From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, and Rare Manuscripts, Volume XXX, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society, New York; 1901; pp. 11163-11172.
WISTER, OWEN, an American writer of short stories, a grandson of the celebrated Fanny Kemble; born at Philadelphia in 1860. He was graduated from Harvard University in 1882, and from the Harvard Law School in 1888. Since then he has practised his profession in Philadelphia, but has spent much time in the frontier region of the Southwest. His work includes “The New Swiss Family Robinson” (1882); “The Dragon of Wantley,” a romance (1892); “Red Men and White,” a collection of tales of adventure (1896); “Lin McLean” (1898).
DOWNSTAIRS the Grace was said, and the company was soon seated and ready for their mid-day meal.
“Our fare,” said Father Anselm presently to Sir Godfrey, who sat on his right, “is plain, but substantial.”
“Oh — ah, very likely,” replied the Baron, as he received a wooden basin of black-bean broth.
“Our drink is —”
The Baron lifted his eye hopefully.
“— remarkably pure water,” Father Anselm continued. “Clement!” he called to the monk whose turn it was that day to hand the dishes, “Clement, a goblet of our well-water for Sir Godfrey Disseisin. One of the large goblets, Clement. We are indeed favored, Baron, in having such a pure spring in the midst of our home.”
“Oh — ah!” observed the Baron again, and politely nerved himself for a swallow. But his thoughts were far away in his own cellar over at Wantley, contemplating the casks whose precious gallons the Dragon had consumed. Could it be the strength of his imagination, or else why was it that through 11164 the chilling, unwelcome liquid he was now drinking he seemed to detect a lurking flavor of the very wine those casks had contained, his favorite Malvoisie?”
Father Anselm noticed the same taste in his own cup, and did not set it down to imagination, but afterwards sentenced Brother Clement to bread and water during three days, for carelessness in not washing the Monastery table-service more thoroughly.
“This simple food keeps you in beautiful health, Father,” said Mistletoe, ogling the swarthy face of the Abbot with an affection that he duly noted.
“My daughter,” he replied, gravely, “bodily infirmity is the reward of the glutton. I am well, thank you.”
Meanwhile, Elaine did not eat much. Her thoughts were busy, and hurrying over recent events. Perhaps you think she lost her heart in the last chapter, and cannot lose it in this one unless it is given back to her. But I do not agree with you; and I am certain that, if you suggested such a notion to her, she would become quite angry, and tell you not to talk such foolish nonsense. People are so absurd about hearts, and all that sort of thing! No: I do not really think she has lost her heart yet; but as she sits at table these are the things she is feeling: —
1. Not at all hungry.
2. Not at all thirsty.
3. What a hateful person Father Anselm is!
4. Poor, poor young man!
5. Not that she thinks of him in that way, of course. The idea! Horrid Father Anselm!
6. Any girl at all — no, not girl, anybody at all — who had human justice would feel exactly as she did about the whole matter.
7. He was very good-looking, too.
8. Did he have — yes, they were blue. Very, very dark blue.
9. And a moustache? Well, yes.
Here she laughed, but no one noticed her idling with her spoon. Then her eyes filled with tears, and she pretended to be absorbed with the black-bean broth, though, as a matter of fact, she did not see it in the least.
10. Why had he come there at all?
11. It was a perfect shame, treating him so.11165
12. Perhaps they were not blue, after all. But, oh! what a beautiful sparkle was in them!
After this, she hated Father Anselm worse than ever. And the more she hated him, the more some very restless delicious something made her draw long breaths. She positively must go upstairs and see what He was doing and what He really looked like. This curiosity seized hold of her and set her thinking of some way to slip away unseen. The chance came through all present becoming deeply absorbed in what Sir Godfrey was saying to Father Anselm.
“Such a low, coarse, untaught brute as a dragon,” he explained, “cannot possibly distinguish good wine from bad.”
“Of a surety, no!” responded the monk.
“You agree with me upon that point?” said the Baron.
“Most certainly. Proceed.”
“Well, I ’m going to see that he gets nothing but the cider and small beer after this.”
“But how will you prevent him, if he visit your cellar again?” Father Anselm inquired.
“I shall change all the labels, in the first place,” the Baron answered.
“Ha! vastly well conceived,” said Father Anselm. “You will label your Burgundy as if it were beer.”
“And next,” continued Sir Godfrey, “I shall shift the present positions of the hogsheads. That I shall do to-day, after re-labelling. In the northern corner of the first wine vault I shall —”
Just as he reached this point, it was quite wonderful how strict an attention every monk paid to his words. They leaned forward, forgetting their dinner, and listened with all their might. One of them, who had evidently received an education, took notes underneath the table. Thus it was that Elaine escaped observation when she left the refectory.
As she came upstairs into the hall where Geoffrey was caged, she stepped lightly and kept where she could not be seen by him. All was quiet when she entered; but suddenly she heard the iron bars of the cage begin to rattle and shake, and at the same time Geoffrey’s voice broke out in rage.
“I ’ll twist you loose,” he said, “you — (rattle, shake) — you — (kick, bang) —” And here the shocking young man used words so violent and wicked that Elaine put her hands tight over her ears. “Why, he is just as dreadful as papa, 11166 just exactly!” she exclaimed to herself. “Whoever would have thought that that angelic face — but I suppose they are all like that sometimes.” And she took her hands away again.
“Yes, I will twist you loose,” he was growling hoarsely, while the kicks and wrenches grew fiercer than ever, “or twist myself stark, staring blind — and —”
“Oh, sir!” she said, running out in front of the cage.
He stopped at once, and stood looking at her. His breastplate and gauntlets were down on the floor, so his muscles might have more easy play in dealing with the bars. Elaine noticed that the youth’s shirt was of very costly Eastern silk.
“I was thinking of getting out,” he said at length, still standing and looking at her.
“I thought I might — that is — you might —” began Miss Elaine, and stopped. Upon which another silence followed.
“Lady, who sent you here?” he inquired.
“Oh, they don’t know!” she replied, hastily; and then, seeing how bright his face became, and hearing her own words, she looked down, and the crimson went over her cheeks as he watched her.
“Oh, if I could get out!” he said, desperately. “Lady, what is your name, if I might be so bold.”
“My name, sir, is Elaine. Perhaps there is a key somewhere,” she said.
“And I am called Geoffrey,” he said, in reply.
“I think we might find a key,” Elaine repeated.
She turned towards the other side of the room, and there hung a great bunch of brass keys dangling from the lock of a heavy door.
Ah, Hubert! thou art more careless than Brother Clement, I think, to have left those keys in such a place!
Quickly did Elaine cross to that closed door, and laid her hand upon the bunch. The door came open the next moment, and she gave a shriek to see the skin of a huge lizard-beast fall forward at her feet, and also many cups and flagons, that rolled over the floor, dotting it with little drops of wine.
Hearing Elaine shriek, and not able to see from his prison what had befallen her, Geoffrey shouted out in terror to know if she had come to any hurt.
“No,” she told him; and stood eyeing the crocodile’s hide and then the cups, setting her lips together very firmly. 11167 “And they were not even dry,” she said after a while. For she began to guess a little of the truth.
“Not dry? Who?” inquired Geoffrey.
“Oh, Geoffrey!” she burst out in deep anger, and then stopped, bewildered. But his heart leaped to hear her call his name.
“Are there no keys?” he asked.
“Keys? Yes!” she cried, and, running with them back to the bars, began trying one after another in trembling haste till the lock clicked pleasantly, and out marched young Geoffrey.
Now what do you suppose this young man did when he found himself free once more, and standing close by the lovely young person to whom he owed his liberty? Did he place his heels together, and let his arms hang gracefully, and so bow with respect and a manner at once dignified and urbane, and say, “Miss Elaine, permit me to thank you for being so kind as to let me out of prison?” That is what he ought to have done, of course, if he had known how to conduct himself like a well-brought-up young man. But I am sorry to have to tell you that Geoffrey did nothing of the sort, but, instead of that, behaved in a most outrageous manner. He did not thank her at all. He did not say one single word to her. He simply put one arm round her waist and gave her a kiss!”
“Geoffrey!” she murmured, “don’t!”
But Geoffrey did, with the most astonishing and complacent disobedience.
“Oh, Geoffrey!” she whispered, looking the other way, “how wrong of you! And of me!” she added a little more softly still, escaping from him suddenly, and facing about.
“I don’t see that,” said Geoffrey. “I love you, Elaine. Elaine, darling, I — ”
“Oh, but you must n’t!” answered she, stepping back as he came nearer.
This was simply frightful! And so sudden. To think of her — Elaine! — but she could n’t think at all. Happy? Why, how wicked! How had she ever —
“No, you must not,” she repeated, and backed away still further.
“But I will!” said this lover, quite loudly, and sprang so quickly to where she stood that she was in his arms again, and this time without the faintest chance of getting out of them until he should choose to free her.11168
It was no use to struggle now, and she was still, like some wild bird. But she knew that she was really his, and was glad of it. And she looked up at him and said, very softly, “Geoffrey, we are wasting time.”
“Oh, no, not at all,” said Geoffrey.
“But we are.”
“Say that you love me.”
“But have n’t I — ah, Geoffrey, please don’t begin again.”
“Say that you love me.”
Then, taking his hand, she led him to the door she had opened. He stared at the crocodile, at the wine-cups, and then he picked up a sheet of iron and a metal torch.
“I suppose it is their museum,” he said; “don’t you?”
“Their museum! Geoffrey, think a little.”
“They seem to keep very good wine,” he remarked, after smelling at the demijohn.
“Don’t you see? Can’t you understand?” she said.
“No, not a bit. What ’s that thing, do you suppose?” he added, giving the crocodile a kick.
“Oh, me, but men are simple, men are simple!” said Elaine, in despair. “Geoffrey, listen! That wine is my father’s wine, from his own cellar. There is none like it in all England.”
“Then I don’t see why he gave it to a parcel of monks.”
Elaine clasped her hands in hopelessness, gave him a kiss, and became mistress of the situation.
“Now, Geoffrey, she said, “I will tell you what you and I have really found out.” Then she quickly recalled all the recent events. How her father’s cellar had been broken into; how Mistletoe had been chained to a rock for a week and no dragon had come near her. She bade him remember how just now Father Anselm had opposed every plan for meeting the Dragon, and at last she pointed to the crocodile.
“Ha!” said Geoffrey, after thinking for a space. “Then you mean —”
“Of course I do,” she interrupted. “The Dragon of Wantley is now downstairs with papa eating dinner, and pretending he never drinks anything stronger than water. What do you say to that, sir?”
“This is a foul thing!” cried the knight. “Here have I 11169 been damnably duped. Here —” but speech deserted him. He glared at the crocodile with a bursting countenance, then drove his toe against it with such vigor that it sailed like a foot-ball to the farther end of the hall.
“Papa has been duped, and everybody,” said Elaine. “Papa’s French wine —”
“They swore to me in Flanders I should find a real dragon here,” he continued, raging up and down, and giving to the young lady no part of his attention. She began to fear he was not thinking of her.
“They swore it. They had invited me to hunt a dragon with them in Flanders, — Count Faux Pas and his Walloons. We hunted day and night, and the quest was barren. They then directed me to this island of Britain, in which they declared a dragon might be found by any man who so desired. They lied in their throats. I have come leagues for nothing.” Here he looked viciously at the distant hide of the crocodile. “But I shall slay the monk,” he added. “A masquerading caitiff! Lying varlets! And all for nothing! The monk shall die, however.”
“Have you come for nothing, Geoffrey?” murmured Elaine.
“There years have I been seeking dragons in all countries, chasing deceit over land and sea. And now once more my dearest hope falls empty and stale. Why, what ’s this?” A choking sound beside him stopped the flow of his complaints.
“Oh, Geoffrey, — oh, miserable me!” The young lady was dissolved in tears.
“Elaine — dearest — don’t.”
“You said you had come for n-nothing, and it was all st-stale.”
“Ha, I am a fool, indeed! But it was the Dragon, dearest. I had made so sure of an honest one in this adventure.”
“Oh, oh!” went Miss Elaine with her head against his shoulder.
“There, there! You ’re sweeter than all the dragons in the world, my little girl,” said he. And although this does not appear to be a great compliment, it comforted her wonderfully in the end; for he said it in her ear several times without taking his lips away. “Yes,” he continued, “I was a fool. By your father’s own word you ’re mine. I have caught 11170 the Dragon. Come, my girl! We ’ll down to the refectory forthwith and denounce him.”
With this, he seized Elaine’s hand and hastily made for the stairs.
“But hold, Geoffrey, hold! Oh — I am driven to act not as maidens should,” sighed Elaine. “He it is who ought to do the thinking. But, dear me! He does not know how. Do you not see we should both be lost, were you to try any such wild plan?”
“Not at all. Your father would give you to me.”
“Oh, no, no, Geoffrey; indeed, papa would not. His promise was about a dragon. A live or a dead dragon must be brought to him. Even if he believed you now, even if that dreadful Father Anselm could not invent some lie to put us in the wrong, you and I could never — that is — papa would not feel bound by his promise simply because you did that. There must be a dragon somehow.”
“How can there be a dragon if there is not a dragon?” asked Geoffrey.
“Wait, wait, Geoffrey! Oh, how can I think of everything all at once?” and Elaine pressed her hands to her temples.
“Darling,” said the knight, with his arms once more around her, “let us fly now.”
“Now? They would catch us at once.”
“Catch us? not they? with my sword —”
“Now, Geoffrey, of course you are brave. But do be sensible. You are only one. No! I won’t even argue such nonsense. They must never know about what we have been doing up here; and you must go back into that cage at once.”
“What, and be locked up, and perhaps murdered to-night, and never see your face again?”
“But you shall see me again, and soon. That is what I am thinking about.”
“How can you come in here, Elaine?”
“You must come to me. I have it! To-night, at half-past eleven, come to the cellar-door at the Manor, and I will be there to let you in. Then we can talk over everything quietly. I have no time to think now.”
“The cellar! at the Manor! And how, pray, shall I get out of that cage?”
“Cannot you jump from the little window at the back?”11171
Geoffrey ran in to see. “No,” he said, returning; “it is many spans from the earth.”
Elaine had hurried into the closet, whence she returned with a dusty coil of rope. “Here, Geoffrey; quickly! put it about your waist. Wind it so. But how clumsy you are!”
He stood smiling down at her, and she very deftly wound the cord up and down, over and over his body, until the whole length lay comfortably upon him.
“Now, your breastplate, quick!”
She helped him put his armor on again; and, as they were engaged at that, singing voices came up the stairs from the distant dining-hall.
“The Grace,” she exclaimed; “they will be here in a moment.”
Geoffrey took a last kiss, and bolted into his cage. She, with the keys, made great haste to push the crocodile and other objects once more into their hiding-place. Cups and flagons and all rattled back without regard to order, as they had already been flung not two hours before. The closed-door shut, and Elaine hung the keys from the lock as she had found them.
“Half-past eleven,” she said to Geoffrey, as she ran by his cage towards the stairs.
“One more, darling, — please, one! through the bars!” he besought her, in a voice so tender, that for my part I do not see how she had the heart to refuse him. But she continued her way, and swiftly descending the stairs, was found by the company, as they came from the hall, busily engaged in making passes with Sir Godfrey’s sword, which he had left leaning near the door.
“A warlike daughter, Sir Godfrey!” said Father Anselm.
“Ah, if I were a man to go on a Crusade!” sighed Miss Elaine.
“Hast thou, my daughter,” said Father Anselm, “thought better of thy rash intentions concerning this Dragon?”
“I am travelling towards better thoughts, Father,” she answered.
But Sir Francis did not wholly believe the young lady; and was not at rest until Sir Godfrey assured him her good conduct should be no matter of her own choosing.
“You see,” insinuated the Abbot, “so sweet a maid as yours would be a treat for the unholy beast. A meal like that 11172 would incline him to remain in a neighborhood where such dainties were to be found.”
“I ’ll have no legends and fool’s tricks,” exclaimed the Baron. “She shall be locked in her room to-night.”
“Not if she can help it,” thought Miss Elaine. Her father had imprudently spoken too loud.
“’T were a wise precaution,” murmured Father Anselm. “What are all the vintages of this earth by the side of a loving daughter?”
“Quite so, quite so!” Godfrey assented. “Don’t you think,” he added, wistfully, “that another Crusade may come along soon?”
“Ah, my son, who can say? Tribulation is our meted heritage. Were thy thoughts more high, the going of thy liquors would not cause thee such sorrow. Learn to enjoy the pure cold water.”
“Good afternoon,” said the Baron.
When all the guests had departed and the door was shut safe behind them, the Father and his holy companions broke into loud mirth. “The Malvoisie is drunk up,” said they; “to-night we ’ll pay his lordship’s cellars another visit.”
1 By permission of J. B. Lippincott Co.