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首页 » 经典英文小说 » A Strange World » Volume 1 CHAPTER I. POOR PLAYERS.
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A fair slope of land in buttercup-time, just when May, the capricious, melts into tender June—a slope of fertile pasture within two miles of the city of Eborsham, whose cathedral towers rise tall in the blue dim distance—a wealth of hedgerow flowers on every side, and all the air full of their faint sweet perfume, mixed with the odorous breath of the fast perishing hawthorn. Two figures are seated in a corner of the meadow, beneath the umbrage of an ancient thorn not Arcadian or pastoral figures by any means;—not Phillis the milkmaid, with sun-browned brow and carnation cheeks, not Corydon fluting sweetly on his tuneful pipe as he reclines at her feet;—but two figures which carry the unmistakable2 stamp of city life in every feature and every garment. One is a tall, slender girl of seventeen, with a pale, tired face, and a look of having outgrown her strength, shot up too swiftly from childhood to girlhood, like a fast-growing weed. The other is a man who may be any age from forty to sixty, a man with sparse grey hair crowning a high forehead, bluish-grey eyes, under thick dark brows, a red nose, a mouth that looks as if it had been made for eating and drinking rather than oratory, a heavy jaw, and a figure inclining to corpulence.

The girl's eyes are large and clear, and changeful, of that dark blue-grey which often looks like black. The delicate young face possesses no other strong claim to be admired, and would be a scarcely noticeable countenance, perhaps, save for those grey eyes.

The raiment of both man and girl is of the shabbiest. His threadbare coat has become luminous with much friction, a kind of phosphorescent brightness pervades the sleeves, like the oleaginous scum that pollutes the surface of a city river; the tall hat which lies beside him in the deep grass has3 a look of having been soaped. His boots have obviously been soled and heeled, and have arrived at that debatable period in boot-life when they must either be soled again or hie them straight to the dust-hole. The girl's gown is faded and too short for her long legs, her mantle a flimsy silken thing of an almost forgotten fashion, her hat a fabric of tawdry net and ribbon patched together by her own unskilled hands.

She sits with her lap full of bluebells and hawthorn, looking absently at the landscape, with those solemn towers rising out of the valley.

'How grand they are, father!'

The father is agreeably occupied in filling a cutty pipe, embrowned by much smoking, which he handles fondly, as if it were a sentient thing.

'What's grand?'

'The cathedral towers. I could look at them for hours together—with that wide blue sky above them, and the streets and houses clustering at their feet. There's a bird's nest in one of them, oh! so high up, squeezed behind a horrid grinning face. Do you know, father, I've stood and looked at it sometimes4 till I've strained my eyes with looking? And I've wished I was a bird in that nest, and to live up there in the cool shadow of the stone; no care, no trouble, no work, and all that blue sky above me for ever and ever.'

'The sky isn't always blue, stupid,' answered the father, contemptuously. 'Your bird's nest would be a nice place in stormy weather. You talk like a fool, Justina, with your towers, and nests, and blue skies; and you're getting a young woman now, and ought to have some sense. As for cathedral towns, for my part I've never believed in 'em. Never saw good business for a fortnight on end in a cathedral town. It's all very well for a race week, or you may pull up with a military bespeak, if there's a garrison. But in a general way, as far as the profession goes, your cathedral town is a dead failure.'

'I wasn't thinking of the theatre, father,' said the girl, with a contemptuous shrug of her thin shoulders. 'I hate the theatre, and everything belonging to it.'

'There's a nice young woman, to quarrel with your bread and butter!'


'Bread and ashes, I think, father,' she said, looking downward at the flowers, with a moody face. 'It tastes bitter enough for that.'

'Did ever any one hear of such discontent?' ejaculated the father, lifting his eyes towards the heavens, as if invoking Jove himself as a witness of his child's depravity. 'To go and run down the Pro.! Hasn't the Pro. nourished you and brought you up, and maintained you since you were no higher than that?'

He spread his dingy hand a foot or so above the buttercups to illustrate his remark.

The Pro. of which he spoke with so fond an air was the calling of an actor, and this elderly gentleman, in threadbare raiment, was Mr. Matthew Elgood, a performer of that particular line of dramatic business known in his own circle as 'the first heavies,' or, in less technical phrase, Mr. Elgood was the heavy man—the King in Hamlet, Iago, Friar Lawrence, the Robber Chief of melodrama—the relentless father of the ponderous top-booted and pig-tailed comedy. And Justina Elgood, his seventeen year old daughter, commonly called Judy?6 Was she Juliet or Desdemona, Ophelia or Imogen? No. Miss Elgood had not yet soared above the humblest drudgery. Her line was general utility, in which she worked with the unrequited patience of an East-end shirtmaker.

'Hasn't the Pro. supported you from the cradle?' growled Mr. Elgood between short, thoughtful puffs at his pipe.

'Had I ever a cradle, father?' the girl demanded, wonderingly. 'If you were always moving about then as you are now, a cradle must have been a great inconvenience.'

'I've a sort of recollection of seeing you in one, for all that,' replied Mr. Elgood, shutting his eyes with a meditating air, as if he were casting his gaze back into the past,—'a clumsy edifice of straw, bulky and awkward of shape. It might have held properties pretty well—but I don't remember travelling with it. I dare say your mother borrowed the thing of her landlady. In the days of your infancy we were at Slowberry in Somersetshire, and the Slowberry people are uncommonly friendly. I make no doubt your mother borrowed it.'


'I dare say, father. We're great people for borrowing!'

'Why not?' asked Mr. Elgood, lightly; 'give and take, you know, Judy: that's a Christian sentiment.'

'Yes, father, but we always take.'

'Man is the slave of circumstances, my dear. "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not away." That's the gospel, Justina. If I have been rather in the position of the borrower than the lender, that has been my misfortune, and not my fault. Had I been the possessor of ten thousand per annum, I would have been the last of men to refuse to take a box-ticket for a fellow-creature's benefit.'

The girl gave a faint sigh, and began to arrange the bluebells and hawthorn into a nosegay somewhat listlessly, as if even her natural joy in these things were clouded by a settled gloom within her mind.

'You're in the first piece, aren't you, Judy?' inquired Matthew Elgood, after indulging himself with a snatch of slumber, his elbow deep in the buttercups, and his head rested on his hand.


'Yes, father,' with a sigh, 'the countess, you know.'

'The countess in "The Stranger," a most profitable part. Don't put on that hat and feather you wore last time we played the piece. It made the gallery laugh. I wonder whether you'll ever be fit for the juvenile lead, Judy?' he went on meditatively. 'Do you know, sometimes I am afraid you never will; you're so gawky and so listless. The gawkiness would be nothing—you'll get over that when you've done growing, I dare say—but your heart is not in your profession, Justina. There's the rub.'

'My heart in it,' echoed the girl, with a dreary laugh. 'Why, I hate it, father; you must know that. Hasn't it kept me ignorant and shabby, and looked down upon all the days of my life, since I was two years old, and went on as the child in "Pizarro?" Hasn't it kept me hanging about the wings till midnight, from year's end to year's end, when other children were snug in bed with a mother to look after them? Haven't I been told often enough that I've no talents, and no good looks to help me, and that I must be a drudge all my life?'


'No good looks! Well, I'm not so sure about that,' said the father, thoughtfully. 'Talent, I admit, you are deficient of, Judy; but your looks even now are by no means despicable, and will improve with time. You have a fine pair of eyes, and a complexion that lights up uncommonly well. I have seen leading ladies earning their three to four guineas a week with less personal advantages.'

'I wish I could earn a good salary, father, for your sake; but I should never be fond of acting. I've seen too much of the theatre. If I'd been a young lady, now, shut up in a drawing-room all my life, and brought to the theatre for the first time to see "Romeo and Juliet," I could fancy myself wanting to play Juliet; but I've seen too much of the ladder Juliet stands on in the balcony scene, and the dirty-looking man that holds it steady for her, and the way she quarrels with Mrs. Wappers the nurse, between the acts. I've read the play often, father, since you've told me to study Juliet, and I've tried to fancy her a real living woman in Verona, under a cloudless sky, as blue as these flowers—but I can't—I can only think of Miss10 Villeroy, in her whitey-brown satin, and Mrs. Wappers, in her old green and yellow brocade,—and the battered old garden scene—and the palace flats we use so often—and the scene-shifters in their dirty shirt-sleeves. All the poetry has been taken out of it for me, father.'

'That's because yours is a commonplace mind, child,' answered Mr. Elgood, with a superior air. 'Look at me, now! If I feel as dull as ditchwater when I go on the stage, the first hearty round of applause kindles the poetic fire, and the second fans it into a blaze. The divine afflatus, Judy; that's what you want, the afflatus!'

'I suppose you mean applause, father. I know I don't get much of that.'

'No, Justina, I mean the breath of the gods—the sacred wind which breathes from the nostrils of genius, which gives life and shape to the imaginings of the dramatic poet, which inspires a Kean,—and, occasionally, an Elgood. I suppose you didn't hear of their encoring my exit in Iago on Tuesday night?'

'Yes, father, I heard of it.'


'Come, Judy, we must be going,' said Mr. Elgood, raising himself from his luxurious repose among the buttercups, after looking at a battered silver watch; 'it's past four, and we've a good two miles to walk before we get our teas.'

'Oh, how I wish we could stay here just as long as we like—and then go quietly home in the starlight to some cottage among those trees over there.'

'Cottages among trees are proverbially damp, and the kind of existence you talk of—mooning about a meadow and going home to a cottage—would be intolerably dull for a man with any pretension to intellect.'

'Oh, father, we might have books and music, and flowers, and birds, and animals, and a few friends, perhaps, who would like us and respect us—if we were not on the stage. I don't think we need be dull.'

'The varied pages of this busy world comprise the only book I care to study, Justina. As for birds, flowers, and animals, I consider them alike messy and unprofitable. I never knew a man who12 had a pet dog come to much good. It's a sign of a weak mind.'

They were both standing by this time looking across the verdant, undulating landscape to the valley where nestled the city of Eborsham. The roofs and pinnacles did not seem far off, but there was that intervening sea of meadow land about the navigation whereof these wanderers began to feel somewhat uncertain.

'Do you know your way home, Judy?'

The girl looked across the meadows doubtfully.

'I'm not quite sure, father, but I fancy we came across that field over there, where there's such a lot of sorrel.'

'Fancy be hanged!' exclaimed Mr. Elgood, impatiently, 'I've got to be on the stage at half-past seven o'clock, and you lead me astray in this confounded solitary place, to suit your childish whims, and don't know how to get me back. It would be a nice thing if I were to lose a week's salary through your tomfoolery.'

'No fear of that, father. We shall find our way back somehow, depend upon it. Why, we can't go13 very far astray when we can see the cathedral towers.'

'Yes, and we might wander about in sight of them from now till midnight without getting any nearer to 'em. You ought to have known better, Justina.'

Justina hung her head, abashed by this stern reproof.

'I dare say somebody will come by presently, father, and we can ask——'

'Do you dare say? Then I don't dare say anything of the sort. Here we've been sitting in this blessed meadow full two hours without seeing a mortal, except a solitary ploughboy, who went across with a can of something half an hour ago—beer, most likely—I know the sight of it made me abominably thirsty—and according to the doctrine of averages there's no chance of another human being for the next hour. Never you ask me to come for a walk with you again, Justina, after being trapped in this manner.'

'Look, father! there's some one,' cried Justina.

'Some two,' said Mr. Elgood. 'Swells, by the14 cut of their jibs. Down for the races, I dare say.'

Eborsham was a city which had its two brief seasons of glory every year. The 'Eborsham Spring,' and the 'Eborsham Summer,' were meetings famous in the sporting world; but the spring to the summer was as Omega to Alpha in the sidereal heavens—or, taking a more earthly standard of magnitude, while beds for the accommodation of visitors were freely offered at half a crown during the spring meeting, the poorest pallet on hire in Eborsham was worth half a guinea in the summer.

The strangers approached at a leisurely pace. Two men in the spring-time of their youth, clothed in grey. One tall, strong of limb, broad of chest, somewhat slovenly of attire; loose cravat, grey felt hat, stout, sportsmanlike boots, fishing-rod under his arm. The other shorter, slighter, smaller, dressed with a certain girlish prettiness and neatness that smacked of Eton.

Both were smoking as they came slowly strolling along the field path on the other side of the irregular hawthorn hedge. The younger and smaller15 held a paper cigarette between his girlish lips. The other smoked a black-muzzled clay, which would not have been out of keeping with the costume and bearing of an Irish navvy.

They came to a gap in the hedge, which brought them close to the strollers.

'Gentlemen, can you enlighten me as to the nearest way to Eborsham?' asked Mr. Elgood, with a grandiose air, which the prolonged exercise of his avocation had made second nature.

The elder of the strangers stared at him blankly, with that unseeing gaze of the deep thinker, and went on pulling at his blackened pipe. The younger smiled kindly, and made haste to answer, with a shy eagerness—just a little stammer in his speech at first—which was not unpleasing.

'I really am at a loss to direct you,' he said. 'We are strangers here ourselves—only came to Eborsham last night.'

'For the races, I opine?' interrupted Mr. Elgood.

'Not exactly for the races,' replied the young man, doubtfully.

'You came for the races, Jim,' said the taller16 stranger, looking down at his companion as from an altitude of wisdom and experience. 'I came to see that you were not fleeced. There are no rogues like the rogues that haunt a racecourse.'

This with a dark glance at the actor.

'He looks the image of a tout,' thought the tall stranger. His fancies had been up aloft in his own particular cloudland when the wayfarers accosted him, and he was slowly coming down to the level of work-a-day life. Only this instant had he become conscious of the girl's presence.

Justina stood in the shadow of her father's bulky figure, making herself as narrow as she possibly could. Her detractors in the theatre found fault with that narrowness of Justina's. She had been disadvantageously likened to gas-pipes, May-poles, and other unsubstantial objects, and was considered a mere profile of a girl, an outline sketch, only worth half the salary that might have been given to a plumper damsel.

'Good heavens, Elgood!' the manager had exclaimed once, when Justina played a page, 'when will your daughter begin to have legs?'


The tall stranger's slow gaze had now descended upon Justina. To that bashful maiden, conscious of her gawkiness, the darkly bright eyes seemed awful as the front of Jove himself. She shrank behind her father, dazzled as if by a sunburst. There was such power in Maurice Clissold's face.

'We came here, anyhow, following the windings of yonder trout-stream,' said Clissold, with a backward glance at the valley. 'I haven't the faintest notion how we are to get back, except by turning our noses to the cathedral, and then following them religiously. We can hardly fail to get there, sooner or later, if we are true to our noses.'

Justina began to laugh, as if it had been a green-room jokelet, and then checked herself, blushing vehemently. She felt it was taking a liberty to be amused by this tall stranger.

'Perhaps time is no object to you, sir?' said Mr. Elgood.

'Not the slightest. I don't think time ever has been any object to me, except when I was gated at Oxford,' replied Clissold.

'To me, sir, it is vital. If I do not reach yon18 city before the clock strikes seven, the prospects of a struggling commonwealth are blighted.'

'Father,' remonstrated the girl, plucking his sleeve, 'what do these gentlemen know about commonwealths?'

'I have studied the subject but superficially in the pages of our friend Cicero,' said Clissold, lightly. 'Modern scholars call him Kikero, but your elder erudition might hardly accept the Kappa.'

'The commonwealth to which I allude, sir, is a company of actors now performing on their own hook at the Theatre Royal, Eborsham. If I am not on the stage before eight o'clock to-night our chances in that town are gone. The provincial public, having paid its shillings and sixpences, will not brook disappointment. You will hardly credit the fact, perhaps, sir, but there are seven places taken in the dress-circle, paid in advance, sir, further secured by a donation to the boxkeeper, for this evening's performance. Conceive the feelings of those seven dress circles, sir, if Matthew Elgood is conspicuous by his absence!'

'That must not be, sir,' returned Maurice19 Clissold, gravely. 'Pedestrian wanderings have somewhat developed my organ of locality; and if you like to trust yourself to my guidance I will do my best to navigate you in the desired direction. Is that young lady also required by the British public?'

'Yes,' responded Elgood, indifferently, 'she's in the first piece. But we might send a ballet-girl on for her part—if,' as an afterthought, 'we had any ballet.'

'The numerical strength of your commonwealth is limited, I infer from your remark,' observed Clissold, as the stroller stepped through the gap in the hedge, and joined those other strollers in the lane.

'Well, sir,—"lead on, I follow thee"—when a manager puts it to his company roundly that he must either make it a commonwealth or shut up shop altogether, the little people are generally the first to fall away.'

'The little people!'

'Yes, sir, second walking gentleman, ditto lady, second chambermaid, general utility; second old20 man, proverbially duffing, and ballet. The little people lack that confidence in their own genius which sustains a man under the fluctuations of a commonwealth. They want the afflatus, and when the ghost walks not——'

'The ghost?'

'In vulgar English—when there is no treasury, no reliable weekly stipend, the little people collapse. The second walking lady and chambermaid go home to their mothers; the second old man opens a sweetstuff shop. They fade and evanish from a profession they did nothing to adorn.'

'What is a commonwealth?' asked the younger gentleman, interested by this glimpse of a strange world.

'In a theatrical sense,' added Clissold.

'A theatrical commonwealth is a body without a head. There is no responsible lessee. The weekly funds are divided into so many shares, each share representing half a sovereign. The actor whose nominal salary is two pound ten takes five shares. The actor whose ordinary pay is fifteen shillings claims but a share and a half, and has his claim21 allowed. I have known the shares to rise to fourteen and ninepence halfpenny; I have seen them dwindle to one and sevenpence.'

'Thanks for the explanation. Does prosperity attend you in Eborsham?'

'Sir, our receipts heretofore have been but middling. Our anchor of hope is the Spring Meeting, which begins, as you are doubtless aware, to-morrow.'

'Do you remain here long?' asked Mr. Penwyn, the younger pedestrian.

'A fortnight at most. Our next engagement is Duffield, thence we proceed to Humberston, then Slingerford, after which we separate to seek "fresh woods and pastures new."'

Mr. Penwyn looked at the vagabond wonderingly. The man spoke so lightly of his fortuitous life. James Penwyn, of Penwyn Manor, Cornwall, had been brought up like the Danish princess who discovered the presence of the pea under seven feather beds and seven mattresses. He had never been inconvenienced in his life; and this encounter with a fellow-creature, who anatomically resembled22 himself, and yet belonged to a world so wide apart from his world, at once interested and amused him. He pitied the stroller with a serio-comic pity, as he might have compassionated an octopus in an uncomfortable position.

Perhaps there was never in this world a better natured youth than this James Penwyn. He had not the knack of sending his thoughts far afield, never lost himself in a tangle of speculative fancies, like his dark-eyed, wide-browed friend and master, Maurice Clissold, but within its somewhat narrow limit his mind was clear as a crystal streamlet. His first thought in every relation of life was to do a kindness. He was a man whom sponges of every order, and college scouts, and cabmen, and tavern waiters adore; and for whom the wise and prudent apprehend a youth of waste and riot, and an afterlife of ruin.

'I'll tell you what,' said he with a friendly air. 'We'll come to the theatre to-night and see you act—and the young lady,' with a critical glance at Justina, who walked close beside her father, and did her best to extinguish herself in the shadow of23 Mr. Elgood's bulky form. It was as much as James Penwyn could do to get a glimpse of the girl's face, which had a pale, tired look just now. 'Humph!' thought James, 'fine eyes; but not particularly pretty,—rather a washed-out look.'

'Sir,' said Mr. Elgood, 'you will confer at once honour and substantial benefit upon us poor players. And if you like to take a peep at life behind the scenes, my position in the theatre warrants my admitting you to that exoteric region.'

'I should like it of all things, and we can sup together afterwards. They've a decent cook at the inn where my friend and I are staying, though it's only a roadside tavern. You know it, perhaps—the "Waterfowl," half a mile out of the town. It's my friend's fancy that we should stop there.'

'It's your friend's necessity that he should avoid costly hotels,' said Maurice, lightly.

They had crossed a couple of meadows, where young lambs scuttled off at the sight of them, bleating vehemently, and now came to a green lane, a long grassy gully between tall hedges, where the earliest of the dog-roses were budding, creamy white,24 amidst tender green leaves. Mr. Penwyn took advantage of the change to slip behind Mr. Elgood and place himself beside Justina. Maurice looked after him darkly. A too general worship of the fair sex was one of James Penwyn's foibles.

No, decidedly she was not pretty, thought James, after a closer inspection of the pale young face, with its somewhat pensive mouth and greyish-blue eyes. She blushed a little as he looked at her, and the delicate rose tint became the oval cheek. All the lines of her face were too sharp, for want of that filling out and rounding of angles which is the ripening of beauty. She was like a pale greenish-hued peach on a wall in early June, to which July and August will bring roundness, velvety texture, and richest bloom.

'I hope you are not very tired,' said James, gently.

'Not very,' answered Justina, with an involuntary sigh. 'We had a long rehearsal this morning.'

'Yes, there always must be long rehearsals while there are stupid people in a theatre,' interjected25 Mr. Elgood, with a sharpness which made the remark sound personal.

'We are getting up a burlesque for the race nights, gentlemen,' continued the actor,—'"Faust and Marguerite"—the last popular thing in London, and my daughter knows as much about burlesque business as an eating-house waiter knows of a holiday.'

'Are you fond of acting?' asked James, confidentially, ignoring Mr. Elgood's remarks.

'I hate it,' answered Justina, less shyly than she had spoken before. There was something friendly in the young man's voice and manner which invited confidence; and then he was so pleasant to look at, with his small clearly-cut features, light auburn moustache, crisp auburn hair cut close to the well-shaped head, garments of rough grey tweed, which looked more distinguished than any clothes Justina had ever seen before; thick cable chain and pendent locket—a large, dull gold locket, with a Gothic monogram in black enamel—tawny gloves upon the small hands,—altogether a very different person from the tall man in the shabby shooting coat,26 leather gaiters, and bulky boots, who walked on the other side of Mr. Elgood. Justina was young enough to be impressed by externals.

'Hate it?' exclaimed Mr. Penwyn; 'I thought actresses always adored the stage, and looked forward to acquiring the fame of an O'Neil or a Faucit.'

'Do they?' said Justina; 'those I know are like horses in a mill, and go the same round year after year. When I think that I may have to lead that kind of life till I die of old age, I almost feel that I should like to drown myself, if it wasn't wicked; but then I haven't any talent. I suppose it would all seem different if I were clever.'

'Aren't you clever?' asked James, smiling at her simplicity. Although not pretty she was far from unpleasing. He was amused—interested even. But then he was always ready to interest himself in any tolerably attractive young woman.

Maurice Clissold fell away from the actor, and walked beside his friend, overlooking James and Justina from his superior height. There was plenty of space in the wide green lane for four to walk abreast.


'No,' said Justina, confidentially, not wishing her father to hear ungrateful murmurs against the art he respected, 'I believe I'm very stupid. If there is a point to be made I generally miss it—speak too fast, or too slow, or drop my voice at the end of a speech, or raise it too soon. Even in Fran?ois I didn't get a round the other night. You know Fran?ois?'

'Haven't the honour of his acquaintance.'

'The page in "Richelieu." He has a grand speech. One is bound to get a tremendous round of applause; but somehow I missed it. Father said he should like to have boxed my ears.'

'He didn't do it, I hope.'

'No, but it was almost as bad. He said it before everybody in the green-room.'

'I understand—like a fellow saying something unpleasant of one at one's club.'

They came to the end of the green lane at last. It opened upon a level sweep of land, across which they saw the city, all its roofs and walls steeped in the westering sunlight. The ground was marshy, and between low rush-grown banks gently flowed the Ebor, a narrow river that wound its sinuous28 course around the outskirts of Eborsham, without entering the city.

'I have not led you astray, you see, sir,' said Maurice; 'behold the cathedral. Yonder path by the water's edge will bring us to the lower end of the town.'

'We have to thank you for extrication from a difficulty, sir,' replied Mr. Elgood, with dignity. 'You have brought us a shorter way than that which my daughter and I traversed when we came out this afternoon.'

They followed the river path—a towpath along which slow, clumsy horses were wont to drag the lingering chain of a heavily-laden barge. The dark green rushes shivered in the west wind—the slow river was gently rippled—the city had a look of unspeakable stillness—like a city in a picture.

Half way along the towpath they encountered some stragglers—a man laden with oaken mats, who walked wide of his companions on the marshy ground outside the path—a boy running here and there at random, chasing the small yellow butterflies, and shouting at them in the ardour of the chase—an29 elderly woman of the gipsy race, carrying a string of light fancy baskets across her shoulder.

'That's the worst of a race meeting,' said James Penwyn, with reference to these nomads. 'It brings together such a lot of rabble.'

One of the rabble stopped and blocked his pathway. It was the elderly gipsy woman.

'Let me tell you your fortune, my pretty gentleman,' she said, pouncing on Mr. Penwyn, as if she had discovered his superior wealth at a glance. 'Cross the poor gipsy's hand with a bit of silver—half a crown won't hurt you—my pretty gentleman. You've riches in your face—you've never known what it is to want a sovereign, and never will. The world was made for such as you.'

'Avaunt, harridan!' cried the tragedian, 'and suffer us to proceed.'

'What, you'd like to spoil my market, would you?' cried the sibyl, vindictively. 'No one was ever a penny the richer for your generosity, and no one will be a penny the worse off when you're dead and gone, except yourself. Let me tell your fortune, pretty gentleman,' she went on, laying a persuasive30 hand on James Penwyn's grey sleeve, and keeping up with the pedestrians as they strove to pass her. 'There's plenty of pleasant things the old gipsy woman can tell you. You're a gentleman that likes a dark blue eye, and there's an eye that looks kindly upon you now, and though there's crosses for true lovers, all will come out happy in the end, if you'll listen to the old gipsy.'

James laughed, and flung the prophetess a florin.

'Show me your hand, kind gentleman,' she urged, after a string of thanks and benedictions, 'your left hand. Yes, there's the mount of Venus, and not an ugly line across it, and you've a long thumb, my pretty gentleman, long between the first joint and the second—that means strength of will, for the thumb is Jupiter, and rules the house of life. Don't take your hand away, pretty gentleman. Let's see the line——'

'What's the matter, mother?' asked James, as the woman stopped in the middle of a sentence, still holding his hand and staring at the palm steadfastly with a scared look.
'What's that?' she asked, pointing to a short indented line across the palm.

'Why, what keen eyes you have, old lady! That's the mark of a hole I dug in my palm two years ago, cutting a tough bit of cavendish. My scout told me I was bound to have lockjaw, but I didn't realize his expectations. I suppose lockjaw doesn't run in our family.'

'Right across the line of life,' muttered the gipsy, still examining the seam left by the knife upon the pinkish, womanish palm.

'Does that mean anything bad—that I am to die young, for instance?'

'The scar of a knife can't overrule the planets,' replied the sibyl, sententiously.


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