The End of Devil Hawker by Arthur Conan Doyle
The End of Devil Hawker
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
First published in The Unknown Conan Doyle, 1929
First magazine appearance in The Saturday Evening Post, Aug 23, 1930
The End of Devil Hawker Contents
The End of Devil Hawker I
THERE is a fascinating little print shop around the comer of Drury Lane. When you pass through the old oaken doorway and into the dim dusty interior, you seem to have wandered into some corridor leading back through time, for on every side of you are the pictures of the past. But very specially I value that table on the left where lies the great pile of portrait prints heaped up in some sort of order of date: There you see the pictures of the men who stood round the throne of the young Victoria, of Melbourne, of Peel, of Wellington, and then you come on the D’Orsay and Lady Blessington period, and the long and wonderful series of H.B., the great, unknown John Doyle, who, in his day, was a real power in the land. Farther back still you come on the bucks and prize fighters of the Regency—the pompous Jackson, the sturdy Cribb, the empty Brummel, the chubby Alvanley. And then you may chance upon a face which you cannot pass without a second and a longer look. It is a face which Mephistopheles might have owned; thin, dark, keen, with bushy brows and fierce, alert eyes which glare out from beneath them. There is a full-length coloured print which shows him to be tall and magnificently proportioned, with broad shoulders, slim waist, clad in a tightly-buttoned green ooat, buckskin breeches and high Hessian boots. Below is the inscription: “Sir John Hawker”—and that is the Devil Hawker of the legends.
In his short but vivid career, the end cf which is here outlined, Hawker was the bully of the town. The bravest shrank away from the angry, insolent glare of those baleful eyes. He was a famous swordsman and a remarkable pistol shot—so remarkable that three times he starred the kneecap of his man; the most painful injury wbich he could inflict. But above all, he was the best amateur boxer of his day, and had he taken to the ring it is likely that be would have made a name. His hitting is said to have been the most ferocious ever seen, and it was his amusement to try out novices at Cribb’s rooms, which were his favorite haunt, and to teach them how to stand punishment. It gratified his pride to show his skill, and his cruel nature to administer pain to others. It was in these very rooms of Cribb that this little sketch of those days opens, where, as on a marionette stage, I would try to show you what manner of place it was and what manner of people walked London in those full·blooded, brutal and virile old days.
First, as to the place. It is at the oomer of Panton Street, and you see over a broad, red-curtained door the sign: THOMAS CRlBB. DEALER IN LIQUOR AND TOBACCO, with the Union Arms printed above. The door leads into a tiled passage which opens on the left into a common bar behind which save on special evenings, a big, bull·faced, honest John Bull of a man may be seen with two assistants of the sparring-partner type, handing out refreshment and imbibing gratis a great deal more than was good for their athletic figures. Already Tom is getting a waistline which will cause his trainer and himself many a weary day at his next battle: if , indeed, the brave old fellow has not already come to the last or his fights, when he defended the honor or England by breaking the cast-iron jaw of Molyneaux, the black.
If, instead of turning into the common bar, you continue down the passage, you find a green-baize door with the word “Parlour” printed acrose one upper panel of glass. Push it open and you are in a room which is spacious and comfortable. There is sawdust on the floor, numerous wooden armchairs, round tables for the card players, a small bar presided over by Miss Lucy Stagg, a lady who had been accused of many things, but never of shyness, in the corner, and a fine collection of sporting pictures round the walls. At the back were swing doors with the words “Boxing Saloon” printed across them, leading into a large bare apartment, with a roped ring in the centre, and many pairs of gloves hanging upon the wall, belonging, for the most part, to the Corinthians who came up to have lessons from the champion, whose classes were only exceeded by those of Gentleman Jackson in Bond Street.
It was early in the particular evening of which I speak, and there was no one in the parlour save Cribb himself, who expected the quality that night, and was cleaning up in anticipation. Lucy wiped glasses languidly in her little bar. Beside the entrance door was a small, shriveled weasel of a man, Billy Jakes by name, who sat behind a green-baize table, in receipt of custom as a bookmaker, dog-fancier or cock supplier—a privilege for which he paid Tom a good round sum every year. As no customers had appeared, he wandered over to the little bar.
“Well, things are quiet tonight, Lucy.”
She looked up from polishing her glasses.
“I expect they will be more lively soon, Mr. Jakes. It is full early.”
“Well, Lucy, you look very pretty tonight. I expect I shall have to marry you yet.”
“La, Mr. Jakes, how you do carry on!”
“Tell me, Lucy; do you want to make some money?”
“Everyone wants that, Mr. Jakes.”
“How much can you lay your hands on?”
“I dare say I could find fifty pounds at a pinch.”
“Wouldn’t you like to turn it into a hundred?”
“Why, of course I would.”
“It’s Saracesca for the Oaks. I’d give you two to one, which is better than I give the others. She’s a cert it ever there is one.”
“Well, if you say so, Mr. Jakes. The money is upstairs in my box. But if you can really turn it into—”
Fortunately, honest Tom Cribb had been within earshot of this little debate, and he now caught the man roughly by the sleeve and twirled him in the direction of his table.
“You dirty dog; doing the poor girl out of her hard-earned savings!”
“All right, Tom. Only a joke! Only Billy Jakes’ little joke!… I wouldn’t have let you lose. Lucy!”
“That’s enough,” said Tom. “Don’t you heed him, Lucy. Keep your money in your box.”
The green swing-door opened and a number of bucks, in black coats, brown coats, green coats and purple, came filing into the room. The shrill voice of Jakes was at once uplifted and his clamour filled the air.
“Now, my noble sportsmen,” he cried, “back your opinions! There is a bag of gold waiting, and you have only to put your hands in. How about Woodstock for the Derby? How about Saracesca for the Oaks? Four to one! Four to one! Two to one, bar one!”
The Corinthians gathered for a moment round the bookie’s table, for his patter amused them.
“Lots of time for that, Jakes,” said Lord Rulton, a big bluff county magnate and landowner.
“But the odds are shorter every day. Now’s your time, my noble gamesters! Now’s the time to sow the seed! Gold to be had for the asking, waitin’ there for you to pick up. I like to pay it. It pleases me to see happy faces round me. 1 like to see them smiling Now’s your time.”
“Why, half the field may scratch before the race,” said Sir Charles Trevor—the imperturbable Charles, whose estate has been sucked dry by its owner’s wild excesses.
“No race, no pay. The old firm gives every gamester a run for his money. The knowing ones are all on to it. Sir John Hawker has five hundred on Woodstock.”
“Well, Devil Hawker knows what he is about,” said Lord Annerley, a dashing young Corinthian.
“Have fifty on the filly for the Oaks, Lord Ruffton. Four to one?”
“Very good, Jakes,” said the nobleman handing out a note. “I suppose I shall find you after the race.”
“Sitting here at this table, my lord. Old established place of business. You’ve got a certainty, my lord.”
“Well,” said a young Corinthian, “if it is as certaIn as that, I’ll have fifty too.”
“Right, my noble sportsman I book it at three to one.”
“I thought it was four.”
“It was four. Now it is three. You’t lucky to get before it is two. Will you take your winnings in paper or gold?”
“Well, in gold.”
“Very good, sir. You’ll find me waiting at this table with a bag of gold at ten by the clock on the day after the race. It will be in a green-baize bag with a grip, so you can easily carry it. By the way, I’ve got a fighting cock that’s never been beat. Would any of you gentlemen—”
But the door ad swung open and Sir John Hawker’s handsome figure and sinister face filled the gap. The others moved towards the small bar Hawker paused a moment at the bookie’s table.
“Hullo, Jakes; doing some fool out of their money as usual?”
“Tut, tut, Sir John, you should know me by now.”
“Know you, you rascal! You have had a cool two thouand out of me from first to last I know you too well.”
“All you want is to persevere. You’ll soon have it all back, Sir John.”
“Hold your tongue, I say. I have had enough.”
“No offense, my noble sportsman. But I have a brindled terrier down at the stable that’s the best of rats in London.”
“I wonder he hasn’t had a nip at you then. Hullo, Tom.”
Cribb had oome forward as usual to greet his Corinthian guests.
“Good evening, Sir John. Going to put them on to-night?”
“Well, I’ll see. What have you got?”
“Half a dozen up from old Bristol. That place is as full of milling coves as a bin is of bottles.”
“I may try one of them over.”
“Then play light. Sir John. You cracked the ribs of that lad from Lincoln. You broke his heart for fighting.”
“It may as well be broke early as late. What’s the use of him if he can’t take punishment?”
Several more men had come into the room; one of them exceedingly drunk, another just a little less so. They wer two of the Tom-and-Jerry clique who wandered day and night on the old round from the Haymarket to Panton Street and St. J ames, imagining that they were seeing life. The drunken one—a young hawbuck from the shires—was noisy and combative. His friend was trying to put some term to their adventures.
“Come, George,” he coaxed, “we’ll just have one drink here. Then one at the Dive and one at the Cellars, and wind up with broiled bones at Mother Simpson’s.”
The name of the dish started ideas in the drunken man’s head. He staggered in the direction of the landlord. “Broiled bones!” he cried. “D’you hear? I want broiled bones! Fetch me dish—large dish—of broiled bones this instant—under pain—displeasure.”
Cribb, who waa well accustomed to such visitors, continued his conversation with Hawker without taking the slightest notice. They were discussing a possible opponent for old Tom Shelton, the navvy, when George broke in again.
“Where the devil’s those broiled bones? Here, landlord! Ole Tom Cribb! Tom, give me large dish broiled bones this instant , or I punch your old head.” As Cribb still took not the faintest heed, George became more bellicose.
“No broiled bones!” he cried. “Very good! Prepare defend yourself!”
“Don’t hit him, George!” cried his more sober companion in alarm. “It’s the champion.”
“It’s a lie. I am the champion. I’ll give him smack in the chops. See if I don’t.”
For the first time Cribb turned a slow eye in his direction.
“No dancin’ allowed here, sir,” he said.
“I’m not dancing. I’m sparring.”
“Well , don’t do it, whatever it is.”
“I’m going to fight you. Going to give old Tom a smack in the chops.”
“Some other time, sir, I’m busy.”
“Where’re those bones? Last time of asking.”
“What bones? What is he talkin’ of?”
“Sorry, Tom, but have to give you good thrashing. Yes, Tom, very sorry, but must have lesson.”
He made several wild strokcs in the air, quite out of distance, and finally fell upon his knees. His friend picked him up.
“What d’you want to be so foolish for, George?”
“I had him nearly beat.”
Tom looked reproachfully at the soberer friend. “I am surprised at you, Mr. Trelawney.”
“Couldn’t help it, Tom. He would mix port and brandy.”
“You must take him out.”
“Come on, George; you’ve got to go out.”
“Got to go! No, sir; round two, Come up smilin’. Time!”
Tom Cribb gave a sign and a stalwart potman threw the pugnacious George over his shoulder and carried him out of the room, kicking violently, while his friend walked behind. Cribb laughed.
“There’s seldom an evening that I don’t have that sort of nuisance.”
“They would not do it twice to me,” said Hawker. “I’d send him home, and his wench wouldn’t know him.”
“I haven’t the heart to touch them. It pleases the poor things to say they have punched the champion of England.”
The room had now begun to fill up. At one end a circle had formed round the bookie’s table, On the other side there was a group at the small private bar where very broad chaff was being exchanged between some of the younger bucks and Lucy, who was well able to take care of herself. Cribb had gone inside the swing doors to prepare for the boxing, while Hawker wandered from group to group, leaving among these fearless men, hard-riding horsemen of the shires and dare-devils at every sport, a vague feeling of repulsion which showed itself in a somewhat formal response to his brief greetings. He paused at one chattering group and looked sardonically at a youth who stood somewhat apart listening to, but not joining in, the gay exchange of repartee. He was a well-built young man with a singularly beautiful head, crowned by a mass of auburn curls. His figure might have stood for Adonis, were it not that one foot was slightly drawn up, which caused him to wear a rather unsightly boot.
“Good evening, Hawker,” said he.
“Good evening, Byron. Is this one of your hours of idleness?”
The allusion was to a book of verse which the young nobleman had just brought out, and which had been severely handled by the critics.
The poet seemed annoyed, for he was sensitive on the point.
“At least I cannot be accused of idleness today,” said he. “I swam three miles downstream from Lambeth, and perhaps you have not done so much.”
“Well done!” said Hawker. “I hear of you at Angelo’s, and Jackson’s, too. But fencing needs a quick foot. I ‘d stick to the water if I were you.” He glanced down at the malformed limb.
Byron’s blue-gray eyes blazed with indignation.
“When I wish your advice as to my personal habits, Sir John Hawker, I will ask for it.”
“No harm meant,” said Hawker carelessly. “I am a blunt fellow and always say what I think.”
Lord Rufton plucked at Byron’s sleeve. “That’s enough said,” he whispered.
“Of course,” added Hawker, “if anyone does not like my ways, they can always find me at White’s Club or my lodgings in Charles Street.”
Byron, who was utterly fearless, and ready, though he was still only a CambrLdge undergraduate, to face any man in the world, was about to make some angry reply in spite of the well-meant warnings of Lord Rufton, when Tom Cribb came bustling in and interrupted the scene.
“All ready, my lords and gentlemen. The fighting men are in their place. Jack Scroggins and Ben Burn will begin.”
The company began to move towards the door of the sparring saloon. As they filed in, Hawker advanced quietly and touched the reckless baronet, Sir Charles Trevor, upon the ahoulder.
“I must have a word with you, Charles.”
“I want to get a ringside seat, John.”
“Never mind that. I must have a word.”
The others passed in. Devil Hawker and Sir Charles had the room. to themselve, save for Jakes, counting his money at his distant table, and the girl, Lucy, coming and going in her little alcove. Hawker led Sir Charles to a central seat.
“I have to speak to you, Charles, of that three thousand you owe me. It pains me vastly, but what am I to do? I have my own debts to settle, and it is no easy matter.”
“I have the matter in hand, John.”
“But it presses”
“I’ll pay it all right. Give me time.”
“We are cutting the oaks at Selincourt. They should all be down by the autumn. I can get an advance then that will clear all that I owe you.”
“I don’t want to press you, Charles. If you would like a sporting flutter to clear your debt, I’m ready to give It to you at once.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, double or quits. Six thousand or nothing. If you’re not afraid to take a chance, I’ll let you have one.”
“Afraid, John. I don’t like that word.”
“You were always a brave gamester, Charles. Just as you like in the matter. But you might clear yourself with a turn of the card, while, on the other hand, if all the Selincourt timber is going, six thousand will be no more to you than three.”
“Well, it’s a sporting offer, John. You say the turn of a card. Do you mean one simple draw?”
“Why not? Sudden death. Win or lose. What say you?”
A pack of cards was lying on a near-by table. Hawker stretched out a long arm and picked them up.
“Will thee do?”
“By all means.”
He spread them out with a sweep of his hand.
“Do you care to shuffle?”
“No, John. Take them as they are.”
“Shall it be a single draw?”
“By all means.”
“Will you lead?”
Sir Charles Trevor was a seasoned gambler, but never before had three thousand pounds hung upon the turn of a single card. But he was a reckless plunger, and roared with laughter as he turned up the queen of clubs.
“That should do you, John.”
“Possibly,” said Hawker, and turned the ace of spades.
“I thought I had cleared myself, and now it is six thousand,” cried Trevor, and staggered as he rose from his seat.
“To wait until the oaks are cut,” said Hawker. “In September I shall present my little bill. Meanwhile, perhaps a note of hand—”
“Do you doubt my word, John!”
“No, no, Charles, but business is business. Who knows what may happen? I’ll have a note of hand.”
“Very good. You’ll have it by the post tomorrow. Well, I bear no grudge. The luck was yours. Shall we have a glass upon it?”
“You were always a brave loser, Charles.” The two men walked together to the little bar in the corner.
Had either looked back he would have seen a sight which would have surprised him. During the whole incident the little bookmaker had sat absorbed over his accounts, but with a pair of piercing eyes glancing up every now and then at the two gamblers. Little of their talk had been audible from where he sat, but their actions had spoken for themselves. Now, with amazing, but furtive, speed he stole across, picked up one card from the table and hurried back to his perch, concealing it inside his coat. The two gentlemen, having taken their refreshment, turned toward the boxing saloon; Sir Charles disappearing through the swing-door, from behind which came the thud of heavy blows, the breathing of hard-spent men, and every now and then a murmur of admiration or of criticism.
Hawker was about to follow his companion when a thought struck him and he returned to the card table, gathering up the scattered cards. Suddenly he was aware that Jakes was at his elbow and that two very shrewd and malignant eyes were looking up into his own.
“Hadn’t you best count them, my noble sportsman?”
“What d’you mean?” The Devll’a great black brows were drawn down and his glance was like a rapier-thrust.
“If you count them you’ll find one missing.”
“Why are you grinning at me, you rascal?”
“One card missing, my noble sportsman. A good winning card, too—the ace of spades. A useful card, Sir John.”
“Where is it, then?”
“Little Billy Jakes has It. It’s here”—and he slapped his breast. pocket. “A little playing card with the mark of a thumb-nail on one eorner of the back.”
“You Infernal blackguard!”
Jakes was no coward , but he shrank away from that terrible face. “Hands off, my noble sportsman! Hands off, for your own sake! You can knock me about. That’s easily done. But it won’t end there. I’ve got the card. I could eall back Sir Charles and fill this room in a jiffy. There would be an end of you, my beauty.”
“It’s all a lie—a lie.”
“Right you are. Say so, if you like. Shall I call in the others, and you can prove it a lie? Shall I show the cards to Lord Rufton and the rest?”
Hawker’s dark faace was moving convulsively. His hands were twitching with hia desire to break the back of this little weasel across his knee. With an effort, he mastered himself.
“Hold on, Jakes. We have always been great friends. What do you want? Speak low or the girl will hear.”
“Now, that’s talking. You got six thousand just now. I want half.”
“You want three thousand pounds. What for?”
“You’re a man of sense. You know what for. I’ve a tongue, and I can hold it if it’s worth my while.”
Hawker considered for a moment. “Well, suppose I agree.”
“Then we can fix it so.”
“Say no more. We will consider it as agreed.”
He turned away, his mind full of plans by which he could gain time and disavow the whole business. But Jakes was not a man so easily fooled. Many people had found that to their cost.
“Hold on, my noble sportsman. Hold on an instant. Just a word of writing to settle it.”
“You dog, is my word not enough?”
“No, Sir John, not by a long way… No, if you hit me I’ll yell. Keep your hands off. I tell you I want your signature to it.”
“Not a word.”
“Very good then. It’s finished.” Jakes started for the door of the saloon.
“Hold hard! What am I to write?”
“I’ll do the writing.” He turned to the little alcove where Lucy, who was accustomed to every sort of wrangling and argument, was dozing among her bottles.
“Here, my dear; wake up! I want pen and ink.”
“There is a billhead. Will that do? Dearie me, it’s marked with wine!”
“Never mind; that will do.”
Jakes seated himself at a table and scribbled while Hawker watched him with eyes of death. Jakes walked over to him with the scrawl completed. Hawker read it over in a low mutter:
“‘In consideration of your silence—'” He paused and glared.
“Well, that’s true, ain’t it? You don’t give me half for the love of William J akes, Esquire, do you now?”
“Curse you, Jakes! Curse you to hell!”
” Let it. out. my noble sportsman. Let it out or you’ll bust. Curse me again. Then sign that paper.”
“‘The sum of three thousand pounds, to be paid on the date when there is a settlement between me and Sir Charles Trevor.’ Well, give me the pen and have done. There! Now give me that card.”
Jakes had thrust the signed paper into his inner pocket.
“Give me the card, I say!”
“When the money is paid, Sir John. That’s only fair.”
“Can’t find the right word, can you? It’ll not been invented yet, I expect.”
Jakes may have been very near his death at that moment. The furious passions of the bully had reached a point when even his fears of exposure could hardly hold him in check. But the saloon door had swung open and Cribb entered the room. He looked with surprise at the ill-assorted couple.
“Now, Mr. Jakes, time is up, you know. You’ve passed your hours.”
“I know, Tom, but I had an important settling-up with Sir John Hawker. Had I not, Sir John?”
“You’ve missed the first bout, Sir John. Come and see Jack Randall take a novice.”
Hawker took a last scowl at the book-maker and followed the champion into the saloon. Jakes gathered up his papers into his professional bag and went across to the little bar.
“A double brandy, my dear,” said he to Lucy. “I’ve had a good evening, but it’s been a bit of a strain upon my nerves.”