay young American head was inches above his own when she arose and suggested that they go inside and prepare for the housing of the guests who were to come over from the evening train. “ The drag has gone over to the station, Cecil, and it should be here by seven o’clock.” “ Confound his impudence, I ‘ll show him,” grumbled his lordship as he followed her, stiff-legged, toward the door. “ What’s up, Cecil, with your legs?” called his sister. “Are you getting old?”This suggestion always irritated him. “ Old? Silly question. You know how old I am. No; it’s that beastly American horse. Evelyn, I told you they have no decent horses in this beastly country. They jiggle the life out of one—” but he was obliged to unbend himself perceptibly in order to keep pace with her as she hurried through the door.The Honourable Penelope allowed her indolent gaze to follow them. A perplexed pucker finally developed on her fair brow and her thought was almost expressed aloud: “By Jove, I wonder if she really loves him.”Penelope was very pretty and very bright. She was visiting America for the first time and she was learning rapidly. “Cecil ‘s a good sort, you know, even—” but she was loyal enough to send her thoughts into other channels.Nightfall brought half a dozen guests to Bazelhurst Villa. They were fashionable to the point where ennui is the chief characteristic, and they came only for bridge and sleep. There was a duke among them and also a French count, besides the bored New Yorkers; they wanted brandy and soda as soon as they got into the house, and they went to bed early because it was so much easier to sleep lying down than sitting up.All were up by noon the next day, more bored than ever, fondly praying that nothing might happen before bedtime. The duke was making desultory love to Mrs. De Peyton and Mrs. De Peyton was leading him aimlessly toward the shadier and more secluded nooks in the park surrounding the Villa. Penelope, fresh and full of the purpose of life, was off alone for a long stroll. By this means she avoided the attentions of the duke, who wanted to marry her; those of the count who also said he wanted to marry her but could n’t because his wife would not consent; those of one New Yorker, who liked her because she was English; and the pallid chatter of the women who bored her with their conjugal cynicisms. “ What the deuce is this coming down the road?” queried the duke, returning from the secluded nook at luncheon time. “ Some one has been hurt,” exclaimed his companion. Others were looking down the leafy road from the gallery. “ By Jove, it’s Penelope, don’t you know,” ejaculated the duke, dropping his monocle and blinking his eye as if to rest it for the time being. “ But she’s not hurt. She’s helping to support one of those men.” “ Hey!” shouted his lordship from the gallery, as Penelope and two dilapidated male companions abruptly started to cut across the park in the direction of the stables. “What’s up?” Penelope waved her hand aimlessly, but did not change her course. Whereupon the entire house party sallied forth in more or less trepidation to intercept the strange party. “ Who are these men?” demanded Lady Bazelhurst, as they came up to the fast-breathing young Englishwoman. “ Don’t bother me, please. We must get him to bed at once. He’ll have pneumonia,” replied Penelope.Both men were dripping wet and the one in the middle limped painfully, probably because both eyes were swollen tight and his nose was bleeding. Penelope’s face was beaming with excitement and interest. “ Who are you?” demanded his lordship, planting himself in front of the shivering twain. “ Tompkins,” murmured the blind one feebly, tears starting from the blue slits and rolling down his cheeks. “ James, sir,” answered the other, touching his damp forelock. “ Are they drunk?” asked Mrs. De Peyton, with fresh enthusiasm. “ No, they are not, poor fellows,” cried Penelope. “They have taken nothing but water.” “ By Jove, deuced clever that,” drawled the duke. “Eh?” to the New Yorker. “ Deuced,” from the Knickerbocker. “ Well, well, what’s it all about?” demanded Bazelhurst. “ Mr. Shaw, sir,” said James. “ Good Lord, could n’t you rescue him?” in horror. “ He rescued us, sir,” mumbled Tompkins. “ You mean—” “ He throwed us in and then had to jump in and pull us out, sir. Beggin’ your pardon, sir, but damn him!” “ And you did n’t throw him in, after all? By Jove, extraordinary!” “ Do you mean to tell us that he threw you great hulking creatures into the river? Single-handed?” cried Lady Bazelhurst, aghast. “ He did, Evelyn,” inserted Penelope. “I met them coming home, and poor Tompkins was out of his senses. I don’t know how it happened, but—” “ It was this way, your ladyship,” put in James, the groom. “Tompkins and me could see him from the point there, sir, afishin’ below the log. So we says to each other ‘Come on,’ and up we went to where he was afishin’. Tompkins, bein’ the game warden, says he to him ‘Hi there!’ He was plainly on our property, sir, afishin’ from a boat for bass, sir. ‘Hello, boys,’ says he back to us. ‘Get off our land,’ says Tompkins. ‘I am,’ says he; ‘it’s water out here where I am.’ Then—” “ You’re wrong,” broke in Tompkins. “ He said ‘it ‘s wet out here where I am.’” “ You ‘re right. It was wet. Then Tompkins called him a vile name, your lordship—shall I repeat it, sir?” “ No, no!” cried four feminine voices. “ Yes, do,” muttered the duke. “ He did n’t wait after that, sir. He rowed to shore in a flash and landed on our land. ‘What do you mean by that?’ he said, mad-like. ‘My orders is to put you off this property,’ says Tompkins, ‘or to throw you in the river.’ ‘Who gave these orders?’ asked Mr. Shaw. ‘Lord Bazelhurst, sir, damn you—’ beg pardon, sir; it slipped out. ‘And who the devil is Lord Bazelthurst?’ said he. ‘Hurst,’ said Tompkins. ‘He owns this ground. Can’t you see the mottoes on the trees—No Tres-passin’?’—but Mr. Shaw said: ‘Well, why don’t you throw me in the river?’ He kinder smiled when he said it. ‘I will,’ says Tompkins, and made a rush for him. I don’t just remember why I started in to help Tompkins, but I did. Somehow, sir, Mr. Shaw got—” “ Don’t call him Mr